Author: Michele LaFollette

Family, Friends and Neighbors

Happy Mother’s Day!

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Dear Reader:

I’ve collected quotations since I was a teenager…the wise words of others who seem to know exactly how I feel. There are bits of paper, handmade notebooks and beautifully printed books scattered among the shelves and drawers in my pink room. And, there’s an entire category of my blog devoted to the brilliantly pithy thoughts of others.

There are a few quotations that are so special that I can recite them verbatim. There’s one that I can still recall reading for the first time. It’s also the first words to appear when one googles “quotes about motherhood,” so it must resonate with many other parents.

“Making the decision to have a child — it’s momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.”

Elizabeth Stone

I encountered that quotation for the first time a few days after my only child, my lovely daughter, was born. A friend had given me a journal for mothers that included space for my own entries along with the wise words of other parents. I’ve still got that gift, 23 years later! I never wrote a word of my own in the book, but I read all the entries.

Certainly, I didn’t have a lot of time for writing in those early days, but I think the pages were left blank for another reason, too. My feelings about my baby were too deep to convey. Initially, I fell in love with her tiny toes and chubby thighs. I cherished the moments the two of us shared in the dark of the night in the rocking chair in the corner of her nursery. I marveled that my husband and I could create such a beautiful little thing.

And, then my baby grew. It was still hard to put into words the depth of my joy and awe. She kept me busy. She was quick and curious and into everything. One night after she’d gone to bed, my husband and I child-proofed all the cabinets. The next morning she screamed in protest when she found she couldn’t open them.

It was about that time that I went back to work leaving her at a day care center run from a small family home in my neighborhood. The mother/daughter team who looked after her had been in business for more than 20 years. I could see the surprise in their faces the day they told me that they had to take extra measures to keep my daughter from getting out of the playroom. Apparently, no other child had challenged their security system in the same way.

Shortly after that, I came to the realization that I didn’t want to miss a single one of her escapades! I quit my job and never looked back. I was a feminist and a stay-at-home mom and I knew that I was blessed.

It’s still hard to put into words how I feel about my daughter. I feel inadequate to the task. But, I’ll try. My daughter is a capable, accomplished adult with a college degree and a job. But, it is her personal attributes that are most impressive. The curiosity she displayed as a baby and toddler are still evident, but she is a composed, quiet and thoughtful woman. She is, most of all, the kindest person I know and for that I could not be more grateful.

In years past, I visited my daughter in San Luis Obispo to celebrate Mother’s Day. She was attending Cal Poly University and those trips were such fun. We celebrated with donuts at SLODOCO, walks around downtown and conversations about her future as she approached the end of her college education. We never could have imagined what this year would bring. I’m so happy my heart is under my roof this Mother’s Day.

Hugs,

Michele

Creativity, Pandemic Prose

Refresh and Renew at from the pink shed

Joel's Grad Photo
Introducing my new tech consultant, Joel Williams

Dear Reader:

Nothing like a pandemic to re-ignite one’s creativity! You may have noticed that I’ve returned to the page. I can not say why my move to Sacramento silenced me, nor why a pandemic would motivate me, but it feels good to send my letters into the blogosphere again.

From the Pink Shed is three years old now and I decided I’d like to re-commit to it in every possible way. I’ve got the time now. And, I very much need a break from house cleaning.

So, I hired Joel Williams, a 2019 Cal Poly graduate to help me. It was my daughter’s idea! I’d been telling her that I wanted to polish the look of my blog, but I didn’t know how to do it.

“No, mother, you can not do it on your own and I can’t help you!” she told me one day.

Very sad. But, then she surprised me. She asked a friend if he was interested in working with me. He is! I’m so happy!

Joel graduated Magna Cum Laude in the same class as my daughter in December 2019. He’s got a degree in Graphic Communication with a concentration in Web and Digital Media. I know! So, what’s he doing working on my humble site? Nope, pastel pink is not his favorite color!

Unfortunately, he is one of millions of people who have lost their jobs in the past couple of months. He was just beginning his role as an intern in Talent Acquisition Marketing with the Walt Disney Company when the pandemic hit. He left Burbank to return to his family home in Atascadero to wait, as we all are, for things to return to some semblance of normalcy.

I’m really very fortunate to be able to take advantage of his knowledge and expertise. And, it pleases me to think that in some small way, I’m helping him. I figure if he can improve my technical knowledge and abilities, he’s up to the challenges that will await him later in his career.

Please watch for changes to my site and please do let me know what you think!

Michele

Family, Friends and Neighbors, Pandemic Prose

I’m Grateful for My Neighbors!

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Sweet peas, grown by my neighbor and friend Rebecca. I found them when I opened the door this morning and popped them into my favorite vase.

Dear Reader:

It’s been a year and a half,  since we drove our packed cars out of the blanket of fog in Carmel to rendezvous with the moving trucks in sunny Sacramento. The move came as a bit of a surprise to both acquaintances and friends. It was generally received with a puzzled expression that was predictably followed with an adamant query: WHY?!

If you’re not familiar with the geography of my beloved state, I’ll explain. It’s easy to find adjectives to describe Carmel:  picturesque, enchanting, and even inspirational. Carmel sits on the Pacific Coast and it’s known for its stunning natural beauty, mild Mediterranean climate and charming homes and shops. Sacramento is the capital of California and though it has a great deal to offer, there are no ocean views…and it gets very HOT in the summertime.

I remember the day I received an email from Trip Advisor entitled: “Visit the Place of Storybooks!” I eagerly clicked on the link only to find that, according to the author, I was living in storybook land! This was shortly before my husband and I decided to explore the idea of moving.

We had a very good life in our tiny home (there aren’t many big houses in Carmel), but there were good reasons to find another residence. As it goes in marriage, one spouse is usually the driving force for major change and the other agrees to jump on board. It was  my husband’s idea, but I was persuaded out of respect for him, the logic of his arguments and, most significantly, the anticipation of having neighbors again.

When we moved into our home in Carmel Woods, we were blessed to find good friends. We enjoyed their company and felt the comfort of knowing that we could walk across the street or down the block for the proverbial “cup of sugar.” The camaraderie of a close-knit neighborhood is very important to us as we do not have extensive, close family ties. In fact, many of our previous neighbors have become life-long friends. (Cheers to you…Beth and Malcolm, Marietta and Frank and Courtney and Chris!)

But, over time our neighbors moved on. And, unfortunately, a pattern developed. Their homes were purchased, as vacation homes, by mid-westerners seeking to escape the cold and snow. The first thing that each and every one of them did was to embark upon a major house remodel. The week after our closest neighborhood friends left, we woke up to find our driveway blocked by a fleet of contractor’s vehicles and a port a potty. We hadn’t even met the new owners. They came and left without a handshake. We were left to negotiate terms with their hired help who were not always cooperative or considerate. By the time we moved, there were four remodels in progress on non-owner occupied homes in close proximity to ours. This is the reality of living in a tourist town.

During the day it was noisy and at night it was dark. I had the feeling that I was living on a deserted island, despite the fact that I had friends only 5, 10, 15 miles away. It was not the stuff fairy tales are made of!

Our new neighborhood could not be any more different. My husband noticed even before we moved in that the streets were active. Google maps showed people walking dogs, pushing strollers and riding bikes. We met neighbors before we moved. We visited several times to view the property and to walk the street and found a friendly group of people who did not hesitate to tell us how good it is to live in East Sacramento.

It’s practically impossible to step outside our door without seeing someone (and some dog)! The everyday smiles and greetings made me feel welcome from the beginning, but now they have become essential to my mental health.

I am so grateful that we are sheltering in place in a lovely tree-lined neighborhood filled with warm and generous people who are reaching out to one another during this difficult time. I am blessed with neighbors who have become friends. I hope you are, too.

Hugs,

Michele

Flowers, Quotations

Pass it On

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The world is a rose; smell it and pass it to your friends.

– Persian proverb

Dear Reader,

If you have a garden, you always have a gift to give. I’m very fortunate. I enjoy the garden; my husband toils in the garden. I believe it is a fair distribution of labor in light of my domestic duties, which have compounded during these times.

Step outside. Enjoy. And pass it on!

Hugs,

Michele

Pandemic Prose, Physical Fitness, Mental Health and Growing Older

Banana Bread in the Time of Pandemic

 

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Dear Reader:

Indeed, it is quite difficult to be anxious or sad or anything but satisfied while enjoying a piece of banana bread, dotted with melting chocolate chips, warm from the oven and prepared by one’s lovely daughter. Mmmmmmm….sweet… for the moment.

The truth is: I am blessed. My pantry is full. I’m locked down with my husband and only “child.” I’ve got three long haired miniature dachshunds, wonderfully caring and supportive neighbors and a beautiful garden, courtesy my husband. I have every reason to be grateful. And, I am.

And, yet one can juggle many emotions. Blessed, yet stressed.

We have now lost 64,000 people in less than two months. Nearly 2,500 people die every day. The last time I remember viewing death tolls on a daily basis, I was a young teenager and we were involved in a needless conflict in Vietnam. I recall one of my heroes, Walter Cronkite, coming into my family room five nights a week with the grim numbers, pictures and stories.

Now, I can not help but express shock every time I look at the ever increasing numbers. We’ve lost more people in six weeks than the Vietnam War took in 19 years. Those numbers sometimes make sleep difficult. One night I dreamt that Gavin Newsom was not the Governor of California, but instead the President of the United States. Dreams dashed, at 2:30 in the morning, I found myself ordering toilet paper, bleach and a bit of chocolate from Walmart. I try to avoid the temptation to view the latest news on CNN or the New York Times in the dark of night, but most times I can not stay away. There is no good news, it seems.

I am one of the lucky ones.

And, yet, I worry. My 90 year old mother in law called yesterday to say she felt unwell. She was experiencing some of the symptoms of Covid 19. She is residing at a retirement community two and a half hours from my home. (Why mention that? Doesn’t matter. We can’t be there.) The on-site nurse visited her in her apartment and told her that they could not transport her to get a test. She’d have to drive herself or travel by ambulance. The trip was only a mile down the road and so she drove and took a test and was told she’d get the results in a week. The reality is that there is no medical intervention with this disease until you can’t breathe.

From my front porch where I go for a change of scenery, I watch neighbors and passers by. During the early days of the stay at home order, we were all so diligent. But the introverts are now having trouble consistently maintaining six feet in distance. These are the people who are the most fun at parties. We all know them. Some are young and seemingly healthy, others are in high risk groups. I look away.

It is one thing for me to worry, but a far worse thing for me to know that my daughter is worrying. And, of course, she is. I love to chant at her, “you’re trapped with us,” in my sing-songy way. She was two weeks into her first post-college job and just beginning to search for an apartment when the pandemic hit.

She’s been working on a group project with a co-worker in a similar situation. He’s living in his family home after transferring from another city. He’s trapped, too, but his parents are “even more elderly” I’m told. When they aren’t talking work, they’ve shared concerns about the day they’ll return to the office. They are both worried they’ll expose those they love to the virus.

There are so many who are suffering so much now. And, this weighs heavily on me. I’m a doer and so I search for ways to help. And, of course, there are always small things one can do even from one’s home. These are the acts that help me to cope.

And the good moments. There are still so many to enjoy. As I said, I’m one of the lucky ones.

I’ve  actively managed my mental health and well-being in the 20 years since I slipped into depression as a result of my brother’s cancer diagnosis. I am currently drug-free. But as my doctor says, “you’re ahead of the game…you’ve got a drug that you know works for you.” My friend, Prozac. I know it’s there. And, I’m confident I’ll know if I need to turn to it again. I’ll do that without hesitation. Just one more thing to thank the brilliant scientific minds for.

But, in the meantime, I’m reminding myself of the wisdom gained from a special counselor who over several years of weekly visits gave me wise advice to turn to in so many situations.

I can imagine her sitting across the room from me now.

“I really have no reason to feel sad when I am in such a good place compared with so many others,” I’d begin.

“It’s a pandemic, the first in our lifetimes. I’d say your feelings …anxiety, worry, concern, sadness…sound reasonable. And, so you must…”

Make friends with the feelings,” we’d say together.

“And give yourself permission to let in the joy, wonder and beauty that life offers…still.”

She was such a wise woman. Gone but still helping me live my best life. I refer to her as one of my “angels,” the people who have lived in my world for a time and made it better forever.

And so, I’ll begin another day at home appreciating my life and allowing my feelings to  come and go. I’ll get by in the same way I always do…with the love of family and a little help from my friends, sweetened by my daughter’s presence, and of course, her banana bread.

Hugs,

Michele

Family, Friends and Neighbors, Pandemic Prose

Ciao Paisano!

 

Ciao!

 

Dear Reader:

I’m a Californian, born and bred. And, I couldn’t be prouder of that, especially since the 2016 election. But, my blood is half German and half Italian. I am clearly a reflection of the stereotypical attributes of each nationality. I’m stubborn, proud and vocal. However, I look Italian (see the nose and the hips) and, growing up, I spent more time with my mother’s side of the family, the Bartucccis.

My Nonnie, Rose Carmela Bartucci, was so dear to me. She gave me enough wonderful memories to last a lifetime. Visions, undimmed by the years, of her busy kitchen, verdant garden and expressive face. She also taught me a bit of Italian. She’d toss out the occasional word…just here and there. And, so I know a few. A few I cannot repeat!

It is not unusual for me to greet a friend with Ciao! and so it’s not surprising to find that I own the t-shirt. Yesterday, I put on a bra (one of the benefits of self-quarantine is that a bra is optional!) and took a stroll down the street to change my scenery.

 

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At the end of the block, I heard someone yell, “Is that YOU?!”

I looked up to see my dear friend, Cathy, calling out from her upstairs window.

“Ciao!” I answered.

And so began our impromptu conversation. Cathy is one of my favorite people in the neighborhood. We bonded early over shared interests and a common view of the world. And, we’ve done our best to make time to nurture our friendship over the past year and a half, but life is busy. And, so I don’t see or talk to her as much as I would really like.

We had a fairly long conversation with many people walking by and either pretending not to hear us or chiming into the conversation. It was so satisfying to just stand in her yard and chat. The funny thing is that we actually had a visit on the calendar already. We had scheduled a FaceTime cocktail hour for the next day.

As it turned out, I spent more time with my friend this week than I have in a long time. Life continues to offer beautiful moments.

Arrivederci,

Michele

 

Grief and Loss, Pandemic Prose

The Stories We Tell

Birthdays, siblings, brother, death, death of brother

Dear Reader:

Well, there’s the Cuomos, I know, but Anderson’s my man. Always has been. Now more than ever, I’m glad he has a platform and an audience. He understands loss and that’s enough for me as we’ve passed over 50,000 deaths in this country in the past couple of months.

I just sobbed through his interview with a woman who lost her 32-year-old husband to Coronavirus. The widow is the mother of two just beginning to ponder the life her children will lead without the presence of their father. Anderson was unable to keep his composure. He cried along with the woman, but offered her valuable insight. He knows what it means to lose a father when one is young.

He offered hope to the grieving widow that her children could come to know their father, in a way, through her stories. “They will know him through you,” he assured her.

This is what Anderson Cooper does whenever lives are lost. He tells the stories of those who are gone or gives an opportunity for loved ones to tell those stories. And, I believe, that is the single most important gift you can give to anyone who has loved and lost.

I have loved and I have lost. I’m 60-years-old and the three most significant events in my life happened decades ago. I met and married my husband and gave birth to an amazing daughter. Then, I lost my 36-year-old baby brother and first best friend to cancer. That was 20 years ago and yet I still feel the need, the desire, to tell the story of his life. I’ve written about him here on this platform. My husband knew him in life. My daughter knows him through me. He will live in some way through me always.

I have not lost anyone to the pandemic, but it is a sad reminder of the weight of grief. I watch and read the news with a heavy heart each day. If you are mourning a new loss or an old one, you are not alone.

Michele

Eat, Drink and Be Merry, Pandemic Prose

Happy Easter from My Home to Yours!

My Vaillancourt Easter collection

Dear Reader:

Easter brunch was almost a new experience this morning. I’m sure that’s because everything has taken on a greater meaning since we began sheltering in place. I felt blessed to enjoy quiche and berries and bubbly with my two favorite people in the world. These are the same two people that make my life, under any circumstances, more beautiful.

I am a woman who loves celebrating and decorating and entertaining. And so, two weeks  ago, I hit the basement to retrieve the decorations and we’ve been enjoying them ever since. I would have loved to share my home with my friends and neighbors, too, as I did last year. But, here you are…on my blog…thank you!

Let me introduce you to my favorite Easter decor: my Vaillancourt bunnies. In 1984, the year I got married, Judi Vaillancourt received a gift of three antique chocolate moulds from her husband. The gift gave rise to both a creative and business endeavor that continues to thrive 36 years later (as does my marriage)!

Inspired by the Victorian art form of chalkware, Judi begins making her distinctive figurines by pouring liquid chalk into the moulds. Then she applies her skills as a classically trained artist to bring color and expression to the forms. What emerges is a delight.

Today, I’m taking a break from the worry that has become my constant companion to appreciate my home and family. I can hear the birds chirping, appreciate the colors of the flowers and feel the warmth of Spring. That is enough.

Hugs,

Michele

P.S. Wait until you see my Vaillancourt Christmas collection!

Eat, Drink and Be Merry, Family, Friends and Neighbors, Pandemic Prose, Physical Fitness, Mental Health and Growing Older

An Unforgettable Birthday

Dear Reader:

For weeks my friends admonished me in strong tones that I simply must do something for my birthday this year.

“It’s a milestone birthday,” they reminded me. “You need a party!”

I enjoy gatherings with bubbly and cake and music. But, for some reason, I held back. It wasn’t because of the dread of turning 60! I have a rather unique way of dealing with the decades. It has puzzled my daughter for years.

“You are the only person I know who rounds UP your age!”

It’s true. It started when I was 28; I’d tell people that I was 30. And, so 38 became 40, 48 became 50 and well, I’ve been saying that I’m 60 for two years now. I’m not sure why I’ve done this. Maybe I felt it would help me adjust to the swift moving decades or protect my fragile ego. (My ego’s not that fragile, though!) In any case, I was prepared to celebrate another birthday, but I could never have guessed how I’d be celebrating it.

Like the rest of the world, we’ve been instructed to stay home to control the spread of coronavirus. But, as you can see, I left my house…safely! My neighbors all joined me for a toast, from our respective front yards, at 5:30 p.m.

I was in by 6 p.m. filling my glass with Cal Poly student made Pinot Noir to pair with my cheese pizza. And, we did have cake…three tiny cakes! I won’t forget this birthday. And, for a good long while, I’ll remember to be grateful for the simple things. Here’s to health, family and friends!

May you all remain well,

Michele

Dogs, Family, Friends and Neighbors, Pandemic Prose

Hugs…the safe kind

 

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Dear Reader:

I am a homebody, so perhaps it’s easier for me to deal with the day to day issues of protecting myself and my family from coronavirus. I’ve been staying home for the past two weeks…voluntarily. My friends in Monterey and Santa Clara County have been placed on Shelter in Place Orders. I’m grateful for that, as I am also a worrier.

Hoping that you are healthy and that you can appreciate the small pleasures that come from being at home:

  • dogs sleeping in your lap
  • hot cups of tea
  •  good books
  • pajamas…all day
  • and time to bake, clean, organize, relax and reflect.

I will conclude, as I always do, with “HUGS.” I am a hugger and, I must admit, I’m missing those.

Michele