Karen Anderson

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: 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: 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: 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: 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: Spiders on the Ceiling

Aug 28, 2020

Spiders on the Ceiling 

Sometimes our family rented a cottage for a couple weeks in the summer and nearby was a soda shop with a wide front porch.  My girlfriends and I liked to hang out on this porch where we could watch the world go by and eat our chocolate sodas.

We spent hours sitting at little round tables in wrought-iron chairs, leaning in to gossip and leaning back to laugh.  It was our favorite place to be—and we were there almost every night, feeling comfortable and safe.

Essay: Leaky Faucet

Aug 22, 2020

When I walk into the bathroom at Brimley State Park, I hear water running in the shower.  I assume someone is getting clean, but after I’ve washed my face and brushed my teeth, the water is still running and no one has emerged.  



Peering around the corner, I discover that the shower head is dripping steadily and I try to twist the knob tighter.  No luck.  Not my problem, I think, but maybe I’ll mention it to someone.

Essay: Wisdom by Heart

Aug 14, 2020

Since college, I’ve been collecting quotes from various sources—novels, newspapers, friends, strangers—looking for wisdom, insights, affirmations. 



In the early years, the quotes were mostly about romantic love—which often ends badly, which is what makes it romantic.  Lines of poetry helped me survive the heartbreak, such as these from Edna St. Vincent Millay: “I know I am but summer to your heart/And not the full four seasons of the year.”



Essay: Staying Safe

Aug 7, 2020

Many years ago I traveled to Nepal with seven women to trek in the Himalayas.  One member of the group—I’ll call her Janet—had researched everything and liked to share her what she’d learned.  Such as Nepal being the second poorest country in the world, such as the dangers of being robbed or contracting food poisoning.


Essay: My Dad Knew

Jul 31, 2020

When I was growing up, summer vacations were often two-week road trips to scenic destinations.  Our family of four would stay together in motels and eat in restaurants—which seemed exciting at first.  After a few days, however, I wasn’t feeling well—with a stomach ache and no appetite.


Essay: Lost Causes

Jul 24, 2020

My first husband called himself a “box salesman” and started his own company, selling corrugated packaging.  Some of my savings helped launch this enterprise and I very much wanted it to do well.  Thus, as a supportive partner, I learned to call the product “corrugated,” not “cardboard.”


Essay: A Ride Home

Jul 10, 2020

When I was a little kid, I spent Saturday afternoons at the movies with my friends.  Somebody’s parents would drop us off at the theater and we would sit through two Westerns and a dozen cartoons, passing boxes of jujubes and milk duds up and down the row.

Essay: Fences and Neighbors

Jul 3, 2020


Our neighbors have put a fence around their yard. They have a good reason, wanting to protect their toddler from wandering into the street.


Jun 26, 2020

When my daughter was a baby, everyone remarked that she looked just like her father—which  annoyed me even if it was true.  Then, as Sara got older, people observed that she looked just like me.  I was delighted but Sara was not. “I don’t want to look like you,” she said.  “I want to look like me.”

Essay: Change of Perspective

Jun 19, 2020

When I was young, my parents showed me photos of themselves when they were young and I would laugh and shake my head.  How old-fashioned they looked!  My mother’s hair with its elaborate artificial waves, her hats and gloves and fancy dresses.  My father’s three-piece suits with striped ties and the classic fedora that he wore everywhere—except indoors.