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To the Extremes


I’ve spent nearly my entire life living in two places. The first half on the great plains of Western Kansas, and the second half in the rain soaked forests of the Pacific Northwest.

Two extremes. For someone like me who has always seen themselves as existing in the middle, these two opposing environments seem ironic. One so wide open and big, contrasting with another that forces you to withdraw into your home and your mind during the long months of dark, rainy days. Certainly, at this point in my life these differences must have had a permanent effect on who I’ve become, postal codes forever stamped onto my character. Here’s my view of those extremes.



My childhood home is located on a gentle rise on the flat landscape of western Kansas. It’s a borderland where the prairie grasses thin out and the high desert begins. Prickly pear cactus, devil’s claws and echanacea grow wild there, as do the spiky yukka plants with seed pods that rattle like snakes in September.

A great big, blue sky curves around you in every direction, touching the very same ground you stand upon. There’s something magical about that. Standing above the horizon gives you the feeling of being a giant and an ant at the same time.


If it’s a windy day two of the most fundamental laws of physics are your constant companionsspeed and force. When you’re in Kansas you lean into the wind. You hear its rhythm, smell its strong scents, and watch as it defies gravity to carry leaves away from trees horizontally, rather than vertically. The wind is amazing in Kansas, and when there’s a break in its velocity you notice it.

But there’s some benefits to that wind. Feeling that power blasting you in the face is energizing. It’s invigorating, it’s life affirming. And you know you can count on it, just as you can count on the sun burning up the ground beneath your feet.



Twenty years ago, on my first solo excursion out of Kansas, I met a traveler who’d seen the world. As she and I became acquainted she sized me up, saying, “You don’t seem like you belong in Kansas. You seem like you belong in Portland.” I’m not sure how that played into my decision to move to the Rose City but I ended up meeting my husband in Phoenix and together we moved back to his home state of Oregon.


It was at the end of October when we got to the Pacific Northwest and it was like moving from day into night. A persistent night that lasted until April. I remember the striking feeling I had the first day the sun shone after months of cloudy skies. I was walking across a parking lot and noticed my shadow following me, something I hadn’t seen in over a hundred days. It was like a visit from an long lost friend.


All that rain creates a lush, verdant landscape that resembles piles of fluffy green cotton. Mountains surround the city of Portland, and every so often a volcano’s peak will jut up far enough to pierce the clouds.

The mountain ranges of Oregon tell a fabulous story of moving tectonics plates wrinkling up the landscape and causing volcanic eruptions that still threaten to change the topography millions of years after the first eruption.

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Two rivers cut through the city, formed by cataclysmic flooding from an ancient melting glacier. The rushing water dug a trench on its journey to the Pacific Ocean, filling up the Columbia River and carving out a spectacular gorge when it came to the porous volcanic rock of the Cascade Range.


All this moisture provides an ample amount of fog that can take a familiar landscape and turn it into a mysterious land of intrigue and secrets. Things as great as mountains blur until they are simply graduating shades of grey, and well-traveled roads twist and turn into oblivion. It’s a silent, secluded world that encourages inward reflection and room for your imagination to flourish.


I’ve lived in the Pacific Northwest for almost twenty years and, like many of my fellow Portlanders, I can tire of the seemingly endless days of darkness, but I still love this region. It’s beautiful in a way that is easily understood by the casual observer. The emerald valleys, steely-grey rivers, golden sunsets and abundance of rainbows make up the color palette of fantasies. And quiet moments spent in the shadows of clouds are a gift of time travel, taking me far into my imagination to reflect, to learn, and to create from this land’s endless inspiration.

But the part of me that grew up in Kansas continues to flourish inside my soul. The aliveness of a land where there is rarely ever stillness stirs up energy inside everything connected with it. It’s a beauty that is felt, as much as it is viewed. Visitors may miss the grandeur of this endless land if they spend their time passing through it inside a car. It’s a living, breathing, thriving beauty that’s fighting to survive against intense elements, and to truly know it you must experience it, not just look at it. 

I guess for me the combination of these places helps put balance in my extremes and keeps me centered in the middle where I feel most at home.


I’ve always had a casual curiosity as to what went on inside a courtroom. Fortunately, I’ve never had to experience being on the wrong side of the judge’s bench, but this has left me with only a vague understanding of the complexities of our nation’s courts. A couple years ago I had the opportunity to take a look at the judicial system from the inside when I was summoned for jury duty. With all the talk of the impeachment proceedings, I thought I’d share my experience.

When I received the letter that notified me of my civic duty my first reaction was “Can I get out of this?” I wasn’t particularly happy about giving up my work time and rearranging my life to accommodate a person’s bad behavior, but I sucked it up and went down to the courthouse on the designated date.


Reporting for Duty

When I arrived, I went through a security check similar to what you’d experience at an airport, then I was directed to a holding room where myself and about fifty other people were split up into groups of thirteen people each. We were asked questions relating to cases on the docket—nothing specific, but rather incidences we’ve experienced in our own lives that may prejudice us as juror. If there were any reasons why we could not be a part of the jury, we were told we could leave. I stayed.


The Specifics

As it turns out, I was not going to be part of a regular trial jury but, instead, was going to be a member of a “grand jury.” I had no idea what the difference was between a trial jury and a grand jury, other than it sounded much more important. As I found out, a grand jury is a type of preliminary jury that judges only the evidence of a case, not the actual crime. Our decision would determine whether or not there was enough evidence to proceed with a trial. It’s basically what is happening right now with the impeachment inquiry.

Once I got my instructions, I was told to come back the following Monday. I would be a participating member of this grand jury duty for ten days within a two-month time period.


The Grand Jury

When the big day of jury duty arrived I went down to the courthouse. At the security check, I was directed to  a small, windowless room in the basement of the courthouse. (It was just as dreary as it sounds.) There were eight of us, five of which were formally on the jury and three who acted as back-ups. An attorney of the court gave us instructions and then we were sworn in. We would be there from 8am to 5pm with an hour-long lunch break at noon.

The grand jury was comprised of three men and five women. We represented all ages, except millennials. Most of us were missing work, with only one woman who was completely retired and not working. We picked one of the women as our record keeper and she was given the attendance sheet. She would also be signing off on our judgements at the end of each case.


The Cases

The cases mostly fell into the categories of domestic depute, theft, and one sexual assault of an elderly person. Evidence ranged from witness and victim accounts, video surveillance, and police reports. We did not meet any of the accused, only people with testimony to offer.

In my opinion, most of the cases were pretty obvious, and in every case everyone agreed there was enough evidence to go to trial. Fortunately for us, there were no cases with disturbing evidence, like murder or child pornography, which we would have had to view. From what we were told, it was rare to have a grand jury with no such cases to review.

Each case began with a district attorney explaining the basics of the case. Then, one-by-one, the witnesses would come into the room and be sworn in. After that, they would give their testimony and we could ask questions throughout. If material evidence was presented, the police officer who’d gathered it would present it and tell us the details of how it was gathered. In one case, we asked them to check for a second surveillance video at another location.

After we had listened or viewed all the evidence, an attorney instructed us on how we should discuss the case–what was off limits to talk about, for example–then left the room. If we wanted to call the attorney or any of the evidence back into the room to answer more questions we were free to request that.

All eight of us gave our opinion about each case, then we took a vote about whether or not to send it onto trial. We based our judgements on the evidence and our own instincts and in each case. We decided there was enough evidence to go before a judge in all cases. Our record keeper signed the order and gave it to the attorney to file, then we moved onto the next case. Typically, we reviewed eight cases in a day, four in the morning, four in the afternoon. They were long days, but interesting.


What I Learned as a Grand Juror

My peek into the United States’ judicial system as a grand juror provided me with a first-hand account of the structure of one of the fairest judicial systems in the world. I saw people come in and present their side of a dispute to a group of peers. Our decision was the first step toward deciding whether there was just reason to present it in court for final judgement.

One thing that impressed me was the fact that, with each case, the evidence presented was very well packaged. This told me that the professionals handling them–from the police, to the many lawyers–had worked hard to cover all their bases, giving us as full a picture of what happened as they could. In each case the physical evidence was nearly indisputable.

I also learned that grand juries, like trial juries, are protected. Because our judgements must be untainted, it was important that we did not mingle with anyone connected with a case. On occasion, I would see a witness loitering out in the hallway but we were instructed to avoid getting involved in a conversation and the witnesses were always escorted by an attorney.


Just the Facts

Overall, the experience I had as a grand juror gave me great confidence in our judicial system. The presentation of evidence and a judgement delivered by a group of unbiased peers were all in play. Of course, this isn’t always the case—criminals don’t always look or act like criminals and sometimes people with dishonest motives can hold very high and powerful positions in the system, but the process is set up to be fair, and I’m proud to have been a part of this uniquely American process.

A Maxfield Parrish copy in photographic form:

Robin Mizell: Treated & Released

Note the date on this post, and remember that the book publishing business, like any other industry, evolves constantly. Always ensure the information on which you rely is current and valid. Be discriminating. Your writing career is at stake.

Last night, I answered the questions of writers who had gathered for the monthly meeting of the Central & Southern Ohio chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators (COSCBWI). A couple of questions were posted here in advance. The Q&A format was well suited to the enlightened group, but it also might have been confusing for someone who wanted simple, basic information about getting and working with a literary agent.

The basic strategy for getting published can be found in any number of books at the library and bookstores, as well as on dozens of writers’ and agents’ blogs. One of the best brief summaries of the process…

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Mary Shelley’s horror story, Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus, is a classic examination of the ‘science vs. religion’ debate. Written during the Industrial Revolution, Doctor Victor Frankenstein is so taken by the technological achievements of the time he forgets the soul of his creation; his Monster, and ultimately loses all he loves as a result.

Scientists conducting electrical experiments at the time certainly provided much of the inspiration for Shelley’s maniacal doctor, but one man is cited as a possible model for the theme of her novel.

1673 – 1734

Johann Conrad Dippel was born in Castle Frankenstein in south central Germany in the region of Hesse. As was the custom of the day, he acquried Franckensteinensis or Franckensteina-Strataemontanus as a surname and became forever linked to the place of his birth. He received a Master in Theology in 1693 at the University of Giessen where he also studied philosophy and alchemy and gained a prominent position among Europe’s intellectual elite.

Influenced by the Age of Reason while remaining a fervently religious man, Dippel authored several controversal theological papers under his nom de guerre; Christianus Democritus, a name that represented the duality of his views. In them he called for the demise of the traditional church organization and a rejection of the Bible as the literal word of God in favor of a more personal approach to faith. They were widely circulated throughout Europe and earned him both praise and criticism. One enthusiastic follower, Emanuel Swedenborg, later criticized him as a cultish opportunist who was “bound to no principles, but was in general opposed to all, whoever they may be, of whatever principle or faith…becoming angry with any one for contradicting him.” Swedenborg also accused Dippel of being the ‘most vile devil…who attempted wicked things.’ This opinion was surely based upon his suspected experiments in alchemy. In his Maladies and Remedies of the Life of the Flesh, Dippel announced his discovery of the ‘Elixir of Life’, as well as, a method to exorcise demons through potions produced from the boiled bones and flesh of animals. Even more alarming to the public were rumors of his attempts at ‘soul-tranference’ on human cadavers, where he was viewed as playing God on desecrated corpses.

In the end, it was reported by his contemporaries that after having been thoroughly trashed by the religious leaders of the day Dippel gave up his faith altogether, directing all his energy to his experiments in alchemy. He never backed down from his arguments or the experiments that he felt supported them and may have even actively encouraged rumors that he was in league with the Devil, having sold his soul to become a dark sorcerer.

So, in the end, Mary Shelley may have used this real-life ‘mad scientist’ as inspiration but the moral lesson she provided her Doctor Frankenstein was lost on Johann Conrad Dippel.



Define what you want in clear, concise words. Educate, plan, and prepare for the opportunities that will come your way. Work to build your experience and reputation.


 Give thanks for the abundance that is given to you. Give back with the gifts you have and what they have given you.


Continue to educate yourself and grow in knowledge. Strength will lie in your ability to adapt to new paradigms with intelligence, speed, and grace.

The Passing

The Passing 

My life peels away from me, leaving my soul bare against the harsh wind. Icy cold, it cuts me like daggers forged from each of my sins.

I’m in a void.

The landscape around me is an ocean of parched earth. Empty and endless. No North, South, East or West. Nowhere to go and yet,

I walk.

There’s a light ahead. It fills the sky and instinctively I know it has no origin. Warmth flows from it and embraces me. I’m compelled to move forward but with each step I struggle against the bitter wind.

Across the great emptiness joy appears and attaches itself to me through the light. Tingling sensations rise to a crescendo inside me, shooting out the top of my head in a shower of white sparks.

I smile with my whole self.

Hours pass in seconds and the shore of this strange land soon stretches out before me. The ocean I’d been walking upon ends in waves of light that wash up on a pristine beach.

It’s nighttime here.

In the distance shadows await me, but not darkness.

As I approach I begin to hear familiar voices. Individually and in chorus, I’m welcomed by everyone I have ever known with the love we’d always shared. Intense joy explodes inside every cell of my body.

I’m in Heaven.


Outdoors NW – “Five Fascinating Facts about Washington Lighthouses

Istanbul; a city seething with mystery and intrigue. It’s a place where each shadow has a story to tell and every man is a killer or a king.

DBW - Istanbul1It’s 1922 and I’m sitting on the roof of my hotel sipping strong Turkish coffee and watching the sun rise over Central Anatolia. Off in the distance the black dome of Hagia Sopiha is stark against the pre dawn sky. As shadow gives way to light, its stucco walls seem to glow red with the passion of worshippers from centuries ago.

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The Blue Mosque, with its seven domes and six minarets, is a solemn counterpart to the cathedral across the street. Built on the foundation of the Byzantine Grand Palace, it’s exterior is a balance of geometric shapes that hint to the magical world inside. Light and color reflecting from every corner puts you into a kaleidoscope of circles, triangles, rectangles and squares. Together they form patterns that are repeated a thousand times across the ceiling, walls, columns and floors, and the dizzying effect will leave you spinning like one of Rumi’s dervishes.

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The Whirling Dervishes—that puts me in mind of one of the most memorable experiences I’ve had traveling in Turkey. It was a moonless night in Cappadocia when we visited their temple to witness their sacred dance. Its simple ceremony was a mystical, transformative experience that I continue to study with a passionate eye to this day. The consistent whirling brought the energy of the heavens down to earth and for the first time in my life I felt physically connected to something larger and more encompassing than I’d ever known. Was it God? The Universe? I don’t know, but whatever happened in that cone-shaped room was the type of experience that you can only find when you step away from the world you live in and into unfamiliar territory.

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The docks at the foot of the Golden Horn are beginning to show signs of life now. The fog has lifted and people are finding their way through the twisted streets of the Old City. A few sailing ships are tied up along the dock and every now and then the sounds of engines from the steamships echo up to my rooftop perch.

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Across the strait, the Dolmabahce Palace looks out over the city from it’s stately position on the Asian shore. The balance and scale of the building hint at influences from the West but the sultans’ Asian heritage is on display as well. Pronounced rooflines and fluid, floral aesthetics allude to Eastern cultures. It’s East meets West on the building that once ruled both.

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The wind shifted and the scent of the hotel chef’s fire shifted with it. It reminded me of the destructive blaze at the Pasha’s palace last night. It’s grand facade backlit by orange flames and its brittle windows bursting every so often like fragile bubbles. The black plume of smoke escaped like a dying man’s last breath. It was a sight that was becoming more common these days as the last rulers of the Ottoman Empire abandon their homes to wander off in search of new fortunes. It was the sight, sound, and smell of a decomposing empire.

WBM Port - Istanbul

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Handing It Off to the Next Generation

by Kayla Van Lydegraf

Dale’s Remodeling holds much more meaning to our family than just a way to earn a living, it is a family legacy born from a request my grandparents had of my father, and one that he is now sharing with me.

Thirty-six years ago, after returning from a stint in the U.S. Army, my grandparents asked my father, Dale Van Lydegraf, CR, to design and build them a custom A-frame retirement home along the N. Santiam River in Oregon’s Mid-Willamette Valley.

“You can figure it out,” his parents said. As the project came together, word spread and he was soon asked to turn his experience on this single project into a business. Nearly four decades later he is sharing his knowledge and experience with me, allowing me to take the…

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