Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Book Report

My first cousin once removed, one of the daughters of the cousin to whom I was closest as we were growing up, is in a Master's of Creative Writing program in Minnesota. We have been in close and continual contact since the day three or four years ago when she emailed me with some writing she had done and asked my opinion on her work and my advice about how to proceed. She started by taking a writing workshop or two and developed the routine of sharing the list of readings and workshop, and now course, requirements with me. Generally I check them out, do much or some of the reading with her, and then we talk about whatever we feel inclined to discuss. Her next course is a workshop with Mary Clearman Blew, of whom I had never heard. So I checked out the books of hers I could find in the library, which happened to be what is probably her best known and most acclaimed "All But the Waltz" and a follow up, the story of her aunt, "Balsamroot." I also found one of the books on her list of readings, Ivan Doig's "Heart Earth." I liked them all, actually hers more than his, but his book is about his mother and was prompted by and structured around letters his mother wrote to his uncle who was serving on a ship during World War II during the last six months of her life. He was only six when she died. In fact, she died on his birthday. He says "Nobody got over her."

Although I was in my forties when my father died and my brothers and sisters were all also adults, I think that is true of us, and my mother and the rest of our extended family. Certainly we have all gone on with, reconstructed, made the most, made the best, of our lives. But I'm pretty certain we will all always feel a big hole where he should be and the shape of our lives would be very different were he here.

The Seamstress

Piecing together
A new life
From the torn fabric
Of the old,

Does Mom realize, I wonder,
She was always the seamstress,
Even when Dad lived?

P. E. Ortman

Monday, May 30, 2005

Dinner Was Great

I had French onion soup, crabcakes, and chocolate souffle. Jim got the asparagus soup, salmon, and profiteroles. We had champagne with our soup; chardonnay with our entrees; and complimentary champagne with cassis with desert. It was a lovely evening. The restaurant had printed up special menus that said "Happy Anniversary, Jim and Pat." The ambience was pleasant; the staff and service warm and friendly. The food was very good, though not quite up to 1789 quality. We ate early enough for the pre-theater special prices, though, so it was very good value for the money. We had 6 o'clock reservations, but after finishing painting the chairs and table - yes, we stayed awake and finished! - we were both hungry so we got there about 5:30. We took our time with dinner, though, and were not hurried by the staff, either, so we didn't finish until well after 7. While we were waiting for our check, another couple got up to leave and the man stopped at our table and asked if he had (over)heard correctly that it was our 22nd anniversary. Jim said yes and the man shook his hand and said, "Congratulations! Ours is in two weeks." The evening weather was still beautiful. So afterwards we sat outside at a table for a few minutes just enjoying the night. Then we walked around the Bethesda neighborhood a little and scoped out the menus on the million and two other restaurants in the area for future reference before we called it a night. Here is the La Miche website: http://www.lamiche.com/

Sunday, May 29, 2005

It's Been a Very Challenging Week-end So Far

Although we are usually up by around 6 or 6:30, yesterday Jim and I slept until almost 8 a.m. Then we read the paper, ate breakfast, talked to my mother and sisters on the phone and took a nap. After lunch and the strain of doing dishes and a load of laundry, dustmopping the bedroom, and a quick trip to the Safeway, we had a huge bowl of popcorn and, while reading, I fell asleep again. Jim stayed awake but fell asleep about 5, so I had to wake him up to take me out to El Tamarindo for dinner. I didn't watch tv and read very long after we got home before I conked out again, although he managed to stay awake to play around on the computer for awhile.

The weather has been beautiful and since I seem to be able to stay awake today, after the paper and an apple pancake and (healthy, low fat) sausage breakfast this morning, I took a walk around the neighborhood and chatted with a couple of neighbors who were outside enjoying the day. When I got back we puttied in the holes on the deck chairs his father made for us but that we need to paint. We have to let it dry before we can sand and then paint, so we plan to do that this afternoon. We'll see if we can stay awake. I'm going to set the alarm for 4:30, so in case we don't, at least we won't miss our anniversary dinner at La Miche.

More Matters of the Heart

I was surprised to see in today's Washington Post Magazine a lengthy and very interesting feature article on the relationship between emotionally distressing events and the physiology of the heart (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/discussion/2005/05/25/DI2005052500849.html). Turns out traumatic events really can damage, if not exactly break, a heart. The good news is that, physically, most hearts seem to recover.

Cross Country

Jim had skied ahead,
Already reached the woods.
I was still, in the clear,
Resting, relishing the moment, the sight,
The sun kissed Pennsylvania mountain
From the trail leading in.
As icy cold crept into fingers and toes,
Sudden warmth,
Like an unexpected hug,
Descended upon, enveloped me,
Settled over
And around
And seeped through every particle
Of me,
Wrapped me in itself,
Peace, contentment
The rest of the day -
Until we reached home,
Until the machine’s urgent messages,
From Wisconsin,
Informed us:
You had died.
Then – you knew this would happen! -
My heart broke, too.

So thank you, Dad,
For saying good bye.
For trying to ease the pain.
You were always good at that.

I bet you were glad to see
(All these years later)
I finally went skiing again.

P.E. Ortman

I painted a portrait of my Dad and Mom. It is at http://members.purespeed.com/~peo/portraits.html

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Matters of the Heart

Tomorrow is our 22nd anniversary. We are going to break with tradition and not go to 1789 for dinner, but try a different restaurant - La Miche, in Bethesda. The occasion of our anniversary reminds me of the poem I wrote on the way home from Thanksgiving with his family at the cabin in Upstate New York in 2002:

Thanksgiving 2002

Coming home
We are content
In comfortable quiet
As the Allman Brothers
(Louisville, May 29, 1996)
"No one to run with anymore."

But our road is straight and clear.
The threat of snow has disappeared.
And when the horizon pinks, nudging
Baby blanket blue from the sky,
Lights blink on
And once again
We are driving through the night.

With you,
As always,
Even the dark
Is soft
And warm.
Not at all scary.

P.E. Ortman

I painted a portrait of Jim and one of our nephews, the son of his youngest brother, from a picture I took at the cabin the summer before. It is called "Storytime." You can see it at


I also painted an abstract "portrait" of our relationship. It is called "Bold, Beautiful, Strong." You can see it at:


Friday, May 27, 2005

Those Kids

Receiving the jury summons reminded me of serving on the grand jury and this poem I wrote then:

those kids

they haunt me, those kids,
the ones whose lives
change in the instant -
a single bad decision,
a drug induced tragedy,
and they're lookin' at life
behind bars,
the metal kind,
not even legal yet
for the other.

they won't let me sleep, those kids,
the ones who have kids
while still kids,
who want their drug-dealing
boyfriends out of jail.
who cares if they killed someone?
they want their baby’s daddy home,
think that would be
a good thing.

they keep me up nights, those kids,
the ones who shoot each other
in the parking lots
over broken windows,
broken hearts,
broken lives,
just a matter of time,
not a question of if.

they break my heart, those kids,
the ones whose lives
are destined to be short stories,
not novels,
writ small,
not large,
a line in the crime section
of the washington post,
a note on the yellow pads
of the members of our
(not very) grand jury.

p.e. ortman

Jury Summons

Two days ago I received a summons to be part of the jury pool for a "special" trial that the court expects to last at least 8 weeks. Having served on a grand jury a couple of years ago and one petit jury, I was intrigued to say the least, but concerned about my ability to last, given my chronic health problems. So I regretfully asked to be excused. We will see what the court thinks. But the incident reminded me of this poem I wrote when I was first diagnosed with fibromyalgia and at the same time started going through menopause and could do little but try to regain some degree of healthy functioning. Although it was difficult, it also struck me as humorous.

These Days

Getting up and getting going
Is an interesting affair.
At this age, much more difficult
Than you might be aware.

First you have to stretch a bit
And gradually “destiffen.”
So, drink your coffee, read the Post
And have yourself a muffin.

Then it’s pills of many kinds,
Sizes, shapes and colors,
And get out for your morning walk
Or risk the evening dolors.

Breakfast, shower, dress again.
Apply the creams and lotions -
For hemorrhoids, psoriasis,
The stress-related potions,

For face, (your skin is drying out,
Result of menopause)
And drops for eyes, cuz they’re dry, too
And sight’s a worthy cause.

Comb your hair, you’re almost there,
And gee, it’s not yet noon!
There’s time to do a thing or two.
The dishes? Perhaps a spoon?

But, oops! It’s time for pills again.
These for ailments chronic.
Arthritis, IB and CFS
Oh, where’s the all purpose tonic???

And now there is an hour or two
You may get something done
Before a nap is necess’ry
To recover from the strain.

Then dinner, which requires thought
Have you had five fruits and veggies?
If not, you better work it in
Or tomorrow you’ll regret it.

And have you had today your water
In quantities sufficient
To ensure that all your systems delicate
Function real efficient?

For it’s bedtime now and pills again
(Those menopausal symptoms)
Estrogen and calcium
Magnesi and some other “ums.”

You never knew your body could
Require so much work
When you were young and stupidly
Assumed it’d always perk

Along like some well-oiled machine
Or energizer bunny.
But now you know, it takes a lot
To keep it going, honey.

So learn your lesson while you’re young.
(Right!) Do not overdo it.
Or you will pay, regret the day
Like me, and live to rue it!

P.E. Ortman

My Friend's Baby

This is day 57 of life for Florin Cecily Buller-Daly, the premature daughter of my friends Stephanie and Chuck. She has come through a lot, which you can read about on her weblog at http://florincecily.blogspot.com/

A host of family, friends, and concerned others have been praying for her from the beginning. I painted her a prayer, which you can see at


Any additional thoughts and prayers from others are gratefully accepted.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Another Day

Last night we gave one of Jim's co-workers a little farewell party. She quit her job at PRB and is headed for Mexico for a few months. We hope she finds what she's looking for. Our little neighbor Charlotte came over for a tapioca pudding cup and to watch Wheel of Fortune with me, which she and I took a little time out to do while Jim and Dara rehashed PRB business and politics. There was much drinking of champagne and eating of strawberry shortcake, but not by Charlotte, who confined her eating to a chicken drumstick, a bite of my tortolini, and the pudding.

Here is another poem I wrote in memory of my Grandmother Nina, this one shortly after she died, after a phone call from Sister Little. This also goes with my painting, "Original Virgin Mother, Earth," which you can see if you click on my painting website and go to the "Icons" page. http://members.purespeed.com/~peo/


The day Earthmother
Welcomed your frail human form
Back into Her bosom
The only blooms
In my Sister’s garden
Were lilies of the valley
And bleeding heart.

P.E. Ortman

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Suddenly and Inexplicably Missing Grandma and Grandpa

I wrote this poem a few years ago, before they died. I painted "Grandma's Pansy" in memory and in honor of Grandma, who loved pansies and was a modest but beautiful flower herself. You can see that painting if you go to http://members.purespeed.com/~peo/ and look on the "Flowers" page.

Gram and Gramp

Are in the nursing home
They share a room, a space, their last.
It’s been a good life overall,
Though it’s had its ups and downs.
Some think them lucky to have this time
If only they could feel it.

But Grandma often wonders
What good is a person, in there?
Who can’t be “useful?”
Can’t even make coffee
For frequent visitors
Like she once did?

And Grandpa gets depressed -
Cries –
Wants to go home
Wants to be anywhere but there.

And it’s hard to know
What to do, what to say.
I love you
I wish I could make it better.

But I don’t know how.


What “use” is anyone anyhow?
Ever? Really?

Though my life would have been diminished
Without the two of you in it

And home –
Seems to me to be
Wherever you are
As long as you are loved
And you are loved

I guess the thing to say is:

Start there, dear people
Start there.

You are loved.

And try to make your lives your own, even there
In that home.
Give life to your lives, if you can
Even there.

P.E. Ortman

It’s a Rough Life

This is what I did on Monday, May 23, 2005. Woke about 6, made coffee, read the paper, checked email, checked on Florin, did some work on the computer (trying to work out when to put what messages and what they should say with local listserv manager on local listserv), ate breakfast, dressed, went to Curves, exercised, came home, ate lunch, worked on computer, tidied house, bathed, dressed, visited local shops about possibly carrying some of my artwork – 3 – good info/feedback – pleasant experience – came home, made popcorn, rested, watched tv, got phone call invitation to tea, accepted, computer (rec’d message from client about recent portrait, proclaimed “wonderful.”), tea with Kathleen, neighbor, came home, peeled potatoes, put veggies on to steam for dinner, called Jim re: eta from work, put pork chops on, read nyt book review, ate dinner, watched news, rec’d package, opened while eating, discovered it was a present from Sister Little, contained tea, teapot/cup, shortbread cookies, deciphered message from Sister Little; watched wheel of fortune while doing dishes, wiped up kitchen floor, wiped down counter fronts, tidied, watched season’s finale of 24 with Jim, during which got phone call from Sister Little about package she had sent. Fell asleep.

Saturday, May 21, 2005


This poem goes with my painting, "Sarah, Baby Sun Goddess, " which you can see if you go to http://members.purespeed.com/~peo/ and look on the "Portraits" page.


A streamside
Summer sun soaked
Stone throne,
Three-year-old toes nestled in, kissed
By warm watery sand, Sarah,
Child of love, lovely child,
The longed for, the long awaited,
The adored,
Drags casual fingers through the wet,
Like a languorous cat,
Lolls and sprawls, almost falls,
Idles away the lazy day.

We call.
“Time to go!”

Tossing back her carefree head,
She shakes those dangling golden curls,
Presents an insouciant face
To receive her due, sun’s final

We sigh.
Oh, my.
What wouldn’t we give…..?

P.E. Ortman

Starting a Blog

Testing to see if this works.