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

 

Aunt Bessie’s Tablecloth!

Aunt Bessie's Tablecloth!

Dear Reader:

Let me introduce you to Amy. She’s wearing her Aunt Bessie’s tablecloth, and she’s so happy that I noticed just how magnificent it is!

I had an amazing sandwich at a tiny little neighborhood restaurant in Sacramento last week. Despite how very hungry I was when I walked through the door, the first thing I noticed was that dress and the woman who wore it so joyfully.

I never hesitate to compliment people…why should I…that’s my thinking. I see it…I like it…I say it! And, sometimes I am rewarded with a great story, as I was on this day.

“Excuse me,” I said as she hurriedly passed me. “But, I must tell you that I adore your dress.”

“Oh, it was once my aunt’s Christmas tablecloth and I inherited it!”

Well, that’s not something you hear everyday, I thought. But it helped explain the great happiness that I felt emanating from this woman. Her aunt saved the bright red, hand-embroidered cloth for just a single day each year. Her niece remembers it fondly.

“I wasn’t sure what to do with it,” she continued. “Then one day my friend offered to turn it into a dress so that I could enjoy it all year long.”

Now that’s a story to love! I’m still smiling!

Michele

Forever Young

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Matt Lehman, February 1964 – July 2001

Dear Reader:

I’m a writer; I love language.  But sometimes a picture says it all. Just a glance and you can surely see the joy and the pain I feel when I think of my brother. He was handsome, charismatic, kind and very easy to be with. It seems impossible that he’s been gone for 17 years. He will remain forever young as he is in this picture joking about his girlfriend’s early morning romp through the water.

Michele

Like Mother…Not Like Daughter!

My daughter
My lovely daughter

Dear Reader:

When a woman gives birth to a daughter, I believe she consciously, or subconsciously, believes her daughter will resemble her in many ways. But why? It is an odd assumption upon thoughtful consideration. Why should she be more like her mother than her father? I’ve asked myself that question now for 21 years.

My daughter is her own person, but she is more like her father than she is like me. I can accept this…despite the fact that it took 28 hours of hard labor followed by an emergency c-section to bring her into this world!

I wonder at the differences!

She is:

  • ambitious but not competitive; I am competitive but not ambitious
  • reserved, i burst
  • quietly thoughtful, I am obviously opinionated
  • forgiving and patient; I try

She loves:

  • lace and florals; I like stripes and animal print
  • teal; I love pink
  • Thunder Mountain; I love It’s a Small World
  • Harry Potter and Jane Austen; I love Tinker Bell and Danielle Steel

But, we do share some common opinions and interests. We are both feminists, but she does not like to wear it on her t-shirt. We love donuts, doxies, Disneyland and Maui. We are happy when we are shopping at Lululemon or Target, walking the streets of London in rain or shine and sipping from English china while perusing beautiful books.

And, most importantly, we still love spending time in each other’s company. I hope that never changes.

Is your daughter very much like you, dear reader? Or is she more like her father?!

Michele

My Memorial Day Cardio Workout

Winnie the innocent
What Mom?!

Dear Reader:

On any other Monday morning, I’d be killing it on the Cybex arc burning in excess of 600 calories in 50 minutes. But, Zone Fitness was closed for Memorial Day, so I took to the streets in my slippers and p.j.’s, blanket wrapped round my shoulders for modesty’s sake.

To be sure, this was an unplanned session of cardio. It lasted only 30 minutes, but it was more brutal and intense than anything I’ve ever done in the gym. It began just after I’d poured my second cup of coffee.

“Where’s Winnie?” was the rallying cry! When you live with three dachshunds always under foot, you develop a sixth sense that warns you when one of them is in trouble (of their own making)! We called for her and searched the yard, but it quickly became clear that she was gone!

My husband and I ran to the driveway to begin our rescue mission while our daughter, home from school for the weekend, changed from p.j.’s to street clothing.  Tom headed left. I went right and flagged down a car just as he rounded our corner. I didn’t know him, but he knew enough about me that I didn’t have to tell him the breed of my dogs!

“Oh, I’ve seen your doxies,” or did he say “heard your doxies”? It’s all a blur. “I have a dog; I understand,” he continued.

He offered to drive, slowly, around the loop that is our street and search for my girl. My belief in the kindness of strangers is so often validated.

I continued down the street, alternately yelling “Winnie” and explaining to any passers-by that my dog was loose, and very tiny. About 20 frantic minutes after the realization that she was gone, I felt the first tear slip down my cheek. I began knocking on doors. People can be very sweet when presented with a lightly clad, very sad neighbor at their door. No one had seen her, but everyone would watch out for her. A few even joined me in the street.

It would be about another 10 minutes before my husband found our pup and sent my daughter out in the car to look for me. I heard he gave her simple instructions.

“Don’t come back without your mother!”

Back in our family room where our day had quietly begun, my husband described what he’d learned about Winnie’s great escape and adventure. I must describe the geography of our home for you to fully appreciate her great feat. Our house is below street level, so our garden is terraced. Stone walls divide each level. Our little one had jumped four 18 inch walls (we knew she could do that) and a 2 foot metal fence (we didn’t know she could do that) and then tunneled under the bottom of the fence to arrive in our neighbor’s back yard. She didn’t stop there, though. She tunneled further to pop up in the next neighbors yard and had just left and crossed the street when the man who offered to help me spotted her from his car and called out to my husband.

My husband called out to Winnie, who obviously knew she’d been a bad girl. She turned and ran away from him, but thankfully back the way she’d come. She arrived in our yard to my husband’s great pleasure (or displeasure)?!

Dachshunds were bred to burrow and they are known to be trouble-makers. Our Winnie is an overachiever in both areas! Thankfully, this is a story with a happy ending, but I also think it’s a cautionary tale to anyone thinking about acquiring a dog:

There are dogs and then there are dachshunds…beware!

Michele

P.S. On a positive note, I did get in some cardio…and my husband will be getting his workout after he returns from Home Depot with cement and lumber to build a bigger, better fence!

Puppies are Good for Empty-Nesters

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A Favorite Photo-My Husband Admiring our Baby

Dear Reader:

One of my favorite regular columns in any magazine is the Harper’s Index in Harper’s Magazine…of course. It’s a simple list of interesting factoids that makes for fun reading and sharing. Today I learned:

Percentage of U.S. pet-custody cases that involve dogs: 96%

That involve cats: 1

Apologies to the “cat people” in my life, but I was not in the least bit surprised to read this! After all, dogs have a “pack mentality” as do people. (More trivia: what is the name of a group of cats????? Got you, right?!) All three of my four-legged family members are draped across my legs as I write this. It’s a chilly morning and they are earning their keep!

My husband and I have been married for 33 years and for 25 of those years we’ve had at least one dog. We were excited the day we finally moved into a pet-friendly condominium. It didn’t take long for us to adopt our first dachshund, Carly. For eight years, our friends and family had speculated as to when we’d have a child. They had a good laugh when we purchased a small library of books in the genre of how to raise the perfect dog and consulted a baby naming book.  There were whispers that we were “practicing” for our first child. The speculation grew when we took Carly to Sears for Christmas pictures.

Alas, the next member of our pack also had four legs. Bill, another long-haired miniature dachshund, joined us the year after our first. Jeff and Karyn of Wagsmore Dachshunds named the dog after the president “before the Lewinsky scandal” they told us. We thought our new puppy looked rather “presidential” so we chose not to change his name. It would be another two years before we had our only child, Natalie, and Bill would be the first to arrive in her room when she cried.

It’s impossible to imagine our home without a dog or two or three and perfectly outrageous to ponder me and my husband embroiled in a custody fight over them. But, there is no danger of this as we are happy together and have further bonded over the arrival of our latest baby “Winnie.”

Michele

P.S. A group of cats is called a “clowder.” I looked it up.

On Acceptance

“All I’m saying is, kindness don’t have no boundaries.”

Kathryn Stockett, The Help

Dear Reader:

Yesterday I felt a memory. It hurt almost as much as it did seventeen years ago. I was discussing religion with a friend and it brought to mind something I’m sure I wanted to forget. How many words does it take to describe how horrible it feels to be judged? Not many.  And yet choosing the words is so difficult for me, even now.

I’ll start at the beginning. My father converted to Catholicism shortly after marrying my mother, and my siblings and I were raised Catholic. But when my brother, Matt, met his wife he joined the congregation at her non-denominational Christian church, and his new church family came to supplant his birth family. It was not difficult to understand why:  we were raised in the “classic” dysfunctional family. You know the kind; we looked so good from the outside that no one could believe it when we fell apart.

I understood my brother’s desire to believe and to belong. I had moved away with my husband and started a family and a life separate from the drama that was a painful part of my past. I was mothering a newborn as Matt was beginning his married life 300 miles away. We had always been close, but for three years we saw each other only occasionally. We exchanged birthday greetings and the obligatory holiday wishes through the mail.

Then my brother called to tell me he’d been diagnosed with cancer and had only a few months to live. My husband, young daughter and I arrived on his doorstep the next day.  We were met at the door by a man I did not know. He introduced himself as Bruce, a close friend and the pastor of Matt’s church. We stepped into the small living room of Matt’s ranch house to find him comfortably settled in his favorite chair with his dog in his lap. He looked great; he was smiling. After the three of us exchanged hugs, Bruce suggested that my husband and daughter take the dog into the yard for a romp. Matt grabbed a ball and joined them, and Bruce and I were left alone. That’s when I discovered that Bruce was serving as a sort of gatekeeper to determine who could spend time with my brother. He was applying a religious test to anyone who didn’t identify as an evangelical or born-again Christian.

He asked me to describe my relationship with God. I told him I was Catholic. He asked if I had acknowledged that I was a sinner and asked the Lord for forgiveness.

“Of course,  I’m a sinner. Aren’t we all?” I answered.

He pressed on:  Did I understand that my brother would be going “home” and could I support him in this journey? I felt like crying, but I was steel. I told him that Matt and I had always been close and that I loved him dearly. I assured him again that I considered myself a Christian. Bruce left shortly after our conversation and we enjoyed the day with Matt. My “Catholic credentials” had been deemed satisfactory.

I will never forget how it felt to be held in judgement. I thought I had, but yesterday the immensity of it came back to me with full force. There were people who felt they had the moral authority to decide whether I should be allowed to spend time with my own dying brother. Well, I confess, I judge them as well,  and I find them to be lacking in compassion and grace. My opinion of evangelical Christians was formed by that single heartbreaking experience.

Since then, I’ve been careful when I interact with people who I know to be Christians. But for some reason, this week, after all these years, I opened up to the wife of one of my husband’s closest friends, a woman with whom I’ve also grown close.  I’d been careful to avoid talk of religion with her knowing that she attends a Christian church, but when we found ourselves alone our conversation turned to things we hold dear, such as family. She mentioned her faith and I found the courage to share my memory with her. She disavowed the isolationist position of the members of my brother’s church. While she shared some of their beliefs, she could not exclude us as her friends. I was not steel; I felt tears come to my eyes.

Making judgements is part of being human, but it can be humbling to reflect on the moments you’ve been judged. It can be a reminder to work to consciously choose acceptance of others over rejection.

When I woke up this morning I found myself thinking of the waitress at a restaurant I frequent.  She’s Mexican, and one day she told me that since our president came along she’s been concerned about what people think of her. Are they wondering whether she’s  legal? Did they think she should go back to Mexico? I thought of the day I was discussing colleges with a friend and she said that she and her daughter were researching the rising incidence of anti-Semitism on campuses out of concern for her daughter’s safety. I reflected on a discussion I’d just had with a young man who lost Facebook friends when he announced his engagement to another man. Suddenly my mind was filled with the faces of those who had been judged and hurt.

Perhaps we should all regularly call to mind those times in our lives when we’ve been deemed unworthy so that we may  be less likely to inflict that kind of pain on our neighbors.

Michele

My Favorite Kitchen

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Dear Reader:

I started another writing course this week through Stanford Continuing Studies; I’m having trouble with it. When I write to you, I decide on the topic. But, today,  I’ve been given a writing prompt that I must adhere to!  You, dear reader, now have the opportunity to read my first submission to the class: an essay about a “memorable kitchen” with a bonus recipe!

 

I’m not much of a cook, but I do love to eat so it seems appropriate that the only kitchen I ever really loved was a kitchen that I did not cook in. It was very small and it existed in a different time. One could move between the sink, table, stove and refrigerator with just a few steps. It was brightly lit with three windows counting the one that occupied the top half of the back door that led to the herb garden. There was no dishwasher or microwave, but the phone resided there on a tiny table adjacent to the stove.

This kitchen was alive. I can not picture it empty and yet, of course, it was …when Nonnie slept. I had many meals there and, without exaggeration or exception, they always satisfied me. I could tell you about the dough that was handmade, rolled and cut on the kitchen table or the sauce that simmered on the stove all day. I could try to convince you that a simple vegetable soup with a bit of pasta and meat could be a culinary delight. Or I might conjure up the image of crispels frying in a pan of oil until crispy and then covered in powdered sugar or warm honey and enjoyed with coffee.

My grandmother spent most of her days in this room. It delighted her to cook for family, friends and, of course, the clergy. She prepared meals for the priests at her church often and the bishop was thrilled when his visits coincided with her food deliveries. (Priests lined up to give the eulogy at her funeral!)

Her kitchen was akin to an artist’s studio, but she generously shared it. It was calming and reassuring to simply sit and watch her mix, roll, cut and fold. She completed these repetitive tasks with great joy and precision. She did not require participation in the task at hand, but she was glad to have you step outside to pick the herbs she needed or to allow you to take over the task of frying or filling.  Often, I just sat, though, and fully appreciated the warm companionship she offered while she worked.

Truly, I loved everything Nonnie cooked and baked, but it is a small meal in a mug that I remember most fondly. I would love to share the recipe with you!

 

Nonnie’s Beaten Egg Breakfast

Ingredients:

  • strong coffee
  • egg yolks
  • brown sugar
  • milk
  • and a loving companion

Brew the coffee while warming the milk slowly in a small saucepan. Crack and separate the eggs placing a yolk in each cup. Add a bit of brown sugar and beat the yolk and sugar together. Slowly, while stirring, add the hot coffee to the eggs to temper them slowly. Finish with warm milk to taste.

 

I remember many mornings spent with Nonnie enjoying this simple, sweet pleasure. I lived with her for several months after my parents divorced and I started college. Those coffee mornings gave me the sustenance I needed to pursue my future independently and the love my grandmother gave me remains with me to this day.

Thanks for reading!

Michele

 

 

 

 

 

What Am I Going to Do With This?!?!

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Me with a childhood portrait

“It’s so big I can’t even scan it!” said my husband.

Dear Reader:

Downsizing, I think, is a lot like writing; both exercises require one to discard what is not beautiful or useful. Brutal elimination of the extraneous is a painful process. But hard work and commitment offer the potential to create a deep sense of satisfaction and true pride. My husband and I are collectors and we’ve been alive for over half of a century, so when we moved two years ago into a  home, half the size from our previous home, there were a lot of items we were forced to hold in our hands and decide to keep or donate.

Back in the days when we had little money, we could measure the depth of a friendship by the willingness of a person to help us move. You see there were many, many, many heavy boxes of books and anyone who knew us, knew that! So, if someone turned up on moving day, we knew we had a true friend. Books are still a shared passion for us, but, thankfully, we can afford to hire big, burly young movers.

I started the process of downsizing a year in advance and thank goodness for that! When my friends ask for advice, that’s the first thing I say:  Get a head start!  The act of purging builds on itself. It’s kind of like losing weight; you lose one pound and you’re more motivated to lose the other four. It does take a lot of time, though. You have to develop a rhythm. It’s easy to decide the fate of some things. Yes, I’ll keep every love letter my husband ever sent me. There are a lot as we had a long distance relationship while he was away at UC San Diego  and this was before cell phones and laptops (I’m very old!)! The closet took forever as I tried on each item of clothing and modeled it for my husband. The kitchen was a nightmare.  I’m a wanna-be chef so through the years I’ve purchased many small appliances that promised to help me achieve my culinary goals. Sad to say many of them were never used.  Bye, bye panini maker, waffle maker and food processor! I was forced to acknowledge that I’d never make a crepe or a donut. I did keep my large roasting pan only to discover on our first Thanksgiving in the house that it was too big for my new oven!

My second suggestion is to recruit the help of an honest friend. You know the one who knows how many cake plates you have and isn’t afraid to ask why you need all of them. Self talk is also very helpful. This can be of the silent variety or you can run it past your four-legged furry friends. It goes something like this: “When was the last time I used this? Am I sentimentally attached? Is it really fab or really handy?” Finally, if you’d like to buy a book to inform, motivate and support you, I offer the following recommendations:  It’s All Too Much: An Easy Plan for Living a Richer Life with Less Stuff  by Peter Walsh and the hugely popular primer by Marie Kondo,  The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.

Today we are happily living among our very carefully curated collection of things. My husband and I have never been, nor will we ever be, minimalists.  We still have a lot of stuff, but it’s all good stuff! Oh, and about that portrait…the frame is gone, but the picture  remains in a large art box filled with my daughter’s early masterpieces.

Best,

Michele

P.S. I can still find room for small dachshund shaped items and most anything in the color of petal pink.