Happy Mother’s Day

Dear Mama,

Shirley Carson Ray

Well, it’s been nearly five years now since we could talk in person….for the longest time I kept wanting to pick up the phone to talk to you. I’m lucky to be living in the ballet school, where a large part of you still lives. People say, ‘you have a ballet school?’ ‘Well, it used to be my mother’s ballet school,’ I say, ‘but now it’s been re-converted into a beautiful Queen Anne home.’

And here you are, in the marks on the wooden floor where you kept time with the umbrella. Every time I enter the twin bedroom I still see your desk in the corner, with the dial telephone. For the longest time I kept wanting to enter the bathroom from the studio, or rather living room, instead of from the side where the door now is.

This business would be hard for you. No being close to people. The future so uncertain. And no teaching ballet, a complete and total shut down of your world. You wouldn’t worry about getting sick, I know that, but you would worry about other people, about Sabrina working too much and Winston and Devin not working at all. You’d agonize about the food bank lines and write out checks to help out.

And you would definitely fret about toilet paper. Did you laugh the other day when I snagged two boxes of Cottonelle on Amazon?

Somehow you’ve still found a way to help out. There’s no elastic anywhere in the world for Ariel to make masks, but there in your sewing box was pink and black elastic…just the right width for ballet shoes. Looking in the shed and the linen closet for fabric I got distracted. Of course I did. There on the banker boxes is your pretty handwriting, with the big swooping capital letters. I especially liked the box that said, “the flannel blanket I made to bring the babies home from the hospital. My baby quilt. Clothes made by Grandma, some new.”

The flannel blanket is so pretty and soft, the tight embroidery floss still bright on the cute little teddy bear figures. Had to force myself back to the mission. Finally found the fabric stash right where you left it, on the bottom shelf atop a huge pile of leotards.  It was a little late by the time I found it but I wanted to share right away so asked Ariel if I could come over to show her something.

“Can we FaceTime?”

“Too special, it needs to be in person.”

I got that from you, I think, the desire to share in person, with people, to create unforgettable experiences. Once when you were taking care of Jessamyn when she was little you kept her awake too late playing “theater” because YOU were having such a good time. When I was pregnant with Jessamyn I waited to tell you so I could do it in person. No iPhones yet then to prove it with, but you really did jump up and down.

Thank you, Mama, for the fabric and the elastic and for so much more.

Love, Karen

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Happy Birthday to me….sort of…

Everything was fine until my dogs got in on the celebration.

Yesterday while Daddy was taking me out to lunch Greta and Marlowe jumped up on his kitchen table–the chairs were pushed in–and snagged a sealed half-pound box of See’s candy, a birthday gift I clearly wasn’t careful enough with.

They are Papillons, weighing a diminutive 6.7 and 5.8 pounds.

Somehow got the box, now empty, from the table over to the couch where it sat, dismantled and empty. Marlowe didn’t look the least bit guilty. What he looked was wretched. Ears in a funny position, his body was hunkered, and shaking. Chocolate and dogs is a bad combo.

Forget going back to San Francisco. Forget my free birthday cupcake from Susie Cakes. Forget a leisurely hike at the Marin Headlands. We flew warp sped to Ariel’s vet, who whisked us right in. But Marlow couldn’t wait. Even as he was vomiting in the front seat I tried to tell myself, This is a good! Slimy chocolate in my car meant less of it inside of him.

“Half a pound is a lot of chocolate for a little dog,” said Dr. Nate. “How much of it do you think he threw up?”

How does one translate emesis –and here I have to stop and report that spell check doesn’t even recognize the technical term for vomiting–how does one translate the goo  in my car….into a quantity of bordeaux creams, Scotch mallows, or  vanilla creams?? I call Daddy and ask him to search the house and yard for more vomit and report back. He loves getting that call, I can tell you.

And I’ll also tell you, he didn’t find any.

His shoe did.


Puddled in front of his favorite chair.

Meanwhile, Marlowe is being poked and prodded. He looks less peaked since the emesis experience. “Good that you found him quickly,” says Dr. Nate. They are keeping Marlowe for the afternoon. There is more vomiting in his future, induced this time, and fluids–he’s dehydrated already–and charcoal to prevent absorption of toxin. “Even if we get him to throw everything up, his body will probably absorb 20%.”

They show me an estimate of charges. I’m just happy it’s in the three figures. A vet emergency with Greta a few years ago went well into four.

I fold the mat from the passenger seat as strategically as possible and get it on the rubber mat. Greta is thrilled not to be staying there.

Adrenaline is a weird thing. It gives you energy and focus for the necessary thing and when it’s gone it is GONE. I collapse at home. If I don’t get a birthday cake maybe I can have a birthday nap. Not sure I slept, maybe just “rested my eyes,” as Daddy says.

And when I wake up….I learn that Greta, too, had some chocolate! Lessons in humility and cleaning up. Back to the vet. My mind is doing this weird logic. Maybe it’s good that Marlowe didn’t get so much? But Greta is even smaller. And the vet closes soon, they won’t have much time to help her. But she clearly didn’t eat as much. And there’s another question….Can I possibly get the rug out from under the dining table so I can hose it off outside?

“To be abundantly cautious we would keep them overnight on an IV at an emergency hospital.” he explained that the actual toxicity from the chocolate can be delayed up to 12 hours–which would be midnight– but I could tell from his tone that would be overkill. I am, though, to watch for signs of neurological problems.

At six-twenty we all get in the car. Marlowe has a patch shaved from his right foreleg. Greta has little bits of black charcoal on her pretty hair. Even with Greta in the mix the bill is still in the three figures. I thought about hugging the vet. Decided no.

I also didn’t get him chocolate as a thank you.

Greta and Marlowe leaving the vet, seemingly not worse for wear. Mat on passenger seat is freshly washed.





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Running Hot and Cold

Snow on the ground in Telluride surprised me. Warm sun immediately afterward surprised me. During the  long wait to get in to hear Oprah I put my coat hood on my head not because I was cold, but to protect the part in my hair.

I went from summer headgear–a cute straw cowboy hat  with faux turquoise in front–to winter hat–a gold knit cap–several times a day.

Cap. Hat. Cap. Hat.

We hat rain, sun, snow, and hail, all in the same day. “Weird weather,” everyone said, and then glanced at my Facebook to see a five-year old memory of this very day. With snow on the ground.

The really surprising thing about this weather, though, is that I was prepared for it. The phone may give me the weather, but until I feel the blast in a jet bridge it’s too easy to miss something.

In this case, I had both summer and winter hats. I had the cute New Yorker umbrella–thank you, Ellie–and I even brought the winter boots.

Relieved not to need those.

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Coffee Talk

Although I only met him once, eight years ago, I recognized him right away.

Derek Engebretsen is a math and science teacher in Telluride and before I came to town I zipped him an email.

Here we are at the Steaming Phoenix, coffee cups in hand. Eight years ago I was in the middle of divorce unpleasantness. He was an unemployed math teacher doing a cross-country bike ride. Our paths merged in Telluride on 2011 this month on my birthday. I was standing across from the post office looking for Bluegrass festival tickets. He and his biking companion were looking for a spot to camp.

I invited them to stay overnight at my house. In addition to giving Gabe and Derek a bed, a meal, and a shower I thought to look up job openings for the Telluride school district. Derek got the job. And four years ago, again on my birthday, though he didn’t know it, Derek sent me an update. He was engaged to be married, to Katie–together they comprised two-thirds of the science department at Telluride High School–and they were buying a home. Both outdoorsy, they had gotten engaged while working as assistants on an OARS trip going down the Grand Canyon.

I love every single thing about this story, the fact that all three of us were out of our comfort zones, that it evolved organically, and of course I love the happy ending, complete with wedding! Over time the story has gotten developed an aura, a halo even, in my consciousness. I’ve written about it and I told it at a live storytelling event.

But, until now, I haven’t had a chance to see Derek again.  Although it’s been nine years, Derek is only 32. He’s still young and tall and blond, and easy to see why I was comfortable enough to invite him to stay at the house. I still feel a bit motherly toward him…and perhaps unreasonably proud. I’m a touch disappointed that he didn’t bring Katie, though I’m charmed at how he talks about her, “I’m awfully fond of her.” They are heading west to skin up and ski down mountains in California and Oregon the minute school is out. He’ll also be visiting Gabe, his biking companion from eight years ago.

Derek mostly teaches physics, a subject that encourages sticking to the syllabus. “But toward the end of the year with the seniors,” he said, “I share a bit about how I got to be here.” He wants them to see how one small thing can change everything.

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Oprah Gail Winfrey

“You become what you believe.”

Sounds like it ought to be on a poster, doesn’t it? But nope, it’s Oprah live and in person talking to me.

Well, me and 649 others, but it sure feels like she’s talking to me. It’s a real skill to speak this way, and to listen too. When my daughter Jessamyn was studying psychology the professor had them watch videos of Oprah to learn how to listen.

Oprah spent her early years with her grandmother in Mississippi, with no plumbing and no electricity, the grandmother washed their clothes in a pot. “You watch me now Oprah Gail, because one day you’re going to have to do this.”

No I won’t, Oprah thought. “But even then I had the wisdom not to say it.”

“Did you watch Oprah’s television show,” Randye asked me while we were waiting.

“No,” I said. “I was too much of a snob. I hardly watched television, and especially not daytime television.” Though I’ve realized it was my loss as I’ve appreciated many of her Super Soul Sunday interviews.

Oprah’s grandmother got sick and she was sent to Milwaukee to live with her mother as she was about to start kindergarten. “That’s what saved me, moving to Milwaukee and going to school with the white kids.” Oprah’s grandmother had already taught her to read, so she was appalled that the alphabet was only being introduced. She was put into first grade that very day.  Later, she skipped second grade also. Thinking she wasn’t pretty…no one ever told her…she hung onto smarts since she knew that would be her only ticket.

Oprah talked about her current projects, including a major project she’s starting about mental health with Prince Harry. Her dream is to eliminate the stigma around mental health. “I’d love for no one to ever look at anyone else and say, ‘what’s wrong with you?'” She talked about how she’s gotten close to doing a Broadway play three times, “but when I really thought about what my life would be like in New York while I was actually doing the play I just couldn’t do it. Not enough trees.” She is currently building a house in Telluride, where there are lots and lots of trees.

“I was never trying to change the world,” she said. “I only try and do the next right thing in any given moment.”

Worth the wait to see her in person.


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