I’m on Substack now

If you have not had a chance yet, please check out my writing at frangardner.substack.com.

I’ve been writing there since Septembe 2022, and I’m getting great response.

I hope you will choose to subscribe; it costs nothing

To start you off, here is a link to one of my first postings. Still one of the best, it will give you a taste—if this blog hasn’t already done that.

See you on Substack!

Posted in Becoming, Create | Leave a comment


Dear God,

Make this the best day.

Let it be the day I love the most

The day I am loved the most

The day I am most just

The day I act with the most integrity

            Listen with the clearest ear

            Feel the most joy.

Let it be the day of least clutter

            Of thoughts

            Of objects

            Of things

            Of mind

Do not shield me from sorrow

No, let this be the day of the purest grief

            The greatest fear 

            The greatest anger

            And the greatest will 

                        To fight

                        To resolve

                        To overcome

                        To accept.

Let this be a day when through my will

I am willing

When through my willingness

I am free

When I am free

I am forgiven

I forgive.

When I am loved

I love.

When I weep

The tears are pure

The heart is cleansed.

At the end of this day

I offer you my clean heart

My placid mind

My willing spirit.

Fold them to your bosom

And make the tomorrow the best day, too.

—Fran Gardner

Posted in Becoming, Gratitude, How to live, Poem, Writing | 5 Comments

And this was then

I found this item while rooting around in my old daily exercises. It’s like a fever dream. Every thought engenders another. My life was full then, and it is now.

January 9, 2014 11:14 AM

As I work in the kitchen, pulling together breakfast, everything is connected…

Start with toasted artisan bread: the bread’s easy enough to make every day (I’ll post the recipe and technique soon). It connects me to my son-in-law Jeff, who made this sort of wet artisan dough baked in a hot Dutch oven long before I did, and The Oregonian, which recently ran a new version of the recipe.

The toaster  reminds me of my mother, who had the same model and complained that it tossed the toast across the room. Mine doesn’t do that very often, but a piece of toast landed on the kitchen floor a few days ago. My mom loved toast, ate a lot of jelly, used to give me jelly I didn’t use. Finally, two years after her death, I found a jar in the back of a cupboard and opened it. Mixed berry, absolutely delicious. I never got to tell her.

The honey on the toast is Barlean’s neighborhood honey; I connected with Jim Barlean, retired USMC and now a beekeeper, at the Saturday Market maybe 25 years ago with an eye to doing a story that never happened. The butter is in a butter holder the likes of which I bought for my daughters, and we all discovered that, when stored upside down in water at room temperature, unsalted butter will go bad but that salted butter will last.

I need a refill of the honey, and Barlean keeps jars of it in a cabinet in his front yard on Queen Road in Milwaukie; you put the money in a slot and take what you need. I’ll go there on soon on my way to shop for grains at Bob’s Red Mill, on International Way in Milwaukie.

 I go through a lot of flour these days. I’ll also buy farro, which my friend Sevin introduced me to. She’s Turkish, and farro, or emmer, an ancient variety of wheat, grows wild in that country. Italians cook with it, and now it’s a hot “new” food in the US.

An article in the January O (Oprah) magazine suggests four ingredients to keep on hand: farro, dressed kale (massage the leaves with olive oil, lemon juice, lemon zest), a sharp lemony dressing of tahini with parsley, and sweet potatoes. The idea is to mix the foods in various ways to make salads and tacos, etc. I’ve been making grain salads for years, but farro is special—nutty, crunchy, delicious.

The same issue of O suggested eating 2 pounds of vegetables a day. Two pounds! Well, I’ve started on mine with a green drink: kale, spinach, zucchini, beet greens, celery, pear, cinnamon, pinch of cloves. I forgot to add two usual ingredients, ginger and watercress. Just before drinking, I add chia and flax seeds (I grind flax every few weeks and keep a jar the refrigerator; ground flax goes rancid quickly). Can’t add them earlier, because they dissolve into jelly. Also squeezed in lemon juice and ginger juice pressed from grated ginger. I love my Vitamix, and I love Mirador, the small local home goods store where I bought it. 

So many of my tools have meaning, like the Microplane grater I use for the ginger. I remember when Microplanes first came on the market, developed by a woman who took the tool from her husband’s woodworking shop. Every time I grate lemon, I remember how an early reviewer described lemon zest falling “like snow” from the grater.

Because I’m having toast, I’m not eating one of the muffins I made a few days ago, but they are remarkable, too, a mashup of a recipes from Woman’s Day and Deborah Madison. Lyza’s friend Bryan Fox gave me Vegetarian Cooking for Everybody for Christmas, the dear boy. The WD recipe has bran, buttermilk, w/w flour, no white flour, and pumpkin. Madison’s recipe calls for sweet potatoes or squash and has white flour, no bran. Mine are the no-white-flour version with jewel yams, skins and all (the skins dissolve in the food processor) and sugar reduced from 3/4 cup to 1/4—and they are still quite sweet. I add nuts and dried fruit: walnuts, dates, dried apples, cranberries, sliced apricots, way more than the 3/4 cup called for. These muffins stay moist and tasty for days. 

My hot drink today is yerba maté. I think of Maggie’s old friend, Lucien Smith, who once had to talk his way through customs with a large package of what to the agent looked like marijuana. I usually make it by putting a mound of maté in my special cup, then adding hot water from a thermos. But today I brewed it in my new teapot, bought at the Oregon coast in August when I was attending a writers workshop. Made by Tazo, it was on deep discount at Starbucks. Pretty white porcelain, wide-bottomed so it can’t tip over, jaunty orange knob on the lid. I make the maté strong and fill one thermos with that and another with boiling water to both dilute the brew and warm it up.

I always drink maté out of the same cup, the handleless one with a crow on it, made by a potter named Shane Blitch. I love how a couple of indentions on the side fit my fingers perfectly. I did a story about Blitch in the early days of my retirement, when I thought I wanted to write about people for the Internet. He started adding birds to his designs when he had back trouble and had to lie for hours on the floor, watching the blackbirds or crows or ravens—he didn’t know which—in his backyard. 

Even though I brewed the maté today and there are no dregs to filter out, I’m still sipping through a bombilla, a traditional straw with a strainer at the end. I recently traded in my bamboo one for stainless steel, which lasts longer: another Mirador purchase. Maté imparts a gentle buzz, a feeling of well-being, rather like nicotine but not as strong. Many people think it’s bitter, and it will be if brewed with boiling water. Like green tea, it needs water a bit below boiling. I am blessed to have an electric kettle with a thermostat that heats the water just right.

11:44 AM

Posted in Create, Food, How to live, making, Observations | Tagged | 1 Comment


“To thine own self be true.”

“Never get involved in a land war in Asia.”


Most advice I’ve gotten over the years I’ve forgotten or ignored. Sometimes I listen.

Lately, two pieces of advice from 50 years ago and more intrude. One of them was useful, the other …

The plastic bag trick

Covid19 restrictions in assisted living mean more plastic everywhere, from garbage bags to disposable cups to sheets of clingy wrap encasing every separate item of food. It’s maddening, but what can one do?

Anyway, every time I have to open a new garbage bag, I remember the advice of a fellow customer at the Berkeley Co-op in about 1970: wet your fingers.

We probably did it by licking our fingers then, as the automatic produce sprinklers that moisten everything and for awhile spread Legionnaires’ Disease were still a few years off. Now I would no more lick my fingers than sneeze into a washable hankie.

No matter. A quick touch of water from a faucet or a sink moistens the fingers. Rub the edges, and the plastic parts.

The thread issue

Less useful was advice from my mom, who showed me as a child how to thread a needle. Use the end just clipped from the spool, she advised, as the other end might be slightly frayed.

What she didn’t know and I didn’t tumble to until quite recently is that thread has a nap. Run your fingers down a strand, both ways, and feel the subtle difference. To sew with the nap, you have to use the “frayed” leading end to thread your needle. Just clip off the frayed part.

All these decades I’ve been threading needles the way Mom taught me and pulling thread through fabric the wrong way, like petting a cat in the wrong direction. This is admittedly minor, but the idea of pulling thread through the unsmooth way all these years is daunting.

Now I know better. Am I better off for knowing? Only that every time I thread a needle I’m reminded of Mom.

Posted in How to live, Observations | Tagged | 2 Comments

Pressman’s hats

September 17, 2019

It was Crazy Hat day a few days ago here at Hawthorne Gardens, my new home in assisted-living land. Robert and I are wearing historic hats—the kind worn by generations of newspaper press workers dating back to the 1700s.

At the start of each workday, workers would fold a few sheets of newspaper into a hat that protected their hair in the messy environment of the pressroom.

You can make your own hat—it’s a nice skill to have. A finished hat can be inverted and used as a container. I’ve got one full of potpourri in my apartment.

Here’s a set of instructions I found useful. I first tried making a hat with sheets from The New York Times, but the newspaper is printed on a smaller web and the hat was too small. A bit of fudging—not folding the first flaps all the way to the center— made a hat that fit, but it looked funny.

What worked better was pages from The Oregonian! Even though the paper is a tabloid, the full sheets, each with four tabloid pages, are as big as the broadsheets from ages past. My hat even had the comics on it.

Posted in Create, Journalism, making, Things I made | 5 Comments

A dot of happy

I use vintage handkerchiefs, found over the years in a dozen places. Some are in better shape than others, and as I carry them about from day to day, they wear out in their different ways. Some of them I like better, finding them more pleasing in size or texture, color or embellishment. 

Today, one of the favorites came to the top of the handkerchief pile in the top dresser drawer. I thought about setting it aside, to keep it nicer longer.

But why? I love this scrap of linen, with its pretty scalloped border and embroidered posies. If I don’t take it with me today, now, when will I? This handkerchief  is not wearing thin, as are others of my favorites. It’s good. 

Today, this moment—that’s all I can be sure of. So I will enjoy this belonging of mine, this small thing that makes me happy in a small way. 

I fold it, and put it in my pocket, and go to meet the day.

Posted in Gratitude, Happiness, Things I made | Leave a comment

Same as it every was

I’ve been reading History of the Great American Fortunes, a book published in 1909 by Gustavus Myers. Myers may well have been a Marxist, but his social commentary is right on the mark as he calls out the rich and powerful of the 18th and 19th centuries in this country.

On page 98 of the 1936 edition (though probably written for the first edition in 1909), he notes:

…a profound truth, the force of which mankind is only now beginning to realize, that the pursuit of profit will transform natures inherently capable of much good into sordid, cruel breasts [sic, I think was meant ‘beasts’] of prey and accustom them to committing actions so despicable, so inhuman, that they would be terrified, were it not that the world is under the sway of a profit system and not merely excuses and condones, but justifies and throw a glamour about, the unutterable degradations and crimes which the profit system calls forth.

History has proved, and continues to prove, how prescient this author is. He was condemning the actions of John Jacob Astor, whose minions used liquor–while charging outlandish prices for it, like $50 a gallon–to get Native American drunk and then rob them of their just payment for the furs he later sold to Europe at an immense profit.

And how much does this, from the same page, sound like today?:

Like all other propertied interests, Astor’s company regarded the law as a thing to be rigorously invoked against the poor, the helpless and defenseless, but as not to be considered when it stood in the way of the claims, designs and pretensions of property.

Wall Street, anyone?

Posted in Observations | Leave a comment

Bucket baloney

Despite my resolution for this month (February), to avoid thinking, saying or writing negative things, I can’t get a recent Editorial Notebook from the New York Times out of my head. The title is “Last Things First for Patients With Bucket Lists,” by Clyde Haberman. It begins:

If a new study is correct, more than 91 percent of us have a bucket list — things we wish to do before we die. This revelation is interesting on several levels, including a question of what that minority of nearly 9 percent is thinking. Surely those people are aware that the chance of their kicking the bucket is 100 percent. Are we to believe that nothing in their basket of wishes is unrealized?

See, I’m in that 9 percent. I don’t have—or need—a “basket of wishes,” and furthermore, I know exactly what I am thinking: that a writer who dismisses anyone’s choice not to have a “bucket list” probably needs to find a job a day job that’s more in line with his intellectual abilities.

The whole idea behind such a concept is that, somehow, “doing” is important. Well, I am 68 years old, and I am retired, and I don’t have to “do” anything. Which is fine with me. I do have plenty to do, but what is most important to me now is not doing, but being.

I had the ineffable pleasure this morning of just lying in bed, my body perfectly relaxed, with no desire to move a corpuscle, much less any major muscle group. I was totally blissed out just being warm and comfortable and having nothing pressing to do, nothing on my mind.

Being = bliss.

It’s also important to note that by “doing,” we all become complicit in further degrading the resources of Earth.  People answering surveys about their bucket list, Haberman notes,  list travel as their most common desire. But it’s not exactly carbon neutral to be jetting off to your eco-vacation on the Galapagos Islands or the Outer Hebrides. Yeah,  I’ve done some traveling and I’d like to travel  more. But balance that with ecological awareness; the drawbacks of traveling with a disability; general inertia; and having plenty of places to walk and interesting things to do, think, and read at home in Portland.

Aside from Venice, there isn’t any new place I’d particularly like to see*  Besides, with age comes the realization that basically one can’t do everything one would want to do. Stepping back into being, rather than doing, isn’t a constriction of my life choices, it is a revelation of how wide my humanity is even when I am just occupying the same few meters of physical space day after day.

OK, so the point of the Times’s editorial notebook is that a recent study found that having in mind the things they’d like to do before dying seems to help terminal patients focus more and live longer. Bully for them. But I am really, really happy with my life. I don’t need a phantom list of things I may or may not be able to get around to. I live in the present; I’m filled with gratitude; I love my life, my pursuits, my creativity, my  family, my friends.

“A man’s reach must exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?” the poet Robert Browning wrote. My reach has caught up with my grasp; I have an intimation of heaven. I know what it’s for, and I am grateful.

*Well, actually I would like to revisit some of the places whose memories resonate with me. Yet one can never really go back…

Posted in Gratitude, Happiness, How to live, Observations | 3 Comments

Happy Birthday. I saw it on Facebook.

My birthday is in a couple of days, January 1 to be exact.  If this year is like previous years, I will get several dozen Happy Birthday messages on Facebook, most of them from people I know more or less tangentially. In previous years I’ve found them weeks or months later, say in March, because I only get around to looking at Facebook every few months.

I don’t like Facebook. Not because it’s evil, which it may well be, but that it is such an enormous time sink. Frankly, I’d rather be making quilts or baking cookies or having lunch with my friends.

I’ve been familiar with Facebook since its beginning, before it was even a commercial product. When my younger daughter was at Harvard she lived in the same residence hall as Mark Zuckerberg. Fortunately, she didn’t move in until a year after he had departed. She missed the “hot babes” game Zuckerberg invented (if one can believe the movie Social Network).

I thought then, back in 1998, that the facebook, a printed manual that showed the pictures and names of her classmates, was useful. I’m not great at remembering faces, so I can appreciate directories with pictures.

But Facebook the social network has grown unmanageable. It’s a terrible way to try to keep up with people. It’s so easy—too easy—to enter your thoughts or to point folks to a website or a cute animal video, or to post a notice that you signed a political petition or bought a particular product. I scroll through too many fierce polemicals, inane slogans, spurious bons mots, photos. Whatever. Too much dreck.

While I’m always touched that people do take the effort to hit the “happy birthday” button,  it will likely be the only time I’m going to hear from most of them. So maybe, I think, I should let them hear from me. I’ll start to check out their Facebook feeds. But, overwhelmed by trivia, I usually get through just the first few names before I give up.

Once in a while I’ll check to see what one of my relatives is doing. But even there, I find pointers to videos or websites that the poster thinks present ideas he or she agrees with. To want to share is human, but I am cross-referenced out.

Curiously, the Harvard-educated daughter has never had an account on the Zuckerberg Facebook. I think she has the right idea. The only reason I keep my account is that the occasional business or Meet-up group or church will post news and information there and only there. And why not? It’s so much easier than having to deal with a webpage.

I think there’s a setting somewhere that posts my own webpage postings to my Facebook feed. It’s so easy—too easy.

Anyway, Happy Birthday to me! Remember me by email.

Posted in Observations | 5 Comments

Don’t sweat the pumpkin seeds


Just a seasonal reminder: if you are roasting seeds from your Halloween pumpkin, you don’t need to clean off all the pulp from every last one.

Separating the seeds from the pulp is messy but fun in a visceral sort of way. This is the point at which you don’t have to wash the seeds. You just don’t want large chunks of pulp remaining. So you push the slippery little guys through your fingers until most of the pulp is gone.

Toss the seeds with a bit of melted butter, say a tablespoon, or some olive oil. Spread them on a baking sheet, sprinkle them with salt, and roast them at 250° F. for about an hour. You could stir them every 20 minutes or so.

I suppose you could sprinkle them with some chili powder or curry powder, but I’ve never done that. I just love the taste of these pumpkin seeds with just butter. The roasted bits of pulp add quite a depth of flavor.

Seeds from squash also can be roasted this way.

Posted in Food | 1 Comment