Monday, April 26, 2010


I do not consider myself particularly political. I'm not my friend Bill who opines on politics regularly ( nor do I spend Sunday mornings glued to Face the Nation and Meet the Press. I try to watch the news daily and I look at and daily as well. But the fact is that I am not well versed in the intricacies of either the political process or those who are regular players in it. I confess my limited knowledge.

I do vote. I vote in national and state elections, even local ones. I fully admit that in local elections I sometimes do not really know many of those listed on the ballot. In fairness, I try to only vote when I actually know something about one of the candidates, although I do admit to an election or two in my adult voting years when I was so cranky I did succumb to the "oust the damn incumbents, whoever they are" mentality.

My political habits come primarily from my upbringing. I was raised by parents who watched the news and read the newspaper daily. They voted in elections. They often discussed 'the news' during dinner time. When election season rolled around they did NOT put signs in their yard or attend fundraisers or volunteer for candidates. I know they tended to vote Democratic. They were poor, working class people - the math seems pretty simple there.

I consider myself a moderate, but as that doesn't seem to be a position that wins elections, candidates seem forced to choose one extreme or another. As I grew up and became more and more politically aware, I found myself being drawn most often to Democratic candidates. I believe in public education. I believe in helping those less fortunate. I believe that a society has obligations to provide certain services to its population, police and fire protection and health care are examples. There have been times when I have voted for an Independent or a Republican candidate who held a more moderate position when they were running against a Democratic candidate who I simply could not support.

Recently, a couple of notices have appeared on my Facebook page. A couple of my more conservative friends have joined a group or like a page (I can't keep up with the appropriate FB terminology) that carries this title: "Dear Lord - This year you took my favorite actor, Patrick Swayze. You took my favorite actress, Farrah Fawcett. You took my favorite singer, Michael Jackson. I just wanted to let you know my favorite President is Barack Obama. Amen." Words cannot adequately express my, quite frankly, horror at this page.

I understand fully the feelings of frustration that can occur when the inhabitant of the Oval Office is not behaving in a way that is congruent with one's own personal values. I, for a recent example, was not a fan of George W. Bush. I felt that he was not the most competent person to be representing the US on the world stage, nor the most intelligent. In my opinion he has done more to damage our civil liberties than any president in history, not to mention leaving the economy in a shambles. And, let's not get started on what I think of Dick Cheney.

Intelligence, of course, is not the only important thing. A moral compass is also desirable as was proven fully by Bill Clinton. According to many Presidential analysts, Clinton was second in intelligence only to President Thomas Jefferson, yet he used his position and power while in office to engage in a tawdry affair with a woman young enough to be his daughter. And for those of you who would say that "he wasn't the only one, he's just the one who got caught" - I know, I agree, and it doesn't make it right. It was arrogant and stupid and wrong and there were other things he should have been doing with his time and position. Ditto, John Kennedy.

So, Democrat or Republican - I don't support or condemn blindly.

Neither have I ever prayed for the death of our President, whoever he has been.

I challenge my friends and others who "like this page" to reconsider. You may be defending yourselves with the excuse that "it's only a joke and, Judy, you need to lighten up." Let me say that if it truly is intended to be a joke - it's not funny, not even marginally. Perhaps those who created the page as well as those that support it, could better use that time and energy in prayer. Our President needs prayer. Our country needs prayer. Our world needs prayer.

I'm not a theologian. I don't claim to know what God thinks. However, I suspect a couple of things. I suspect that American politics and the American President is not much more than a blip on God's radar screen. I suspect that no matter who is President, God can make use of that person or, at the very least, God can make the best come from the circumstances that person helps put into motion. I also suspect that God is more concerned about the hearts of individuals. And I suspect that in the scheme of what grieves God, his 'followers' praying for the death of another of his children probably comes pretty high on the list.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010


When I bought my house several years ago, one of the things that attracted me to it was the yard. I live in one of those communities that sprang up post WWII - considered a first-ring suburb, and characterized by small (by today's McMansion standards) yet well-built ramblers and 1 1/2 stories set on good sized plots. They are full of mature trees - 60 foot elms and maples - that provided shade in the summer as well as plenty of places for the birds to nest and the squirrels to chase each other. My neighborhood is relatively quiet, various neighbors notwithstanding, and is full of houses and yards that are a variation on mine.

When I moved in, there were gardens in place. The previous owners were a retired couple and clearly had the time to spend in the yard. The back yard, particularly, had an outer perimeter comprised of a 6 foot deep strip of garden. Once Spring arrived that first year, it was clear to see where they had taken some things with them to their new place, but on the whole the garden was relatively 'orderly' and pleasing to the eye. I, of course, am not retired. I did not grow up in a family of gardeners so I was a complete novice. I learned very quickly that this much garden - while beautiful - is not a carefree thing.

There is weeding. When I was new to this I was told that mulching around the plants keeps the weeds down. So out I went and mulched, and mulched, and mulched - 3 to 4 inches of mulch around all the plants. Trust me, there is weeding - mulch or not. Irises need to be divided in order to remain healthy and continue producing. Peonies need to be staked so that when they bloom you can actually see the blooms instead of having them be face down in the dirt.

There are birds. Birds may seem harmless when it comes to gardens but they are not. Birds fly miles and miles and eat at various places. When they fly through your garden they poop and deposit seeds that weren't there before. Seed of things like thistle, which was non-existent in my gardens for my first 12 years in the house but which has become the biggest grower in my garden during the past 3 years. If you miss one when it's small, it can grow 4 feet in height with a stem a good inch and a half across. Digging them out by the roots and using round-up on them is no cure. They simply move to another part of your garden and start fresh.

There are critters. Rabbits eat your plants. During my first fall in the house I planted dozens and dozens of bulbs - tulips being my favorite flowers. The squirrels immediately began digging them up and feasting. The next Spring, the rabbits went through the garden and bit off the flower heads so I had irregular patches of tulip stems throughout my garden instead of the glowing bunches I had envisioned.

As the garden and the trees grow, your light changes. Plants that started out in sun are now in shade and must be moved to a sunnier location. Dutch elm disease attacks your trees and you lose two of those 60 foot elms. Overnight, your entire shade garden of hosta and astilbe and ferns must move or die.

The romantic ideal of the garden comes from all those English movies where women in long dresses stroll through them with a basket over one arm, snipping a bloom here or there. The reality of the garden is back-breaking, never ending work. A couple of summers ago I decided to acknowledge my limits. I don't want to spend days and days in the hot sun crouched on my knees pulling weeds and mulching. I want to sit on my deck with a book and a glass of iced tea and look at pretty things. So the transformation has begun.

Shrubs. Shrubs that flower. Shrubs that have good fall color. Shrubs that will grow tall and hide the neighbor's junky backyard. Hardy plants. If it cannot live by benign neglect, then it will have to go. I want plants that are going to return year after year in spite of me. Naturalizers. My new philosophy is to let go of control. If it flourishes here and is not a weed, it can have the space. I welcome it.

George Harrison is quoted as saying "I'm not really a career person. I'm a gardener, basically." Sounds great, doesn't it? I'm afraid that it's not true of me. For me, Des Kennedy said it a little more accurately. "If there’s one thing gardeners are good at, it’s the sustained and systematic killing of plants." So, get me another glass of iced tea. My back thanks you.

(This photo is one of the angels in my garden, surrounding by growing iris and lily of the valley. In a month, you really won't be able to see much of her as the lily and iris will have grown so tall that she is hidden. Enjoy her now.)

Tuesday, April 13, 2010


My first night in Tennessee was actually spent partly in Kentucky. I ran up I-75 north of Knoxville about 11 miles into Kentucky to Williamsburg, to visit dear, dear friends from my Ball State days. After an absolutely delightful, and much too short, visit I drove back down to Knoxville for a late evening dinner. I swung into the parking lot of the Applebee’s next to my hotel and then swung right back out and drove across the road to a place that offered “southern” cooking. My dinner of real roast beef with real mashed potatoes and real cream gravy fulfilled its promise. While I ate I was serenaded. First, there was Roger Miller singing King of the Road. The Statler Brothers followed singing Flowers on the Wall. As I finished the last of my potatoes, Dolly Parton was telling a man that he “don’t know love from Shinola.”

I hit the road this morning about 8am for my 3 hour drive to Nashville. The drive today was more of the same. Woods and trees and mountains – all beautiful. When I arrived at my hotel, I made the happy discovery that somewhere between Knoxville and Nashville (pronounced Knoxvull and Nashvull, by the way) that I had crossed back into Central time. Instead of 11:30, it was 10:30 – an extra hour in which to see the home of Country Music.

I started with lunch. I hadn’t wanted to spend the time on breakfast, so I had hotel coffee and a handful of Famous Amos while driving. I knew exactly where I was going – recommended last night by my friends. “You must go to Jack’s” they said. “It is the best barbeque.” And it was. After cleaning my plate as best I could (as a northerner I was brought up that licking it clean was impolite) I moved on to the most important stop of the day – the Ryman Auditorium.

I am not, as my friends will attest, that much of a country music fan. But my mama was. She loved the Grand Ole Opry and was a dedicated Hee-Haw watcher through most of its 25 year run, much to my adolescent mortification. Minnie Pearl made her laugh every time and she loved the way Grandpa Jones played the banjo. So this clearly needed to be my first stop.

The tour of the auditorium itself is self-guided. There are display cases with memorabilia showing the history of the auditorium and stories of those who made it what it was. There’s a short film to watch, and a booth in which you can record yourself singing. While I was there a choir from Plymouth, Minnesota of all places, filed up onto the stage and sang, beautifully. The acoustics are amazing - I learned during the tour that they are considered second best in the US only to Carnegie Hall. I also took the guided backstage tour – 40 minutes of stories and tales of country music stars and their escapades in this place.

I was surprised, and am a little embarrassed to admit, that when I first walked into the auditorium I teared up. At that moment I missed my mother more intensely than I have since she died. I so wish I could have brought her here to see this place and sit in these pews. This is a place that represents something that she related to fully – music that represented growing up simply with simple values. That music and those performers gave her such pleasure throughout her life. She would have loved to experience this.

I also teared up while reading some of the commentary in the displays, and while listening to the stories the docent was telling as he gave us the tour of the dressing rooms and the backstage area. My mother would have loved to hear these
stories and be reminded of people she had listened to and felt connected to through their music. It was a little eerie to walk and stand where so many hundreds of musical giants have walked and stood. Johnny Cash, Patsy Cline, Chet Atkins,Elvis Presley – musicians that transcended one musical genre and influenced countless musicians that came after them. Even though they are all dead, they live on in those who have followed in their footsteps, using their music as a springboard for creating something new and different.

After leaving the Ryman I took in other sights. The Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum is, I’m sure, a must-see for the country music fan and it was certainly interesting. However, for me, it would have been hard to top the experience of the Ryman. A little more suited to my interests was a visit to The Nashville Public Library which is an amazing building with a moving exhibit chronicling the Nashville Sit-ins of 1959-1960, when students from Nashville’s black colleges took part in organized protests against the policies of segregation. My dinner of southern catfish and live country music at Rippy’s rounded out my day.

I’ve been encouraged to visit Memphis while I’m here. It’s tempting to be sure, but I think I’ll save it for another trip. I keep watching the weather channel and keep looking toward home. I think it's time to turn north.

Sunday, April 11, 2010


I headed south, and my drive today took me down Virginia’s State Highway 29. This highway runs parallel to the Blue Ridge Mountains and is basically in the foothills. I drove up and down, and followed curves right and left through nature’s beautiful show of Spring. The trees here have blossomed. It’s that Springtime phase, past the bud – not quite fully in summer bloom. The colors are amazing. There’s lime green and kelly green and grass green. There’s yellow. There are trees blooming in white and peach and pink. The redbud are such a deep pink they are almost fuschia. The lilacs and wisteria shade from lavender to purple. My friend Marianne, a true poet, described the mountains as a psychedelic Easter dress. An apt description.

I took a little detour back east to visit Appomatox. To be completely accurate I visited the village of Appomattox Court House which sits about 3 miles north of the present day town of Appomatox. It was there, in April of 1865, that General Robert E. Lee officially surrendered the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia to General Ulysses S. Grant. The terms of surrender were signed in the parlor of the home of Wilmer McLean. The house, including the parlor, has been reconstructed by the National Park Service. It was a delightful and historical little detour in my day.

As I drove, I listened to the radio. The further south I moved, away from DC, the more the sounds changed. There was more country, more contemporary Christian. There was classic rock, yes, but the thump of hip hop emanating from my speakers as my radio scanned the stations became more and more rare. There was even one station devoted fully to straight southern gospel. And then, miracle of miracles, there was ‘the voice.’ It was the rumble of a deep baritone - and then those familiar words “it was a quiet week in Lake Wobegon, Minnesota, my hometown, out on the edge of the prairie.”

As I drove past one Baptist church after another, I caught up with Easter festivities at Our Lady of Perpetual Responsibility and what’s new with Pastor Inqvist at the Lake Wobegon Lutheran Church. He talked of Minneapolis, of Bloomington, of the Mall of America. Truth be told, the Mall of America is not my favorite place. Today, I missed it. I miss home. As Keillor puts it so well, we are “a modest people with much to be modest about.” After having spent 2 weeks in a place where image is so important and being important is so important, it was nice to be reminded that life really is relatively simple. And that’s a good thing.

I had been debating about my route home. I had been considering going through Tennessee, having never been to Nashville or to Memphis. Today’s edition of A Prairie Home Companion was broadcast from the Ryman Auditorium. Soon after the show ended and I was back to station surfing again, Marc Cohn came on singing “Walking in Memphis.” I’m taking these as a sign. I’m turning west.

Thursday, April 8, 2010


Spring has sprung in the East. Driving in from West Virginia, the medians on the highway were filled with huge beds of daffodils. Pansies and tulips are everywhere. The trees are all in blossom – star magnolias, pear, cherry, dogwood, and weeping cherry are all bursts of pink and white. The forsythia is a blaze of sunny yellow hedges.

Of course, along with all the color is all the pollen. According to the allergy index is high – though my sore and red nose did not need the internet to figure this out. I can see a coating of it on the roofs and windshields of the cars as they sit in the driveway (Easterners aren’t that big on garages.) If you look up at the sky and the angle of the sun is just right, you can see it floating in the air. Perhaps my desire for an ‘extended Spring’ was less than well-thought through, at least where my nose is concerned.

The weather is warm – unseasonably warm, in fact. The 93F temperature yesterday broke a record high by 7 degrees. They’re forecasting 88F today. Average temperatures for this time of year run in the mid-60’s.

I did the ‘tourist thing’ on Monday. I took the Metro into town, got off at Smithsonian, and walked over to the Tidal Basin. Even if I hadn’t known which way to go, it would have been easy enough to find. Just follow the crowds. I was not alone in enjoying the views. But this tourist experience was different than many. It was slow. People took their time. They strolled. They stopped every few feet to gaze at the scenery from a different perspective. They took photos. They stopped and brought a branch close to their face and smelled. There was no guide – no audio tour. There was no 3x5 note identifying the artist or the name of the work. There was no urge to rush through this gallery to reach the next. There were the trees and the water. To say the least, it was stunning.

Spring is that time which reminds us that all things are possible. There is re-birth. There is growth. Things are bright and clean. There is the song of dozens of birds outside the windows, and it continues throughout the day. There is the smell of fresh-cut grass wafting in from across the street. There is a bee bumping at the window screen, trying to get in. There is promise in the air.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010


I drove the carpool for the crew team a few days ago. Six 14-15 year old girls piled into the minivan and away we went. We were headed to the Occoquan River which is about a 30 minute drive south of Vienna, Virginia. The crew team practices Monday through Friday; they generally run their races (regattas) on the weekends.

The experience was eye opening in a number of ways. I’m amazed at the resiliency of parents of teenage girls. To say that they need stamina would be an understatement. I’m amazed that they are not totally deaf. The decibel level was certainly in the danger zone. Six girls all talking (shouting) at the same time, complete with laughs, giggles and the occasional random shriek.

I was also amazed at how invisible I was. For all intents and purposes, the car could have been driving itself. After the initial round of introductions and explanations of who I was and how I was related, I disappeared. The girls were courteous, well-mannered and seemed genuinely glad to meet me. But the moment I put the car in gear and drove out of the parking lot – I disappeared - which, I believe, could really be a good thing.

I was the proverbial fly on the wall. I could hear everything and they didn’t appear to be editing too much of what they were saying. They talked about all sorts of things – stories about school mates, discussions of teachers, comments on their doofy parents. They commented on passing cars and people in passing cars that reminded them of people they all knew. They laughed at the poor young man who tripped over his own feet on the sidewalk and went sprawling with his bike (a sympathetic laugh, by the way) accompanied by a chorus of “oh no – did you see that? -- poor guy!” They discussed their day at school and what happened in History class. They must have covered at least 30 different topics in that 30 minute drive.

On the surface it all sounds innocuous. But if you listen carefully, there are deeper things being discussed. Sympathy at a classmate’s loss of face, worry about fitting in, anxiety about school work and which college to choose, concerns about being ‘good enough’ and not letting people down. These deeper things seem to get discussed because I am invisible. By keeping my mouth shut and not attempting to engage with them and be a part of the discussion, I am privy to the more serious thoughts and emotions they are experiencing.

As a non-parent, I suspect this is a lesson to parents everywhere. As adults, we often believe that we need to talk, to give advice, to share our wisdom. We believe that it is maybe our responsibility to pass on our ‘wisdom’ or ‘knowledge’ to those younger. Perhaps that is our responsibility though, sometimes, all we may really be called to do is to be present, to keep our mouths shut and our ears open, and to drive the car.