How To Saunter

(For Owen)

Forget what you left behind if possible; think ‘wander’,

Look ahead, nonchalantly, toward the path,

Only as far as the flowers and

the birds that have nested near the climbing hydrangea.

While we’re on the subject of birds,

study them quietly — let them teach

you about what’s important; notice

their priorities (do they spend time worrying over small things?).

Sauntering requires that you dismiss

the minute, mundane worries of life

and remain free to inhabit

the joyful moments of life instead.

To enjoy life, even the slightest bit,

one must saunter.


No Monsters Here

(a poem written for my students in 2011, after news of a school shooting incident)

Four walls around us protect

Not only from the elements,

But from the ‘Out There’;


In here, there are no monsters;

Hydras, Chimeras, Griffins

and Dragons, STAY OUT!


There is a bubble around

Us–we are safe and sound.

Even if you pound, pound, pound,


We won’t worry because

In this room no monsters

Roam; we shine in this room.


“In the late 1920s and early 30s, Jefferson was quite a town. Sometimes I would ride in Bob Terhune’s Star Car when he delivered milk and cream to Jefferson. The Terhune children, Bob, Betty and Ruth were my age and I got to go along. My favorite stop was the ice cream parlor. It was the in the old Jones building that burned. It was a long room with candy counters up front. Lots of candy! I believe for 1 cent you could get your pick of two pieces of candy. Then there was the ice cream bar with high stools where you could get an ice cream cone. In the back was the ice cream parlor with little round tables with glass tops and cute chairs made of heavy gage wire. There you could sit and have ice cream sodas, sundaes, etc. Oh what a treat that was.”

–Louise Looney Cox

Baritone Ukulele


It’s time for me to tell this story–about the broken baritone ukelele, Buddy the Australian Shepherd and the artisan acoustic instrument shop on 2nd Street in Corvallis.

Just about one year ago, when I was wandering the streets of Corvallis looking for dogs to befriend, short of funds and a job, I found myself on 2nd Street. Since I had never before entered Troubador Music I decided to go in that day. The small container garden out front, mixed with the mysterious and thrilling wood and rosin smells coming from inside as I opened the door, immediately welcomed me.

Imagine a working violin shop: beautiful, well-loved instruments hung above the front counter at about head-height, a large open space which doubled as a showroom and intimate venue for evening concerts, musical sounds in the form of ‘plucks’ and ‘thumps’ coming from a back work room. That is Troubadour Music.

Since I was considering selling my hard-earned Blue Lion Mountain Dulcimer (I’d been playing Mountain Dulcimer for more than 20 years) I decided to ask about their consignment policy. Selling it would pay my living expenses for one month.

I had a lovely talk with Kent (the owner) and the kind sales associate; both gracious and helpful.

Then I had a sweet interaction with Buddy, the elderly Australian Shepherd lying on the floor at our feet. When I stood though, a catastrophe occurred. The baritone ukulele hanging above the counter met my up-coming head and bounced to the cement floor. Many emotions bounced across Kent’s face. He told me it was beyond repair due to the broken inner body. I couldn’t stop from calculating how long it was going to take me to pay for this instrument, especially since I was already having trouble paying for just my rent. Of course I was crying.

“Wait,” Kent said thoughtfully, “you were giving love to my dog when this happened. I don’t want you worry about this. In the bigger scheme of things, love is more important than money or this instrument.”We went on to talk for nearly an hour about potential jobs, including teaching English at the nearest Community College (where Kent sometimes teaches poetry).

I left that day exhausted by the event. I spent much of the following year thinking about this baritone ukulele but my energy was spent looking and trying work that suited me. I didn’t come any closer to paying for that instrument and it weighed heavily on me. My dulcimer hadn’t ended up selling, so I kept it at home with me and played it occasionally but found little joy in it since my chronic pain interfered with the playing.

My walks still took me past Troubadour Music and I frequently saw Kent and Buddy enjoying breaks outside together. Each time I’d cringe inside and remember the feeling of that ukelele hitting the concrete floor. Two weeks ago I formulated a plan: I’d leave my dulcimer as a gift for Kent. He’d be able to sell it eventually or use it himself. I set aside the perfect time and dropped it off. Tears came a little as I reminded the sales associate about that earlier baritone ukelele falling day. She told me that Kent wasn’t there, but that maybe I should reconsider. I didn’t need to pay for the broken instrument. But I was insistent and I left my name and phone number and a note explaining the gift.

Later the same day, Kent called to thank me. He invited my dog Pearl and I to visit he and Buddy at the shop any time. We have since met on the sidewalk near Toubadour Music and Pearl and Buddy instantly appreciated each other. Kent reached in his pocket, found two small treats, one for Buddy and one for Pearl. Before giving them to each dog, he kissed the treats (a trick known to increase the value of the food).

Now my walks down 2nd Street are more pleasant again. When I think of that baritone ukulele hitting the cement, I don’t feel like crying anymore.

Continuing The Walk, 3

The world continues to weigh heavily on me. AlthIMG_0260ough I don’t find it easy to do, my goal is to focus on those I meet face-to-face in my neighborhood more than I focus on our national political scene and what I can’t change. The thing is, since I’ve been locally focused, I have been impressed by the beauty around me; in the people I know (and those I don’t know) that pass through my days here in Corvallis, Oregon.

Last I wrote, Pearl and I had just passed Bob’s Mirror and Glass and Robnett’s Hardware. Now, she’s ready for the city dog park and it’s the perfect time of day–2:30 in the afternoon. There are fewer dogs at this time and most often a higher rate of low-to-the-ground dogs like Pearl. So that’s where we’re headed.

We pass the coffee shop on the right, then the last block of apartments and businesses and Pearl is at a restrained gallop. Lately, I’ve had to take her in through the small dog entrance because she gets anxious while I remove her harness and the bigger dogs crowd the gate, waiting for her to enter so they can sniff her. She puffs herself up and growls ferociously, making everyone think she’s awful and mean (which she’s not) and say, “Oh, she’s a terrier” (which she is) . She runs around wildly in the small area until she seems ready to run with the bigger dogs. Timber is here! A Husky that Pearl recently played with and now loves to follow around (mostly to see whether she can get him to chase her).

Pearl didn’t love Timber at first; she was scared. Timber didn’t act rattled by Pearl’s bark or bared teeth initially, which seems to be important to Pearl. Now they run off across the park to see who can make it around the big Fir tree first. It’s Pearl, after a speedy barrel roll through the wood chips. Timber’s human is a quiet woman who always chuckles at Pearl’s antics and who always tries to get Pearl to allow a quick scratch behind her ears. So far, no luck but Pearl is getting closer and closer to allowing it. Right now, as Timber takes a water bucket break, Pearl makes a quick drive-by sniff of her shoes, which makes us both chuckle.

Dog park behavior, both the dogs and the humans, always leaves me with a lot of thinking to do. I’m always relieved when people can see past Pearl’s scruffy feisty greetings because I want them to know how wonderful she is. She puts on a big show with people who seem threatening to her because she doesn’t want to get stepped on or called, “So cute” (so demeaning) one more time.

I can relate in some ways because I feel threatened by certain human behavior and am still learning how to stand my ground in order to avoid being stepped on. I’m not very good at it sometimes. I end up giving people the unintentional mixed message that I don’t care for them when really, I’m just scared of getting hurt. So I teach Pearl to be less grumbly when she meets new people and she teaches me to stand my ground when I have strong feelings about something.

The walk back up Second Street to our apartment is usually not a direct route. We stop back by River Jewelry so that Pearl can collect some more love from her good friends there. Once home again, Pearl  breathes a sigh of contentment and flops over for one of her many naps.

Tiny Garden

Just outside the outer door of my apartment building (and just about on every block of downtown Corvallis), there is a a garbage receptacle. My landlord designed it and it is brilliant in my opinion. Made of cement, it has two compartments–the lower one houses the actual garbage can and the upper one is reserved for planting flowers. There is just enough space for a little bit of soil and a few pansies or succulents. The outer cement housing is decorated artfully with glass mosaic.

Unfortunately some late-night customers of the bar across the street ‘planted’ cigarette butts in the planter atop this garbage receptacle. For the first year of life in this apartment, I’d walk out the door, see the ashtray/planter and silently complain about the jerks that misused the planter. It took me a year of complaining before realizing that I could do something about this problem.

Up until then, I kept thinking, “I wish the authorities would do something to fix this. I wish someone would plant some flowers there. I wish someone would make those people stop putting out cigarettes in the planter.” One year of this.

The problem: I didn’t see myself as an authority; as anyone who could do anything to solve any problem. I’m still working on it. Through some trauma in my life, I have come to think of myself as nothing and no one. This has made it tough to succeed in many things during the past two years.

IMG_0443I am working on it though, and after a year of walking out that apartment door and seeing that planter, the idea that I could plant flowers there struck me. Finally. Since I didn’t have funds to buy much in the way of plants/flowers, on my daily walks, I took starts from the other planters on other blocks. Mostly, I planted succulents since I wouldn’t need to water often. The most surprising thing about it all is–the plants are thriving and no one is using that planter as an ashtray anymore!

My friend likes to use a phrase when she hears negative thoughts spin through her mind: Remove and Replace. This ashtray to flower planter experience has given me a perfect image of this phrase. I can thrive when I remove the old negative ones and replace them with more helpful ones. Sometimes this idea helps me a lot. Now all I need to do is to pay attention to that planter when I walk out my apartment door each day. And water it occasionally.

Circle of Light

My Language Classroom

My Language Classroom

“What does everyone want in life? To not be alone.” Stephen Colbert

In a recent collection of short videos about his Catholic Faith, Stephen Colbert made the observation at the beginning of this post, referring to his show, The Colbert Report. (“Stephen Colbert Opens Up About His Devout Christian Faith, Islam, Pope Francis, and More” by Barbie Latza Nadeau, 9-9-15, The Daily Beast). The entire collection of videos is worth watching because Colbert’s thinking and communication are both so clear, but this one line in particular stayed with me and I’m still processing days after watching it; the idea resonates with me because I’ve already been seeing this thread of a theme throughout my life as I reflect back and back, even to childhood.

One of my favorite ways to spend time is listening to or watching stand up comics and my favorite comedians are those who include everyone in the audience in their jokes: Ellen Degeneres, Mike Birbiglia, The Smothers Brothers, Carol Burnett, Bob Newhart, Victor Borge. After an informal analysis (i.e.: watching hours of Youtube sketches, to my delight), I’ve determined that these folks tend(ed) to draw the audience into their story, as if into their own family, so that the audience feels a solidarity with them by the end of the routine. We feel as if we have a new friend and if we met one of these comics on the street, we’d greet each other with a hug or a handshake. These comics don’t leave us alone, outside of their circle of light and humor which they’ve created, but draw us in with them. This is what makes a great comic, I think. I want to be part of their happiness.

On a larger scale, I agree with Colbert: what any of us want is a place to belong, a family, a village. It is in this circle that we feel secure in our own bodies and spirit, as if we can be ourselves without fear of persecution. The art is to create this “family” without causing others to feel persecuted or left out, which is an easy way to create a group–putting up a boundary or wall of some kind to demarcate the differences involved.

Growing up as the youngest of three sisters provided many opportunities for any one of us to have hurt feelings throughout our childhood years. One vivid and early memory I have related to this was on a summer day in my Grandma’s back yard, near the swing set (which had no swings–we had ingeniously converted it to a large tent by throwing table cloths and bed spreads over it). My memory, like a silent movie, includes my siblings and neighbor boys running off to the next adventure without me, and being left alone, I stand there wailing, immobilized by the feeling of being left out of the group. But then one of the boys returned to reassure me that I could join them, I just needed to hurry up and run with him. I might have been 6 or 7 at the time, I’m not really sure.

Maybe spending my life as a teacher has taught me more about this idea of the circle of light I’m thinking of because in my classrooms, the highest goal of all for me was to create a kind community; this was of utmost importance in order for learning to happen. I still know this to be true as I teach adults in a second language setting. I’ve learned to find what we have in common before teaching the hardest concepts.

I have read and re-read Sharon Salzberg’s book, The Force of Kindness, which I stumbled upon at the city library’s 50 cent book store. In Chapter Four, entitled “How We See the World”, she says:

If we are willing to take a risk anyway, and consciously practice kindness, we see that, unlike the world’s message, which is ‘buy more,’ ‘compete more strongly,’ ‘It’s a dog eat dog world,’ a much more refined happiness comes from feeling joined, from a sense of belonging–both to this life, and to one another. We need to hone our own sense of purpose. We need to understand what will actually allow happiness beyond acquisition, what will help us realize happiness more steadfast than any temporary pleasure of fleeting triumph.

Salzburg also tells a story in the same chapter about a woman she overheard on a New York Street saying, “I was sick all winter,” and when Salzburg turned around, she witnessed this woman handing a street person some money. The woman said, “I had pneumonia, and every time I started to get better I’d have a relapse. Now I am finally getting better, and I just wanted to share the joy.”

Sharing the joy is including others in a circle of light too, and it’s what I aspire to every day of my life. There are so many days that I know I have failed in this aspiration, but I want to keep trying. I hope to continue my study of comics in the hope that their wisdom infuses my life. I think Colbert has it nailed when he said: “What does everyone want in life? To not be alone.”