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The Hopes and Energy of the Young

Forty-four years ago this spring, as we were preparing for our wedding right here at Wake Robin Farm, a friend of my mother’s gave us one of her own creations as a gift—a clay lion, I guess you’d call it. To be honest, I never liked it, and the “best wishes” this woman delivered with it didn’t further endear the poor creature to me. “You’d better not be hoping to have kids,” she said. “The way the world is going, they won’t have anything to eat.”

Wow, thanks for your thoughts.

I put this piece of "art" way below the dip outside the kitchen window, hoping the next high water of the Marys River would carry it away. Nope. So I took to tossing it farther out. No way. Flood after flood, like old song says, the cat came back, he just wouldn’t roll away.

Weirdly, though, by now I’ve developed for him a certain affection. Every time I pry him out of the mud and set him back on the log, I think, check it out, Irva—we’re still here. Our three kids never lacked for food, and now THEIR kids are eating their fill of the fruit from our own garden. Glad I never took your advice to heart.

So what is it that makes people want to stomp on the optimism and energy of the young? Such bad karma.

I love all the 18-year-olds of Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, who survived the recent shooting and are raising their voices against being made to live in daily fear of guns, finally trying to fix what their elders have let go on far too long.

Emma Gonzalez—you go, girl! You’re the hope of the future, and the sour, mean-spirited adults who fear your power and want to stomp on you for it should be ashamed.

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Vacation Story

If you have one precious annual week in Hawaii, a lot of Northwesterners will choose January or February, and in Maui last week, we saw a lot of Seattle Seahawks shirts. Everyone was appreciating the fact that we had lucked out on missing some of the nastiest of this winter’s weather here at home.

Completely by whim of chance--which direction to take a walk?--my husband and I stumbled onto the Maui Plein Air Painting Invitational, a "paint out" being held on the grounds of the resort next door to ours. Many of the artists were from the West Coast, all of them painting in a style we appreciate. It turned out they’d been capturing scenes all over the island, and the resulting art works would be exhibited and sold a few days hence in Lahaina, so we made plans to go.

At the exhibition, we circled the already beautifully framed paintings hung in the hotel ballroom, then I returned to the one that for some reason, I just kept wanting to look at. That’s MY super sophisticated way of judging art! When the artist walked up, it turned out she was Jennifer Diehl from Mt. Angel, Oregon. Delighted with this connection, we bought the painting.

Then into Old Lahaina to shop for aloha shirts for the little grandsons. Parking’s tough in this lovely place, and we ended up in an unfamiliar pay lot which meant we were taking a never-before-strolled side street up to the wharf front.

Just a block from Front Street, Herb said, “Hey, there it is!”—the little cottage depicted in the painting we’d just bought. We never would have seen it, parking in our usual place. I loved that it housed a shop called the Maui Vintage Clothing Company. I am a total sucker for the word vintage, so we had to go inside.

When I asked the shopkeeper if she’d noticed an artist painting the place, she got very excited because yes, she had, and insisted on posing us on the front bench, snapping our picture from the exact place across the street the artist had set up her easel.

Now, as a memento of the trip, we have the painting and the picture of us in that setting. The straw hat I bought inside Maui Vintage Clothing Company will always have attached to it this story.

The shopkeeper’s story was good, too—a tale of a young woman leaving Israel, working in the United States a few years, thinking to cool her heels in Hawaii while she waited for proper papers to go to Australia. She wanted no commitments. Ha! Promptly fell in love in Lahaina and here she is, a husband and two babies later, not at all sorry she had a change of plans. Paradise can have that effect on people!

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Bunny Bungalow

My own children had turned into cynical teenagers by the time award-winning and prolific author Cynthia Rylant published her picture book, Bunny Bungalow, so it was fresh to me when my husband brought it home from the library to share with our little grandson, Nolan.

Long term, Nolan bonded to this book more than any other. The charming illustrations by Nancy Hayashi depicting this cozy bunny family living their lovely, peaceful days and nights, seemed to enchant him.

Everything’s nice at the Bunny Bungalow, where top priority is enjoying pleasant pastimes such as frolicking in the grass, gardening, and listening to loving parents reading you books. The height of naughtiness presents in a double-page spread of the bunnies picking cherries off a tree and then, as Nolan gleefully interrupts each time, “Why squishing them with their toes?” We always stop and discuss how it probably feels good and, also, they are shown eating some. They’re not wasting them all.

It turns out, though, this cherry squishing was not the most questionable activity in the book. Maybe we should have paid more attention to Mama Bunny’s stern look at the bunny gaily jumping on the bed, because three days before Nolan’s 4th birthday, he tried this trick at home, fell off and broke his leg.

With a child hobbled by a cast and a new baby granddaughter arriving, I had a brilliant idea. I took down this new baby's mother's mainly unused dollhouse from a top shelf and began refurbishing it as our own Bunny Bungalow. Make no mistake, I did this for myself, and what a great time I had, finding vintage dollhouse furniture on line, painting it, applying tiny rose decals.

It all came from Etsy—a little bed from Denmark, a painted set from Germany, a lawn chair from Ontario, other pieces from Michigan, Florida and California. Each package arrived like evidence of kindness out there in the world—the tiny furniture careful packed, and always with a nice note of good wishes from the sender for the receiver’s project. That’s what I love most about Etsy, the real people out there, everybody sharing in these creative pursuits.

So far my strategy of calling this Gramie’s Bunny Bungalow is paying off. Grandchildren can sidle up with interest and feel privileged to join in the project. So much more enticing than being given the results of a lavish project made by an adult and be told, “Aren’t you impressed? Aren't you beside yourself with gratitude? Now get busy and play with this!”

So thanks, Cynthia Rylant and Nancy Hayashi, for this lovely book and the inspiration it provided. It’s my feeling that the authors, illustrators, and publishers of the finest of children’s books are not given enough credit for the absolute magic that’s required to make a child want to return to a particular book again and again.

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Wedding in Yangshuo

Happy New Year! My computer crashed for good just before Christmas, so I have been unable to post updates until now.

Wedding in Yangshuo is now available in both paperback and ebook formats from all the various on-line platforms. A sale directly from BookBaby directs the portion of the price which would have gone to Amazon directly to me, which is nice, although, at the moment, Amazon is offering my title for a low sales price.

If you're lucky enough to live in Corvallis, Oregon, you can walk right into our wonderful independent, Grass Roots Books, and pick up a copy off the new paperbacks table. If you don't see it, please ask. Read More 
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Kind words for Accidental Addict

Because it's just about impossible to secure reviews for a self-published book, I entered my memoir, Accidental Addict,in the Writer's Digest Contest for Self-Published books, hoping to get some attention. When I didn't win, I figured I'd been ripped off for the hundred dollar entry fee just like everyone else who entered.
What a nice surprise, then, to now receive this short "critique." Somebody actually read the book after all. I've posted its entirety on my Accidental Addict web page, but these are the lines that pleased me most as a writer. We so want people to "get" our books. Also, as a human being healing from this trauma, nothing feels better than kindness, and knowing that my story has been heard:

"Her witty depictions of the depths she is forced to wallow in, over and over, will warm the heart of every other smart baby boomer woman who feels alone while surrounded by family and marks of alleged success. I dare anyone in that reader category not to consider Crew a personal friend by the end of this memoir." Read More 
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Wedding in Yangshuo

Once upon a time at Wake Robin Farm in Oregon, I was miraculously pregnant with our first child.

That same summer, on the Li River in Southern China, a pretty woman exactly my age was also expecting. She and her husband were both artists.

Our child, born in August, was a son. Theirs, born in October, a daughter.

Twenty-two years later these children, now grown, would meet in Beijing.

The girl from Yangshuo had been studying English.

Our son, traveling with a university program, was rapidly become proficient in both Mandarin and Cantonese.

These two could talk to each other.

They could fall in love.

And did.

This is their story.

And ours.

Everything in this book actually happened, even the lovely, fateful coincidences.

Especially those........

So begins my new memoir, which is just out as an ebook and will be available as a paperback shortly. For readers of Children of the River, now in print almost twenty-nine years, Wedding in Yangshuo can be read almost as a companion book, as it explains the inspiration for the YA novel, and shows how deeply impacted the future of my life was by its research, writing, and publication.

For everybody else, my memoir is simply the story of my writing life, my marriage, and the life-changing trip my husband and I took to Yangshuo, trying to carry the family flag as our son married a girl from this most scenic corner of China.  Read More 
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BRIDES OF EDEN: a True Story Imagined

Finally....a reprint edition of Brides of Eden, which was originally published by HarperCollins in 2001. The new edition, in paperback and ebook, contains all the original historic photos of the original.

So much has been written over the years about the scandal that erupted in sleepy little Corvallis when charismatic Franz Edmund Creffield came to Corvallis, dubbed himself Joshua, and gathered around him the wives and daughters of several prominent families.

When my book came out, I ended up meeting some of the descendants of these folks. One older man was still terribly upset about the whole affair, although why he traveled a hundred miles to confront me in a bookstore to say he wished people would stop writing about this and embarrassing him in public I cannot say.

Other descendants of a younger generation seemed to understand that, unlike everything else written about this episode, I was telling the story from the point of view of the young women involved. I had sympathy for them as the victims they were.

One man called me and said he had only just learned that he was descended from the followers of Creffield. He had been advised not to read about it, but was told that if he did, he should read the one called Brides of Eden, because that's the only one that explained how it really happened. I took this as the best compliment, especially as my book is the only one written as a novel.

The story of a powerful man bending women to his will just keeps playing out, doesn't it? Check out the link to my newly posted book trailer to see how it happened in Corvallis, Oregon, in 1903.  Read More 
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Fake Words

When I was in the 8th grade, I decided to enter the city-wide essay contest sponsored by the Corvallis Chamber of Commerce on the theme of “What America Means to Me.” I set about this writing task with determination, congratulating myself on my rather scientific approach.

My method? I sat down and put on all my Peter, Paul and Mary records and copied out the ringing phrases that might work. Words. Somebody else’s words. Then I strung them together.

It worked. My mother was thrilled to open the local paper one evening and see a small headline: Linda Welch Wins Jaycee Essay Event.

My handwritten-in-pencil essay is tucked into a scrapbook she put together. Because she did this, I cannot bear to throw it out. I also cannot bear to read it. I mean, I literally cannot. I start in and just want to gag. The words were well-crafted for an eighth grader, I guess, but the essay contains nothing fresh, original, or anything that even represents my actual thoughts or feelings. Just one cliché after another.

I thought of that essay when NPR started playing President Donald Trump’s condolence speech on the mass shooting in Las Vegas. What a pile of crap! Somebody writes up a bunch of appropriate phrases, loads them on the teleprompter, and then he reads them in that sing-song, bored-with-it-himself voice. Something about we will be united by the power of our love? This coming from a man who clearly has no idea of the concept of love for anyone but himself?

It’s hard to know which is worse, this sort of stuff or all the times when he actually says or tweets what he really feels, giving us a horrifying look into the dark, empty void of his narcissistic soul.

He says the Mayor of San Juan, Yulin Cruz, “showed such poor leadership!”

I just want to gag.

Can’t somebody please find a way to free us from him?  Read More 
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Fire on the Wind

The forests of Oregon are on fire, and we are sitting under a blanket of smothering smoke. My town of Corvallis, situated on the west side of the broad Willamette Valley, had been spared the worst, giving us only the sun as a red disk at rising as a smoke indicator. Then, Sunday, the overcast layer began to thicken, smell like smoke, and become truly oppressive.

It makes me think of the scenes I researched for my historical novel, Fire on the Wind, which details with an accuracy of which I’m proud the course of the huge Tillamook Burn of 1933. All the descriptions of the fire and smoke darkening the skies were taken from eye-witness accounts published in newspapers of the time.

One scene I wrote jumped to mind—that of a young farmwife on the coast, running out to greet the welcome rain pinging on the roof, only to find falling from the sky blackened fir needles.

So, last night, when my daughter—that’s her at fourteen on the cover of my book—texted that ashes were raining down on her Southwest Portland neighborhood, I felt like we were all living this story again. These would be ashes blowing in from the Eagle Creek Fire in the Columbia Gorge, blown east by that same drying wind from the desert that played such a part in the Tillamook Burn. My Mary, the model for Story Faye, the log camp girl in my book, is now thirty-one and pregnant. I want breathing her fresh air!

If you’re stuck inside, waiting for the skies to clear, you might find Fire on the Wind diverting. It’s such a fast read, in fact, that if you download it to your Kindle and start in, you’ll likely be finished long before the smoke over Oregon blows away.

I used this 16th century poem in my book and I thought of it again today:

Oh, Western wind, when wilt though blow
That the small rain down can rain?
Christ, that my love were in my arms
And I in my bed again……

Yes, please let it rain. Read More 
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After the Eclipse

Life moved on quickly after the eclipse last week. People got in their cars and drove back north or south on I-5, south on 97, joining what proved to be the only real traffic jams caused by the celestial event. In the Willamette Valley, we turned our attention to the thick smoke of forest fires blanketing us, and tuned into the reports of devastation out of Texas thanks to Harvey. All the reports of devastation from Houston made the dire warnings of the effects of too many eclipse visitors to Oregon seem almost laughable.

Afterwards, authorities said they’d just picked that number—a million visitors—out of the air, and probably the fact that it wasn’t so bad is due to the fact that not nearly that many showed up. The predictions of traffic gridlock were so scary, we warned our out-of-town guests we wouldn’t blame them if they backed out.

Now we’re so glad they didn’t! Because seeing the eclipse in totality turned out to be amazing for everyone, and none of the bad things predicted came to pass. That afternoon, when it was over, I took my niece Mallory from Vancouver, B.C., downtown, and I had never seen so many people walking our streets. Happy people. The mood was totally celebratory. They came, they saw, they shopped for souvenirs.
A lovely woman from Davis, California, wrote a letter of thanks to our local paper, the Gazette-Times, for the hospitality she found in Corvallis. No, thank YOU, Stephanie. You and everybody else who showed up and played nice. Apparently nobody picked fights or started forest fires (Mother Nature handles that on her own), people didn't overwhelm the hospitals with fried eyeballs, and authorities in Central Oregon were reporting a surprising lack of residual trash.

Whether the viewing party was formally arranged as was ours, or ended up being an impromptu gathering of neighbors, it seems everyone felt blessed to be able to go outside and for a few minutes, share this amazing phenomenon with others.

Our farm is two miles from town, but just like my memory of the eclipse of 19790, at the moment of totality, we could hear the cheering.  Read More 
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