Archive for June, 2013

Sorrow and what we do with it

Anna+was+HereIt was a super busy week–the ending of the semester for Vermont College of the Fine Arts students and faculty.  I don’t know where my brain was when I drew up the semester’s schedule.  Oh wait.  As I wrote to several of my students…it was on painkillers.  So when I got a box of the Advanced Reader Copies of my new novel, I didn’t even have time to open it.

About the only thing I let squeeze into the week was some phone conversations about the venue for the Seattle fundraiser for Ethiopia Reads, Open Hearts Big Dreams.

from CienIt started out as a fundraiser mostly to support the merkato school in Addis Ababa but has grown to be a fundraiser to support all of what Ethiopia Reads is doing.  SO important!  I loved having the conversations, too, and thinking about next Dec. 14.



A new book.  In some ways, this book began when we evacuated from our house in North Dakota because the Red River was sprouting through holes in the dikes.

neighborhood in floodIn some ways it began when we left Colorado and moved to North Dakota, taking our cat.  Or with the cat before that who was killed by a car, much to our sorrow.

Midnight H Cat

In some ways, it began when I was a kid in Ethiopia looking around and wondering…if God watches over sparrows and us, why do bad things happen to good kids?  Why do the girls in Maji mostly not go to school?  Why don’t some people have clean water to drink?  Why?  Why?  Why?

Off to Kololo 050


What do we do with it?

Sometimes we volunteer.  Sometimes we suffer silently.  Or noisily.  Sometimes we pour all of our questions and our few puny answers into art.


Following the Big Duck

My dad did not love school.

Harold on Adrian farm

He did not love reading (or at least not until my mom had hold of him for many years :>)  He had a curious mind, though, and a way of grabbing hold of baffling ideas and wrestling them through and then turning his conclusions into stories.  Growing up in a homesteading family that burned sagebrush to keep warm and lived in an house dug into the ground, he was schooled to find practical solutions to overwhelming problems, and he believed solutions could be found, step step step.  Sometimes he found those solutions outdoors.  Sometimes in books.

1 dad as young thing

So I grew up watching him learn to inoculate mules against sleeping sickness.  To hold down a grass roof that seemed determined to blow away in a gale and sail down the valley.  To harness waterfall power for a mill that would grind flour for Maji and also bring running water to our house.  To fly a plane.


It wasn’t easy when the Big Duck had something on his mind to be a little duckling paddling along behind, trying to keep up, not sure he even remembered I was there.   But from as far back as I can remember, he was always up to something interesting and engaging, always full of life.




When he came back to Portland, he turned his back yard into a place of berries and fruit trees and compost and habitat long before those things had caught on as good ideas.  I think of him almost every time I have my fingers in the dirt.  I think of him as I find my own path as a grandparent.


David 1

Jonathan 2

But he didn’t always have time or attention for us.  His mind was on the big world a lot of the time–and during those years he lived in Portland, he still traveled (a LOT) and asked questions and told stories all over that big world.

reindeer woman

Missing you today, Dad, and thinking about those big old footsteps walking on ahead while I ran to keep up…and mulling all the things that ripple on.  Family connections.  Ethiopia connections.  Stories.

1 Jon with Noh


Inku and beach 017




One thing

Do one thing.

It’s a comforting thought, isn’t it?  In The Oregonian article I was reading while keeping my mom company this morning, the one thing was to ditch harmful chemicals used to clean toilet bowls and, instead, sprinkle baking soda in the evening and wake to sparkling white.  Hmmm.

So much to do in my life that feels important.  Reading.  Writing.  Teaching.  Family celebrations.


Volunteering, too.  So many kids who deserve a thinking, active, reading education in Ethiopia–like these kids who gathered around the Ethiopia Reads mobile horse library near Kololo.

Off to Kololo 052

It can be overwhelming.

And now so many weeds to pull.

1 weeds (2)

Last week, I had my visit from the volunteer from the Portland Backyard Habitat Certification Program–and I got some surprises.  This one, for example, isn’t invasive.  Oh, it might take over and dig its roots deep deep deep, but it’s not competing with Oregon wildflowers and dominating public spaces.

English ivy is.  My visiting sweeties loved the clip and snip of helping me fill this city compost bin with it (one bin down, hundreds more to go).


Pokeweed is.  Last year, I kept wondering, What is that plant??  This year, after the backyard visit, I dug in to try to dig out its roots.  (This is only the crown.)


Creeping buttercup is.  I only had a small infestation (I think), which I replaced with wood and rocks that I gathered from other places in the yard.


It’ll take years to turn my back yard into a place Lanie could be proud of.  But I can do one thing.  Or two. Or three.  And when one of my sweeties got back home, she sent me a picture of a weed to ask if it was one of the bad ones.


When we do one thing and the kids of the earth see us, who knows what one-two-three things they’ll do, too?