How to Survive

I follow a writer who lives in England. He’s a pretty interesting guy. He used to be a school teacher and he also has Parkinson’s. Whatever things he’s experienced in his life he’s done a marvelous job of internalizing it and then bringing it back out and making the experience concrete in his words. I particularly liked this “poem” he wrote recently. I was really inspired by it and as I get older and older and older I realize how important it is to do what he suggests. If you’re young start now. If you’re old like me don’t waste any time. Figure out what it means to you and then DO IT.

How to Survive by Andy Jukes

When we see the beast rising in our land,

When our leader is a man without honor

We must remember how to survive:

1. Listen to the children

They suffer greatly at the hands of the old.

Take their words seriously,

Especially when they make no sense.

If they are in tears, cry with them.

Now is a time for tears.

If they are laughing, laugh with them.

Laugh in the face of darkness.

The power of laughter is immeasurable.

Let the children refuse school.

They will learn nothing of value there anymore.

Instead, sit with them around a campfire.

Tell them the old stories you thought you had forgotten.

Give them your time. Put their needs foremost.

2. Give away your money

Some people are so poor, it is all they have.

Know that all that you own is taken from the mouth of a baby at a food bank.

So, remove the locks from your doors,

Feed the hungry in your kitchen,

lie the homeless in your bed.

Surrender your entitlement to anything that is denied another man.

Clothe yourself in rags,

Embrace dirt,

Baffle those who would bribe you with jewels.

3. Open your home to the foxes and badgers

Hide them from the hunt and the cull.

Prefer the company of animals for animals do not lie.

Watch the ways of the cat and the dog

Learn what you can from them.

Stay close to the ground.

Talk to the plants in your garden.

Seek guidance from trees.

You will find them most helpful.

4. Play

Play for all you are worth.

Refuse to be hollowed out by the tide.

Sing wild songs on reckless guitars

Dance, dance as if your life depends upon it

because it probably does.

Say that you are an artist and you are painting your own life.

Make wayward decisions,

Act without reason,

Embrace chance and delight in risk,

so that your trail is impossible to follow.

5. Be kind

Smile at strangers.

Know that they are doing the best they can.

Try not to discount those who do not agree with you.

You are probably both wrong.

Those people who have brought you to despair now

will need you to fight for them in the future.

As you have in the past, as you always will.

A hero is one who fights on though all is lost.

6. Be heroic

Ride the wolf.

Slay dragons.

My Midwestern Family Home

405 S 15th Ave, MarshalltownIowa

I grew up in a modest 1,014 square foot 3 bedroom 1 bath house on 15th Avenue in Marshalltown, Iowa. It was a house built in 1955 from the ground up and bought with a down payment given to my folks by my mom’s mother. I think they paid $19,000 for it and it’s worth about $90,000 now. Can you imagine? It’s a home that could be in Madera right now.

The peonies on the right were planted by my mother and so was the juniper border. The only thing that’s missing is a big maple tree that was in the front yard. I think it blew down in a windstorm years after my mom went to the nursing home. Way after I left to see the world.

In hindsight it was a pretty small house for 5 people. Mom and dad, my sister and brother and me. My dad’s “man cave” was the garage. He spent a lot of time working on cars in the garage they built a few years after we moved in. I love that they built the garage separate from the house and not attached like they do most of the time now. I think it makes the home more inviting to not see the garage first thing.

As for the small size of the house we kids didn’t know anything else so we never had a thought how big or little it was. We spent most of our time playing outdoors anyway and in all sorts of weather. Mom only made us come in if there was a thunderstorm headed our way and snow was nothing to be concerned about. As a matter of fact the more snow the better! Snow forts were made out of a snow drift, there were snowball fights, and hundreds of snow men over a lifetime.

As a kid I thought the yard was giant. Plenty of room for annie-over and catching lightening bugs in the summer. Flying kites, hitting the baseball, having picnics in the back yard. When I visited later on the yard had shrunk by a considerable amount just like the first elementary school I went to. How does that happen? If you’re only 4 feet tall things look bigger, I guess.

Out beyond the back yard was Schultz’s farm with your typical two story farmhouse and animal pens and a big corn field. My dad was given permission to grow a half acre vegetable garden there. I also remember joyous Christmases and Thanksgivings, Easter and summer vacation. Those are all happy memories.

But it wasn’t always a happy house. As the years went on my mom and dad got to fighting more and more. Eventually they divorced and my mom stayed while my dad moved elsewhere. That’s the story of life. That’s the story of a house. Now every time I go into a house that I’m looking at for buyers or reviewing for a sale I think “If this house could talk what story would it tell me?”

The Little Red Volkswagen

When I was about 16 and had just learned to drive my dad found an old beat up Volkswagen Beetle that he rehabbed. I think he asked Roy Young to paint it and they picked an amazing red orange color. It was gorgeous! It was a convertible. I’m not a car aficionado but for that car I flipped out.

I remember when he taught me how to drive it. Of course, it was a stick shift “four on the floor”. I had learned on automatic so it was a challenge to operate the clutch and gas pedal in concert with each other. Let one out while the other is carefully pressed down in just the right amount at the right time. You had to get the feel of how exactly to let the clutch out so there was no awful lurching and subsequent engine quit. You also had to get the feel for shifting the gears. If you didn’t do it just right you got feedback right away! The most horrible grinding sound you ever heard like the motor was going to fall out! This was a great motivator to get it right quickly! Dad, usually impatient, was uncharacteristically patient with me in getting my skills down. He told me that I could drive it in 1st gear but slowly if I felt insecure and he also told me if I listened to the motor and let the RPMs drop that I didn’t even need to use the clutch. Pretty soon I mastered it and off we went!

The car was perfect for “Scooping the Loop” every Friday and Saturday nights in Marshalltown, Iowa. Top down. Girls waving and screaming. My friend Chris swiped canned Kadota figs from her candy striper hospital job and we lobbed them at unsuspecting victims. The Loop was from the front of the Times-Republican newspaper building to the bottom of Third Avenue just before the Iowa River. You drove east on Main past the courthouse and then turned left on 3rd avenue to go all the way to the end near the A&W Root Beer stand. Then you did the whole thing in reverse.

Sometimes on a hot and humid summer night we stopped at the Root Beer stand and ordered an ice-cold root beer that came in a frosty mug that was placed on an aluminum tray that hooked over the driver’s side door when the window was rolled down. Root beer doesn’t taste like that anymore. I think they had hot dogs and French fries but it’s the root beer I remember.

This was how the movie “American Graffiti” got it so right. There were the couples who went “steady” and there were the kids on the loose and looking for fun. There were the geeks and greasers and jocks. There were little sisters and brothers who we were supposed to be taking care of while Mom and Dad went out and left us in charge. There were the older boys from the farms and dinky towns. They were the coolest and we’d pull the car over and jump out and pile in their car. Sometimes we’d let those boys take us way out east of town to Twinkle Hill. Twinkle Hill was a bluff above the Iowa River and you could see the lights of town from there. We thought it was romantic. We’d park and make-out. Nothing else happened. We were too shy. Later I heard some people went “all the way” but that never happened to me. I was incredibly curious but not brave enough to let my guard down.

A Strange Occurrence

Once we had a slumber party at Maribeth’s house. I don’t know why they called it a slumber party because no one slept and everybody tried to stay awake. Until it was time to go back to her house we drove around town with the radio blasting. We started freaking out because every time we turned off the car and turned it on again the radio was playing “Chuggalug” by Roger Miller. This must have happened at least 5 or 6 times. When we got back to Maribeth’s home we ran up to her room and turned on the radio. Sure enough! Chuggalug was playing. We started screaming our heads off. It must be a conspiracy! Twilight Zone! Aliens!

Eventually I left home to go to college and the red Vee Dub stayed at my mom’s house. It was getting pretty worn out. The canvas roof leaked and every time it rained the floor would get an inch or two of water. That made the floor rust and soon there was a hole and you see the road going by as you looked down. I was completely absorbed in my college days and I forgot all about the red Vee Dub. I don’t even know what happened to it. It probably went to some wrecking yard where everything goes. Even us. Then all we have are memories but that’s OK because the memories are pretty good and it gives my mind peace to sit and remember.

This is what it looked like. Pretty sweet, huh!

In Floods

I think this is an extraordinary piece of thinking, bravery, and insight. I also think that it shows a way forward that many essays don’t. He doesn’t spell out specific things we can do. We’re smart enough to figure out what needs to be done. We just have to find the will to do it. Can we? Can you? Can I?


I live in a small town in Shropshire called Much Wenlock. I moved here in 2007. In the summer of that year it rained a lot. I mean, really, a lot. So much so that the town flooded. Weeks of steady rain had left the fields surrounding the town water-logged. The earth was sodden. So, when a sudden storm let go a heavy downpour, the land had no capacity left to absorb the moisture. Instead, the water poured off the fields and down into the town. You see, Much Wenlock, although it is 160 metres above sea level, sits in a bowl surrounded by arable land. It’s location in the landscape plus the geological composition of the land it sits within means that it is peculiarly prone to this type of flooding. So much so that it has been designated a Rapid Response Flood Catchment area at the highest level…

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Memories of a Childhood Outdoors – Fall

Fall in the Central Valley of California is not a season I look forward to except in one way. The weather finally calms down and stops being crazy hot. Other than that it’s not a pretty season. Here in the Valley everything is dry and crispy. The grasses are a crunchy brown. The grape vines and almond trees are coated with dust. The only place nice place for the eye to land is where the sprinklers have kept the lawns green and the gardens growing.

In the Midwest, however, things are different. In the Midwest Fall is my favorite season. Yes, it’s true that it’s time to go back to school and, yes, it’s true that I always dreaded that part. It even gave me a queasy feeling in the pit of my stomach. Where did that come from? I’ll never know. It just started up at the first part of September and I don’t even know when it went away. It just went away on its own.

Everything else about the rest of the season was pure bliss to me. There was the welcome chill in the air and the dry breezes that replaced the oppressive humidity and heat of summer. The leaves on the trees would turn colors and then they’d fall. We kids would be crazy wild running through the leaves and throwing and kicking them every which way. Mom would be standing there with one hand on her hip and the other on the handle of the rake wondering what had she done to get these crazy children. When I walked down the sidewalk I made sure to step on each and every leaf so as to hear the satisfying crunch. I still do this now. I am old and it’s been a life long habit. It takes me back to when I was young and I didn’t have a care in the world.

The wind would blow out of the gray northern sky and the leaves of the dried corn in Schultz’s field behind our house would rustle like paper flowers in a vase. Out in the back yard we’d look up and great flocks of starlings flew over head. When they were right above us Dad would say “Clap your hands! Loud!” and I would clap my hands loud and the birds would, for some reason, spread out from the center and fly away from the noise. Dad said they flew like that because they thought it was a gun shot.

My dad loved hickory nuts. Actually my dad loved anything that was free. Child of the depression he was very good at spotting a good deal when he saw one. He got out his burlap bags and we’d all pile in the car to go to some farmer’s woods where the tall shagbark hickory trees stood. Some years the squirrels got them first and our pickings were slim. Dad said don’t bother with nuts that have a hole in them.  A hole meant that a worm that had chewed its way out of the shell and the nut meat would be ruined. In the winter my dad would sit and patiently crack the tough nuts and pick away at the interiors with a pick to get the meat out.

When I got older my dad would take my sister Toni and me to Polley’s farm north of town and we would all ride the barn horses out into the corn fields and then into the timber. My dad rode the horse with one hand on the reins and one hand propped on his hip western style. My sister and I tried to mimic him but we didn’t have the confidence to one-hand-it so we held the reins plow rein style and followed him out past the barn. Then we found little trails in the timber and rode all over until we came back to the edge of the corn field where the spoiled horses could see the barn. We let them loose while we clung to the horn for dear life and the horses ran back across the field. Poor horsemanship, I know. We didn’t know any better and besides we were young and loved the thrill of the running horse. Our legs were strong enough to grip and our balance was good enough so we never fell off. The horses ran in a straight line. There was nothing to impede them.  I can’t remember how we slowed down. Maybe the horse went from the dead run to the trot to the walk instead of slamming on the brakes. Years later we drove out there and I recognized the house and barn but the field looked completely different.

We walked to school at Norris for Kindergarten, first, second and third grades. It was only 3 blocks from our house.  As we got older we biked to Woodbury for 4th, 5th and 6th as long as the weather was good. Jamie, Cindy, Sally, Lindsay, and some other girls. I had a little wire basket attached to the handlebars of my Schwinn that I put my metal lunch box in. The Schwinn had great big fat tires. It must have been hard to pedal with its one gear and brakes that you engaged by pushing back on the pedal. The lunch box looked like a little house and my mom would put a hot dog in the thermos so I could have a hot sandwich with my soup at lunch time. This really embarrassed me for some reason. I really wanted shoe string potato chips that came in a can but I never got them.

When it rained we’d pile in our family cars one forward one backward so as to pack more kids in and then our mothers would car pool. There were no seat belts at that time and we always made it to school anyway. I don’t remember much about the moms except the backs of their heads. There was Dorothy Lund and, of course, my mom and Sally’s mom. Sally’s mom sometimes harped at us girls not to bite our fingernails. We’d hold on to the back of the seat and she could see if we were paying attention or not.

When we got old enough to go to Anson Junior High we could ride the bus. They let the bus company dedicate some of their buses to take the kids right to school. I had to walk to the corner bus stop and my mom was always late getting breakfast so she’d demand that I take a scrambled egg sandwich with me. I’d grouse and complain. “Mom! I’m going to be late for the bus!” She’d win and I would sullenly take the sandwich promising to eat it as I ran to the bus but I never did. As soon as I got out of sight of the house I’d throw it down the storm drain. Sometimes my friend Marjorie and I would walk all the way to Anson. Sometimes we’d walk in very cold weather. Our knees would be nearly frozen when we got there. We wore knee socks so our knees were bare. They were beet red when we got to school.

On the weekends we’d kind of turn into Huckleberry Finns and go walking around just to see what we could see or what trouble we could find. Walking up Elder Drive we would be out in the country in one block and there was the grain elevator and the railroad tracks and a dirt road that was called Beer Can Road for, guess what?, all the beer cans people threw out the windows into the ditches. We went just as far as we felt safe  and then we’d walk back again. Once we walked all the way to Sutherland Station power plant. Sutherland Station was a great big giant brick building that seemed like the castle in the Wizard of Oz.

All the corn fields were stubble and the weeds in the ditches were dried and dead. If we found a dried up milk weed pod we’d take it. Such amazing nature! Everything was losing color. Color only came back if it rained and then it was a monochromatic pallet of browns, red browns and ochre. Winter was coming and when that happened the sky would be the same grey as the ground and the only color came from the rare pine tree here and there.



Portraiture 101


I have always been good at drawing people. I started in high school drawing portraits of people’s children. But I wasn’t VERY good. I was just adequate. In art school I needed to refine my technique. I listened to my TA’s when they said don’t draw a “face”. Draw a “head”. Which means observe the volume of a head and all its parts: eyes, nose, cheeks, mouth, forehead and try to convey the volume and shape of those parts and do it on the 2 dimensional surface of the paper. Get down in the dust of the graphite, charcoal and pastel and don’t be afraid to mull it around to achieve your goal. A face can seem complicated but it’s not really when you look closely and see what it’s really made up of. Cubes, spheres, pyramids, and cones. These are shapes we can all draw with a degree of confidence. When you put them together and add technique a portrait turns out to be something that is within the power of anybody who chooses to create. Then you add practice and the next thing you know you’ve got something quite nice.