Church Kids Get That Joy, Joy, Joy

“I’ve got that joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart,” I sang, standing at the mic watching kids from kindergarten through fifth grade waving their arms and singing along. The setting sun was shining through the windows, and we were rocking the church. It doesn’t get better than this, I thought.

Every Wednesday, as part of my music minister duties at Sacred Heart Church in Newport, Oregon, I lead music for the children, singing and playing guitar. It’s usually only four songs, fifteen minutes before they adjourn to the classrooms for their religious education lessons. It takes me longer to set up before and put away my music afterward, but there’s a wild freedom to it that I love. I’m an aging woman with a Joan Baez voice, but to the little ones looking up at me, I’m a rock star. To Sandy Cramer, the religious education director, I’m the one who saves her from having to lead the singing herself. And I get to share my favorite religious songs with a new generation.

Grownups in Catholic churches are notoriously reluctant to sing. They sit in their pews staring at the missalettes, their lips firmly sealed. But the kids are young enough to let it out, even if they’re off-key. Some have big voices while other kids have little butterfly-wing voices, so soft you have to get within inches to hear them.

They don’t just sing. Sandy has paired gestures from American Sign Language with the songs. I’m often grateful that my hands are busy with my guitar because it can be like rubbing your stomach and patting your head at the same time. Joy: raise your arms high and wiggle your hands. Love: cross your hands over your chest. God: Point your index finger skyward. Work: Make like you’re hammering. Bird: make like you’re flying. If you’re five and can’t read the words projected on the screen, you can still wave your arms.

If only grownups put this much energy into the music. Sitting at the piano on a Sunday morning, I often hear only a few singers, with maybe one or two who sing extra loud, not necessarily on the beat. The best times are when I hear a wave of singing behind me and suddenly feel like we’re all together in this music, in this love of God, in this service. But usually when I look around, I see most people not singing. Somewhere between the “Joy, Joy, Joy” of fifth grade and now, the adults have decided they can’t sing, shouldn’t sing, have bad voices, or would be too embarrassed, so they sit silent no matter how much we urge them to let God hear the voices He gave them or tell them “he who sings prays twice.” Nope, not singing. Which is why our “choir” sometimes consists of two people with the courage to give it a shot.

Last week, I looked out and saw a pretty blonde third-grader singing her heart out. Behind her, a husky Mexican boy belted out the words. Right in front of me, a kindergarten girl didn’t know what she was singing, but she was making noises and waving her hands, smiling like crazy.

As was I. When I was a kid–back when we called it Catechism and our teachers were nuns in black habits–the music was my favorite part of our Saturday lessons. We’d file into the church to sing songs like “Holy God, We Praise Thy Name” and “Immaculate Mary.” No gestures. No wiggling allowed. But that music filled me up. I took those songs home and figured out how to play them on the piano and sing them to myself. Today’s songs are more rowdy. We have no nuns at Sacred Heart, just Sandy and I in our jeans, projecting the words from a PowerPoint file onto the screen and singing that “Joy, Joy, Joy,” hoping these kids will never stop singing.

Post-Vatican II, the choirs in Catholic churches are not supposed to do all the singing. This is not a performance. We are leading the congregation, who should be singing with us. But that message has not trickled down to everyone yet, especially to those who grew up in the days when the priest spoke Latin and faced away from the people. I worry that as music programs get cut from the schools, church may be the only place the kids are exposed to music. But maybe, God willing, someday everybody will sing.

Meanwhile, I’m having a ball helping the kids rock out with Jesus.

What’s Wrong With Being Alone?

“People, people who need people, are the luckiest people in the world.” Are you one of those people who need people? Are you uncomfortable being alone? Or do you crave time alone? Is your happy place on the couch with a book or in the middle of a noisy crowd? These are questions I’ve been asking lately and questions that were asked yesterday in a conversation at the Newport Library sponsored by Oregon Humanities.

“Going Solo: The Value of Solitude in a Social World” was the topic led by Jennifer Allen, director of programs at Oregon Humanities. The 20 or so of us who attended had a lot to say on the subject. In general, we’re in favor of solitude. Maybe not 24/7, but we like our “me time.”

Much of our discussion focused on technology, how some people, especially the young, seem incapable of leaving their smart phones, tablets or computers for more than a few minutes at a time. (I’m guilty of that). Our connections pursue us with phone calls, emails, texts and status updates to the point we never seem to be alone even if there’s no actual human nearby. Can you claim to be alone if you’re plugged in? If you get an email or the phone rings, is it okay to ignore it?

Are people forgetting how to be quiet, how to think? To daydream? Are we hiding from our thoughts and feelings? Allen described a scientific study which asked people to spend 6-15 minutes just thinking, doing nothing else. The subjects had a hard time doing it.

I like to be alone. For me, a good time, is sitting out in the sun reading or writing. A nightmare is walking into a noisy crowd.

I love playing music alone. But I also love jamming. Our jam in Waldport last week was magical (Fridays, 3-5 p.m., community center). You have to learn your songs alone, but combining talents can create beautiful music way beyond what is possible on your own. It’s pretty hard to harmonize with one voice. But, let’s be honest, one lousy player or off-key singer can ruin the whole thing.

That sounds bitchy, something introverts like me are often accused of. People who like to be alone are called bitchy, snobbish, or antisocial. No, I like people–in small doses. I think we all need people around sometimes, but all the time? Sometimes my dog is too much company. Other times being alone makes me very sad. Then I wish I had a house full of family.

During our conversation, we agreed there’s a difference between solitude that we choose and solitude that is thrust on us. Many older people fall into this category. Their kids are grown, their spouses die, their friends have died or moved away, and they spend far too much time alone. Remember, prisoners are sent to “solitary confinement” as punishment.

Ideally, we have our time alone AND our time with others in whatever mixture feels comfortable. Meanwhile, we have dogs or cats.

It was ironic that although most of us at yesterday’s conversation prefer to be alone, we got together with other people to talk about it and never ran out of things to say.

Oregon Humanities plans several more conversations throughout the state. For information on the conversation project, visit

How about you? How do you feel about being alone? Do you enjoy it? Hate it? Fear it? Wish you could claim a minute to yourself? Let’s talk about it.

Brown-bagging it to school 1950s style

Picture this: a wrinkled brown paper bag with “Susan” written on one side and grease stains onIMG_20150914_161607735[1] the other side. For most of my elementary and junior high school years, 1957-1966, this was my lunch, and the contents were far different from what kids are eating at school now.

I got to thinking about this as I wondered how to cook the pork loin in my freezer. Should I ask a friend for advice or just consult Betty Crocker? If my mom were alive, I could call her, but she probably wouldn’t know. Growing up, we only ate fat-laden pork roasts, ham and bacon. Pork loin?

That led me to thinking about the slices of greasy pork in the sandwiches Mom packed in my lunch bag. Also in my brother’s lunch bag and our father’s steel lunch box. Sometimes it was leather roast beef that I had to rip with my teeth as the white bread around it dissolved under my fingers. And the meat loaf sandwiches, oh my gosh. And baloney we could bite into shapes, our teeth leaving scalloped designs, except where our baby teeth had fallen out. Slathered in Best Foods “real” mayonnaise. Not of this low-fat business I’m eating these days.

Fridays were more challenging because we were not allowed to eat meat, and I didn’t like peanut better. Sometimes my sandwich held two slices of yellow cheese slathered with butter. More often, it was oily tuna mixed with ketchup, the grease leaking through the bag.

The sandwich wrapped in waxed paper wasn’t all. Mom tucked in potato chips—regular or barbecue were the only choices then, a few dried apricots, and dessert—homemade cookies or brownies, Ding-Dongs, Ho-Hos, Hostess Cupcakes, or Hershey Bars. Somewhere in there was also a paper napkin and a nickel to buy a carton of milk.

We never had backpacks in those days of the late 1950s and early 1960s. We carried everything in our arms, our lunch bags crackling against our clothes with every step of our saddle shoes.

Mike and I sat with our classmates at long fold-down metal tables in the Cypress School multipurpose room. We didn’t trade; we knew our lunches were the best. We looked forward all morning to eating what was in the bag. We could smell the food from the coat closet or our desks. We devoured our lunches elbow to elbow with our friends and their bag lunches, then wadded up napkins, wrappers and bags and tossed them basketball-style into the big steel trash cans. No recycling back then.

Like most schools, Cypress sold hot lunches. The kids who bought their lunches sat on the other side of the room. We tried it one year. The spaghetti tasted great, but more often, we were served cubes of mystery meat in transparent gravy over a stingy blob of mashed potatoes. No comparison to Mom’s food. Plus we didn’t want to spend half our lunch period waiting in line for old ladies in hair nets to slap that glop onto green plastic plates.

As you might guess, my brother and I were not skinny. Our mother, also not skinny, didn’t stress out about sugar, fat, gluten, lactose, or high fructose corn syrup. But we were healthy. We ate well, and we got lots of exercise, walking to school, playing games at recess and in P.E., always on the move after school on skates, bikes or running in our cheap tennis shoes. Unlike today’s kids glued to phones, tablets and computers, the only screens we paid attention to were the screen doors slamming behind us as we ran out to play.

School lunches have changed a lot. Now moms are posting pictures online of healthy box lunches full of fruits, grains and veggies, sometimes cut into hearts, stars or other designs. The sandwiches do not include big fat slabs of meat oozing grease. And where are the Ding-Dongs and potato chips? Alas, I don’t eat them anymore either.

I’m sure today’s lunches are healthier, but those pork or beef sandwiches, made with leftovers from our meat-and-potato dinners, sure tasted good. In fact, thinking about them is making me hungry.

As for the pork loin in my freezer, I’ll ask Betty Crocker. Unlike everything else, she hasn’t changed a bit.

How about your school lunches? What did you eat? Did you bring lunch from home or buy it? Or did you go without? Not every kid is as lucky as we were. Please share in the comments.

Turn Off the Light! I’m Trying to Sleep

When I woke up at 4:45 a.m. to go to the bathroom, it was already light, as if the world was saying, “Get up, let’s go.”

I replied, “No, it’s too early.” Darned daylight savings time.

I’m a person very much affected by light. Dark=sleep. Light=wake. I fall asleep at movies, plays and planetarium shows, but I have a hard time sleeping in motels where lights shine from the microwave, TV and smoke alarm, and there’s always a streak of light shining through a crack in the curtains or under the door. I drape towels over every light source I can reach and see the light still shining through the white terrycloth. And those little night lights some places put in the bathroom? No, thank you.

At home in the woods, it was dark in my bedroom at night until the hedge got trashed in a storm and I had it trimmed. That night, I got into bed, turned off the lamp, and thought, What’s that light? I opened the curtains and peered out. It was the streetlight at the far corner of my driveway. Blinds and lacy curtains barely muted it. A couple weeks later, I thought, What’s that light? The moon. You can’t turn off the moon. Shut my eyes, face the other way, try to sleep. We’ve got some bright moon around here. When I’m out in the hot tub at midnight, it’s like a football stadium lit up for a night game.

When my mother-in-law lived here, she covered her bedroom window with duct tape. I haven’t gone that far yet, but this morning I finally unwrapped the sleep mask I got at a seminar on sleep problems over a year ago. I was always nervous about covering my eyes. Might miss something. But I was desperate. I slipped it on. It felt soft, silky. It was dark. I went back to sleep until 7:00. Much better.

This close to the 49th parallel, our light and dark cycles are different from back home in San Jose. Our Fourth of July fireworks don’t start until 10 p.m., when it’s almost dark. And it’s light about 4:30 a.m. right now. The farther north one goes, the more pronounced the change. When we vacationed at Whistler in British Columbia a few years back, it barely got dark at all. I can’t imagine living in the parts of Alaska where it stays light in summer and dark in winter. I’d have to get out the duct tape for sure.

I love light–in the daytime. I hate winter, when we have 16 hours of darkness, and I appreciate not having to drive to church in the dark for early Mass on Sundays, but this daylight at 4:45, that’s crazy. Give me my mask. It’s not morning until I say so.

Surf and turf poetry wave slams Nye Beach

Scott Rosin takes us into the swells with his surfing poems

The coldest winter I ever saw was the summer I spent in San Francisco,” Mark Twain said. Apparently he hadn’t been to Newport, Oregon in June. Waiting for the delayed start of the “Surf and Turf Poetry Slam” yesterday in the tree-shaded patio outside the Café Mundo restaurant, one after another of us ran to the car or home to get a coat. It was just after noon in late June, but it was overcast and cold. When I called California to wish my dad a happy Father’s Day, he said it was cooler there, too—down to the low 90s. Oh, brrr.

But being Oregonians, most of us wrapped up and stuck it out.

Only in Newport, specifically in the Nye Beach neighborhood, would you have a weekend of surf and turf poetry and art. In this case, Surf and Turf does not refer to dinner but to surfing and skateboarding. It was the brainstorm of Tom Webb, director of the Newport Visual Arts Center where we hold the Nye Beach Writers’ Series. Relatively new to the area, he thought: beach=surfing. He added skateboarding to the mix. Apparently, in addition to Father’s Day and summer solstice, June 21 was Surfing Day and Go Skateboarding Day in some alternate universe. So, the featured exhibit in the main gallery was Surf and Turf, presenting painted and decorated boards of all sorts along with sculptures and paintings about surfing ocean or concrete.

Upstairs on Saturday night, we welcomed two old favorites to Nye Beach Writers, Matt Love, author/publisher of countless books, and wildman poet Andrew Rodman. The room was packed, the readings drew smiles, laughter and applause, and fans swarmed the book sales table. I emceed the open mic, and the list was full. Poems, stories, locals and visitors, reading off phones, tablets and sheets of paper that shook with their nerves.

On Sunday, as if some people just can’t get enough, the party moved to Cafe Mundo at 2nd and Coast streets. I had had two hours sleep. My head was buzzing so fast after Saturday’s festivities that I couldn’t go to sleep despite a 6 a.m. wakeup call to go play piano and lead the choirs at church. With a visiting priest from Tanzania. Thick accent. Long sermon. God bless caffeine.

I reported to Mundo in my church clothes, climbed the steep stairs to get lunch and ran into three friends from my weekly music jam in Waldport—hammered dulcimer, pennywhistle, ukulele. They invited me to join them. Everybody knows everybody in this town. Later they joined me for the poetry.

Café Mundo restaurant used to be outside, which would be warm enough maybe 10 days out of the year. So they built a place that looks like a treehouse. You walk in, there’s a stage to the right, a counter straight ahead and stairs to the left that lead to the dining room proper. The room circles around a big opening so you can sIMG_20150621_141447397_HDRee the festivities downstairs.

Service is a little spacy, so it’s not a place to be in a hurry. The food, which leans toward healthy and natural ingredients, comes up from the bottom floor via dumbwaiter. It is unlike any other restaurant’s grub, at least in our area. My friends ordered eggs, bacon and toast, pretty normal, but their eggs were cooked with pesto and feta cheese, and their slabs of bacon were huge. You could roof a house with them. The toast carried on the Paul Bunyan theme. I ordered the “Cheeses of the World” sandwich, three kinds of cheese with tomatoes on the same mega bread, served with gardenIMG_20150621_141458071_HDR salad with a fruity poppy seed dressing.

Downstairs, the poets gathered. The event was supposed to start at 1:00, but it was more like 1:30. Coastal time. We bought raffle tickets. I won a tee shirt with surfboards on it—wearing it now. Perfect under fleece or over thermal underwear. The poets and their fans gathered. We huddled on polished stone perches, patio chairs, and weathered benches as Scott Rosin, Andrew Rodman, Mike Kloeck, Catherine Rickbone   and others proclaimed poetry on the outdoor stage, a giant fishing net and shark in the background. I could hear them several blocks away as I finally gave in to cold and weariness and headed for the car. People reciting poetry outdoors on a Sunday afternoon a block from the beach? It’s so Newport—and one of the reasons we moved here. You won’t find this in San Jose.

Wait! Don’t Throw That Away!

I’m in love with my compost bin. I know that’s strange, but it’s true. I’m also mighty fond of the big blue recycle bin. The garbage bin, eh. But you should see me on Thursday nights rolling my full carts to the curb, lining them up like Papa Bear, Mama Bear and Baby Bear, and the happy dance that follows on Friday when they’re empty again. I get so excited watching those big trucks roll up, stretch out their mechanical arms, raise my bin up high and dump everything in the back of the truck.

It was just a mild affection until the compost bin arrived a couple months ago. I finally had someplace to put my yard waste. I became a lawn-mowing, bush-trimming, food-composting maniac. I can’t wait to get the bins emptied so I can fill them up again, except for the garbage bin, which doesn’t get much in it anymore. Ooh, and last week I picked up this cool black food waste pail to hold things like my grapefruit rinds, tea bags and chicken bones until I can get them out to the Papa Bear bin.

My neighbor across the street does not compost or recycle. He burns his yard waste and throws everything else in the garbage. He sees no point in recycling. Add that to the list of topics we can’t discuss, a list that includes gun control, religion, politics, yoga, taking one’s dog to obedience school, and all the rest of my yuppie ideas. But he’s a good guy and has been helpful to me in my solitary life in the woods. Annie adores him, so we know he’s not all bad.

But I’m sticking to my stand on recycling. Have you ever been to a landfill? I have. As part of my reporter life, I have stood at the edge of these stinking piles of refuse and watched lines of garbage trucks dumping more and more. It’s horrible. The average American throws away four pounds of trash a day. That’s seven tons a year. We can recycle about 75 percent of our waste, but only about 30 percent actually gets recycled. All that stuff that goes into the landfill just stays there. A fact sheet from California State University Sacramento notes that it takes approximately 1 million years for a glass bottle to break down in a landfill. Plastics take at least 100 years, maybe as long as 400 years. Things like microwave ovens, iPads and tennis shoes, God knows how long it will take and what chemicals may be leaching into our air, soil, and water.

Think about how much you and I throw away every day and multiply it by the more than 7 billion people in the world. We are going to suffocate in our own garbage one of these days. We don’t have to. So much can be recycled and reused if we just do our part.

Our parents didn’t recycle, but they also didn’t produce and discard so much crap. We used to think we were doing our part if we tossed our stuff in the wastebasket or garbage can instead of on the ground. I remember our old Shasta camping trailer had a decal in the window that showed a picture of a bee and said, “Don’t bee a litter bug.” We weren’t. But now we know there’s more to it than that. If my 93-year-old dad can learn to recycle, anybody can.

I pray that someday we can find a way to reuse everything so that we no longer have any need for landfills. Meanwhile my neighbor thinks I’m an idiot. Too bad. It occurs to me I could sneak into his garbage can on Thursday night after he goes to bed and take out the recyclables, but then again he has a whole room full of guns and has told me that if a bear shows up, he will shoot it. So, maybe not. He might think I’m a bear.

I don’t usually get so preachy here, but as I said, I’m obsessed with my bins right now. I’d love to know how you feel about recycling and what you do about getting rid of your debris. Please comment.

The following websites offer some great information on recycling.

Recycling facts from MIT dept. of facilities

11 Facts about recycling from

Recycling Facts from Recycle Across America

Sacramento State Environmental Students Organization recycling facts

Yreka: There’s Real Life Beyond the Motels

IMG_20150526_200231970[1]The Yreka, California chamber of commerce is not going to tell you about this walk. Usually I walk downtown, where everything is closed, except for the bars. I pass historic buildings, intriguing stores, restaurants, and little parks, all very nice, but I have been staying in Yreka on my trips to and from San Jose for 19 years. It’s halfway and the Best Western always has vacancies, although the prices have doubled.

Tuesday night at dusk, I turned left instead of right to see what lay beyond the freeway. Past three freeway entrance/exits, under the bridge, past a lot of litter, and a deserted-looking train station, I found real life. Houses, school buses, a barking dog, warehouses across the street from new apartments, a YMCA with an exercise trail, and a cemetery, dating back to the mid-1800s.

I know this town has a lot of history. It was big in the gold-mining era, and now the miners’ descendants lie here. Many of the names are Portuguese, like my maternal ancestors. Some of the graves are marked with old white stones so weathered I can’t read the names. Some are not marked at all but are surrounded by iron fences. There are new graves, too, decorated with artificial flowers and flags left over from Memorial Day.

I’m poking around the graves when I see three deer a couple rows over. One seems to be standing guard as the others sniff at the flowers. They watch me, but they don’t run as I move closer, snapping pictures. Finally I get too close and they trot away. I look around at the surrounding yellow hills and wonder what I’ll see next as sunset pinks the clouds. I love the openness of this place, so unlike where I live surrounded by trees. Working my way back to the street, aware that it’s getting dark and I ought to get back to the safety of the motel, I smile at a man and woman walking two little dogs, part of real life on the other side of the freeway.

All these years, and I never thought to look. In the morning, before I got back on the freeway, I drove around Yreka a bit. Great Victorian houses, churches, schools, offices. The Best Western Miners Inn is good, but there’s more to see, just as there is at every freeway exit between here and there.

A Tale of Slugs, Mice and Bare Feet

There’s a slug way up high on my dining room wall. I can’t reach it with my hand. If I smack it with a broom, I’ll have slug guts on the white paint. What it’s doing up there I don’t know. I usually find them on my deck, my lawn, my sidewalk, my front door, or pigging out on the leaves of my plants. I pointed the slug out to my trusty dog, who is supposed to be guarding the house, but she was focused on the Milk-Bone box on top of the cabinet six feet below the slug. I guess we’ll wait until the slug moves of its own accord.

I’m using the computer very carefully today. For ages, my elbows have hurt, but now my left thumb is killing me. Apparently I have over-moused. I grip that plastic controller all day long, and now my thumb says STOP IT. I have changed mice, I’m consciously trying not to hold it so tightly and to let go when I’m not actually moving the cursor, but I know I’m doomed because I’ll forget as soon as I’m concentrating on a task. The worst culprit? Those online jigsaw puzzles to which I’m totally addicted. Maybe Saturday’s all-gray castle picture did me in. It hurts to hold a pen or pencil, too. I’m thinking about downloaded voice-activated software so I can just talk my stories into the computer.

I googled “mouse thumb” and discovered all kinds of listings. This is not an unusual problem. Most of links take me to folks who are trying to sell me ergonomic mice. One guy posted a YouTube video  that alternates pictures of actual furry mice with him massaging his left thumb with his right hand. Amusing but not helpful. This site from Office-Ergo is more helpful. My point is that overuse of the mouse (or anything else) will lead to repetitive stress injuries. Our bodies are not built to squeeze a small plastic thing all day long. So if, like me, you’re doing that while you’re reading this, let go of the mouse. Take a break.

Meanwhile, my feet are a mess, too. All those dog walks have created a mass of calluses and sore places that will ultimately send me to the podiatrist. In an interview I read recently in The Sun, Harvard University professor Daniel E. Lieberman talks about how the human foot is not designed for shoes. We would be healthier walking barefoot, he says. Shoes cause us to slam our feet into the ground in unnatural ways that cause foot problems. He’s probably right, but I’m not walking barefoot on rocks, roots and berry vines. Annie does it, but she has leather pads to protect her paws. Me, I’m shopping for better hiking shoes.

Except for the hands and feet, I’m very well, thank you. And I survived another Mother’s Day. I tend to whine because I have neither children nor mother, and my friends keep posting pictures on Facebook of happy family gatherings and flower bouquets from their loved ones. So I boycotted Facebook for a day and played music with friends instead. I’m over it now. Safe for 364 more days.

Except that I have a killer slug in my dining room. Oh wait, I just went to look for it again, and it has vanished. Now where’s the slug? In my dishes? On the table? Here, slug. Let me introduce you to my mouse.

A Tale of Two Hydrangeas or Mother Nature is a Better Gardener than I Am

HydranfallB You may or may not know that I call my publishing company Blue Hydrangea Productions (check out my website and buy a book, okay?). I love blue hydrangeas, especially the kind popularly known as “mopheads.” They’re in my blood. My mother had them growing next to our front porch in San Jose. My grandfather had some along the side of his house in Seacliff, California. When Fred and I bought our house in South Beach, Oregon, a luscious blue plant bloomed by the front door. Clearly we were meant to live here.

The Azores Islands from which my mother’s ancestors came are covered with blue hydrangeas. Miles and miles of them, often used as fences. When we toured Faial years ago, our bus driver gave each of the women hydrangea flowers. I started sneezing, since I’m allergic to almost everything with leaves, fur or feathers,IMG_20150504_112806116[1]IMG_20150504_112844203[1] but that did not stop me from loving them.

Now, alas, something is wrong with my big hydrangea. A smaller plant nearby is loaded with leaves and just starting to bloom. But the big one, my company namesake, is mostly sticks with a few wan leaves. What’s up? I treated them both the same. I didn’t prune either plant last fall because I was in California taking care of my dad after he broke his hip, but that doesn’t explain the difference. Was it the snow and ice in Dec. 2013 that killed my hebes? Was it not enough rain in 2014? Have the blackberry vines that poke up through the branches choked the life out of the hydrangea? Is it the fact that I don’t mulch, fertilize or feed any of my plants? If nothing happens, I’m going to prune it down to nothing next fall and start fresh. Maybe I’ll even water it, which seems redundant on the rainy Oregon coast.

Meanwhile, my rhododendron is in full bloom, a gorgeous wash of magenta that will last a couple more weeks. And the weeds, oh, they’re doing well, some of them, like the one below, so spectacular I don’t have the heart to pull them out. I don’t know what they are, but who am I to argue with what comeIMG_20150504_112708379[1]s up naturally in the middle of the coastal forest?

Visitors to my house will see rhodies in bloom, English ivy going crazy, blackberry, salmonberry and thimbleberry plants growing several inches every day, wild poppies, sword ferns, mystery weeds, and gigantic stick sculptures that used to be hebes and hydrangeas

For those fans who seem to think I’m good at everything, I’m not. Here’s proof. Welcome to my stick garden.

For information about hydrangeas, visit these sites:

The Attack of the Compost Cart or People are Biodegradable, Too

I’m weird. Who else do you know who yearns for a big green compost cart from the garbage company? Here in the wilds of South Beach, just outside Newport City limits, we watched our city friends and neighbors getting carts, but not here. I called.Compost cart

“When can we have ours?”

“You live in the county. Maybe next year.”

“But what am I supposed to do with my grass and tree trimmings in the meantime?”

“You can bag them up for the landfill or drive them to the dump.”

I chose to let them pile up in the yard, with vague plans to buy a burn barrel and fill the neighborhood with smoke and ashes like some of my neighbors do.

But finally, finally, the compost carts came to our neighborhood. Except my street, all four houses. I called.

The lady on the phone laughed. “Most people are calling to complain that they don’t want them. We will deliver your bin on Friday.”


It was like waiting for Santa at Christmas. I looked out the window every five minutes until finally, a little after noon, there it was, a 96-gallon monstrosity that dwarfed my 65-gallon recycle cart and my 24-gallon garbage/landfill cart. I couldn’t wait to start piling stuff inside. Soon my yard would be so clean and neat. As soon as the rain stopped gushing down, I’d get to work.

Saturday morning, I put on my sweats and garden gloves, said hello to my pristine compost cart and started piling in branches, mostly out-of-control wild blackberry vines I had trimmed away from the house. Then I moved to the big pile that has been composting naturally on the side of the house for years and started shoveling in branches, dried-out hydrangea blooms, weeds and grass.

The trouble arose when I decided to move my three-quarters-full, chest-high cart without shutting the lid. Somehow, it became unbalanced and tipped forward. At the same time, the lid clopped me in the face and I fell in, banging my shoulder hard and my knee almost as hard. Down we went, me and the cart full of thorny branches. Bang! Crap! Ow! I was in the cart.

Slowly, I pulled myself out, hoping I wasn’t broken. I could feel my pulse in my cheek, an ache in my knee, a twisted-out-of-whack feeling in my back, and serious pain in my shoulder. Not good for a musician who would be playing the piano at church in a few hours. Gingerly I moved my limbs and determined that I was not broken, only bruised. I thanked God.

I pulled up my cart, dug my gloves out from under the greenery, and gently shut the lid. Okay, cart, you win this one, but I’ll get you on Thursday, when I stuff in more grass, add my grapefruit rinds, tea bags, and chicken bones and haul you to the curb with all the other carts. Then the garbage truck will lift you up, dump you out, and smack you back to the ground while I relax on my loveseat with the dog.

Today I’m fine except for a sore but functional shoulder. Sometimes I feel like a very small woman trying to maintain a very large home. A condo somewhere with other old widows and a staff of professional maintenance people is starting to look more appealing every day. Also, it occurs to me that someday I will be compost, too. But not yet. I have to mow the lawn. And yes, I do get the irony of trying to control what grows on a one-third acre parcel in the middle of the forest.