Author Archives: Karen Valentine

Dear Corona

Dear Corona

“There are voices which we hear in solitude, but they grow faint and inaudible as we enter into the world.” —-Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

Corona, I curled my hair today for you. For the second time ever, St. Augustine’s Episcopal Church live-streamed services. Like everyone else, I stayed home. I curled my hair anyway.

Yesterday I cooked and froze enough food for four women; it will serve me well should you render me ill and unable to get out. The time for preparedness is now. It could happen.

We dash about in this country, seeking-what? Safety? Success? Money? Toilet paper? Entertainment? Inclusion? A Tribe? What we need now is to change our focus to something that provides a tiny reminder of where we place our faith. We eventually must choose what we cling to, fear, and things that will fade away, or something deeper, something sacred-like wonder.

To that end, I submit the below; please go to your respective happy places.

Does this seem right to you?

 

Shadow on the wall behind the altar at St Auggie’s, silently blessing us.

I learned a couple weeks ago from my Optometrist that I am a “half blinker.” Who knew there were half blinkers? What does this mean? Am I afraid I am going to miss the wonder, so I subconsciously refuse to give in to a full blink?  I think maybe so.

I wish I had the vision of a Mantis shrimp. According to a report by NPR, with sixteen cones in the retina of the eye, the Mantis shrimp sees more color than any living creature, colors we do not know, and cannot imagine. They are followed by butterflies with five cones, birds with four, we have three, and dogs have two.

Bubbles inside the humidifier, do ya see a wee shrimp in there?

 

From the grocery, when a bunny eats too many carrots.

Recently I was about to pass over a railroad track when I noticed a little bird sitting on the track. As I approached, he did not move. He looked about, left and right, and then he looked down. He did not take flight. He jumped down into that space between the concrete and the rail. He expanded his vision! I drove over, and he reclaimed his post atop the track.

This is perhaps why pigeons are sent on search missions, they are masters of vision and color detection! Birds are tetrachromats with four cones in the retina, which enable them to recognize the opposite sex, seeing colors we cannot, like ultraviolet. Some people have faulty or missing cones, which results in “color blindness,” a genetic predisposition. A select few humans are tetrachromats, like birds, and are able to see colors the rest of us do not.

Jerked a pie pan out from under, funnel flipped and landed!

 

Iridescent photo failure.

No matter our level of visual dexterity, we share an inner vision, spirit’s nudging, prompting, speaking to us. Let’s not permit insidious chaos and fear to pilfer our inner gifts of wonder, intuition, calm judgment, and faith. I am not suggesting adopting rose-colored Pollyanna vision, but vision based on maturity, experience, and on a new openness to multi-sensory perception.

Nora Gallagher, writer of the memoir, “Moonlight Sonata at the Mayo Clinic,” says, “Sometimes I think that faith is only about increasing our peripheral vision, our peripheral hearing.”  I agree.

Annual return of the most determined.

We increase our peripheral vision with immersion in prayer, meditation, contemplation, and journaling; we certainly have time now. This only requires willingness and focused engagement.

In these sequestered days, we can actively participate, engage, not sit about, and stew. Faith is born of engagement. The journaling, writing helps clarify everything. Uncertain what you think or feel about something? Write about it, and you’ll know.

Pumpkin seeds soaking, all up on tippie toes.

 

Cleaning the bathroom mirror, a smudge-man appeared.

We have time to let the sediment sink to the bottom, to clear the stream. All it takes is willingness to see differently. When we expand our view, there is so much to see! Spirit is constantly competing to get our attention, to aid our discernment, amuse us, calm us, and strengthen our resolve.

Trouble is, we let fear and lower-level thinking run ram shod. We stop noticing, stop seeing, stop recognizing, stop hearing, and stop engaging. Or, we can go ahead and curl our hair anyway.

 

 

 

 

 

 

You Gotta Get on the Bus

You Gotta Get on the Bus

Please welcome a new Guest Contributor. . .

 

He couldn’t have weighed much more than his new raincoat.  It was so new, in fact, it wouldn’t let his arms hang the way that they should.  They hung out at his sides at an odd angle, and he could no more scratch his nose than he could turn his head strapped firmly in the hood.  He stood stiff beside the road, and he watched me coming for a long way.

As I passed by him, he looked at me in the strangest way.  His lower lip was curled under his front teeth in fear.  In that passing moment, I wanted to stop and comfort him, but it was called off by the rest of his expression.  When I found him again in my rearview mirror, I saw that it wasn’t me that he had been looking at, at all, but that big yellow school bus that was behind me.  “Oh, that’s right,” I thought, the first day of school.  His eyes were fixed on the bus in such a determined way that I knew he didn’t need any counsel.  Brave as any soldier, he was going to get on that bus for the very first time.

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Death at the Clip & Curl

Death at the Clip & Curl

 

We are, all of us, wandering about in a state of oblivion, borrowing our time, seizing our days, escaping our fates, slipping through loopholes, unaware of when the axe may fall.                                –Maggie O’Farrell, I Am, I Am, I Am: Seventeen Brushes with Death

We were alone, just the incredibly odd man and me. I thought it was the end for me, but what could I do about it? Scream, absolutely. Talk my way out of it, doubtful. Fight, sure, but given my lack of physical prowess, not a viable solution.

It was a day of heavy, jet-lag-meets-the-flu fatigue, arms too heavy to do my hair, much less my job. I pulled into what I shall call the “Clip & Curl” to have someone shampoo and blow-dry my tired hair. A lone stylist was there, a man. I did not think much of it until it was too late.

I do not frequent walk-in salons, but I had a chaotic day ahead and needed help, so I went into the no-frills vanilla salon. The only staff member there was a medium-sized man of about forty. I cannot say he greeted me, just soberly showed me back to the shampoo area and prepared me for what I hoped would be a relaxing head massage and speedy hair styling. Straightaway the man was odd.

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Dogs and Ducks & Swans Better Scurry

Dogs and Ducks & Swans Better Scurry

“If you pick up a starving dog and make him prosperous he will not bite you. This is the principal difference between dog and man.” –Mark Twain

 

Didn’t get out much did you, Mr. Twain? Recently I risked life and limb rescuing the tiniest Dachshund from traffic during rush hour, no small feat. After, the little ingrate thanked me by biting me on the leg harder than I thought possible, despite his owner’s protests that “He never acts like that.” Critters can be persnickety.

Caesar and Cleopatra

Birds had it out for me from the get-go. Mom had two black swans, Caesar and Cleopatra. Caesar had no use for me, and with a wingspan of six feet, he was intimidating. He charged me routinely, enormous wings spread, serrated beak wide open, lunging for my bottom as I hightailed it toward the fence. The only human Caesar showed a modicum of respect for was my little niece Katy, who sort of scared us all back then.

We lived in the country with dogs, cats, cattle, horses, catfish, turtles, swans, ducks, and for a time, an alligator and one tiny fawn. Our place was also residence to coyotes, skunks, feral cats, Blue Herron, various reptiles, rabbits, squirrels, possums, and the occasional goose. I adore animals of most species, and we had some doozies.

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Celebrate Me Home

Celebrate Me Home

Home for the holidays,
I believe I’ve missed each and every face,
Come on and play my music,
Let’s turn on the love light in the place

Please, celebrate me home,
Give me a number,
Please, celebrate me home
Play me one more song,
That I’ll always remember,
And I can recall,
Whenever I find myself too all alone,
I can sing me home.

Excerpt from Celebrate Me Home, Kenny Loggins

Originally published in 2014

Sitting alone in the woods with the two monastery dogs, Banjo and Oriole, I gaze out in the distance, they are good company and seem to have taken a vow of silence like me. From the hill, I look over the tops of the trees struggling to show some early spring radiance. I can see Lake Keystone as the sun beats down on the back of my neck, reminding me that it won’t be spring for long. Before you can say “hotter than hell,” it will be.

The pond at our ranch home growing up.

Hiking and climbing over the huge boulders I do something I have not done in a very long time, I smell the earth.  It takes me back to a time when I was much closer to the earth, the land, the country, and I am grateful for my awakening senses. For a while I am home.

I was a small town girl, but I really grew up out in the country. Our home was in the country, my families’ livelihood came from the country, our nurturing was grounded in the country, and a piece of my soul lingers there still.

Walking down a country road.

The solace the country offers is inclusive, there for anyone who takes the time. Its gifts are the healing sight of pastures and farm ponds, the touch of green grass, a soft blanket of needles underfoot through the pines, the smell of freshly cut hay, the whinny of horses, and the feel of a warm, humid breeze on your face.  Nothing occludes the stars from your vision when you are in the country, a tonic for city worn eyes.

The end of the day did not find me with friends at the Dairy Freeze when I was in school; I was in the country feeding cattle.  My brother and I had a little cattle company when we were kids, the “M & K Cattle Company.”  I’m still pissy that it wasn’t named the “K & M Cattle Company”; after all, I was older and infinitely wiser. This joint venture provided biology lessons, finance 101, daily workouts, precious time with a treasured sibling, and opened us to the dire truth of forgoing something we liked for something better.

Blossoms from Mom’s peach tree in my folk’s backyard.

In the country, folks just drop in when ”Y’all come round” is extended, and you better have coffee and pie ready too; they never turn it down. They just sit and talk mostly. Some walk quietly around the pond and skip stones across the water, or sit on the bench under the trees and smell the honeysuckle that lines the fence row.  Or, go out to feed the horses some hay and stand on the corral fence to get a better look at the cattle down in the pasture. You can tap on the fence that extends into the pond, and the catfish know it is feeding time; they skim along the top of the pond, huge mouths wide open to scoop up chow.

A painting in my home by Steve Hanks.

There is something about the expansiveness of the countryside that makes you feel free in a way nothing else can. The absolute wonder, stillness, beauty, and simplicity of the land, the animals, the sunrise, the night sky-even the air bristles with unique enchantment.

I’ve lived in the city now for years and love its rhythm, its convenience, the melting pot of faces, cultures, and cuisines, its opportunities, the city lights when it rains, the anonymity, the seasonal events, the synergy of liked minded spirits, and the life I’ve nurtured here. But I sometimes feel a deep longing and know I’m missing that part of me I left in the country. Nowhere can I hear better God’s invitation to sit and talk.

Dad’s beloved horse, Copper.

I remember years ago coming to myself, realizing that I was smiling for the first time in about four months. I was out in the pasture, just walking in the country. I was home.

God made the country, and man made the town.  — The Task, William Cowper

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.

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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.

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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