Author Archives: Karen Valentine

Could We Be Wrong?

Could We Be Wrong?


“Imagination will often carry us to worlds that never were, but without it we go nowhere.”          ― Carl Sagan

An amateur Spanish archaeologist, Marcelino de Sautuola, and his eight-year-old daughter Maria were exploring a cave in Altimira Spain in 1879 when Maria looked up and found striking paintings of bison on the ceiling.

Sautoula had seen similar displays of Paleolithic painting in Paris at an exposition and assumed their Altimira discovery might also date from the Stone Age. He and an archaeologist from the University of Madrid published these findings to quite a stir in the scientific community.

They presented the paper at an International Scientific Congress and were ridiculed. He was accused of forgery because he could not account for why there were no soot marks on the walls and ceilings of the cave. His accusers said Sautuola had the images painted by a modern artist.

The scientific community took issue with de Sautuola’s findings; so did the church. The theory of evolution was new in those days and his theory of a very talented Paleolithic painter who lived 15,000 years ago did not sit well with them, so de Sautuola was discredited even further.

In 1902 his critics admitted Sautuola’s paper was correct; that marrow fat was likely used as oil for the prehistoric painter’s lamp, leaving little to no soot. By then he had lived the rest of his life in shame. Sautuola became a hermit of sorts and died quite young; he did not live to enjoy his recovered reputation.

Sautuola was one of many scientists, philosophers, explorers, priests, and writers discredited for their beliefs. Jesus, Buddha, Columbus, Harriet Tubman, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Sue Monk Kidd, Carl Sagan, Sara Grimke, Joan de Arc, the Wright brothers, Alice Paul, and Galileo made the list. We could fill multiple pages with names from the past and present.

When I think of these people who were wounded by judgmental fear-driven critics, I wonder whom I’ve judged harshly and discounted.

Some people claim to get messages from those who have passed. Who am I to say they do not? One of them gave me a message from my mother. I had never met this woman, she knew nothing about me, my family or acquaintances, and my Mom had passed before the events the medium mentioned took place.

Neil Degrasse Tyson, the Astrophysicist, tells us “The atoms of our bodies are traceable to stars that manufactured them in their cores and exploded these enriched ingredients across our galaxy, billions of years ago.”  He shares this belief with most of the scientific community.

My Dad was a man of science and held that scientific theories of evolution and religious beliefs of creation can exist peacefully; I concur.

When I was young, I dreamed of a collapsible, climate controlled, travel pod. It would hold two people and travel just higher than the trees. It could be parked or collapsed to fit into a small rolling bag. On April 24th of this year an aerospace engineer working for a company called “Kitty Hawk” piloted a flying car above a lake north of San Francisco.

Many theoretical physicists believe there are infinite numbers of universes with different variations of people, and situations taking place, simultaneously. Everything that can possibly happen is occurring at some point across these multiverses. Perhaps we are not as unique as we think we are.

Claims of near death experiences push us to the limits of belief. Last year I read a book called Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Afterlife by Eben Alexander which gave me pause. Again, who am I to refute his statements?

I keep a journal of synchronistic events that are extraordinary to me. I am no scientist and not particularly clever, just curious. One of these events comes to mind regarding a book I wanted to read called City of Tranquil Light by Bo Caldwell.

Like other book-obsessed readers, I went to Barnes and Noble in a frenzied search for the book, but did not find it. Later my friend Daphne and I made our annual trek to the “Friends of the Library” book sale. There you find some 600,000 books, DVDs, and audiobooks for ridiculous prices.

I searched without success for the book and came out with twenty-six others. On the way out I walked by the audio book section which had been too crowded to venture into. I could only get close to one empty shelf with one audio book way on the very top; I could not see what it was. I reached up and brought down City of Tranquil Light.

Are we secure enough in ourselves and in our faith to explore the possibilities? Admit the world we think we know may not be what we think it is or more than we think it is? People we disagree with may be right? Perhaps we have not seen enough of the world first hand to judge. Are we far enough along the path to be at peace with the unknowing? The older I become, the more I realize I do not know. I resolve to suspend judgment and open to the wonder.

“The real problem has far less to do with what is really out there than it does with our resistance to finding out what is really out there. ”Learning To Walk in the Dark –―Barbara Brown Taylor 







If It Has Tires or Testicles. . .

If It Has Tires or Testicles. . .

“The warnings grew worse, depending on the danger at hand. Sex education, for example, consisted of the following advice: ‘Don’t ever let boy kiss you. You do, you can’t stop. Then you have baby. You put baby in garbage can. Police find you, put you in jail, then you life over, better just kill youself.” ― Amy TanThe Opposite of Fate: Memories of a Writing Life


The rare advice my Mom gave did come from left field, but thank God it was not as daunting as the warnings issued by Amy Tan’s Mom. Moms will dish out advice, generally unsolicited. My Mom was a different bird; she had a unique way of seeing the world and responding to it.

Mom shared her opinions frequently but seldom words of advice. She was terribly in love with her kids and guided us the best she knew how. I found her funny and intimidating in equal measure. Some of her words of wisdom still make me howl with laughter.

You’re not old enough yet to read thatHer response after thumbing through one of my books. I was about fifty at the time.

You and your sister have terrible memories, you shouldn’t eat food with preservatives! She might be right about this one. Notice she did not say “you kids”; our brother can tell you what he ate for lunch on March 1st, 1978!

You should have your Monday Tuesday Wednesday clothes ready ahead of time! When we went on trips she insisted that we lay our “outfits” for each day out on the bed according to day for easy packing. Yes, we’re all just a tad anal.

Sometimes we have to sacrifice comfort to look pretty. The first time she said this to me I was the flower girl in a wedding. The dress was stiff fabric with an enormous thick, ruffled, barbed wire like petticoat and I wore headgear of some manner. The entire ensemble itched and scratched with every breath. Tiny Lady Gaga gone wrong. Although I confess to having worn uncomfortable clothes at times, about fifteen years ago I took them (all high heels included) to the Goodwill.

Children are to be seen and not heard. And they wonder why I’m an introvert.

It was between when we went and when we didn’t. Her recollection of when something occurred.

Hitch your wagon to a star!  When I was small, I wondered a great deal about this advice. Yes, I had a wagon, but it was nowhere near tall enough to reach that high. In hindsight, this may be why I believe in magic.

Go take a bath! This advice rendered relief for any malady. A headache, broken leg, math test the next day, broken heart, or gas.

Ladies don’t drag their bottoms on the Floor! Advice to my one-year-old Chihuahua.  Marley, fourteen now, still strongly disagrees.

Never trust a man who wears a necklaceYeah she was pretty much spot on with this one.

Wear supportive underwear or a girdle if you have wiggle-waggle on the bottom. Still wearing Bikinis Mom, and yes I know I have some wiggle-waggle.

Look at you, that’s not you! For a few years, two little boys lived next door to my folks and followed my parents everywhere they went. (to their delight) The smaller one pointed to a portrait of Mom in the bedroom and asked who it was. When Mom told him it was her, he exclaimed “Look at you. That’s not you! This became Mom’s mantra anytime we had something on she didn’t like.

Nice girls don’t kiss boys. This, as I was leaving for a hay ride with a gaggle of teenagers. Total buzz kill.

I’m not very hungry tonight. Mom was a masterful country cook, me not-so-much. Nonetheless, I did most of the cooking when I was married even though my husband was a chef. When she visited, Mom would cut up her food, stir it about on her plate and try her best not to eat it. To circumvent this display, we just told her my husband had prepared the meal.  She ate it and complimented it every time.

You can’t wear that dress, it’s so short I can almost see your twinkie. When shorter skirts came on the scene, she began this lament.

You need to gain some weight, you have no hips! Well, I have certainly have them now, in addition to several other blobs of unneeded adipose tissue. Happy Mom?

Honey, put this in your Bosom to keep your cash in at the casino. It’s worked for me. Mom’s advice to granddaughter Jessica when she moved to Niagra Falls. She handed her a tiny white fabric pouch.

Be sure and get a cute one. Her response when I told her I was adopting a child.

You don’t like to be told what to do, but everyone looks better with a little makeup. I was fifty before I ventured out of the house without makeup in fear that folks who saw me would turn to stone.

Your mouth. . .never mind. It’s too late now! Mom’s reaction to seeing my sister Jan’s smile after she had just spent a tidy sum on cosmetic dentistry.

If it has tires or testicles, you are going to have trouble with it! The best advice she ever gave me!  Amen, thanks Mom, miss you so.


          “When your mother asks, “Do you want a piece of advice?” it’s a mere formality.

It doesn’t matter if you answer yes or no. You’re going to get it anyway.” ― Erma Bombeck


What We Have in Common

What We Have in Common


“There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.” — Albert Einstein

The campus chimes begin to toll as I step out onto the labyrinth at University of Central Oklahoma, one, two, three, four, five o’clock. A lovely, simple melody follows, and I continue on the red winding path. The music ends, and the chimes from a nearby church echo the same tune back, then play a hymn. It is Good Friday and the campus is deserted; I love the quiet and the peaceful setting. Perfect for my walking meditation today. I am in the first hour of a four-hour silent retreat and prayer vigil.

As I walk I think back over the past six months; I have been part of a group engaged in the spiritual exercises of St Ignatius. This daily retreat focuses on the entire life of Jesus and places the participant emotionally into scenes of his life with prayer, meditation, contemplation, and journaling. Total immersion. I first participated in the exercises sixteen years ago, and as my first experience, this one has been intimate, imbued with spiritual integrity, tolerance, and revelation.

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Dreams, Memes, and Circus Clowns

Dreams, Memes, and Circus Clowns

“The circus is a jealous wench. Indeed that is an understatement. She is a ravening hag who sucks your vitality as a vampire drinks blood – who kills the brightest stars in her crown and will allow no private life for those who serve her; wrecking their homes, ruining their bodies, and destroying the happiness of their loved ones by her insatiable demands. She is all of these things, and yet, I love her as I love nothing else on earth.”

-Henry Ringling North, The Circus Kings: Our Ringling Family Story


At about seven years of age, I first went to the circus in South Dakota. I was overwhelmed with the largest crowd I had ever seen, the organ music, the enormous animals, and sheer excitement of it. They were selling tiny green chameleons that magically turned the color of your blouse or anything else you placed it on. I never gave a thought as a child to the fate of the little creature, the performing animals who were constricted to circus life, or the folks who lived the circus life.

I haven’t been to the circus for forty years. Even before we knew of the alleged mistreatment of animals and the perils of circus life for performers, I hated to see wild animals in captivity. I remember the last time I attended watching a regal white tiger run circles ad nauseam within a huge sphere; it was heartbreaking to me. I’m sure it was to the animal too. That was my last circus.

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Seven Cold Weather Cures

Seven Cold Weather Cures

“All good books are alike in that they are truer than if they had really happened and after you are finished reading one you will feel that all that happened to you and afterwards it all belongs to you: the good and the bad, the ecstasy, the remorse and sorrow, the people and the places and how the weather was. If you can get so that you can give that to people, then you are a writer.” ― Ernest Hemingway


I have books all over my house, on my shelves, on my bedside table, on my couch, and on the floor. I think there are books in my underwear drawer. I l-o-v-e to read. Reading transports us to worlds we may never get to see, to ideas that would never come to us otherwise, to characters with depth of purpose we may never experience. Time and perception are altered, and we are given the opportunity to experience our wildest dreams.  Could anything be more delicious on a freezing afternoon than a good book, time to read, and a cup of hot chocolate?

On the road incessantly, I often listen to books that I download from the library. That four-hour drive across the state seems to float by in about an hour. Wonderful wizardry!! Sometimes I read on my iPad, laptop, or iPhone, but I prefer the real deal, an actual–book. You cannot really “curl up” with a Kindle.  Besides, my books are highlighted and underlined, with notes in the margins, and many, many, dog-eared pages.

“Must Reads” suggestions are rotated on the home page of the blog, (Yes, I have read each of them.) but today let’s focus on seven books that touched me, taught me, and opened a door I was better for having walked through.

City of Tranquil Light, Bo Caldwell, 2010

Caldwell’s story broke me open. It is historical fiction, but inspired by the lives of her grandparents, American missionaries with family in Oklahoma, who served in China under horrific circumstances. As a Christian, it revealed to me what purposeful, intentional trust in God looks like. It also reminded me of the sacrifices made by those who choose to share their spiritual gifts, and do so by listening rather than preaching and by healing rather than judging. The story also schooled me regarding life in mainland China in the early twentieth century during civil war. Caldwell delivers scene after scene with such clarity and devotion that I was brought to tears over and over again.

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Uncommon Mercy

Uncommon Mercy


I looked up from my hymnal to see bright, brown, innocent eyes peering back at me from two pews up. Fresh-faced and beaming, most likely of Chinese heritage, she looked about fourteen. My heart stopped, and I gasped out-loud.

I didn’t recall ever seeing her at St Augustine’s and have not seen her since. Looking back at the day, I am not sure I physically saw her.

The night before I watched a movie called “The Flowers of War.” I was drawn to it because my favorite actor, Christian Bale, was in it. I got a great deal more than I bargained for; the story had a profound effect on me. Six months later I feel compelled to tell the story.

Nanjing City

The movie was about the Chinese city of Nanking, the setting of one of the most horrific war crimes in history. I had never heard this story; it awakened me and revealed a depth of sacrifice I am not sure I possess.

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Are You Ms. Letters?

Are You Ms. Letters?

“At Midnight, even bad days come to an end.” —


Ninety-nine percent of the time I am not naked when I write my blogs. I guess that begs an explanation.

With meticulous detail, I dressed this morning, a new blouse, my cutest crème colored jacket with the cool belt that ties in the front, and my best Antonio Melani slacks. I took extra time with my eye makeup, careful to enhance my blue eyes. I even wore my best bra, not that anyone ever sees one of my bras, but I just wanted that extra confidence boost you have when you know the girls are up in the general vicinity where they belong.

When I arrived at the restaurant where I was meeting my manager for lunch, I jumped out of the car eager to be on time. The only parking place was on Sheridan Avenue, after all, it was Bricktown, Oklahoma City; there is never any parking. A man in a big truck squeezed into the last shaded spot; I inched into the last sunny spot.

West 50

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Searching for Our Better Selves

Searching for Our Better Selves

For those who lost their lives,

those who suffered unspeakable loss,

and those who were forever changed.


In this sacred garden, I walk among the pines, saplings not long ago. I look toward the Journal Record building and realize it was long ago, twenty-one years ago. For residents of central Oklahoma however, the memory is still fresh. Those who stood exactly where I am standing on April 19th at 9:01 that morning back in 1995 cannot walk among the pines.


I had been on vacation and was on my way back home to Oklahoma City. It was a romantic getaway to Key West Florida at a picturesque bed and breakfast, with peaceful beaches, fresh seafood, fancy concoctions of dark rum, pineapple, and coconut, and badly needed relaxation. Read the rest of this entry

Suppertime, and the Livin is Easy

Suppertime, and the Livin is Easy

Food, glorious food!
Hot sausage and mustard!
While we’re in the mood —
Cold jelly and custard!
Peas pudding and saveloys
What next is the question?
Rich gentlemen have it boys, in-di-gestion!

Food, glorious food!
Eat right through the menu.
Just loosen your belt
Two inches and then you
Work up a new appetite.
In this interlude —
The food,
Once again, food
Fabulous food,
Glorious food.

Oliver! -Lionel Bart

I love to eat. Constantly. If I am not eating I am thinking of food. You too? I figured. Eating makes us happy in a way nothing else can. Dining not only fuels our bodies and senses but is a superglue binding our memories and emotions. Those endorphins are furrowed right into our little taste buds.

When that combination of hot peach cobbler and sweet ice cream hits my tongue I am right back in 1966, huddled around Grandma Sander’s kitchen table with my sister Jan and Roger and Howard Sanders. We are playing a game; I don’t remember it, just the flavor of her cobbler and ice cream, like I have a bowl of it right here. I can feel the affection of those old friends and hear the music we sang. “Make the world go away, get it off my shoulder.” Cochran, Hank 1960

Unknown Coffee

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A Valentine to My Younger Self

A Valentine to My Younger Self

“God asks us to jump from our secure perches, to stop calculating the risks. Jesus bids us, “Take up your cross, follow me. . . . Don’t insist on knowing exactly what comes next but trust that you are in the hand of God, who will guide your life.”  Henri Nouwen —Turn My Mourning into Dancing

 My niece Jessica turned thirty recently; seems like she should still be my little four year old shadow. Her birthday takes me back to the thirty-year-old I was. Sometimes I think about that naive girl and wish I could tell her what only time and maturity can.

I found a worn photo from my thirtieth birthday; I worked for KATT radio in Oklahoma City then. I was holding my birthday cake with a sleepy KATT mascot iced onto it. The clock above her head read 8:15; I was supposed to be at work by 8:00. Still don’t like that morning thing.

30 B-Day Cake (3)

My expression in this photo clearly says “bite me”. I was newly divorced, on my own for the first time, and had just begun a new commission based sales job. I was poor, persnickety, and pale. Also a smidge insecure and overwhelmed.

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