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His music still plays, and his spirit still shines

Elliott Smith, singer songwriter extraordinaire by many people’s standards, would have been 44 today, had he not died a much too early death in October of 2003. After his passing, a good share of his notoriety came not due to the amazing music he created, but by the manner of his death, and the sometimes dysfunctional life he led as he dealt with drug addiction, alcoholism and depression.

But those who were close to him knew the fullness of his generosity, his great sense of humor, his compassion, and the other endearing qualities that inspired his family and friends to honor him with a series of four benefit shows in four different cities. They run from August 4th to August 10th and are the brainchild of Ashley Welch, Elliott’s younger sister, who decided to pay tribute to all the great things about her brother that made him her “hero”, as she describes Elliott in Autumn deWilde’s book, Elliott Smith.

One of those great things about Elliott Smith was his generous nature. Elliott was known as one to never turn down a chance to play a benefit show for someone, and before his death he had begun the process to start his own non-profit to help abused children. In this light of his giving so much to others, every show in each city – Portland, OR; Los Angeles; Austin, TX; and New York City – will be donating all the proceeds to a non-profit in that particular city. All the musicians are playing for free, as Elliott inspires so many to share and reach out to others as he did in his lifetime.

Another great thing about Elliott Smith was of course the music, the amazing legacy he left behind, the songbook of an extremely gifted and talented singer and songwriter and troubadour. He is revered by his musical peers, as is evidenced by all who agreed to come out and play these benefit shows for free. Some are more well known than others, but all shared the music with Elliott and shared the joy of music with him.

I was fortunate enough to get a ticket for the first show, in my city of Portland, a place Elliott called home for a time. He is well loved here, and the energy that night was just one big lovefest of Elliott, of music, of joy. Sweet and touching stories were told about Elliott from his friends, revealing a much more positive side of his life that was often overlooked. The crowd made much of the event a singalong, as the well loved and familiar words and melodies sang out in a loving cacophony.

Many famous musical artists are often memorialized in tribute shows, and that speaks to the success and inspiration of their music. But these shows touting Elliott Smith touched my heart in a different way. It wasn’t just the music we celebrated, but the fact that he used his fame for the greater good, to give back to others less fortunate. And really, Elliott shows us that we can all do this, in our own way; we don’t have to be famous to be angels of generosity. Here’s to you, dear Elliott – thank you for inspiring all of us through your music but most of all through your shining soul.

Concert posters for the Elliott Smith benefit line the stairs to the Doug Fir Lounge in Portland, OR

Concert posters for the Elliott Smith benefit line the stairs to the Doug Fir Lounge in Portland, OR

 

Changes in regard to coffee

Yes it’s true, we Portlanders love our coffee, and there are a plethora of coffeehouses all around town to drive home that truth. I myself have a list of favorites in my neighborhood, but what a joy it is to discover a new treasure outside of the Alphabet District, the quaint and quirky name of the area in which I live.

And yes it’s true, shortly after moving here I dared to get rid of my coffeepot and the monkey on my back habit of half a pot of coffee in the morning. I had started to feel like a coffee junkie, so I quit cold turkey, suffered the pangs of caffeine withdrawal and stayed away for a time. Well, a short time that is, until I found myself tiptoeing back to instant coffee, only one cup a day. And hey, that’s not really an addiction, only one cup of instant coffee in the morning, is it? And I can quit anytime! But today was different, I just needed more – and here is my story…

Two Cup Day

I had relegated myself

To a self-imposed limit

Only one cup of coffee

To start my day

But today felt different

A cool breeze

Gray clouds in the skylight

The flickering candle I had lit

To stave off the dim daylight

One last swallow of the first cup

And off to the kitchen

Marching triumphantly

To celebrate my new holiday

Behold the inauguration of

Two Cup Day

tiny coffee

The sparkling Christmas lights of Peacock Lane

Since I am spending Christmas here in Portland this year, and not traveling back to Minnesota to be with my family, I was able to experience a Portland Christmas tradition the other night. I learned about the Lights on Peacock Lane, which is a holiday tradition going back to the 1920’s. Since that time, every house on the SE Portland street of Peacock Lane has participated in decorating for the Christmas holiday with lights, yard ornaments of all types, and even music that plays for everyone to hear. Since it was one of the few rain-free nights we have had in awhile, their were plenty of people out and about to view the shining lights and festive decorations. I guess there is even a special song that has been written in honor of this event, although I didn’t hear anyone singing it, not even the carolers who were there. But it was a beautiful sight, and a lovely evening to share with my fellow Portlanders, as I spend Christmas in the place I love the best.

 

 

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Hunting season, with my car instead of a gun

My newly married daughter is already a widow; a hunting widow that is. Her beloved is deep in the throes of hunting season, leaving her alone on recent weekends to traipse after the ever elusive deer with his trusty bow and arrows in hand. And the beauty of hunting with a bow rather than a gun is the extended season offered to the bow hunters. They can keep trying and trying long after the regular deer season has come and gone. And try and try he did, coming home an unhappy hunter in his first few attempts, with no trophy to show for his efforts. That is until last weekend, when he shot an eight point buck (the number having to do with the size of Bambi’s antlers) and he finally comes back home a happy hunter. But fear not, hunting season does not end just because of a successful hunt. No, my son-in-law is leaving right after Thanksgiving dinner to try for more; afflicted with the hunting fever.

And all this talk about hunting and deer brought back the memory of my first deer; that is, the first (and thankfully only) deer I ever hit with my car. I was so unprepared, as I drove home one night after aerobics class, oblivious to the suburban deer that decided to cross the road right in front of my car. And unlike my happy hunter son-in-law, I did not celebrate my first kill. Instead I felt sick inside – I had taken down one of God’s beautiful creatures, and a baby at that! Oh, the horror! Luckily for me, my big boat of a 1977 Impala just ran right over the poor creature, sustaining not a lick of damage except for the deer hide underneath my car that smelled worse and worse as I drove home. After I got home I called the police to tell them what happened, said a prayer so I would be forgiven, and swore that I would always scan the sides of the nighttime road with my “deer eyes”.

But as the years went by, I found that the best laid plans sometimes falter, and I had a few other run-ins with my car vs. nature. There was the goose I hit as it tried to cross the highway with what I’m assuming was its mate; I just wanted to pull the car over and cry. And to add insult to injury, after I got to work and told a co-worker about what happened with the goose, she proceeded to tell me that geese mate for life. Now all I could think about was the widowed goose, the poor little goslings I left without a mother or father, and how I managed to tear a lovely goose family apart.

Then there was the raccoon I almost managed to avoid. I swerved to avoid him on the two lane road in the way that they always tell you not to, but it was late and there was only me on the road at the time. But this poor guy must have been old and he was a bit overweight, even for raccoon standards, and his last minute decision to try and make it across landed him right into my front bumper. And unlike my old Impala, my newer Honda Civic didn’t do so well, and pieces of plastic went flying down the road along with the now very dead raccoon.

But by far the worst roadkill for me was when I hit a hawk. Yes, I hit a hawk that was sitting on the road in the middle of the night eating roadkill. What the hell was he doing there, eating food that was usually left for the crows to pick up, and what happened to his super sharp reflexes that should have had him flying away at the last second, like the crows always did? Maybe he had eaten some tainted meat and was brain addled, but I’ll never know because I killed him! And this really broke my heart, as I have a strong affinity for the raptors. I love to watch them soar in the sky, riding the unseen currents of air. I would always seemed to spot them when I was out walking or even driving, as if we had some sort of connection. And now, I had destroyed one, never to soar again.

I only hope that all those poor creatures I inadvertently killed with my innocent car can forgive me, as they reside in animal Heaven now, safe and sound from the perils of the roadways. And I am happy to be car-free now, no longer driving a weapon of destruction against nature. My hunting season has now ended.

My son-in-law, the happy hunter

Memories of sunshine on a rainy day

After three glorious months of perpetual blue skies and sunshine, Portland now shows her winter colors of gray skies and silvery raindrops. But I finally received the package in the mail the other day, with the cds containing all the photographs from my daughter’s wedding. Perfect timing, and a rainy day project emerges as I sort through 700+ pictures taken on that special day.

Through a mother’s eyes they are all perfect pictures. How will I ever narrow it down to a reasonable number? It helped to have a pretty white photo album to place them in that only holds 100 pictures; that set some limits for me. The photo album was a very thoughtful gift from a friend, who knew I would appreciate a special album dedicated only to pictures from my daughter’s wedding. I thought of how small albums such as this as often called “brag books”, and during coffee with a friend this morning it became just that. I was giddy as we looked at the pictures together, pointing out family and friends to her, recalling memories from that lovely day.

And now I have a son-in-law, one who adores my daughter and treats her like a princess. As I looked through the many pictures, I could see so apparent the love they have for each other; the energy of their love radiating through the photographs. They will have their ups and downs, as all couples do. But I feel an intuitive sense of knowing that these two have a strong relationship made up of love, respect and sharing all things with each other. I’ve seen them together in the day to day events of life when I’ve stayed at their home, and they are going to be just fine. And a mother’s heart is reassured that her daughter’s heart is now in the gentle hands of a loving husband.

Ode to a Wedding

She walks down the aisle

Lovely and luminous

He waits to greet her

Glowing with love

They smile at each other

Heartfelt anticipation

Of words to be shared

In the presence of loved ones

The commitment of a lifetime

Once nestled deep in their hearts

Now bursts out in loving vows

As they shower onlookers with wedded bliss

The blushing and very happy bride

The wedding party

Saying their vows

The happy couple

Some time alone

So in love…

A proud and happy mom

Just in case she forgets the words

Having fun with the cake

The first dance as Mr. & Mrs.

Introducing… Mr. & Mrs. Workman!

A very tired flower girl

 

 

 

 

The gifts of perfect timing

I took a break from reading the 500 some page book club book about Teddy Roosevelt to check and see if the mail had arrived yet. As I walked into the foyer of my apartment building, I saw a large wooden desk sitting there with a yellow post-it note proclaiming “Free”. I have been keeping my eye out lately for a desk of some type, but it needed to be smaller than this one. I was anxious to replace the TV tray that I had been using as a combination desk to write at and kitchen table to eat at. Rick and James were in the office, the manager and assistant manager of my building, and I lamented to them how much I would have loved that desk but it was just too big for my studio apartment. One of them mentioned a smaller desk they had seen in the basement, in the corner where people leave “free stuff”;  things that are let go for one reason or another, usually because it is easier than trying to haul large and bulky items to the nearest Goodwill.

I found the adorable white wicker desk just sitting there in the corner, amongst a mattress, a broken entertainment center, a battered tool box and a box full of old clothes and shoes. I felt like I was at the humane society, picking out the perfect pet. Instead I had found the perfect desk! I ran up to the office, out of breath and proclaimed, “I’ll take it!” James graciously offered to bring it up to my apartment on the fourth floor; good thing he was there at the time or else I don’t know how I would have managed it on my own, and then I may have lost my chance to have such a great find – for free!

But wait, there’s more!

As I started to rearrange things in my home to accommodate my new piece of furniture, I heard a knock at the door. I answered it and there stood Rick with a lovely black office chair that looked as if no one had spent any time sitting in it. Another free gift! Rick must have been paying attention to me when I was rambling on about how I have the world’s most uncomfortable plastic folding chair that I bought only because I didn’t feel like driving all over to find something better and yeah I hate to complain but it really would be nice to have something a bit more comfortable and on and on. And now here he was, with the perfect chair to match my perfect desk – yes, what a perfect day!

After all was said and done, with my new desk in place and the drawers full of all the things I had previously kept on a kitchen shelf, I could see how perfect timing, what is called synchronicity, played a part in all of this. I had to come down to get my mail, just at the time that the desk was there, just at the time that Rick and James where there to tell me about a better desk and to hear about my sad chair story, just at the time that James was there to carry my treasure find to my apartment, just at the time that Rick thought to give me his old office chair. This is how the Universe lines up the dominoes of our life’s happenings, then gives them a joyful flick to fall into perfect succession – this is how it’s done!

As far as I’m concerned, there is no such thing as luck or fate or serendipity; there are no coincidences. We are all part of a much greater plan than we can imagine. And when we take the time to step back and stop trying to control everything, we might just find ourselves the recipients of perfect gifts that can only come from perfect timing.

From this….

…to this!!

 

 

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