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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Commitment to health, Grapefruit season, wellness

January Goals: Take One.

I am eating a five dollar grapefruit this morning.

Let’s face it. Every mirror glares the truth back at me; I am a vague mushroom color. Winter has taken ahold and wrung moisture from every pore. I believe that is why I crave the tart-sugar juice of a red grapefruit. Both the vitamins and the extreme pleasure of eating this object of beauty puts color in my cheeks. Full disclosure, I also crave Gin martinis in January, tall and clear-headed in elegantly stemmed v-shaped glasses, the three olives sunk deep in a neatly angled line. That pleasure would be twenty dollars on my favorite bar stool. So I look at a monstrously priced grapefruit that drips down my chin, eaten at the sink with a sharp-tipped spoon, as a healthy bargain for January.

What I did not bargain for was my upcoming commitment to healthy, happening next week: a PRP procedure that needles my plasma into my torn tendon and hamstring, all balled up and sitting on my sciatic, a casualty of either before, during or after the hip was replaced 18 months ago. I have dragged myself kicking and screaming to this, the urge to wait just a little while longer, the pain isn’t THAT bad, who needs to do half moon on both sides?

But everything is an investment now: citrus, elective procedures, shimmery martinis. I am taking care of self, not putting it off. I want the end line to look like a twenty-mile hike in Provence and a roll in the lavender. I want the last meals to have three martinis. I want to pluck the ruby fruit from the tree.

So wish me luck. I face a twelve-week protocol of strict behavior to grow back tissue, rehabilitate the stiff thigh and, eventually, add jumping jacks back into my repetoire so I can yet again defy statistics.

Carrie Bradshaw’s only goal post-hip was to wear heels again. I am a little more complicated, and proud of it.

See you on the trails. Clink.

A.

Latona Pub, Seattle.
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Poise, self-care, Variants

Poise.

Walking in the woods a few days ago I came across an upright stalk; purpled and gray, heavy with seeded edges, held aloft by dried leaves that fanned like wings. It had, in one word, poise in the midst of the bleak mid-winter.

I felt poise slipping out of fashion in the last two years; first, yoga pants, self-inflicted covid haircuts, eating out of the ice cream container at two in the morning when I gave up on sleep. Eyebrows. Who cares? Sweat beading up on the edge of my mask caused my skin to blister. Meals became easier eaten in front of the TV, disconnected. The covid quarantine crush of apathy. Who wants to read my words? I knit a lot. I did not write much. You know.

When mask mandates lifted real pants, the blow dryer and mascara reappeared. We ate meals inside and outside restaurants. The kids have been partying like there is no tomorrow since getting the second vaccinations of summer, 2021. Full-on weddings are stacked up into 2022. But I never felt I got up to speed.

And then the variants arrived.

The mask mandates are back in place: several memorials and events have been cancelled, streamed or postponed. I am deflating again, skipping foundations, only making essential trips to stores. New Year’s Eve looks like another pajama night AGAIN. The variant is real and a bitch. I know what to do this round; but then again, how will I keep a semblance of self-possession? What did I learn?

This time, we have home testing and clinical testing. And vaccines plus boosters. Better equipped, better educated and better aware, we can choose our risks and use them wisely.

Not long after my walk in the woods, masked, sanitized and not touching anything unnecessary, I went into the city for an errand. Stopping in a coffee shop, waiting for my espresso, I gazed out the windows and watched an upright, elegant woman at a bistro table eating a hard boiled egg — with nary a shred of yolk falling on her perfectly ribbed sweater dress — neatly raising her coffee-with-cream to her lips between bites. Her mask rested on the table beside her, along with a matching clutch. I was star struck: here was a woman wearing her good pieces, with casual determined beauty, radiating stillness, shoulders square, every hair in place. Elegant legs crossed in sheer black hose, she was so present and beautiful and just plain perfectly at ease; alone but just fine. Poised.

I thought of that stem in the woods. Such poise takes my breath away. How to find it again and again?

The next day I received a negative PCR test result and took the opportunity to see a friend. I wore my favorite skirt, red boots and red lipstick, walked from one end of town to the other in those red leather boots. Not for a luncheon or appointment or anything fancy. Just to feel the breeze hit my cheeks. To pat a few dogs. Out on a spin to remember the pleasure of being well. Of being me.

Thank you, lovely stranger, for reminding me to take care of myself amidst the rollercoaster of our public state of health. You made me remember to make myself count, despite.

A toast to you all, with my frothy latte.

I have much to do in 2022. In red lipstick this time.

Be well.

Don’t let the door hit you on the way out, 2021.

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Choices, Christmas 2021, Family, friends, gratitude, Hands free, Retreat, self-care, time

Hands Free.

Situation:

This morning the sleet was striking hard and the birds in hiding when, all cozy in my flannel pj’s, my digestive biscuit fell into the fresh cup of tea with a little ‘plop.’ It was a sign of today’s downslide mood: the book I am reading is too long, the tree is losing needles faster than I can vacuum, church was out of the question to stay clear of crowds and the new virus variant. ADaneKnits orders are done. The closets are cleaned of old coats, hats and mittens on their way to people who need them more. A mountain of cookies are bagged. Wrapping: check. Our long-anticipated Christmas Eve gathering was cancelled. Do you see where this is going?

My hands are too free; all wound up for my favorite holiday and grounded. This does not feel right.

It is right, on many levels, of course: hard decisions had to be made — retract and stay well (or meet outside ’round the solo stove) — so we could gather together the 24th with family, healthy for the holiday. But all this time alone is a dangerous slope for this type-A.

I want to spread joy, eggnog, body hugs SO MUCH. I want to see you. Instead, I watch Single All The Way on Netflix not once, but twice.

Yesterday it occurred to me that while I intended to be on holiday from writing, I could set the twinkle lights on ‘blink’ mode, clear my desk of wrapping paper, and sink into some more words. Unheard of in Christmas seasons past.

Isn’t time what I long for when ordinarily the season is a race to the finish?

I look at my hands that never stop and remind them that rest is good for all of me. No need to do anything but settle into the moment, be grateful for free. So this Sunday before Christmas, instead of bells and hymns, brunch and mimosas, crowding into shops, I will take a long walk. Later, I might even string lights around all the beds and take a long bath.

Because, you know, nothing but time is ok.

Thanks for reading, grateful for you, stay well.

Merry Christmas.

A.

Yes, this cup.

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Family, Memories, Thanksgiving

Crowds in the kitchen.

Thanksgiving morning began before dawn during my childhood, as dinner was served at mid-day. Snug in my bed I could hear my mother toss together the breadcrumbs and chestnuts, the oven door creak and slam as she shoved the basted turkey into the oven; spinning clicks of the kitchen timer being set, thumps of a rolling pin. Water filling pots, dogs scolded. The next five hours were about timing — jobs diviid up the night before, tightly coordinated oven space, fillings whipped, potatoes peeled. Even as a small child I had a job, perched on a stool, a glass bowl full of cranberries on the counter in front of me, chin-level, my mother handing me a fat needle threaded with dental floss so I could string — berry by berry — necklaces for all the guests. A few minutes before noon we pulled the aprons off, fluffed hair, found shoes and were presentable in the nick of time for my grandparent’s Cadillac to roll into the driveway.

This year we don’t host, staying in a daughter’s house several states away, assembling our dishes at leisure as the turkey won’t be plated until the end of the day in someone else’s kitchen. There will be walks in the woods, bike rides and pancakes. I wake at five o’clock anyways and watch the sun come up, remembering over a hot mug of tea. They are all gone now, from the Thanksgiving of my childhood, their places taken by my children, their spouses, new dogs, new friends, bigger tables. And other, adult friends I called family are missing; I still want to call my girlfriend and ask her what she is wearing. A year and a half is not long enough to change that habit. Instead, I will text her daughter. This is precious time but I recognize, as the day brightens and the memories shift around me, there is sadness amongst the sweet.

I get up, tea cold, to roll out my pie crusts. My ghosts jostle at my elbow, urging me to make it thinner, bake it longer, get the flour off the floor before it tracks into the living room, chose a different outfit. The kitchen can be very crowded at Thanksgiving. Then I hand them all aprons and cranberries and we get to work.

Wherever you are, however the day is spent, I am thinking of you.

Be well.

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Holidays, Quality time, Table for one

Table For One.

I love a table for one, now more than ever.

Not just because it is more covid safe (2021, new language!) but because I can push my London Fog to the edge, dig into my bag, write/knit/read undisturbed, ask for more hot water, repeat. The perfect combination of alone-time in a crowd; being social without overdoing it.

My father once commented I had his ability to physically disassociate with what was happening around me and not hear the world. “Not a criticism,” he went on to say, smiling,”I admire that tactic and use it frequently.” Until he mentioned this I had not noticed, only knew I could read anywhere, anytime. Also noted many times that he didn’t look up when reading a book and the phone rang. We are not claiming any special powers here, just know how to sink. And lose track of time.

Recently, it feels like socializing is in hyper-speed, a sense of making up for lost time. For the record, I did not “lose time” in 2020 — I stretched it, listened to it, found more room in the endlessness of quarantine. I do not seem to be on board with the frenzy, struggling to find my former ability to small talk (maybe I was never good at that anyways), often standing in corners, watching more than mingling. Far from feeling badly, I feel healthy, self aware and quite ok with this view of the crowds.

A table for one, in a busy café on a rainy Seattle afternoon, is just the right immersion back.

I also do not feel badly for going to bed at 9PM. Or bowing out of invitations. I feel rested, and scheduled time with others have become more thoughtful and sincere.

As the holidays approach (fast), I hope we can all think about where to find the quality, not quantity. I hope to be in a pig pile with grand dogs, my grown children sleeping in their beds until noon.

Cheers to my friends and readers and supporters. Love to you wherever you are and be well.

When it rains, sit still.

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Choices, Give + Receive, Public Health

Everyone needs you.

I am having a lot of conversations with friends and colleagues about ‘getting back’ to what some are calling the normal state of affairs before March, 2020; a “pre-pandemic-ness.” Others fervently argue we now live in a completely changed world that cannot be brought back — broken social systems, transportation, public spaces, relationships to strangers, since the virus and lockdown. No question that contents have shifted. But one based on hope and one based on fear is not the answer.

I think neither is absolute. Fact is we need each other to navigate out of the middle.

After my cancer in 2017 and the subsequent decade of tests and scans and oncology visits ahead of me, I had to choose something besides fear. Lying awake, wondering if my life was balanced by days instead of years, I also realized I had been invited to live. So each and every morning that I awake up, I review what I can do for myself and the world around me. Here are some.

Give: in this broken and beautiful world I am here and so many are living less privileged lives than me. I can affect them in simple ways — make a sandwich, put it in your pocket or bag and when you see a homeless person, hand it to them and wish them a good day. Call a friend you haven’t seen or talked to since 2020. Stand in the rain with an umbrella. Offer it.

Generate: give to places that make you happy: church, town bench fund, beach clean up fund, immigrant families in need of clothes. Any amount. They need to keep the heat on, put boots on the ground, save others. Be the example. Tell others.

Go: to your favorite places, masked, sanitized, and fill them with your presence. So many community spaces lie empty or filled with so few people they despair for their future. Do you like to sit in a church and think? Do you love the library? How about that family-run taco truck? Be the hybrid, safe and present. Religion is just one piece of what the space in a church has to offer. Go find the peace in a park. Eat tacos that allow that family to eat.

Gush: over anything anybody is doing to cope. We made it. Celebrate the vast achievement. Accept the beautiful and broken world. Watch a bird on the wire overhead. Contemplate a red leaf. Walk the stairs and feel your heart beat hard. Put your mask on when required. Laugh a little at how good we are at this now.

Adopt a new state of consciousness that complies with the realities of public health. Public health and safety is a real thing now. While it isn’t the same, every time I leave the house, to remember to pack a mask and sanitizing wipes, sit six feet apart for music, theater, dance, all the beauty and music in the world is trying to happen for us. Give it your love. Can you imagine if it did not come back?

Take care of your community. Walk around. Sit in a pew. Drink coffee on a bench. Emerge safely.

Everyone needs you. I need you.

Strafford, Vermont
A walk in the woods.

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