Saturday, March 12, 2011


One day in class I was "teaching" my students how NOT to use detail in their examples. How to NOT tell us that "I felt like I was about to vomit the pizza I ate for dinner," that "they had to drain all the juices from the appendix in my stomach," that "I was so shocked I fell to the floor writhing in anguish so hard I couldn't get up," that "my heart sank so low it felt like he had jammed his fist in my chest and pulled it right out." (These are from real papers.)

One of my students, easily one of the best writers in the class, laughs heartily when I go over these lessons in class and recite the silly examples of what not to do. Such phrases as above would never land on one of his pages. This student also happens to be my hair stylist who has  returned to school full time. Last week, a couple of days after the above lesson, as he magically swirled his razor through my hair, we chitchatted.

He told me about his trip to Israel and described how moved he was by traveling there, talking with the people, through the North, down the seaside through Tel Aviv and to Jerusalem where the three major religions meet (one without a temple, I might add). He loved it there so much he began to study the Hebrew language. His teacher, impressed with his speed in learning this most difficult language (which doesn't surprise me at all), told him he must have a Jewish soul. "And I do," he told me. He said he didn't want to come back to the U.S. after being in Israel and his heart was still there to this day. He felt like someone had ripped his heart right out and it was still there.

I laughed and immediately felt like a heel, because I think he thought, and still does think, I was laughing at his figure of speech because of that lesson in class that day and because that's what I do as an English teacher. Also it's difficult for me to express myself about such things while worried about whether or not I'm going to like my hair this time around. So I laughed.

"Well, haven't you ever felt like that?" he asked me, "Like you've been somewhere sometime and you left your heart there? Just didn't want to leave?"
All I could say at the time was, "Yes, of course I've felt like that!" What I wanted to say, and didn't, was this:

"You don't know how much I understand. I, also, have a Jewish soul, though I've never visited Israel. However, I often visit Israel in Los Angeles. It's my spiritual home. I celebrate Rosh Hashanah and Passover and other windows of God's time every year with countless friends there."

"The people who have taught me the most of late are my teachers and the Rabbis at the Center where I visit. What I've learned from them has healed me from physical pain so that I can teach again.

That's what I meant when I laughed unbelievingly and couldn't say a word sitting in that chair, not what really came out of my mouth.

Today just before I wrote this, I pulled a little red string, a symbol of my own Jewish soul, out from under my watch band into plain sight on my wrist. It will not hide there again.

How could I, a Christian, one who loves Jesus, say these things? In this small town of Reedley, where my Grandfather built the giant church in the center of town (which I refer to in my very first blog), how could I NOT say these things? How might anyone who completely understands what Jewishness is and what Jesus is not say what these things? For myself, I say it in public now for the first time. And I learn much from my students.


I'm back! profoundly mortified that my students have discovered my blog. Of Co-ourse! Did I think they wouldn't? Procrastinator that I am, I disobeyed reoccuring, nagging thoughts that I should obliterate it from the web after my last blog.

They approach me shyly with self-deprecating, hopeful smiles. "I read your blog, Mrs. Krause. Are you going to write any more?" "I loved your stories. Let me know when you write something else." One audacious student cut and pasted part of one of my blogs and emailed it to me with the comment, "Wow, that's very powerful writing!" No matter, I always give them the curtest answer and change the subject.

What's wrong with that picture? What's wrong (maybe what's right) is that it's humbling to be under the same scrutiny from them that they they are under from me. I should be above that, shouldn't I? I've always thought so. (God! I hate admitting that.) What's wrong, also, is that I always thought I couldn't write when I taught. One process blocks the other. I thought. Also, that's what everyone told me.

I'm a proud person. And I should be. I write. I teach. I have a graduate degree. Whew! What baggage. What a blockage to the creative flow! Something's breaking though. Chink! Chink! Must be I'm just getting old! That's it. I'm too old to teach. I've gone back to teaching after a hiatus, too old to teach! I used to be right all the time. Now I find myself learning more from my students than they could ever hope to learn from me! And I've begun to write again.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Until Later

This is to let you all know that I will not be blogging for a while. No, there's no big problem, thank God--we are all doing well. But I do have some rather humongous projects I need to finish right now, and, being a brand new blogger, I need to be able to focus more on it. I fully plan to start up again very soon and will let you all know as soon as that happens. Feel free to contact me if you'd like by leaving questions and comments below.

Happy blogging to you all. I'll be back!

Until later then, here's another of Jim's masterpieces. Enjoy!

Thursday, May 6, 2010

On Beauty and Sadness

In Our Back Yard
Photo by RuthAnne

There is beauty and light in the world, even when our world is for a time painted gray and black. Today I send all the beauty of the world to my mother who lives 8 blocks away from us in a nursing home (Palm Village) here in Reedley CA. 

Today she is sad. Her youngest brother Calvin passed away this last weekend from bladder cancer. He was 85, the baby of her birth family--the Hollands.  Along with her grief over his passing comes distress because her own body had not allowed her to be there with him at a time when she yearned to be, if only to pat his hand. But not only was my mother too infirm to travel to be with him at the end of his life, she had also been unable to carry on much meaningful conversation with him by phone because of her hearing loss.

My mother is 93, the eldest of three siblings.  Both of her younger brothers are gone now. The middle child, Jack, died of mesothelioma (caused by exposure to asbestos) a couple of years ago.

My grandfather, my mother, my grandmother holding Uncle Calvin, Uncle Jack.
During the last few days of his life, I helped her call Uncle Calvin, as she was not able to navigate the computerized instructions of cell phone voice mail systems. For one thing, she can't hear them. And, when she can, she doesn't know the lingo. So I dialed the phone and hand it over to her. The conversations were short. They both tired quickly.

He would say a few words to her and she would answer, "Could you say that again, Cal? I didn't quite get that," or "Please eat something, dear, so you can at least keep your mind working."

Uncle Cal was unable to eat, but still had his wit and his humor. "Why don't you get her some earphones?" he said to me the last time he could talk on the phone. Of course! An obvious solution for an old Georgia Tech grad who engineered much of the city of Fremont, California, during his lifetime. But my mother loathes anything electronic, anything you can't dial a number on and put your ear to.

The earphones became a moot point, anyway, because two days later when we called he couldn't talk to us. The hospice nurse held the phone to his ear while my mother said goodbye. "Just know I love you, dear," she said. "I'd be right there with you during this time if I could!" When I took the phone back, I heard a sound and at first thought he was trying to say something, but then thought it sounded more like an attempted chuckle. There are times when no words are needed.

Sunday morning after he passed, I went to tell my mother. She hunched into her wheelchair, forsaken and small, as she cried. She's lost her husband (my father) to pancreatic cancer, both her parents, one brother to mesothelioma, and now her youngest brother. That's how it is for the the oldest living generation of today. They lose one relative and then they lose another, until, finally, someone is the the only one left.

But maybe it's a blessing of nature that our elderly often sink into a stupor that numbs them to such horrors, that blurs the wracking pain of a deteriorating skeleton, and blots out memories they would just as soon forget. Maybe its best their dementia lets them sleep in their wheelchairs for hours while waiting for someone to take pity and change their briefs. My mother fights this plague with a vengeance, though, and refuses to acquiesce in spite of the pain. The price she pays is that reality sears itself into her consciousness with stark clarity.

The world contains a lot of pain but there is so much beauty for the taking. Today I send ALL of the beauty to my mother in a prayer. I send lots of IN YOUR FACE BEAUTY to both her and to my Uncle Calvin's family!

                                                                                                                                              Photo by Jim

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Walking in the Wilderness: It's Spring!

It's spring in the wilderness--i.e. in Reedley, CA--and the view of the Sierras (above) is what I see not far from the end of our block when I go out walking. In fact, this morning I went out walking (trying for aerobic) because with that view and the weather at 75 degrees, I couldn't take being a hampster on the treadmill at our grungy gym. I'll save that for later when the weather is 105 and the smog has settled in.

A springtime view of the Sierras just outside Reedley. (No I didn't walk clear over here.)

I've mentioned that sometimes I feel like a fish out of water in Reedley. But I never said I didn't love and appreciate the beauty. It never ends!

I've visited a number of places in the world, and I've lived in a lot of  places. But, I must say, the countryside around Reedley is probably as picturesque as any place I've seen, or more so--at least for a few weeks in the spring before the smog hits. So, I'll relish it, soak it up while I can. 

When it's gone, Jim and I will get out and head to the coast as often as possible, or above the smog as high as we can into the Sierras bordering our Valley. Sometimes we even hightail it down south to Los Angeles for fresh air and a little breeze, believe it or not!

Springtime in the Sierra foothills.

In the foothills looking for the California Happy Cows.

The happy cows are not in dairies, believe you me!


Thursday, March 18, 2010

Barbara's: A Spot of Magic

Barbara's Cafe--Magic in an unlikely place!

There’s always a spot of magic to be found, even at a nursing home. At Palm Village, there's Barbara's Cafe.

Jim, my sister Mary, and I visited my mother the other day in skilled nursing at Palm Village. As usual, we brought our Starbucks cappuccinos and caramel macchiato biscotti. We whisked our mother down the long hallways lined with medicine carts and residents sleeping in their wheelchairs, out the wide automatic door of skilled care, and into the main lobby of Palm Village—or what is known as the “other side” to those skilled nursing residents who CAN still know.

The “other side” is a euphemism for assisted and independent living. The lobby is airy and elegant, with high-ceilings, soft light, intimate groupings of chintz-covered sofas and easy chairs, glistening oak end tables, and glass-encased mahogany bookshelves.

Here’s the magic: at three o’clock every afternoon—VOILA!—what had appeared as a gaping dark hole in one of the walls suddenly blazes with light as Barbara’s Café turns on its red neon OPEN sign. This light illuminates a quaint retro café alfresco with red, black, and white checkered linoleum. Almost as suddenly as the light comes on, an aroma of popcorn wafts from an old-fashioned popcorn machine teeming with bursting kernels. And the coffee, smell the coffee! Unfortunately for us, it’s decaf. That’s why the Starbucks.

A tall bar at one end of the café is spread with cookies fresh from the oven, fresh fruit, pastries, and granola bars. On the opposite end, another bar displays the urn of decaf, tea, soft drinks, juice, and a soft drink machine. Ice cream and rootbeer floats are also available. All is free to the residents and any visiting family members.

White shiny chrome chairs with red vinyl cushions await an elderly clientele, who promptly begin a procession with canes and walkers as soon as the light comes on. Chatting together, they seat themselves around chrome trimmed white-topped tables, some with checkerboard tops.

They are different from the people who live in skilled nursing with my mother. They are the elite who haven’t yet experienced that bout of pneumonia that weakens them so that they can no longer dress themselves or get out of bed. They have not yet experienced the fall that cracks a hip and confines them to a wheelchair, securing for them a permanent spot in skilled nursing.

Barbara’s Cafe is a healing ray of light sent from the soul of the beautiful woman, Barbara Sargeant, for whom it is named and whose estate designed it and paid for it.

We wheeled Mom to a table and seated her so that she could see the decor and chat with old friends who stop by. Since Mom is a social person, those conversations often refresh her, even soothe the daily migraines that plague her.

Friday, February 19, 2010


My mother at our house visiting with Nicky ( my sister's puppy).

I cringe when I visit my mother at Palm Village where she lives in skilled nursing. I try not to cringe, but I do. And now I cringe again--online. No, it’s not my mother I recoil at—it’s her setting, and that she has to be in skilled nursing at all! I tell myself its okay that my mother’s in skilled nursing. After all, she needs more help than I can give her, doesn’t she? Isn’t that what everyone says?

At 93, my mother still has her mind, and I still have her. Thank God for both. In her later years, we have become friends! A couple of weeks ago she was not feeling well enough to come over to our house for her usual Sunday outing, so I visited her. I stopped at Starbucks for cappuccinos and biscotti on the way.

When I entered her room, my mother’s roommate waved to me and rolled her eyes, gesturing with her thumb toward the bathroom door, which was closed.

“She’s in the bathroom again!” she said. “I swear, sometimes I think she’s asleep in there! I don’t know whether to ring for the nurse or not.”

I cracked the bathroom door a bit and saw my mother vigorously brushing the four remaining teeth in her top gum--she has none on the bottom. I stood quietly and watched her, brushing away, hunched into her wheelchair, chin barely reaching the top of the sink. When I was a kid, my mother stood a proud five feet, six inches, but severe osteoporosis and scoliosis have taken over her spine, compressed it, and curved it into an “s.” Now, when she transfers herself out of her wheelchair into the car or into her recliner, she stands only slightly taller than my waist.

* * * * *

About four years ago, during an earlier stay in skilled nursing as she recovered from knee replacement surgery, she fell and broke her porous femur. She would have gone back to her room in assisted care, but that fall put her in a wheelchair permanently and secured her a permanent room in skilled nursing--to her horror at the time. Her left leg is now about four inches shorter than the right.

* * * * *

After she carefully cleaned her toothbrush and put it away, I watched her rinse her mouth. Her skinny arms extended upward, resting on the sink at the elbows. I watched a shaky finger, gnarled with arthritis, meticulously pick specks of food from between the teeth of her partial plate and lower denture before she replaced them in her mouth.

“Hi, Mama,” I said then.

Glancing up, she caught sight of me in the mirror and smiled sheepishly at having been observed in her ritual. When my mother smiles her toothy—or toothless—smile (as the case may be), her eyes crinkle into slits like my sister Mary’s.

“Oh, RuthAnne! I didn’t see you standing there!” she said.

After we hugged and kissed, she gripped the wheels of her wheelchair, turned, and gave herself a shove that propelled her out the bathroom door. Since I had entered the room, her impatient roommate had aimed her own wheelchair at the bathroom door, waiting. My mother sailed past her roommate not even glancing at her. The strength in those shriveled arms amazed me. Isn't she ill today?

She carefully navigated into the narrow space between the wall and her bed and parked in front of her tiny chest-of-drawers. "She just hates it whenever I use the bathroom!" she said. On her rolling bedside table, a pink plastic pitcher of freshly iced water and a plastic tumbler sat in a pool of water on a pink plastic tray. My mother picked up the tumbler and wiped around the rim with a Kleenex then used the Kleenex to sop up the puddle.

I sat down in her burgundy recliner on the other side of the bed and watched as she unscrewed the lid from an ancient Pond’s Cold Cream jar she keeps refilled with her current moisturizer from a larger, more difficult-to-manage jar. After massaging the cream into her surprisingly supple 93-year-old face and neck with her fingertips, she picked up a small brush and ran it through her white hair, bobbed short and glistening in the light that slanted through the blinds. I got up to sray her hair. She smelled of lavender.

My father used to smile worshipfully and say he was married to “the most bee-u-tiful woman in the world.” I was always surprised when I saw him thaw like that, but it made me happy, too.

When she had finished fixing herself up, she leaned her head on her hand and closed her eyes. It appeared she had gone to sleep. I let her rest. Soon she looked up at me, smile gone, eyes now clouded with pain and said, “Ohh, I have such a headache, and there’s always so much to do.” She will not! accept help from the staff, though.

“No one has EVER helped me dress or go to the bathroom!” she often says. “I don’t know how to let them, and they don’t know how to do it right anyway.”

“Tell me what to do,” I said.

“Oh, I don’t know,” she said. Her eyes roamed the tiny, well-kept space until they fell on her sweater neatly folded at the foot of the bed. “So many things—that sweater needs to be put away for one.” I rolled up her sweater and put it in the drawer.

Now it was time for me to assume the recently acquired assertive pose I’ve had to learn. “Okay, Mama," I said, "let’s go. I’ve brought cappuccinos. I want to get out of here and go to the lobby to visit.”

“Oh, I just don’t know if I can today,” she moaned and covered her aching head with her hands. The excruciating migraines visit her daily now.
But I set the carrier with the cappuccinos and biscotti in her lap. Her eyes brightened a bit. “Oh, what’s the matter with me?” she said. “I just take so long to do everything. I forgot all about the cappuccinos and now they’ve probably gotten cold!”

I unlocked the wheels and whisked her out of the room and down cavernous hallways. We would end up in the main lobby on the assisted care side, where we could dunk our biscotti and watch Barbara’s Café open for the more “ambulatory” residents. Nurses and caregivers in the hallways all called “hello Doris!” as we hurried by. She waved and grinned back at them and called them by name, happily letting them know we were going to the lobby on the “other side” to have cappuccinos from Starbucks.

I love this lady, even if I do sometimes feel as inadequate as a braying donkey around her! I only dare hope she thinks of me as a puppy nipping at her heels and that I’m occasionally as effective as one.