Category Archives: Memoir

Autumn 2020

Note: I dithered so long that the title of this article originally was “September 2020.”

I think of my mom and dad every day and–almost without exception–that makes me feel happy and as contented as I am able to feel these days. Autumn is a little bit different, though. Sometimes, in the fall, I really miss them and I feel sad. This feeling doesn’t usually last long, but this year it is worse.  No surprise there, I think.  I miss my brothers and their families. Tom and I see all of our children in Zoom meetings and–every couple weeks–most of them outside at a park. I pet the little dog, Randi, but I also want to hug the children. Tom and I–socially distanced/masked–see some of our friends, but I miss our dear ones far away.

I am fine enough, and I think I am lucky. I mostly try to be grateful.

I don’t want to leave you with the memory of my carping, so below are several photos I’ve collected in the clouds, mist, and sunshine of September and October. Love, Lynda


clouds, Blue Ridge Mountains, Virginia

U.S. Capitol from Bartholdi Park, Washington, D.C.

Mathews Arm Campground, Shenandoah National Park, Virginia

bee and flower after the rain

pearl crescent on white snakeroot

strawberry bush, Hillside Park, Arlington, Virginia

milkweed and milkweed bugs, Bluemont Park, Arlington, Virginia

eastern hemlocks, Cathedral State Park, West Virginia

July 4, 2020

Most of my life, I have loved the 4th of July.  As a child, It wasn’t just the swimming, hot dogs and ice cream, sparklers, and the fireworks later on at the high school. I loved (and do love) my country and I was proud of it. I became interested in social studies in junior high and high school (thank you, Mr. Bohl, Mr. Torrance, and others). I got a degree in political science and one in English with an emphasis in American Studies. On this particular 4th of July, I am sad and fearful (more on this below).

For years, I have embraced the idea of being an active and outspoken citizen. I

  • butted heads occasionally with teachers whom I deemed were unfair: I got sent to the principal’s office for not backing down to a teacher, paddled by another, etc.,
  • co-wrote a letter about unfair labor practices at my first job (Camp Dearborn, Milford, Michigan) that resulted in some changes. My proudest moment there was when I refused to wait on Orville Hubbard, then mayor of Dearborn, Michigan, who at the time refused to allow African-Americans to live in that city,
  • marched against the war in Vietnam,
  • canvassed for the Poor People’s March after Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated,
  • supported the  BAM  (Black Action Movement) student strike at the University of Michigan–except when I crossed the picket line to go to my urban politics classes,
  • sent to Congress my comments related to the possible drawbacks of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline for native peoples, submitted as part of ENACT’s (Environmental Action for Survival) testimony in 1971,
  • spent years explaining to adult immigrants and refugees about civil rights and responsibilities in the United States (Note: I wrote a textbook on these matters: Community Experiences: Reading and Communication for Civics),
  • voted,
  • watched, tears in my eyes, decades of Rolling Thunder rides in D.C.; didn’t like the war, respected the warriors,
  • visited/loved scores of national parks, monuments, memorials, forests, and trails and worked in two (Zion National Park and Grand Canyon National Park),
  • volunteered in my community, from helping children learn about the watershed and planting American elms for the U.S. Park Service to working at programs that feed the hungry.

Reviewing this list, I see the smallness of my efforts. I think I need to do more for our tattered social fabric and for our endangered natural world.

Today and yesterday and these last months and three years have been difficult for me. I am sad about the continuing (possibly escalating) pandemic, and some of the responses to it. I am sad about those who died and their loved ones. I am sad about the current and uncivil strife, within the government and everywhere else. I want the American promises I believed in so much when I was young to be true and available to all. I used to extol the power and goodness of our laws, government, and social system to the adult immigrants I taught. I don’t think I could do that today. I am fearful of catching Covid-19 from those people who sashay past me without their masks. I am fearful of continued undermining of the concept of three equal parts of the federal government and a descent into authoritarianism.

However, writing this article has cheered me up.  From my window, I see the flag of the U.S. Marine Corps War Memorial blowing in the wind. The mockingbird who flies around here  landed on our balcony a little while ago. On our walks, many people in this diverse National Capital Area give us hearty, happy greetings and we send our goodwill back to them. Tom is making pizza for dinner tonight.  I think we will watch another episode of The National Parks: America’s Best Idea tonight.  I am feeling hopeful now, so I am ending with a few national park photos.

Canyon de Chelly

Canyon de Chelly National Monument

Chisos Basin, Big Bend

Chisos Basin, Big Bend National Park

Lava Beds National Monument

Lava Beds National Monument

Grand Tetons

Grand Tetons National Park

wild horses, Assateague National Seashore

wild horses, Assateague National Seashore

View of Cape Royal and Wotan's Throne, Grand Canyon

View of Cape Royal and Wotan’s Throne, Grand Canyon

 

This May and Others

At least by my personal reckoning, we didn’t have real winter this year here in Arlington, Virginia. There were a handful of cold days and some smatterings of snow, but that was it.* Missing winter, spring began earlier than usual.  Maybe that was a foreshadowing of catastrophe that I shouldn’t have missed.

I last went to a museum on March 11. We had two of our children over for dinner on March 13. We went camping March 14. Things were changing and then they were changing more.

March ended and April came–sometimes with its showers–always with sadness and worry.   It is May now and we do have flowers.  I still have few words worth sharing, but I thought I would post some May flowers from now and from other times.  I wish you well; I hope you will be safe.

May 2, 2020, Arlington, Virginia

May 22, 2019, Arlington, Virginia

May 22, 2019, Arlington, Virginia

May 4, 2018, Washington, D.C.

May 4, 2018, Washington, D.C.

May 10, 2017, Charlottesville, Virginia

May 19, 2016, Washington, D.C.

May 16, 2015, Charlottesville

May 16, 2015, Charlottesville, Virginia

May 19, 2014, Denver, Colorado

May 14, 2013, Blue Ridge Mountains, Virginia


* I admit to wearing my long underwear quite a bit on my walks even without the winter, but  that’s just because I am such a bona fide sweater-wearing old person now. This from one who used to pride herself on running out to the mailbox barefoot through the snow!

April 15, 2020

On my solitary and socially distant walks, I think about what words to write here and what photos I might share.  Then, in the face of almost 27,000 deaths just in the United States, let alone the whole world,  I know I can’t write about socks, as I recently mentioned.

afternoon walk garb, pandemic

I wake in early hours beset with worry and sorrow. I go down the list of my loved ones: please be safe. If you can’t be safe, please know I love you.

My glass half-full is leaking.

Still, I try to say thanks and to be grateful and that helps.

Thank you

  • to all the thousands–millions–of medical workers, service workers, cleaners, post office workers, workers from home, moms and dads, the workers now without jobs, the volunteers, the homeless, and the hungry–all of you.
  • to Rebekah, Donna, Dorothy, and all the others making face masks here in the land of plenty.
  • to the food banks, Jose Andres, David Guas, and all the others in my neighborhood and in yours feeding people.
  • to Shilpa, who got us our groceries, and all the other helpers.
  • to my friends for being in my heart, as always.

face mask

I am grateful

  • for Tom and our children. I say their names in the early morning darkness. Be safe, be well.
  • for my parents, brothers, and their families– even more grateful these days.
  • for the mockingbird who sings on the top of the holly tree in the (almost) secret garden I have been walking in alone this past month.
  • for the other birds and the flowers and the spring trees.

mockingbird on holly tree

cherry petals and liriope

Freedom Park, Arlington, Virginia, April 2020

Please be safe and please be well and I will try to do the same. I will be back soon.

 

Trees

treehugger, Inyo National Forest, California

I love–and I don’t believe that is hyperbole–many kinds of trees. When I was a small child,  I loved the Colorado blue spruce on a nearby street in my Detroit neighborhood.  Even as a little kid, I think I knew what an excellent blue spruce it was and at Christmastime there were holiday lights on it.

In my mind, I see the trees of our home on the lake almost as vividly as I see my dad raking the leaves or my mom taking care of the petunias in the window box by the door (later, as the trees grew ever larger, I think she had to put in impatiens). Mostly we had oaks–my Dad said they were black oaks– and hickories.  We had a sassafras down by the lake and, for a while, a cherry up by the mailbox.

Once I traveled west in 1970, I loved the ponderosas, pinyons, junipers. aspens,  bristlecone pines, and many others. When I moved to Virginia, I fell in love with the tulip poplars.

pinyon pine, Canyonlands National Park

pinyon pine, Canyonlands National Park

 

aspens, La Sal Mountains

bristlecone pine, Great Basin National Park

tulip poplar, Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia

What I can’t understand is how I failed to focus on sycamores for so many decades. I started noticing them about six years ago in Arizona.  Then, back here in Virginia, I finally noticed that sycamores stand sentinel along the Potomac and the Shenandoah Rivers (among others). Wild, ragged, and ghostly:  Sycamores make me think about the tangled beauty of this world.

Arizona Sycamore (Platanus wrightii), Ramsey Canyon Preserve

Arizona Sycamore (Platanus wrightii), Ramsey Canyon Preserve, Arizona

sycamore on the banks of the Shenanandoah River

American sycamore (Platanus occidentalis) on the banks of the Shenandoah River, Virginia

Spring 2020

I’m here and I’m okay.  I guess you are there at your place and I hope you are okay, too.

Today I

  • made a half-hearted attempt to do my “classical stretching” with Miranda Esmonde-White on PBS,
  • thought about and talked with Tom about who and what I am grateful for,
  • did 55 minutes of stretching exercises in the living room (because we don’t feel secure using the condo gym now),
  • completed a desultory ten minutes of  focused/deep-breathing meditation or whatever ( I am so bad at this),
  • walked a couple of miles in the cool and sunny early afternoon,
  • and made a loaf of Irish brown soda bread.

Irish brown soda bread

The easy, quick, and tasty recipe I use comes from Cook’s Illustrated, but there are many other recipes available from The Fanny Farmer Baking Book to King Arthur Flour and Food Network online. I was going link to the recipe or write it out below, but, since one can’t access the recipe without registering on the Cook’s Illustrated site, I decided I may not have a clear right to do that. So, when this mess is all over, maybe we can break (this) bread together.

What I really want to write about today

It’s my mother’s stainless steel mixing bowl I am thinking about today.  I don’t know whether or not my parents received the Revere Ware mixing bowl set for their wedding or at some time later. I do know that I have used this bowl all of my life, since I could first stir anything.  I first learned the difference between beating, mixing, and folding within this bowl. In this bowl we took turns beating the eggs for the angel food birthday cakes that we loved. My brothers and I used this bowl when we made cookies on summer days (see Swedish Ice Box Cookies).

my mother’s stainless steel mixing bowl

I used the bowl again today to make the Irish brown soda bread to brighten up our self-isolating dinner tonight. The bowl worked perfectly, as it always does, and the loaf looks good.

Irish brown soda bread

What I want to think about today

Every day, I think about my mother and father and I think about how lucky my brothers and I are to have known them and felt their practical love and kindliness. Today, particularly, I am thinking of them because of the current world crisis we are sharing in. If my parents were here now, I believe they would face the challenges with practicality and kindliness. I hoist my slice of bread high with gratitude and hope.

 

 

The News I Need

I started  compulsively reading The Washington Post online the morning of September 11, 2001 in my office in Northwest Washington, D.C. After the attacks there were the anthrax letters and the snipers. My office was only a few miles from my home, but it was across the Potomac River. I used to fantasize about how –if Chain Bridge were blown up–I could swim across.  I didn’t need to resort to that and things returned to an uncomfortable new normal.

The last few days, I have been reading the  paper compulsively again. Sure enough, almost every time I log on, there is a new red (or sometimes black) breaking news banner. I am resolving to control myself. Tom and I plan on going camping tomorrow.

The News I Need Today

Although people will not be able to see it for awhile (the Smithsonian Institution is closing for now), there is a lovely exhibit at the Smithsonian American Art Museum: Chiura Obata: American Modern. Obata’s art and his words are the news I need today. Please be well.

Sequoia feet

Sequoia feet

 

 

On the Edge of the Swamp

I have been doing it again. Ideas for stories rattle around in my head, but I don’t write them down and see where they take me.  For example, for a couple years now, I have wanted to write about sycamore trees.  Why didn’t I hardly notice them for most of my life? I think I will write about sycamores in a week or two,  Another possible topic: I want to write about socks I have known and loved.  Tom wondered why I would want to write about socks. I guess that is a bit hard to figure, but I think it is about where I was when I got the socks and where I walked in them.  Not an epic topic, I am quite sure, but it is true that is what I have been thinking about. I also have had a draft about doughnuts in the works for three years.  A fourth topic is the one I choose to write about today:  my observations about living on the edge of the (so-called) swamp of Washington, DC.


First, I want to go on the record to say I love swamps. It would be hard not to do so growing up on a lake in Southeastern Michigan as I did.  My brothers will remember the small swamp off Driftwood Drive with the beautiful dead tree and also all the frogs we used to hear.  I love Congaree National Park–even though the wild pigs frighten me. I love Big Cypress National Preserve and Everglades National Park–even though I am wary of  (and thrilled by) the alligators in both parks. My point is that people who might say that we (or they) need to “drain the swamp” here in the capital city are not using an effective metaphor for this water-loving native born lowlander.

Anyhow, our country is in such turmoil that I–like almost everyone I know–go through bouts of anxiety, anger, and despair. However, here in Arlington, Virginia (just across the river from DC) and whenever I go into the city, I see, hear, and feel hopeful signs. I want to write some words to convince myself–and maybe you–that the glass (possibly cracked) remains half full.

My husband, children, and I first visited the National Mall in 1978, when we moved to Arlington. We enjoyed the museums and, especially the Smithsonian Folklife Festival.* We didn’t have much extra cash then and everything (but the food) was free and wonderful. Currently, Tom and I go to the Mall almost every week and everything is still free and wonderful. Now there are more museums, more gardens, and the museum food, while still not free, is much tastier than it used to be. Often, a gloom settles on me as I read my morning Washington Post and New York Times.  Then, Tom and I hop the Metro to the Mall and my faith in the strength, resilience, and fundamental democratic spirit of our country is restored.

Every time we visit DC,  we see people thronging to the museums, the carousel, the gardens, the memorials, and the parades with the same happy enthusiasm as always. People also attend and speak out at marches and protests with the same idealistic passion as always. I believe that authoritarian despoilers are threatening our democracy. However, on Mall days, I feel like we, the people, can (and I hope, will) protect the our people, our land, our Constitution, and our democracy.

Photos

The National Mall, with pedestrians and American elm trees

freedom of speech on the Capitol Grounds

carousel on the National Mall

planting common milkweed seeds in Arlington, Virginia

Independence Day Parade, Constitution Avenue

March for Science, April 22, 2017

Rolling Thunder 2019

 

freedom quilt, National museum of African American History and Culture

*I thank the founder of the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, S. Dillon Ripley, Smithsonian Secretary from 1964 to 1984, Ralph Rinzler, and many others for the festival,** the carousel, and for helping me feel at home and welcome in the capital city.

**In the past many years, the  Smithsonian Folklife Festival has been less well-funded than it was in some years.   I hope this will change. In fact, it does look like there are plans for a longer festival this year than last year. This year the festival will be June 24-28 and July 1-5. For more information see the festival webpage.

 

 

 

 

Page, AZ

I’ve been thinking about Page, Arizona quite a bit lately. That’s because I read about the closing of the Navajo Generating Station, located on the Navajo Nation near Page. In 1972, Page was booming as the generating station with its three 775 ft. stacks was being built. The school population was also booming and I was hired to teach eighth grade literature. Through the years, I’ve told you a few stories about Page and there are more.

My parents took this photo at 4:45 A.M., August 12, 1972 as I headed west–Milford, Mi to Page, AZ–in Pippin the VW

I’ve been reminiscing about Page lately,  but I think about education pretty much all the time. That comes from being the daughter, sister, cousin, aunt, and friend of teachers. Tomorrow many students and teachers are returning to school after the winter holiday, so I am thinking about them.  I’m not sure what the students in my classes learned, but my year in Page was a goldmine of life lessons for me.

What I learned*

  • Consider how you label people. I was reading aloud one of the stupid memos from the office (see Up the Down Staircase, Bel Kaufman, 1965), which said something like “all the Indian children should go to the office.” E_________ , a Navajo, or perhaps more correctly, Dine, said, “I am not from India.” Got it.
  • Keep your own counsel. I was so enthusiastic and idealistic that I didn’t realize that it’s generally best to keep one’s cards close to one’s chest. I still have a little trouble with this one, but I am savvier than I used to be. Now you wouldn’t find me (without support from others, at least) asking the principal to let me have someone come in to talk to the kids about drugs. No matter that a number of the kids likely were more familiar with drugs than I was and that I despised drugs then, as I do now. It just made me look like a druggie/hippie, and it didn’t help the kids.
  • There is a place for decorousness. There is a uniform. Speaking of chests: I needed to work on a bulletin board one Sunday after I had been away somewhere in the country. On such journeys and under my camping outfit I did not usually wear a bra. I remember I was just wearing my trusty flowered thermal long-underwear shirt. As I was working on the bulletin board, one of my male students showed up. He was a nice kid—I forget his name, but I can almost see him. “Hi, Mrs. Schmedlen,” but his eyes were on the shirt. I had thought no one would be around, but I am still embarrassed about the encounter. Even now, contrariness makes me not want to wear the uniform. Still, I was raised right and I do know what uniforms go with which cultural encounters.
  • Beware of shopping baskets full of wine. Because school started in August and the North Rim (see Cookies on the North Rim and Ain’t No Reason to Go in a Wagon to Town) stayed opened until mid-October when the snows came, I occasionally still got up to see my Grand Canyon friends. In fact—shades of the Zeitgeist—twice that fall semester, Friday classes were called off early because of bomb threats. I never knew who called in the threats—student, teacher, administrator, or outside agitator. There were no bombs, no one was in danger, but I was able to head up to the rim early. I am mentioning this because I had become a traveler between the isolation of the rim and the fairly poor excuse for civilization Page was back then. My North Rim friend—everyone’s friend—Paula happened to be in a cheap wine phase. So, she asked me to stock up on Annie Green Springs to bring to her the next time I went up to the rim. Being an agreeable person, I went to Babbitts and picked up many bottles of cheap wine. I was just completing that one errand, so I don’t think I had anything else in the basket. Since Babbitts was the main grocery store in town then, it was not surprising that I met a student with parent in tow. I don’t think they failed to notice my shopping basket half full of wine. Maybe that’s why, some months later, after I took a day off to get Pippin the Volkswagen worked on in Flagstaff, a rumor surfaced. One of the kids told me that some kids thought I was home drinking to “celebrate the end of the war in Vietnam.”
  • Mental health days are occasionally appropriate. Like serious teachers everywhere, I got up early, worked hard all day, bought extra supplies, made materials, prepared for classes, and corrected papers. I used to correct papers and prepare lessons on the bed in my bedroom in the school system owned apartment I shared with the school librarian. As long as I owned those sheets, they carried the pen marks where I had done my school prep. Another thing I did with those sheets was get eight hours of sleep every night. I think if I hadn’t enough sleep, I wouldn’t have been strong enough to carry on. Maybe you are laughing a little bit now and maybe I am, too. I have by now done many more difficult things in my life than teach eighth grade literature. However, in my defense, it was the hardest thing I had had to do so far in my life and I think I acquitted myself well enough. I remember that when my mother was teaching she would on rare occasions take what she called a “mental health day.” Teaching is emotionally and physically demanding, and, yes, we teachers owe it to ourselves and our students to be up to the challenge. I think I took one mental health day that year in Page. No, it was not to get drunk to celebrate the end of the war in Vietnam. I don’t even remember the day specifically, but it was good to be able to follow my mother’s example.
  • Arm-wrestling was useful then, but is not currently advised. Because of my tom-boy (as we called it then) childhood tagging along with my four brothers, I had spent my share of time arm wrestling. It turned out I could usually out arm-wrestle the boys in class who challenged me. I don’t know how it started, but I do remember that almost all of the boys were taller than me and my arm-wrestling prowess seemed to give me a smidgeon of credibility. One day a likeable, talkative boy was goofing around too much. Holding on to his shirt, I picked him up out of his seat, told him to stop and put him back in the chair. He calmed down after that and was even friendlier to me than before. Another time, another charming, lively kid was goofing off around by my desk. I gave him a friendly poke with my pencil, but I was holding the pencil backwards, so I gave myself a little puncture wound and I still have the mark on my right palm to remember the incident. What am I saying–that violence is good? No, I was the only teacher there who wouldn’t use a paddle on the kids. I am saying that engagement on some non-academic level can break down barriers and build trust for both teachers and learners. I don’t disagree with rules that have been put in place to protect children. I think those rules need to be in place, but adults need to know what is reasonable, appropriate conduct for teachers, not ban them from putting a friendly hand on an arm or having a friendly arm-wrestle. This looks like a slippery slope that can be argued longer than I care to think about it.
  • I almost didn’t tell you this story, but I was encouraged to put it back in the narrative. The kids used to come up around my desk sometimes to ask and tell me things. Looking back, I think there was a certain amount of low-pitched pandemonium in my classes, but the desk routine plays pretty well in my memory, except for this episode. One time, S____, a Navajo with cowboy boots and bowed legs, was one of the kids around the desk. I gave him what I meant to be a jocular and affectionate mild little push on his arm and he fell down on the floor. What—from all my years of watching TV westerns—I had imagined were bowed legs from riding horses (maybe like Gabby Hayes) were something else. I now believe the child had rickets and I knocked him down as if he were a feather. I am so sorry. Sorry that I was so stupid and sorry that any child in the 1970s (a much better economic time than we have now, BTW) could be suffering from such a malady. I wonder if I have learned anything except that remorse is a stubborn emotion. Be careful and be tender, but I’ve found that a little difficult to keep in mind all the time.
  • Children need to learn how to control themselves. In the years before and after Page, I have seen many kinds of discipline. Discipline is still not my strong suit, and I have been glad that I have hardly ever had to apply overt discipline to an adult ESL student. Plus, I’ve seen strong disciplinarians who were kind, effective, and who always had the learners’ best interests at heart. I still believe what my dad once told me: that children need to learn how to control themselves and overly hard discipline by the teacher won’t help them to get there. Someone recently asked me, what does help children learn self-control? I think I have learned to be a quite self-controlled person, but I don’t have an answer for this question. I think maybe our experiences teach us things (e.g. stoves are hot), but I don’t think that gives teachers the right to be preemptively and overly strict to try to teach children life lessons. I don’t know; I just don’t like bullies. We all have to learn to control ourselves. I continue to work on it, with some success and with some failure.

Happy back to school, teachers and students!

*(adapted from Losing It: Deconstructing a Life, unpublished work © Lynda Terrill, all rights reserved)

Another New Year

Other than a sunny morning walk with friends, it has been a slow day around here. Tom made one of our current favorite treats, Detroit-Style Pizza. It was delicious and cheered me up as I watched my college football team (University of Michigan Wolverines) lose again. Tom has a cold–perhaps it is the same one I had on Christmas.  We just finished binge-watching three episodes of Chopped (I think that is legal when one is under the weather).

Now I have set myself three tasks before I can get back to rereading Little Women. I need to settle on my New Year’s resolutions, I need to transfer my personal data from last year’s Audubon Engagement Calendar to this year’s calendar, and I need to write and publish a post.

My resolutions

  • be more kind: I’m no ogre, but I need to be less judgmental and more open-minded.
  • write more posts: I keep all the words, ideas, and photos stewing in my mind too long; I want to serve them up more often–when they are fresh.
  • exercise more: I do exercise quite a bit, but I want to be ready for any mountains, valleys, or canyons that I come across.

Data transfer

I have a computer, a smart phone, and a wall calendar.  However, I organize my tasks and my life using my old school day planner.  Every year I ritually and painstakingly transfer items–everything from New York Times and Washington Post passwords to friends’ addresses to the Neil Young quotation (see Old Year, New Year, Flexibility, Part 3) from the old  book to the new.  I am feeling good about this task because I am about half finished.  I probably will finish tomorrow or the next day.  A couple of years ago, I didn’t finish the transfer of information until sometime in the spring. When I write down the names and addresses of our children, my brothers and their families, and our friends, I remember them.  In my mind: back to Milford, MI,  to Van Aken Boulevard, to the Colorado Plateau, here in the neighborhood, and more. This is powerful magic for me and I take my book wherever I travel. It is my Book of Kells, my book of hours, my book of love.

day books

Write and publish a post

I have just written and posted these lines.

Happy New Year and talk to you soon.