Using My Highly-Honed Detective Skills

There are all these TV shows where there are detectives and body guards and lawyers who are constantly on the alert for suspicious activity – I enjoy these shows. Sometimes I try to imagine myself as an observant detective, myself. So, at the supermarket this morning, I decided to observe – only I decided to look for evidence of good things.

As I stood at the end of a long line at the cash register I had a lot of time to observe. I saw cashiers who were friendly and efficient. I saw people smiling at each other, and making room for other customers to go around them. And in front of me in line I saw a little boy sitting in the shopping cart, reaching up to hug his mom. Oh, it was so sweet and beautiful – that little hug. I felt my heart melting at the sweetness of it. I leaned in and told the young mother that I was a mother of sons, too, and that I remember those precious moments when my sons were little.

Then the little boy got out of the cart and turned to me. He had important things to say to me. He pointed to the Oreo cookies in the shopping cart and told me these were his favorite type of cookies. I told him they were mine, too! So we talked for a bit about the wonder of Oreo cookies and the proper way to eat them. Then the little boy pointed to the primroses in my cart and told me that they were pretty. I asked him which one of the primroses was his favorite, and he said he liked the pink one best. He told me his name was “Benjamin” and said something I didn’t quite catch about “Georgia.”

By this time, his mom’s groceries were all packed up and they were ready to go. I thanked Benjamin for chatting with me, and he said, “Good bye!” and waved at me.

I was so tickled by this happy exchange with young Benjamin.

My highly-honed detective skills helped me find just what I needed this morning.

-Karen Molenaar Terrell

Having Fun with People

I love encountering people I can have fun with.

Today on my walk in Bellingham I crossed the road at the same time a young man with his hair in a bun and a Hollywood smile was crossing the road from the other direction. When we were a few yards away from each other, in an attempt to get around each other, we both shifted – but we shifted in the same direction, and then shifted together in the other direction. For a moment we went back-and-forth like this, and then he started grinning at the same time I did. Then he crouched over a little and put his arms out – in the position a football player might take if he was trying to keep the running back from making a touchdown. We both started cracking up, and I said, “I’ll just go this direction,” and, laughing together, we finally managed to get around each other.

What a great way to start the day!

On the airplane to Pennsylvania:

With some trepidation, I go back to the restroom on the plane. Plane toilets always scare me a little. I peak around the partition to the flight attendants sitting at their station and say, “Airplane bathrooms freak me out. I’m always afraid I’m going to get sucked out of the plane.”

The attendants start laughing and wish me luck.

When I emerge from the biffy, I tell them, “I survived!”

“Oh my God, I’m so glad to see you!” the one closest to me exclaims, his eyes laughing behind his glasses.

Later the same attendant comes to serve beverages and I ask him for a ginger ale. “Are you sure you want to drink that?” he says, grinning, and pointing to the biffy at the back of the plane. I start cracking up. This man could be a stand-up comic.

I’m at the Beans on Broad Coffee Shop in Grove City, Pennsylvania. I’ve just ordered a 12 oz mocha. I watch as the barista makes my drink for me. He adds whipped cream and then starts squirting a back-and-forth line of chocolate on top of the cream. “Oh,” I sigh happily, “you’re adding more chocolate.”

He looks at me and raises an eyebrow and I know he’s about to have fun with me. “Too much?” he asks. “You want me to take it off?”

“Yeah, let’s scrape that right off,” I say, laughing, and taking it from him before he can actually remove the topping.

We’re in the Philadelphia airport, waiting for our flight. Scott and I have found a quiet place to sit at the end of the concourse. There’s no one else down there except airport employees. I leave my backpack with Scott, and go in search of a bathroom. I pass a young Black cleaning woman pulling a cart of cleaning supplies. I want to smile at her, and greet her – but her head is down and I doubt she’ll look up. Then – magic! – she lifts her head and smiles at me before I can smile at her – and her smile is a beautiful full-faced friendly smile – and before I can greet her, she says, “Hi! How are you?” And that simple natural greeting brings me such joy that I want to skip. I return her greeting – tell her I’m fine and ask her how she is. And she smiles that beautiful smile again and says, “I’m good. Thank you!”

I’m sitting on the plane as my fellow passengers board. A young woman with a blond pony tail walks by with two toddlers in tow. “Keep going,” she’s telling the toddler in the front, patiently waiting for him to take another step. I remember what traveling with small children is like – but she seems to have everything under control. I say to her, “You’re doing great!” She laughs and thanks me. Later, as the plane begins to land, I hear her reading a book to her children in a perfect audiobook voice – using one voice for one character, and another voice for another character – and I think how blessed her children are to have her for their mum.

I’m sitting between Scott – who’s on the aisle – and a young man – who’s sitting next to the window. As the plane begins to take off, I tell the young man that this is my favorite part of the flight – when the wheels leave the earth – and he agrees. We stare out the window together and turn and smile at each other when the plane pulls away from the ground. “Thank you for sharing that with me!” I say, and he thanks me in turn.

I learn that my new friend didn’t get much sleep the night before. He asks if I’d like the window open or closed and I tell him to go ahead and close it and try to get some sleep. He thanks me.

The landing is uneventful and as we’re waiting to disembark, the young man and I chat some more. I learn he was born in Korea – English isn’t his first language, but I never would have guessed that by listening to him. He’s a mechanical engineer and he has a job listening to the accoustics of dolphins – which seems like a very cool job to me – and he agrees. As we get off the plane and start up the ramp, Scotty is way ahead of me, being following by another woman – and I start laughing and tell my new friend that I think my husband thinks that woman behind him is me. I tell him Scott’s going to be surprised when he gets to the concourse and turns around to talk to me. My new friend starts laughing, and says his girlfriend does this to him, too – she lets him think he’s being followed by her, and then has fun watching his reaction when he realizes he isn’t. When we reach the concourse we wish each other a good day and part on our separate journeys.

I order my mocha at the coffee shop and the barista asks for my name. “Karen,” I tell her.

“Kari?” she asks.

“Yeah… yeah… that’ll work,” I say, kind of liking the sound of “Kari.” When I was in college I sometimes signed letters to my mom with “Kari” and she started sometimes calling me that. I get a flash of Mom’s face as she calls me “Kari.”

“I’m sorry – did I get that wrong?” the barista asked.

“Well. I’m Karen. But ‘Kari’ sounds good. Could I pass for a ‘Kari’?” I ask her, laughing. And she says I COULD pass for a ‘Kari,’ but ‘Karen’ is good, too.

The barista has passed my “Karen” test with honors.

The Beauty of Humanity Is Everywhere

I’m in the checkout line at the supermarket. In front of me is one of those shopping carts that looks like a little car and there’s a youngster – maybe a year old – sitting in the back of it. While his older siblings help his mom load things onto the conveyor belt, I play peek-a-book with the toddler. He’s smiling at me – he gets that I’m having fun with him. And is there anything better than getting a smile from a child as you play peek-a-boo?

Now it’s my turn to unload my things onto the belt. I glance to the man behind me as I reach for a People magazine and say, embarrassed, “Pretend you don’t see me reaching for a gossip magazine.”

He laughs and says, “I’m not going to judge. You get whatever you need to get.”

I point to the cover. “It’s Helen Mirren. I love Helen Mirren.”

“Oh,” he says, “me, too!” He adds, “You know who I really miss is Betty White!”

We talk for a bit about what a wonderful character Betty White was – and share some of our favorite Betty White scenes with each other. Then we talk for a bit about our parents – I mention to him that my dad lived to be 101. I tell him that when my mom died at 89, Dad said, “I always knew she’d die young!” And he laughs with me about that. “Old” and “young” are relative terms.

Before I leave, I run into the family with the car-cart again. The little boy is still sitting in the back of it and his siblings are playing with him. I tell his mom that I’d played peek-a-book with him earlier while they’d been at the checkout counter, and I’d gotten a smile from him. She laughs and looks over at her son, and agrees that he’s a lot of fun.

I love people – old, young, on the cover of a magazine, or sitting in the back of a car-cart – the beauty of humanity is everywhere.

Treasure Hunting in Lincoln City

My husband and I first came to Lincoln City, Oregon, 38 years ago on our honeymoon. With just a few exceptions, we’ve managed to make it back every year since then. There are constants here, and there are also changes. We still look for agates. I still take my traditional run on the beach (although I’m slower and don’t go near as far as I did 38 years ago). The ocean still reaches out to play with me and offer me her gifts. She still helps me put all my human distresses in perspective. I guess the ocean hasn’t changed so much – the changes have been mostly in the humans who visit her.

As I do every time I come here, I searched for treasure – agates, and new friends, and renewal. I ran into other treasure-hunters, too: There was Doug with his metal detector, scouring the sand for traces of gold and silver (he said he’d found three rings in the last week!); there was the lady from Salem, Oregon, looking for sea glass; there was the couple from Mount Vernon, Washington (15 minutes from where we live!), looking for rocks of different colors to make a map of the United States; there was the local woman who was looking for rocks of different patterns to use in her smudging ceremonies; there was Allen looking for the treasure of a good wind to sail his kite; there was Blanca looking for rocks with red in them; and there were the pups, Ryley and Reggie, looking for sticks and friendly people and things with interesting smells.

The agates glowed up at me from their pebbly beds – it’s always such a joy to find them – these gifts from the ocean. One big blue agate literally leaped out of a wave and landed at my feet. It was like he was saying, “Here I am! Here I am!” That was pretty fun.

“To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower 
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand 
And Eternity in an hour…”
-William Blake

The Madcap Christian Scientist’s Excellent Adventure

sailboarder on Lake Michigan - photo by Karen Molenaar Terrell

sailboarder on Lake Michigan – photo by Karen Molenaar Terrell

I was scared to go, but I was even more scared to stay. Yeah – I’m happy to report that I realized the idea of being stuck in a rut was even scarier to me than the idea of putting myself into what is, essentially, a can with wings and crossing 2,000 miles across the continent.

In the years before I was married I’d done a lot of solo traveling – long drives and flights to new adventures and friends.  But after I married, I gradually started traveling less and less by myself – a change so gradual, in fact, that  I hadn’t realized until recently that it had been, like, eight years since I’d taken a flight by myself.  I’d grown used to traveling with a partner. The idea of launching myself on a flight to Chicago without someone else there to help me retrieve the electronic ticket, remember my passport and boarding pass, find the shuttle bus to the hotel at the end of the flight, and remember to gather up all my luggage at every stop – this was all pretty daunting to me.

But if I didn’t make an effort to have this solo adventure I would be admitting that I’d somehow, sometime, crossed over an invisible line that separated the fearless travelers from the scaredy-pants rut-clingers – and the idea of THAT terrified me.

And so I went.

I left work early on Friday and began my epic odyssey by traveling the 80 miles from my job to Sea-Tac Airport in Seattle.  This part of my adventure actually ended up being the most challenging part of the whole enterprise. Everything was good until I reached north Seattle where I found myself trapped on I-5, dragging along in stop-and-go traffic.  I thought I’d left work with plenty of time to make it to the airport, but as I eked along I began to worry that I wouldn’t get there before my flight took off.

And then I consciously let go of the worry – whatever happened, I told myself, I’d be alright. If I missed the plane, I missed the plane – and I’d just catch another one. Nothing is outside the control of Love, and everything is moving in harmony with Love, I reminded myself.  I mentally became still, listened to my Allison Krauss CD, and let myself be guided through the traffic by Love’s direction.

I was stuck in that 10 mile traffic jam for an hour. The joy and gratitude I felt when I finally broke through to the other side of the clog and was able to take my foot off the brake is indescribable.

I had decided to park right in the airport’s parking lot, and on the fifth floor found an open space marked C-17.  Remembering one’s parking space number is kind of a big deal in the Sea-Tac garage (I just googled and found that there are more than 9,000 parking spaces there), so as I unloaded my backpack and headed for the elevators I kept repeating under my breath “C-17, C-17, C-17…”

Retrieving the electronic ticket for my Alaska Airlines flight to Chicago was quick and easy; my ticket was marked “Pre” – which meant I’d already somehow been pre-checked – and I was ushered into quicker lines through security – didn’t have to take off my shoes or take anything out of my bags – the whole process from getting into the end of the line through the checkpoint probably took five minutes – and then I was told to go to gate C-17 to catch my flight. So now I was saying “C-17, C-17, C-17” for my flight’s gate number and at some point that merged with my garage parking space in my mind. (This would come back to bite me in a couple days.)

I’d been assigned a window seat, and as the plane took off and headed east, captured some pictures of Mount Rainier sticking up above the clouds – all majestic and beautiful.  Every time I look at that mountain it brings back happy memories of climbing it – it is a symbol of “home” to me – so being able to see it, up-close like that, was very cool. The flight was uneventful, the pilot friendly and honest  -“We’re going to be experiencing some bumps up ahead, so please keep your seatbelts buckled – we should be through it in ten minutes…” – and my fellow passengers  pleasant companions in the winged can.

We arrived in Chicago near midnight. I’d read that at midnight the half-hourly shuttle service to my hotel ended, and I’d have to call the hotel to get the shuttle out to pick me up. I was worried about this part – how did that work, exactly? Would I end up walking to my hotel? And would that be, like, safe?  But when I got to the door where my hotel’s shuttle bus picks up passengers, the shuttle was sitting there waiting for customers, and the driver gave me a cheery welcome to Chicago and motioned me on board.  After a quick ride to the hotel with some young chiropractors in need of french fries and cocktails, and headed to some chiropractoring workshop at the hotel, I finally laid me down to sleep at one in the morning.

I didn’t set my alarm – I decided I would just sleep until I was done sleeping – and if I was late to my meeting, so be it. But I woke up at 7:30, got dressed, packed up my backpack, and went downstairs in search of vittles.

I have not yet explained why I was making this epic journey to Chicago, have I?  Years ago – back in 1981 – I took Christian Science class instruction in Chicago. Class instruction is where a Christian Scientist is taught how to be a Christian Science practitioner – it signifies a commitment to the healing practice of Christian Science.  Every year those who have passed through class instruction meet together once again with their teacher and classmates to review and renew their understanding of the practice of Christian Science.  I had made dear friends during class instruction – the year I went through class almost all of us were involved in the arts somehow – there were artists, musicians, writers, photographers – really gifted people amongst my classmates – and pretty much everyone who’d had class with my teacher had a well-developed sense of humor, too (my teacher had been a real character, with a love for laughter and fun). I was looking forward to seeing my classmates again, and I was also very much looking forward to meeting for the first time another Christian Scientist who lived in Chicago and whom I’d met on Facebook – she was going to join me for lunch at noon.

So as I went downstairs for breakfast I began scanning faces to see if I could see anyone I knew – and almost immediately I saw my friend, Mary – I would be spending that night with Mary and her husband, Kevin, who had been a classmate of mine.  Mary told me where the meeting was going to take place that day, and showed me how the buffet worked, and I was good to go.

Our teacher passed away some time ago, but the speaker at this year’s Association meeting had been one of his students – though in a different class than mine. Todd did a wonderful job – he shared stories of our teacher that had us chuckling in fond remembrance – and addressed concerns that many of us share about the world and our place in it.

At lunch I went out to the lobby – all excited to meet my new friend, Patricia, for the first time in the person.  Soon she came breezing through the door – beautiful and smiling – we gave each other a big hug and then sat down to enjoy a lunch together. Our waiter was a man named Hagi – and Hagi was wonderful – he brought us each free cups of tomato soup before serving us our respective meals, chatted with us about different restaurants and the best prepared beets he’s ever had, and his experience working on a cruise ship. And Patricia was… she was just this amazing reflection of energy and life and joy.  She shared her story – the time in her life when she was in transition between the old and the new – and how she came to find Christian Science.  The hour I spent with her was perfect in every single way.

After the afternoon meeting I went home with Kevin and Mary, and met their daughter, Alyssa, who’d just recently returned from Japan where she’d had a stint as a teacher. We went out to a Mexican restaurant where a lady made us fresh guacamole as we watched and put the exact ingredients we wanted in there – that was very cool. And after dinner, we drove down to the beach of Lake Michigan and hung around there for awhile, and then came back to Kevin and Mary’s home, where Alyssa shared photos of her travels – really great pictures of life in Japan.

I woke up early the next morning and read for a little while. Then I got dressed and walked the mile or so from Kevin and Mary’s home to Lake Michigan. I love the gracious old homes in Evanston – domes and turrets and curved doorways and windows and paned glass.  I enjoyed, too, the squirrels bouncing off every branch and scrambling up every trunk – their cheeks full of nuts and seeds.  Lake Michigan looked beautiful in the morning light – there were bands of emerald and jade and turquoise to the horizon, and a sailboarder launched his board into the water and set sail along the lake’s shore.

Soon after I returned to the house it was time to head for the airport. Mary had graciously agreed to drive me to the Alaska Airlines departure area, so I didn’t have to worry about shuttle busses that morning. We stopped at a Starbucks on the way, for a last chat about life – I enjoyed that very much – and then, too soon, I was at the airport, giving Mary a hug good-bye.

Now that I’d already had some experience with the electronic ticketing kiosk, I felt pretty confident about retrieving my return ticket. But the Alaska Airlines kiosk could find no record of me. This was a little disconcerting – until, looking down at my itinerary, I realized that on my return flight I would not be traveling with Alaska Airlines, but with American Airlines. Ahem. Yeah.  So I made my way to the American Airlines kiosk – where records of my return trip were actually found – Haleleujah! – and then, once again, was quicky able to pass through the security area, and make my way to the departure gate.

I was unloading my laptop in the waiting area when I glanced to the left and saw…  could it be? No. Yes. It was! There was a former teaching colleague of mine – he’d actually been my student teacher years ago – sitting in the waiting area at O’Hare airport with his wife.  Richard was totally out of context there, and it took several moments  for my brain to register that this man I knew from Skagit County in Washington State was sitting in an airport in Chicago.  We took a quick picture together for Facebook, and then I left Richard and his wife to their own space while I went to work on down-loading my Evanston photos onto my computer.

When we were allowed to board, I quickly found my seat on the plane in the middle of a row of three (these seats were only the second row behind the bulkhead and had more leg room – which was really nice for the long-legged people who were sitting next to me). Sitting on my right was a man busy with his cellphone, and to my left was an empty seat. I stowed my backpack under the seat in front of me and then watched the other passengers board – wondering which one of them was going to turn and look at the seat next to me and claim it. I really, really hoped this person would be hygienic and either easy to talk to, or easy to ignore.  And finally he appeared – a tall blond man with a friendly smile. The man to my right and I stood up so that he could squish himself in there next to the window.  And then, I could not help myself, the words just tumbled out of my mouth with heart-felt relief: “I’m so glad you guys don’t smell!” They both started laughing. The man on my right agreed with me that it was probably a good idea to take care of one’s hygiene before getting on a plane crammed with people, and the man on my left said that he’d just gotten off an eight-hour flight from Europe and was relieved to know he didn’t stink.

It did not take long for us to settle in comfortably with each other. And just as we did, another passenger entered the plane, smiled at me sort of apologetically, and showed me that I was actually sitting in his seat, and that my seat was on the other side of the plane.  He intuited right away, though, that some kind of bonding had already happened between the three of us, and offered to change seats with me.  The seat he ended up in was a nice roomy window seat right behind the bulkhead, with an empty seat in-between him and the other passenger in his row – so I think we were probably both blest in this exchange.

I do not believe I have ever been seated between two more congenial strangers on a plane. As it turns out, the man on the left was from Ireland, and the man on the right was returning to Seattle after a jaunt to New York to root on The Sounders soccer team, and they were both employed in the technology field.  I can no longer remember all that we talked about – I know there was mention of music (the Sounders supporter and I are both huge Allison Krauss fans, and the Irishman is a jazz musician), movies (O Brother, Where Art Thou came up) and books (1984 and James Joyce’s Ulysses were mentioned – I think we’d all stalled out on Ulysses), travels and hikes and climbs and other assorted adventures were shared.  I made two new friends on that plane ride – unlikely friendships, to be sure – I was old enough to be the Irishman’s mother – and the Sounders supporter was probably only 10 or 15 years older than the Irishman ; they were both techno-wizards, while I… am not; and they are both, well, men.  But it was such a blast sitting between these guys. We talked pretty much non-stop for four hours! I’ve never known a plane ride to go so fast!

We shook hands and exchanged linked-in information with each other at the end, and then parted for our separate journeys.

Which brings me back to the parking garage. So, as you may recall, my gate number and parking space number had been the same – but now, as “C-17” came into my thoughts and I remembered that had been my gate number, I started doubting that “C-17” was also my parking space number. I mean. What would be the odds, right?  So I got off the elevator on the fifth floor – because at least I remembered for sure what floor I was parked on – and began to wander in the direction I remembered coming from when I’d arrived. I was sort of looking for C-17 – but not with complete confidence about it all. I wondered how long it might take me to go down every parking lane on the floor before I found my car. I could be there days.  Would archaeologists someday unearth my body from the farthest reaches of the parking garage and make up really cool stories about how I had ended up there?

Of course, it only took me five minutes to find my car, to see with a grin that I was actually parked in a space with the same number as my gate number, and to start winding my car out of the garage and back onto the highway.

The expressway was open on I-5 and the return journey home was quick and smooth.

As I was driving home it occurred to me that I’d never been traveling solo. All along the way Love had been preparing the way for me – bringing me safely to my friends, introducing me to new friends, and putting me exactly where I needed to be when I needed to be there.

As I pulled into my little enclave in Bow, I remembered the rose plant I’d saved from a road construction site the week before and remembered that I hadn’t watered it before I’d left. Had it survived the weekend? So the first thing I did when I pulled-up to my home was grab a watering can and head for the rose bush. Once it was watered,  I wandered up to the back deck and started watering the plants up there.  And that’s when my husband, phone in hand, saw that I was home. He came out onto the deck, laughing, and said to his mom – who was on the other end of the phone – “Karen’s home! She’s out on the deck watering plants!… Nope, she didn’t come in through the front door… nope, not sure when she got home… yup… you want to talk to her?”

And so I arrived back into the bosom of my family holding a watering can.

The End.