Old & New

A post on New Year’s Eve. Cliché? Probably. Nonetheless, I am posting deliberately since I won’t have this chance again. Tomorrow is all the new and I am grateful for all the old. This year that flew by, the one where we just communed with Saguaro, just celebrated Junior’s birthday and my parent’s turning 80, just recovered from a sweltering summer, just taught that Minestrone & Breadsticks class, just put the last of the raspberries and green beans into the freezer. All the events intermixed with morning espresso & evening dishwashing, loads of laundry & hours at an office, park days & play dates & projects; mixed together as one yet still distinct, colors intact not blended. Stopping for a moment to reflect may be cliché but I think it’s the best part of being alive.

I am grateful for Spouse and Junior. The life we live is simple and silly, but not necessarily easy.  Over and over I get the chance to extend grace to these people I live with, but usually not before getting really mad. I am continually challenged and stretched as I work to be The Mom I Want to Be, as I work to be aware when I fall short, so I can reconnect with the best gift I was ever given. This gift, this person who is as tall as me, who is loving & kind, who is getting ready for life’s next big leap. Gah! I’m overwhelmed-again.

I am grateful for our space, this place we call home. I am grateful for our families, people we get to see often, people who also help with life lessons. These people who have known us longer than anyone else. The people who are our reason. I am grateful for our friends, little gems plopped onto our path, making life rich. I am grateful for our jobs, that Spouse is willing to give so much time to his, that mine can shape shift around the rest of life, grateful for the people we work with-some easy connections, some not. I am grateful for all that is familiar and cozy and warm.

There will be new here in the coming year. Junior will get taller, projects will get done. The kitchen should get a bit bigger. People in that kitchen will cook or bake things they never have before. There is the potential new that is entirely unknown. We can’t see around corners or very far down the road. Really, we can’t see further than our next footfall. This is scary. Will there be new that’s hard or crushing? Will there be loss or pain? There may be. Sometimes I want to insulate myself from that sort of new-keep my head down, keep my heart wrapped. In order to live, though, I have to allow myself to feel: joy is only joy when there is sorrow.

So, beginning tomorrow we will have dinners, play games, watch movies, celebrate lives & love. We will vacuum floors, hang laundry, grow plants, tend chickens, mow lawns, throw footballs. We will laugh. We will fight. We will connect. May this coming year be the one where we all lived our lives, fully open, fully aware, fully light. Blessings and grace to you.














ps. I have no control over these ads.


As Is

We wanted hardwood floors, a fireplace, room for a garden, and overall, character. We wanted a fixer to change how we saw fit. A fixer, by default, I suppose, meant a non-HOA neighborhood, a detail also fine with us. We found such a structure on an almost quarter acre; a very large canvas, or lump of clay, with which to create; not one fireplace but three; hardwoods and character hiding behind the late 60s “upgrades”. Sprinkled throughout the paperwork were the words “As is”. The elderly seller concerned that potential buyers might ask too much in way of pre-sale demands. Our bank did demand that a portion of roof be repaired, and we did hire an inspector to pry, prod, and sniff his way from attic to basement. Even so, Mrs. Carlson struck gold, pulled Lucky 7s, won the lottery when she got us as buyers. Papers signed, she was now free to move east, closer to her children’s lives.

An original 1935 Freeway House lifted from its original foundation, somewhere along the under-construction I-5 corridor, and moved to a new foundation, a full basement no less, prepared for it by the newly weds who bought it. The hardwood floors, double hung windows either side of the fireplace, the dining room nook and enclosed kitchen, the octagonal bathroom floor tile, and the fir siding all made the trip in good condition, only the lathe & plaster suffered some dings and cracks. The newlyweds, unfortunately, didn’t survive. The house sold 2 years later, as part of divorce proceedings. Change moved in with the Carlson’s.

We like to think that the changes began from necessity: instead of 2 people living with a 2 bed, 1 bath, full basement, there were now 2 adults and 4 kids. We imagine that the Carlson’s worked quickly to dig more basement on the south end of the house, the end facing the lot next door which they also owned. Atop the basement foundation appeared a larger, though never finished, bedroom, a more formal living room, with large picture window facing that undeveloped 2nd lot, and 2 more fireplaces-one upstairs and one down-2 flues sharing the same chimney. Perhaps to avoid repainting the wide plank fir siding, mint green metal siding soon covered the house, with areas of brick added to the front elevation. A new, Soviet-era-sturdy cement entry way emerged, with a fiberglass corrugated roof and ornamental wrought iron vertical supports.

Given the design sense of the time, most of the, perhaps cracked from the move, lathe & plaster walls of the new family room now sat covered in faux wood paneling. You know, the imprinted 4×8 sheets of wallboard veneer? A plastic transition piece covered the seams between veneer sheets, floor to ceiling. The hardwoods worn down by construction and 4 kids, became covered with golden brown medium-pile carpeting. With the new addition, the front entryway moved from the center of the original house to the living room, a door facing the driveway, much more feng shui then a doorway facing the street. The new construction brought “modern” aluminum-framed windows to the living room and new bedroom. With the original house windows so dated, they could have needed replacing, so someone installed louvered or jalousie windows, with storm window and summer screen options.

The now 2nd bedroom sported a new sliding glass door, also aluminum framed, giving access to the backyard via the rickety not-attached-to-the-house “deck”. A door to the new living room replaced what was most likely a window. The original door to the hallway and bathroom remained. The third bedroom, the north-east corner room, painted mustard yellow with white shag carpet, its exterior walls each holding a window, 2 of the 3 double-hung windows left in the house, both so layered with oyster enamel that they could only muster an opening of 8 inches. Hardly the egress required by code. This room contains the “walk-in closet” mentioned in the sales material. A walk-in, after a step-up, two-thirds the size of what most consider a standard size bedroom closet. More 70s updating had adhered loam-brown cork board to 3 of the lathe & plaster walls. Undoubtedly, wall space was needed for posters and calendars and perhaps even strings of beads to hang. Anyone who has ever tried to push-pin lathe & plaster understands the cork board. Carpeting covered the very cool bathroom tile and a vanity sat the distance between doorway and commode. A counter to ceiling mirror filled the wall.

The kitchen was a cave. Kitchen carpet, a darling of the house’s renovation period, all browns and golds, covered the floor. The dark brown veneer cupboards, certified Pay-N-Pak, a long-since defunct precursor to Ace or McLendons, lined the walls. The upper cabinets were small, the space above them closed off with veneer sliders, much like a vintage travel trailer. The range stove was a  smooth-top, probably cutting edge when installed, and the area adjacent boasted a food warmer set into the counter top. The Sear’s manual advised savvy housewives to keep their husband’s dinner warm using this new-age convenience. The room was lit by fluorescent lighting housed in an oversized ceiling fixture, its plexiglass cover yellowed with smoke and grease and insects and time. The counters were a classic laminate, white with gold space-age starbursts and aqua blue outlined boomerangs . This covered the counters and about 10 inches of wall too. The laminated portion of the walls stood out almost a full inch. The end of the room contained a window to the garage, space for a fridge, and the access door to landing, outside, and basement. A pocket door closed all of this from the rest of the house.

There are more details, oh so many more, of what we purchased, but I think I’d lose you. As to the basement, I will just say we tore out walls, covered up black painted cinderblock, acid-stained the main room floor, added walls for a laundry room, shop, and under-stair storage, and put in lighting. All the details, including what we found behind those portions of laminated kitchen wall or that large bathroom mirror, all that we found outside, the full story, can be shared while we tour the house, red wine in hand. What we found funny, beside that Mr. Carlson fancied himself a handyman, was that this house, a stick-frame, wood construction building, wanted to be a mobile home. The louvers, the metal siding, the flimsy black metal porch supports, the corrugated fiberglass all screamed TRAILER PARK. While there is nothing wrong with living in a trailer park, one usually finds the opposite: mobile homes want to look like they are not. We loved this and we hated this and we’re still working to make it less so.

This has been our project for many years. We DIY. I demo. Spouse rebuilds. I clean up. Spouse works full-time in an office so the rebuilding is slow-going. Spouse is a visual thinker. He stares, he thinks, he pictures, he draws on paper, he goes to Home Depot. Some projects get waylaid and are hard to get back to. But each of them, when finished, are amazing. We like our funny house. We like that we don’t owe a ton. While there are things we’d like to have finished, our house is warm & dry. We have indoor plumbing & running water. We have garbage pickup at the street. We have space to garden & play. While we now stare at closer-than-ideal neighbors through those south-facing windows, we have a place to be. Sometimes, as with any older structure, things go wrong. During those times we don’t get to choose the project: the project demands attention. Our recent heavy rains presented one such situation, but we handled it. It was hard and almost terrible, but with the support of our village, by diving in, somehow instinctually knowing what needed to be done, shoulder-to-shoulder though not really speaking, we tackled it. Together. While this place isn’t House Beautiful, it is our beautiful house, the place we make beautiful, together.




Life, Lemons, and Colonoscopies

Forty years ago, my dad had cancer. Colon cancer. Dad, relatively young for the disease, discovered the cancer in the worst possible way, the way that usually only foretells bad tidings. Forty years later, he’s still here, still active, and he’s screened yearly.

Our mid-70s family was nutritionally mainstream, healthcare conventional, with a diet that fit our monthly budget. We didn’t discuss nutrition the way my son and I discuss it now. Food happened. The great Fat Will Kill You mindset was still a few years away from hitting our home, so it was a new thing when my parents began researching healthier food habits. The Seventh-Day Adventists were, and evidently still are, very nutritionally aware. My folks found studies linking those who followed SDA diet principles with better health. Their primary takeaway: more veggies and zero beef.

During the intervening years between then and now, my parents have experimented tangentially with diet and nutrition. My mom “cut out the fat” with many others during the 80s & 90s, only to have her serum cholesterol numbers remain high. With “all U.S. soil depleted beyond recovery”, my parents consumed megavitamin/mineral elixirs, manufactured from ingredients grown in pristine New Zealand. They dabbled with supplements of all kinds, internet-purported super-foods,  all the Next Big Thing, until the next next big things came along. These days, they eat a lot of organic fruits & vegetables, minimal animal protein, and limit their intake of sugar.

At some point along Dad’s Gastroenterological path, the doctors shared that his cancer could very well be genetic. Genetic testing wasn’t the thing then that it is now, so my sisters and I were tagged for screening. For best results, our screening would begin 4 years before the age Dad was when his cancer was found. They wanted a benchmark. Screening sounds so easy, so innocuous, mundane even. If you’ve not ever had the pleasure, be assured that THIS screening is anything but (no puns). Last week, I experienced my fourth.

Each of my screenings has been 3 or 5 years apart, the timeframe dependent on any findings. During the years between procedures, changes occur in the screening prep process. This year, the process began 10 days in advance. At this early point, patients avoid eating breads loaded with nuts & seeds, with Dave’s Killer Bread given as example. As someone who does not usually eat commercially prepared bread, yet who consumes nuts and seeds in granola and smoothies, I needed clarification. My nurse seemed slightly stymied, giving the impression that she hadn’t encountered my question before, but assured me just to avoid the bread. Five days in advance, the patient is to stop using Ibuprofen or Aleve, and certain supplements like iron. I did ask about my precious nettle, something else my nurse had no experience with, but said to stop using, just in case. Three days in advance, one has to switch to a Low Fiber Diet, and is given choices:


This part of the preparation is always difficult. I don’t eat cereal. I limit dairy. White flour makes me sleepy. I avoid white rice, and while I will use white pasta, I cook it just to al dente to slow down absorption. I don’t consume instant breakfast products or protein drinks. I do produce my own canned fruit and apple sauce, but they are like sugar to me. I do eat: **seeds, nuts, whole wheat & grains, fresh vegetables, fruit and salad**

Anticipating my dilemma, I made some delicious vegetable broth. I also simmered ginger and garlic in my from-the-freezer chicken stock. I combined the two strained broths and used for “Soup (chicken noodle)”. I paired cultured cottage cheese with my Jar Pears, the tart curds toning down the sugar considerably. A month earlier, anticipating this happy event, I had begun weaning a small portion of sourdough starter off of any whole wheat flour. I maintained it daily using only white unbleached flour. At the appropriate time, I made an all-white flour levain, which in turn transformed into a single all-white sourdough boule. The levain and dough were like paste. They were what I had smeared over inflated balloons for Juniors birthday piñata. My breads are usually 75-85% whole wheat, fresh-ground whole wheat. I persevered and the loaf baked up lovely.IMG_1585

If I was to have 100% white bread, it was going to be long-fermented, wild-yeasted. Toasted and buttered, this bread made a suitable companion to the breakfast scrambled eggs.

In my case, 12:30P on the final Low Fiber day was the cutoff for any solid foods. From that point forward, only clear, non-red liquids were to be consumed. Another list, complete with Crystal Light, Gatorade, Soda/pop, and Jell-O, outlined the approved items. I had my beautiful clear broth, along with a strained infusion of simmered ginger, fresh-squeezed lemon juice & a touch of honey, Perrier and water. Later that afternoon I drank some additional clear liquid, a nasty prescription mixed with water, followed by lots more water, a performance repeated early the next morning. No further details, no further explanation.

My mom taxied me to the procedure venue. It was a beautiful, Fall-warm, sunny midday. The office staff and nurses were very pleasant. Wearing hospital gown, regulation non-skid socks, and a fresh-from-the-oven blanket, I was escorted by Laurel, the nurse assigned to me, to my assigned room. She was smart, fun, empathetic, thoroughly explaining anything I wanted to know. I lamented not having a camera for the perfect shot of socked-toes peeking from under blanket with the Vacutron2000 mounted on the wall beyond them. Warm, as cozy as can be while laying on a blood pressure-cuffed upper arm, a hello from the Doctor just before the sedation began, and it was over. The post-procedure nurse encouraged me to wake, helped me dress, and walk to the waiting area to meet Spouse. Spouse had a Triple Grande 2/3 Decaf 2% Latte and a shortbread cookie waiting for me in the car. A little white flour is ok! Home to lounge for as long as I wanted/needed to, I binged on Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, started this post, and on the advice of an easy first meal, had some more cultured cottage cheese and Jar Pear.

I do not like this screening. I do, however, feel so grateful that I can have the procedure. So much gratitude for the village of understanding that surrounds me at this time in my life. I’m at risk and early detection, along with exercise and a high fiber diet are the best prevention. I will continue the practice, not from fear of the disease, but from a feeling of stewardship: I’ve been given this body, given this life; I will take care of it. I don’t take the best care of it every day. There have been, and, realistically, will be again, times of slack for which I apologize to myself for. Each day is a new day. I will try to do the best I can, for who I am, right now.

(I will find it beautifully ironic if the ads shown below are for any of the nasty items on the Approved Low Fiber Foods or Clear Liquids Lists! More ironic would be ads for foods that promote cancer-thriving habitats in the body. Make good choices!)

Whole Cookie

Because of the economics of my childhood, my parents were thrifty. Because of the economics of their respective childhoods, they knew how. There was never enough money to be miserly, and my parents practiced generosity whenever, and, however, they could. They set aside money for church and charities, and birthdays and Christmas never lacked the magic of Special or Thought Of.

Frugality was in the day-to-day. With yards of fabric still less expensive than pre-sweatshop ready-made, mom sewed many of our clothes. Back to school meant pattern books, cutting tables, buttons, and thread. Fabric stores were places of unlimited possibility, always a good feeling to garner at the start of any new school year. We did shop the mall for shoes & socks & shirts & sweaters, the only time of year we did so, but only at the less expensive stores. The end of August, still, has a pull, a visceral memory of new.

I’ve mentioned before how we canned and/or froze vegetables from the garden to eat throughout the winter. From berry patches, our own and U-Pick, we’d freeze strawberry and raspberry jams. We processed peaches and pears from our neighbor’s grandparent’s orchards, food at the ready in that basement cupboard, the one squeezed in, between the crawl space and the stairway, the one intentionally designed for canning jars.

My mom shopped for the lowest priced foods, which until they went out of business, was the Prairie Market. I don’t know what made it Prairie, but it was definitely a precursor to the bulk-buying monoliths of today. The only carts available were the large, unwieldy, flatbed kind. Bins piled high with empty boxes flanked the automatic entry. Customers piled empties onto a cart, while kids enjoyed being ferried throughout the store, ferried until the potential purchases pushed them to their feet. I most remember the coffee cans of mechanical grease pencils, pencils to mark shelf-tag information onto the products being purchased. This was the dark ages before POS or UPC or SKU. It was easier to change shelf tags than re-price all the product? Sometimes we helped mark things, sometimes we drew on the empty boxes, regularly marveling at the audacity shown by previous shoppers, those who’d taken time to embellish the Quaker Oats guy with angry eyebrows, or Tony the Tiger with earrings and eyelashes. Our trip to Prairie Market was always at the beginning of the month, coinciding with PayDay, and we always left with a cart loaded with product. My mom stuck to her list, knowing what we needed for the coming month, what meals she’d be able to pull together, knowing that things would get tricky as the days wound down toward another PayDay. There were those days with shopping treats, maybe of Hostess Cupcakes, or the occasional bag of Popsicles. I never felt any lack or deprivation. We had plenty.

My dad was, and still is, a fixer. He kept our stuff in service. Lawnmowers, rototillers, wheelbarrows, bicycles, automobiles, all repaired, patched-up, sometimes MacGyvered with baling wire and nuts/bolts, especially where nuts and/or bolts had not been a part of the equipment’s original design. My mom budgeted for replacements, but those replacements never occurred until all other attempts at resurrection had failed. After full days of Middle School Teaching, Dad came home and DIY’d the house repairs, plumbing repairs, electrical repairs; he’d build up the firewood supply, weed the vegetable garden, prune the apple trees, and re-gravel the driveway. Just this year, now that my parents are 80, they have hired landscapers to show up once a week, only to edge all the flower beds, AND they’ve hired the occasional help to fix the roof, put down new bathroom vinyl, or re-carpet the house. Only lately.

But getting back to my mom, with all the tasks she took on: gardening, house painting, household accounting and procurement, all things clothing and laundry, she had no fear in the kitchen. She could make bread or cinnamon rolls with her eyes closed, roast turkeys without breaking a sweat, was, and still is, a legendary potato peeler. Canned salmon, boxes of Jello, melon-balled watermelon, not always epic in their final presentation for a meal, she handled all deftly, confidently. We had to eat, we ate on a budget, and I know I didn’t always like what she served.  Tuna Noodle Casserole? Not so much. I’m sure some of those You’ll-Eat-It-And-You’ll-Be-Grateful speeches were delivered, most likely by my dad, but I don’t really remember that. I do remember my mom’s Kitchen Can-Do, a memory I still feel and work to harness for my kitchen practice.

Like many, I have Dad- and Mom-isms that pop in and out of my consciousness. Most of mine are harmless and even endearing. One of my favorite Mom-isms, one that I hear repeatedly during many cooking projects, stems from cookie-making as a child. One learns early on that when scooping cookie dough, if the bowl isn’t spatula-scraped clean, the baker gets to indulge in the remnants. Gets to indulge until the efficient, frugal mother looks into the bowl and says “Oh Honey! There’s a whole cookie in here!”, and who then proceeds to get that last cookie onto the sheet pan.


My first choice was a former manager’s backyard, a teetering bluff overlooking Admiralty Inlet. Unfortunately, I didn’t know you couldn’t expect people to take a ferry. I then felt an early afternoon gathering, followed by an abundant potluck dinner would be a pleasant second choice. I, however, didn’t know you couldn’t ask people to bring food. Beginning to feel the edges of conformity moving closer, I suggested a mid-morning affair, coupled with a cozy pancake breakfast. Regrettably, I didn’t know that some ideas were just plain ridiculous. In the end, we found ourselves at a suburban protestant church, complete with narthex, nave, sanctuary, and basement. It was the right size, the right price, and accessible to all.

At 2:00PM, our friend and pianist began singing Bob Franke’s Hard Love, while my sisters, my cousin from next door, and the 3 young flower girls made their way from back to front, taking staged places. In shiny pink below the knee dresses, the women anchored the platform opposite a line of black and white tuxedoed male counterparts. The singer segued from the realism of Hard Love, to a song of her own pen, one of laughter, light, and hope. Intentional juxtaposition.

Wearing a simply designed, sewn-by-mom, silk-brought-back-from-Hong Kong dress, I linked arms with my dad and paraded my way past rows of respectful guests, guests who probably really would have enjoyed stacks of pancakes, on towards the pink-dressed, black-suited people watching me. Not something to be given away, I kissed my dad and joined an already teary-eyed spouse-to-be in front of the ministers.

The mid-1980s were all about videotaping and our event, no different. Two cameras, one positioned at the back of the room and the other facing us, captured every detail. Our friend delivered the ceremony speech, telling stories of shared times and what, in his opinion, it meant to be married. In his nervousness, he forgot to ask the guests to sit down.  The video shows my very skilful work of mouthing the words “sit dooowwn”, eyes widened for emphasis, with a slight directional jerking of my head toward the people. Regardless, the guests continued to stand for 20 minutes. They really deserved pancakes.

The event went on with talk of rings and vows and candle-lightings. At the end we were magically pronounced husband and wife, exiting the room while bluegrass banjos played. Our shared relief, palpable.

Church Ladies arranged the basement with flowered tables supporting coffee, tea, and punch bowls, mints, nuts, and cake. The very setup I had seen countless times growing up. A formal receiving line allowed us, flanked by our parents, to face-crackingly smile at all the attendees, making introductions, shaking hands or giving hugs. We fed each other some cake, I threw a bouquet, then a designated person drove us away to rendezvous with our car and our stuff and a honeymoon.

Getting married was the strangest thing I’ve ever done. When finally alone, I found myself repeatedly remarking, “We’re married”, incredulously pondering the before/after, the abracadabra of the day, the superficial change that changed everything. We had jumped through some hoops, hoops not entirely to my tastes but funded by my parents, answered a couple of questions, and signed a paper. Blammo.

Looking back at the pictures, we were babies. To some it may seem we jumped too soon, but we knew what we wanted. We knew fairy tales weren’t true, that nothing would be in-love easy. We wanted to be together, why not be married? We didn’t plan any exit strategies, we didn’t have anything to pre-nup. For better or worse, we became a package deal. Being a young married couple, having space and time to grow into our full adult selves together, before becoming parents, cemented the deal. We, each other, were our family, our community of 2.

I have loved being with Spouse. He smugly agrees that I am a better person because of him. The deepest emotion that I’ve ever felt before or since, was the night, while grieving a friend’s death, I worked through an overwhelming sense of loss, the chest-caving pain of letting go of Spouse. He is not mine to have or hold, to grip with fear for losing. He is mine to love, while I can. He is mine to cherish, mine to lighten, mine to lift up. That is my aim. Blessed and lucky, Spouse feels the same toward me.

We do.

One At A Time

I’ve been busy. My writing has been entirely other. There has been no room for anything birthed by the beautiful push of Muse. Nothing deep or soulful, nothing but lists and formulas and direction. My time consumed with readying for class: the class in 2 days, the class in 2 months, or the potential class, 6 months from now. Ingredients and method, time and temperatures, facts and figures. This, on the tail of my year-end cleaning binge, has me feeling empty, creative bits alone, unable to find a foothold in the vast cavern where they usually have many. So, yesterday, I collaged.

My collaging hiatus has been far longer than my writing. It’s been almost a year since I’ve bellied up to my collage bar, when I finished and mailed the most recent Candace Card. My Candace Cards are for my friend who moved away, a reason to collage on an almost 5×8 sheet. These collage are random, stream of consciousness, whatever-ephemera-grabs-my-eye, feeling-about-my-friend-based things. Sometimes they’ve been fantastic, other times too busy, too strained, but I still send them, the back covered in chit-chat. Yesterday I created a Candace card and will mail it today.  While it felt rough, and I found I do not care for glitter, it was a start, a spark.

Letting myself collage was an opening. While initially only for myself, I was tentative, afraid of doing it wrong, afraid of not being good enough, creative enough, whatever enough. I read books and looked at many images, seeing the layers, feeling their depth, catching glimpses of the backgrounds, beautiful on their own, but almost completely covered by the end product. I loved the idea of Art Journals, notebooks devoted to whatever medium, most often mixed media collage. I found a small spiral bound notebook which I had used to plan weekly meals and shopping trips. I began adding color and cut-outs to its pages. With each week dated, I could use the events surrounding those dates as a catalyst for idea. For color, I started with what was on hand: Jr’s toxic-free tempera, kid-grade watercolors, and any pastel crayon stubs large enough to hold.

Cautious at first, I found images, bits of magazines, greeting cards, wrapping paper. I used colored tissue papers. I highlighted original bits of text with markers. I incorporated existing torn pages to make layers of image. I love words and paper and texture and color. Letting myself play without judgement was an unmistakable Spring gust, the breeze of a perfect morning in May flapping about my soul. I couldn’t wait to work on my notebook. Lucky for me, that while I ignored dinners and housework and child, Spouse is a far deeper Creative, one who knows how everything falls away when you’re in the middle of It.

Since that beginning notebook, I’ve worked on others, made greeting cards, and, more significantly, did an art journal that encompassed the year leading up to my 50th birthday. This journal, meant as a daily, had some days spent catching up for several missed. It was here that I moved to acrylic paint, that I started blending on the page, trying different colors, experiencing the feeling those colors produced. Messing about with my 50th year journal led me to collage on stretched canvas. I purchased papers and background images for scrapbooking to use in collage. I fell deeply in love with creative services directories and image catalogs. Everything gleaned for images or design elements before meeting the recycle bin.

At some point during the year, Spouse said he’d like me to do a large canvas to hang over the mantle. I felt shocked and pleased. His work has always occupied that space and I’ve loved him for it. The thought had never occurred to me to go big. The experience was significant. Spouse knew what he was doing. I had to try things, try colors, cover it all up with different colors. I stamped images, I tore strips of text, I transferred black and white toner images, I painted over most of it again. Finally, the image started to appear, the gist of the thing began to emerge. It was about story. About telling. It was perfect to me after I dry brushed a lot of black over most of the images. What I’ve felt when I write happened with this collage. Never before have I been so viscerally connected to an image. I never thought I would be. The piece looked like crap above the mantle-wrong color. It didn’t work in the living room either. It did, however, find its place in the small hallway connecting Lego Room and Jr.’s Room. The large canvas, dominate in the small space, sits directly across from the bathroom door. Each time I face it, it draws me in, sometimes just to stand and stare.

I’ve not done any collaging since, save for my Candace Cards. Perhaps, as Monty Python puts it, I was “shagged out after a long squawk.” I’ve written things, I’ve cooked and baked, I’ve worked in my garden, but seldom do any of those overlap. This year I will try to change that. Rather than post nothing, to feel empty of words, I’ll show my latest card or a page from a journal. The 2nd Volume of my year-long journal still has empty pages. While I stopped on purpose, not quite 2 years later I’m going to fill it up. This time I have clear gesso to ready the 20-pound bond pages, letting the faint blue lines show through if I choose only a wash for background.

New Year

The 12 Days of Christmas are almost finished. Our tree is still up. The Wise Men have yet to visit the baby in the barn. La Befana is still searching for the child. One more fete takes place tomorrow, after which the house will slowly devolve into the pre company condition that took 4 solid days to make better. Four days of not cooking, not baking, not writing, hardly thinking past the sorting, piling, rehoming, recycling, reusing. The pool table sits uncovered and usable, the storage area I wrote of last time is accessible and functional, the art space is ready for papers, paints, and glue, the music area can breathe, the laundry room thinned and better organized, the Lego room is a Dream-Come-True, and the work space where I type is showing more concrete counter than it has since the day Spouse finished polishing it. I will try to keep things more tidy. I will try to put things back sooner rather than later. I can think better without clutter. I can breathe better when I see surfaces. I am happier when I let go.

This New Year I want to let go. I don’t know how it will happen. I don’t know if I will be successful, but I know it is what I want. I want to let go of grievance. I want to let go of shame. I want to let go of ruts. I want to let go of negative expectation. That’s it.

I hope for you the best. Be blessed.


Everything Is Awesome. Photo Credit: Spouse


Receipts waiting for Quickbooks; scrappy notes with names, addresses for fruit pickups or left-at-our-house-Nerf returns, URLs, memory prods for all those passwords; wedding invites to events passed but still at finger reach to get each sender’s new address entered into an address book; more receipts, cash transactions, not as pressing to account for, but the information wanted all the same; photocopied receipts, pages stapled from work reimbursements unsure to file or toss; written instruction for the many Kata Junior needs to practice so his muscles retain the memory of each; piles of paystubs waiting for their detail to find Quickbooks; printed insurance claims that needed a phone call but could now be shredded; current bills, even though handled through billpay, stay close on desk until payment date passes-Did I really remember to enter the correct amount? To all of this, pile on recipe packets from work, print outs of recipes to try, recipes to amalgamate into something more me, all waiting to find a better, more permanent home. A home other than the work space directly around my computer, the overflowing wicker  basket of to-be-filed sitting on the floor behind me, or the all-of-these-recipes-need-to-go-somewhere shelf above that.

Filing takes time. Sorting takes time. The kind of time one might find on a rainy January morning, listening to Jack Johnson, latte nearby, Junior happily occupied, sorting piles carpeting the cement floor: Utilities, Insurance, Paystubs, Mortgage, Benefits, and, the growing ever larger, Recycle.

I am not a hoarder. Hoarders can’t throw anything away. I am a Unfiler, but a Unfiler who knows she must try or be buried. The rule follower streak in me demands I keep certain documents for a specified time, legal-ly seeming things. The researcher part of me needs the different recipes spread out on the table or floor for full view, to compare & contrast, without flipping back & forth between websites or Word.doc files. The recipes I know and love need to be entered electronically, edits added, or be plastic-sleeved, then snapped into the appropriate 3-ring binder. The addresses of friends & family will, hopefully, stay close until I mail Holiday Greetings; then and, probably, only then will the street names and house numbers find their way into the address book. I might thrift store hunt for an old-school Rolodex, having easy access cards on which to jot info or a place to alphabetically wedge bits of paper might work for me. However, given the state of my on-desk vertical file, home of the important documents needed close at hand, I wonder.

Organizing most of this requires that already filed material be gone through as well. The 4 legal-sized drawers of the standing file cabinet only hold so much. I can’t file new papers when expired documents block the way. The recipe binders always contain Good Ideas that I never went back to. Those pages need to leave, so the New & Certain To Use can fit in. Part of the Paper Flow Problem is part of my house cleaning problem. Another name for Unfiler could be Ditcher. I tidy up my house when I expect company, when we return from a trip with my eyes refreshed, or during the occasional I-can’t-stand-this-anymore type of fit. Tidying for company always means ditching: removing things from where company will be into somewhere where they will not. Generally this means piles from the table and/or kitchen counters goes into my room with door closed. When my room begins to feel oppressive, those piles make their way downstairs to the office area. Anything requiring attention sits next to the computer, a tight place shared with ten-key, vertical file, pens, paperclips, speakers, and various cords. Less pressing paper is left on the opposite end of the beautiful cement work top Spouse created, a veritable Area 57. Adjacent to this office area is a small room, the someday 2nd bathroom for our home. This project is a ways off due to digging through a cement floor to bury the waste sump. Many other non-waste related projects easily cut ahead in the DIY line. Meanwhile, this space has become storage. There is shelving holding bins and boxes of gift wrap, fabric, board games, extra blankets, and evidence that we own too many movies. There are things to sell on eBay and the empty boxes to ship them in. Equipment for catering and camping, books I’m not sure I want anymore, dishes and glassware hoping for a new home, luggage, and the file cabinets. It is a Ditch. When a party includes the basement, when I need to tidy up the laundry room (also a Ditch), when I’m generally tired of stuff everywhere, this is the place it goes, the final resting place. It is out of my sight, and even when sitting here typing, if the light is off, it is all easily out of my thoughts.

All this is well and good until I need to find something in The Ditch.

The stuff piling up is getting to me. I want the recipes sorted. I want the file cabinet weeded. I want the wicker basket emptied. I want the vertical file gleaned and tidied. I want the recycle bin to get its rightful due. I want to breathe. I want to be free to walk easily into this storage room. I want to ask myself hard questions about what to Keep, Donate, or Toss. I want to lighten. The burden of stuff is real. Regardless if it is Important Paperwork, those Dishes We Loved, or Junior Might Like This Someday, it is better to live lightly. For me, a cleared tabletop, free of clutter, free of Will Get To It Soon, frees my thoughts. I’m not forgetting Something on one of these piled papers. With this burden finished, filed, or tossed, with my thoughts unencumbered, they can roam, release memory, roll words around. When I see a modicum of order on the shelves, assured I will be able to find something when I want to, I see the beauty and crafts work of these built-ins. When I am able to touch the surface of my desk, run my hand over this once-bumpy-aggregate now smooth stone-like finish, I think of Spouse, of his process, his creativity, of how much he supports my own. It is much more satisfying for me to write, search for recipes and recreate those recipes, even more satisfying to get Quickbooks and my spreadsheets up to date than to sort, file, toss. Like Bill Murray in What About Bob, I will take baby steps to organization. I started with my work surface, the area directly next to the PC. It’s remained functional. Keeping my thoughts moving only to the next thing rather than the entire project, I will take baby steps with rest of the desk. Maybe I’ll baby-step my way to finishing the entire project before year end, or, maybe I won’t. Whatever I get done will be better than doing nothing at all. Cheers!




Evidently, it was George Washington, as president, who declared the first national day of thanksgiving on November 26, 1789, but FDR who declared the American Thanksgiving officially the fourth Thursday in November. Completely aside from National Holidays, official calendars, or Hallmark Greeting Cards, I aim to live with thanks, with gratitude. Since it is the 4th Thursday in November, and since I’m waiting for the mix of flours and water to autolyse, I will officially declare the following:

I am thankful for Spouse & Junior, our funny way of life, for my sister & her fight, for the friendships gifted, the amazing people who cross our path, for awareness, willingness to grow, change, for everything that’s brought me here, that I only and always ever “did the best I could for who I was at the time,” for hammers & nails & bread & words. Thank you.



On another note, I’ve been posting quite a bit In My Tiny Kitchen-rants and recipes, ingredients of Fall, life. Cheers!

For Two

When a pregnant someone indulges in an extra helping of mashed potatoes, afternoon pumpkin pie, or the whole rather than half sandwich, she stereotypically offers the rationalization,”I’m eating for two!” While the need for rationalization has its roots in dysfunction, being co-joined, connected, physically tied to a growing human, caring for that human in utero is natural and necessary. What surprised me as mother, was that long after the window for lilting “I’m eating for two” had passed, something far more altering would take its place.

Along my path of parenting, I have sprained ankles in unseen potholes, tripped over protruding roots, been scratched by thorns, stung by nettles, all from my own slow progress at letting go of control, letting go of an always tidy house, a just-the-way-I-like backyard, of getting to manage my time, of having any “my time”. The pain and joy felt has been from my failure and, thankfully, my own subsequent realization, forgiveness, and move for change. Those near me, not unscathed, whipped by a flinging tree branch as I walked ahead, listened to me curse as I once again stubbed my toe, doubled back when I took a wrong turn, each time accepting my apology, offering forgiveness and continued love. This, my own personal growth as a human who parents.

When young, the path of a child has joy, fear, pain when experiencing the physical world for the first time. An attentive caregiver holds the child, laughs with the child, names things for the child, provides band aids, smiles, hugs and kisses, safety and freedom for the child. Fears validated but the phenomena still explained; anger, sadness, tears welcomed amidst a hug, caregiver quiet until words wanted, the child reacting to darkness, that dog, weather systems, a lost toy, skinned knee, or his own wrest for control. Concrete. Explainable. Understandable.

My son has always been empathetic and compassionate. This was sweet when as a toddler he wanted to comfort someone’s injury or nurse an under-the-weather daddy back to health. He has always “worn his feelings on his sleeve”, allowing us to see how he felt about almost anything. Unlike my growing up, I wanted him, and still want him, to have space, freedom, to express his emotions, to vent his anger, to cry the tears, to laugh hard, to be seen, heard, and accepted.

As my child has continued on the path of Growing Developing Human, the joys, fears, and pain grow and develop along with him. As he moves from less concrete to the abstract that will be the rest of his life, our feelings, reactions, and experiences are becoming more the same. This realization, coupled with my dearth of early life emotional validation, makes the potholes I encountered with nap time or nutrition nothing compared to those I navigate now. If I am to make room for my child to develop emotionally as well as physically, I must learn how to give space for my own feelings, how to vent appropriately, when and where and to whom. I have to model this new-to-him world of swirling emotions, relationship highs and lows, both of us working toward his emancipation into adulthood.

My parents were and are Fix It people. While of course you have feelings, it was more important to do. Get on with the business at hand. Get praying for the sick. Get making food for the funeral. Get phoning to let the family into the news. If the feelings of sadness or anger proved overwhelming, my takeaway was that the individual wasn’t allowing God to help him/her enough. I’m not saying that is what my parents believed, but it is what I gathered from the life conducted around me. As my child experiences the peer-to-peer problems and frustrations that come with growing and developing, as he shares his feelings of pain, frustration, or anger, I feel my inadequacy. I experience my frustration, anger, at not being able to fix or solve or explain. His pain is more like mine now. Pain I don’t give much time to. More than during his toddlerhood, I need to practice my parenting mantras: “step back, breathe deep”, “meet him where he’s at”, or “let go”, before succumbing to my own marred emotions, reacting to unhappiness as a fury rather than welcoming his feelings to a refuge. I do not want to drag him into my lack, compounding what he has to work through. I sometimes forget that this now larger human still needs the same safe space to vent, to have his pain validated, maybe being hugged, maybe just sat next to, to be heard. When I do remember to sit with him, quiet while he shares, gentle when I offer assistance when he’s ready, he becomes soothed, sometimes ready for a chat, sometimes ready to go outside for what I fear will be more of the same. Gah. It’s hard.

I am becoming a master at apology. Most days my son hears, “I’m so sorry-that’s not the kind of mommy I want to be.” I tell him that I’m not very good with my feelings, but I’m working to be better. We have many chats, working through different interpersonal scenarios involving friends or relatives, coaches or teachers. We talk about boundaries, how to determine friendship, when it’s necessary to wordlessly walk away from a situation. We talk about what it looks like when we give others (abusive) power over ourselves, about not letting their dysfunction control us. We discuss compassion and empathy, but in light of boundaries, again.

These discussions have helped me with my own social scenarios, with my boundary setting. My son has his own boundaries to establish, Spouse and I are here to help him do that. In turn, we have boundaries that we set on his behalf, that he doesn’t always know about. These boundaries usually involve keeping him away from people who harm. As we’ve watched people interact with him in consistently unhealthy ways, why would we choose to continue to have him in those situations? To return home from an event only to spend the next several hours helping him process the interactions, not to mention the even longer time for me to process my hurt, anger, indignation at what my child experienced. Isn’t that someone’s definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over, expecting different results each time? We have plenty of good relationships where in my son can continue to safely learn the life skills of sharing, problem solving, of navigating personality traits, differences, likes or dislikes. He will have a lifetime to potentially deal with those who ignore or disdain or ridicule or worse. As parents, this one is our call.

Little did I know, when contemplating parenting, when hearing someone blame an unborn child for their own overeating, of the effect and extent of the emotional part of this task. I don’t think anyone has said, at least not glibly, or even in public, “Oh me? I’m feeling for two.”