The world lost a good man this week.

I met Darian several years ago, when he was a round-faced sophomore serving as a quiet beacon of sanity in a class full of outrageous cutups. He was a sweet kid, unfailingly polite, and so quiet and unassuming that when I went through my archive of classroom photos in search of a photo of him doing something ridiculous to post on Facebook, I came up empty, because Darian wasn’t the kind of kid who craved attention. The only photos I have of him show a young man with a sort of bemused smile on his face, enjoying the antics of some of his more gonzo classmates during a group project at the conclusion of a unit on Hamlet.

Somehow those images, shot by one of his fourth-hour classmates, capture the essence of Darian as I knew him better than anything I could write about him. He was one of those kids every teacher looks forward to working with because he was so good-natured and reliable.

Sometime during Darian’s junior or senior year, he was diagnosed with cancer. He battled it — seemingly successfully for a while — graduated in spite of the distractions it dealt him, and last year, married another of my former students, a funny, confident young woman every bit as sweet and bright as he was. They seemed a perfect match, and smiling at their wedding pictures on Facebook, I fervently hoped they’d get their happily ever after.

Cancer doesn’t care what anybody hopes, and this week, it assigned Chelsey a title nobody her age should have to carry: widow.

The word sounds wrong when I think of her laughing in my classroom or beaming, radiant and beautiful, in her wedding pictures. It feels wrong. It weighs too much. It tastes strange in my mouth when I try to say it, remembering Darian grinning at whatever outrageous thing the class cutups were pulling this time.

Chelsey is a strong, compassionate woman. She’ll need that strength, and I pray that compassion will be returned to her — amplified exponentially — in the coming weeks and months and years. I suspect it will. I know Webster, and I know southwest Tulsa, and if there’s one thing kids who grew up together on the west side of the Arkansas River know how to do, it’s love and support each other through rough times. They’ve had to do it before — far too often — and I wish with all my heart I could stand between them and the world and absorb the blows so they’d never have to do it again.

If you can spare a prayer, a thought, or a good vibe for my kids — and especially Chelsey — I’d appreciate it.


Sunday Self-Care: Family time

I love summer, but it puts a serious cramp in my style when it comes to spending time outside. Spring, fall and even winter are much safer times to take the dogs out for a walk or let them romp around the park, and after an exceptionally hot summer that started early and overstayed its welcome, I’m making a concerted effort to enjoy autumn.

To that end, we take the dogs for several walks a week, and when time and weather allow, I like to join them on their trips to the backyard, too. Part of this is of necessity (if I’m not out there to supervise, Lillian refuses to leave the porch, especially at night), but it’s also nice just to be out there with my four-legged family members.

Riggy, left, and Lillian hang out on the deck, waiting for me to let them back inside the house. Songdog was busy playing in the yard.
Riggy, left, and Lillian hang out on the deck, waiting for me to let them back inside the house. Songdog was busy playing in the yard.

There’s something soothing about hanging out with dogs. Their worldview is so different from ours, and they notice things I’d miss. Each dog teaches me something different.

Songdog is one of the most affectionate beings I’ve ever known. No matter what’s going on, he looks up at me like I’m the most important creature in the entire world. Give him even the slightest opportunity, and he’ll teach you what it is to experience unconditional love.

Riggy is utterly irrepressible, as rat terriers tend to be, and it’s a joy to watch him stride confidently through the world despite having lost his eyes to a genetic condition several years ago. Every walk with him is a lesson in perseverance and resourcefulness.

Lillian — who was part of a breeding operation but ended up in a shelter for nine months after her owner got sick and had to give up all her dogs — is almost heartbreakingly neurotic. She responds to things differently than any other dog I’ve ever had, and she forces me to slow down and think about how my actions might look to a six-pound Chihuahua mix who is trying hard to trust me but hasn’t quite figured out how to be a dog and needs a little help understanding what’s going on before she can be OK with it.

Together, the three of them are helping to buff off my rough edges and soothe my frazzled nerves.


Vegetarian Friday: No-bake recovery treats

These are a good, quick recovery snack after a hard workout.
These are a good, quick recovery snack after a hard workout.

This recipe isn’t particularly glamorous or photogenic, but it’s an absolute godsend if you happen to be an endurance athlete, because it’s an easy make-ahead snack you can keep in the refrigerator and grab quickly after a long run or a hard hill workout to give yourself a nice balance of protein, fiber, and sugar to keep you from crashing and speed muscle recovery.


1 c. rolled oats
1 c. peanut butter, almond butter, or a mix
2 tbsp. honey
1/2 c. mini chocolate chips (optional)

Mix all ingredients thoroughly. Scoop out about a tablespoon of the mixture and form it into a ball. If the mixture seems too squishy, add more oats. If it seems too dry and crumbly, add more nut butter and/or honey. (The proportions aren’t precise, because the consistency of the nut butter you use will vary by brand, type, and oil content.)

Once you’ve adjusted the proportions as needed to make a workable texture, form the rest of the mixture into balls, place on a cookie sheet lined with waxed paper, and chill until firm. Store in a sealed container in the fridge for up to two weeks.


Folk Thursday: Crosby, Stills and Nash

Have I already “Helplessly Hoping” somewhere along the way? Probably. Does it matter? Probably not. I’ve been doing this feature for so long, I’ve lost track of which songs I’ve posted and which I haven’t.

This is one of my favorites. That mournful guitar and those tight harmonies are just divine.


The danger in grabbing women

I’m sure I wasn’t the only one completely incapable of mustering anything even vaguely resembling shock at Donald Trump’s boasts about kissing women and grabbing their crotches without permission. Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past three decades, you know this sort of behavior is entirely consistent with his public persona.

What bothers me is the number of men rushing to his defense, as if the behavior he described were somehow defensible.

Men who can’t or won’t distinguish between dirty jokes and sexual assault are unlikely to be swayed by any arguments involving compassion for women, basic human decency, or a recognition of women as human beings. If they were capable of understanding any of that, they wouldn’t have to be told not to touch strangers’ labia without permission.

I’d like to offer up another angle for those who can’t be bothered to care about sexual-assault victims’ feelings.

According to stats presented by worldwidedojo.com and attributed to a study by Simmons Market Research, 9.4 million American adults reported having participated in martial arts in the past year — 48 percent of them women.

If those numbers are accurate (and I’m not saying they are; I have unanswered questions about the study’s date and methodology, but these were the best numbers I could put my hands on at the moment), that means more than 4.5 million women in this country have at least some idea of what to do if a man approaches us in a sexually aggressive manner.

Not all of us were trained in defensive arts, and not all of us will remember our training well enough or have practiced it sufficiently to be effective against an attacker. But some of us will, and there’s no way to tell by looking which crotch is safe for you to grab and which will get you injured or killed.

I used to train with a black belt who was maybe five feet tall and built like a fireplug. I’ve never seen anybody who could take down an attacker faster than she could.

I knew another girl who looked like a supermodel. She showed up for her first combat karate class with about 15 years of ballet training behind her. Ballerinas, as it turns out, make excellent karatekas. Her first week in class, sensei taught us a move to keep strange men from putting their arms around us in bars. She came back the second week beaming with glee as she recounted how she’d removed a creep from his barstool for getting too fresh. I suspect if Donald Trump had met Ballerina before he met Billy Bush, his campaign would be in much better shape today.

I’m a fairly nondescript, middle-aged woman. I doubt the average man would find me terribly intimidating at first glance. But if you put your hand somewhere I don’t want it, I’ll put you on the ground and convince you to stay there politely until the cops show up.

We are out here. We are legion. And you have absolutely no way of knowing who we are until you tangle with one of us.

For the safety of everyone concerned: Don’t. Unlike Donald Trump, you don’t have the benefit of Secret Service protection.


Tiny Tuesday: Outdoor living

In assessing how much space we need in our home, I find it valuable to consider three questions:

1. How much time do I spend indoors?
2. What am I doing there?
3. How much of that could be done outside?

The answers to those questions will help you determine what kind of square footage you need and how comfortable you’re likely to be in a small space. Most of the things I like to do in my spare time — read, write, surf the internet — takes up very little room and could be done just as easily outdoors when the weather is decent.

A small bench parked in the middle of a peppermint patch makes a nice spot for sipping coffee and relaxing next to the pond.
A small bench parked in the middle of a peppermint patch makes a nice spot for relaxing next to the pond.

On clear days when it’s not terribly hot and humid, I like to drink my coffee and eat my breakfast on the deck while the dogs play in the yard. On cool evenings when I have a little time off, I might sip a craft beer next to the pond, where I have a little concrete bench just big enough for one person to sit and think, and on drizzly days, the papasan chair parked at one end of our wide front porch makes an inviting place to curl up and read a book amid the scent of petrichor and the sound of the rain. A couple of years back, I added a little tile-topped plant stand that’s just big enough to hold a glass or a small plate, and next year, I’m planning to add a small table and chair to the other end of the porch to create a sort of outdoor office suitable for writing or working on other projects.

I’ve put a lot of time into customizing my yard, turning it into the kind of place where I like to hang out, and I imagine that will only increase when I get to New Mexico, where nothing indoors is ever going to be as pretty as anything outdoors, and where the weather is generally much more favorable for spending time outside.

If you’re trying to figure out how much space you really need, do yourself a favor and try spending more time outside. You may find you don’t need as much room as you thought — or you may find you can keep your climate-controlled space to a minimum and swap some of it for a transitional space that doesn’t have to be heated or cooled, such as a sunroom or conservatory with big windows you can open to let the breeze through on nice days.

Go play outside and see how it works for you.


Sustainability on a shoestring