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. 

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

Hands Free.


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.


Yes, this cup.

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.

Books, Boxing, Changes, Family

Un-boxing. Re-boxing.

My mother bequeathed her art book collection to my stepfather in the fall of 1986. A few hundred books that spanned from her art school days to her death — large and small plated books on Renoir and Picasso, Warhol and Rothko, American quilts and Inuit drawings  —  all boxed, moved and shelved at least six times in three states since then. When he became ill and I received a call offering them to me last month, I had to weigh and measure more than just the books before deciding whether I wanted to retrieve them.

I have spent that same period of time accumulating — and sloughing off — twice that amount of books. Now at an age when I am lightening my load both for myself and my children, I had to consider the quantity of books, the drive to central Oregon, the sorting through, the decision making, the re-boxing, then the mailing off to family and extended family. I considered letting them all go — sight unseen —  to the library book sale near his home.

After all, I had to let them go once, when the will was read, when I slipped a few favorites into the moving van and drove away from her house for the last time. I had reconciled thirty-five years ago that this part of her had been given to him. I considered that holding this part of her might be too hard now.

I called my stepbrother. He had laid eyes on them more recently than me. “Is this worth it — what would you do?” I queried. It only took one sentence. “Your mom stuck stuff in her books.” And with that I knew their value to me. Was anything remaining between the pages after all these years? How would I ever know if I didn’t look.

We left Seattle before dawn on a heroic twenty-four hour turn-around road trip, thanks to a strong and willing cousin. Loaded the twelve boxes six hours later, fed and watered ourselves in Portland and returned to Seattle the next day. I poured myself a glass, then slowly opened the first box top and folded back the cardboard.

There they were, all those old friends that had sat on the tables of my childhood. One by one I unpacked and stacked the books around me. At times I didn’t breathe or found myself gasping a little. In the middle of some books I laughed. For the most part I was deep in my head, remembering, the bitter and the sweet rolling through me.

My mother drifted through the room — there she was in her sixties prairie skirt, showing me a photo, daring me to understand abstraction, color, the blurred line between fact and fiction. My mother as the young, stunning, mind-snapping, creative difficult brilliant artist, attending gallery openings, dazzling and being dazzled, exploring line and color and the pulse of the art world. Seated on the living room floor with her artist friends — sculptors and painters and writers — drinking wine and changing the eyes of the world with their fiberglass and canvas, oil paint and wood.

And the scraps of paper did keep falling out from between the pages; poetry, lines scored, erased, rewritten. Letters from family and friends, the ones she obviously wanted to keep and reread, worn thin at the folds. Pencil sketches that I knew later turned into paintings and sculpture. Postcards and notes from her favorite people. And endless lines of her handwriting tilting down the margins of books and catalogs, her script as familiar to me as her laugh. Healing, difficult and amazing to see after all this time.

I was pretty ruthless with my sorting, that’s just the reality. But dozens of friends and family will be getting a little something in the mail — or a lot of something — in the next month. And I will have fulfilled one of her last wishes, demanded of me before she died;

“Please don’t put my things in boxes. Send them into the world.”

Big love to the people that brought these books back into my hands and helped me do just that. I am breathing.


“Chicken nesting in garden.” Sketch in pencil on notepaper.

Alexandra Hammer Clark, @1982.



Family, Father, gratitude, Handmade

Love Pigs.

Of all the holiday pleasures nothing — nothing — makes me happier than the pigs.

So long ago, before my father’s eyes were beset by Best’s disease, he carved animals from wood. I have a fat sheep and a patient donkey for the manger. On my desk lies a palm-sized duck with a beak tucked tenderly under a wing. On the bookcase, a life-sized Curlew, beak always in peril from the vacuum and small children. On the tree hangs wooden ornaments he cut from pictures my children drew for him. But nothing gives me more pleasure than the two tiny little piggies he carved, the size of my thumbnail, that I place in the Christmas scene come December.

The pigs lie in wait for eleven months, swaddled in cotton, kept safe from the jumble and flurry of the holiday set-ups and take-downs, in a small porcelain Christmas tree that flips open at the trunk.  They are my final tradition in the days before the holiday. I wait until all the lights are strung, the tree trimmed, the skating scene arranged and rearranged, the snow sprinkled; only then do they come out: I tip open the base of the tree and one by one carefully place them on the mantle. Though so small, they square up amongst the skaters and carved trees, the string of sparkle lights and little churches. Their shadows cast stout silhouettes. All that my father loved about this holiday — family, the hearth, the music, beauty created from our hands —  is in these little animals. All the love he could give me is in these half-inch tiny knobs of wood. I always cry when I step back and look at them.

I still remember the sharp points of their ears pricking me as he dropped them in my palm, this tiniest most beautiful gift from his hands to mine. Some years, I place them  around a reindeer. Some years, I place them next to a small hand carved Santa, or in the middle of three paunchy Santas, their ears and tails pointing North and East, peering at the tiny skaters frozen in their poses. Guests will lean on the mantle, stare at the scene and then suddenly burst out laughing. Tiny pigs in a skating scene is funny.

In 2011, a year after my father died, a small box arrived in the mail. My brother had set some of my father’s ashes in a small round globe of glass, the disc streaked with ash and a thin blue swirl. That year I strung the disc on a holiday ribbon, and as soon as the tree was upright, hung my father on a sturdy branch facing the room. Every year after that, he watches his little piggies stand guard and his family grow tall and I cannot believe — each Christmas —  how much of him is all around us. He is right where he was happiest.

I lie awake and wonder what I will leave my children that will stand, year after year, the test of time and love. Words, I think. Many, many words.

Happy New Year, Friends.