Radio Diaries

Karen Anderson essay: Rain or Shine

Aug 17, 2018
Windborne Studios

As my husband and I set off for a hike along Lake Michigan, the sky is cloudy and the forecast unfavorable—but we are wearing rain jackets and sturdy boots.  So, when the showers begin we shrug and exchange a smile.

We enjoy being outdoors, rain or shine.  Today, we are remembering another downpour on this same beach when we took cover under some cottager’s deck.  Laughing and dripping, we waited out the worst of it and continued our walk.

Karen Anderson essay: Humility

Aug 10, 2018
Windborne Studios

Every morning I collect the newspaper from the front porch, feed the cat, and plug in a pot of coffee.  Then I go down in the basement to clean out my cat’s litter box.


Essay: Falling Out of Love

Aug 3, 2018

It was a bad time to fall out of love. For one thing, my husband and I were on vacation. For another, we were trapped in one small room of a bed and breakfast in Mallaig, Scotland, a room already crowded with furniture and figurines.

Mallaig was a fishing village across from the Isle of Skye, where we were headed the following day. “Isle of Skye” had sounded like a romantic destination until I found out that “skye” didn’t mean a vast expanse of blue overhead but was a Gaelic word for “mist.”

Essay: Espresso

Jul 27, 2018

Before our yoga class begins, another student comes up to me and whispers, “I just had a cup of hot chocolate with a shot of espresso!”  I don’t know Marcia well, but I give her a hug and we both giggle like school girls, unrolling our mats with a flourish of defiance.

Our yoga teacher routinely warns against stimulants like coffee and chocolate—which are bad for our bodies and especially bad for balancing poses.

Essay: Elm

Jul 23, 2018

Every time I travel a certain highway south of Traverse City, I look for a single elm tree on the north side of the road. A glorious, healthy elm that stands out against the oaks and maples because of its graceful vase-like form and immense height.

Somehow, it survived the blight of Dutch elm disease that wiped its cousins off the map over fifty years ago in Michigan. Driving by that rare tree, I am filled with gratitude and respect.

Essay: Eating an Orange

Jul 13, 2018

I’m scraping the inside of an orange, not because there’s much pulp left but because my grandfather used to scrape his orange clean—each half like a little bowl with a white interior.  Suddenly he’s here with me at the table, sitting back in his chair to drink down the rest of his coffee, nodding at my glass of milk.

Essay: Dear Anyone

Jul 6, 2018

A recent widow is sorting through her late husband’s things and giving some away.  A book of poems comes to me called, appropriately enough, “Dear Anyone.”  It was written by William Keens, a poet I’ve never heard of.

The timing is good, however, because I feel kind of lost today and poetry is often a nourishing companion at such times.  So, I page through William Keens’ book—which is beautifully printed on handmade paper—and pick out this poem:

Essay: Comb-Over

Jun 29, 2018

In a doctor’s waiting room the other day, I watched a tall man walk in, a good-looking man with gray hair and a carefully-tended comb-over. My first thought was to feel sorry for him, not that he was bald, but that he needed to hide his baldness.

But my next thought was that we all have comb-overs, every single one of us. We are all hiding some kind of defect—visible or invisible, real or imagined—that we work very hard every day to disguise.

Essay: Carrots

Jun 25, 2018

I am late getting home from class and my husband has already started supper. As we drink a beer at the kitchen table, I hear a lid rattling on the stove. “Should you turn the carrots down?” I ask, and Dick runs to turn off the burner.

Carrots are stuck to the bottom of the pan and I am reminded of another cooking experience. “When my mother started working full-time, she would ask me to get dinner ready,” I tell Dick. “Once, I was cooking green beans and burned them black.”

“What did she say?” he asks.

Essay: Bonnie's Cottage

Jun 21, 2018

Finally, Bonnie invites me to spend a week at her family cottage, the cottage she’s been telling me about all during eighth grade. Every day we will go swimming, she says, and sit on the dock and wait for boys to pick us up in their speedboats.

Now we’re here and Bonnie says the lake is too cold for swimming. And although we sit on the dock every day, no boys come by. As it turns out, the only invitation to ride in a speedboat comes from Bonnie’s dad on the last night of my visit.

Essay : Aprons

Jun 8, 2018

My mother and her mother spent much of their lives in the kitchen—where they prepared food, served meals, and washed dishes.  And always, always, they were wearing aprons:  bright calico aprons with rick-rack trim that my grandmother made.

She used a simple pattern with two side pockets and long ties that met in a bow in the back.  I can still hear her old treadle sewing machine humming in the basement as she sewed aprons—hundreds of them for the church bazaar.

Essay: Ungodly Hour

Jun 1, 2018

“I have to get up at some ungodly hour,” I say, describing a flight I need to catch.

It’s only later that I wonder about that phrase. What could an “ungodly hour” be, after all? Who would believe in a God that kept hours, that wasn’t available 24/7? I especially want God to be available when I’m flying. Because even though planes launch me into God-territory, I don’t feel one bit more secure.

Essay: Merganser Math

May 25, 2018

On a morning in late spring, my husband and I canoe a section of the Manistee River. Close to shore a merganser duck is swimming with ten ducklings in a row behind her. Ten.

So I start to wonder, “Can mergansers count?” How would she know if one of her babies was missing if she can’t count? Yet, as we glide past her, Mother Merganser doesn’t even turn her handsome brown head to check on her brood. She trusts that they are right there—all ten of them. And they are, in one long undulating line.

Essay: Loving Your Life

May 18, 2018

Most obituaries are rather similar—idealized portraits full of memories and tributes and good deeds.  But occasionally I read something original and striking that makes me think—not only about the person who died but about myself.

This happened recently when I read the sentence:  “He loved his life.”  He loved his life!  I wondered if I could say the same?  It haunted me, that phrase, and I began to talk with friends about it, asking what they thought it meant, to love your life.

Essay: Blame Me

May 11, 2018

“Maybe I wasn’t the greatest mom,” I say, “but I must have done a few things right.”

“None,” my daughter says, grinning. We are sitting at the kitchen table, drinking coffee and catching up. Sara is married now and working two jobs, so we grab whatever time we can to be together.

“Maybe there was one thing,” she says, and I wonder what it could be. Hoping she might say how much she appreciates the way I read her books or helped with homework.

“You said I could blame you,” she says. “Remember?”

“Remind me.’

Essay: Generosity

May 4, 2018

I grew up with a very frugal father.  Having lived through the Great Depression, he had a “cash and carry” philosophy.  This meant you paid cash for purchases and didn’t purchase unless you had cash.

My mother was the opposite of frugal which was a source of problems in the marriage—problems my father often brought to me.  “She spends so much,” he complained but I couldn’t stop her.  What I could do was be careful with money and I still am.

Essay: Creating Chaos

Apr 27, 2018

Years ago I worked with a woman I’ll call Janet.  She often arrived late, full of apologies and excuses.  Her car wouldn’t start, the dog got away, her kids missed the bus.

We all sympathized at first, but when the behavior persisted and the excuses came round again, we just looked away.

Still, I enjoyed Janet’s company and occasionally we got together outside of work—where it was the same story.  I’d be waiting at the restaurant for a half hour before she rushed in, breathless and explaining.  She ran into a friend, she had to answer a call.

Essay: Black Coffee

Apr 20, 2018

In my family, dinner ended with the children being excused to go play while the parents and grandparents stayed at the table to drink coffee and talk. At first, I was eager to leave but as I got older, I yearned to stay and listen.

When I was finally invited to join the adults (somewhere in adolescence) I discovered the price of admission. If I drank half my milk, I could fill the glass with coffee. What a privilege! And what an awful taste!

Essay: Being Safe

Apr 13, 2018

In my mid-twenties, I moved to Chicago to live with some college friends.  Our apartment was on Dearborn Street, an interesting old neighborhood a few blocks north of the Rush Street jazz clubs.

I had never lived in a big city before and although it seemed full of glamor and possibility, it also seemed full of danger.  I was on constant high-alert, imagining a mugger down every alley.

Essay: Asymmetry

Apr 9, 2018

A big silver maple lives a couple blocks from me, taller than any house on the street. Staring up, I notice how crooked the tree is, how unbalanced where its branches have been chopped off. Year after year, the city crews have trimmed it to make room for power lines.

Essay: Lenten Breakfast

Mar 30, 2018

I get up earlier than usual on a school morning and my father is already shaving in the bathroom.  “Well, well,” he says, “Looks like my date is ready.”

“Aw, Dad, I’m still in my pajamas!”  But my outfit is laid out on the bed—my red plaid dress and patent leather shoes.  Today is the Father-Daughter Lenten Breakfast at our church.

Essay: Anticipation

Mar 23, 2018

I grew up with a father who had some kind of proverb or platitude for every occasion.  One of his favorites was, “Anticipation is always greater than realization.”  Since I was just a kid, I assumed he was right.

He was warning me to not get my hopes up, to be prepared for disappointment.  Maybe he thought this would protect me from getting hurt.  But it’s a rather bleak invitation to the future.

Isn’t being young all about dreaming big and aiming high?  When I told a friend about my father’s advice, she said, ‘You might as well kill yourself.”

Essay: Solutions

Mar 16, 2018

I stood in the doorway of Art’s office, asking for help.  Art Maha was my boss—a corporate sales star who’d been promoted to advertising manager for the whole company.  It was a big manufacturing company—and he wanted to make us look as good as we were.          

I was in my mid-twenties with a master’s degree in English and no advertising experience.  But Art had hired me as a writer—to help his engineers describe our products in ordinary language.  Which meant I had to learn about those products—high-precision components of materials handling equipment.

Essay: Spider Rescue

Mar 12, 2018

It’s early winter and spiders are making nests in the corners of my ceilings.  They hide themselves so well, they’re hard to spot—but when I do, I’m not happy.

Now I know that all life is sacred, including spider life.  And while I respect their right to be, I prefer them to be outdoors.  So I fetch the step-stool and reach up to capture them in a kleenex,  and gently release them onto the back porch.  My husband scoffs at this ritual.

“They’ll die anyway,” he says.

“But I’m giving them a chance,” I say.

Essay: Recipes

Mar 2, 2018

I pull out a file folder called “Recipes” and paw through the wrinkled, stained papers to find Sharon’s “White Bean & Barley Soup.”  She has translated the quantities for a crock pot and I follow her pencil marks sideways up the page.

Later, when the soup is bubbling in the pot, I reflect that it is seasoned not only with oregano and thyme but our long friendship.  Sharon and I have been trading recipes since our daughters were toddlers, crawling around at our feet.  Today we are both grandmothers, still sharing menus and cups of tea.

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