Sunday, May 31, 2020

Everyday People

"I am no better, and neither are you
We are the same whatever we do."

-Sly and the Family Stone

The history of the human race is written with countless struggles of persecuted people against their oppressors. Race, along with gender and religion, has been a classic dividing line and for millennia, judging people according to the color of their skin was considered simply to be the way the world worked.

Though change has burbled up in different places at different times, here in the United States, a nation founded on the idea of freedom, we have struggled mightily with the concept of race.

In the mid-1800s, abolitionists raised their voices to demand change in the nation's attitudes toward slavery.

The American Civil War was fought in the 1860s at great cost of human life to bring that system of degradation and dehumanization to and end. 

During the 1960s, a new wave of civil rights swept over the country, attempting to wipe away the ugly vestiges of slavery that still lingered in the form of Jim Crow laws, segregation, suppressed voting rights, and ugly discrimination.

I remember those days. 

The calm, measured tones of Martin Luther King Jr. and his beautiful leadership of nonviolent protest. 

The dignity of artists of the day - Sidney Poitier, Maya Angelou, Jimi Hendrix, Jacob Lawrence, Berry Gordy Jr. - who showed us the rich treasures of black contributions to our culture

And I remember the violence of race riots and street wars that swept the country, including my own Detroit, as black tempers boiled over in frustrations at the slow progress Americans made in recognizing and respecting our black brothers and sisters.

I never understood those terms, black and white. Aren't we all just different shades of brown?

I'm very thankful that my mother raised me to value people of all colors. When I was four or five, I remember telling her that I didn't understand how people could think skin color mattered, because it's just the outside layer of our bodies. If everyone is the same on the inside, how could their color make any difference?

 "Yes. You're right," she told me. "We're all the same."

And I've always been grateful for that.

Amidst the terrible chaos of the sixties, I often thought, Surely America is finally learning her lesson. By the time I'm grown up, we will all live in love. 

And I must point out that things did get better. As much as we still find ourselves today walking the edge of the sharp blade of racism, I can cite one simple example of just how far we have come: Until 1967, interracial marriage was literally against the law. And for as long as two decades after that, even though I lived near one major college campus and attended another, and then worked in the heart of a major city, I did not know a since interracial couple nor did I see them anywhere in the world. Nowadays, mixed race couples show up routinely in everyday life and barely even register in our awareness. In some ways, we have learned to live together. 

But sadly, maddeningly, horrifically, racial violence continues. And that is unacceptable. 

Why? I ask myself, over and over, with each new name added to the list of dead black men, needlessly killed at the hands of whites.

Why can't we learn this simple lesson to judge our brothers and sisters not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character?

I daresay no one knows why it's taking us so long.

Yes, we need to improve our social systems to prevent the outrageous acts of police violence against black citizens, to correct imbalanced sentencing practices, to call out our leaders - especially our president - who shamelessly expose their racist attitudes.

We need to vote carefully, use our power as citizens to speak out, and hold our institutions accountable to building a fair and equitable society for people of all colors.

But I am convinced that the truest, deepest answer to our problem is profoundly simple.

In our day-to-day interactions, we with the palest skin have a special responsibility to treat all our brothers and sisters with


We are all everyday people, and it's high time that as a nation, we started acting like it. 

Saturday, May 30, 2020

Birthdays In The Time Of Covid
You can't make them out in this photo, but beneath the glossy surface of chocolate icing stand three fluffy layers of decadently rich chocolate cake. And if that doesn't say happy birthday, I don't know what does. 

Happy birthday to my first-born daughter. Today was her big day, and along with all of our usual ceremony and tradition, we found a way to celebrate Covid-style.

Though she lives nearby - when traffic is clear, just a fifteen minute shot down the expressway - we have kept our social distance these past few months. We text pretty much every day, and made a few six-feet-apart rendezvous for some drop-off and pick-up situations, but as far as actual visits go, we have not hung out since this all began. 

But we both decided, she and I, that because we have all been very careful in protecting ourselves from infection, we all felt confident in our health and decided to give this visit a go.

And it was lovely. She rolled in around noon, and we went right to work in the kitchen. Taking turns, we pulled together a triple layer chocolate cake, a deep dish of homemade lasagne, caesar salad right down to the homemade croutons and anchovy dressing, and a loaf of garlic-rosemary bread. 

In the midst of all that, we also fit in my usual walk with Gracie, plenty of texting with Younger Sister 2, and a considerable amount of tomfoolery with Younger Sisters 3 and 4. 

We then ate dinner
opened presents
collapsed in the family room
eventually revived ourselves for cake and ice cream
and then collapsed again.

In other words, it was a simple and homespun day of birthday fun.

And though Covid forced us to keep the day simple, it also reminded us of what matters most. 

Birthdays are for being with the people you love. 

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Staying Together

Today is my wedding anniversary 

It's been quite a few years since the day that this bride and groom who once topped my husband's parents' wedding cake stood upon my own, and while no marriage is ever bulletproof, at this point, ours has definitely beaten the odds. 

In honor of this special day, here are a few observations about what has helped us stay together:

Compatible values.
My husband and I have different interests, different energies, different personality traits. On the Ennegram scale, he's a  hardcore 1 and I'm a total 2; in Meyers-Briggs speak, he comes out as an ITSJ and I'm an INFJ; two types with similar letters that are ideologically many miles apart. When we meet strangers, there's often a bit of head-scratching that goes on as people struggle to connect the dots between his orderly, man-of-few-words, no-nonsense personality, and my Ke$sha/Mrs. Weasely vibes. It's true, we are very different people. But what holds us together, what forms the solid core of our union, is that we agree on what's most important in life. Kindness. Respect. Honesty. Curiosity. Hard work. Selflessness. Love.

Let each other grow. 
I have a friend who jokes that her husband courted her under the false pretense that he was a sporty, outdoorsy kind of guy, and then once the ink was dry on the marriage certificate, he totally shattered that illusion by permanently parking himself on the couch. It's a funny story to which many married people can relate; there's definitely some truth about the ways that we relax into marriage. But over the years, we also change. My husband is a very different person than he was when we were dating, and sometimes that frustrates me. But spoilers - I've changed at least as much as he has. Probably more. And it's our willingness to let each other reinvent ourselves that has allowed each of us - and our marriage - to grow.

Roll with the punches.
Yeah, yeah, we all know that the traditional wedding vows lay out some serious warnings of life's potential for problems: "For better, for worse; for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health." I thought I knew what I was doing when I agreed to all that. And I did, to the best of my twenty-five-year-old understanding of life. But dude, I had NO idea about some of the curve balls and challenges that were coming our way, and honestly, I'm sure it's better that I didn't. What's more important is that we knew to expect some troubles so when the troubles showed up, we fairly quickly got over our shock and just started figuring out how to deal.

It's a threesome.
Okay, look. This is either going to sound obvious or totally preposterous, depending your own point of view, but trusting in God is the best ace up our marital sleeve. I'm serious. If married people believe that God brought them together and built up their lives together for a reason and a purpose, then it's a whole lot easier to get over the proverbial dirty socks on the floor. Whenever I'm annoyed with my husband - who by the way has never, ever thrown a single dirty sock on the floor and almost certainly never will - God has a way of reminding me, "Sure, you have a legitimate grievance but then again, you haven't had to change a single light bulb or battery in the last three decades. What's that worth to you?" He's the ultimate good-faith negotiator who keeps both my husband and me at our best when we need it most and without him, we would certainly fall short.

* * * * *

And a final thought that may be the most important one of all. In our first few years of marriage, we actually did struggle with that classic marital conundrum - should the toothpaste tube be squeezed from the bottom or the middle? After debating the issue with all the rational firepower we each could muster and still not coming to a meeting of the minds, we resolved the problem once and for all by buying ourselves our own tubes of toothpaste.

That's a small price to pay for a lifetime of staying together. 

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Remembering The 58,318

Memorial Day is considered the official start of summer, and usually kicks off a series of camping trips, barbecues, and family gatherings that roll on till September. And despite the notoriously wet weather that normally greets us on this end-of-May holiday, I'm usually down with the slip-n-slide, burgers on the grill mindset.

Sure, we all know that Memorial Day is officially meant for remembering those dear souls who have passed before us, especially those who gave their lives in service to our country. We hang our flags and visit the cemeteries and maybe tell a few stories about our fallen heroes. These are important acts too.

But this year feels very different to me. Because I'm in the middle of watching the Ken Burns documentary series on the Vietnam War, and it is rocking my world. As a little girl just beginning to figure out life during those war years, I found it very difficult to piece together the tidbits of information I slowly accumulated about this terrible conflict on the other side of the world that was threatening to tear apart the fabric of my simple life. Like most other girls my age, I sent away for a stainless steel POW bracelet and wore it on my arm till it fell off one day while I was swimming and I saw many a protest on the familiar campus at nearby University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, where my eyes just barely could peek out at the bottom of the car window as we drove past. 

Now I understand why. Even as a seasoned adult, I'm just beginning to understand what a truly complicated, frustrating, one-of-a-kind rat trap that war turned out to be. I have a certain amount of compassion and understanding for all the political players and military honchos who just did not understand what they were up against. I can easily wrap my head around the thinking of the voices of protest who demanded that we, as a country, make love not war, though I can see now that in their intense frustration, protesters sometimes went too far in their violence and aggressive postures.

And while I feel frustration and anger for the motivations of the North Vietnamese who determined to convert their country to communism at any cost, my heart breaks over and over again for the people of Vietnam who simply tried to live their lives in the midst of a literal war zone. Since I've been lucky enough to visit that country three times while my third-born daughter was living and teaching English there, I feel a personal connection to the gentle people and the now-familiar places that feature so prominently in the story of the war, and suffered such profound loss. 

But as the 17-hour series unfolds, one message comes through loud and clear to me: the vast majority of the young men - boys, really - who put their boots on the ground in Vietnam and tried to do the job they were sent to do are heroes. When I hear the full story, I realize that many of the atrocities they reportedly committed - that haunted my nightmares as a child - are much more complicated and nuanced than simply American soldiers gone rogue. There is ample evidence that most of the U.S. soldiers did what they could to make the best out of an absolutely awful situation, and they gave their lives with great courage and selflessness. 

And so on this Memorial Day, I lift up the lives of the 58,318 American soldiers who died in the terrible mess of the Vietnam War, and thank them with all my heart for their service. 

Moment By Moment

Right on schedule, the sparkling sunshiny days of April and early May have given way to a classic Pacific Northwest start on summer.

After weeks of beautiful spring weather and even a chance to work on my first sunburn of the year, fog and misty rain have rolled in with the beautiful big blossoms of the season.

and rhododendrons galore 

are bursting into bloom this weekr, and while they love the cool weather and lush humidity, their delicate petals are easily crushed by rain. So there's that to worry about. But over the years, I've dealt with many a rain-induced calamity and learned this lesson well.

I enjoy what my garden has to offer, moment by moment, and remind myself that nothing - not even a fabulous hedge of brilliant rhodies - will last forever. 

Friday, May 22, 2020


"Now is the only time we have." -Richard Carlson

One rainy afternoon last spring, I found myself in a garden full of blooming allium. 

Perfect spheres of tiny purple flowers, swaying gently on tall, rigid stems and looking like something straight out of Dr. Seuss. 

Over the years - and decades - I've seen other allium now and then and thought how delightfully whimsical they are and how fantastic it would be to have some one day.

One day.

I never put a time stamp on that wish. Just a vague thought pushed to the middle background of my mind that eventually I'd get around to those allium. 

I figured I had plenty of time.

Well. Something in my way of thinking has changed.

Because last spring, when I drew in my breath and smiled at those wonky purple flowers, a pair of words came into my mind.

Next year.

Yes. I told myself, no more "one day" thinking. There's no more time to waste. By next spring, I told myself, I will have my own allium blooming happily in my very own garden, and that's that. 

And so I do. 

I still have plenty of time in my life to dream more dreams and make them come true. But now I'm completely focused on the follow through.

Instead of saying, "One day," my mantra these days is "Now."

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Spa Day

It's not bragging to say I was born with a green thumb.

The undeniable fact of the matter is that plant-tending is in my blood. Both sides of my family tree are jam-packed with successful farmers and gardeners galore.

My great-grandfather, Jacob Belz, worked his farm to great financial success. Not only did he put food on the table and shoes on the feet of his ten children, he also provided them with pianos, harps, violins, and all the lessons needed for his fleet of little maestros. 

My paternal grandmother, Cecelia, was the kind of lady who tossed her carrot trimmings out into the corner of her city backyard and came back a month later to harvest a fresh crop. Every inch of her tiny plot was crammed full of enthusiastic growth. I particularly remember her impressive stretch of hens and chicks along the front sidewalk.

And Clara, my mother's mother, worked not only a twenty by fifty foot plot of vegetables but endless borders of perennials: black-eyed Susans, chrysanthemums, and peonies. My mother told me about the delphinium and rose spectacles that my grandmother had produced in her younger days - towering spectacles of blue and bowers of pink and white, all blooming against the odds of the scorching Michigan summer heat. 

So it is that I come to my passion for houseplants with all the genetic odds stacked in my favor, but here's the thing:

No one - not even the Instagram fashionistas with the jungly living rooms and gorgeous green specimens from here to next week - has perfect houseplants. 

No one.
Here is some happy news - over the winter, my Chinese money plants gave birth to a handful of pips  - babies that grow from mom's roots and can be clipped to become independent plants. This one is still a bit young to leave its mother but three others graduated to their own pots.

Oh sure, every plant looks real nice when you bring it home from the nursery, after living its young life in ideal growing conditions and pampered by professionals for profit. But once that pretty bit of flora comes home and settles in for a while, things can and do go wrong. In fact, I've observed that for the first six to nine months at home, my plants all go through a phase of adapting to their new micro-climate - a very few thrive from the get-go, most experience a considerable hiccup and sorting out period, and there's always a handful that just struggle and die. 

Even the most experienced and intuitive gardener must accept these imperfections as rules of the game, and do whatever they can to help their houseplants fight for survival. 

And so it was that yesterday, my two younger daughters - whose thumbs are every bit as naturally green as mine - and I decided it was time to treat our plants to a spa day.
This is a prime pip, He makes me smile. 

After the long and ridiculously dark Seattle winter, many of our plants had suffered some setbacks but we had just the remedies they needed. 

A quick session with the pruning shears took care of browned leaves and dried out stems. 

Cinnamon sprinkled on the soil cuts back on mold issues and also those pesky little flies that live on perpetually damp soil.

Fertilizer does much to lift the spring spirits of the houseplant so we offered ours an appropriate dose.
Now living independently in a bright blue pot, my biggest pip was kind of like your thirty-something son who still lives in the basement - it was high time for him to move out and get his own place. In the pot below him, a struggling sprig of prayer plant is getting one more chance to shape up and thrive. 

In order to suit the plants' space needs and our aesthetic whims, we enjoyed a session of moving this plant into that pot, playing a bit of round robin using up all our extra potting soil and our inventory of extra pots. 

We inspected the vulnerable ivies and jade trees for aphids. Ugh. Found another plant infested with those little white monsters and as much as we hate to do it, dumped that poor victim right into the compost. From some maladies there are no happy endings. 

And horror of horrors, my third-born's anthurium was infested with worms. Worms! Tiny little deep red things, that not only crawled through the soil but wrapped themselves around the roots with more tenacity than my garden hose could overcome.

But not to worry, we rinsed all the soil off the roots, jammed the whole plant into a big cup of water and drowned the little suckers. Problem solved.
This is the plant with worms. I have no words. 

By the end of their spa afternoon, our newly restored plants were singing in the sunshine, and we humans were well chuffed with our satisfied customers. 

All of our plants are now in prime condition. 

The minute the stay-at-home orders lift, we'll be ready and raring to welcome some new plants into our tender, loving care. 

Tuesday, May 19, 2020


"Simplify, then add lightness." -Colin Chapman
My bedroom basks in sunshine while the bathroom sits in shadows. You'd never know from this photo that the walls are the exact same color. 

It's been six or seven years since I changed. 

Long a proponent of bold color and lots of action in my decor, my aesthetic abruptly switched to a starkly minimal streak. Suddenly I craved neutrals all day, simple black and white accents, and lots of big empty space on my walls.

To be honest, this timeline matches up with the decline of my mother's health. Her battle with Lewy Body Dementia took a toll on my state of mind as well as hers, and when she became seriously ill, I found that a calm, visually quiet home brought peace to my troubled soul. 

So I began to live, quite contentedly, with pale, neutral, empty spaces.
If you look closely, you can see the last remaining 1980s pink and blue morning glories in the tile around my bathtub. My brain refuses to acknowledge them, but there they are in all their glory.

This was especially true in my bedroom and bathroom. I needed Zen-level calm in the place where I wound down at night for restful sleep, and geared myself up in the morning to face another day. So I stripped both rooms down to bare essentials and light beige walls, and just let everything be for years on end. 

A year and a half ago, I dreamed of four paintings on the then-completely blank wall of my bedroom. Inspired by my vision, I went out on a limb and brought this mini gallery to life. Though this felt like a huge step forward, these pieces were just what I needed to begin stepping out from my empty-wall phase, and hang exactly in the same spot to this day.

Many times over the past year, those paintings have caught my eye, and I am grateful that I made what felt like the very bold step to add them.
I'll admit that the grey background against the beige wall is hardly a cutting edge decor statement. But the low contrast combination is exactly what feels pleasing to my brain, and that is good enough for me. 

Last week, they inspired me further. 

Okay, I tell myself, enough with the big empty wall above the bathtub. It's time to admit that that space looks neglected and sad. I begin to mentally sort through my art stash to see if anything on hand could suit my purposes.

My family room in 2012. Pretty much everything has changed since then. 
I'm glad the flower lives on. 

With a jolt of surprise and a rush of certainty, I remember the big flower painting that used to hang in my family room. Somewhere around three in the morning - which is probably like ten p.m. to normal people - I dash out to the garage, pull it from storage, and hustle it upstairs to see if the proportions would work. 

Yes. Perfection.

The bold colors of the original art still feel overwhelming to me but not to worry. Since I created the painting in the first place, I can easily rework it in different colors.

And that's what I do. A Saturday afternoon on the patio surrounded by a half dozen tubes of acrylic paint turns the bright red flower to pale pink, and dials the background back from blue to gray.
Now this is the scene that greets me when I walk into my bathroom, and it feels not chaotic or overwhelming but cheerful. 

I hang the reinvented painting in place before dinner, and that night - again around three in the morning - as I bring in a trio of plants for their monthly watering session, I take in the scene and realize they are the perfect finishing touch. 

I realize that my bathroom - and my bedroom too, for that matter - is still subdued and a far cry from the old days of orange polka dots and rainbow rugs

But times have changed me, for better or for worse, and this still-neutral room now set off by a big bold flower expresses exactly who I am today.

The flower adds the touch of lightness that I am finally ready to embrace. 

Monday, May 18, 2020

The Cure
I baked my sick friend some chocolate chip cookies 
and I'm glad to report he felt well enough to eat them. 

For the past couple days, I’ve been visiting a friend who is sick. 

No, it’s not Covid 19. Nor any other contagious ailment, so it’s safe enough to see him. 

A number of his other friends have been visiting too so there are often three or four of us gathered in his room at the same time. Interestingly, they have all had the same malady that my friend suffers now, so they have good insights and advice to offer him.

I'm new to this but I'm learning.

My friend is mostly awake and conversant, though certainly not himself. Yesterday, he was swallowed up with pain and desperate in his suffering. We talked to him, encouraged him, brainstormed ways to help him feel more comfortable. My friend has been sick like this before and we all reminded him that if he got through it before, he can get through it again.

Positive vibes.
Breathe deep.
Drink lots of water.
Try to sleep.

During the worst of it, we considered getting him some emergency medical help, but in the end everyone agreed that he's better off staying put in his own bed. Miserable as he is, we know for a fact that our friend will not die  - or be permanently harmed - by his illness.

In fact, this disease is not a disease at all.

This is the cure.

* * * * *

My friend is dope sick.

Heroin has ruled his life for the past decade and a half. Though he's made some major strides toward sobriety in the past couple years, he still struggles. And the past six weeks have been a nightmare of nonstop smoking.

So a few days ago, he decided to that the only way to put an end to this run was to detox.

Over the years, my friend has gone through many episodes of detox - the fancy kind at a pricey rehab center as well as the kind where you're in jail - and he knew exactly what he was up against. His friends, who are recovered addicts themselves and have all gone through this same hell, knew what they were getting into, and they know what they're doing.

Though my friend has told me many stories about his detox adventures, this is my first rodeo.

What I've gained from the experience so far is this:

Heroin is evil. Sure, when you're high, heroin takes away your pain and makes you feel, as my friend always says, perfect. But in the end, heroin all but destroys you. And that's if you're lucky to not overdose.

More than ever, I truly believe that anyone who uses heroin must be in so much physical, mental or spiritual pain that they are willing to take the black, soul-sucking, deep-pit-of-hell bad of heroin with the momentary flash of good. 

People who use heroin deserves our compassion and support. Not our judgment and disapproval. 

* * * * *

I saw my friend again today, and it looks like he's past the worst of it. He's still a ways from getting back on his feet, but he slept twelve hours last night and feels somewhat human again.

We are all greatly relieved.

I'd like to think that my chocolate chip cookies may have helped. 

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Passionate Moms

"I can promise you that women working together - linked, informed and educated - can bring peace and prosperity to this forsaken planet." -Isabel Allende

Foster moms can be a passionate bunch.

Same for 

health and wellness moms
adoptive moms, 
moms of kids with autism,
homeschooling moms, 
tiger moms, 
moms of kids with special needs,
moms of twins, 
moms of preschoolers, 
moms of children who are seriously ill,
moms of addicts,
moms of children who have turned to violence, 
moms of kids who committed suicide,

and mothers of kids who have been killed by drunk drivers.

So here's my point: all of those moms who have committed their hearts and minds to a specific cause, and give unendingly not only to their own sons and daughters but to all children who gather under that particular banner are beautiful.

All of those causes are beautiful.
All of those mothers' passionate work is motivated by love. 

And I truly believe that, while God loves us no matter what we do or don't do, he is pleased with anyone who cares for children, no matter what the specifics of the particular situation.

But there are times, though I hate to say it, that some of those particular types of mothers lift up their own special cause as different

or better
or more important
or closer to God's heart

than the causes that other mothers lift up. 

Rather than revel in the beauty of every form of passionate mothering, I hear voices saying, "Yes, this is the most important form of mothering. Every mother should consider doing this."

And sometimes I can make out, in the whispers between the words, "God loves this kind of mothering best."

Now, I understand the passion in those voices, both whispered and spoken aloud.

There is nothing that feels more right and good and truly empowering than to step into the call that God has planned for you. And there's nothing more affirming and life-giving than getting that sense of spiritual confirmation that you are exactly where you are supposed to be, doing exactly what God created you to do.

I'll be the first to acknowledge that passionate moms can easily get so wrapped up in their causes that it's hard for them to imagine being any other way. Back in the day, I was a homeschooling mom as intense as they come - I loved everything about homeschooling  and knew without question that this was the ideal lifestyle not only for my own family but for all children and their families. I would drag out my soapbox to expound on the merits of this lifestyle to anyone who would listen, and encouraged every mother who showed even a flicker of interest in homeschooling to give it a try. I wanted every child in the world to learn this way, and I tirelessly reached out to other homeschooling families to give them a hand up. As further proof of my endless passion for homeschooling, let me point out that eight years after graduating my youngest daughter, I'm still supporting homeschooled kids by teaching algebra to homeschooled high school students.

Passion is a beautiful thing.

But, you know, allow me to point out the obvious.

God built us all to do different things. 

So. While one mom is advocating for kids with attention deficit issues, another is serving as a doula for laboring moms, and a third is influencing legislation to help hungry kids get healthy breakfasts at school.

There's no hierarchy to these needs. One form of mothering is just as valid and essential to our children as the next. Every single passionate act of mothering counts. 

And when we passionate moms can work together, fully appreciating the unique and varied gifts we each bring to the world, that is the very best we can do for the children that we all love so much.

* * * * *

My latest thoughts on mothers and mothering:

Pet Brains
Last weekend in my backyard, the humans were busy working while the pets worked on their naps. 

I do not pretend to understand my pets' minds/

Oh sure, they do a bang-up job of letting me know what they'd like me to do for them.
Their communication to me around meals, doors, and requests for attention come through loud and clear, and they have trained me to anticipate and meet their needs very well. 

But certainly there is a lot more going on inside of those adorable furry heads than I can grasp.
I think Sirius is thinking how nice it feels to rest those dainty white feet. 

Take chaise lounges for example. 

For these last six or seven months, my back-yard lounge chairs have been under wraps, hidden away from the winter rains, and inaccessible for anyone's use.

But when we humans brought the chairs out into the sunshine last weekend, it took only a hot minute for two of my clever cats to hop up and make themselves entirely at home.
I think Luna wants me to fan him and feed him grapes.

These fabulous felines apparently had no trouble recalling the express purpose of the chaise lounges. They lounged in proper style, stretching out across the smooth, sun-warmed wood and settling in for a pair of lovely, shade-dappled, afternoon naps. 

All they needed were tiny novels and meow-sized margaritas for the perfect summer relaxation experience. 

Clearly my cats understand with infinite subtlety and depth the true purpose of the chaise lounge.
"Guys! No need to rest like animals on bare wood - hold out for the cushions! 

In an unusually magnanimous gesture, Gracie did not challenge the cats to the chairs. She calmly watched their lounging session from her comfortable patch of grass. 

And though I don't claim to understand her thoughts any more than I do the cats', I'm pretty sure my clever dog's logic was to wait her turn until we put the cushions on. 

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Pie People

We are pie people and that’s just a darn fact. 

This goes way back through the generations on both sides of the family tree.

For Thanksgiving, while the rest of the relatives contributed apple, pecan, and pumpkin pies to the feast, my family of origin was known for chocolate cream. The others loved to joke and tease about that - "Who eats chocolate pie for Thanksgiving?!" they would heartily chortle. But when the knives began to flash and the pies were offered up, their tune changed. "I guess I'll try a little piece of that chocolate."


In many areas of his life, my father lacked in common sense and good graces. But one of his few-and-far-between redeeming qualities was that he always requested lemon meringue pie for his birthday instead of the usual cake. 

I approved. 

* * * * *

Over on my husband's childhood dining room table, his mom ceremoniously baked a pie every Saturday for his dad, grandfather, and bachelor uncle to enjoy for Sunday dinner. (You know, the midday meal in farm folk language.)

My father-in-law was not otherwise a demanding or picky man, but for him, it was fruit pies all the way. 

Black raspberry.

And of course, apple. 

Most of the fruit came from local farms and orchards, lovingly frozen in mass quantities by my mother-in-law so she could pamper her husband with his favorite flavors all year long. 

See what I mean? This is serious devotion to pie. 

Often, for her birthday, after a year of endless fruit pies, my selfless and soft-spoken mother-in-law treated herself to her own favorite flavor of pie: coconut cream. I love that she indulged in this little act of rebellion for her special day. Fruits be damned; the queen of all pie bakers wants custard!

* * * * *

My husband inherited the fruit pie gene, and I've done my best to step into his mother's enormous pie-baking shoes. He sure hasn't enjoyed the weekly pies that his mother provided but  I've done my best to whip him up a half dozen or so every year. My special addition to his family-of-origin pie tradition was a la mode presentation; although he disdained the idea at first, even my father-in-law couldn't say no to a bit of vanilla ice cream on the plate. At my table, pie and ice cream share an inviolable bond. 

Of course, it goes without saying that our family pies must be made from scratch. We've learned to make do with a certain type of canned cherry - they're extra tart! - but otherwise the fruit must be fresh, and the pastry of course home made and hand trimmed. 

Don't even joke about bringing a store-bought pie into this house. That would NEVER fly. 

As my daughters grew up, I wasn't a bit surprised when they became little pie fanatics all their own. Though normally we did our best to instill reasonable table manners, pie nights were the one time when my girls were allowed - even encouraged - to pick up their almost-empty plates of pie and ice cream, and lick up every last drop. 

As parents, we felt responsible for modeling the proper technique. To this day, we all six heartily lick our pie plates clean. 

I also took it as my duty to be sure that each of my daughters could turn out a hand-made pie. Happily, I can report that they have all successfully done so, but it's my fourth-born who has really taken to the challenge.
My daughter's rhubarb masterpiece, ready for the oven, 
complete with her grandma's fluted baking pan. It lives with us now. 

For my husband's recent birthday, she gifted him with the promise to bake him as many pies as he can eat, as fast as he can eat them.

There has been a freshly baked pie popping out of the oven every three or four days.


And this week, rhubarb.
Pretty as a picture. 

Not only are my daughter's pies delicious but they are immaculately designed. She perfects every element of the process - fruit sliced to precisely uniform size, juices thickened just so, and crusts woven to delicate perfection. 

She also bakes them on my mother-in-law's special aluminum drip pan, and we think of her every single time we use it. 

* * * * *

For Mother's Day, my daughters asked me what I wanted for dinner. 

Nothing fancy, I said, just the usual steaks or salmon on the grill.

But what I really wanted, I told my youngest, was a pie.
Happy Mother's Day to my pie-baking mother-in-law, 
whose traditions live on in our pie-loving family. 

Coconut cream, please. For my mother-in-law and me. 

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Sweet Columbine

"Some plants become weeds simply by virtue of their success rather than any other factor. 
You merely want less of them. " -Monty Don
This bouquet won the Most Riotous award. 

Once upon a time, a long, long time ago, I bought three purple Columbines and planted them in my garden.

There, I thought. What beautiful flowers. Someday they will fill in and make my yard look like a proper alpine meadow.


That's ironic.
And this one wins Most Delicate. It's my favoirite.

Probably three or four years went by before I realized my predicament.

Columbine flowers happily reseed themselves. Which mean my original three quickly expanded to a dozen, and then fifty, and by the third year, into the hundreds.

And these new plants did not just settle in around their mother's skirts. No, no - they blew far and wide across my yard, popping up their purple heads up in every corner.
These flowers had not yet bloomed when I harvested them. 

Which, you know, is not really the worst thing in the world. Lots of plants reseed themselves - foxglove roam even more freely around my gardens - but what makes the Columbine truly notorious is the fearsome power of its root system. Even the tenderest little sprout can dig in its heels and cling to the soil with incredible tenacity and strength.

Which means, in short, Columbines are the very devil to remove.

And for every tiny fragile baby that I don't get in one season, I have a dozen more to pry loose by the next year.
They are a bit smaller than the others, more delicate in shape and in color. 

Over the decades, I have plucked and pinched and prodded those innocent-looking leaves till my fingers ache, only to find that my Columbine situation really does grow worse every year.

That vision of my yard turning into an alpine meadow was no joke, people. These suckers are trying to take over.
As much as I've come to gnash my teeth at the Columbine in my garden, 
I simply adore them in vases around my house. 

So it was with a heavy heart this past week that I observed the annual bloom of my Columbine invasion. And just as I felt the usual fever hit me - the mad desire to run through my front yard with a blow torch and show every one of those invasive purple monsters who's boss - I suddenly had a different idea.

Rather than destroy them, why not love my unruly usurpers into submission?

With a new thrum of happiness in my heart, I grabbed my trusty Fiskars and cheerily trimmed off every stem of Columbine blooms in sight. I swept the entire armload into the house and filled vases with their charming stems and delicate bells.

Now these flowers can do me no harm. By trimming them off and bringing them inside, I have rendered their Columbine reseeding super power inert. None of them will produce seeds to fall to the fertile soil, and none of them will ever contribute to the population explosion that has tormented me for all these years.

Both my garden and I are breathing a blissful sigh of relief. And now, much to my surprise, I find my Columbine to be rather sweet. 

Monday, May 11, 2020

Dog Chair

In my bedroom sits a dog chair. 

It's not just for dogs. Humans can sit there too. But dogs have a special invitation to curl up in this chair, and all three of my dogs have done so.

It's a fairly old and run down chair. But that's just the right kind of chair for dogs.

It is also, apparently, a cat chair. My three cats have all loved it too, and during the day, when my dog is usually busy following me around the other rooms of the house, the cats slip into my room to gaze out the window while perched on the arm of the chair or to curl up in the chair, a perfectly tidy circle of cozy fur in the big seat.

Gracie is okay with that, as long as the cats clear out at night. She likes to sleep in the dog chair at night. Though she is welcome to snooze on the foot of the bed, this pooch mostly chooses to crash out on either her floor rug or the dog chair. Usually some of both.

This morning, Luna put on quite a show, rubbing her head on the little table full of plants, my legs, even on Gracie's head resting on the arm of the dog chair.

Luckily, Gracie doesn't mind sharing a little head rubbing from a friendly cat.

That's a nice thing about a dog chair. It lends a peaceful, gentle, forgiving air to the room, and brings out the best in everyone.

And it is also a very good place to keep your eye on your prize possessions.

* * * * * 

For another story about Gracie and her rawhide bones in my bedroom, read this:


From bottom left, clockwise:

for those mourning their mama
for trans mamas
for those who have painful relationships with their moms
for mamas who have lost a child
for stand in mamas
for mamas of fur babies
for teachers who love their students as kids
for bonus step moms
for moms
for first time mamas

In the past decade or two, on Mother's Day and all through the year, our culture has spoken out more often about the different kinds of mothering.

Of course, it's been that way all along. Throughout history, women have found room in their hearts and at their supper tables for children not of their own bodies, and that has always been a beautiful part of life. 

But these days we are talking about it more often, and making a point to be thoughtful and inclusive enough to recognize and celebrate women who mother in the broader sense of the word. 

I am for that. I am 100% behind anything and everything we can do to inscribe value to this incredible art of creation and nurture that we call mothering. 

My only concern is that by lifting up the different kinds of mothering, we may inadvertently suggest that mothers are one or the other, compartmentalized as bio mom, foster mom, pet mom, and so on. 

The truth is much more subtle and interesting than that. 

Take me, for example. 

First and foremost, I call myself a bio mom, and I consider it the biggest blessing and privilege of my life to have raised four daughters bred from my bone. And let's be honest, that blood connection matters. 

A couple years ago, when I met my new brother-from-another-mother, a secret sibling who had grown up knowing he was adopted, he told me in no uncertain terms that as much as he loved his real (adoptive) parents and sister, he craved that blood connection. And when his first child was born, he felt incredible joy in the knowledge that finally, on this earth, he knew of someone who shared his blood. 

I'm not a foster mom or an adoptive mom, but I've had a long line and a steady stream of young people passing into my house and through my life who I have mothered. My daughter's friends. My students. My Girl Scouts. My youth group kids.  And let's not even get started on all the toddlers who have wandered into my life and stayed around to play and eat popsicles at my house. 

I mother adults too, though I don't like to say it that way. People who struggle with grief, anxiety, depression, addiction. With a bad break-up or a career crisis. With kids who are running amok. People who need someone to sit down, shut up, and listen without passing any judgment or parceling out unwanted advice. I prefer to call that friendship, but it really is a form of motherly nurturing and care. 

I mother with wild abandon my dogs. Interestingly, I never think of them as my children but I definitely see that I mother them, each one my darling and special red-headed mischief-making only, and I have loved each one of them with my whole heart.   

In a mind-bending reversal of roles, I mothered my mother on her journey through Lewy Body Dementia. Another example of how mothering does not imply an adult-child relationship; instead it speaks to nurture and care. I mothered my mother fiercely. 

And sometimes, I find that I need to mother myself. 

You see my point? 

Most women are more than just this type of mom or that type of mom. We all pour fourth many kinds of mothering not just over our lifetimes but on any given day, because that's just how we roll. 

We are not, as the image suggests, individual flowers in the garden of mothering. 

Each one of us is the whole darn bouquet.

* * * * *

My latest thoughts on mothers and mothering:

Sunday, May 10, 2020

Grandmother's Christmas Cactus

This is not my grandmother's Christmas cactus.

She had a big one, monstrous to my child-size eyes. It lived on a table in her sunny front porch, right near the door into the living room, and I was always a bit afraid of it. Those long green spidery arms reached down toward my face, and I remember rushing past it on my way into the house with dread.

But mostly, I remember, from time to time, my mother and grandmother stopping in front of that Christmas cactus to exclaim over its brilliant pink-red blossoms. It escaped my notice that these periods of bloom always came between Thanksgiving and Christmas, when these plants put on their annual flower show, but I do recall with perfect emotional clarity the excitement and thrill in their voices, these two maternal forces of mine, as they took in such beauty and marveled at nature's miracle. 

Looking back over the whole of my relationships with them, I can say with certainty that I've never understood exactly what made my mom or my grandmother tick. For sure, they were

interesting women,
principled women,
highly intelligent women who had minds of their own and knew how to make things happen.

But who were they as mothers? What kind of mothers did they want to be? What, if anything, were they trying to teach me about becoming a mother myself?

I really don't know at all.

But then I reflect on the emotional power of those moments in front of an enormous blooming Christmas cactus, listening to my mother and my grandmother marvel at its brilliant glory, and I decide maybe I do understand them after all.

This is not my grandmother's Christmas cactus.

But it is an offspring of her original plant. I've had it for decades. 

And even though it bloomed heartily in my living room last December, it has surprised me with another full and equally dazzling display for Mother's Day.

I stand in front of it and marvel at its beauty. 

* * * * *

My latest thoughts on mothers and mothering: