Author Archives: Karen Valentine

What are We Willing to Risk Today?

What are We Willing to Risk Today?


In the spring while the cherry blossoms were showing off, I went to Alexandria Virginia to visit Pat, my dear friend, and spiritual director. We chat Thursday nights unless one of us is too pooped. Embarrassingly, it is usually me.

If you spoke with Pat on the phone, you would think you were speaking to a very spunky fifty-year-old, engaged, clever, opinionated, intelligent, and passionate. Pat drove me to catch the Metro so I could visit D.C, takes two flights of stairs routinely, and insisted on cooking for me each night. She is ninety-three and treasured.

Something we are both passionate about is voting. It is a privilege that was won, literally by the blood, sweat, and tears of other women. These are my heroines, not movie stars, politicians, beauty queens, TV personalities, not even great singers. Pat and I never take these women for granted. For years our Grandmothers, aunts, and her mother could not vote. Can you really imagine it?

                                          Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, April 2018

As I stood in front of the White House on Pennsylvania Avenue, I remembered a photo of the suffragists, the National Women’s Party in 1917, standing in the same spot holding picket signs. About two hundred women were arrested during those days, half of them sent to prison. Alice Paul, their leader, and others who went on hunger strikes in protest were force-fed. Those brave, determined, women fought and suffered, so I don’t have to.

“It is doubtful if any man, even among suffrage men, ever realized what the suffrage struggle came to mean to women before the end was allowed in America. How much of time and patience, how much work, energy and aspiration, how much faith, how much hope, how much despair went into it. It leaves its mark on one, such a struggle. It fills the days, and it rides the nights. Working, eating, drinking, sleeping, it is there.”  –Carrie Chapman Catt, 1923 Woman Suffrage and Politics

All I must do to vote is literally drive to the church next door, provide identification, and cast my ballot. I do feel the power and privilege of that and never take it for granted.

The White House, April, 2018

If you have not seen the movie starring Hillary Swank “Iron Jawed Angels,” 2004, or “Suffragettes,” 2015, starring Carrie Mulligan, do. The first chronicles a brief period in the protracted journey the suffragists here took to get us the vote. The latter tells the story of the more militant suffragettes in England and their struggle.

The National American Woman’s Suffrage Association was formed in 1890; it took thirty years for them to win the vote. Thirty years! Do you have something in your life you feel so passionate about that you would risk loss of income, relationships, marriage, safety, and health to gain? For years-on-end? These things and more they lost, many of them died before the vote was won. They gave their lives in service to their country, for you and me.

Suffragists were rich and poor, socialites and working class, religious and agnostic, single and married, bold and timid, public figures and private. What they had in common was a commitment to gain the ability to participate in the democratic process in the country they dearly loved and supported each day with their lives. They had the right, but not the vote.

  Eleanor Roosevelt Memorial April, 2018

Women who attempted to vote prior to 1920 were turned away. Susan B Anthony actually succeeded but was later arrested for it. Arrested for voting.

In 1916 Alice Paul formed the National Woman’s Party, a group that was willing to do whatever it took. At that time, it was frowned upon for a woman to engage in public speaking. The group’s conventions were disrupted by male opponents. The activities of married suffragists were hampered by laws. They could not legally sign contracts, which made it difficult to plan meetings or print materials. After that time, much of the effort took place state by state.

Lucy Stone, one of the NAWSA members and an eloquent public speaker, refused to pay her taxes on the grounds that women were taxed without being able to vote on tax laws. The courts sold all her household goods at auction until enough was raised to pay her taxes.

Thomas Jefferson Memorial, April, 2018

In 1866 Elizabeth Cady Stanton ran for Congress, which was ironic since she could not vote. She wanted to serve and was the first woman to run. She received two dozen votes out of 12,000 cast.

The suffrage movement held 480 campaigns in 33 states between 1870 and 1910 to have the issue of women’s suffrage brought before the voters, only 17 times was it placed on the ballot. There were many groups opposed to suffrage, brewers and distillers, cotton mills, newspapers, religious institutions, women’s anti-suffrage groups, many southern states, and presidents.

Members of the National American Woman’s Suffrage Association, Alice Paul, and Harriet Stanton Blatch traveled to England to help with the efforts there and returned to the U.S. infused with new ideas. After returning Alice and Lucy Burns organized a suffrage parade to be the day before Woodrow Wilson’s presidential inauguration, March 3rd 1913.

Wilson was opposed to suffrage for many years. Opponents stormed the streets in droves and turned the event into a riot; the cavalry had to restore order. Both male and female participants were shoved, hit and spat on.

World War II Memorial April, 2018

Although this event did not come off as planned, it was a boon to their efforts; the press harshly criticized the offenders and garnered the attention of those in power. Slowly things began to change. I will not elaborate because I am not a historian, and this process was extremely l-o-n-g and confusing at best.

World War I had an enormous impact on the movement as women in so many countries stepped up to aid war efforts. Their sacrifices were recognized in this country as well as others, and a suffrage bill was put before the House of Representatives. It took five more years, and grueling effort before the Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S Constitution was passed in 1920.

Last week as I addressed postcards asking Oklahoman’s to vote on November 6th, I could feel our suffragists with me. I will be forever grateful for them; I am humbled at their sacrifices.

Text- The nineteenth amendment to the constitution:

The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.


Source, Wikipedia, Oct 31, 2018 Women’s Suffrage in the United States                                              If you wish to read more, this struggle lasted half a century. The Wikipedia piece is very detailed.





Meant for Better Things

Meant for Better Things

. . .we’re squeezed into uncomfortable things that pull, pinch, tug, choke, itch, hike up or down, and make the days of our lives miserable. We wear these creations of torture, we tell ourselves, in order to be agreeable to the rest of the world. But, why shouldn’t we find a way to make the rest of the world agreeable to us instead?”   —Sarah Ban Breathnach, Simple Abundance


Back in the day, I was a “disco” dancer. A night of dancing was torture for your feet, especially in the shoes we wore back then. They were a cross between stilettos and the stacked heels girls wear today. John Travolta would have been proud.

I took a dance class to learn new moves. A guy named Kim, several years younger tossed me over his shoulder and expected me to land on my feet. It resembled a mis-fired double lutz. My feet never forgave me.

A few years ago I took all my high-heels to Goodwill. I could still wear them, but my “sensibilities” had changed; I was no longer willing to drink the fashion slave kool-aid.

Recently I heard a radio interview with a surgeon who stated: ”Once a week someone comes in wanting her feet surgically altered to fit a particular shoe.” It sickened me to think one would do this for a pair of shoes! It reminded me of the practice of foot binding forced upon young girls that took place in China.

”. . . historical records from the Song dynasty (960-1279 A.D.) date footbinding as beginning during the reign of Li Yu, who ruled over one region of China between 961-975.  But the practice was not banned until 1912 . . .”, Painful Memories for China’s Footbinding Survivors March 19th, 2007.

Cultural tradition was of utmost importance during this period. Obedience was imperative for females, obedience to parents, to husbands, to in-laws. Girls in the family were referred to as eldest sister, second sister, third sister, and youngest sister. They were insignificant.

Eldest sister held the most important position. Youngest sister’s cuteness might garner the attention of parents, but the middle sisters were invisible. They could not win the devotion of family. Girls were considered a burden; parents prayed for boys. Female babies were often drowned or left in the hills to die. Only the boys mattered.

The practice of girl’s foot binding was done to ensure social standing for the family. The smaller the feet and the better bound, the easier the father could secure a good marriage match for the girl. Smaller feet commanded a better “bride price” from the groom’s family. If the girl could marry well, it would help support her family. It was primarily about finances.

If foot binding was done correctly, the feet were referred to as “golden lotuses,” which made her more attractive to suitors. The feet were to look like the butt of the finest lotus blossom, which was a sexually stimulating aphrodisiac to the male. The tiny steps and swaying of a woman with bound feet were also considered erotic.

Toes were bound under the ball of the foot, which eventually broke the toes, often they rotted and fell off because the tiny girls were made to walk over and over again on their curled under toes until they broke. Finally, the arch of the foot was broken. This took place over a two year period. The final result? A foot of no more than 10 centimeters long, four inches, about the length of your thumb.

One out of ten girls died from foot binding.

Six years of age was the typical foot binding age. Oddly enough, it was the mothers who carried out the torture of binding and periodic tightening, despite the wails of their tiny daughters. When I remember the sweet faces of my nieces at that age, I feel a deep ache in my feet and heavy defeat in my spirit at the inevitability of struggle. Those who fought and struggled often died, because the bindings were done poorly and caused infection.

It was usually done in the fall; with winter following, the cold would numb some of the pain.

Most Chinese homes were two stories. Once a girl had her feet bound, she lived most of the rest of her life in an upstairs prison. Why? Her feet were so deformed, tiny, and painful she could not walk far. She sat for long hours learning exquisite embroidery skills, another economic reason foot binding persisted for so long.  This, yet another form of female subjugation.

In some rural provinces, the feet were not bound permanently; this allowed the feet to be closer to normal shape and size. This was done so the girls could work in the fields, again, all about finance.

They could no longer walk any distance and could never run again, ever. Some evenings as I strike out on my beloved evening walks I think about those girls who never could. Girls referred to their feet as “remembered feet.” See, Lisa Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, (Random House 05)

As a girl, I remember hearing “Sometimes we must be uncomfortable to look pretty.” As I became a young woman, I succumbed to it, wanting to move the beauty barometer up one more notch. I hoped the generation that came after mine would awaken and see the futility of this. But, some young women today have taken these practices to an entirely new level; self-torture, at tremendous personal expense, all to meet an ever-changing ambiguous beauty standard they will never reach. They are surely intended for better things.

The girls with the tiny bound feet were intended for better things too. I am sure of it.






Trip to Crazyland, 2015

Trip to Crazyland, 2015


“Sometimes you have to say it like you’re not coming back,

and most likely won’t be invited.”

Pat Meeks


One of the twin beds was soft, the other was sheetrock firm; I bounced as I sat on it. The soft bed had a nice mushy pillow, like the one at home. It would do.

It was unusually chilly for July; a welcome change in Oklahoma, where temperatures soar into triple digits. I sat down, covered my legs with my hoodie, and adjusted the lamp next to my soft bed and leaned back against the mushy pillow.

Surveying my little nest, I thought about what brought me back to the Forest of Peace, this spiritual sanctuary. An enormous sigh of relief started at the tip of my toes and rattled all the way up my spine, pouring out of my body spontaneously as a knowing grin found its way to my face.

Here in this sacred place lush with vegetation, rocky hiking trails, blue sky, and a few other quiet souls, I knew I could begin to heal, and remember who I was. It was the eighteenth month of a journey through loss, grief, and gut-wrenching anxiety; I was finally feeling alive again.

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When Music Held Me

When Music Held Me

“Ah, music,” he said, wiping his eyes. “A magic beyond all we do here!”
― J.K. RowlingHarry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

A yearning has settled over me the past few years as if some unnamed loss has occurred. Did I leave something behind? A recall of current events points to change as the culprit, inexorable change.

We just learned that Neil Diamond, Elton John, and Barbara Streisand have ended their touring days; soon Eric Clapton and Paul Simon will. Aretha Franklin gave it up a while back. This is life. We age, develop health issues, or priorities change, and we make difficult choices. Life must become simpler. I get it, it happened to me early, at thirty-eight.

These musicians sang my life, all against the backdrop of the Vietnam War. It was the seventies, the rise of feminism, environmentalism, technology, the questioning of-everything. A new normal. No wonder my passion for music is so acutely attuned.   Read the rest of this entry

The Other Side of the Bed

The Other Side of the Bed

It’s coming on Christmas

They’re cutting down trees

They’re putting up reindeer

And singing songs of joy and peace

Oh I wish I had a river I could skate away on.

River, Joni Mitchell


Not everyone looks forward to Christmas, for years I was one of them. It was more comfortable to ignore it, pass on all the festivities, and my life has been a cake walk compared to many. In some parts of the world, happy Christmas celebrations are nothing more than a distant dream and have been for entire lives.

We do not have to look to other countries to witness Christmas angst though. It is right here in front of us, but we are too self-concerned or self-congratulatory to awaken to it.

For me, it was not the reason for the celebration that made me shrink away; I treasured the divinity in the celebration, the birth of Jesus. It was the holiday gatherings I dreaded.  Read the rest of this entry

One More Midnight Confession

One More Midnight Confession

Sometimes I miss the younger woman I was. I do not look back and wish I had done this or that; I did most of it. What I do look back at with longing is the untamed spirit I had. The years have refined me, smoothed out my uncultivated surfaces, and tamed me.

Something as simple as driving, I saw as an adventure. I have collected more miles than average on my vehicles and it has not always been smooth cruising, or parking for that matter.

After overspending at the mall, I returned to my Jeep to find a policeman waiting for me. “Mam, your vehicle has been involved in a hit-and-run” he announced.

I told him I did not have a self-driving vehicle, so that was just not possible. He ushered me to the side of my car which revealed the entire side smashed as if I’d been in a significant accident.

A very-sturdy looking soldier approached, telling us he had “seen the whole thing.” We inquired how my car got smashed with no driver. He replied, “See that big green truck parked five spaces down?” We did see it. “He missed the space beside you and hit your car, got out, surveyed the damage, then moved his truck down a few spaces.” When the young driver returned to his green truck, he had quite the greeting party.  Read the rest of this entry

Wonder Woman

Wonder Woman

Grandmother God rose last night in the face of the full moon.

 I stood out in the still summer heat watching her.

How pale you look I said.

How hot you look she said.

We shared a smile.

Knowing God is seeing God where you find her.

–Stephen Charleston, Cloud Walking


Have you ever noticed that the everyday morphs into the rare and remarkable on closer inspection?

Taking photos is something I’m obsessed with, not great at it, but drawn to like a menopausal woman to chocolate. I want to look at the same places, same things, same people, and see something different. Something that will wake me up, stir my spirit into knowing I am alive, not just walking through a bland dream.

From my backyard, what’s left after the Clematis blossom fades.

It’s been suggested that I take a photography course, or at least buy a good digital camera with all the glickins. That would take the fun out of it for me, the spontaneity in seeing what I can produce with my little iPhone five. The blog most likely deserves better, but I am resisting as long as I can.

The bottom side of a mushroom, from my yard.

Revealing the spectacular in the ordinary does not disappoint. It is a meditative practice for me. What we seek cannot be found in our iPhones, television, Facebook, dinner out, or any other distraction “out there.” It is always here, inside us. If you slow down and resist being sucked into today’s negative drama you find an entire other world to concern yourself with, vastly more interesting and soul nourishing.

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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.

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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.

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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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