left on walnut

Category: Reflections

Open letter to a sailor

We had a family tragedy in October, when a sister died, leaving our nephew without parents. He’s 22 years old, in the Navy, deployed in the Pacific. Ships go weeks at a time where sailors cannot contact family members. It’s hard, on both sailors and families. Here is my open letter to Quaid, our sailor, in one of the most difficult of weeks.


January 22, 2017

Dear Quaid,

Not one day goes by I don’t think about you and hope you and your shipmates are safe during your deployment on the USS Carl Vinson. I’m packing a care package for you, with something inside for Christian as well. I remember you said you might pull into port by mid-February. We are trying to be patient as we wait to hear from you.

I wonder if you received any news of the inauguration? Trump was sworn in Friday. Whenever you come to port, wherever that is, you will be setting foot into a world that is different from any you have known. His speech set a tone heard around the world:

          This American carnage stops right here and stops right now….

          We assembled here today are issuing a new decree to be heard in every city, in every foreign capital and in every hall of power. From this day forward, a new vision will govern our land. From this day forward, it’s going to be only America first — America first….

Within moments, the White House website changed. Gone were pages confirming LGBT rights. Gone were pages helping citizens with disabilities. Gone were pages on climate change. Gone were pages on healthcare and civil rights.

Then, on the day following the inauguration, millions marched through cities on every single continent. Yes, even Antarctica. What started as a Women’s March on Washington turned into a global march in protest of this President and his administration. The news is saying it was the largest protest in history. Marches were held in every major city in the US, in numbers that shut down parts of the cities. Washington DC, the center of it all, had an estimated 500,000 people, three times the number attending the inauguration itself. Every major city, from London to Los Angeles, Paris to Chicago, Melbourne to Denver to Seattle.

On that same day, as people protested around the world, Trump launched two new direct attacks on the press. For those who know history, silencing the press is an ominous sign.

Some conservative friends are trying to back up a bit, saying he wasn’t really their candidate! They try to reassure their Facebook friends they really are nice people! Why, they do good things all the time! Yet, they go to bed every night, tucked safely into their white privilege, unaffected by their vote.

I spent the day in a seminar learning how to make the voices of resistance heard. Organizationally, it’s all about showing up, speaking articulately on specific national issues at the local level. It’s about getting our elected officials to represent all of his or her constituents. It’s about forming a more perfect union, despite the odds just now.

My dear Quaid, I open my emails every day hoping you had a little window of Wi-Fi so you could let your family hear you are OK. Your family is surrounding you with prayers for your safety and for the safety of everyone on the ship.

Fair winds and safe seas. We love you, Quaid. Your mother would be most proud. 

Love, Kay




When I first started gardening, I purchased a hoe like Uncle Raymond’s. A metal stirrup attached to a long wooden handle. His garden was the best I’ve seen. A little square of Eden, right in the back yard. He knew garden tools. My new hoe didn’t make my garden like  Uncle Raymond’s though.

I don’t know what happened to that hoe. I probably didn’t take care of it. As I’ve gotten older, I take better care of my tools. Dad taught me a lot about tools and machines and how they work.

Dad didn’t hang his tools just so. They might be on a pegboard or they might not. Maybe in the red tool box. Blades were always sharp, though. I have the stone he gave me to sharpen my knives with. Today I took apart my Felco pruners and used it to sharpen the blade.

Why my dad would no longer vote Republican

Dad was quiet. He was born, lived, and died all within a five mile radius in rural Indiana. He served in the Philippines during World War II and placed his hand over his heart when the Star Spangled Banner played. He expected me to do the same.

Dad voted Republican. But he would be shamed by the Republican party now.

When Dad came home from the Philippines, wounded in action, he didn’t sign up for Veterans’ benefits. “I live in a country that’s free. Guess that makes us even.” In his eyes, if we were capable of contributing, it was our duty to do so. Did you know that during Reagan’s first term, the top tax rate was 50%? During the Nixon administration, it was 70%. Dad wouldn’t understand why the rich now pay lower tax rates than their secretaries.

Back home from the war, Dad gave away his hunting rifle because he had no more killing in him. Eisenhower told the nation that “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies in the final sense a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.” Republican and NRA-backed measures supporting concealed weapons and assault rifles would sadden my father.

When asked if we’re our brother’s keeper, the answer was always, “Yes.”  So we planted more garden than we needed and gave away vegetables. Did you know Eisenhower supported a higher minimum wage and expanded unemployment benefits? Dad would be disgraced by the Republicans’ stand against the Affordable Care Act.

Sometimes we fished together. I could throw over the crust of my sandwich so the fish could eat. But we could never have thrown the wax paper the sandwich was wrapped in. It wouldn’t have occurred to us. Care for the Slough was second nature. We had a moral obligation to care for our environment. Did you know that Nixon proposed the EPA? Dad would be shamed to know that Republicans are silent on issues of clean energy, disgraced that they denounce the science of climate change.

His only daughter, I always felt precious in Dad’s eyes. I’m certain he never used the words “legitimate” and “rape” in the same sentence. He would be angry that Republicans would take away women’s rights to make their own health choices.

Sometimes I hear people say, “I am Republican” as if they were born that way and cannot change. Thoughtful people, though, listen carefully and make up their minds that way. Thoughtful people change over time.

Third Planet of the Sun

Since my return from India several people have asked, in one way or another, if the human condition there was difficult to observe. A mother, baby on hip, taps on the car window asking for money. A man with an open leg wound reaches his hand out for help. A man with no legs hobbles on his hands.

Guilt can be a healthy, compassionate endorsement of accountability and responsibility. Our compassion reminds us that to be truly human is to be uncomfortable because decency compels us to be better than we are.

We fall short as moral beings if we only steward our little corner of the world. I have been thinking about how I can be more effective in social change that reflects my values of inclusion, fairness, opportunity, and concern for the environment. Not more pure, just more effective.

In Praise of Feeling Bad About Yourself

by Wislawa Szymborska

The buzzard never says it is to blame.
The panther wouldn’t know what scruples mean.
When the piranha strikes, it feels no shame.
If snakes had hands, they’d claim their hands were clean.

A jackal doesn’t understand remorse.
Lions and lice don’t waver in their course.
Why should they, when they know they’re right?

Though hearts of killer whales may weigh a ton,
in every other way they’re light.

On this third planet of the sun
among the signs of bestiality
a clear conscience is Number One.

What Children Learn in India

Everywhere in India, my daughter drew a crowd of kids. They wanted to know where she was from, when she got to India, and how long she’d stay. They wanted to know what she was doing there and if she went to college. They wanted to know what she thought of India. Parents clustered outside the circle, waiting and sometimes listening while their children met this new person.



They took family photos with her.




Then we’d all look at the photos together.




Sometimes, they just looked at her, this new and different person. Open inquisitiveness with new people is valued. Kids expected that Katie wanted to meet them just as much as they wanted to meet her. Children learn people are good and differences interesting. Children learn privacy may matter, but not more than having family and friends nearby and inviting new people into our lives.

Children learn the life-affirming goodness of people.



Honest and Faithful Service to this Country

Bill Printy only finished eighth grade. Then he was needed on the farm. In 1941 he enlisted in the Army. Later that year, Pearl Harbor was bombed. Bill fought in the Philippines and then New Guinea. He earned the expert infantry badge and the combat infantry badge. I suspect his boyhood of hunting squirrels and rabbits for food was helpful in this regard. He earned the Asiatic Pacific Theater Ribbon, three battle stars; the America Defense Service Ribbon, the Philippine Liberation Ribbon, and two more battle stars.

Bill talked little about the Island of Corregidor or Manila Bay. He rarely spoke of Bataan, where he was wounded.

Bill would, however, talk about the New Guinea natives. Their bellies distended over grass skirts. Their little huts. Babies sleeping in slings hung on low limbs as their mothers worked their gardens nearby. The special grass hut for religious ceremonies or worship. The enviable callouses on their feet allowing them to walk across cinders that would cut the tender feet of the boys from the States.

“Some people called them savages. But they were growing food, singing, rocking their babies, worshiping. We were halfway across the world, shooting up their island. Sounds like we were the savage ones to me.”

When Bill was released from Wakeman Convalescent Hospital at Camp Atterbury, he returned to the farm. He gave away his hunting rifle.

Can Guy

Our side porch is usually a quiet place for morning tea. Busy white-breasted nuthatches yammer insistently, whacking sunflower seeds into the bark of trees to “hatch” out breakfast. Squirrels fuss at one another over territory they’ve staked out. I don’t see why some branches have a higher status than others, but apparently they do. This morning a rollerblader in earbuds whirred by. Mostly, though, it’s quiet.

I heard Can Guy before I saw him, his grocery cart rattling down the alley. Can Guy gathers aluminum cans from dumpsters around the university. Our alley is on his route.

Everyone in our neighborhood was busier than I was this morning. I sat on the porch swing taking in summer.

here’s to the undecided

When undergraduates would go to Dr. Myers for advice, he’d tell them to find their passion. “Forget the practical,” he would say, “that will come. First, let’s find what makes your heart sing.”

Minor Myers, Jr. was president of Illinois Wesleyan University for fourteen years. I was fortunate enough to have met him on several occasions. I also knew his brilliant wife, Ellen.

So many students come to college and believe they must immediately declare a major, that it’s somehow wrong to write “undecided” on the line where their major should go. But how do you know what your major should be? How can you possibly know what you want to do in fifty years? or even five years?

Dr. Myers encouraged students to take their time before deciding a major. To an entering class of Freshmen Dr. Myers would lift his hand, as if in a toast, and say, “Here’s to the undecided.”

It’s graduation season. Time for our undergraduates to enter the work force or go to graduate school or return home to Mom and Dad and hope for the best.

It’s my graduation season, too. I began student teaching when I was 20 years old and I’ve been in education ever since. I retire in six weeks.

I’m undecided about what to do next. I know I’ll keep riding my bike–we’re bicycling through Vietnam next December. I know I’ll take photographs. I have a photography class in April and another one in May. But I may also take a class in architectural styles. Or sign up for guitar lessons. I may want to protest something that needs protesting. I may want to see Alaska and maybe Africa. It’s all out there for me. For now, I can be undecided.

Milking Eleanor

Weather-worn doors slid open on Pop Printy’s Indiana barn. Light shone through cracks between boards and dust would suspend in each slant of light. Spider webs shrouded the windows.

The cow’s name was Eleanor. Barn cats clustered when Eleanor was milked, hoping for a shot at warm milk. Pop would pour a little milk into an aluminum pie plate for the cats, or sometimes squirt a bit right from the cow into a cat’s mouth. Milk was stored in pails in a milk house, down a hole in the ground to keep it cool. I wasn’t allowed to play in the milk house, for fear I’d fall down the hole.

In the house, Mom poured fresh milk into bottles and let cream rise to the top. She skimmed off the cream and made butter and sour cream. She made buttermilk, too, for biscuits. Not much was on that farm that wasn’t homemade.

I still make buttermilk and sour cream like Mom Printy:

  • My sour cream jar holds around a cup, I’d say. I pour about a quarter cup of buttermilk in the jar and then fill the jar with cream. I stir it a bit and then cover the jar with a clean cloth and set the jar in a warm place for a day or so.
  • My buttermilk jar holds two cups. I pour maybe a half cup of buttermilk into the jar and fill it the rest of the way with milk. Buttermilk needs to sit in a warm place for a day or two just like the sour cream. You can start with buttermilk from the store, but be sure to buy the kind that has actual cultures in it.

top right drawer

Some of what I have learned about photography:

  1. Light is tricky. I think I have enough but when I look at photos later on the computer, they can still seem dull.
  2. My lens works better when not at full zoom. When the lens is way out there, photos are not crisp.
  3. Some of the best photos with this lens are shot at f 8.0 or so, rather than at the extreme stops. I don’t know why. Could be user error.
  4. My time as a photographer: 30% reading how-to blogs, watching instructional videos online, and reading the manual; 30% arranging stuff and lights; 30% messing with photos in Lightroom; 2% taking photos; and 8% making Tom come look at the photos I’ve taken. He’s wonderful. He always finds something nice to say.

Here’s stuff in the top right drawer of my daughters’ dresser: