Blog

Thank You Mary Oliver

My Library

Dear Reader:

Mary Oliver, the Pulitzer Prize winning poet, is dead. I feel heavy writing those words as if I lost a friend. I am simply another reader…one of millions. But with her books in my hands, I’ve felt the companionship of a friend. I’ve nodded my head or spoken aloud as if in conversation with her. And, so it would be true to say that we had a relationship. That was the power of Mary’s art. That’s what made her so well-loved.

She was the rare poet who sold well. My social media feeds are filled with her brilliantly strung together words and moving tributes from regular people like me and her famous admirers like Hillary Clinton, Madonna and Oprah.

When I heard the news of her death, I retreated to my shed to pull her book Dog Songs from my shelf. The book popped open to page 31:

BENJAMIN, WHO CAME FROM

WHO KNOWS WHERE

What shall I do?

When I pick up the broom

he leaves the room.

When I fuss with kindling he

runs for the yard.

Then he’s back, and we

hug for a long time.

In his low-to-the ground chest

I can hear his heart slowing down.

Then I rub his shoulders and

kiss his feet

and fondle his long hound ears.

Benny, I say,

don’t worry. I also know the way

the old life haunts the new.

I read that poem as a dog lover, a hound lover, to be precise. But, I also read it as a person whose old life can be haunting. In one of the rare interviews Mary gave, she spoke of her unhappy childhood that included sexual abuse and parental neglect.

“I had a very dysfunctional family, and a very hard childhood,” Mary told Maria Shriver. “So I made a world out of words. And it was my salvation.”

Thank you Mary for sharing your world with me.The joy, solace and inspiration your words have given me are alive. Still. On my bookcase.

Michele

 

Merry Memories from My First Christmas in Sacramento, California

 

IMG_0056
My kitchen chalkboard says it all!
Christmas Lights
Our new neighborhood is decked out! 
IMG_6790 2
Our home is decked out!
IMG_0008
The Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament is 130 years old and beautiful.
IMG_6802
I love It’s a Small World in Disneyland; my daughter made sure I’m ready for my next visit!
IMG_6808
Chanel No. 5’s red edition was a thoughtful gift from my husband.

Hope you’ve made some lovely memories, too!

 

 

The $1,400 Gingerbread House

“Oh, life is like that. Sometimes, at the height of our revelries, when our joy is at its zenith, when all is most right with the world, the most unthinkable disasters descend upon us.”

From the 1983 classic A Christmas Story

Dear Reader:

I absolutely LOVE Christmas. I love it all…the carols, the movies, the trees, the egg nog, the presents and most especially the fun of assembling and decorating a gingerbread house with my daughter. We’ve been creating in candy and frosting since Natalie was four years old.

This year within days of her return from college, we set up our decorating station at the kitchen table in our new home. It was such fun. Truth be told, I’ve been having a hard time adjusting to the move. But, as soon as my girl arrived, my mood improved. We simply need to make memories in our new home…I thought. And, a gingerbread house was the perfect start.

Two days later, it was time to celebrate Natalie’s 22nd birthday. We’d do whatever she wanted. Turns out it was a simple request. Pizza on the couch while watching one of our favorite seasonal movies: A Christmas Story.

We’ve got a bigger house this year so I placed Nat’s birthday gifts in our living room under the tree. As we left the family room, I checked to make sure all the plates and pizza scraps were removed from the coffee table and shut the adjoining door as our three doxies are not welcome in our formal living room.

It’s funny how you develop a sixth sense about these things when you own dachshunds, but I knew something was wrong the second we returned to the family room.

Where’s Winnie?! I quickly answered my own question when I discovered her on top of the kitchen table gorging on our gingerbread house. The next thing I knew I was slipping on my boots and throwing a coat over my p.j.’s while my husband googled emergency veterinary services. Luckily I thought to toss the half empty bag of Navitas cocoa nibs into my purse.

The veterinarian was not particularly concerned that Winnie had consumed about 10-15 milk chocolate chips (see the empty bowl up top) or large quantities of coconut and frosting. But the cocoa nibs that we surrounded our house with, because they so resembled dirt or gravel, necessitated a call to the Animal Poison Control Center .

About an hour and a half after we checked in, we were called into a room to consult with a vet who looked too concerned for me to be comfortable.

“We’ll need to keep her tonight,” she began. “She’ll be put on an i.v. and her heart rate and vitals will be monitored.”

There was more rather serious conversation until I finally asked if her life was in danger.

“Well, the experts at the ASPCA are very concerned about the cocoa nibs. That’s straight chocolate and she had a large dose for an 11 pound dog.”

“She can’t die,” I said. “Today’s my daughter’s birthday.”

“She probably thinks Nats is eight,” my husband whispered as we left.

“All she had to do is look at me to know our daughter is not eight,” I replied. “But, no one wants their dog to die on their birthday no matter how old they are!”

As you can see, Winnie lives! She spent two days in the ICU at a cost of $1,400. She’s asleep in my lap now. There aren’t too many things nicer than having your daughter home for the holidays and a sweet, small, warm creature to warm your heart and home. And I’d say that we made a memory!

I’d like to challenge anyone to show me a more expensive gingerbread house.

Michele

P.S. The cocoa nibs are excellent in yogurt, but I’ll never buy them again!

Pancakes, Christmas Lights and Rudolph to the Rescue!

Christmas Lights
Our new neighborhood is decked out! That’s my handsome husband on the right.

Dear Reader:

I woke up with the “moving blues” today. I was not alone. My husband passed me in the kitchen transferring items from one spot to another and then back again and asked how I was doing. I think he knew.

“Moving is a drag!” I responded. “And, you?”

“I was thinking the same thing. Let’s go out!”

I’ve got to say banana blackberry pancakes can do a lot to improve one’s disposition! They fueled us throughout the day until we needed another diversion. It wasn’t hard to find one; we simply stepped out our front door and walked the neighborhood.

We live in an old part of the city that’s known for decking the halls big time! People walk our block, drive our block and rent carriages to trot down our block to see the lights. We’ve managed to decorate a bit and we’re gathering ideas to step up our game next year.

When we returned home with cold noses and ears, I was happy to see that Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer was just showing on t.v. My husband kindly agreed to indulge me as I sang along to my favorite childhood Christmas show.

Moving is still a drag and I still haven’t found the perfect organizational system for my new pantry. But, I’m reminded of the simple truth: All work and no play make Michele a very dull girl! Here’s to pancakes, lights, fantasy and the companionship of a lovely man!

What are you doing to balance your life during this busy season, dear reader?

Michele

So Many Options!

 

Which rug will it be?
Two out of three dachshunds agree on the first rug option…the third could care less as the sun is shining outside!

Dear Reader:

I’ve been in my new home now for exactly 25 days. I always think that I should count the boxes when I move, but I never do. Part of me thinks it would give me a sense of accomplishment to know how many boxes had been packed and unpacked, but the smarter side of me knows that I’d be better off not knowing.

There are a lot of boxes. My husband and I love to collect…art, china, books and all things Christmas! I’ve managed to get through about 3/4 of them.

I’ve only had a washer/dryer for four days now and we are still waiting for California Closets to come and install new master bedroom closets in the empty spaces cleared by our contractor. But, we are almost fully functional here! As you can see, we have the bandwidth to consider rug options for our kitchen nook, so that’s an improvement over the first ten or so days when we were drowning in wrapping paper and trying to find the dust buster.

I am making friends with my new town and feeling confident that life here is going to offer so many opportunities to learn and grow. I’m truly excited to get beyond the “home set-up phase” and onto the “live my best life phase.”

I’ll be doing a reveal of my new pink shed soon. Watch for it!

Michele

 

Home for Thanksgiving

My Neighborhood
The view down the street from my new home on the day we fell in love with it. Today, the Sycamore leaves are golden and crisp and falling like the rain.

Dear Reader:

So much has happened since I last wrote. But, I must start by wishing you a very Happy Thanksgiving, if it’s a holiday that you celebrate. If not, well…everyday is a day to be grateful. It goes without saying that I’m most blessed by the people in my life: husband, daughter, friends and neighbors.

But this year, I’m thinking about my home. I moved from Carmel, California to our state’s capital Sacramento on November 7th. I began unpacking boxes just as the fires broke out in Paradise which is a mere 88 miles from my new neighborhood.

As of today, nearly 14,000 people have lost their homes. As I work my way through each box to create a beautiful, functional, relaxing environment, I can’t help but think of those people who have no place to gather today.

I’ve always been a homebody who dreamed of living in beautiful spaces. When I was a teenager, I’d spend my hard-earned babysitting dollars on books and magazines. In addition to Tiger Beat, I’d often purchase a copy of Architectural Digest or House Beautiful. I’ve been blessed to live in several wonderful neighborhoods and my husband and I are poised to begin another adventure in a lovely 100-year-old home in a bustling area of town.

I’m so grateful for the roof over my head and so sorry for the victims of California’s fires. I hope you are happy, warm and snug in your home tonight.

Michele

Dead Bugs!

IMG_9808
Me engaged in a dead bug hollow hold with RBG to give me strength

Dear Reader:

Let me just warn you! Be afraid; be very afraid of the “dead bug!” Never heard of it? It’s an anti-extension core stability exercise. When you perform it, you look like a bug lying on its back, legs in the air, dead. This explains its strange name. But, believe me, you’re not feeling dead; if you’re doing it correctly, you’re feeling pain!

Sit-ups and crunches were once the preferred way to get tighter abs and a slimmer waistline. But, today exercises like dead bugs and planks are growing in popularity, because they call on your muscles to work together without placing any strain on your lower back. They’re easy to perform, too. You simply assume a position (the correct one) and then hold it and hold it and hold it while time seems to stand still!

My time…my bug time is 20 seconds! My plank record stands at two minutes. Yes! You read that correctly! We’re talking seconds and minutes. Does not sound impressive, right?! Here are my impressive numbers:

  • 230 pounds on the leg press
  • 70-90 pounds (depending on life’s circumstances) on the mid-row
  • 60 pounds on the lat pull-down
  • 125 pounds using the hex bar for deadlifts

Let me just say, I’m strong! And, getting smarter, too. After nearly a year of personal training, I’ve learned that when my trainer throws down a yoga mat and asks me to drop to the floor, it’s going to be tough! “Simple” moves that require you to engage your entire body, toes to fingertips, are much scarier than any weight machine or any bug, dead or alive!

Give it a go using my personal trainer, Jonathan’s notes:

“The dead bug is one of those movements where it’s up to the lifter to make it difficult. You can go through the motion without engaging the core very much, or it can be one of the most challenging anti-extension drills in your library. So make sure you’re staying tight throughout the movement, and do not let the spine hyperextend or the pelvis anteriorly rotate.  A neutral spine and pelvis is preferred by a lot of professionals, but I’ve found that, for most of my clients, a flattened lumbar spine is most beneficial.  Hollow holds and dead bugs can help you appreciate what it  really means to own full body tension that can be used during challenging lifts like deadlifts and sqauts.”

I could add that all of it helps prepare one for moving day! First, I vote on the 6th. Then, I move on the 7th! Give me strength!

Michele

Marriage is Beautiful

alone2

Dear Reader:

What do you see when you look at this piece from the talented blogger at as much cake as you want? Are you happy for the couple on the street and sad for the one at the table? It’s all about perspective.

As a young woman, I would have looked at that man and woman sitting a million miles apart at the same table and thought: no way, never going to happen to me. I probably would have concluded that if it got that bad, I’d leave.

But, I’m not young any longer. I’ve been married for thirty-four years and I think the drawing perfectly illustrates the reality of long-term marriage. In my mind’s eye, the two couples could very well be one in the same captured at different moments in time.

The man and woman at the table may be poised to forgive one another. Maybe something quite unexpected will happen that will clarify both the beauty and fragility of life. Perhaps they will be drawn closer together in grief or joy. Or maybe the idea of a life without the other will suddenly become too difficult to imagine. Of course, it’s possible they’ll be separated soon, but it’s just as likely that the lovebirds on the street won’t stay together.

It’s hard to know about these two couples, but I do know that my husband and I have looked like both of them through the years. We’ve been close and we’ve been distant. We’ve appreciated each other and we’ve taken each other for granted. We’ve made mistakes and we’ve learned a few things:

  • It’s the tough times that can serve to really cement the union.
  • If you choose wisely in the first place (as I did), marriage is worth the effort.
  • Life doesn’t have to be perfect to be beautiful and marriage is never perfect.

Michele

My First Tattoo!

Traditional Tattoo
I’m going in!
My First Tattoo
Meet Brian, my tattoo artist
My first tattoo
Winnie likes it!
My tattoo!
It matches my black Lululemon’s!

Dear Reader:

My daughter insists that she remembers the day we passed a tattoo shop in Lahaina, HI and I said, “Someday, I’ll get one!” She was five years old, so I would have been 42 years old. I don’t remember the moment, but I’m sure it’s true.

I stop to admire people’s tattoos all the time, and sometimes I ask if I can take a picture. My phone is full of random shots of stranger’s body art. So, when Natalie told me she had a second ear-piercing done at a tattoo shop, I thought…it’s time! I visited her the following weekend and asked her to accompany me to Traditional Tattoo. I figure a college town is a great place to find a good shop; they work in volume.

Before an artist begins to work on you, there’s paperwork to be completed. I laughed out loud when I read the question on the consent form asking if I was drunk or in any other way unable to make a sound decision. Ha, ha…I thought…I’ve been planning this for 16 years!

Then I met my artist, Brian, and told him my story and showed him a picture. I wanted a shell on my ankle because two of the three most important people in my world have or continue to call me “Shell.” My dear, sweet brother, who was four years younger than me, could not say: “Michele.” So, he abbreviated from a tender age and continued to call me that until he died in July 2001.

Sometimes, when there’s a death, little things like nicknames will disappear. But, I’m fortunate. My husband of 32 years mourned the loss of Matt with me. And, he picked up where my brother left off and still occasionally calls me “Shell.” It always touches my heart when he does. (I haven’t told him that…oh, now I have!)

There’s one more very good reason for me to carry a shell around with me; I’m leaving my home by the ocean to move to a tree-lined street in the city! You can read more about that right here in the coming weeks.

Brian checked out my photo and asked if I’d like it exactly as shown or if I wanted him to artistically interpret it. You guessed it. I told him to put on his artist’s cap. He came back a short time later with a tracing of a shell and I agreed to it immediately. I was then ushered back to a room that resembled one in a dentist’s office…if the dentist was really wild.

I took a seat in the dental chair and felt the butterflies alight in my tummy as he cleaned my ankle and started to prep for work.

“Two things,” he said. “Do not move without first giving me a head’s up. AND NO WHINING!”

“I don’t whine,” I said as my daughter took my hand and nodded in agreement.

He began the work slowly pausing to allow me to gauge the level of pain I was going to feel. I knew I could handle it. It’s a small tattoo. From prep to clean-up, it was a mere twenty minutes and we passed the time easily talking about his three daughters and the ink he’d placed on his wife’s body. We laughed when he told us that he sometimes gets carried away checking out his work and noting needed touch ups when his wife would rather he stay focused on her other assets.

My art was covered with a special, medicinal tape used for burn patients, so my after-care has been easy. Nothing was needed until I gently peeled back the tape four days later. After another four days, the redness has dissipated and I love the look. I continue to simply clean it  and apply Thayers Witch Hazel Toner and Vanicream lotion to alleviate the itching.

As we left Traditional Tatoo, my daughter asked if I’d be back for more art. My initial response was “No!” But, within ten minutes, I noticed that I kept referring to my shell as my FIRST TATOO!

Well, dear reader, have you been inked?!

Michele