Lives of trees intertwine with family

It took seven strong men in four big trucks little more than three hours to take down 30 years of history.

Two 80-foot white pines bit the dust. Or the grass in the backyard in this case.

Bark beetles had taken their toll on our once-lovely towering pines. The beetles leave pinholes in the bark and mounds of sawdust at the base of the tree to let you know they’re hard at work. If you’re ever driving along and see a row of pines looking deep fried, extra crisp, or an entire mountainside with trees that look like they have been painted with rust, say hello to the bark beetles. They are dastardly little things.

Personal history and memories often intertwine with trees. There was a stately row of poplars in my first childhood home. I never picture the house without the trees.

Out on the farm, our grandparents always cut a Christmas tree from the fields. It was short and squat, had stiff needles that left scratch marks on your arms and smelled wonderful. That tree was a family tradition.

The pines in our backyard were only 5-feet tall when we moved in. They grew right alongside our kids and in the same manner—silently and quickly, but without the orthodontia and pizza.

Those pines once stretched a hammock between the two of them. They watched over swimming pools, campouts, rounds of hide and seek, snowfalls, one unauthorized bonfire and countless family gatherings.

A huge willow tree once stood in the backyard as well. The kids had a treehouse in it for a long time. Neighbor kids enjoyed it, too. The old willow rotted from the inside out and had to be taken down. The kids are in their 30s now and they’re still mad about the willow.

There’s a sadness to a fallen tree, a hollow thud that echoes death when it hits the ground.

My husband and I were working as newspaper photographers in the Pacific Northwest when Mt. St. Helens exploded. Forests were annihilated. Sprawling stands of evergreens stripped bare and splayed like bristles from a hairbrush on the charred and barren mountainside.

It was jaw-dropping, not unlike the aftermath of hurricanes and tornadoes. The loss of trees somehow compounds the even greater losses of lives and homes.

Trees tend to be symbols of strength and beauty. The death of a tree is a reminder of our own vulnerability.

The trees returned to Mt. St. Helens —and they returned faster than the experts predicted. To all who had witnessed the devastation, the regrowth was invigorating.  Those small seedlings cradled the beauty of new beginnings.

We’ve filled in the empty holes where the pines stood and dug a new hole that waits delivery of a Norway spruce.

One of the grands asked how tall the new tree is.

“Not much taller than I am,” I said.

“Can we decorate it for Christmas?” she asked, eyes twinkling.

New growth and new memories.

Getting a lock on your true friends

I heard a man say that your true friends are the ones you can call at 2 a.m. to bail you out of jail.

Why I’d be out at 2 a.m., arrested and in jail, paled next to the question of who my true friends are.

I immediately thought of a friend of 30 years. Definitely. She’s the one I’d call.  Plus, she lives in the neighborhood, so I’d be an easy drop-off. But the more I thought about it, I realized she’s not the sort you want to rouse out of a deep sleep. I’d need to wait until around 9:30 a.m. when she’s fully functioning. That would mean nearly eight hours in the slammer. I scratch her off the list. I guess we aren’t as close as I thought.

Another friend sprang to mind but she’s one who thinks the best of everyone, myself included. If I called at 2 a.m. to say I needed her to post bail she’d come unhinged and wouldn’t be in any condition to drive. Another one off the list. Maybe it’s time to run with a tougher crowd.

I realized a number of my friends are at that age where they’re tooling around the country visiting grandkids or taking grandkids on trips. Some friends. Never home when you need them.

A few others came to mind, but being in a police station could be unsettling for them. Then I thought, well I imagine it would be unsettling for me, too. I scratched them off the list and was miffed at their attitudes.

Striking out with friends, I moved on to family.

My first thought was the husband, but he has a way of tuning his cell phone completely out at night unless it’s dinging with a breaking news alert. Those he hears. He’d bail me out, but to get his attention I’d need coverage from a cable news network. More than 35 years of marriage and he’s a maybe.

I could call my brother if he lived closer. He’d come. Then again, he can be a tough love sort of guy when it comes to these situations. I could hear him telling me maybe I should sit there and think things over. I scratch through his name and make a note to give him a piece of my mind later.

I could call our youngest. We once picked her up at 1 a.m. when she was out with friends and her car was towed. She had parked in a drugstore parking lot—right in front of a sign that said “Customers Only, All Others Will Be Towed.” It would be like a payback. Nah, she’s married and has babies now. I couldn’t do that.

I have decided it is best not to go out at 2 a.m. or run afoul of the law. The hypothetical question may not have told me who my true friends are, but it was certainly a good deterrent to crime.

Straight talk about bad posture

Stand up. Stand up straight.

When was the last time you heard that? You were probably a kid.

Many of us don’t pay much attention to posture today.

I slump, you slump, we all slump.

As a nation, we have become a chiropractor’s dream.

We see somebody slouching and we don’t say, “Stand up straight,” we ask, “Who are you texting?”

The good news is that I now know where you can go to learn good posture. I was looking at photos of a recent wedding and one of the women commented on the bride’s  good posture. Another woman agreed and at the same time they both said, “Show choir!”

You may have thought high school show choir was where young people danced and sang and moved their arms in the same direction at the same time, but it is actually one of the last vestiges on earth where you can still learn good posture.

And you thought there wasn’t any good news in the world.

True, if you’re reading this, you’re probably too old for show choir, so maybe it’s not good news for you, but at least there’s hope for others.

And the ladies were right. The ladies are always right. The young woman’s posture was excellent. Her neck was extended, her shoulders were square and her back was straight. Her posture was so excellent that she towered two feet above everyone else in the photo. Not really. But good posture does give you additional height.

Good posture also helps combat chronic fatigue and neck and back pain, gives you a more powerful personal presentation, a better memory, a better mood and more testosterone. Oops. That was on a website about good posture for men.

A diagram for good posture for men and women who run says to keep your head up and your back straight, lean forward slightly, not raise your knees higher than your waist (as if), step from the middle of the front of your foot and, above all, do what comes naturally.

What comes naturally is walking. And slouching.

I’m one who needs to tune in to my posture more. And not just because I’m short. I wear heels to fix that.

I need to tune into my posture because I tend to slump in my computer chair. Ergonomic nothing. Sometimes I jump up to make sure I’m not prematurely aging and that my poor posture is from being at the computer too long.

How will any of us know if our backs are rounding or if we’ve simply spent too much of our lives hunched over mobile devices?

Personally, I pity those who have poor posture and slump due to sports —sprawling on the couch for days on end watching football, that is. Concussions aren’t the only risk that come with the game.

One last question: If I improve my posture, does that mean I stand corrected?

The husband just shouted, “Yes!”

Not known for quick goodbyes

The husband’s side of the family has never been known for quick goodbyes.

Whenever we were ready to leave my in-laws after a visit, phase one of our departure was to find my mother-in-law and father-in-law in the kitchen and tell them we were getting ready to go.

My mother-in-law would turn from the kitchen sink (she was always at the sink or the counter), my father-in-law would put down his newspaper, and they’d ask if we really had to leave.

We’d say yes and then we would all exchange hugs. They’d say what a good time they had and we’d say what a good time we had and then we’d promise to come back real soon.

Once we finally had our luggage in hand and the kids rounded up, there’d be another gathering at the door and everybody would hug once again. They’d say what a good time they had and we’d say what a good time we had and then all the kids would give hugs and kisses and we’d file out the door and they’d follow us.

Once we were actually standing by the car and the luggage was loaded, it was their custom to hug everybody once more and tell us what a good time they had. Naturally, we’d hug them once more and we’d tell them what a good time we had and the kids would all give another round of hugs and kisses because they knew that the third round of goodbyes was when Grandpa took dollar bills out of his wallet and began distributing them.

Once we were certifiably loaded in the car and instructed Grandma and Grandpa to please step back, they’d motion for us to roll down the windows. We’d roll the windows down and everybody would shout things like, “Drive safely!” “Goodbye,” “We love you!” “We love you, too!” “Call us when you get home.”

They’d stand there waving and we’d wave back and honk the horn as we rolled out of sight.

Once, it was so long between the time we first gathered in the kitchen to announce we were leaving and then gathered again at the car to say goodbye, that I ran back inside and made sandwiches for the kids because it was dinner time.

So what if we started to leave shortly after noon and didn’t pull out of the driveway until sunset?

Sometimes saying goodbye took an entire day of a two-day visit.

My in-laws were simply people who were never in a hurry and especially never in a hurry to say goodbye.

Today, when our son and his family announce they are leaving, our two sons-in-law start the stopwatches on their smart phones to time how long it takes them to get in the car.

Our son’s family once made it out of the house and into the car in under 50 minutes.

The sons-in-laws, both extremely efficient, shake their heads in disbelief.

“What you have witnessed are mere amateurs,” I tell the sons-in-law as we all stand outside once again waving goodbye. “They’ll never come close to our record.”

Super Woman to the stroller rescue!

Not to overstate things, but I’m pretty sure I was a hero last week.

There are some times when you just know you’re in the right place, at the right time, with the right skills, and you step up to the plate. It’s your moment to shine.

My moment to shine was in a mall parking lot. No, nothing was on fire, no one was choking, no one was in danger, but there were women on the verge of losing it.

I was backing out of my parking spot when I noticed two women of grandma-ish age behind a car with the trunk lid popped open. I continued backing out, took a second look and realized they were in trouble—big trouble. They were hovering over a collapsed double stroller on the ground and clearly neither of them had a clue how to open it.

I slammed on the brakes, threw the gearshift into park, jumped out and began yelling, “I’ve got this one, ladies! I’ve got it!”

Like riding a bike or driving a stick-shift, there are some things you never forget. Although, riding a bike and driving a stick-shift are a lot easier than opening a deluxe double stroller, which is more like wrestling an alligator.

Double strollers are the bad boys in the world of strollers. They are hulking SUVs rumbling at full throttle next to tiny quivering electric cars in need of a battery charge.

As I walked toward the women, I made eye contact and saw fear in their eyes. It wasn’t the stroller they were afraid of, it was me. They’d never seen a woman so crazy excited over a collapsed stroller.

Little did they know this very stroller model had humiliated me in four states. Finally, it all came to a head one cold, windy day in a small town in New Jersey. I’d been left in charge of twin grandbabies. Our mission? To get to the store four blocks away and bring something back for dinner. I was alone with that beast of a stroller. The babies were no help whatsoever. The doorman was dumbfounded. Several strong men tried to help, but walked away in defeat. I don’t remember how long I did battle. I do remember the babies were crying and I was perspiring, but I was determined the stroller would not prevail.

And then it happened – I discovered the secret—push, twist, jerk. You push the sliding bar all the way to the left, twist it all the way forward and then flick that 60-pound contraption with all your might. Sure, you’ll probably throw out your back, dislocate your shoulder and do permanent damage to your elbow, but this is family we’re talking about.

I did the push, twist, jerk move in the parking lot and opened the stroller for the ladies.

They were still offering me their profuse thanks as I flicked my superhero cape and soared away.


Here’s to you, Texas

We’re supposed to pretend we don’t notice skin color, but it’s been impossible not to notice in the pictures streaming out of the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey.

A black man trudges through floodwaters carrying a white child in each arm. He’s got this. More importantly, he’s got them.

Harris County, Texas Sheriff’s Deputy Rick Johnson was helping those in need of rescue from heavy flooding Sunday, Aug, 27, when a colleague snapped a photo of him carrying a small child in each of his arms.

A white man wearing a S.W.A.T. team hat carries a woman who appears to be of Asian descent with her infant curled and sleeping on her chest through floodwaters like it’s something he does every day. Nothin’ to see here, folks. Move along.

A reporter holds a microphone to a black man beside a boat and asks what he plans on doing. “Go try to save some lives,” he says, nonchalantly. No big deal. Just steppin’ up to the plate.

People rising to the challenge aren’t sorting those in need by their differences. They’re not sorting by color, ethnicity, gender, religious beliefs or political party.

Differences have been set aside. In the wake of unimaginable loss and tragedy, people have united and are coming to the aid of one another.

Days earlier, images streamed out of Berkeley showing a different side of us.

Antifa members were on the rampage. What protesters rallying with their heads and faces covered and are up to any good? The last big rallies where people hid their identities were conducted by the KKK. Antifa embodies the hatred and brutality of KKK, but with different wardrobe choices.

A video shows a mob chasing down a photographer, knocking him to the ground and savagely beating him. The mob just keeps kicking and slugging him over and over and over. It’s called windmilling. I didn’t know that. Did you?

A courageous woman in a red jacket tries to get between the man on the ground and the mob and the video ends. Did they beat her, too? Did they get her good?

I look at all these images and wonder how it feels.

How does it feel to hold a scared mother and her infant in your arms and rescue them? How does it feel to carry trembling children to higher ground?

How does it feel to beat the livin’ daylights out of a fellow citizen you may have stood beside in a Starbucks a few days ago?

Self-government, government of the people, by the people and for the people, is a high-risk proposition. It is so risky that few had tried it before our founding. Most nations were ruled by tribes, monarchs or the sword. Ours was to be a nation based on a shared belief in the crazy idea that all men were created equal—and given liberty and freedom would have opportunity to prosper and flourish.

True, liberty was not extended to all in the beginning, a blight forever on our history. It was an egregious wrong eventually righted in part by commitment to liberty.

So, is it working, this grand experiment in liberty? Does freedom bring out the best in us? It’s been questionable of late. But images from Texas would once again say the answer is yes.

The real question is, can we sustain the generosity, good will and character we muster in a crisis when we return to the day-to-day?

Here’s to you, Texas. Thanks for reminding us of the kind of Americans we need to be.

Gloves hold the hands of time

A pair of ladies’ fashion gloves rest at the bottom of a dresser drawer. I see them at least twice a year when I rotate cold-weather and warm-weather clothes.

The gloves are old and worn, a testament to age. They’re also soft to the touch and golden brown, like a newborn fawn. A sporty topstitch runs halfway down the back of the glove and around the top with the scalloped edge.

They belonged to my grandmother.

A cousin said she had found a stash of Grandma’s gloves and asked if I would like a pair. When the package arrived, I peeked inside and pulled the gloves out of the plastic sleeve in which they originally came from the department store. They looked as though they had been carefully put away. For next time.

They’re small, but my grandma was small. Small but sturdy—it runs in the family. At least among the females. The men are big and broad and the women are . . . well, let’s just say long, lean and leggy was not in our DNA.

She was a woman who needed sturdy hands and arms for kneading bread dough, butchering chickens and scrubbing wood floors. Delicacy wasn’t all that useful on a farm, not for tending nine children, firing up a wood cookstove or feeding a hungry threshing crew of 20 dirty men fresh from the field, gathered around long makeshift tables outdoors under the locust trees.

The hands that slid into those gloves had tended the sick, weeded gardens and washed countless dirty dishes in soapy water.

There was a time when ladies of every social and economic class wore gloves when they went out.  Gloves were part of the dress code of the day. They’re everywhere in our old black and white photos—gloves along with hats and pocketbooks, boxy purses with fierce clasps that would pinch any child’s fingers should they be messing where they didn’t belong.

These gloves put a lovely cover on the hands that fed hobos who rode the rails, wandered through the countryside during the Depression, and occasionally appeared at her kitchen door. They were the same hands that bid farewell to two sons going off to war and held the flag presented in honor of the one who didn’t make it home.

She was small but mighty. The story goes that she chased away a young man whom she considered an unsuitable suitor for one of her daughters with nothing but her bare hands and a broom. He later became a son-in-law.

I remember being a small girl and seeing those hands grip the steering wheel of an automobile so huge she could barely see over the dashboard.

And could those hands fly on a piano. They raced up and down the keys faster than the speed of sight. She could play any song she heard, from hymns to polkas to ragtime. Name your key.

She had music in her. And love and grit.

The gloves aren’t worth much in and of themselves, but they’re a lovely touch of the past.

New Mom Jeans still lack essentials

Just when you thought the world couldn’t get any crazier, Mom Jeans make a comeback.

Mom Jeans were a staple of the ‘80s—cinched at a high waistline, generous in the thighs, a broad backside and lots of pleats and tucks on the tummy for room to expand.

Think Debra from the early years of “Everybody Loves Raymond.”

Think Humpty Dumpty finding relaxed fit at the Gap.

Mom Jeans said, “If you want the breadsticks with cheese, go ahead and get the breadsticks with cheese!”

Mom Jeans were old-school denim that predated Spandex. They had absolutely no give. Bending over in all-cotton heavy denim that cut deep at the waist rendered many a woman unconscious.

Mom Jeans were a friend to no one, but they provided ample coverage— like an ill-fitting tarp.

Eventually, Mom Jeans were mocked, ridiculed, shamed and replaced by a new denim with stretch and a new design. Meet the skinny jean.

Skinny jeans brought with them an entirely different silhouette – women who looked like praying mantises—stick legs protruding from long flowing shirts and roomy tunics.

The youth culture propelled the skinny jeans to a long stretch (pun intended) of popularity. And now the youth have turned on their own. All the cool, hip stores courting teens and early 20-somethings are touting Mom Jeans.


American Eagle touts Mom Jeans claiming, “She’s never been more right about anything than she was about this fit.” One can only assume the copywriter was not alive during the ‘80s. But it’s always good to get credit for something.

Many of the new Mom Jeans are shredded at the knees. One retailer describes it as, “The beauty is in the breakdown: Destruction at the knees.”

They got it wrong. There’s never beauty in the breakdown of a mom in jeans. And the destruction is not in the knees, it’s in the wee hours of the morning, when the baby won’t sleep. Destruction is in front of the washing machine when you’re putting in a load of sheets somebody puked on, or in the grocery unable to focus because three kids are hanging onto or out of your cart.

The AE model wearing the Mom Jeans looks amazing. The caption says she’s 5’10” (more like 6’ 6” in the stilettos), has a 24” waist and wears a size 2 X-Long. If this woman has borne children, she’s a walking miracle.

Trendsetters call them Mom Jeans, but there has never really, truly been a Mom Jean. Authentic Mom Jeans would come with carabineers strapped to the belt loops—one for holding anti-bacterial hand gel and another for pacifiers. They’d have two generous back pockets, one for a cell phone and one for a wallet. They’d also have Velcro tabs on each side, one to hold a small packet of wipes and diapers and the other for Goldfish and Cheerios.

True Mom Jeans would make women look like human diaper bags.

There’s not a designer alive who would want to have credit for that line of jeans and not a young person alive who’d want to be caught dead in a pair.






Kids’ twisted vocab leaves us spellbound

We are constantly learning new things at our house. Of course, none of this enlightenment is the result of our own resourcefulness, but courtesy of the little people around us.

The husband got a call from one of the grands last week in which a squeaky voice said, “Mommy wants to trim the bushes. She said to tell you to bring the head trimmers when you come.”

Ouch. Seems like the hedge-trimmers would be less painful.

That same grand also reported being outside and seeing a gardening snake.

We’ve also been learning new things about anatomy.

One of the little ones had terrible stomach pains, so her mother took her to the emergency room suspecting her appendix. I saw her after she had been thoroughly checked out and asked how she was. “Fine!” she said, beaming. “And I still have my independix!”

We are also learning wonderful ways to ramp up superlatives.

One of the little ones had a cold for a few days and on the third day, when asked if she felt better, she said, “No. I feel worser.”

Maybe the dictionary people will add that to their list of words.

When the entire mob was last here and everybody was helping clean up, putting things away and turning furniture upright before leaving, a little voice yelled, “Grandma, where do you want me to put this dirty worm?”

He said it with sincerity—as though I probably had a special place in the house picked out for the worm he had been rolling in sand.

Sometimes it’s not what they say, but the way they think that is intriguing.

To a kid who asked for a second cookie: “You already have one cookie you’re eating. Why do you need another?”

“I want to be ready for when this one is gone.”

The kid will do well in business.

When we kept a couple of the grands for a few days, their mother told them that Grandma was going to be busy, but Grandpa would help them with their school lessons.

One of the kids looked Grandpa up and down, then said, “How do we know he knows anything?”

It has been a long time since he has been in school, but he does remember a thing or two.

They are also free with the commentary. A two-year-old watched her daddy get up from the dinner table, walk to the stove and help himself to a second serving. When he came back to the table and sat down, she looked at him and announced, “Da-da hoooooong-ry!”

They’re also creative when it comes to lending assistance, even if the assistance isn’t exactly on a professional level.

When the husband had a problem with his cornea, our daughter told her twins it was hard for Grandpa to open one eye.

First twin: “So he looks like a pirate?”

Second twin: “I’ll bring my doctor kit!”

Not the kind of health care he was hoping for, but it can always be worser.

Take cover – the zucchini are coming!

It is Zucchini Season once again, that delightful window of summer when zucchini are so abundant that people aggressively push them on family, friends and total strangers. Why, I’ve seen people standing on street corners randomly throwing them to passersby.

Yesterday a neighbor texted that she was sending her husband down with some zucchini. Her exact text was “whether you want them or not.” It read more like a threat than an offer.

Zucchini is to the garden what clothes hangers are to the laundry room—you close the door, darkness falls and they multiply like crazy.

Nobody ever asks, “How are your zucchini doing this year?” Zucchini are always doing well—their numbers are always up. Zucchini is the vegetable that keeps on giving. And giving. And giving.

I have often thought of the Old Testament passage describing Jews wandering in the wilderness living off of something called manna that they collected each morning before sunrise. I have concluded manna was probably a lot like zucchini. If not actual zucchini.

Zucchini is not only prolific, it is downright odd. Is there any other food on the face of this planet that people work harder at disguising? Zucchini bread, zucchini pasta, zucchini parmesan. The zucchini is in there somewhere, but you’re going to have to hunt to find it.

A friend had some ladies over one afternoon and served a lovely homemade pie. She asked us to guess what it was.

“Sugar pie?” someone said.

“Custard pie?” another asked.

“Zucchini pie!” she exclaimed. “You’d never know, would you?”

See what I mean? And they always say it with a “gotcha!” sort of attitude, like “hey, you really walked into that one.” I don’t know. I find that unsettling—and I always hope those people never get their hands on arsenic.

Listen, I’m certainly not one to cast the first zucchini.

I made latkes last night and waited until everybody had some to make my announcement.

“They have zucchini in them! You’d never know it, would you?”

They wouldn’t ever know it because they were basically potato latkes with hidden zucchini.

The point is, you cook zucchini with the intention of disguising it. Even people who eat it straight up first sauté it in oil, season it and sprinkle it with cheese.

Lest it sound like I am complaining, let me say that zucchini is very versatile. We’ve even used it to teach math.

If you have a dozen zucchini and your neighbor asks for one, how many do you have left?

None. You unload all the zucchini you can whenever you get a chance.