Cake, Coping, Courage, Holidays, Memoir

November goals.

Leaves. Frost. Owl calls. Vests. November in the Pacific Northwest; squeezing a little time with my writer support group, the island, cousins and friends before the holidays. I am reading a piece on a virtual site tonight about cake, coping and courage. My mother loved that word ‘cope’and overused it, especially with a child who didn’t actually know what it meant but I knew — from the force of her voice — that this was an important action to take.

It has taken me so far a lifetime to accumulate and practice the nuances of coping. They include blind faith, closed eyes, simple pleasures, complicated relationships and love. How did you cope during 2020, 2021 and now 2022 when we still mask, worry and take great risks in the most mundane places — movie theaters, the grocery store, weddings? Coping or crap shoot? I carry N95’s and wear in groups situations. I fly masked and without drinking/eating/snacking. I still have a sneaky cold today, picked up despite five vaccine jabs and the flu shot. Crap shoot week.

There is an endangered squirrel that found it’s way into the walls of Wren Cottage, and chirps in distress all night. Today we cannot hear it, and hope — with crossed fingers — that it found a way out. A few days ago we watched a little family of them play tag on a tree, little black creatures full of bounce. How sweet, small and vulnerable it is; “cope” I whispered to it before I went to bed last night. Why not.

The holidays speed towards me and I love them, lugging home gifted cookbooks and full of ideas. I simply do not know how to slow down about now, but maybe, after I make David Lebovitz’s Pistachio Rolande, I will sit in front of the fire, fork in the deliciousness and cope with that affliction.

Kick up some leaves. Remember down time. Thinking of you.

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Fall in, Friendship, Health, Layers

Live in the layers not the litter*

October 1, 2022.

Heat on. Wool shaken. Hat and mittens to walk the grand-dog. Crunch. All things pumpkin (orange brings joy!). Wind. Knitting. Morning reading, now in the dark. Bourbon is back. Boots dusted off. Tea to warm hands. Down comforters deployed. Socks. Lighting candles. Asters. Rinsing the crock pot. Planning next years garden. Wondering if the rake has one more season left in it. Finally wanting pasta. Stacking wood by the fire. Soup is back. Checking the outside thermometer in the morning. Zipping up, adding on, stripping down. Sharpening pencils.

In New England, the change of seasons keeps me humble. What I did just last week in 80 degrees I can’t do today in a crisp 45, maybe until many months from now — swim, feel the warm sun, wear linen, bare feet. But layering up will be intentional, inside and out; regain my health and hair, try the Peloton, find the best yoga downloads. The facts is I have too many down coats. I do not have enough boots. My writing sweater (there is one) is getting very ratty. But what really matters? I will fall in.

My change of season runs external and internal: a change of attitude, a shift of my needs. I plan to sweeten the time I have with people, layer on the best of the best; hunker down, switch on the lights, brighten the bulbs, light a fire, stay a while. So long, detris of summer. Winter has begun to roar.

See you; even if it means shoveling my way to your door. Wait for it.

Boule de Neige, Last roses, 2022

*Poem,The Layers, Stanley Kunitz.

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#septemberismymonth, Birthday, Spiders

September is my month.

In the morning the cottage doorway is draped with masterful spider webs, big as dreamcatchers, flecked with wings, leaves and sunlight. As the days grow shorter and the nights longer, spiders spin all night, increasing their web real estate to lure insects and mates in preparation for winter. This week I have opened the door numerous times forgetting to look up and taken quite a few face-first. On my early walk in the woods Saturday I broke through so many across the path that afterwards their glinting, gossamer threads were woven through my hair. I try not to think if or where those spiders have landed.

September has always been my month. I am renewed in cooler temperatures. I think of pencils. I make the first soups and gratin, thrilled to be able to turn on the oven more often. I read more (believe it or not). There are holidays ahead and pumpkin bread. A Barred Owl woke me this morning under a full Harvest moon.

It is also my birthday month. As a cancer patient in the middle of a ten-year watch I go a bit contemplative with each year around the sun; one more down, one more set of tests clear. 2022 was an important marker — five years — and this September I celebrate the gift of another favorite month. I also very deliberately do not think ahead; given this day is good. Given all of this month is even better.

This September I will split between my two favorite places and many favorite people. Cake is very optional because after a long post covid summer I still have no taste or smell. Instead, I may root for a berry cobbler and melty vanilla ice cream, a combination so dear to my heart I can absolutely convince myself I can taste the puddle of sweet and tart.

We weave our webs as we get older, catching the things we care for the most: friends and family, dogs, dinners around a table, armloads of late summer nasturtiums, starchy vibrant zinnias, fruit baked to perfection. Our family will weave a new member into our fold officially next spring, and we are so the better for her. There may be new puppies.

Just today, for instance: the sun, a giant Flicker at the feeder, an immense spiderweb hanging from the clothesline, a bowl of yellow tomatoes.

Spin, friends. Hold close what matters.

Birch grove at Bloedel Reserve, Bainbridge Island, WA. Some of you know what to do here when the day comes.

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Seattle, Security, Thanks

The Thing that is.

I met a favorite person at my favorite Seattle downtown bakery yesterday. We had only been settled outside with tea at a bistro table for five minutes when I heard shouting. Looking over her shoulder I saw a man, barely dressed, violently wrestling with equipment in the bakery doorway. “Open the box! Open the box” he howled. Seconds later a large man wearing a security vest bodily lifted him away from the entrance. Still screaming, the man turned on the guard, who proceeded to shove the flailing man away, inch by inch, down the street, away from the patrons. I was the only one who watched.

I would like to say that was that. But this happened three more times in the hour, each time the guard, implacably and without a word, removed them from the sidewalk.

I am not qualified nor do I know if the labels “homeless,” ‘vagabond,” or “mentally ill” apply here. But I felt a deep sense of divide that day.

When I returned to my car I couldn’t leave; for one, I had just witnessed people who were just, well, lost. And secondly, who was this stranger bodily removing people so I could have a cup of tea? I got out of my car and went back to the bakery, looking for him. I went inside and thanked the barista for having him present; she told me the building had hired him. I handed her cash and asked her to buy him a cup of coffee from me, or anything he wanted. Tell him a woman thanks him who watched.

I cannot change what has happened to the streets of Seattle, but I can and need to thank a person for doing a thankless job.

The Thing Is

to love life, to love it even

when you have no stomach for it

and everything you’ve held dear

crumbles like burnt paper in your hands,

your throat filled with the silt of it.

When grief sits with you, its tropical heat

thickening the air, heavy as water

more fit for gills than lungs;

when grief weights you down like your own flesh

only more of it, an obesity of grief,

you think, How can a body withstand this?

Then you hold life like a face

between your palms, a plain face,

no charming smile, no violet eyes,

and you say, yes, I will take you

I will love you, again.

BY ELLEN BASS

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Authority, Community, Connect, strangers

Moments in time

A few days ago in downtown Seattle I approached a crosswalk under construction, looked both ways (not at the walk sign) and put one foot out to jaywalk when I spied a police officer on the other side of the street watching me. I pulled my foot back in a comedy of slow-motion guilt. She burst out laughing, her teeth flashing, her braids spinning as she put her hand to her face and turned away. “I don’t see anything” she said. I was laughing too hard to cross the street.

I love moments of unexpected connection. So much was conveyed in that ten seconds: my hurry for the dental appointment (well, sort of), a police officer really clear what was important and not important, two women locking eyes and laughing on a stunning blue morning in a traffic-locked city.

When the “walk” sign flashed white I crossed and still smiling I apologized for letting the Boston in me take over at the curb. “It’s a mess down here” she answered.

I walked on around the block to the medical building feeling like the world was good, even though the next two hours were daunting.

Sometime during the last five years, and of course Covid, I discovered that I liked strangers; that instead of them being humans I did not need to know they were actually essential to know; their politics, choices, needs or even troubles. My world is more informed when I make myself open to their newness. In that short moment on the street I experienced an approachable policewoman, an amazing smile, a distraction from the two crowns and one filling awaiting me.

I went on to have good news at the dentist (only one crown and two fillings) and returning to my car waved merrily at my uniformed friend.

Connecting even briefly felt good. Stay open for it. Begin each day looking for it.

I am a better person for you, after all.

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Be Brave., Breath, Fearless, Midsummer, Travel

Midsummer.

I am counting/gasping under my breath and refuse to look up the impossibly steep bank of stairs: at step forty-five there might be stars in my peripheral vision. On fifty-five I hear birdsong. I bend my head, inhale deep into my boggy lungs and keep trudging up the cement behemoth that runs parallel to the elevators to Terminal A. I am alone on this mission, a few others sensibly gliding up into the terminal, hips cocked, phones out, on the soundless escalator. It is 5:30AM and for a brief moment I wonder with wry amusement if the birds are me losing consciousness. It dawns on me at number sixty-seven that I am hearing my daily programmed wake-up alarm on my phone. Wouldn’t it be nice to still be in bed.

I do not have the energy to stop, reach and search my bag to turn off the alert. The priority is to push myself after weeks prone, so muscles liquid I exhale — seventy five, seventy-six, done — and look around at the top, grateful I am not an EMT statistic and pleased I never once grasped the railing. I plod to the Starbucks line. This is the new normal, suffering the extremes.

After almost two years of wearing a mask I might have all my covid vaccinations but not one ounce of resistance to everything else floating around that humans are breathing on me. My cold was all the worst of the worsts — infected everything from the neck up. Yeah, me. I lost all sense of taste and smell immedietly, and slippered around my midsummer garden unable to smell the first peonies or the explosion of June roses.

Gone are the days of a simple cold or simple travel. Here are the days of determination, chaotic security lines and not a hope of curating my life in a straight line. I head to Seattle when there are barely tolerable airfares and I am in good enough shape. I pack hankies of the cotton embroidered variety. I mask every minute in the airports. People are over being happy to be together and do everything rudely this summer; stand too close, talk too loudly, sneeze into the open air. I drop my bag, wipe my brow and order a shaken espresso. Steps, alarms, travel, writing. Coping, breathing, breathless. It’s good to be back.

After two years of fear I find I am fearless.

My ticket and health are hard won. The peonies and roses await me in the Pacific Northwest, though I have still not regained smell or taste there is still hope. I have not fainted, just the opposite — just hurrying to get ahead of these decent days, straight up if need be.

Catch me if you can.

Wren Cottage, June 2022
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Courage, Scent, Sea Fog, Spring, Ukraine, writing

Sea Fog

I have been uncharacteristically speechless since my last post. What could possibly matter in my fine and privileged life while so many humans fight for freedom, drinking water, abortion rights and safety from guns? Words seem like throwing sand into the wind.

Dial down, I remind myself, focus on the small steps, what is in front of me. Listen. Breathe.

I changed coasts a few weeks ago, left the beautiful cold spring of the Pacific Northwest where blossoms and scents slowly unfurled for weeks and weeks despite the rain. Unlike what just happened here in one random 80 degree day last week in the Northeast — everything burst, a cacophony of instant springtime — lilac, roses, lily of the valley, plum, clematis, narcissus all busted out their perfume and pollen and color and threw it into the bluebird skyline. Whew.

Gardeners like me, holding back because of well — snow — must rush outside, snap on year-old crusty gloves, pull out shovels, pruners, compost and throw out backs, knees, elbows; burn the backs of our necks, destroy our shoes in the flurry of catching up to the marvelous mother nature. Yes, me.

This morning I stepped out, a bit limpy, with tea in hand. The air was wet with sea fog. I stood still.

There is so much to be done. As the robins chortled, the dog chased squirrels, the road began to steam I took stock: I need to do it well, and with intention. Small things, like peg the peonies bending from last night’s storm. Big things, like celebrate the engagement of my son. Who and what needs me the most, what should be done on the list first, what has been put off too long?

First, breathe that air, coasting off the water, carried by the morning breezes.

What do we really want to do with our lives — we have survived so much, now what?

I would like to bake a cake. I would like to write something someone will remember. I would like to walk a little further than before. I will take care of the body that was given to me then send it forth, shouting. I will let go what I cannot change, I will fiercely embrace what I can accomplish.

I am good enough today, speechless or shouting. And that will have to do.

Be well.

Talisman, Spring 2022
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Small but Mighty, Sunflower, Ukraine

Small But Mighty

Yesterday, I wore a big sunflower pin, lovingly crafted by my cousin and worn in solidarity with Ukraine.

On the ferry into Seattle an employee rushing by me stopped dead in her tracks, put a hand on her heart and said in what I can only believe was a Ukrainian accent, “Thank you.” I put my hand on my heart and said “I can do so little.” She showed me her Ukranian flag pin under her uniform. We silently stared at each other and tears ran down our cheeks.

An hour later at The Rack, a small woman bustled over to unlock a dressing room for me. As she was turning away she saw the sunflower on my jacket and stood stock still. Silently lifting her hands she showed me her arms. They were covered in goosebumps. Another accent, another thank you, we bent towards each other to air hug, our arms full of clothes, my face wet.

And then, another woman, stopping me and asking where she could get on of these pins. I said, “from me, give me your phone number and name.” She explained her friend and neighbor had just flown to Ukraine to try to get her parents out. I placed my hand on my heart. For the third time in as many hours that day I wept.

I cry for my helplessness, unable to begin to imagine what it must be like: to be here — watching what is happening — or there, running for your life. I weep for the venomous destruction of life. I wear this pin with anger, too.

My cousin is buying all the yellow and blue felt she can find today. We are rolling up our sleeves this weekend.

I have more work to do; a phone number to find out if the family made it out, for starters. I secured the attendant’s name at the cash register and plan to drop a pin off at the manager’s office for that little woman with the big heart. I will fill my pockets with pins and look for the employee on my next crossing so I can hand her a sunflower, and anyone else who asks.

Three woman I would never have known if not for three pieces of felt, needled together and pinned over my heart, to voice solidarity and recognition.

Never underestimate the small but mighty gesture.

A quiet tea amongst the disquiet.
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Afloat, Anger, Give, helpless, New distractions

I am trying.

I am trying to stay afloat. How about you?

The sensible narrative: Take care of myself, limit the news, five minutes of Anderson Cooper and the children, eat more spinach, stay on schedule, hydrate.

The real narrative: forgetting to shower, waking at 4am, scrolling the news apps all day, CNN until I am so heavy on the couch I cannot get up to pee. Not peeing because I forget water.

We are wearing all Ukraine colors this week; canary yellow, sky blue, even a pair of yellow and blue bead earrings contracted from an industrious child on Facebook. Why do I feel like that blown up doll that reels back, finds itself upright, then gets punched back flat? I am helpless against war atrocities happening 5,604 miles away, the distance from Seattle to Kiev. I am angered at the audacity of the Russian leader. On International Women’s Day I weep witnessing the strength of mothers in Ukraine, their fear the worst fears of women throughout the world.

I have new heroes and enemies in 2022. Current events have again reminded me of my privilege. I donated immediately to World Central Kitchen, and then again. I am making safety pin flags to give to friends. But where to put it all when trying to fall asleep?

The daffodils burst out on the island this week despite chilly temperatures. I progress in PT. I have submitted a steady stream of essays, putting one word in front of the other to reconcile and speak beyond the four walls. I bake Irish Soda Bread.

But I find myself standing in the middle of a room sometimes.

We emerged from that stream of quarantine ennui smack into war and atrocity, inflation and more financial worries. Finding a quiet zone takes some work. I got up last night, resigned, and did yoga while the coyote howled. Whatever it takes.

For 2022 my cousins and I are practicing up-cycling, visiting Goodwill and consignment shops throughout the state of Washington. It is kind of a blast, especially for a gal who can sew and alter. We find treasures and take home improbable shirts. I have dialed down into my creative tunnel for distraction: my recent score is a vintage Irish knit sweater with a generous moth hole, requiring hours of YouTube video instructions on Swiss darning.

We walk early and watch Kingfishers and Eagles. Focusing out. Focusing in.

Are you ok?

I hear you.

Island, early morning walk, March 2022

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Family, Heart, Valentine

Will You Be My Valentine?


February and I go way back. All thanks to an artist mother who felt the second month of the year deserved as much enthusiasm as December. For those that feel St. Valentine’s Day is a whole lot of Hallmark hooey, watch out for me. 

Think about it; still dark at 7:30am, Christmas sparkle, if celebrated, long dismantled. If in Boston, three feet of snow or ice on the ground. In the Pacific Northwest, the air is cold and damp, all joy buried under layers of polar fleece. 

When I was a child, my earliest memories were the anticipation of Valentine’s Day. We planned: late January, the art supplies were laid in; red paper, glitter, ribbons, scissors, colored pencils, tape, all spread across the kitchen table that became the crafting center for weeks. We cut, pasted and embellished heart collages of all shapes and sizes for cards, place mats and notes; spread glitter wildly, everything pink and red, while debating chocolate cake preferences. The family heart-shaped baking pan was found, rinsed and ready. 

Cards from my grandparents were purchased at the drug store. They didn’t sign their names, only “from your secret admirer!” with funny faces penned at the corner. My father leaned towards Snoopy-themed cards, “guess who?” written in his loopy backwards script. My mother painted ornate and beautiful love notes. If only I had kept them. 

On the eve of the 14th our dining room table was laden. Piles of colorful cards, candy conversation hearts, boxes of grocery store assorted chocolates at each plate. My mother hung mobiles that twirled from the ceiling, usually hearts sprinkled with gold and silver stars. Three generations crowded together for dinner that night, celebrating each other with some paper, sparkle and the sweetness of being together. 

Years later, as a mother of three, I carried on the tradition of homemade cards and declared our valentine’s menu would be waffle, bacon, strawberry and whipped cream. Put out my best china. Lit red candles. Pulled my family close. Spent the next day wiping sprinkles and cream off the ceiling with a smile.

I am full of extra heart this month, as well as acutely aware that love shape-shifts through the decades. My list is long; I have collected cards, construction paper, stickers and red-themed markers since they hit the store racks in January. I try to send to anyone who needs to be thought of, anyone who has been kind to me, anyone who needs to know they are loved even if I am often three thousand miles away. A deep, visceral pleasure floods me to create, write, sign or stamp these missives. 

St. Valentine (his authenticity often disputed, but who cares) and the card industry are not off the mark; February, the dreary hump month, made worse during covid and variants, has heart at a time when we need it. My valentines, whether written, glued or baked, scribbled with hearts or flowers or funny faces, deliver mine. 

I have convinced my cousin to help put together a gal pal night on the 14th. The tradition continues; my closet holds surprises, the red flag is up on the mailbox. I will search hard for good strawberries. 

It cannot be helped: February is still cherry-red, heart-shaped, chocolate-infused and thrilling, full of secrets and surprises and hope. We all need it. My Mom knew a good celebration in a deep winter month couldn’t hurt anyone. 

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