Two women harangued me on my colorful attire – did I really stand out that much in my vest with some metallic gold threads, and my bolo tie with gold bling? It was not my intention to outshine my bandmates – I just like to wear colors and sparkly stuff. Seemed perfect for the last Holiday concert of the year. You won’t find muted beige and gray in my closet! I never worked for IBM, and if you see me in a suit and tie, its either a wedding or a funeral.

Call me lucky. My dad was lucky too. How did he get through the post D-Day fields of France and still be sporting his Art Deco rings in photos?

Even at age 2, I chose red so much that my mother kidded that I came from the gypsies. So when I saw my heel through my old unapologetically red socks and placed them in the trash, I flashed to the 1980’s when cool musicians like Turtle Island String Quartet wore them. Or is it just my fading memory?

What is clear: in 1961 my dad ordered his first economy car, a red Ford Falcon, with red interior and roof. The salesman warned it would be too much, but dad was firm. Before we could pick it up, several folks fell in love with it and tried to buy it off the lot.

I drove several 20 year old red convertibles when my son was a toddler. I did not mind the rust holes, long as they started up.

Over time, the sun fades bright colors, especially red, even artwork hit by reflected light in a south-facing room. While the beiges and grays soldier on with impunity.

As his inner sun weakened, my aging father’s face grew more pale. Even his lips lost their color, as if his blood was retreating inward to prepare for the inevitable stillness. His blue eyes still sparkled as he made us laugh. His vitals were stable – after singing “Silent Night” with him, we returned home to sleep. The call came at 2:30 AM. Sitting vigil with his body, the finality and sadness washed over us, until the funeral director came. When he asked for something to cover him, I chose a bright blue blanket, even as the hole in my chest widened where the red was.


My young brain saw the resemblance – the mud-colored crawfish skirting the shallows of Chester Creek and the bright red lobster tails on our dinner table. “Forget it,” I said, though it was clear Mom and Dad enjoyed all steps of the ritual. First broil on the same cookie sheet that birthed hundreds of Christmas cookies in winter, then crack the shell, wriggle the too-white meat out, then dip into drawn butter and I’m left to watch their joyful faces as they chew. Their palpable pleasure finally broke down my refusal, and one night I gave it a shot. It was too much work for two bites, this being the era of cocktail sized lobster tail, but the flavor and butter won me over – I liked it! I could see the disappointment on my father’s face, now having to share this rare treat with his growing boy.

To compete with my father was new to me, but probably not to him. My Mom stayed at home and applied her scientific and creative mind to my rearing. And only one of dad’s three shifts brought him home when I was not at school, and awake. After he taught me to play ping pong, his merciless pencil grip spin left me only a faint hope to lob it back over the net. There was no score keeper at that dinner table, but he knew his tail tally was going to fall from now on.

In the 1960’s, Smorgasbords were a special treat. For a fixed and reasonable price, you got to take what you wanted and eat as much as possible. Days before one visit, Dad declared his intention – to eat only lobster tails – no potatoes, no bread, and certainly no vegetables. I could not resist the siren call of variety, but Frank stayed focused. Before the wait removed the first plate of shells, he counted. Later with a buttery grin, he finally cried “Uncle,” and pushed the last plate away – twenty six lobster tails vanquished.

Fast forward 50 years and 1000’s of meals, recently diminishing in variety and enjoyment due to failing eyesight, hearing, taste and chewing ability, with back teeth gone. And now swallowing – his chart reads purees and thin liquids only.

We’ve been in the ER for hours now and I have not told him of the blood clots in his huge swollen leg and throughout his lungs. Or the new bleeding on the surface of his brain. Or that no procedures offer hope, and no commitment to vigorous physical therapy can reverse his flagging strength, balance, or raise the fog clouding his thinking. I sit with all this, and know that hospice arrangements must be made.
The alarm beeps when he bends his left arm, blocking the last IV antibiotic he’ll be allowed to have. At last I find the button to cancel it.

Out of that cinderblock silence he says, again, “I sure would like something to eat.” The doc withdrew the “nothing to eat or drink” order just after 6 PM. It’s 9:00 now, and despite repeated requests, they have not even brought a bottle of Boost. So I ask, “What would you like to eat, if you could have anything?” Those aged blue eyes clear instantly for his answer, “Lobster tail!”

Two days later, back in assisted living, I present him with a large lobster tail on a glass plate, with a small bowl of melted butter. His eyes beam like the sun. He insists on the first bite cold, without butter, as if to confirm this vision is real. Joy lights up his face, front teeth working it hard. Permission given to spit it out when the flavor is gone, he does so, like old Doublemint. I throw two big chunks in the microwave, then puree in the blender with butter. I fill a spoon, pour more butter on it, and he opens his mouth and immediately says, “Ah!” His jaws tire after four or five spoonfuls and I figure I’ll get the last chunks not yet pureed. He keeps going though, complaining that he’s not really eating this delight. I counter that he is enjoying it in the only manner left to him. He persists, and accepts the last bite as eagerly as the first, chin shiny with buttery gold. He won this round – and I silently scheme to find more ways to offer him a few more triumphs.


No hourglass, more like a windswept dune, blazing sun and footing that shifts
just before I step. Seemed solid, now I fall, again, and look back at the
hollow traces of my scrambling, as if to read my mistake, to learn
something, anything, from these bruises. Heat shimmers at the
horizon tempt me to change course, again, knowing their
promise will lead to nothing but more sand falling away
at each step. I refocus on the IV drip, the drool
from my father’s mouth and his clear
blue eyes, hoping to find some
clarity of mind behind them.
Last week it was hospice,
this, the hospital,
and next, a
nursing home,
the faint mirage
of full recovery dazzling
his event horizon. How can I
center amidst the ups and downs of
diagnoses and prognoses and expectations?
Grains of sand slip through the impossible narrowness,
to find a resting place among their comrades, at least until the
inevitable upheaval and another scramble for stability, like his brain
trying to absorb the blood of three falls. Will healing prevail this time,
or must a place be made at the oasis for its opposite? Luck and resilience
run out with age, systems fade, and truly undiscovered territory awaits. I offer
a hand, shape the sand for his steps, put a straw to his lips and wipe the dribble.

Just as I accept this downturn
he zings a one liner and laughs –
it ain’t over until Kate Smith sings “God Bless America.”

The wind billows his battered flag in my backyard,
and I pray he can salute it with what remains of his eyes,
and not from a cellphone photo.

I brush the sand from my eye
to let my tears bless the ground –
no ashes for you yet.

Feathers in the Wind

Eye drawn to gray weathered splintering wood on the railroad trestle,
as I approach I see wing feathers fluttering in the wind –
a red tailed hawk struck by a train.
I am compelled to apologize for our blunt mechanized intrusion on the freedom of the air. And to utter gratitude for magnificence, though cut short.
What does this oracle bid on the day I apply for Social Security and Medicare?
Enjoy your ability to fly while you can?
Be careful of what is coming your way?
Do you really think society still wants you?
There is beauty even in death?
I regret not plucking a feather to preserve this gift – and now must settle for words, again.

Wisps of Mind

Pleasure, even joy, can be had by the wispiest shift into appreciation of what is served to me, right now. Yes, it could be an IPA, or a red light, or a pain in my wrist, or an unexpected smile, yet perhaps there is no more encouraging bequeathal to us humans than the ability to bypass the auto-rage and find the inner smile when faced with the unexpected.

Even if the anger has risen from my gut, my mind is strong and nimble enough to not take the bait, and let the inner Malotov cocktail go unlit. Bloodstream will re-absorb the chemicals, pulse of the animal will calm – naturally, with the passage of time. Meanwhile, let us speak of our common love, and even let our souls sneak through our minds, into our tongues.

I Will Light Candles This Christmas

candleI will light candles this Christmas;
Candles of joy despite all sadness,
Candles of hope where despair keeps watch,
Candles of courage for fears ever present,

Candles of peace for tempest-tossed days,
Candles of grace to ease heavy burdens,
Candles of love to inspire all my living,
Candles that will burn all the year long.

When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flock,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among others,
To make music in the heart.

Howard Thurman (1899 – 1981)

How to enjoy a Wright pilgrimage

wIt is rare when a friend asks you to join on a bucket list pilgrimage, especially one so unlikely that I never really considered going. Unlike seeing Carnival in Brazil, visiting Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater house just required a day’s drive and sharing accommodations already booked. Perfect! We visited 5 FLW designs (2 by apprentices) and got to spend the night in one!

Fallingwater is jaw-dropping in so many ways – especially for 1935 – perhaps the ultimate in site-specific house design! He engineered a slide-back glass hatch to the stairs down to the creek from the main living area – I imagined the cooling breezes coming into the house. Many terraces dangle right over the creek, while the rock of the site protrudes into floors and walls of many rooms – truly organic architecture. There is even a plunge pool about 3 feet above the normal creek level. So many details support his grand vision.

w31Yes, it is way over the top for a vacation get-away for hunting and fishing(!), and monumental like Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim Bilbao, yet given a visionary client with deep pockets, what creative artist would not push the boundaries of design language?

w5After lunch we found Cucumber Falls in nearby Ohiopyle State Park, and let Nature refresh us. The water led us down to the Youghiogheny River for a wide vista. Then a short drive to Kentuck Knob for another tour (no inside photos allowed). Also known as the Hagan House, it is a more modest plan designed for a couple who planned to live there year round – their successful dairy is still going ( Wright was near the end of his life and was less iconoclastic and more accommodating to their needs, like having a decent size kitchen and ceiling heights more welcoming to the stature of their family members. I kept smiling as our guide told us of Mrs. Hagan repeatedly insisting on various practicalities she knew she needed more than Wright’s purist design. World famous architect met his match in a dairy farmer’s wife!

His plan used hexagons and their 120 degree corners, with the only two right angles inside a concession to allow the plumbers to set fixtures! All the stone was cut from their property, and the masons were father and son. It found it amazing that they did all that stonework in only two years. The son hung up his trowel after finishing and went into the used car business! When built, the Hagans had a clear view from the house to the rolling hills across a valley. Among the trees now there, I saw a tall metal tower, with an old TV antenna (early 1960’s vintage) on top. Another smile at folks watching TV in a Wright house!

When she finally sold the house, it was bought by an English lord who added modern sculptures along a trail from the house down to the visitor center. He was there with his dog during our visit (he no longer lives there, but his art and furnishings remain).

That night we enjoyed another dinner on the deck at our rented house on SanaView organic farm. The next day we left architecture behind and hung out around Ohiopyle PA (population 50) and celebrated Linda’s birthday. The falls of the Youghiogheny River have long attracted tourists and those with an eye for business. George Washington poled down this river, standing on a flat wooden raft – and called it unnavigable. w122Rafters love it these days, and bicyclists too, for the 71 mile trail converted from the railway. After a hike around a peninsula formed by an oxbow bend in the river, we had libations at a local bar. Linda decided to try something she’d never had – a Jello shot. However, they were sold out from the weekend (this was Wednesday!), so offered her a pudding shot! After dinner, her birthday pie was strawberry rhubarb from Greendance Winery, with Vidal Blanc, their wonderful white.

Our last day in SW Pennsylvania took us to Polymath Park, with 3 of Wright’s Usonian house designs – one by him and two by apprentice Peter Berndston. Our tour was bookended by wonderful refreshments at their Treetops restaurant. Everyone there seemed to embody the spirit of being a polymath – many varied skill sets across different fields.

Wright’s 1957 Duncan House is one of his few prefabricated Usonian houses to be built, and has far more storage than his more dramatic designs. His apprentice Peter Berndston designed the Balter and Blum houses. They were the only ones built here in the 1960’s, of the 24 he planned for a Wright development that did not take hold.

We stayed in the Balter house, and absorbed much of Wright’s design aesthetic by using various spots in the house as intended, with period furniture. The skylights and cantilevered sun room were highlights. w190I even built a fire in the typically large fireplace! A fittingly warm end to an eye-opening tour!

w212I now realize that he influences daily life for me and many others – he championed open floor plans, the idea of a great room, walls of windows, even the carport. His insistence on “organic architecture” was radical at the time, as was his desire for working people to enjoy living spaces tailored to their needs. Thank you and “so long,” Frank Lloyd Wright!

Blossoming Creativity

mia1 mia2There are times in attending a friends-and-family event that expectations are shattered by awesomeness. So it was with Mia Kaplan’s solo art opening at Liberty Arts, after a summer as an intern, working with their artists in so many different media – casting metal, welding, pottery, wood, sheet metal wall art, jewelry (probably should really be called body art due to its inventiveness).

Her creative approach to all the different materials was truly extraordinary, and was like witnessing an adolescent Matisse, whose dabbling in lots of media equaled most others’ mature accomplishments.

I bought a pottery coffee mug because it was the perfect small size for how I drink my morning espresso and to show my support for her budding career. While drinking from it the next morning, I began to appreciate the depth of her craft – more like an established potter who has been working for decades. Everything was in perfect proportion. The heft was neither too heavy nor too light, the lip not too delicate or too thick, the handle wide enough to grasp yet thin enough to embrace my hand. And her small incised patterns drew my eye as well as the different colors of glaze, some which she sprayed on instead of dipping.

Soon she will be back in college, and continue to unfold her talent. Will she pick one material and make it her specialty? Or will she let each medium continue to inspire her to explore that special state of mind where anything is possible? All I can say is hurray for Mia, and for the creative process wherever you find it!


25 years ago today, I woke up at the beautiful Asilomar Center on Monterey peninsula, sat up in bed and wondered if I had a birthday poem in me. This mindset was inspired by a man at the conference named Roy Jordan, who enthusiastically recited his poems at any moment, especially in the dining hall. The emergence of this poem opened a creative door I did not know I had, which still opens up sometimes – that unique, personal challenge of whether this feeling is asking me to let it flow, or wrestle it down, into words.

BK close1


I throb with the very stuff of Life,
pulse racing with the magic of the Universe.
My heart muscle tightens and releases
to ebb and flow with the miracle of now.

My eyes pierce the void with unshuttered brightness,
tossing sparks upon the tinder of my existence.
Visions of passions yet unknown
dance sinuously without a veil.

I propel myself into the fire of risk,
redefined with each hot breath.
Lungs fill with the Light of God,
exploding in spectrums of colors yet unseen.

My skin tingles with joy,
each pore grateful for the ecstasy of touch.
Ears capture the gentlest hum
of Love resounding in your heart.

Vibrations pure and soft and loud
call me out to play.
Music chameleons from sweet to strong,
ever dancing towards release.

I whirl with joy to all these tunes,
letting feet pound out
the rapture of me.

Journey with me if you dare,
sharing, blending
your unique self
as One with mine,
and let us go forth
to spark the infinite
with the blaze of passion.

Written 1991


sun prism

This school
never closes
though students can
be dismissed any time
they can never go home
and again they try
to master today’s lesson
for totally ingrained
is the grief for today
as it fades
and the fear
of what the new teacher,
will require of us