Monday, August 20, 2018


Carolyn J. Rose

My mother was a nurse and read many books on nutrition. When we were kids, she planned meals that contained all elements from the food pyramid, with an emphasis on vegetables.

Potato chips, cola, and white bread didn’t make many appearances at our house.

Neither did candy.

Sure, it turned up around Halloween, at Christmas, and in the bunny baskets at Easter. But desserts or sweet snacks—and those snacks were pretty darn small because of that pesky food pyramid—consisted of fruit in a pie, or fruit in gelatin, or just plain fruit.

My grandmothers, however, often had cookies or cake, and they had candy every day of the year. They had it right out in the open, in their living rooms, where anyone who came to visit could see it. One kept butterscotch bits and caramels in a crystal dish with a heavy lid. The other stored mixed candies in an inlaid box someone had brought her from Brazil. The top featured butterfly wings pressed beneath glass.

That lid often seemed more enticing and interesting than the contents of the box. The candy wasn’t what I considered to be prime. Oh, there were mints, and sometimes spicy gumdrops, and almost always chunks of black licorice. But digging through the box in search of chocolate was usually an exercise in futility.

It was also an exercise in learning about manners, hygiene, and how germs spread. “Are your hands clean?” I’d be asked. “If you touch a piece, take it, and eat it,” I’d be told.

It was also a lesson in playing well with others. My brothers and cousins all knew about the box and all hit it on a regular basis—sometimes as a group. “Don’t be a pig,” we’d shout at the person who got there first. “No fair taking the best ones,” we’d whine.

I imagine there are many people who still have candy boxes or covered dishes in their living rooms. I’m not one of them. First, Max the entitled Maltese would no doubt sniff it out and find a way to get to it and thus require me to make a frantic race to the emergency clinic to have his stomach emptied. Second, I don’t trust myself to pass a dish of candy without relieving it of some of its contents. Passing a dish two dozen times a day would expand my waistline. And it doesn’t need expanding.

This is not to say that candy isn’t welcome in our home. We buy dark chocolate bars, stash them out of sight, and take segments now and then. On low-stress days, I may not eat any. On days of higher stress—particularly those when I’m subbing for challenging classes—a single segment isn’t enough.

On those days I think of my mother. She loved chocolates and, after we were all grown and gone, often indulged. When she found a good deal, would buy a pound or two. She’d eat a few and then ask my father to hide the rest for a few days and save her from herself. He’d do his best, but she was as experienced at hunting as he was at hiding, and she often said, “He didn’t do a good job. It took me only an hour to find them.”

Their house has been sold twice since they died, but sometimes I wonder if there isn’t a bag of chocolates hidden behind a baseboard or stashed high on a rafter. I like to imagine my mother is still searching for it, and my father is smiling and shaking his head when she asks if she’s hot or cold.

Saturday, July 28, 2018

The Peril of Ancient File Folders

As part of the annual mid-summer "we gotta
get rid of some of this crap” campaign by the love of my life, I cleaned out my office. While going through my file cabinet, which has probably lingered untouched for the best part of twenty years, I found all kinds of interesting/nostalgic/embarrassing stuff. Back in the day that I believed I’d be the next John Steinbeck (Or at least Freddy Steinbeck his less talented cousin), I wrote all manner of literature/ noodling/inane drivel.

Here’s one such for your appraisal/scrutiny/testing of your gag reflex. It’s instructive of what happens when you combine a bored writer, a word processor and an abundance of free time.

I sat down to write an epic poem
You know the kind, something Beowulfesque and
Gilgameshic, an adventure odder than the odyssey and
Iller than the Illiad, a tale filled with grandeur and
pathos on a glorious scale, preferably featuring
Vikings storming a Norman castle, flinging
explosive clumps of pyrotechnic peat moss over
moat encircled stone walls. Think “The Song of Roland”
being lip synched by a cover band.
“Ayeeeeee!!! I’m on fire!!!!” the cry would fly from the circling serfs and
pandemonious peons whose faux pas was zigging
when they should have been zagging. “Ayeeeee!!!”

Or, perhaps the saga could chronicle the exploits of a
sleek-cheeked Nubian princess, gyrating a voluptuous hootchie-coo and
curling her finger to summon a drooling sheik and as he
zooms in like a moth to a flame neatly plunging a dagger into his heaving breast, payback for an earlier transgression like failing to leave
a sufficient tip or calling her “babe!”

So, I prepared. Made time to rhyme, stacking up reams of clean white paper and laying out cups of bitter dark coffee and my trusty thesaurus; I set out
accompanied by Miriam Webster, the Sancho
Panza to my impossible literary dream-seeking Donny Quixote.

Infused by my muse and
Inspired by my aspirations I
Squeezed my eyes tightly closed
Vowing to not reopen them until my
masterpiece appeared, fully realized
on the screen. My fingers lingered over the keys as I
let the words flutter out of my brain like
so many frenzied birds escaping a just opened cage.

An hour passed and then two which spiraled into a third.
Fulfilling my promise to myself, I dared not peek and
behold the molten metaphors and throbbing narrative that
flowed like red hot lava from the Vesuvius of my
roiling mind. The clatter of keys and the drumbeat of the
vast armies I’d created joined the siren song of a
galaxy of nymphs and the grunts and roars of the
strange and wonderful creatures becoming
the soundtrack to my fever dream philosophizing.

In a flurry I combined iambic whatever-ameter with
great swoops of onomatopoeia, tongue tantalizing
alliteration and certainly a healthy dose of symbolic
polygamy spiced with a dash of lateral lyricism.
Nouns, verbs, past and present participles and malodorous
modifiers were flung from my fingertips onto
the waiting pages of the virgin Word document,
a future classic destined to be required reading for
a platoon of semi-snoozing high school sophomores.

Finally, as the morning sun beamed through my
office window I applied the thundering climax to my
magnum Opie, the fruit of my all-night encounter with
the divine and mischievous. I detected a sound at my elbow and opened my
eyes to the sight of my worldly muse examining
my sprawling masterpiece, my piece de something, something. (Hey, I was exhausted, I’d emptied the tank of my voluminous vocabulary).

“Very nice” my wife crooned and smiled and patted the top
Of my still humming head. “But, think how much more smoothly it might have
read, had you started with your index fingers over the F and J instead of the G and H.   

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Journey Into The Past

By Mike Nettleton

We've been talking about an expedition to Fossil for a long time. Or rather I've been talking about it and Carolyn's been muttering under her breath "why don't we just do it?" 

This is about my mama, really. She's been gone since 1983, (can it really be 35 years?) but I still hear her voice in my head. Anytime I'm about to do something silly, or stupid or inconsiderate she pipes in. "Schmuck!!!" Oh, wait that's someone else's Jewish mother. We were lapsed Protestants. No, mom's voice is saying "Michael Alan!!!" (The only time I ever heard my middle name was just before or after I'd screwed up.)

So we set off for Fossil, the small Northeast Oregon farming community where my mother grew up. All I knew of it were snatches of remembered stories about 5 year old Jo Eleanor Lewis and her 3 year old sister Ruth being put on a train in St. Louis, bound for Oregon in the mid-early part of the last century after their mother died. They landed at their Uncle's ranch, where life was hard and the winters mean. 

Carolyn and I, after meeting my sister Lana in Bend for a catch-up lunch, set out on the twisty road from Madras, through the ghostly Shaniko, into Antelope (where the ghost of the Bhagwan lingers) and S-turning our way down the canyon on a trek we shall call our

 This is a part of Oregon I hadn't experienced. I'd imagined a flat or gently rolling farm landscape where wheat fluttered in the breeze and cows mooed the daily farm gossip over abundant grass. What we encountered was more reminiscent of Arizona or New Mexico.

As we slid down the canyon into Fossil, I recalled stories my other sister Birdie shared about mom being sent out with a shotgun to go after marauding coyotes (I'm guessing she was older than 5 by then, but who knows?) and how she loved to see the wild horses galloping through the canyon. It was easy to imagine given the landscape we saw. 

Although I couldn't pin down the exact location of the farm they'd lived on, we passed several that would have fit the bill. The town itself, all four hundred fifty or so souls of it, had a lot of charm.

 Small as it is, Fossil is the county seat of Wheeler County. (population 1358 according to the 2015 census) The courthouse, pictured below was built in 1902 and still carries out it's function every weekday. 

The consolidated high school serves about 40 students and the elementary school about the same number. There are fossil beds up behind the football field and for a $5 per head donation you can go up and dig to your hearts content. Here's fearless fossil hunter Carolyn holding what we believe to be either a bone from a 20,000 year old arachnid or a 50,000 year old fossilized bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich.  
Since there weren't any obvious overnight accommodations in Fossil, we moved up the road 20 miles to the bustling community of Condon. (population 720) Luckily, there was a vacancy in the town's only motel.

The rooms were inexpensive, clean and had everything we needed. Namely beds, a table, a microwave in case we needed to nuke something a refrigerator and wifi. (Although, honestly, checking your e-mail when you're time traveling seemed a bit incongruous). There was also a shower I had to hunker under to get my whale-body wet but Carolyn, being an official short person didn't have that problem. 

Having grown up in Bandon, Oregon before it became chi-chi golf central I have an abiding love for small towns and here's a shot of Condon's downtown that says it all. 
Being habitual early risers, we rolled down from our motel in search of breakfast at about 6:30a. There were 2, count em, 2 cars on the entire main street. We were drawn into The Condon Diner by its signage,

there to be greeted by Al, coffee pot in hand, and joined the locals in choosing from the tantalizing choices on the breakfast menu. Also on hand were a gaggle of construction workers who we'd met the night before in the bar next door. Being unable to finish our pizza, we'd told the barmaid to ask if "the boys" would like to finish it and they said. "Sure, M'am, anything we can do to help." The next morning in the diner, they urged us to order the Full Monty breakfast as they were pretty sure we couldn't eat all of it and they were fond of ham, pancakes, sausage and eggs.

 Carolyn settled for the two egg and toast special and I scarfed up the "secret recipe" cinnamon French toast as prepared by the chef de grille David. We'd recommend the Condon Diner  not 
only for the food, but the friendly service and unique decor.

Fully fed and ready to roll, we ducked back to Fossil for another heapin' helpin' of nostalgia and a look around, and then set off North to make our way home. 

The landscape along highway 97 was, in it's own way as unique and interesting as the twisting canyon drive from Shaniko to Fossil. If you're a fan of wind farms (and I am) this part of Oregon and Southern Washington is Nirvana. What's especially novel is watching the tips of the propellers flap past the tops of hills, without seeing the column that supports them. A little eerie, still fun. There's also a great view of 5 snow-capped Cascade mountains, including Hood, Adams (below) the stub of St. Helens, and Rainier way off in the distance.  

We jumped onto I-84 at Biggs Junction and crossed over to Highway 14 at Hood River after ponying up $2 for the toll bridge. A little more than an hour later, we arrived back home to pick up Max from doggy day care.
It was a bit of a let-down to return to our hum-drum life in Vancouver. After all, once you've been to Fossil and Condon, nothing else can compare. I accomplished what I'd set out to do, which was spend time in the environs that nurtured the unique lady that was my mother. And, once home, lounging in my easy chair, I could hear her soft and patient voice chiding me. "Michael Alan! You should have left some of that french toast for those nice construction workers."


Friday, March 23, 2018

Those Spring Chores

Carolyn J. Rose

Nothing can give me a bad case of but-first disease like spring cleaning.

I need to scrub the kitchen floor, but first I need to sweep the patio. But before that I should finish the transplanting and mulch-spreading. Those projects are contributing to the mud and bark on the patio.

Once those chores are done, however, the floor will be put off again because first I should clean the countertops. Before that, I should clean out the drawers and cabinets. And before that I should vacuum the high corners where spiders love to build their webs.

As a result, the floor is days—perhaps weeks—from a condition even approaching clean.

I, on the other hand, am closer to understanding the frustration my mother felt when I railed against spring chores.

But how could I not complain? They came at such an inconvenient time. Winter was finally in retreat. Mud Season had begun in the Catskill Mountains. I longed to be in pursuit of sensation—the feel of the earth, the crackling of melting ice, the drip of and rush of water on hillsides, the bright blooms of forsythia, the songs of returning birds.

And the chore list seemed endless. There were storm windows to be taken down and stored in the attic while screens were sprayed off and installed. Lawns had to be raked and brush cut. Gardens had to be cleared of dead plants and seeds had to be planted after the soil was turned. Winter clothing had to be cleaned and packed away in boxes with moth balls. Closets had to be cleaned out and furniture vacuumed.

I rushed, I tried to find shortcuts, I whined, and I did a sloppy job—sometimes on purpose. These weren’t “my” tasks and the doing of them wasn’t according to “my” agenda.

Now, however, these are my tasks and I set the agenda. Now I “get it.” And now I mostly accept the process of doing them. After all, it means that spring is here once more. Each task is, in a weird way, a celebration of a trip around the sun completed and a season of growth begun. I tackle them with attitude and energy I didn’t feel over the winter.

Except for scrubbing that kitchen floor.

I can’t seem to work up a good attitude or a burst of energy for that.

Which explains why my but-first list keeps getting longer.