Sunday, August 30, 2015

Real Montanans Eat Beef Or, August in Montana On A Cheeseburger a Day

Real Montanans Eat Beef Or, August in Montana On A Cheeseburger a Day
            When I lived in Harlem, Shirley, Bev and I gallivanted around the country whenever we felt the strong urge to get out of Dodge, to shake out the metaphorical cobwebs. Since we “solita” women find cooking for one less than fun, someone would take the initiative, “Let’s go to Turner (or elsewhere) for a burger. I’ll drive.”

So it seemed natural, while back in Harlem, to revisit our favorite haunts.  

            When the train from Wolf Point pulled into Havre on a Sunday, my friends met me at the station. “Is there anything you want to do while we’re in Havre?”

“Murphy’s Pub, of course.”

            Have you any idea how yummy, how filling, how satisfying, how overlapping the boundaries of the plate a chicken fried steak can be. Especially when one has not eaten this traditional western meal in a couple years. Bring on the beef!  

            Monday afternoon our trio drove south to the Miner’s Club in Zortman for steaks. All I can say is that you can’t go wrong at this back country cafe. The food is good and the plains-to-mountains drive is spectacular any time of year. We have an embarrassing habit of missing our turn on the way home and detouring the longer scenic drive through Malta. Eagle-eyed, full of bravado and beef, we zigged and zagged our way across gravel roads until we hit the main highway home.

            Tuesday night we set our compass north to Kimber’s Border Bar in Turner. Kimber’s smile greeted us when we walked in the door, a mini-reunion. In leisure, we savored the atmosphere of the community gathering place along with cheeseburgers and onion rings.

            Wednesday we headed east to explore new territory, searching out a new barbeque place rumored to serve delicious ribs. On the edge of Malta, in a remodeled gas station, we found, not beef, but yummy ribs and pulled pork sandwiches. While we didn’t “bring on the beef” we had to remind ourselves that “variety is the spice of life”. That’s okay. We’d had cheeseburgers for lunch.  

            What can I say? When friends are out and about and having fun, cheeseburgers are good day or night. Thursday we topped off our evening with six-handed pinochle at Kennedy’s in Harlem. When five women and one token male, six-handed pinochle is a vicious game. We didn’t shed blood or break chairs over hard heads but we sure had fun.

            Friday night I drove west squinting through the smoke of surrounding fires back to Karen’s in Floweree. The song is accurate. Smoke gets in your eyes. Despite that minor irritation, my mouth was watering for the fresh garden vegetables which were bound to be the centerpiece of the meal. Karen is a Master Gardener. Guess what else she served! Yes, the ubiquitous cheeseburger!

            My praise for the veggies must have driven Karen to a repeat meal Saturday night, in entirety. Mmmm, cheeseburger, my less than enthusiastic response. A cheeseburger a day! Ditto Sunday. Well, the package was open and the meat had to be used. There’s gotta be a cliché about a burger a day.

            Truly, I can reel off the names of memorable cheeseburger places throughout Montana. I savor the flavor (I like mine to moo!) of a juicy rare cheeseburger, drippings running down my chin. Same goes for steak or roasts or any other cut of cow.

            Come to think of it, when my plane arrived in Great Falls the first of August, Karen and I headed without hesitation to Eddie’s Supper Club for a campfire burger. Long ago, in the 60’s, when I was going to college, Eddie’s served the best burgers. While CGF has a new name, nothing has changed at Eddie’s.

            My theoretical wisdom tells me beef is better inland while seafood is best on the coast. At times in the past, I have ignored this advice to my gustatory detriment. What can I say? This month is all about beef.

            Come to think of it, I’ve feasted on a cut of cow every day of August, mostly cheeseburgers, some memorable. “Memorable” has several interpretations! North, south, east or west, I (sometimes with a deep breath and courage) ate my cheeseburger of the day. Four Cheeseburger Days left until September.

            While I’ve no beef with beef, I’ve spent the last year in Mazatlan where I ate fresh fruits, vegetables and fish. My digestive system yearns for the calendar page turn to September when I fly to Seattle. I’ll face plant into platters of salmon and halibut, mounds of succulent crab, buckets of clams. But I’ll be back.

Sondra Ashton
HDN: Looking out my back door

August 27, 2015

Of Cabbages and Kings: Losses and Gains

Of Cabbages and Kings: Losses and Gains
            Babies require an enormous amount of diapers, furniture, diapers and accessories, diapers and love and diapers, not to mention a retinue of four (in this case) caretakers. Baby Harper is joy unlimited. Auntie Antoinette says Harper is a better play-toy than any doll. Grandma Dee seldom lets Harper leave her arms. I never miss an opportunity to take my turn with my great granddaughter. Add in another Great Grandma, a Grandpa and an Uncle, and the sum total is a child well loved.

Mother Jessica sometimes looks at us wistfully, yet I know from experience she is glad to have us take over for a few days. Unfortunately, for our new momma, her hands will be full once she returns home to Washington. Our collective job is to spoil the child and we are successful. A gain.

            A loss and gain all in one: I lost a little girl granddaughter Antoinette, soon to be ten, and gained a young lady, poised, responsible, thoughtful, helpful. It is hard to believe one year’s time could make such a difference.

            Since Grandma Dee Dee had a training in Miles City, we gals tagged along. Baby Harper needed diapers, wipes and formula. Grandma drove to Wal-Marche and bought diapers, baby wipes, formula, onsies, jumpers, hair barrettes and clips for all the girls, snacks, and enough related items to fill the cart to overflowing.

            Since Auntie Antoinette wanted to cruise the aisles of the Dollar Store, Mom decided to also load up on items for a school lesson meant to teach that once words are spit out, they cannot be returned. She needed twenty five containers of items such as toothpaste. Like our words, once out of the container, it cannot be forced back in. She ended up with thirty one extra items which had nothing to do with why she went into the store.   

Nobody is immune. Mom said Antoinette could have three bottles of glittery nail polish. Once home, mysteriously, seven bottles fell from the bag. Antoinette shrugged and lifted her arms in the universal open position indicating, “no idea how that happened”.

            Once placed within the warm and dark confines of a suitcase, stuff breeds. Proliferation is not limited to certain specific stuff. Anything and everything is vulnerable to multiplication. How did I get three extra pair of shoes? I only brought the pair I wore. From whence came two jeans, linen pants, cotton capris and that white blouse. Why three pants and only one blouse? And the paperwork? Receipts, notes, addresses, old mail, napkins. Napkins? I didn’t put napkins in here. Did I? Why?

            And why four, no five, kinds of lotion? I know I started my trip with one small bottle plus my all-purpose Bag Balm which I take everywhere. (The three necessities of life—Bag Balm, duct tape and W-D 40.) I just counted a large jar of hand cream and three extra bottles of lotion. This is the second week of my trip. I live in fear. I started my trip with a (one, singular) set of nail care products. I now have three. One would think I lavish my nails with care. No, my poor nails are subject to benign neglect. I try to remember to trim them once every couple weeks. Otherwise, they are on their own.

            My eye-hurtful fuchsia luggage is unmistakable. It is undeniably ugly but easy to find on a baggage carousel. The poor, much traveled, beat and battered thing is exploding at the seams. It was more or less fine when I left. Now it is coming apart in three places. I have wrapped it in duct tape for one more train trip, one more flight.

If my battered bag explodes en route I shall pretend it is not mine. I’ll turn my head and swear I’ve never seen it before in my life while walking away from the mess at full speed. I’ll begin fresh with a new piece of discreet luggage and wait for it to mysteriously fill on its own by mitosis or budding or fragmentation or some such.

Sondra Ashton
HDN: Looking out my back door

August 20, 2015

Mis-Adventures of A Montana Woman, Some Legendary, Some “Phone-Y”

                        Mis-Adventures of A Montana Woman, Some Legendary, Some “Phone-Y”
            Oh, dear, my troubles began with air travel. I managed to get me and my bionic parts through security in Mazatlan and through both customs and security in Dallas/Ft. Worth. To me, that is a big deal. The Dallas airport is the size of three European countries. Paste a gold star on my forehead. I even hustled through three gate changes in half an hour, which I count heroic.

            Let me set the scene. Due to age and recent surgery, I get to pre-board. I travel with a walking stick, about five feet tip to top. I know if I stow it in overhead, it will be in the back bottom and I cannot reach it. So I want my cane to fly special, in a front closet.

            The entire flight crew and pilots welcomed me when I hobbled across the ramp, first to board. Without thought or hesitation, I lifted my branch of alder and asked, “Where do you want me to stick this?”

            Oh dear, oh dear. Every jaw dropped and every face wiped blank momentarily before they all bent over with howls of knee slapping laughter. For a few long, long seconds, I was clueless. Finally I “heard” myself and joined the laughter. We all wiped tears from our faces. An attendant stowed my cane, they all thanked me for a great beginning to the flight to Seattle.  

            I wish I could say I never mis-speak. But I’m used to my mouth which doesn’t always pre-think speaking. Before we lifted off the ground, each of the crew found me and thanked me for making their flight enjoyable. Evidently they shared the experience with other crews. Steve, the attendant for my section of plane, let me know I had acquired legendary status. By the end of the flight several crew members had adopted me.

            In Seattle I had a day to shop, feast, and visit with my cousin Nancie before boarding the red-eye flight to Great Falls. When I de-planed I didn’t see my friend Karen who was to pick me up. I walked downstairs and tugged my bag off the rollers. A quick scan and still no Karen.

I dug out my Trac-fone which I hadn’t used in over a year. But I still had oodles of minutes on the plan. I called Karen’s cell phone. No answer. Home phone. No answer. Remember, this is the middle of the night. Tried again with same result. Finally my phone talked to me to tell me I had been kicked to the curb. I was mystified. I didn’t know I had to maintain a regular relationship with the inanimate thing.

After dumping six dollars change into a pay phone I gave up on Karen, envisioned her sound asleep at home, and with the help of the nice young man at the rental car place, located a hotel for the night.

While I had been looking for her inside the Great Falls Airport, Karen had been waiting at the curb outside for me to exit. Karen picked me up in the morning. We bought a disposable phone with minutes to last me two months.

We drove to Lincoln for the Harlem High Class of ’63 reunion, which I tend to think is held just for me since I’m the one who gets the most from it. Maybe the others think the same. But I know better. I’ve been living in solitude. The reunion is a gift.

In fact by Saturday night after Music in the Park with Wiley Gustafson and his Wild West Band, I was as overstimulated as any toddler at a family reunion. By 3:30 am I had single-handedly organized the 2017 reunion in Mazatlan, complete with hotel, a tequila tour, fishing trips, a drive into the Sierra Madres with stops to see local craftsmen making saddles, decorative tiles, and furniture, trips to the Cathedral, the Mercado, the Machada, tourist shopping in the Golden Zone, eateries for each day, all to the tune of Gustafson’s rendition of “Lonesome Cattle Call”. Whew! Let me know if you want to be adopted into our class. You’re not the first.

With unusually perfect timing, Tuesday I boarded the Empire Builder and surprised my granddaughter Jessica and my brand new great-granddaughter Harper. I’m gloating. I got to hold the baby before Grandma, nanner, nanner.

Today I’m in Miles City with my grand-girls while Mom is at a training. We are heading out the door to explore historic Miles City and see if we can find trouble.

Sondra Ashton
HDN: Looking out my back door

August 13, 2015

The Sky Is Falling—Where Is The Magic Umbrella?

                The Sky Is Falling—Where Is The Magic Umbrella?
            My friend Cheryl’s children are urging her and Dave to move right now from their long-time home in Tillamook, Oregon to the inland side of the Cascades. Why? Because they live at sea level between two rivers. We are told the Big Quake, the one where the west coast slides into the sea, with requisite tsunamis to follow, has been scheduled to creak and crack any day now.

            Certainly, disaster can strike. Look around us. The world seems a topsy-turvy place.

But I’m irreverent. I cannot help my nature. First thing I thought of was Chicken Little, that fledgling feather puff who fled squawking out of the woods when an acorn fell on her head, a woodsy risk. The sky is falling! The sky is falling! I must go tell the King!

In no time Chicken Little had gathered a following. Henny Penny, Cocky Locky, Ducky Lucky, Drakey Lakey, Goosey Loosey, Gander Lander and Turkey Lurkey  were all heading into the woods in quest of worms, seeds, berries, mushrooms and other woodland treasures when by chance they met Chicken Little. “Oh, no,” she said. “Stay out of the woods. The sky is falling and a piece hit me on my head.”

Mass hysteria in action in fairy-tale land. In some versions, crafty Foxy Loxy turns fear mongering to his advantage and in the final scene is sitting on his haunches, sucking marrow bones and licking his lips. In other versions, the troop takes the tale to the king who, Wizard of Oz fashion, gives Chicken Little a magic umbrella. (The latter version sounds Bowdlerized to me; cranked through the sanitizing Disney machine.)

Before you pound a For Sale sign in the front lawn and the load up the U-Haul, better take a good thoughtful look at a map. Is any place safe? Is there such a thing as safe? I’m sorry. Now you are going to hate me.

We all want “someone to watch over me”. It’s our nature. We want to feel safe. I want to feel safe. I could be wrong, but I suspect that “safe”, much like “happy”, is an inside job. People, places and things won’t make “safe” happen.

With the media proliferation of Chicken Little Clones running in circles it is no wonder we have so many stress disorders, ulcers and debilitating headaches. We literally worry ourselves to death.

On the other hand, playing with negative thoughts and fears is kind of fun. Hey, we all do it. Might as well ’fess up. We like to speculate on what might happen. California might fall into the sea. Hairy mammoths might thaw out of the polar ice cap and invade North Dakota. Aliens might land and suck out our brains.

 That scaly place on top of my head is undoubtedly a brain tumor. Since some of my investments are in oil, I’ll be living under the bridge before the year is out. If I drive I’ll get hit by a drunk driver. If I walk, I’ll be shot in a drive by. One of the six airplanes I board this trip will crash, killing me in my prime.  (Wait a minute—what do you mean I am past my expiration date?)

If you are looking for “safe”, might as well build that bunker and hunker down. Yes, the world is a dangerous place. Foxy Loxy lurks behind one of the trees in the woods. But, I take a deep breath and say, there is no magic umbrella. Be sensible.

Move to the other side of the mountains to be close to your kids and grandkids. Move because it is a land you love. Move because you want a change of pace. Or stay put and enjoy the friends and comfort of your known surroundings. It’s all good.

Have you noticed that if disaster, natural or manmade, is a comfortable distance, like in Texas, or the other side of the world, it hardly creates a blip on our radar? However, if disaster rears its scaly face in our backyard, that is cause for fear, lack of sleep, screaming and squawking. Man the barricades!

When your sky is falling, that’s life. When my sky is falling, that is the end of the world. 

Sondra Ashton
HDN: Looking out my back door

August 6, 2015

Life Is A Movable Feast . . . And . . . Like Waiting For A Blind Date

Life Is A Movable Feast . . . And . . . Like Waiting For A Blind Date
            One never knows, right? It’s one thing to plan. For example, today I mop the floors. Then a friend stops by and suggests, “Let’s go to Callecita for seared tuna and guava pie.” Are you going to be flexible? Or are you rigid in concrete, “I cannot go. I must mop my floors.” Really?

Only a few more days and I will cross the heat-shimmering tarmac to board the plane from Mazatlan to Dallas to Seattle to Great Falls, Montana. Originally I planned a trip for March and April, with a second visit in August and September. Surgery put the kibosh on that first trip. So I shelled out more money and changed my flights for the later dates. See, flexible, movable feast from the git-go.

            I plan. Life intervenes. Changes are details. Shortly after my plane lands in Great Falls, Karen and I will drive to Lincoln for our Class of ’63 reunion. My friend Jane had made a motel reservation for me, back in, well, back when. Then Donna asked me to stay with her. I am delighted. Donna’s home in Lincoln will be the center for our gathering. So I had Jane cancel my reservation. One small detail, indicative of changes in the wind.

                        After the reunion, I’ll dash into Havre and Harlem for quick hugs on my way to visit my daughter in Glendive. I need to be there in time for Antoinette to show her sheep at the Dawson County Fair. That’s the plan for now. The two tornados that hit their home Monday may change all the details. We may end up motel camping. Changes in the wind.

Last week we made big plans. Jessica, Dee’s older daughter, my first granddaughter, just presented us with a perfect lovable first great-granddaughter. They arrive on Amtrak about the same time I touch down in Great Falls. I’m excited. Baby barely a month old and I’ll have a chance to spoil that sweet girl absolutely rotten. That’s my job.

            Dee and I figured this was the perfect opportunity for a trip to South Dakota, a venture back-to-Jessica’s roots. We planned details like an overnight stay at a rustic hot springs hotel built during gold-mining days, a drive through the Badlands, and on into Pine Ridge to connect with some of Jess’s relatives and Dee’s friends from the years Dee  worked at Pine Ridge.

            Stay flexible. Dee got the results of her MRI and must schedule knee surgery. “Bionic” seems to run in the family. Our best laid plans are on the shelf. We may get the trip. We may have an entirely different holiday together, comparing scars. Baby Harper gets spoiled rotten, no matter what.

            I won’t stay long in Glendive; not as long as I want. Yet my stay will be longer than I had originally planned. I will head back to the Hi-Line to take care of some business and visit friends I haven’t seen in a couple years. At month’s end, I will be back in Great Falls and then on another plane to Seattle to visit my other daughter Shea, granddaughter Lexi, friends and relations in the Greater Seattle area. I might even squeeze in a voyage to Vancouver Island to see Richard and Kathy.

My plans are wiggly-squiggly. I know better than to make concrete plans. Drives some dear friends nuts. I draw up a list of possibilities. Things on my do-list tend to breed. Some drop off. Some move onto page two.

Sure as the world, when I say, today let’s do this, life will interfere. It is like waiting for a blind date. I never know who will show up. But it will be either fun or it will be “interesting”.  So what if today my blind date is a cotton-rag mop dancing me around the kitchen floor.

Sondra Ashton
HDN: Looking out my back door

July 30, 2015

Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night, A Mystery

Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night, A Mystery
            I’ve been accused more than once of being Polly Perfect or Goody Gertie Two-Shoes. “It’s your smile. You always see the bright side. You think life is always wonderful.” (Accusation often accompanied with spit.) Not guilty.  

Take this morning. I woke up on the down-in-the-dumps side, unaware of any obvious cause. A case of poor, poor pitiful me. My outlook black and bleak.

Poet Dylan Thomas, urges that “old age should burn and rage at close of day.” This ol’ gal barely managed a smoldering yawn at dawn. Sighed. Rolled out of bed. Into shower. Into clothes. Studied clouds. Listened to distant thunder. Decided sky was bluffing. Cancelled morning walk anyway. No reason. General malaise.

A long-time friend insists that to have a genuine bad day, one must seize the moment and stage it. His formula: Stay in bed till noon. Don’t shower. Don ratty old bathrobe, preferably gravy stained. Close the curtains. Wallow in it. “It” being whatever threw you down in the dumps in the first place. Cry, scream, throw coffee cups against the wall. Give it your all.

Set a time limit—a day, two days. He claims it works every time. I could never get beyond four hours. First I found it boring and then I’d get the giggles. Giggles are not conducive to maintaining self pity.   

My friend’s advice is good. I acknowledged his idea, thanked it for participating, discarded it and got on with my day. I never was good at following directions.

When we say we don’t know what’s bothering us, that’s a sure sign we do know but prefer to keep the cause buried in our favorite national pastime of self delusion. So while Dylan Thomas recommends I rage, rage into the night and my friend says to wallow in the muck, I cling to my own self-therapy.

I got on with my day. Slowly. Little things. I stitched the final details onto a sundress I started last week. I wallowed in muck and dirt in the courtyard and transplanted a rosary plant, a burro’s tail and a wad of coleus. Little things. I raged, can of poison in hand against an invasion of nearly invisible ants, each the size of a hard-lead pencil dot hosting a bulldog bite.

Along the way I crawled out of Denial and admitted that I feel “Alone”. Not lonely. The past couple years I have courted and benefited from long periods of solitude. I feel like I have aligned my soul, be there such a thing, on a righteous path for me. So I ask myself, why do I feel alone today? Alone. Isolated. Abandoned. Poor me, solita, alone. Ha! (Or in Espanol, Ja!)  Woe is me; I know the answer. I have fallen in love.

Typical to my pattern, I have chosen a man far, far from my own sensibilities. Emotionally unavailable. Correction. Unavailable in any way, shape or form.

The object of my affections is a Pacific Northwest mystery writer, whom I shall never meet. That is the good news—hey—self protection. Heaven knows why I fell in love with this manly man. While love is blind, I’m not. I’ve been no closer to him than a blurb at the end of his book.

So since his body is unavailable, I must love him for his mind, right? The guy is a good writer. He makes me laugh unexpectedly. But, mysteries? Blood and guts and twists of narrative fate beyond my mind’s ability to anticipate the solution. (One of my girls always follows the clues and solves the mystery by chapter 13. I’m the perfect reader, in the dark until the final pages.)

My love affair shall remain an unrequited mystery. Reminds me of my first love in fifth grade, for whom I sighed from afar. This man of my dreams will never know he touched my heart. I’ll get on with life, unfold my days like pages in a novel. Shucks, I don’t even know if my hero is among the living. After all, I’m still able to entertain vestiges of a high school crush on the woman-hater, Hemingway, for writing “The Old Man and The Sea”, his only book worth reading in my opinion. Like I said, when it comes to men, I don’t have good judgment. Beyond that, I don’t want to know.

I’ll avoid muddying my feet in the muck of pity parties which are vastly over-rated.  And, I love you Dylan, but Rage takes too much energy with temperatures in the 90’s.

I’ll stick with my overactive imagination and forlorn dreams of love. Did I tell you about that good mystery I’m reading?

Sondra Ashton
HDN: Looking out my back door

July 23, 2015

A New Look At Bragging Rights & Other Cultural Fibs

A New Look At Bragging Rights & Other Cultural Fibs
              Just so you know, I don’t come up with these topics by my lonesome. I have generous help from people in my everyday life. This idea came from Cheryl, one of our “girl” group. We girls hit mile-marker seventy this year. We still call ourselves “girls”. Another friend, male, refers to us as “you ol’ hides”. He means well.

            Cheryl made a rhubarb pie. Rhubarb, however, had historically eluded her culinary efforts. So she was telling us girls what she’d done and how she’d created the ultimate rhubarb pie.

            This was no surprise to the rest of us. We girls are pie bakers. We grew up down the hi-line, in Harlem, home of the Montana Seed Show and the best homemade pies in the world. In our generation, we were not allowed to grow up unless we baked pies.

            A few hours later Cheryl, having thought through her pie message, had sender’s remorse and wrote again, apologizing for “bragging”. One could actually feel her cringe.

            I suggested we all rethink this teaching given to us with great love by our stern-mouthed parents. What is wrong with honesty? Why cannot one say, Hey, I did a really good job. Or, Look at this beauty. I made it. Or, I won the race; I’m excited.

            Our first impulse is to hang our head, shuffle feet. Oh, it’s okay. Or, Yeah, I made this but it could be better. Or, He should have won the race but I think he stumbled or he had the flu or some other preposterous excuse. Hey, we grew up with this. It is ingrained.

            So, to illustrate, I shared a chair story. This happened in ’85, my first full year of recovering furniture. At four am I put away my tools, stood back and looked critically at the finished chair, which I had committed to mid-morning delivery. Out loud, and this part is critical, out loud, with nobody in the room but me, I said, “Sondra, that is beautiful. You have done a great job.” With that one little action, I broke the mold. Nobody else was going to tell me good or ill. No amount of money could equal the sense of accomplishment, of having created beauty, that I felt that morning, tired as I was.

            You want balance? A month later I had to tear down and reorder fabric for a chair with which I had problems. That ding-blasted chair was worth 6 months of schooling. It’s about being honest with one-self, both directions. 

            Cheryl shared a story of a visit with Norwegian cousins, who had built a beautiful home. Her cousin’s wife told about giving the home tour to his parents. They had not one positive thing to say. This could have been done differently. Don’t you think that would have been better? Why did you put this wall here? It was all negative criticism with a dour face.

            Cheryl, that’s my family. We are sisters. I recognize my family. I’m English. You are Norwegian. Scratch the DNA and I know we are related. Oh, those Vikings!

            A kissing cousin to the teaching that we not toot our own horn, is the lesson, equally well learned, that if we lose or fail at something, we are not to express disappointment. What is wrong with saying, “Shucks, I gave it my all, my best shot. I failed. Congratulations to the winner. But I do feel disappointed. I really wanted it.” That’s honest.

I’ll never ever forget the day I brought home, with shame and trembling, my first report card marred with an “A-”. Sixth grade, Catholic school, St. Joseph’s. In music, mind you. Tin ear, etc. A beating would have been kinder than the tight lips, couldn’t you have tried harder. I cried myself to sleep that night, old as I was, big baby. High school freshman, B+, algebra. You think these teachings are not life-long? No wonder I’m screwed up.

Another chair story; Twenty years later, I got a call from my same customer who owned the chair with which I broke the family mold. She had another project. Silly as it is, I walked into her living room afraid to look at the chair that had so pleased me. What if my perceptions that morning were flawed and today it looked like junk! Oh, fear! Oh, trembling!  My customer cut to the chase.  “Look at the beautiful chair you made for me. I love it. Now I want this other one done.”

Know what? That old chair was as lovely as the day I’d delivered it. No brag. I felt soft with pleasure.   

Sondra Ashton
HDN: Looking out my back door

July 16, 2015

We All Live In A Yellow Submarine

We All Live In A Yellow Submarine
Sky of Blue, Sea of Green; those words from the great American spiritual, “Yellow Submarine”, make me homesick for my Montana. What? Yes, of course, the song is originally English but so is much of our heritage which we call American. I like the idea of a yellow submarine bobbing through the seas of adversity. We are all in the boat, a comfort.
            What? Another question? Yes, indeedy, sky of blue describes Montana famously. So does sea of green. Well, sometimes it is sea of brown or sea of white. Depends on the season. You got me with that. But climb up onto a hillside and scan the horizon almost anywhere in eastern Montana. Our sea of grasses grow where once lapped a vast sea of water, bounded by giant walls of ice. And the edges of that sea that once was here stands out, clearly or in faint outlines, dependent on the light and time of day. More poetically, wheat or grasslands, the wind creates waving surf, similar to the ocean tides.
            So as long as I’ve begun dissecting this song, let me continue. “Life of ease”, I have trouble with myself. Montanans have never been exactly defined by living a life of ease, more the opposite, I would say.
It is hard work enough just being a person. We have to get up, get out of bed, scrub, brush and floss, make coffee, get dressed for the day and get on with it, whatever that means to each of us. And we have to do this every single day. That ain’t always easy, folks.
But since I am acknowledging this song as a spiritual, let me consider that most of us have what we need. It might be only what we need for this day, but from that same spiritual standpoint, I can only use today what I can use today. End of argument. 
            Moving on: “We all live in a yellow submarine”. Catchy tune, that. We are in the same boat, paint it what color you like. I prefer to think of you and me and he and she as living in a snow globe. Most of the time we sit on the shelf, undisturbed. But every now and then our little world gets shaken up most violently.
            This seems to be one of those times that a giant hand has lifted the snow globe, shook it and perhaps dropped it. It feels like we might be still bouncing around, rolling down hill. Or if you prefer, our submarine is floundering in typhoon seas. Our world seems to be upside down and inside out. Not just here but everywhere.
            What is this craziness? Vancouver Island and British Columbia are on fire. Washington State and Idaho are burning. Boggy Saskatchewan is pitted with fires. Severe drought has parched the entire west coast. So far, southern Alberta and most of Montana are moist and green, though one might flinch at the manner in which the moisture is flung about the skies, helter-skelter with violence. 
            Selfishly I worry. I am homesick. My bags are packed. In less than a month I will be in Montana. Will there be a Montana with green grass prairie, amber waves of grain when I land? Or will the snow globe have filled with ash? Wasn’t it in ’88, the last time Montana burned?
            Montana as place is always my deepest love. Montana is in my soul. I cannot help myself. Place imbeds, imprints, scours, scrapes and polishes us. Us—We—the people.
 I yearn to return to my people, to reconnect. It is fitting that on arrival I attend our high school class reunion. From there I seek out family and friends in Harlem, Havre, Glendive, Kalispell, Great Falls. Not in any specific order but where the winds guide me.  
We Montanans seem to think we have an edge on life and maybe we do. But no matter where in the world, we all live in the same “yellow submarine”. Yes, yes, I worry ahead of time over what might not happen. I can’t control a thing. What I do know is that we—you and me and you—are survivors. Whatever comes, we will pick up ourselves, pick up the pieces and carry on. We are in this crazy snow-globe world together, yellow submarine indeed.  
Sondra Ashton
HDN: Looking out my back door

July 9, 2015

One Size Does Not Fit All

One Size Does Not Fit All
            I intend to unload some of my philosophy on you. I’ll call it the gospel (small “g”) according to me (small “m”). I am not important enough to rate a big “M”. So if you want to take this page right now and go wrap potato peelings and fish guts, my little feelings will not be hurt.

            What started me wading through the murky philosophical pool was a six-way conversation among women, friends, all of an age.

A year ago I closed a door on a chapter in my life and opened a vastly new door, painted blue, in my little casa in Mazatlan where I spend most of my time. For now.

Denise and her husband Don recently moved from the far northern reaches of eastern Washington to an apartment in Portland, near their daughter.

Karen in England found her new life ten years ago yet she and Mick bounce around options of northern England or a log cabin somewhere in Montana, dependent upon winning the lottery.

Floweree Karen expressed hope to carry on life in her house in the middle of a multi-acre garden for another ten years. We all suggested she hire a crew to do the heavy work while she oversees the jobs from her gazebo with tea and a book.

Ellie is in the midst of the biggest life changes, with opportunity to create a life closer to what she has always wanted these many years. Dance, girl, dance.

Cheryl and Dave in Tillamook, both recently lost their mothers. Now they can shift their focus from caretaking to exploring options: go elsewhere, stay here, what now?

Of course, all our children are busy with their own lives. They don’t want our house or our stuff. Good. As it should be.

So I shot off my big mouth and said, there are no wrong decisions. Now I get to qualify my words of dubious wisdom. I’m assuming we are talking about relatively sane people making normal life decisions. We are not narcissists, sociopaths or psychopaths.

Each decision has consequences. We weigh our choices on the best information we have available to us. If we operate on flawed information, woo hoo, all bets are off. Might be ugly consequences. All is not lost. Make a new decision. I ask myself, what is my source of information. Hopefully it is not my own mind. Back in the years when it generally was my own head, based on my inherited belief system, well. . .  Let’s just say I made some strange choices which dragged along weighty consequences. That was then.

I like to think I’ve grown. I’ve traveled some steep roads with severe switch backs. I’ve been forced to question the narrow confines of my upbringing and shrug off some serious shackles. My grandma raised me. To her, there was one way, her way and her way was the only right way. Imagine trying to jam all that is “right” into a little box, paint it black and call it good. Early on, thank all the angels and Eskimos on my path, I found fascination in the many ways.

Right. Wrong. Good. Bad. Truth is mostly poetic, a way of looking at the world. As long as I am hanging off the end of this creaky limb, I’ll stick my neck in a noose and say that when we are talking these dangerous ideas, we most often forget to add two little words. “For me.” As in, this is how it is “for me”. Or, it seems “to me”, based on my life experiences . . . Maybe if we remembered that rule we might be able to hear one another. This one thing I know. When I am busy being “Right” I cannot hear a word you say. Startling thought.

I’ll sing it again, Sam. It seems to me, decisions are neither right nor wrong. Each choice comes with a personalized set of consequences. For me, I am wrong to judge the consequences of my choice. Often what I first perceived to be the “worst” thing became the “best” thing, for me, in my life at that time.

My choices would not do for you at all. Your life experiences are different. You undoubtedly base your decisions on better information. Indeed, one size does not fit all.

As Denise said, our time is not our own in the way we thought it would be; plans don’t always go the way we think they should. Best follow the ebb and flow and enjoy the trip.

Sondra Ashton
HDN: Looking out my back door

July 2, 2015