This year has been too hard. I won’t look on the bright side and I refuse to count my blessings and I don’t need those reminders anyway. I do when I can, and right now, it can all go to hell.

Every day, I hope for something different and good. Something simple and sweet that I don’t need to bang into being, because my hammer arm is a scrawny thing these days and I can’t remember simple sweetness anyway. I burned the blueberry compote yesterday, fully aware of strange sweet smoky smells coming from maybe-outside, but really blueberries and sugar and water and lemon juice cooking down to a black lumpy sludge on my stove. I could have checked it, but I didn’t and there are no more blueberries. I should have.

Too many things have burned, been broken, broke down. Too many things have fallen apart in my hands, and my hands can’t seem to remember how to put things together again. I am useless. I am used up while I have too many feelings about what’s at stake and too few words to string together into something that will bring the parts into place. We are always together and I feel quietly shattered. I lost the dog’s leash two days ago. I must have thrown it out with the bag of poop or dropped it into a portal to another dimension. My kid is miserable and I make it worse when I want to help but everything makes it worse.

Every night, I force myself to sleep while too many thinks pile against one another in my pillow-covered head. I wake up with a jolt at 3-5-7-9 and remind myself that we are all here, safe, now, to ease back into the dark break from what is and isn’t. What if it isn’t enough? What if I am not enough? Why doesn’t it get better? I am useless but I am loved, and that could be enough if I knew where to pour my own love and what shape and color useful love might be.

This will pass. It usually does. Spring is happening and the windows are open and I cleaned the whole front room looking for the leash and some peace. This will pass and I will feel every worry with my whole soul until there’s peace or a clean kitchen or at least the makings of something intangible that feels less sharp on my winter-paled heart.

Too many people have left, removed, relocated, become lost. Too many people have lost people. I am afraid of losing the person who is my reason, right now. I am afraid. I am afraid.

CHEMISTRY WAS A BUNCH OF BALLS, but god’s still goo.

God stuff.

Read it again, okay, that was thick. Short threads float in goo, every color fading to buff. I read it more slowly, trying to cull the debris from the real thing, the 3-D diagram that I can turn over in my mind and pick and push and squeeze to understand it admittedly incompletely.

It’s not working. I catch a floater and get out my best loupe. Blurry.




When the process works, I feel the shapes forming, overlapping concepts with color-coded meanings; I line them up and turn them into whole ideas. Visualization looks like playing with blocks and blobs that are really symbols of big, sturdy real-world Things. You should see the stockroom full of fantastic, thrumming combinations of concepts. The pantry of raw ingredients makes for some good browsing, too.


Theology is a mystical, amorphous blob that flows in every direction. God and the assorted volumes claiming to be His Word are fairy tales and parables, faded wisps of dyed fabric and wind-blown deserts.

I accept the truth of the existence of the ideas described in the abstracts. I understand most of the discussion. In between, though, is the mess of what connects the topic to what has been learned of it by the author. If the topic left out the God bits, would I glide through it more smoothly? Would I find the right designs?

Linen and sand, and I’m stuck.


What substance can I not do without? I used to think “nothing”.


When I was changing insurance plans, I goofed and picked one that my longtime MD didn’t accept. At that time, I had been taking Klonopin for about seven years. The only primary care provider in my area turned out to be staffed by three tired nurses and one perfectly fresh-from-school nurse practitioner who would not prescribe anything that started with “schedule” and ended with any number below “six”. She told me to go to the emergency room if I really couldn’t sleep.

I have never been able to sleep. Really.

Five days and less than fifteen hours of sleep later, I went. The ER doctor leaned into the room where I sat, not fully entering, and asked if I felt like I might harm myself. No.

I felt like a criminal. I did not get a prescription.

I had gone through trials of every other sleep med for five nights at a time before Klonopin. I went home with all of them in a big bag: Lunesta, Wellbutrin, other things with reassuring, peaceful names. These were the golden days of free samples. Some of them worked for a night or two, one made me do horizontal gymnastics in my sleep, and one made me eat bites out of a block of cheese from the fridge and leave it on the kitchen counter. I blamed the kids, but it was the Ambien.

None of the sleep things made sleep reliably happen, so my doctor prescribed something else. She took it herself. She said she was a “sleep worrier”,  like me. That was reassuring. I had never slept better than the first night I took that pill.

I have been taking Klonopin for fourteen years now. I didn’t know it was something people abused until I watched a celebrity intervention show and this actress had a makeup bag full of carefully sorted pills. Mine were in there, little blue circles of sleep. I wondered how the effects could be entertaining, how anyone could think of taking a handful? Does something different happen to a woman who takes six (or sixteen) a day instead of one or two? How does she stay awake, or not die? I didn’t understand tolerance then.

Now I understand the real question: what is she trying to escape?

That’s always the thing. It’s not that taking a certain pill or combination of pills is so much fun, it’s that taking them prevents another thing from coming up.

I am careful to take the prescribed amount or less. I am also careful not to run out, and that used to scare me. Not the running out, but the way I made sure to refill before the bottle was empty. There was a game of chicken with me and that bottle: would it last 30 days as prescribed, or 45? 60? Could I take half-of-a-half for a whole two months? How little was enough? How could I prove to myself that I was the boss of that bottle?

I have gotten over that nonsense.

And now I know why I don’t sleep and what I need to escape: bad things happen at night. That is my lived experience–that is my truth. I’ll take a pill to shut it down, this useless vigilance, and I will not let myself run out because I need to sleep. I am not the boss of the vigilance sometimes, especially in the dark. It’s trying to keep me safe.

Sometimes it’s really this simple.





Fourteen is hard. The world got so big so fast.

I used to be a buffer, but now I am a gatekeeper. My efforts at keeping out Big Things come to less every year, every month, every week. The world gives me the creeps and it’s full of creeps. I talk about what ifs, but I can’t know what every one looks like. The world got too big, and I was too slow.

Fourteen flies too far, just a little. Gets tired and bruised and scraped sometimes. My band-aids don’t stick. Fourteen picks them off and smirks at the blood rather than take time to heal. Sometimes.

I need to leap a step in front of fourteen and push a few of the bigger things out of the way, to make the way the right amount of difficult. Instead, fourteen rolls on without me and looks back to offer fashion advice and throws me a glowing, beaming, astounding smile. When we have no smiles, we go ahead and cry, with our hearts breaking into pieces over we don’t know what. Sometimes fourteen’s eyes probably almost roll out of a head, but I am spared the view of that.

So we grow together, with the world.  We try to trust. I push the gate closed and fourteen leaps over the fence. I crack the gate and fourteen thanks me and waves goodbye, so I choose to leave it open a bit more.



We did a thing. It happened so suddenly. It’s a Big Thing, maybe the second biggest good thing to ever happen to me.

We own a whole house, with a big basement and an attic and a study and a workshop with walls of windows. His are perfect, mine are cracked, and the small person and I agree that cracked windows in a workshop are proper. She cares most about the attic, a warren of three separate but connected rooms and a walk-in closet. She is the boss of every inch of that situation up there.

I am also glad to have learned to reglaze a window. I’ve done it maybe seven or eight times, some windows more than once. These workshop windows will surely suffer some losses if I get to Arting Hard down there. Arting in a big, durable space is going to be so good. Just wait.

We own a whole big yard, too, and a buried creek. I’m looking forward to meeting it in person, that creek. We have only waved in passing, through a little sinkhole that was the first whisper that something strange might be under the lawn. Rushing water, loose cavities of lovely black dirt, and rusted galvanized pipes lay exposed, just a little, just a hint. But boy, there’s a lot of water running under there. We will need to make friends with that creek, slowly slowly, from the downriver end to the upriver opening, who knows how far or if at all. Would the culvert be an interesting water feature, with rocks lining the natural flow of the baby creek into the deeper timber of the neighbor’s back yard?

Both sides are surrounded by trees, and we have a nice young oak tree smack in the middle of the lovely swoop of lawn between the house and the back fence. Clothesline poles wait for bolts to string cable to: a future interesting thing to see, the laundry on a real line, to tighten and prop up with long forked sticks when the lines are full. Everyone I knew near my grandma’s house had dedicated clothesline sticks, and I coveted the hickory ones the most. We had a reliable set for a long time, but wood gets less woody in sun and wind and rain and snow. PaPa would bring a couple more home from work in the Oil Field and trimmed them with the loppers in the back yard. I was responsible for painting the metal Ts with aluminum paint every spring and for that, I was privileged to use the clothesline sticks as modes of transportation. At least, I reasoned this to feel better about endangering not only myself but also a good stick. I could grab the top of the stick, the small forked end, and lift my body from the ground and swing my feet in a wide arc to land maybe five or six feet from where I started. I was fast and brave and tested my stick-travel skills by binding my legs together to make falling a more likely possibility. Some summer days, I spent ten hours wrapped up and swinging around town. I could make the six-block length of the town in less than five minutes with my clothesline stick.  Sometimes, I took it to school.

Whoa. Maybe I was weird and everyone was right. Seriously never examined a fun memory and realized how oddly dedicated I was to specific solitary hobbies.

When I was twelve, I found a deposit of useful clay in Gram and PaPa’s back yard, just at the base of a cranky but massive box elder. The tree was my refuge, but not the tallest parts. I’m a medium risk-taker about tree climbing. I made a pulley to bring up the picnic basket and I once tried to nap in the tree. That was not a good idea.

The tree was a volunteer behind the former chicken coop. The chicken yard was where the clay lay. I made pots and ashtrays to start, learning the hard way that dry really means no-doubt dry before the first firing. I learned how to keep a little discrete fire going well enough to relight in the morning to keep things hot hot hot. I made a mother and child sculpture after I saw a porcelain one in a magazine ad. Mine was similar but squatter; chicken poop clay is softer than porcelain. Slumping during drying changed my earthy copy to a carefully pinched and rolled pile of baked poop, and I loved it and painted it with clear nail polish before I gave it to my mom. She loved that poop like I did, and we just ignored Gram’s protests about touching forty-year-old poop. It was clay, and nothing could make me ignore its awesomeness straight from the ground. The orange and gray swirls in the layers of sticky smooth looked just like a teapot I got at the flea market last month. It is forever my enormous chicken poop pot, and I can’t wait to serve tea at the dining room table with it.

Anyway, the house is wonderful and dreamy. The yard is comforting, from the picket fence in front to the wild edges of the back. t needs a thick coat of Kilz inside to kill the smoke smell from lovely but lingering pipe tobacco. We need to make all of the carpet disappear and to do something wonderful to the floors with paint and creativity. And we can always change any part of it, any old time, together.

I have found a partner who does not think I’m strange. Until I wrote that stuff above, I had not considered that my habits might have outright estranged me from people, and even former partners sometimes could not get comfortable around me unconditionally. But now, there is my beautiful boy, and we see our weirdness and enjoy it.

We are okay with sort of accidentally on purpose buying a house, the biggest buy ever in so many ways. He will see me swing from the clothesline poles. I will see him settle into a bright study with its own wall of windows with screens.

Just imagine that cross-breeze when we can open the whole place up. That level of cross-breeze might be the fifth-best thing to ever happen to me.


Tonight, we change the clocks and put out the Big Trash. These things coincide in our town, and both make me very happy.

Goodwill has become picky about furniture donations in the last few years. What Goodwill won’t take, we collectively “put out” with hope that someone in need will take it home before the trash truck takes it to the landfill. Some things on these streets are truly done in, but now and then, it’s the former owner that’s just done with it, ready to move to the next store-bought thing. Those are the best things on the curbs.

Once upon a time, when I was Without, I cruised the alleys looking for the next chair to replace the last chair that endured one Trash Season of use. Now that I am not Without, I drag used-up things to this alley and try to ignore what might be somewhere else, waiting. What’s really waiting is my half-empty storage unit that I’ll be loading into the Jeep for that last long drag across town. The Tiny Camper of the Future also hides some Big Trash-sized things that can leave us. Fall Big Trash came and went and I missed my chance. It was already cold, anyway.

Winter piles up on me like too many couches in one room, too many thoughts in my head in the early dark and the long night, not enough space anywhere to move. This weekend marks the turn. Since age five, I have looked at bare trees in February with hopelessness. It won’t happen. No Spring this year. No Summer, no sun, no glorious life-giving greenness, no flowers ever again. But then, like crocus blades, refrigerator boxes and broken shutters accumulated from last November to now begin to pop up on the streets. Carpet pads, cut into correct four-foot lengths and rolled and tied, fill the edges of the sidewalks. Huge black trash bags bulge into the road.

And daffodils soon follow.

I am curious, like our big beautiful dog, about what’s in that box and that bag, but he can sniff for both of us. I’ll keep my hands off. I’ll let him tell me all about it. There’s nothing in there that I need, unless it’s a disco ball.

Christmas Even

One Christmas after I became a full-time stepLisa, I would have been able to put almost nothing under the tree for my two little people but what I could get with food stamps.  We were actually broke, nothing coming in and nothing expected in the near future. My mother and my aunt took things into their own hands and tried to sneak into the house with a giant Santa-sack of wrapped gifts.  They were giggling so loudly that the sneaking part failed, but we all stood in the kitchen and laughed together about the attempt at stealth.

I was so grateful for the help and so ashamed to need it.

Last week, a woman in front of us in line at the store had a stack of food vouchers. She laid Cheerios, milk, peanut butter, fruit–not much of any of it–and the other standard survival foods on the conveyor. She also had the makings of ambrosia salad, maybe, or a pineapple cake, and a small ham. Grandma Food. At the back of the conveyor were three little boxed gift sets of inexpensive body wash and pretty bath accessories.

The woman in front of us was trying to buy Christmas dinner. It wasn’t working out. She put aside everything but what was on her vouchers and one box of body wash.  Then, she put back the body wash. She had a twenty in her hand and spend half of it to get the bigger box of Cheerios and some jelly.

I have fed my family well enough on food stamps; there’s more freedom with that SNAP card than the vouchers.  I used to save the imaginary dollars for a couple of months to be able to cook a special meal and fill stockings with apples and oranges and Hershey’s kisses. There’s no Holiday Edition of government food assistance; buying chocolate gets you dirty looks from the ladies in line who don’t know better.

Their problem.

We, my small person and I, have been flush and we have been tight, but never broke. Not yet, hopefully not ever. Not since the divorce. Not since I chose to stop spinning in place. When I struck out on my own with just one small person in tow, I vowed to do anything to keep us solvent. Now, we are not alone. Now, things are easier. We are lucky.

I stood there in line with my hoarded Christmas present money in my hand.  We only needed one last thing and a few stocking stuffers; I was holding a hundred-dollar-bill to pay for Slim Jims and earbuds.

Life isn’t fair.

The cashier helped us to quickly ring up the food and gifts the woman in front of us had left behind in time for us to catch her and place the two small bags in her cart before she got out the door.  All of it came to less than fifty dollars, even with the ham.

Paying for those groceries was as much for my benefit (and my small person’s) as it was for the woman in line with all of her vouchers.  I hope I didn’t shame her.






I don’t know what it’s like to want to die, but a part of my mind that doesn’t speak in words spent a while nudging me.  Bump, bump, bump, it’s not worth the effort, you are causing harm to people you love, look what you let happen to your child on your watch. Bump, bump, shove.

While I still don’t know what it’s like to want to die, I do know I took up arms for myself in that internal battleground. My real gun, a .38 revolver, sat, still sits, on my desk at work. A conversation began between me and my gun and the hateful, silent, rarely acknowledged part of surviving another Thing.

It went like this: “I will not kill myself today. So there.”

In the timeline of the conflict, when Vicodin was no longer my only familiar, my silent-mind told me in our private hateful language that I did not need to bother to finish that semester, or that degree, or even the day, because the world is a terrible place and people do terrible things, and all the love I thought I saw in the world was bullshit.

I went back after one week. My child thrives. My partner who opened his home to me still loves me, and I know how to love him.

So there.

The next day and the next day and the next day, I sneered at the real gun and told the silence to stay in hell where it belonged. And I didn’t tell a soul about that promise I made to myself every day, sometimes all day.

I did not want to die, and I managed to avoid it. Just wanting to live and having good reasons to keep going and having a good sort of life didn’t guarantee that I wouldn’t slip in my own mud. I could pat myself on the back for shushing the bad in my head, for getting the kind of help that was real help, for living to raise my beautiful child, or for embracing a life full of love instead of allowing the despair to learn a louder language. All I did was not slip.

Anthony Bourdain killed himself in the middle of filming in Paris. Was it Paris? How could it have been in Paris with his dear friend in tow and so much to see and do and teach us? I thought that this man would be different, an example of how to put the big guns down and carry a watery can of pepper spray, or maybe just another warm can of beer in the Mekong Delta.

Sometimes, we slip, even in the perfect pair of cowboy boots.


You are angry.  I see it before you open your face and let the woes out.


No one cares about the contents of your safe but your nephew who has picked up a quiet drug habit while you’ve been assuming that you are king of your castle and probably the world based on your race, your self-proclaimed work ethic, and your gender. I’ll call you when he tries to sell your stuff to me. Our Government only wants you to pay your taxes and follow a few laws that have been agreed upon by people we all elected who are also well-connected.  The businessman in the White House isn’t getting anything done because he, too, must follow some of those laws even when the both of you feel they’re not fair.

Do you remember that there are checks and balances, no matter how loudly one shouts from the golf course?

No one cares about what you expected your life to be when you watched your mother and father play June and Ward. Maybe June was dying inside, and taught your sisters to expect something other that a warden for a husband.  No one gets divorced on a whim, not even in these depraved times.  Your sisters are not volunteering to do your laundry since you lost your wife because you are strong enough to lift the basket and turn the knob on the washing machine.

I’m sorry you lost your wife.  She was too young to die.

No one cares how hard you work for how little. You have years and years to live until you retire. I know that you thought your  job would get you a little more leisure, but sorry, the economy tanked a while back, and no one is exempt around here.  We all need hustle now, in addition to the timeclock.  I know that gas for that pretty half-ton truck and that zero-radius mower is kind of expensive, which is why I own neither. I know your grocery bill is higher than when your mom was doing the shopping, and food used to taste better.  Food tasted better when I was a kid, too, because we grew it in the back yard.

What’s growing in your yard?  Do you want a tomato?

No one wants your guns, unless you’re a verifiable threat to yourself or your family or your neighbors or your ex-girlfriend from 1997, that bitch who got a restraining order against you.  Whoops!  Now I understand that you’re one who will hurt me when you think I have something you want and that you deserve it more than I do.  You like that word, and you’ve used it too many times now. You are bigger than me and you have a funny look on your face as you say your piece.

I keep my hand on mine.


Pumpkin spice can go to hell

Along with storage units and spiders

And stitches that still poke,

Never a last hurt to heal.


Little smooth fingers run along my scars

That showed up one almost-perfect night.

Reminds me with soft eyes that it used to be worse

And digs concealer from her box of pretty.


October breezes begged for quilts,

Open doors, closed screens.

Clean and bare under our long wet hair,

We slept through the end of the movie.






Today on my way to work, I saw a body on a stretcher with a white sheet thrown over it.  Her car sat overturned next to her stretcher and a fire rescue truck, red car red truck, and a few men in uniforms stood around, still as a photograph, far apart from one another.

Before I rode up to this still-life, I’d run dry on a shoulderless curve in the road. The flip of the switch to the reserve tank was an unfamiliar move, and the bike rolled to a stop along the edge, my empty sidecar in the steep grassy ditch.  I saw myself as a bloody lumpy smear on the white line.  My mind went bam-bam-bam to my daughter, my husband, my mother who would be angry at me for doing something so stupid as to ride a motorcycle in the first place and to run out of gas where there was no shoulder in the second and to leave my daughter with only her father to raise her and then my fingers the sweet spot on the fuel switch between main tank and cutoff, and the engine began to breathe again and so did I.

No one is a smear on the road today, I thought.  Today is a lucky day. Today is beautiful and I get to go home tonight and I know how to find the reserve without looking now.

How long between my last late-getting-going fumblings to load up and the time the car flipped over on the road I take to work? An ambulance passed, silent, while I filled my gas tank at the station just across the overpass in full view of the broken things on the highway. What could she have done differently at home this morning to allow her to go home again tonight?

By the time my tank was full, the ambulance passed heading back to where it came from, no lights and no siren. I sprayed gasoline all over my tank, my seat, my jeans.  We, the people of the gas station, were as still as the men in uniforms had been when I passed them running on reserve and jangled nerves.


I sell gold and silver bullion and junk coin to small investors in a smaller town, and I have become as small as everyone and everything around me.

My work includes interacting with customers in a way that makes them comfortable with the act of handing me (what they consider) large amounts of money in exchange for a commodity.  I don’t sell pretty things, I sell metal, and this metal stresses people out.  I try to de-stress the process.  Sometimes.  Other times, I’m much more comfortable when they are uncomfortable.  Lately, I realize that comfortable people talk too much during the business of trading money for specific kinds of metal.

I used to enjoy my interactions with these nervous people who think I care about how much money they want to spend for what they want to buy.  (That was unpleasant snideness, a clue to the reason for this mess of an essay.) A dollar or thousands are all just math for me to do at the end of the day, and I only hope that I have what they want on hand and don’t have to risk placing an order and missing my price point because of a market shift. Sometimes I have too much gold, sometimes I sell out by noon, but there’s always more shiny metal in the world.

Sadly, my view from over the coin shop counter has dimmed.  I know that my very liberal leanings aren’t shared with most of our regulars, but I’m always a ready ear to every viewpoint.  Who messed with my work buzz?  A nice little old lady who came in for directions to the flea market.

She was a four-and-a-half-foot-tall bundle of hate.  Ninety years on this earth had not shown her that respect and love are the solution to everything.  Remember that. Everything and everyone deserve respect and love, even the hatewoman, so I held still while she leaned in for my lesson.

She leaned in to give a conspiratorial whisper about “confirmed bachelors” being against God’s will, and “even stupid apes know better than to put their wieners into other male apes”.  The Gays are “sick, probably because their mommies coddled them too much”.   She added that an ass-whooping or two would have kept them on Nature’s path, aligned with the Bible.

It went on and on, from the nastiness of women touching other women’s nasty parts and back to apes, and naturally on to race.  Lower forms of life, like <conspiratorial whisper> “the coloreds” that had ruined her neighborhood in North City, dirtying the streets one block at a time until there was nowhere for “decent” people to walk without seeing “darkies”.

This tiny old bundle of bigotry looked like everyone’s grandma.  In a way, she is everyone’s grandma, most of whom I’d hoped petered out generations ago, here in these small Midwestern towns.  Many generations away from ignorance about evolution.  About what makes a human human.  About acceptance of difference.

She lingered for half an hour over nothing more than directions to the flea market exactly one block away and my mute idiotic stillness which she surely interpreted as agreement.  I stood shocked and frozen by the words she expected me to accept.  She expected me to agree.  I said nothing, afraid to move, stranded by my role as neutral ambassador of the place I work.

While I stood listening to the hate spew sweetly from her mouth, not a single thing would come out of mine.  My brain reeled and spun so lurchingly that I couldn’t make words.  My shame at not speaking anything but repeated directions to the business she couldn’t find, though she drove right past it to get to us…

Stupid me.  Stupid, silent me.  All I did was stand with my mouth gaping a little bit and my eyes bugging out of my stupid head. She left, and I felt dirty.  What good did that do anyone?  None.  I did no good, when I’ve spent hours and hours learning exactly what to say to such nonsense.  I’ve studied her very neighborhood, know how and why and when the racial makeup shifted from white to black, how it wasn’t a Black coup but a presumed chance at better things, but manipulated in an ugly way by so many versions of White bigotry and prejudice.  Her family didn’t get chased out, they chose to leave when staying was just a little bit uncomfortable because of new-looking neighbors who before might have only crossed into her block to clean her mother’s house.

I stayed silent because I was uncomfortable.

I felt dirty because I let my role as Nice Shop Girl dominate, when this Little Old Lady preached to me about sins that I do not believe are sins.  I believe that sexual preference exists on a sliding scale, forever shifting and never wrong among consenting adults.  If I want to marry a man or a woman it is no business of hers, and she’d better stay the hell out of my bedroom.  I know straight White men who hover closer to apeness than her clearly defined “lower orders” of humans who don’t know better than to lay with the same sex.  None of this came to mind while she stood right in front of me.

Silence.  Nothing.  Muteness from me, fraud sociologist who’s really just a shop girl.

Here is my daily prayer to a god that has better things to worry about: May they all speak their minds, though I disagree.  Tell me about the plots and intrigue, One World Order or something or other, the hellfire that rains down upon us all, the road to damnation we’re riding as a nation.  To some of those conversations, I can genuinely offer a nod and a smile.  Just like everyone has a story, everyone has a truth.  Mine is mine, yours is yours.

When I am at work, I do my job, and sometimes my job includes keeping my mouth shut.  This time was different, because I want to think that if I’d run into Little Old Bigot Lady at the awesome flea market down the street and she’d spouted such nastiness, I’d have skewered her.

We’ll see.  I’ll have plenty of other chances to speak my true mind now that things are how they are, where I can do more than look pleadingly at the clock and fail at being a good person.

THE IMP: BEFORE (or, right now)

Meet The Impala, briefly identified in my head as The White Elephant, now officially known as The Imp.  The Pretty Professor came up with her nickname.  I’m grateful for his distillation of her title, his diminution of her hugeness,  and more so for his embracing of her presence in our not-so-big driveway.

Here we go, with Before Photos!

Here’s starboard, and a first look at the two doors, and original jalousies that grace her all around:


This is the portish backside, with temporary roofing holding things together.  Don’t know what’s up with that, but I think a leaky window should take the blame. Note the dryer vent, a throwback to a recent life as a mobile launderette:


Here is the dining room/convertible bed, sans any soft cushy bits at all.  The benches were covered with red shag carpet, which my kind cousin ripped out upon taking possession of the Impala before I laid eyes on it.  She also removed the cushions, thus subtracting a few full contractor bags from my coming days:


Here’s the first area of significant (in other words, obvious) water damage that’ll cause digging around in paneling and (cough cough) insulation.  This is the front, over the dining area.  I’m sad that the chandelier is smashed up:



Also note the chrome exhaust fan, possibly the only thing keeping me from wanting to go completely low-tech with The Imp.  One needs AC for this bit to work, I believe. If I can power it with DC, hell’s bells, that solves that!


Good lord, this stove pulls my heartstrings.  However, its functionality is a question mark.  I’ve no experience with replacing propane lines and such, so the thought scares the bejeezus out of me.  Boom, no thanks. Heartstring-pulling stove may become charming platform for my Coleman two-burner, oven may become pot and pan storage:


I don’t even know exactly where this is.  Might be the dining area nearest the kitchen hood:


The kitchen, all aglow with sunbeams reflecting off of the mason jars in the tiny sink.  The adorable sink also contains an expired full bottle of artificial rum flavoring.  Very mysterious.  Note the classy mirrored backsplash:


This bath is made for a toddler, but constructed of rather perfectly intact enameled steel basin, bowl, and tublet.  My research into black water management has shown me the benefits of other sorts of potty arrangements.  One sure thing: a composting toilet will go where that little wobbly bowl is now perched:


Just the upper corner of the bath.  Note lack of water damage…here:


Adjacent to the bath, or within the bathroom, stands this set of cabinets I call The Wardrobe.  Like every other cabinet in The Imp, it is made of delicate laminate. Its integrity seems trustworthy, at least door wise.  The drawers give me doubts:


We now enter the bedroom, where things get dicey. This is the back door, not dicey.  This is a storage cabinet, which is destined for some burn pile, and accompanying lamp shelf, also not long for this world:


Did I mention that the bedroom was prime dicey territory?  Holy crap. Things get downright sketchy back here, and this is where most of the real reconstruction will happen.  Water took out part of the ceiling, a sconce, and I suspect the majority of the back wall under the window.  The drooping sconce made the small person say, “Oh, oh, we have a situation, Mommy.”  We do.  It can be fixed with really inexpensive lumber and some fresh insulation and a great deal of faith:




The view from the back to the front:



Glamour shot of the front corner:



All I can manage to imagine right now is a crowbar in my hands and a dust mask on my face.  As fresh structural parts replace what’s really rotten, I’ll see a clearer picture of how and who she needs to be for us.  Do I preserve every detail, time-capsule-style?  Do I make her into a gyspy land yacht ready to boondock by candlelight? Or is there some shred of “modern” that will translate into Pinterest-worthy sweeps of clean white paint and dove grey laminate faux barn wood flooring?

We all know that ain’t happening.


What I do know is that the learning curve isn’t as steep as it feels right now.  I’ve taken things apart to make new things many times.  Once, I even took apart most of the plumbing in my old house and made miracles like FLUSHING and HOT WATER happen.  A few little 1x2s and some luan isn’t anything.  What I lack in muscle memory, the internet will tell me.  If I could climb a real roof to re-paint it with aluminum goo every spring, I can work with a can of tarry goo to stop the drip in the back of The Imp.

Thank goodness it rained and I checked.


I used to have a little house.  It was the second tiniest house in the tiny town where my mother’s family grew up.  The tiniest house was occupied by my grandma’s friend, friend’s husband, and friend’s squirrel monkey.  When my grandma went there to give her friend a perm, the house–immaculate, always–smelled so much better when the perm lotion went into effect.  Monkeys are interesting, but there’s no getting around monkey smell no matter how clean your house is.

Reason One, why I’ll never live with a monkey: not enough Pine-Sol in the world.

My house smelled like all sorts of things, not all of them under our control and not all of them good.  Now, when I smell those less-than-Renuzit scents, I remember in a visceral mute way that sends homesickness to my core.  Everything mixed into an alchemy of something better by all of the cooking happening in the second tiniest of kitchens or (before the air conditioner) whatever was drifting in through the dusty screen door. The fridge stayed fresh as rain and the trash can never went weird, but a very very old house produces certain chemical reactions deep in its basement and walls and habits. In an old house or anywhere, a little something off makes good things smell right and true.

Pure good is for expensive candles that liars burn to make guests think that nothing in their worlds stink.

Baked ham and coal oil lamps were winter, daffodils and wet basement and wet dogs were spring, wild onions and peonies and irises and sweet corn husks and crude-covered coveralls were summer, and apple pie and dust burning off the gas element of the heater were fall.  A few times a month, bleach took over when my grandpa took over the kitchen to make his coffee cups and undershirts white again in the same sink of sudsy water, infuriating my grandma for the intrusion into her kitchen. Before company came, Formula 409 led the charge for a few days, annoying the hell out of my grandpa with a different, wider sort of intrusion. I accepted all intrusions as interesting blips in our regularly scheduled smelliness.

Yesterday, my mother stepped into the camper that is my Christmas gift and remembered her time living in an RV because of the way the new-old camper smells.  The same mustiness that lingered in her rotten ex-husband’s 1973 Travco blared unabated in my 1979 Impala, but my associations with that new-to-me kind of mildew are better than hers.

I smell hope, and potential, and the chance to take a careful crowbar to what needs to go.  She didn’t have that freedom, but she’s given it to me.









I know some things that I don’t talk about. One of the things is why open windows that let in cool night breezes used to give me the heebie-jeebies. I’m moving beyond, one good night’s sleep at a time.

I still see him–long after I’d hoped he’d get hit by a slow-moving garbage truck or a stray bullet–standing outside his regular bar every few weeks, three times at the milk store last winter alone, so I don’t go there for milk any more.  I avoid, on purpose, because I value what exists now more than exacting revenge for the past. Less opportunity for blind rage that his smug face causes means less need to restrain myself from making a grand ass of myself and my future by being arrested for assaulting the unconvicted assaulter.  Can’t promise, with the blind rage effect and all, but I’m wildly talented at coping skills, thanks to my therapist. Because of her, it’s not open season on the unconvicted.

Blind rage is a tricky thing, but it’s identifiable and it gives me something to do: breathe, put myself into Now and Here and Okay Enough.  Blind paralysis is a terrible thing, and when it happens, I don’t know it’s happened.  Nothing to do if I’m stiff and mute until I fly out of the mental state with an adrenaline lurch. The flying jolt gives me grief in the form of shame, which then becomes that bothersome blind rage again, which then becomes identifiable coping-skill material. The micro-traumas after the trauma are worse than any pummeling I’ve survived.

The pummeling comes to mind often, but/and has become less of a me-definer.  I place the event next to experiences of the same ilk, which I won’t describe here.  Again, some things I don’t talk about. Among the things I talk about are how good it feels to work around what might be triggers for rage or paralysis, how witnessing violence and being the target are not so dissimilar, and how aftereffects linger but can be put back in a less life-altering place with practice.

I practice every day.  I had and have help, every day. This summer, the window next to my side of the bed is open sometimes, a happy thing. The presence of my favorite grownup eases the coming-to-mind.

When there’s no other grownup, I borrow a kitten. When there’s no kitten, I remember to keep moving beyond the things that I lately forget not to talk about.




When I am an old woman I shall wear disco dresses
With feathered hats which don’t go, and suit me perfectly.
And I shall spend my pennies on diner dishes and kittens
And kibble, and say we’ve no money for roast beef.
I shall sit down on strangers’ lawns when I’m tired
And gobble up the pie on my counter and shush alarm bells in my head
And run my stick along the river’s edge
And make up for the worries of my youth.
I shall go out in my bare feet to the concerts
And plant flowers in my garden for other people to pick.

(And learn to sleep.)

You can wear comfortable shoes and grow eccentric
And eat three pounds of crab legs at a go
Or only braunschweiger and beets forever
And save baby teeth and turtle shells and rocks and things in boxes.

Jenny continues, past my rearrangements, 
“But now we must have clothes that keep us dry
And pay our rent and not swear in the street
And set a good example for the children.
We must have friends to dinner and read the papers.

But maybe I ought to practice a little now?
So people who know me are not too shocked and surprised
When suddenly I am old, and start to wear purple.”

But what if I do it all now, as long as we are dry-clothed the rent is paid?  The best example for the children might be to wear the feathered hats, to bring home the kittens, and maybe swear a little in the street if swearing seems like the Thing That Must Be Done.  I do want to have friends to dinner and to read the papers, but anyone who comes to dinner must ignore the piles of papers we don’t want to throw out just yet. I’ll wear my favorite disco dress, and you may wear any color you like.

Practicing seems mincing and half-assed.  Let’s please be shocking together, now. What if there’s no Old Woman to be, suddenly?



I can’t say “abides” without thinking “The Dude.”

I have had a pretty good life. If one were to lay out its contents–events, artifacts, the things I’ve made out of sticks and rocks and string, other people’s memories that I always love to know–the balance of the timeline rides above average.  Lately, things seem far above average.  As a reformed realist, I believe that things will continue on an upward trend.

Optimism did not come naturally to me, no matter how many flowers you may have seen in my hair between 1987 and 1995, 1998 to present. Or how much I smiled.  I smiled more when I worried more.


This pretty good life gives me genuine smiles, not camo-smiles.  My happy-safe mommy-face rarely feels too close to the fire, ready to slip off like warm wax, to expose the simmering worried what-ifs to the people I cared, care so much about.  The maybes-what-ifs-oh-no-my-gods happened, even some that I hadn’t known to worry over, some so terrible that they only happen to Other People, and every one not as terrible as what I might have imagined if I’d let my worried self go there.

My mother used to tell me that ignorance is bliss.  In the convoluted and accidental way one takes good advice, I did a dumb thing and stopped going to college to paint beautiful things, stopped using my skills to make flower arrangements, wedding cakes, set decorations, fancy dresses, tattoos, murals, and later, craft projects to end all craft projects. I started nursing school, and then finished with a different degree entirely constructed of the specific whats and whys of why the world is a mess or not.  Of course, it is a mess, but everything everywhere is a mess.  I made myself a little more aware, a little less ignorant, accidentally.

Why do I have bliss, now?

Now, when I’m only looking down, down, past the point when I should have peaked?  I recently had a nice party with a few people I best like to hang out with, which happened to celebrate a marriage to my best friend.  That’s one thing.  My small person thrives, glows. gives me stabs of love so deep that I wonder if she’ll kill me someday.  That’s another thing.  And the love, oh, all of this love I’ve been lugging around my whole life, the love that used to feel like a liability, can just float over my head where it belongs, the love that makes me want to hug people and tell them that the worries get smaller, that the world is really actually benevolent, that even when you’re getting kicked around or worse, when you’re the foot in the boot that thinks it needs to do the kicking to survive, love abides.





I am glad to carry some of my father’s traits, but more glad to have left some behind in the gene pool.  He was an interesting person, sometimes interesting to me, but usually just another someone to avoid being alone with.  By the time of my arrival into his world, the best parts of him had been left behind somewhere in his own mind.

Head trauma and alcoholism and drug abuse will to do that to you.

After spending my life trying to understand why he did the things he did, not just the bad but the version of good-crazy I hear about when his old friends wander into my world, I’ve given up.  Completely.  I do not know that person, I just have his hair and I walk like his sister and I have a good sense of direction and not much fear of being lost when it’s actually a bad sense of direction.  I don’t get that from my mother’s side, for sure.

I’ve given up grieving “the old Jerry”, the man I was born too late to meet.  The only Jerry I knew was a mess, and made me sad, and made me afraid sometimes for my safety and sometimes for his.  The giving up, this time, feels less like a defeat.  This time, I understand that what had never been mine can’t have been lost. I knew this at eight, but forgot it at eighteen.

Eight-year-olds are damned smart sometimes.

I know good fathers now.  I didn’t have one, but I had a good family, and I have a good family now.  My small person has my father’s smile, and his hair and his sense of direction, and that’s enough.


I went to the DMV today.  I got a new driver’s license, which I wanted because I don’t need glasses any more and I wanted to revert to my maiden name.  I ended up visiting the DMV a handful of times, with a handful courthouse trips to break up the afternoon, and I came home with a Bonus Feature.


A year and a few months ago, my divorce became final, over, in possession of an end point, legally.  The beginning of the end exists in a foggy place somewhere between “I need to become legally separated from you because you decided you never should have married me, like, two years ago, and didn’t tell me until I woke up this morning which is surprising but not” and “I have my own house”.  That span of time lasted for an eternity, so I have left it in the not-there-any-more haze, no further inspection necessary. I am divorced, which is sad, but life is better now.

All the while, between the beginning and the now, I’ve been thinking about my identity and my names.  I was just Me, a Hartlieb, then I was Theirs in name, with Hartlieb smushed in the middle, and then I was no longer Theirs, but their name was still my small person’s name so I carried it, not lightly.  Being Theirs and carrying their name made me proud, when they needed me.  After I left, I felt like a liar when I said my name out loud, except when in the company of the one of them I helped to produce.

Today, I decided, would be My Old Name Day.  How does one regain a name? Let’s ask a clerk!

At the courthouse, I learned that the orders had all gone into effect the same day, a year and a few months ago: divorce, custody, legal name change.  All I needed to do, the clerk cheerfully informed me, was present the full document to the DMV and my name would be exactly what I’d requested.  The deal was done.  The DMV would comply by issuing a new license for a mere five dollars. Hooray for certified, judge-approved legal documents!

The woman at the DMV wasn’t amused when I told her that her spelling of my old middle name was not quite right.  See, there? On that line? That’s my name..

Not quite. The name on the line was the only name she could assign to me, legal reasons, fraud, identity theft is a real problem, other Serious Things.  I took the license and left for the courthouse. A trip to the courthouse would surely clear things up for the DMV, right?

Not quite.

I’d filled out page after page of custody agreements at my former husband’s kitchen table a year and many months earlier while he pointedly expressed his poor opinion of me.  I’d written my small person’s name through tears dozens of times that night.  Her name starts with the same letter of my old middle name.  I wrote hers in place of mine where my maiden name belonged, crossed it out, and just wrote it exactly the same way again, in ALL CAPS.  Dear brain, sweet brain, thank you for some of the automatic responses I produced that night, but Autofill wasn’t one I’d meant to turn on.

An aside: my backpack contains so many forbidden pointy things, some of which I’d been looking for for rather a long time.  Thank you, courthouse security guard, for finding the tiny silver cake forks I bought from the scrap pile at work last month.  

My repeated metal-detector trials tells me something about assumptions of innocence associated with my appearance, because I would have escorted myself out after the second-t0-last attempt, when my makeup kit was put through the x-ray with what the gathering group of smiling men with guns laughingly called a Texas Toothpick. I call it  a flower knife. A tiny collapsible button-hook watch fob required much explanation, too.  

They let me in after four tries, even though I still set off the body alarm; I could have had anything on my person, even if my backpack was deemed point-less.  I was deemed pointless, which sort of suited the nameless nature of my situation. 

The same courthouse clerk who explained the simplicity of getting a new driver’s license with my judge-approved divorce papers explained where to go to learn about voluntary legal name changes.  Less simple, and more than five dollars. I thought I was opening up an option for change by writing on that line a year and many months ago, not laying down the law.   I was wrong, and now I have a new name that I’ve never had before.

My old license had been shredded the instant the freshly-minted one was in the DMV lady’s hand, before I left the office the first time.

Back at the DMV, the legal document in my hand made the production of a replica of the old an impossibility.

So, I went to the jeep to think about this turn of events and to see if the familiar awkward photo looking back at me might feel right and well with the new name I’d accidentally given myself a year and a few months ago.  The photo had changed dramatically, even though no one had taken my picture. My new name came attached to a face I owned seven years ago and a seven-year-old address.  (I just realized that if they’d gone back a few more years, the address would have been correct and I would have looked AMAZING for forty-three.)

Back inside, they couldn’t find an explanation for the old photo or the old address.  Was I sure that I currently live where I think I live?  Suddenly, I wasn’t so sure of much, and had proof of even less. Did I possess any valid identification with my current address?  No, you shredded that. Any utility bills, perhaps? The situation became very funny to me but not to anyone else.

I wanted to keep the oddball used-to-be-me license, but it, too, went to the shredder.  A new photo was snapped to match my current appearance and I can tell where I applied foundation this morning because the rest of my face is pink from laughing.  I signed my Not Quite Old Name carefully on the scanner pad, clumsily.  We all checked the address and the supervisor who’d gotten involved in my address plight explained that my FOID card and CCW are not invalid, but until I inform those official folks of their need to update my information, I won’t be able to buy ammunition or carry a gun out in the world.

I didn’t want to, anyway. So there.

Now that my name is my  Old Name with Bonus Feature, I’m going to live with it for a while.  If the Bonus Feature feels weird after a trial run, I’ll change it. I might like it, once the shock of its newness wears off.  Time will let me see how it fits.  See how it sounds.  My middle initial is the same, which feels good, and I have a little of my small person still attached to my official title by a happy judicial accident.

Those don’t happen often.




This was not forever ago.


I spilled the morning’s coffee sideways across my legs in the car, so I grabbed the nearest cloth-like thing to blot: a woven woolen lap blanket.  I don’t know what that thing was washed in before it came to live with me, but the word “Simonize” comes to mind.  My jeans absorbed the repelled milky nectary goo.  They came off in the parking lot of a gas station, and a towel from the trunk became my seat for the morning’s drive.  My underpants look like shorts, and today was sunny and warm.  Air moving across my bare legs made me smile.  I’ll wash the jeans in the sink tonight, and the blanket.

I carry laundry supplies, too.  Regular domestic MacGuyver here.

Funny how a thing like a spill can make people angry.  I spill often.  So does my small person.  Should I get angry at myself, at her, for having…

View original post 349 more words


Forever ago, I hadn’t taken a college class since quitting to raise two and then three small people.  Forever ago, my best days ended with everyone’s laundry folded and in their own dressers and the floors clean and the dishes done and the everything dusted, but my side of the bedroom and my van were always a wrecked pile of mess.

I ran a pretty good show, forever ago.

Seven years is about the length of forever, so forever ago today, I had a couple of stents removed from my bile duct and my pancreas after a bad go at gallbladder surgery.  I spent the day before cleaning the house and cooking, so if I died, they would have enough clean clothes and frozen meals to last a little while.

I would rewind to the day before today seven years ago and spend the day before playing, not scrubbing.  I would have stayed awake until my then-husband was ready to fall asleep, even if I dozed upright on the couch, so that I would have gone to bed less alone and scared of the words “twilight state” that the surgeon used to describe my procedure. I would have reminded him that he had to drive me to the hospital really early in the morning and stay there until I could go home.

But I went to bed alone in a clean house with a freezer full of casseroles and bedrooms full of slightly bewildered, exhausted  small people who had done their best to help me fold and scrub and dust when we could have been working on that big muddy hole to China in the back yard instead. My then-husband didn’t have to miss a day of work, at his job that was in a precarious state of disappearing into the void of the recession. I found a ride to the hospital, the stents came out.  I didn’t remember anything from the terrible-sounding twilight state, and I came home able to consume and digest solid food.  The casseroles did not go to waste.

Thank goodness that was forever ago.


I expected to never marry, but I’ll be married three times by June.  I expected to remain childless, but I’ve got evidence of my wrongness right over there in the next room, ten years on.  I expected to earn my BFA. I expected to have the same tiny old house with the same daffodils and iris and yucca and peonies until I died with a trowel in my wrinkled hand, but that house is under the ground and I am not.

I expected to wrong less, to change my mind less, to hope less, to expect so little and stay somewhere known and safe.  Alone seemed safe, not incubating a new human seemed like a good plan, considering the first main expectation of being alone, but I always sort of knew that I’d outlast that house.  I just expected to put up a new one, secretly, a slightly expanded house-doppelganger in its place, with conveniences like fiberglass insulation and modern wiring and heat in every room, not just the one. Then, my family could visit the house and feel at home but surprisingly able to all fit in the kitchen at once for holidays instead of plotting rotating seating arrangements of four to five at a time.

That might have been a lot to expect, given my expectation of a degree in watercolors.




I paid a woman to permanently attach a pair of wings to my back.  These are not fairy wings. They have real work to do.

Once upon a time, a dear friend described the way I’m seen by Interested Others: in place of what I intentionally withhold, they sprinkle fairy dust. She wasn’t the first to notice this phenomenon; hopefully, she’ll be the last.   The withheld bits are doled out piecemeal, necessarily or accidentally, to Interested Others with the tenacity to stick around.  Some stuck around for years, mucking around with the reconciliation of my messy reality with their fairy-girl fantasies.

They’d point out the muck, the realizations that hit them wrong, the things that didn’t fit their make-believe version of me:

“I thought you were greener. Why are you throwing out that gift wrap/aluminum foil/used baggie?”  — because I ripped it to shreds opening the gift, that’s why.  I’m a gift-wrap-ripper.  And I feel guilty about dirty foil and used baggies, but not guilty enough to wash and reuse that grossness.  Check out my Tupperware collection!

“Why can’t you just sleep like a normal person?” — I’ve never.  I may never.  Bad things happened after dark, for years of my life, and my brain goes on high alert at nine p.m.  This is my normal.

“You seemed like such a free spirit when I first met you, but you’re really conservative.” — Um, I can’t claim to be anything other than somewhat responsible about keeping a job, or not getting arrested for doing something avoidable.  If that’s conservative, go find someone else with whom to binge drink on a Tuesday night.  I have to work in the morning.

“For a hippie, you worry too much.”  — I used to worry; now I prepare.  When the lights go out for a week because of an ice storm, you’ll be glad I have propane heaters and wool blankets and lanterns handy.  I feel better about life when I get new tires before they shred, or a new timing belt before the old one blows and takes the whole engine along with it. And I like going barefoot in my tie-dye dresses, too, so I carry a first-aid kit to patch up my feet when I step on broken glass.

“I knew you were creative, but you have so much SHIT sitting around your house/in your truck/in your back pack.” — Yes, yes I do.  It’s good shit, my shit, and I’m making something out of it or it’s something I’ve made.  The man I love also has a lot of shit, and I love him so I also love his shit.  When it’s not useful or treasured, I get rid of it–mine, not his.  Until then, watch me not call you out on your messy living situation, or your sterile apartment devoid of character (shudder!), or any single part of the way you choose to inhabit your personal space.

All of these things have been said to me by Interested Others who stuck around long enough to qualify as Significant Others.  They started out thinking I was, among other things, a chill, laid-back, artistic free spirit with a quirky penchant for farm auctions and thrift stores.  I am those things, especially when I’m spending the day at a farm auction in its full smelly dusty glory.  But there’s always a bill to settle at the end, and things to carry home.  My baggage includes sloppiness, sleeplessness, and rough mornings.  I fret over grades and over goals and my lurching progress toward them.  I live surrounded by more books and old suitcases and typewriters and boxes of fabric and broken jewels than most people.

I live my own version of a graceful existence, clumsily.

I avoid anyone who might be too ready to fill in my blanks too quickly, which gave me the freedom to do the filling.  The process hurts but is essential. It’s gorgeously difficult sometimes, blissfully ugly sometimes, effortless when I stop trying.

I love baggage.  The wings just lighten the load.









I have a beautiful life.

I’m in bed with my little macbook on a Sunday morning, under the quilt the pretty professor gave me for our first Christmas together, next to the bear I bought in 1996 when I joyfully discovered FAO Schwarz while birthday shopping for my first, long-forgotten husband.  I have not lost that bear in all the moves since 1996, the quilt survived the Mess in the Bedroom of 2013, and the macbook still works, three years after I shelled out more money than I really had to spare for something I hoped would last me through the end of my degree because finding three hundred dollars for a laptop every thirteen months after losing a year’s worth of work was getting really old.  All of this is good and heart-sustaining, and also, the fridge mostly works and is full of food.  The rent is paid, the cars run, and we all have clothes that fit and are appropriate to our activities, our moods, and the weather.  We are healthy.  We love one another so damned much it’s silly, so we laugh a lot.

None of those facts are a big deal to someone who doesn’t know what it’s like to lose a beloved bear in a little-heartbreaking way, to have another family quilt made unsalvageable, to sell everything unnecessary to acquire a very necessary means to an end.  I won’t get into the fridge-food-rent-cars-clothes-moods-health-love-laughter bits.  Another day, or not.

Sometimes, things are more meaningful to me for reasons that I used to hesitate to share.  Some of my interesting anecdotes attached to Life as I Know It and How We All Got to Happy make the listener a tad squirmy. I know what an ugly life feels like and how un-ugly I can make it look.  Social-conversation lies become habit with practice: comforting, really, to be sure of how to talk around the ugly, under the assumption that no one wants to hear about THAT.   I’m not so sure or comfortable any more that not giving a straight answer is the best path to beautiful, but is it fair to an unsuspecting human on the asking side of the question?

What parts matter, when a nice person asks about a pretty part so deeply informed and influenced by an ugly thing? The Emily Post version of conversation omits the ugly, which isn’t so bad, really, to me–not there any more, not living in that particular mess, not thinking of it often, and certainly not losing sleep most nights except when I am–but lately, I feel like a liar when I politely omit.  The conversation and my voice pause and stutter at the beginning of the not-saying and by the end of the not-saying, my face is red and shame comes on strong.  I am not ashamed of my Truths.

Some things are and may always be no one’s business, no one’s concern, or just completely inappropriate to discuss then and there with whomever’s doing the asking.  But some things, pretty or ugly or sometimes very boring to anyone but me, matter more than I know how to say, and those are the things that made me who I am.

I like me.  Almost always have, to greater and lesser degrees, even during eras of being liked by few and loved by fewer. And lately (six consecutive years and counting), I don’t care if you like me, so I say most of what I’m thinking when you ask me why or when or how.  Does this make me genuine, or selfish?  Am I being true to myself, or am I thoughtless?

Probably all of the above.






The weather is too warm for the third of November.  I don’t trust it, but I don’t mind it, either.  Either way, I must do something about what’s ahead:


Things to Keep Me Alive Through Winter, Upon the Assumption that Love Alone Cannot Sustain All

  • Paint with those jewels of watercolors and  paper and brushes and pencils, in the hope of making interesting pictures with them.
    • paint every day.  draw every day.  write about what I paint or draw.  every day. even if it’s hard at first.
  • Hang my wedding-dress-to-be on the dress form, so that the work and play of stitching might begin in my head to prepare my hands for the making.
    • quilt trunk comes back to the bedroom, jewelry case leaves, sewing machine lands atop the bedside bookshelves, maybe.
  • Cook good food from the stacks and stacks of books that belong to me but used to belong to the person who taught me to make chocolate pudding from scratch.
    • teach the small person to make chocolate pudding.  eat.  repeat.  feed other people I like and love.
  • Make shelves or room on the shelves for those books and even the ones that don’t have recipes in them.
    • power tools are fun.
  • Sleep enough hours every night in this lovely bed on this lovely pillow and under these lovely quilts and comforters with this lovely boy to make the days pass just a little faster.
    • yes, all of that.

There are more, but do you notice a theme with the bullet points?



Survival is the base goal, but maybe if I do enough hustling toward higher ground, happiness will happen even in the dark days.

That’ll do nicely.



This week, I am still angry.

“Angry”, say people who want to impart wisdom and peace and such,  doesn’t harm anyone but the anger-bearer, so I’m Doing Things with its fuel.  I gathered Things to discard at the alleyside for Big Trash Day, which might happen this Monday.  Anything  in the yard, or among my untouched belongings in the house, or in the Storage Unit of Grief, that carried with it the bad juju of two years ago went to the curb.  I’ve always been a gleaner of junk with possibility, but if the stuff was carried for me from the Cottage to the Charming Wreck and the stuff is still just pieces of Maybe Someday leaning against the unseen side of the house, I’m going to just throw it out on the strong possibility that Someday has crept too close to Never.

Four boxes of actual trash came from storage.  I’d thrown myself headfirst into that storage unit before eye surgery–regranulating corneas do not approve of dust and mold and I do not approve of not seeing clearly enough to identify that spider–and I found a whole lot that I am happy to kiss goodbye.  And a black widow, my first real-life sighting.  I did not kiss her goodbye, I set her free in the grass, with my small person’s compassion ringing in my ears.  She saves spiders, so I saved the spider, but the trash had to go: the wrappings of things I chose to carry home, and rain-stained things, and broken things resulting from a box-avalanche of last spring.

The culling of broken and bad from boxes made me feel less angry. Anger started a process that actually did some good. Fewer boxes are better.

Two years ago, I was blessed with many hands to fill those boxes.  I tried to decipher the writing on the boxes, to remember whose hands.  Every different kind of china was carefully wrapped and labeled.  Every different room’s books and treasures were kept together, so when I peered into the hand-holes of those boxes, whole cabinets came back to my memory.  I think I know whose hands, but some script is still a mystery.  There were more than I knew, because I didn’t know much of anything, two years ago.

The writing on the boxes reminded me that I am dear to many, which made me feel less angry, but I am angry at not knowing exactly whom to thank and where to send my apologies for the state of my bedroom and bathroom upon moving out.

No, excuse me, but FUCK THAT.  Someone else needs to write the apologies for the state of my bedroom and bathroom.  I didn’t make that particular version of horrific mess. I wish I still knew were he lives, because he owes my friends and family and my small person some apology letters.  Handwritten.  Maybe also a press release and a youtube video.

See, this is what I’m talking about.

The Professor of My Dreams has noticed my anger. I’ve been flashing indirect “death stares” all over the house.  My face betrays my attempts to forget what happened two years ago.  The shorter days and the cooler weather have flipped a memory switch that usually stays in the off position.  I fall asleep thinking of the ways a person with ill intent might come in, uninvited.  I dream of different ways that night, two years ago, might have gone if I had closed all of the windows and deadbolted the door, or if my own uninvited person with ill intent had forgotten to remember where I lived on his middle of the night stumble home from the bar, or of seeing him again and not restraining my urge to run him over with my car. I wake up with my heart in my throat expecting hands around my throat and I don’t know why, because I was fine and I am fine and nothing bad is happening and nothing is trying to eat me now. But he, my darling parter for life, sees the stress and the lack of joy.

I love the life that has evolved in the last two years, but I  hate the reason I moved in.

Today, I can’t end with some witty, “Never mind, I’m too busy counting my blessings to be angry about…”.  Some part of my brain is too busy trying to keep my body safe when similar has triggered an assumption of same.  Anger, I suppose, is a way to keep myself upright and moving when I edge too close to curling up with the sorrow and getting comfortable with it.  We, my small person and I, are in a safe place, and I don’t mind riding along with anger for a little while longer until I wear it out.

It can’t last forever.  I was fine last week.



The morning wrongness, the clumsy confusion of standing upright and using my hands to do complicated and important things, is usually smoothed over by my favorite man.  He eliminates the need for jarring alarm clocks because he sings me awake.

Every day.

He makes coffee, a difficult morning thing to do. I’d simplified coffee-making before we landed here together in this house, having pushed aside my Plastic Guilt for the convenience of a Keurig. I can push a button for coffee, of course, but this man pushes the button and adds the cream and gets it all the way to the bedroom without spilling before singing me awake.  He hands me hot coffee, and I drink it.  All I have to do is sit up.

Every day.

Before I even sit up, this man has walked the beautiful dog.  They have found a spot where the dog feels okay about pooping. He has fed the dog and has given him a morning treat of good stuff stuffed in toys to chew.

Every day.

He has made daughter-friendly breakfasts and has made daughter-friendly talk about the day, I suspect always about others’ days and not his, and he has said “I love you” to whatever daughters walk out the door before I am awake. He would say “I love you” to the smallest one, too, the one who doesn’t walk out the door alone often, but he is saving that out-loudness until she understands that the words don’t come with expectation.


I have been alone for a few days, doing just a few of the things he does every day. The beautiful dog is patient with me in the mornings, and the small daughter is, too. Afternoons’ and evenings’ doings are easy, but mornings’ are not.  When he’s here, I do what I can to help these full mornings mellow into less selfless days for him and hopefully some downright lazy evenings: the mini-fridge lives on the screened porch for a reason.

I tell him I appreciate him, and I do the things he’d prefer not to do when I know what those things are. I usually manage plumbing and things with engines and tires. I tell him I love him so often that the phrase means new things with new inflections.  I cook what I know he likes to eat, and what the daughters like to eat when they are with us and I don’t cook very smelly German food. I sometimes dust the books and the artifacts of his so-cherishable life and I try to put them back always in the same places so that he can find them the next time that book or that thing is relevant to a conversation or a class.  I always respect his self-ness.  I hug and kiss and hug some more.

Every day, forever, please.





The price of silver dropped a buck last week after a long haul at a low price, and I spent the morning of my birthday at the refinery trying to get more.  More silver.  There is no more silver, as of this week, except for one guy who’s dumping everything he has on me to help his kid buy a new car or something.  Everyone else claims to have none.

I know they have it.  They just aren’t telling, and sure aren’t selling.

That’s been work.  Last week, everyone wanted what they couldn’t get.  This week, everyone seems to have given up, mostly.  The mint isn’t making any more Eagles until mid-August.  Maybe September.  I don’t know and really, I do not give one good goddamn if another American Silver Eagle ever gets spit out the other end of the U.S. Mint.  The guy who came in yesterday to tell me that he wanted a monster box of Eagles and would only pay two-fifty over spot? My dog hated him, and no matter how badly he wants that silver, he’s not getting it for any price, and I’m glad.  My dog knew something, which was, this guy has already been everywhere looking for what doesn’t exist, and he thinks he can farmer-sweet-talk me into making a deal because he thought he had money enough to make a show.

No. Nope. Go tell someone else about your efforts to clean up the village park on your own dime, philanthropist.  I do not have the silver you are looking for.

My job, my lovely, simple, bring-your-daughter-to-work job, has me strung out and ready for a day of no one saying the words “spot” or “dollar” or “collapse” or “delay” or “IT’S” combined with “HAPPENING”. Nothing is happening.  It’s not happening.

Tomorrow, I’ll have been forty-two for a week.  I’ll have been listening to disaster talk every single day of forty-two, and I am edging toward desperation.

Enough, already.  I spent the first twenty-odd years of my aware life waiting for The Bomb, The Earthquake, The War, The End.  Other unpleasant stuff went on while I readied my whole self for losing it all.  Now and then, I was glad to have stashed a toothbrush and change of clothes and to have known where Pibble Bear was when it was time to get the hell out of a burning house. Only once on that scenario, but I was very, very glad that night. Now Pibble is busy taking care of a small person again, having survived his own forty-one years, and but I still know where he is at all times. Habits, you know.

There is a different way to live with what I do for a living.  Other work at work makes me happy, like talking about what you’ve inherited from beloved so-and-so and how surprised we are to find a note full of sweetness tucked away in that jewelry box of treasure I’m appraising or from whom this ring came and what a low-down creep he was and what you’re going to do with the money I give you for the eleven and three tenths pennyweights of gold in that ring. (Most of the time, it’s a road trip.) But the silver shortage of my forty-second year has smooshed the fun all out of it.

In between days of fear-talk, I have evenings and mornings of green-eyed-boy smiles and small-person giggles.  No one pisses off the dog.  We plan little outings and plot our own non-revenge road trips for near and distant places, we sit and talk, we debate love and do not measure it.  This lack of hard scope, this loose absoluteness counteracts the dollar figures and fractions of pennyweights that fill my head until I get into my Jeep and drive home.

My personal stock is as high as it’s ever been.  I’m just going to live richly on its interest.



I want to go so many places.  I stay here and watch travel documentaries and read guidebooks and collect luggage that collects dust. It’s beautiful luggage, some filled with yarn or old photographs, so it doesn’t seem to mind staying put. Someday, the weekender case will creatively clothe me for a week, and the train case will get to ride on a train again.  It enjoyed its trips to Chicago and Champaign once upon a time, when train cases were decidedly less cool than they are today.  A train case is called a train case for a reason: it can carry any little thing I ever needed to make the going a little more beautiful and event-ish. Going someplace is a celebration and a luxury, so I pack appropriately and selfishly lightly if I am to carry my own bags.

When I go, I am prepared to adapt and enjoy whatever happens in the New Place, whether it’s an hour away or a day.  I pack snacks and good pillows for the car or a single deliciously perfect blanket for the plane, as comprehensive a first aid kit as the law allows, and as good an attitude as I can muster.

I can muster a damned fine attitude when it’s time to go.  Good snacks and pillows help maintain it, and a first aid kit just makes me feel better about being far from the home medicine cabinet’s reassuring presence. Got a splinter?  I’ve got you covered.  Car sick? Get the kit.  Bored? You must be crazy.  We’re on a trip!

My small person likes to go, too.  She’s as enthusiastic as her mother, never caring where, but only how long the trip will last.  She prefers short drives and long stays, and planes over automobiles.  I haven’t put her on a train yet, but she’ll love it.  I haven’t put her in a tent yet, because she thinks she might hate it.  She won’t.  Her nature is firmly stuck in enjoyment and positivity.  She likes campfires and beaches and trees, so sleeping sort of out-of-doors shouldn’t be too uncomfortable, right?

When asked why she won’t like tent life, she speaks of hot showers and real mattresses being more her speed.  Maybe her early experiences with heated indoor pools in winter have influenced her more deeply than I understand.  My first hotel stay happened at fourteen, hers at four.

She likes to be comfortable, but so do I.  Sleeping in a tent, for me, is an exercise in bringing luxury to an unexpected place.  Quilts, curtains, rugs, and candlesticks all have important places among the standard sleeping bag-cast iron skillet-stormproof match requirements.  I can rough it, no problem, but smoothing over the edges makes things more fun.  Packing lightly can bug off when I don’t need to carry my life’s temporary possessions from baggage carousel to taxi to hotel to airport to home. My tent usually resembles something from the Camel smoking lounge at Lollapalooza circa 1992 or ‘3.

This summer, we have a trip to a campground in the works.  We will have a cabin that’s nicer than most of my lifetime’s history of rented houses, thanks to my mother’s good taste and generosity and deep dislike of roughing it. There’s a screened porch, where I expect to spend most of my time. There’s a fire pit in the back yard and if last year is any indication, the trees will be full of singing birds by five a.m. Sleeping on porches makes me happy.  I wonder if I can get away with it this year?

Last summer, two different week-long trips took me out of civilization in the month of June.  The first would have included a very nice, anachronistic, and (in?)appropriately Victorian table service in our rain shelter, if the trailer’s hatch hadn’t come unhinged on Highway 55 just north of Springfield. I hope someone with a metal detector hit the jackpot after we left our trail of flattened tea pots and gallery trays and sugar spoons.  Spot price was higher then, too. The second trip lacked the cargo space of the first so it lacked the hastily replaced camping silver, and will again this year, but I can certainly get away with one little train case that may hold beauty products, Mom, or may hold things that make life more beautiful.

I’m not telling, but I suspect that the small people will enjoy eating their s’mores with fish forks.

I'm sure one of these is a fish fork.

I’m sure one of these is a fish fork.


I haven’t worried about my poor Russian language skills since 1989 or so.  Who was President?  I remember the weather, but not that. It seems like yesterday, the TV news footage of people with hammers and bulldozers knocking down the wall.  The world felt smaller that week.  I wished to be there, with a pick axe or a wrecking ball or completely empty-handed.  I wished to smell Berlin, because I had just learned that the olfactory center of the brain held the most powerful memories.

I haven’t worried about losing my grandparents since 2002 or so.  Who could have stopped it? It seems like another lifetime, the easy way I could walk through the back door and know where to find the Oreos in the kitchen and the Hershey bars in PaPa’s room.  The world felt airless when PaPa stopped breathing.  I thought I’d die if there was no more Gram to hug me when I got home, when I stopped in every night on my walk  from the bus station to The Old House.  I think of her when I pass a house where someone’s frying chicken.

I haven’t worried about losing my husband since 2012 or so.  Who would have believed that I’d choose to get lost, myself? It seemed like I was saving us from the slowest, saddest death.  The world grew huge when I signed a lease on a little house where no one would throw things at me in front of my small person or call me ugly names to my first babies.  Until then, I fought to stop the drinking, the smoking, the many dangerous drives home from parties that I just knew would steal my children’s father from them before they were grown.  I think of that battle, the fight that was so exhausting and useless, when I hear him telling me I gave up too soon. I gave up just in time to keep the most important person from learning how to be treated.

Someone, maybe the first therapist I ever told about my lifetime of worry, suggested taking a situation to its worst possible outcome and finding a workable solution.  Then, when something between Worst and Nothing actually happened, I’d feel prepared and confident. No more worry. No more sleepless hours in the dark, listening for the bad guy who wouldn’t show up for years.

Okay.  I get that.  Could she have known that I’d been preparing for nuclear holocaust since I was eight? The worst case scenario and I were old friends.  I had been hoarding packets of cocoa mix and instant soup since I learned to start a fire to boil water in the back yard. I ate cooked dandelion roots and made acrid flour from acorns to accustom my palate to wild flavors. I practiced mediation to keep myself sane if everyone I loved died in the goddamned blast. The act of preparing for the worst case was the only thing that had kept me from going batty between eight and old-enough-to-find-a-therapist.

Lately, I don’t dedicate much time to the practice of mentally preparing for the sky to fall. The wall fell, and took care of that situation.  North Korea has something cooking, but I can’t change that.  I still don’t sleep much, but I don’t worry much, either.  Preparation for a Worst Case Scenario takes real energy, and I’d rather jump on the trampoline with a certain girl I know who still thinks I’m fun. I worry if she loses her bounce, but I’m The Mommy.  I can usually bring it back with a good hug or a Hershey bar.

Just in case, I keep a bag packed with a change of clothes and a couple of sleeping bags and a tent and matches.

Sometimes, the house burns down, even though the extinguisher’s in your hands.


The guy with the axe is a metaphor for my therapist.


When we stay in one place for a long time, memories embed themselves in odd places.  I know where I was and what I was wearing ten years ago last Sunday, who I was with, and what we did, because this is Big Trash Week.

In this town and the town before, Big Trash Week  happens twice a year.  We all drag the big things (that Goodwill won’t take) to the curb, with hope that someone with a pickup truck takes the Big Trash away for reuse before the actual trash truck arrives in the morning.  Smart scavengers begin prowling early, to get the best selection.  Anything between the sidewalk and the curb is fair game, a free shopping spree for anyone willing to put pride aside and dive in.

This spring, I neither put out nor picked up anything from the street.  I have a Jeep.  I could have picked.  I have a big, strong boyfriend.  I could have put.

This spring is different because while I do have many things that I don’t need, I don’t need anything that I don’t have.  Got that?  I won’t go looking.  A chair might see me, a softie for a lonely single creaky seat, and want to come home with me.

It’s like visiting a shelter just to pet the kittens.  No.

In spring, ten years ago, I cruised for furniture with a friend.  She had just left her husband, rented a big-to-her house, and didn’t have enough places to sit.  I’d given her the world’s ugliest sofa-bed, a kitchen table, and six chairs.  Her daughter already had my grandma’s day bed and a new mattress, and she had a great mattress of her own and one dresser.  In one afternoon, we found an antique dining room table, two dressers, a clean rug, a desk, a bed frame for her very tall son, and the cutest little loveseat and two matching tiny chairs.  Those were orange and yellow cut velvet, and I was powerfully pregnant.

We celebrated her freedom and mine.  She had a lease and first and last months’ paid rent, and wouldn’t live in a trailer any more.   I had two more months or so until my belly finished cooking up a real live baby. That Sunday afternoon, we were broke women on a mission.

It was a grand day.  I wore my favorite floor-swishing sun dress and a big straw hat to balance out the belly.  We loaded my tiny station wagon to bursting, then tied some more on top.  What didn’t fit, I guarded on the curb so that no one else would claim her treasures.  Try arguing with a fat pregnant woman sprawled on three pieces of tiny velvet lady-furniture with a milkshake and The National Enquirer.  Only one man did.  All I had to say was, “Nope. Already mine.”

I am shameless when duty calls.  Ask about my parking-space-saving techniques sometime.

My friend lived in her perfect house for three years, and then everything went to hell and into a storage unit.  The stored stuff was later sold or carried off or stolen, no one really knows.  When I found out that she was far behind and locked out, I paid the bill, but too late.  The manager of the storage lockers had sent letters, and she had not sent rent.  That’s something we know.

Spring Big Trash always makes me think of my friend, her new freedom that spring and her later losses, and the joy of free stuff for an empty house.

I hope she’s doing well.  I hope she remembers, too.







The time has changed, and the sun sets later in the day now.  We pretend that it does, anyway.

Extra daylight in the evening means less in the morning.  I do not adjust easily to the loss of an hour at the beginning of a day, but the dog and the small person seem to take the shift in stride.

I have not.  I am sleepy.

The evening daylight, though, is precious and beautiful.  Today was rainy in a gently soaking way; my hair has been damp for hours now, and I had to change clothes after a walk in what seemed like not-rain that seeped through my down jacket.  My jacket didn’t mind.  The rain was welcome.  Rain is not snow, and mid-March is not dark like mid-February, thanks to this time change.

The dog and I looked for signs of spring and found them.  The ammi majus is a centimeter high above the wet leaves, and some escaped English ivy and greater periwinkle foliage has started to push out soft new shoots.  Neighbors’ irises are greening through their soggy leftover leaves of last summer.  Robins land in little fat flocks on the bike path and leave again when we get close.  The dog knows more about all of this than I do, and he tells me what he can.  I’m slow to understand, but he is patient.

Put your nose here, he offers.  A wonderful playful thing happened here this morning, and this broken branch is proof of the thing.  This flattened grass is proof of a sleeping newborn thing, and this spot of mud in the gravel is proof of another, bigger thing than us stepping here in the night.  Look here with all of your senses, and you’ll know.

I try.  I’m better with green things.

Soon, on a less rainy-muddy day, the small person and I will go hunting for green.  We look for buds and shoots every spring, just like Gram and I used to look.  Gram knew where to find green in our small world, the big yard at 305 Napoleon, and sometimes in other places on our walks, but most of our discoveries happened at home.  I hoarded the spring things in my heart, and I felt like we were rich with new green, richer certainly than the people in big houses with plain grass lawns.  We had sweet peas when no one else had them, and hollyhocks that spread from our center of town to every edge, three blocks in each direction.  We had daffodils older than Gram and Papa, and peonies–not green at first, but glowing red–that came from the oldest part of the cemetery.  Our green was special, ancient to me, and unique.

The green that the small person and I find will be a little of that, and a lot of the wider world in which we exist.  We have the same irises and daffodils, by a happy accident of fate.  Even before we migrated back to this house, we found excuses to walk past to visit our daffodils at this red-diamond-window house where she lived before she was born.

Extra hours of daylight will come for real, minute by minute, soon enough.  For now, we shift in a big jump all at once and pretend that we have more, and that is good enough for me.

7 Tips for a Zero-Waste Kitchen


Zero-Waste Chef

my refrigerator

I love my (nearly) zero-waste kitchen routine. I eat a delicious, healthy diet and have simplified my shopping habits. But it did take me a couple of years to (nearly) perfect this routine and I may never achieve complete zero-waste. (Remember calculus class? You merely approach zero.)

When I shop at the bulk store, for example, I still indirectly generate a small amount of waste. The food arrives at the store in paper or (gulp) plastic packaging after all. Also, I refuse to give up butter and the paper does go in the trash. So, until I buy a farm and produce all my food myself, I will create some waste somewhere. Then again, if I live on a farm outside the city, I’ll have to drive everywhere and burn more fossil fuels…So, I suppose as a precursor to these tips, I should add—above all—don’t strive for perfection. That and cook everything…

View original post 868 more words


In my dreams, I can fly.  Okay, maybe “fly” isn’t quite it, but I don’t know what to call the act of propelling my body through air with effort and intent.

If I happen to fall, or jump, my hands can catch the atmosphere.  I don’t land, then, but rather bounce about, suspended by I-don’t-know-what for as long as my arms keep moving.  When the flying is happening, it feels as natural as walking, more natural than moving through water.  Swimming, real swimming, is torture.

Here’s the problem: this dream comes to me often, so I forget that I can’t really fly.  Once, I fell far, far across a ravine on an unfamiliar stretch of hiking trail, and I took so long to land that I had time to think, “Goodness, I’ll come out fine from this, since I just need to flap my arms a little…”.  Flapping happened, my hiking friends expected broken bones or a loose screw for trying to swim to the other side of the air-ravine, and I landed softly on a deep layer of spring-musty leaves.  Nothing broke, I hadn’t lost my mind, but I was wrong about the flying in real life once again.

Explaining my behavior was a little easier than I’d expected.  My companions had all recently read some good advice, in honor of our short-lived book club, including, “Carry a Towel”, “Don’t Panic”, and “42.”  In that same helpful Guide is advice on flying, that goes something like, “Forget to Land.”

My advice about book clubs? Collective participation is great and all, but things move along much better when the six of you don’t share one copy of the book of the month.  The Hitchhikers’ Guide was missing pages by the time the last person read it, making group discussions confusing.  If you must share a paperback, I recommend Breakfast of Champions.  A lost page or twenty doesn’t cause much confusion amidst the intentional blurring of reality, and sometimes you find a dropped page years later and get to keep it.  The beaver page is a prize.


So, if we’re ever on a trampoline together, and I look frustrated, you know my secret.  For just a moment, some primal part of my brain expects to take off from those first few jumps, buoyant, to boost myself into the trees with my perfectly unremarkable ability to grab air and gain space between the ground and my body.

It never works, but I keep flapping, just in case.


I got divorced last Friday, and I didn’t even know it.

A letter arrived two days ago, from the circuit clerk’s office.  I read the pages and pages I’d filled out two weeks before, and at the end of each section, I found a scrawled signature on the line where “JUDGE” had been blank.  A case number had been assigned, a date of hearing had occurred, and there is nothing left to do.

No court date to attend.

No ugly argument afterward.

No mediation required.

No conflict.

Two weeks ago, the respondent to my petition for dissolution of marriage had plenty to say about it, disagreed with all of the terms to which he had years-earlier agreed, generally railed against finality.

I railed for it.  I got it.

Somehow, I’d expected The End to feel like a battle hard-won; because most of the hard parts happened so many years ago, it feels almost too easy.

Not complaining.


“Why” is a rude word.  Confrontational.  Never well-answered enough to settle the heart. Never really answered at all.

Why did she do that? Why do you do this? Why did that happen? Why did I say that? Why don’t I know?

I won’t ask the question any more.  I choose, for now, to take Why out for a long drive and set it loose on the edge of my mind.  Why can run free somewhere else.

Why eats too much and drinks too much and takes everything I have.

What do I have? I have Love, and Yes, and Take Your Time to Figure It Out, and You are D0ing Your Best,  gifts I give to myself and to the loves of my life.

That is enough.



We believe in many things.

We believe in the goodness of humans, and in the ability of some humans to do inhumane things, but certainly ratios favor the good.

Christian tradition asks us to believe in a rather shaky date of birth of a certain influential Jew who was executed for telling humans to be humane.  Despite my doubts of shepherds doing typical summerish things in late December, we do believe that someone important came into the world to teach kindness and tolerance in an intolerant time. For that, we are grateful.

Lately, tolerance and kindness seem in short supply.  Some people who lift up the name of their god and savior (whose birthday may or may not be upon us), appear to have forgotten certain lessons he taught: we are all one, we are equal to both the queens and whores, we are flawed and perfect at once, we are redeemable when we fail, we are in this together so we’d better get along and stop comparing ourselves to our neighbors.

Some.  Ratios favor the good.

For my own small person, I leave Christ out of Christmas and insert Kindness instead.

We give gifts out of appreciation and joy.  We decorate a Christmas tree because dammit, we’d do that every month if we could.  We talk about ancient people living in the cold and dark, waiting out the longest night of the year, and celebrating the beginning of a few more moments of sunlight every day until the next big event, the longest day of the year.  We hope for magic in the middle of dreary, dreary gray winter.

We celebrate snow and its security-blanket effect on our hearts and its gentle masking of winter’s mud.  As for the mud, we dance in it, once it thaws into warm, soothing goo.  As for worship, we pray for the right weather to make seeds grow into myriad green things.  We bow our heads to the earth and wonder at the miracles, the bugs and worms and tiny sprouts, that have defied the cold and have given us hope for longer, greener, flowerier days.

I have raised my child to be reverent of many things and irreverent of more.  But we are kind.  We are tolerant.

As she grows, she may remain as skeptical as her mother about the reason for this season, or she may learn to apply a specific name and schedule and doctrine to her belief system.  I’m staying out of it.  If she invites me to her place of worship, should it ever move to a less-everywhere place than it is right now, I will join her, as she has always joined me.

We have no name for what we believe, but names don’t matter.  Kindness does.





Today, I sent off my final paper for a class on sociology research methods.  I think I did okay. I think I’ll pass.

This is the fourth time I’ve taken the class.

The first time, I failed the first two tests so solidly that I was told that dropping and trying again would be in my best interest. I had never failed a test in my life, and now I had two under my academic belt. Nothing was sticking in my brain; I was full of anger and confusion about other things in my life, and I worried incessantly about how to pay the bills and how to feed the whole family and how to spend enough time with them between work and school.  The “get out of class free” offer was a blessing.  I gained spare time to fix some broken things.  One of them was me.

Once I fixed my broken self, I took the class again.  It was great.  I got it. The only little issue was that once I had fixed what was ailing me, for me, the man in my life didn’t like me any more.  He did like to call me while I was on campus to tell me how useless I was, how useless my degree would be compared to the nursing program I’d left in favor of finishing a bachelor’s, and what opportunities he was missing because he had married me and settled here.  So, I cried too much for my own good, I apologized for my uselessness, and went to work fixing that, too. I’d been what he needed me to be for years before; the transition to servitude was effortless, but I chose not to break myself again.

It didn’t work.  I left him that semester, and dropped the research methods class and every other class along with it. Moving to a new home with my small person and working to pay for that home came first.  I also needed the extra time to play and be silly, to make homemade waffles and chase mice out of the kitchen and make memories of a very sad time a little happier for the both of us.

The third try at research methods was even better.  I scored the highest of all sections on exams and assignments.  Things like that mattered to a nerd like me, and I needed a little win after the losses stacked to the sky. I had sharp, hard discipline earned by doing the sharpest and hardest of things. Life was beautiful, and my grade point average was perfect.  Then, perfect turned into a nightmare: my small person and I were beaten bloody by a neighbor’s godson for no reason.  We left that wonderful little cottage we called home, and I stopped going to research methods class. Class started before her school bus came, and I couldn’t continue to leave her in the hands of our dear, helpful, genuinely good neighborhood friends to deliver her to her bus.  They knew the bad person well, even called him “family”, but I must believe that they did not know what he did to us, their neighbors and friends.

This time, try number four, has gone by shockingly swiftly, uninterrupted by break-ups or break-ins.  My little girl and I have a safe haven and so much love; love changes everything, just like losing it does.

I do not want to take this class again, so I’ll do well on the final exam, and hope for the best on the paper I sent to be intellectually shredded by a woman much smarter than I am.  Maybe, if the stars and my methodology are right…

If not, I will enroll again, but this time, I could probably teach the damned thing myself.

I think I’ll pass.

segment of the echo

Sometimes, I read things that make me cry and I don’t know why I’m crying.

valeriu dg barbu

Trilingual post: English, Italiano, Română

poetry is a door-egg or a key
a bizarre and intimate touch
as if to kiss on the lips thyself
first and only poetry was when
gave breath to a speck of dust – the echo increases
You have part of a sound, you’re sound, squatting in it and
to you is everything
you might think that now
I have described in these words the love
– is the same as

segmento dell’eco
la poesia è una porta-uovo o una chiave
un tocco bizzarro e intimo
come se baciassi sulla bocca te stesso
prima e l’unica poesia è stata quando
ha dato il soffio a un granello di polvere – l’eco aumenta
tu hai parte di un suono, sei il suono, rannicchiandoti in esso e
ti è tutto
potresti pensare che
ho descritto da queste parole l’amore
– è…

View original post 73 more words


When a Thing frustrates me, it goes into the basket marked “GOODWILL”.  The rim of this tall laundry basket also sports the Donation Slogan: “Be Generous, Be Ruthless.”

Until my frequent use of slogans was pointed out to me by a word-aware sweetheart, I hadn’t given the habit much thought.  Now I see evidence all over the house.  Last night, I wished for a bleach pen to write something on a little black canvas bag full of picnic utensils.  The words don’t come until the pen is in hand, so I can’t tell you what that bag will someday say.  That it will someday say something is sure. Silent things don’t live here for long.

I’ve been listening to the words and whispers of Things forever.  Sometimes I’m sure I hear, “Take me home.  I’ve been waiting in this flea market/garage/alley for weeks and weeks.”  Sometimes, the Thing has a face and is shaped like a teddy bear or a bunny.  Teddy bears and floppy-eared bunnies have lots to say.  I used to cry for the ones left behind at K-mart.  I didn’t cry to have the toy, I cried over its certain loneliness when the lights went out at night in aisle ten. My mother understood.

Some Things go silent under the gaze of family and friends.  I squirrel them away, into attics and other places, until I find a better home for them or reintroduce under better conditions. No sense causing suffering, but also no sense in treating something I think is special as trash.

Some Things speak just as loudly to the beloveds as they do to me.  A bold voice turns a Thing into Treasure, something to share and remember its arrival like a new  old friend.

Today, I took many things away to store for the winter or maybe forever, as winters sometimes go.  Boxes came down from the attic.  Boxes disappeared.  None of the boxes will be missed, and nothing in them has a face.  I cannot tolerate treating the stuffed friends like the fabric and fluff they really are, so they always stay.

Most of what lives out of the house, stored by the month, would fit into an organized attic, which ours is not.  Two pieces of furniture, large ones, won’t.  The furniture sits patiently in the dusty unit.  The contents of boxes marked “CHINA” and “KITCHEN” grumble, dented and clinking angrily.  They fell this summer into a pile, and I don’t know what’s intact; what’s not, I don’t want to know.

The other boxes, books and linens and known artifacts of my other life, whisper nothing but “Patience…”

In my impatient moments, more frequent lately, I tear open an unmarked box once full of Treasures and take advice from the Goodwill basket.  Ruthlessly, generously–to shoppers and unknowing family–I discard what’s gone silent.  The Jeep has been filled like a clown car three times since August, and the helpful donation-takers at the back of the thrift shop frown when I roll up full to the roof.  Sometimes, former treasures in furniture shape gets strapped right on top, Beverly Hillbillies style.  I do this alone, unashamed of my outrageous transportation of newly-shed Things, but a little ashamed of my mourning. Angry tears at inanimate objects’ lost significance seems silly, but I haven’t figured out a work-around for that one.

So, I listen to what remains, carefully carefully.  To live surrounded by muteness, even from simple Things, is hellish.  Strangerish.  Homelessness surrounded by walls and a roof.

In case of actual homelessness or other temporary displacement, I have a nice sturdy bag marked, “LET’S GO.”

That one will never go to Goodwill.



It’s been a year.

Last September, we went to the auction together.  His first auction was my (insert big number here)-th, and I liked feeling so confident with the scene.  Show ID.  Get a number.  Walk around the trailers full of treasures, touch and inspect.  Wait for your favorites to come into the hands of a helper, and know your price.  Go over your price just enough to get what you want, or sometimes, be surprised when no one else wants your object of desire and get it for a dollar.  Eat whatever the food stand is selling, and wear a hat no matter what the weather.

He bought a framed litho of a little girl in her Sunday clothes, the coolest thing we saw on the auction flyer. Something else ended up in his box, maybe comics or baseball cards, and with them came a handful of graduation photos from my grandpa’s high school.  His daughter joined us for a while.  It was a very good day.

Five days later, I failed to lock the door properly and an unwelcome visitor stopped by to beat the hell out of me and my small person.  We never went back to our little yellow cottage.  The landlords, a very nice retired couple, put it up for sale as soon as our things were carried out of the house, just because they didn’t want to think of what happened. I saw them at the same fundraising auction today, where they volunteer. Last year, they met my sweetheart and Mrs. Landlady was charmed by his tall-dark-handsome unassuming sweetness.  She complimented my good taste, and I blushed.  A year later, she is happy to hear that he’s still my sweetheart.

They got to hear today that my small person and I are doing well, thriving even, in the same good place we landed after the big fall.  We are home now, almost like we were home before, but with more people and more rooms and more pets.  Life feels normal again.

Next weekend is a mixed bag of anniversaries.  How do we mark the first year of full-time Together when the move happened because of a Very Bad Thing?

We throw out the bad, that’s what.  We plan a picnic, or order in, or go to a movie, or finish painting the bathroom together, and thank the stupid, violent man who invited himself into my little house for opening a wider door for us.

It’s been a year, sometimes easy and sometimes not, but I’ve never lived a better one.  Let’s celebrate.



If you could go back in time, where would you go?

This is the question posed to me last night by my small person.  Questions and answers happen every bedtime, when we crawl in bed together to watch cat videos and make funny voices and funny faces.  We talk in between and after about practical and abstract things.

Why did she ask?  What was her own answer?

Back to Kentucky, first, she said.  She loves Aunt DiAnn and loves driving that boat.  To time travel properly, one must take short trips first, to recent times.  Practice, to prevent getting lost too far in time and space from real home, is an important step.

A heartbreaker landed next.  She’ll go back in time and move out of our last house before we had to leave.  I knew what she meant.  Before I could open discussion, the time travel continued.  We might have had a moment to talk about the move and its causes, but she moved on.

She wants to ride scooters with her grandpa and me, because she is fond of the kind of freedom we had.  I’ve told her the scooter tales, trips to almost-dry creekbeds to feed hungry carp and long tours of narrow roads made into tunnels by tall cornfields on both sides.  She knows that her grandpa was as reckless as I was cautious, so she prefers to ride with me most of the time when she visits 1986.

Further into her imagined past, she shall meet other family members when they are younger and she is this age.  She will always be the age she is now, of course.

Her great grandmother, my Gram, interests her.  Stories of pie and good mashed potatoes and the warmest hugs must have stuck.  Her great grandfather, Grandpa Chester (father of my father), also won a spot on the must-meet list.  Anyone who can be grazed by a shot to the face and calmly walk to the other end of the bar to get his gun wins her approval.

My small person believes that her grandma was one sassy teenager, and the prettiest girl in the town.  According to my own Gram’s anecdotes and photographic evidence, she’s right on both counts.

We, she and I, make a small family in a very big world.  Her time-travel wishes make me glad that I’ve talked so much about the people who contribute to her genealogy.  They have made her, and she knows them without ever meeting them.

Other people talk about the future as though it exists, but I do not know how to leave now.  The past, made concrete by memories, can be revisited over and over.  We ride the crest of a tide of nothing but memories, with empty space always ahead.

Do you know what will happen tomorrow, without a doubt?  I know what happened today, and last week, and when I was twelve, and so does she.

I am glad to share my yesterdays with a small person and her big thoughts.  She knows that we would be four years apart if she were to hop on the back of my scooter, and she knows the color of my hair at thirteen, and the sound of carp eating dry bread in a drought, and what corn smells like in August of 1986.

And I can’t wait to see what our tomorrow will bring.




Lately, my clothes don’t fit the same.

Skirts that used to ride saucily on my hips now girdle right up to my waist if they zip at all.  Shirts that required a camisole for modesty now stay where they belong, stretched enough to end the front-side gappage.  Dresses with any structure have been “taken out”, one picked stitch at a time, or taken to Goodwill.

Even elastic has begun to complain. Lycra pinches, and jeans just say no.  I’m trying to figure out how to get through a St. Louis winter without pants at all. Stockings and boots and layers of long skirts, a la Little House on the Prairie or finally crossing the ick line into wearing one of the old rabbit-fur coats I can’t seem to discard?

My beloved vintage things are most forgiving. Many favorites fit loosely all along, and still do.  A swing coat will swing, after all.

Older clothing accepts changes with grace. I’d taken many things in, anyway, to accommodate my thinness.  Now it’s time to unstitch my stitches; I’ve expanded.

Last weekend, some old-reliable fancy things came out of storage for a wedding reception.  Only one dress, bought during a particularly lean phase, was uncomfortable.  The rest, worn too many times to count–parties, dances, dinners, funerals–fit, but what a change.

For the first time, I saw some va-va-voom wrapped up in those clothes.  Curves, attached to my body, my own unassisted-by-padding shape, filled the spaces I used to pin and tuck to keep things in place.  I felt lush.  I felt ample. I felt excited to have finally graduated into a number beyond “2”.   This new body and I are not yet familiar with one another, but getting acquainted has been a joy.

Now that my me-mannequin is made of slightly softer stuff, I can have fun with this booty I’ve been given.  Walking in heels makes me feel like a Mad Men character, all sway and swoosh.  I imagine being able to navigate a crowd without spilling my martini, because my bottom half makes room for my elbows. The word “hourglass”, always heard wistfully in descriptions of other women, now applies to my backside and at the correct angle, my frontside, too.

Am I vain?  Do I care too much about the outside, the packaging, the cover of the book?

I’ll answer my own question with a tentative “no.” So many times, I’ve made new, tighter holes in my belts to hold up my jeans.  So many times, I’ve teetered on the edge of collapse from blood sugar crashes or flat-out fatigue for forgetting to eat by a certain hour of the day.  So many times, I’ve fielded comments of concern over my weight or outright nastiness over what I “could” eat and stay rail-thin.  Now, I have the gift of an average BMI and a bit of stored adipose tissue to support not only my pants but also my preferred activity level.  I am average.

My bigger, stronger, less bony body helps me to feel anything but frail.  I am done with physically frail.  I am not delicate, not easily exhausted, not quick to sicken.

Yes, I do bruise my butt more often because I do not yet know its dimensions, but that’s a small price to pay.  I need to edit my winter wardrobe to work with these new proportions, but I love to play with clothes and now thrift stores are full of my size, fewer alterations required.

I’ve never disliked any part of my body, and now there’s just more to love.

Like this, but blonde.

Like this, but blonde.







We, small person and I, spent the weekend with one of my favorite branches of my family tree.  My father’s sister, and on the second day, my father’s brother’s wife, my daughter and I converged at a spot in Kentucky where a handful of other Illinois transplants spend part of their time.  My father’s sister and her husband live there full time, and a couple of other parts of that branch own spots on the circle drive they call FBI: farm boys from Illinois.

The aunt with whom we stayed used to put me up for a week at a time when I was a teenager without a bedroom door.  For this, I was grateful.  I am still so very grateful.

Back then, still in Illinois, her beautiful home on the lake had a deck that wrapped around two sides of the one-story house.  The one story went high, high, with windows to the top of a vaulted ceiling.  I’d never seen such a room in real life: wide hearth, deep fireplace, chimney to the top of the room, triangular windows to show off the far view of the lake.  An elk with a name hung above the mantel.  Other creatures’ heads hung everywhere in the house, even in the cozy, fireplace-worthy  basement where I slept and where I watched coyotes sniff at the ground-level windows at dusk.

My cousins and I threw rings made of wrapping paper over the elk’s horns at Christmastime.  The days and weeks I’d spent in the house gave me a sense of kinship with the trophy.  I loved him.  No one else I knew had an elk over the mantel, and I certainly didn’t even have a mantel, but my adored aunt and her husband had both.  Her husband spent a lot of time away, at oil wells and construction sites and of course on hunting trips, but I knew him to be kind to her and liked him for it even if I didn’t care to fire a rifle myself when he offered and scoffed at my refusal.

The elk moved with them to a smaller apartment in town away from the lake.  Their couch sat under Elmer, maybe not quite Elmer but a name that sounded close to Elmer, and one had to duck to sit down under his wide antlers and low-hanging chin.  He went up for sale in the local shopper, with a huge price tag.  If I had called and asked, he might have been brought over to my tiny house for a smaller price, but I was too shy and too proud at that time.  I was twenty-three and married and ashamed of where I was.  Their smaller apartment had less space but even more attitude than the house by the lake.  The physical constriction just concentrated my aunt’s style. I felt diluted next to her as an adult. That sturdy branch on the family tree is populated by so many interesting, capable, accomplished and downright intense personalities.

The person I  thought I’d be by then, the person I had hoped to show to my slightly distant family who loved me despite or because of my parentage, wasn’t the person I’d become.  I hadn’t become anything at all.  My first husband was all mistake, and we all knew it but no one had the heart to say it to my face.  My little house, beloved but sinking quickly into its own basement, smelled like mildew and dog.   My transportation consisted of a Honda motorcycle that ran reliably but sported a long-expired tag and a Blazer that ran unreliably and stayed legal.  The bike was the husband’s, probably purchased in another city and not paid off.  The husband was a cheating son of a bitch who wore an inappropriately green suit to my father’s funeral.

Now, I am done with that man, joyfully.  Done with that house, heartbrokenly but necessarily.  Done with that Blazer after passing it along to a mechanically gifted friend.  Done with feeling less-than because of my choices.  I’ve chosen to marry and leave another man, but now I have a daughter because of that choice.  I also have a decent sense of who I am, and I am no longer too careful about my words.

True to her Hartlieb roots, that small person speaks her mind, but not unkindly.  She loves life and fears little.  I worked hard to give her less to fear, and failed, but she has chosen joy. I’ve chosen to admit my stupidity and find humor in the ridiculous things I’ve done.  This weekend, I told my stupid stories to my beloved aunts for the first time.

They laughed with me.  My aunt’s house was again my home.  My small person stirred pancake batter with her and pounded round steak.  We slept like babies on Benadryl.  We stalked a fox in the back yard and saw deer and turkey buzzards from Old Blue the pickup truck. She captained a very fast pontoon boat with great confidence and surprising deftness.

The boat stretched my faith in the small person’s skills, but my aunt offered the helm without pause.  I forgot caution, and we sailed along just beautifully. My aunts held on tight and smiled in her direction.

When I was fifteen and newly awarded a legal driving permit, it was the same boat-owning aunt and her mother who put me behind the wheel for a long drive to pick up my brother.  I’d driven all over our small town, chauffeuring my dad from tavern to bowling alley to tavern, but never with a minimum speed limit.  My grandma and aunt commanded me to get behind the wheel and go.  Fast.  So, I did.  After that, I was never afraid to go anywhere.  Cautious, but not afraid.

My small person wasn’t afraid to take the wheel of that boat, and she wasn’t afraid to push the throttle all the way to hold-on-to-your-hat and pull it back to putt-putt neutral to show her passengers, aunts times two,  some particularly lovely houses on the lake.

Most of all, she enjoyed herself.

Now that I say what I think, now that I’m not an awkward seventeen or twenty-three, I tell my beloved aunt how much I appreciate her attention.  She watched my small person and complimented her on her easy demeanor and her confidence.  My small person does not complain or whine, but rather opens a conversation with a splat of humor if the topic might include something ungracious.  Farts are fair game among family, but tears over a stubbed toe are not.  I hope that she has watched me during her few years and has learned from my ever-more-sparse but always present mistakes.

From our weekend away, we brought home souvenirs: rocks fished from the lake with our toes, driftwood from the beach, a whole turtle skeleton, piles of snail shells, all destined for the place at home where we store such memories in plain sight.  We have always decorated our home with tangible artifacts of life well-lived, things for guests to pick up and turn over in their hands and their minds.

We left my beloved aunt’s house after a long breakfast on the boat. We ate deer sausage and cheese and crackers, and the captain steered with one hand and ate a bunless hot dog out of the other.

Neither my small person nor I wanted to leave, just like I used to hate to leave her big house on the lake.  I do not want to stop talking about our weekend, and I do not have the words to explain how much I appreciated the time given to me and my beautiful daughter.

The days with my aunts reminded me that I’ve come from righteous and forthright stock, if you put any stock in nature over nurture.  To be told by my mother that I’m “just like my father” never felt like an insult, even though he made enough mistakes for the lot of us.  She loved him, and she loved me, and I loved the whole fam damily from the outside looking in except for those precious weeks with my aunt and the precious holidays with anyone who shared my last name.

My small person looks like them and walks like them.  She is bold, silly, loud, opinionated, thoughtful but not self-sacrificing.  Her smile and her eyes and her thick wavy hair, her readiness to laugh at herself, her willingness to push past comfort for the sake of a great time, all of that I can credit to the Hartliebs by marriage or by birth.  We, them, she, and I are of a kind.

Our weekend reminded me of all of this and taught my daughter more of what she is made of.  My dad would have loved her so very much, and I tell her good stories and bizarre stories of what my time with him was like.  Time with her very beloved great aunt gives her proof of a certain kind of life, full of highs and lows and laughter no matter what











Most of my stuff lives in a rented storage unit.  Today, I miss some of it.

I miss knowing exactly where to find the oddities that made up my familiar, useful things.  The missing comes from the need to pack for a trip that requires, in my opinion, some specific stuff I’ve been saving for just such a trip: into the wilderness, but not far.

I’ve found substitutes for most.  The flea market at the end of this street offers amazing oddities, and the boys who run it give me very good prices in return for my word-of-mouth advertising.   They have a back room stacked to the ceiling with useful things and beautiful things.

My favorite things are both, simultaneously. Useful things may be created with an eye for aesthetics or become beautiful with long use, but simply beautiful things take up too much space.

I may go hunting in the as-of-yet unseen piles of stuff that used to be in my little house.  To see those boxes, packed and marked and moved and stacked by so many kind hands, will surely move me to tears.  Are the tears worth getting my hands on the handy-dandy propane stove in its handy-dandy carrying case?

Sure.  Crying never killed anybody, and the weather in the almost-wilderness will be rainy for the first few days.  Hot cocoa for breakfast is totally worth making the first trip to the created-wilderness of those piles of stuff in storage.

Material possessions only matter as much as they hold meaning.  The meaningless matter goes to Goodwill.

What I find behind Storage Unit Door Number Whatever might all be meaningless, too, after eight months in the dark.  I’ve done well without so far, but I do miss some comforts and graces that living amongst a collection–forks, paintings, glassware, rocks, sticks, books–carefully curated over my lifetime, brought to the places I’ve lived before.

Someday, we’ll land where my things may become our things.  What I’ve brought into the house so far has met with mixed appreciation, but perhaps as a whole, my collection of oddities will feel less odd than they do as individual insertions to the established arrangement.  Complimentary to the current, I am confident.

My life now, not completely surrounded and saturated with my family’s and my own useful and beautiful things for the first time, proves that those things are secondary to happiness.

Before a misunderstanding takes hold, let’s talk about beauty.

The Old House, to me, was beautiful, even when everyone else living in it disagreed. The screen door’s sound, crack-boing-clack, and its smell, rusty screen and dust and rain on the hot sidewalk, still cause pangs of joy when I think of them.  That door, wood-framed, brass-handle caked with crude oil, hinges greased with the same, became the first thing I understood to be beautiful.  The glass in the windows, wavy and never without a few nose-prints from me or the dog, transformed the grass into a rippling sea before I knew what a sea should look like.  Even the way the soft brick of the foundation crumbled in the damp of the basement, and the stairs to that basement, dug and poured by someone with very long legs which I would inherit, long legs and basement stairs both…

That tiny, crooked, oddly arranged structure we eventually called The Old House shaped my aesthetics.

All beautiful, like the rock my small person needed to bring home from the landscaping at The Pasta House a few weeks ago.  Like the sticks I needed to bring home from Indiana last week.  Like the bookshelves that my dad made in wood shop in 1960-something that have always needed to live near where I choose to sleep, and the quilts and pillows that I will carry into the almost-wilderness to make the tent seem capable of providing real shelter.

I require less shelter now, less armor made of familiar stuff to call my own and not ours.  Please, let it all be ours.

Now, as the trip to the almost-wilderness requires immediate planning and packing, I project needs, then wants.  I hope to fulfill both, useful and beautiful: shelter, clothing, food, water, hot cocoa, quilts, pillows, rugs, paint for the tent’s rain fly should the rain pause, yarn to occupy my hands should it not.

The perfect set of open-flameworthy pots and pans are still packed, probably too deeply to bother with during the search for the stove, but I’ve found others in the meantime.  Maybe they’re better.  The silver service that always comes to the wilderness is polished and ready to hold flowers, and the tablecloth, on the table.  The two chairs for the table never went into storage, and I am confident enough that one flute is stored safely away to bring the other, to offer up as a gift.

I play the banjo now, anyway.



We adventured, got lost, found treasure.

My treasure is different than his, but I can spot its dim-to-me sparkle and point him in its direction.  He knows that  the things I seek out are usually made of metal: wrenches, hammers, pocket knives, pots and pans.  I really wanted a compound bow I saw, but I’m sure it wasn’t under my self-imposed spending limit.

The spending formula is simple and doesn’t need to be flexible: no more than ten dollars for cast iron with a lid and no rust, no more than six dollars for a very large metal tool-like thing, no more than three for a pan without a lid, and no more than a dollar for a hat.  Miscellaneous items like backgammon sets can reach the two dollar mark, but any purchase over five dollars requires negotiation and combination.  I’ll pay six for an axe with a good handle, but only if another thing’s price drops dramatically along with it. Both for one money, music to my ears.

Simple. I’m shameless and happy to walk away, but I always do it with a smile.

His treasure is almost always very specific paper, stapled into the most delicate books, always vulnerable to temperature and time.  I am awed by its ephemeral nature and I don’t pretend to understand the details. The mystery of why a thing is precious is as precious to me as the thing.

I spelled ephemeral incorrectly last night.  Glad to fix that today.

We carried our precious things to the Tank and lumbered home.  Previous lifetimes’  precious things still hide in the trunk, and they clanged a little on the bumps in the road. I’ll take care of finding their forever homes tomorrow.

His precious things went directly to safe places in cellophane after very careful inspection.  Some sort of cataloguing happened, I think.

We took different paths on our treasure hunts, but the paths intersected nicely now and then. This day made perfect sense.  The small, unexpected dip into unfamiliar places felt easy, even when we were undecided on which way was north and headed away from rather than toward home.

It was the other way, said the compass, always honest.  And there wasn’t really a way to get where we were going from where we ended up, so we turned around.

Now, a more clever writer would shape a nice conclusion about the real treasure being the day, the memories of the day, the time we shared.

Yes, that.  All of that.  But I’m still pretty happy about this hat I got for a dollar.



Today, we did things.

We talked in the morning, awake early, able to linger a while because Sunday mornings are usually spent at Grandma’s.  She thought I had forgotten to tell her to get ready for school, Monday-style.  So, we laughed at ourselves and talked some more.

A bath happened for her while a bath happened to The Tank.  Both needed water and soap badly.  I’d like to vacuum the small person now and then, but she’d object.  I came home from the car wash to a damp but clean and dressed baton-twirler.  She lounged upstairs, I fixed my hair, and surprised her with the schedule again: the recital was at one, not six, as she’d thought.  Her nerves had to catch up, rattled by fewer hours to mentally prepare herself for standing in front of a crowd.

She was awesome.  She’s always awesome.

We had ice cream after, with Sissy and Daddy, more than I had planned, but we got through.  Spending an extra bit of time with those two sisters together makes almost anything okay.  I watched them tease and giggle, and imagined future families for them.  They have each other.

We did not do anything that we did not want to do.  We could have caught the last of a reception for the passing of a family friend’s husband, but my small person asked to stay away. She said that today was not a funeral day, but a home together day.  In those clear words, she convinced me to drive straight home and take up residence in the back yard.

She fetched her favorite neighbor, and they arranged the contents of the utility trailer to suit their needs.  A flashlight, some blankets, and the iPad, and they were set.  All of this happened with intermissions of trampoline-jumping and wrestling one another ruthlessly.  Her favorite neighbor always wins, but that’s one of the reasons why my small person likes her so much: she’s the “toughest girl in the whole school, even fourth and fifth graders, but she’s actually nice.”  An alliance with a badass who will play dress up, and makeup too?  Priceless.

I got restless about a delayed oil change and just did it. Those four hundred miles over target were fraught with anxiety on behalf of the beloved Tank.  She needs care, and she’s my responsibility.  My very helpful cousin would have done it tomorrow, but I had time today.  Now, I know that the uptake sensor is in a very inconvenient place near the filter, and the drain plug needs careful watching.  It crawled away for a very long time today, and hid itself on the ledge of the skid plate.  Naughty drain plug!  I spent far too long under that Tank looking for the tiny acorn-cap sized thing in a sea of grass full of actual acorn caps.

That same cousin arrived during my small person’s second bath, to deliver some lovely mushrooms.  Morel was a word I did not know until I was a teenager, because we didn’t eat any other mushrooms.  When I found out that the things my Papa carried home from the timber in grocery sacks overflowing were a pricy delicacy, I thought it was a joke.

We ate them every day until they disappeared from the leaves under certain trees, always the same way, battered and fried.  I never got tired of them, but the idea of people in city restaurants getting excited over little slivers of regular old timber mushrooms in their expensive pasta made me feel a little sorry for them.  They could have come to Gram’s any night in April, or whenever the mayapples came up, and had all they wanted.  We gave away more than we ate, because these mushrooms do not keep. Tomorrow afternoon, I’ll cook up a batch and remember never getting tired of them and never getting enough, no matter how long mushroom season lasted or how full those paper grocery bags were.

Tonight, we ate fruit for supper.  It’s spring, and nothing else suited the day.

I soaked the motor oil out of my hair and from under my nails.  I squished apologetic expensive conditioner through my hair after the bath.  Maybe tomorrow my hair will forgive me for the dust that caked into oily mud at the end of my ponytail and the unscarved part of my bangs.

Now, we are back in bed.  My small person is watching something scandalous on YouTube, which I know because she tilts the screen away from me and wears her headphones.  Her tastes run mild, but I furrow my mommy-eyebrows at certain shows.  She’s happier to get away with following the online programs of cute teenaged boys who play video games and banter without using actual bad words.  If that’s “getting away with”, I’m happy, too.

We are tired, but not worn down.  We are happy.

We have spring.  We have mushrooms, and more mint than we could ever need, and the irises from The Old House are going to bloom this week.  I haven’t seen them bloom since 2001 or 2, the year before I saved these few to transplant before The Old House would be vacant.  I knew the neighbors would come with their shovels and wheelbarrows, and they did.  These irises never bloomed for me in their new place, but I’m back and they’ve settled in.  I don’t know what color they’ll be now, but it doesn’t matter.  They’re ours now, and ours is better than mine any time.


The gathering goes on.  We have a month and ten days until we’re left on our own, with just what we think we need and a Jeep named The Tank. We have

  • two tents
  • a screen house
  • a cot
  • two sleeping bags
  • pillows
  • a rug
  • a little wood stove
  • a flame diffuser
  • an axe
  • band-aids
  • pots
  • pans
  • burn cream
  • sunscreen
  • lovely silver-plate utensils, because we need beautiful things even if we are sleeping in tents
  • a silver set for tea, again because of that beauty issue
  • wooden platters and bowls, shaped like leaves, differently beautiful but still lovely
  • cups
  • solar lanterns
  • candle lanterns
  • a real candlestick for the table
  • rocks
  • soap
  • clothesline
  • a dish rack
  • assorted musical instruments
  • a cutting board
  • a kettle
  • real blankets and sheets
  • buckets
  • truly sharp knives
  • a table
  • tablecloths
  • real chairs and camp chairs
  • hope and faith
  • parasols
  • a typewriter
  • watercolors
  • paper
  • pastels
  • toilet paper
  • an incense bowl

We need

  • a camp banner and personal pennants
  • altar goods
  • a chuck box
  • dresses for the ball
  • more sunscreen
  • a cooler
  • a drum
  • a map
  • wide-brimmed hats
  • duct tape
  • a pot of mint
  • a tea strainer

We could do without everything but the tent, blankets, the stove, the axe, a couple of pots, two spoons, and a gallon of sunscreen.  That’s not what the trip is all about. We intend to live well.

Why bring only one tent when we already own two alike, in case sleeping alone sounds nice, or one might be necessary for a space to lounge if the weather turns wet and windy?  Why not carry along those two flat-folding wooden chairs to use at the table?  Maybe two more will turn up, and we can have guests to dinner. Maybe we will have enough guests to dinner that they have to sit one the ground, and for that, we will have a rug.  Gloriously garnet-toned pillows with golden fringe will make the rug more comfortable. Come to think of it, we’ll need the huge platter, just in case a couscous tagine sort of thing happens at our camp.

A week without a trip to the supermarket requires careful planning, but I feel ready for the challenge.  Carrots and potatoes and onions keep well without refrigeration. Hard cheese and unsliced bacon and the makings of all manner of breads can stay safe in a shaded box, not to mention noodles and grains and coffee and tea. I should keep my radar set to “food dehydrator” between now and takeoff, just like it’s been set to “big sturdy box” to transform into a portable kitchen.  There’s one down the street at the flea market, along with an army cot that may or may not be intact.


Army cot is gone, and so is the Big Sturdy Box.  I did score a flame diffuser for the amazing little wood stove (added to the list above), and a set of Korean stainless steel bowls that will make fine pots (not on the list yet).  They have lids, and I already have a pot lifter.  Many camp cookware sets I’ve scoped out are just stainless pans with no handles and a sturdy one-size-suits-all lifter, so these bowls are a serious treasure.  They have lids, too, for leftover management.  A week without a grocery store requires wasting nothing.  Of course, food vendors will be scattered around the farm, but I like to cook.

Planning this camping trip keeps my head in a happy place.  The things gathered will serve me  and mine for many trips, years of trips.  The people I love need to love the low-budget high-style form of travel that I adore. That I would bother to acquire a silver service exclusively for using in the great outdoors might hint at my enthusiasm.  We will sleep in tents, and we will do so with grace and a good sense of humor, even if it rains for a week.

My mother will never sleep in a tent, but she and two daughters and I will do a week in a cabin at a campground adjacent to a theme park.  For Mom, that is a big deal.  For me, it’s a bigger deal.  The girls know how we roll, but my mother has yet to see us deck out a home away. We hang our unique-but-similar string of freak flags at the doorway, whether at home or under a thin dome of nylon.  It just can’t be helped, and anyway, we wouldn’t want to.

If you are at a campground this summer, and stumble upon two purple tents and a screen house, perhaps sheltering a nicely set table for four, leave a note.  We are off dancing somewhere, or sleeping in the sun, or digging for shells and petoskies on the beach.  We’ll be back soon, and there will be tea made of flowers that we picked along the way.



Some of the years’ old plants just didn’t stick it out this winter.  The lavender would have begun to green up, and the Autumn Joy from Ramona’s yard has always grown a few inches by now.  This spring, nothing from either of them. The everblooming roses look like bare brown twigs, which is a worry, but they may rally.

And the impossible-to-kill bamboo, well…I killed it.  Only three springs in its pot, and pthhht.

Surprisingly, the transplanted houseplants all pulled through their first winter here at the Charming Wreck.  Squirrel did her best to eat anything that remotely resembled grass, and the spider plant at the base of the dracaena has mysteriously disappeared, but I hid two more in the rosemary.  She does not like rosemary at all.  My plan worked.

The lemon tree from Santa (that now bears tiny green proto-lemons) and the carrion cactus (from Jean’s Venezuelan friend) seem to like sharing a pot.  They both need water water water, and I simply cannot let anything from Santa or Jean or Venezuela wither this summer.  High light, moist soil: check.

My fortieth birthday lilies froze to the bulb, but I have photos; they were beautiful.  Two birthdays’ ago blackberry lilies have come back, and the irises from the falling-down house in Kentucky seem to have multiplied despite being potted.

The irises that survived in this yard are important irises, first Papa’s then mine, then the house’s when I left them behind.  I’m back, and they waited for me.  So did the mint, with a vengeance and with promises of juleps and spring rolls in summer heat, and maybe the poppies which blaze at the same time the irises unfold.  The three have always had an affinity for one another, glorious fiery red tamed by sedate woodsy almost-purple, nice to look at while sipping minty-sweet bourbon.

The loss of the lilies and bamboo and maybe even the potted roses, too, makes me only a little sad.  I walk past Papa’s irises and my own long-ago lemon balm when I come home, whether anything blooms or not.  I know the shade of green unique to those leaves.  They are clones of what bloomed in the first back yard I ever knew.

Nothing blooms there now, unless a stray tulip missed the backhoe or the neighbors’ shovels.  A new house on those lots meant scraping the soil bare of green, to be laid with a perfect monoculture of sod.  I missed being there when the daffodils lived next to where the house used to be and the apple trees I saved from a dumpster fed the rabbits so well that they waddled instead of hopped away.  I don’t miss it, now that a “modern luxury villa” has filled the spot where my mimosa grew.

Nothing can replace a mimosa, and a mimosa can not survive for long in a pot.  I’ll find another one, soon, I’m sure of it.  It’s a weedy sort of tree, invasive where the cold doesn’t kill it, unwanted by real botanists but beloved by me.  It waits to leaf out until the irises bloom, leaving plenty of sunshine, which I think is just good fair play.

I like plants that fight for existence but play fair once they grab a good spot.

I won’t mourn what didn’t survive this very long, very icy winter.  I’ll save the pots, take advantage of the soil still in them, and see what takes hold this spring.

The best part?  Those very important irises won’t be left behind again.  I have a pot for that.



This morning, a thin shattering of ice floated on the back-porch buckets.  The iris shoots and lily leaves didn’t notice, but we dragged the rosemary and sanseveria back into the kitchen last night.  No harm.  Pretty soon, everything can move to one porch or another.  Pretty soon, the green will be darker in the trees and frost will be just something I imagined, unreal in the shimmering heat of summer.

At this tenuous time of year, we fall asleep with windows open and wake shivering.  It’s good to feel the air, and good to burrow under heavier blankets before dawn.  To feel the transition seems important.  Watching the season change isn’t enough when warmth and sun and green things sustain us in so many ways.  I’m happy to shiver a little in the name of change, when an open window at five in the morning would have meant misery just a month ago.

My sweetheart had to wear a stocking cap and a scarf to watch daughter-softball at the high school this afternoon.  At least it’s sunny.  My own small person and I are settling into a sort of hibernation, but she’d rather go outside and shiver.  I’m not okay with that, and I stand my ground under this blankie on the couch.

Tomorrow will be warmer.  A fort-improvement plot brews in my head, but the “in my head” part doesn’t satisfy the stir-crazy half of this couch bound duo.  Tomorrow, we’ll lash sticks together and fashion a roof made of army tent leftovers.  I have patience enough for both of us.

%d bloggers like this: