Essays by Karen Anderson

Essay: Big Spruce

Feb 26, 2021

I have a big Norway Spruce in my front yard that’s about twice as tall as the house. From the upstairs bedroom window, I can see its branches and they are always moving.

Essay: Bag of Pretzels

Feb 19, 2021

At the grocery store, I pick up orange juice and cat food and a few other essentials. I’m on my way to the check-out when I see my husband’s favorite pretzels. I know that the bag at home is almost empty and yet I hesitate.

Essay: Aldous Thompson York

Feb 12, 2021

We were seniors in high school with an English teacher named Miss Smith. She didn’t seem to know very much and we were bored, restless, rebellious.

Then, two members of the class approached Miss Smith about giving a special report.

Essay: Mothers-in-Law

Feb 7, 2021


A mother-in-law can be a gift or a burden—or both.  Sometimes these women get a bad rap for being interfering or for setting impossibly high standards.  But I was blessed with two mothers-in-law who never interfered and set wonderfully low standards.


Essay: In Praise of Radiators

Feb 7, 2021

In Praise of Radiators

It’s easy to complain about old houses and I do.  They require endless upkeep—with which we never keep up.  But during the cold weather months, I celebrate one feature of this old house that no home improvement has improved upon:   our ancient, efficient hot water radiators.

Every morning I dial up the temperature and the only sound I hear is a gentle ticking.  No whoosh of dusty air, no clanging along the baseboards.  And when I turn down the heat, my faithful old radiators stay warm for hours.

Essay: Gramma's Sewing Basket

Jan 22, 2021

Every Sunday afternoon, our family visited Grandpa Anderson who lived alone.  The adults would sit and talk while my brother and I looked at books.  On the table next to Grandpa’s chair was a large round wicker basket with a pattern of blue and green beads on the lid.  It was Gramma Anderson’s sewing basket.

Essay: Finding Oak Street

Jan 15, 2021

It was a useless day.  Or, more accurately, it was a day on which I was feeling useless.  Questioning my value, my purpose.   No matter where I turned, nothing turned up.  No redeeming virtues, no significant contributions.  My life seemed like a series of wrong decisions and wasted effort. 

Essay: Calling Nanna

Jan 15, 2021

“Would you call Nanna for me?” my mother asks but it’s not a question. 

“I’ve got homework,” I say.

“It’ll just take a minute,” she says.  Mom is in the kitchen getting dinner ready but that’s not the reason she wants me to call.  She’s already talked to her mother a dozen times today and it’s my turn.

“I don’t know what to say to her.”

“You don’t have to say anything.  Just ask how she is.” 

So I dial Nanna’s number, Glendale 82978, and she picks up on the first ring.  ‘Hi, Nanna.  How are you?”

Essay: Black Squirrel

Jan 2, 2021

After careful scrutiny, the black squirrel figures out how to leap from the spruce tree to our bird feeder.  There, he hangs upside down and empties out the seed at his leisure. 

Meanwhile, the chickadees, finches, and nut hatches watch this invader from nearby  rooftops.  But they make no effort to challenge his authority.

Essay: Angling for the Light

Dec 25, 2020

With all their leaves gone, I can see the bare branches of the oaks and maples in my neighborhood.  Walking these streets daily, I know the trees by heart, how old they are, what colors they turn in the fall.

Now it is winter and I stare into the dark branches which reach upward in a random tangle of twigs.  But I know that it’s not random at all.  Each branch has very deliberately found its way around the others—angling for the light that its leaves need to make food.

Losing Santa

Dec 18, 2020

Losing Santa

I believed in Santa Claus longer than most kids, supported by my older cousin who pretended for my sake while I pretended for hers.  Finally, we confessed to each other and suddenly the magic was gone.  No more reindeer on the roof, no more cookies by the fireplace.

For the next couple of years, Christmas seemed spoiled.  I went through the motions—but now I knew that all the gifts came from my parents and always had. 

Essay: Afraid of Everything

Dec 11, 2020

On a sunny river bank, a deer is sleeping—but when our canoe glides past, she leaps up and bounds into the woods.  We pose no threat to the deer, but she doesn’t know that.  So, she has to be afraid of everything in order to be afraid of the right things.

As I pick up my paddle, I think of how much of my own life I’ve been afraid—mostly of the wrong things.  Afraid of things that never happened or weren’t as bad as I feared.  Or afraid of things that turned out to be wonderful.

Essay: Waiting for my Life

Dec 4, 2020

Waiting for My Life

Years ago I found a book of poems by Linda Pastan with the title, “Waiting for My Life.”  How did she know?  I’d been waiting for my life forever.  Waiting for an answer, for an affirmation.

If only I could find the right book or have the right conversation.  Meanwhile, I kept busy with daily activities, convinced that my real life, the one with significance and purpose, would eventually arrive.  Pastan’s poem described it this way:

Essay: The Human Voice

Nov 27, 2020

I used to keep a daily journal and recently reread a few of them.  In addition to my own voice, I was grateful to hear other people talking—not my version of what they said but in their own words.

There was my dad, saying, “Try and get along.”  What he wanted was for my brother and me to stop fighting.  Other versions were:  “Don’t rock the boat” and “Let sleeping dogs lie.”  Conflict made Dad uncomfortable, so he’d do anything to avoid it. 

Essay: Small Projects

Nov 13, 2020

In a neglected corner of my back yard, there’s a patch of weeds and baby maples.  I ought to dig it up and plant perennials there, I think.  It’s small project; I could do it in a weekend—but I don’t.  Two of my neighbors have gorgeous perennials and I enjoy theirs.  I also enjoy the weeds in other people’s yards.


Essay: Returning the Cart

Nov 6, 2020

It’s a cold, dark night and I’m sitting in my car in a grocery store parking lot, checking my phone.  No answers to my emails, no confirming texts.  I’m feeling discouraged and frustrated.  Why can’t people be prompt?  Be courteous?


I look up and notice an old man coming out of the store.  He has a limp and is wearing shorts despite the chilly temperatures.  Suddenly he speeds up and I see that he’s going after a runaway cart.  It’s not even his cart, but he takes chase—zig-zagging down the pavement—until he grabs it and returns it to a nearby corral.

Essay: Making Room

Oct 30, 2020

When I was twenty-five, I was single and living in Chicago with a good friend.  I had a job I loved and a boyfriend who loved me. 

Then, in the space of a few weeks, my roommate, my boss, and my boyfriend all moved on, so I called my parents.  “Can I come and stay with you?” I asked, “until I figure out what to do next?”   Of course they’d be glad to have me. 

Essay: Losing My Grandfather

Oct 23, 2020

When I was about fourteen, my grandfather started acting oddly.  He would call my mother to report a strange woman in the house, wondering where his wife had gone.  She wasn’t gone, of course; he just didn’t recognize her.

So my mother would invite her father to our house, then tell him that the strange woman had left and his wife was waiting for him.  I remember watching my grandfather climbing the porch steps to embrace Belle, weeping for joy at her return.  But a few days later, it would start all over again.

Essay: Gift of Stories

Oct 16, 2020

When I was a girl, I loved horses—riding them, reading about them, collecting figurines and pictures.  Some of those horse treasures followed me into adulthood and I recently found a young niece who will enjoy them.  When I met with Alyson to hand over my collection, we sat on the back porch while she told me about her horseback riding adventures.


Essay: Dog Hair Giveaway

Oct 9, 2020

Dog Hair Giveaway

I’m standing in line at the bank and notice the woman in front of me.  She’s looks very professional with a sleek haircut and expensive shoes.  An executive, I think, who is conducting important business.

Then I notice that the back of her trench coat—her elegant, black trench coat—is covered with golden dog hair.  I have to smile, imagining her retriever sitting in the driver’s seat of her car, perhaps even now.

Essay: Disapproving of Ruth

Oct 2, 2020

Disapproving of Ruth

“Have you heard what Ruth is up to now?” my mother said.

“Craziest thing I’ve ever heard of,” my father said.

My grandmother just shook her head.  Ruth was her sister and she’d been doing crazy things forever.  Why, she didn’t get married until she was past thirty and then she married a much older man.  He was wealthy but still—he was 46!

And they went all the way to Alaska on their honeymoon—in 1919, for heaven’s sake!

Essay: Condensing

Sep 25, 2020

In 2003, I was writing a weekly column for the Traverse City Record-Eagle when I received a call from Peter Payette, the news director for Interlochen Public Radio.  He complimented my work and said, “I think your columns could be adapted for radio.”  Was I interested?

  I was very interested.  I knew a lot about newspapers but almost nothing about radio.  The invitation to share my ideas in my own voice was appealing—and also daunting.  What Peter didn’t tell me was that my 700-word columns would need to be shortened to 200 words in order to fit between the NPR news stories.

Essay: Add Sugar

Sep 18, 2020

When my mother cooked sweet potatoes, she put them in a casserole dish with miniature marshmallows on top.  When she baked acorn squash, she scraped out the seeds and put in butter and brown sugar.  She added white sugar to fresh strawberries and fresh peaches and lots of other fresh fruit. 

And because I was a kid, I thought this was the way to eat.  It wasn’t until I was an adult that I ate fruits and vegetables by themselves—and of course, I discovered that they taste pretty great without any additional anything. 

Essay: Acting the Elder

Sep 11, 2020

A group of young people is gathered in my back yard for a potluck supper.  One by one and two by two, I talk with the guests. 

One couple tells me about their honeymoon, a backpacking trip to Europe.  “Madrid was the best,” the husband says.  “We saw an exhibit of Picasso and it was awesome.”

I ask about career plans and his wife says she is undecided.  “I’m studying economics and sports medicine,” she says. 

Essay: A Lot of Fire

Sep 4, 2020

I’m standing at the jewelry counter waiting to purchase a battery for my watch.  At the other end of the counter is an old woman talking to the salesman about her wedding ring.

“I want to wear it,” she says, “but it doesn’t fit right.”

She lays her left hand on the counter, a lovely hand with long fingers which are twisted with arthritis.  The salesman gently helps her slide the various sizing rings over her knuckle.  Beside the old woman is a middle-aged woman whose features identify her as a daughter.  She catches my glance and we share a smile.