Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Soap Jar

My grandmother was an artist. I don’t know that I understood this fully, until I recalled an encounter with the soap jar. We think we know a person, a loved one passed on, through the words they’ve spoken or the love they’ve shared. But what of the Life only they’ve experienced, as the unique individuals that they were?  There’s more to me, I can tell you, than that mass of dirty laundry staring at me from across the hall, which unfortunately I am in charge of, and that I will no doubt leave behind without a second glance when my time here has expired. A Life is truly in the details. It is in the malleable mosaic of living, and in the very existence of Self. We are complex creatures, difficult to figure out really.  However, when we are still, when we are quiet, the minutia of Self are revealed – in a word, a smile, or even in an old jar sitting beneath a window’s ledge, smelling of an Irish Spring and soap.      

Though certainly skilled in her more mundane, household duties – my grandmother could snap a bean and hang a bed sheet out to dry with style and speed – it is a treat for those of us who love her, each and every time, we happen across those memories we know to be, authentically Helen. In a sagging cardboard box overflowing with well-used sewing patterns smelling of old newsprint and attic, or occasionally in the impossibly small-and-perfect embroidery she once created, or even in an old pencil sketch of song birds perched atop a “Good Evening”, our family still marvels at her brilliance and her flair for thoughtful ingenuity in the simplest of things.

My grandmother’s most impressive talents, however, lay hidden in her knack for collecting and repurposing just about anything. Snug drawers, littered shelves, and nooks-and-crannies neatly housed rusty old nails pulled from splintered old barn wood, bits of fabric (so meager in size, that Hunca Munca herself would turn up her nose), stamps and greeting cards and pressed paper napkins – pencil stubs, colored glass and all things pink-and-pretty. In each of these things, these “…wagon wheel, Roy Rogers, garagesale…” things, we are given a glimpse into this simply-complex mosaic that was her Life.


So, who saves nasty old soap in a jar, I asked myself years ago, wavering then between my good sense and snobbery.  I stepped into her kitchen to ask her the same, where she stood rifling through a drawer in the sideboard. 

“Scarlett, bring those young eyes of yours over here and see if you can’t find a rubber band in that drawer.”  She straightened no more than three square cards with matching envelopes, which she held in her hand. “I want you to put these in your suitcase and take them home to Missouri when you leave.”

I closed my mouth, and quickly handed her a large silver paper clip resting on top of a pile of pens, some sort of glue or grease in a crimped tube, and a small flashlight.
She resumed her search, “Let’s find a rubber band to put around them, so they stay nice.”

Her eyes looked at me then, to the jar I still held in my hand, and then back to the task ahead of her. “Go get a small paper bag off the back porch, behind the tool box, and we’ll scrape some of that soap into it for your family.” 

‘Seriously,’ I laughed inside – so hard, it was difficult to keep my nostrils from flaring and tears escaping.  I could just see the look on my husband’s face as I handed him a clean towel, and the jar, before his morning shower.

“For what purpose,” I muttered under my breath, disbelieving. It became blaringly obvious; there was only one thing to do. Put it back where you found it, Scarlett, and nobody gets hurt.   

It was too late for that. She had heard my protestations. “You have the energy and the know-how – why don’t you take it home for me and see what pretty little soaps you can make out of it, and give them as gifts this Christmas.”

“Thanks, Grandma,” I answered over my shoulder, “but I don’t think we need any more soap right now.” I quickly replaced the quart canning jar beneath the windowsill and turned to see her grinning at me from the door. (She was much faster than she looked.)

“Now, that’s perfectly good soap,” she assured me, deftly stretching the thin, elastic band she’d found in another drawer, over a sleeping fawn painted in sepia tones. “That’s the trouble with this world today. People just toss things out when there’s plenty of good use to be had in them.”

We stood there a moment or two, before she gave in, gazing at the soap jar beneath the window.  I suppose, if I had looked closely enough then, I might have noticed how daylight played on the splashy hues of pink pastels, and variegated greens, and how the warm Kentucky sun danced along the creamy slivers of white behind the glass. Had I given it time to see it as anything other than used up bits, perhaps in the perfumed scent of a rose or the clean scent of a manly Irish Spring, I might have seen the beauty in such a thing, possibly even shared her vision – if I were quiet enough, still enough.   

I know now, the eagerness and the love behind the grin; that we all might see the wonder and the beauty and the artistry she left behind, in a perfectly good mosaic. 


Saturday, November 26, 2011

Oh, Boy!

I once heard my son, our first born, emit a deep throaty noise (maniacal laugh, maniacal laugh) as he posed for a Father’s Day photo shoot – wielding his dad’s chainsaw, his dad’s blow torch, his dad’s chair, his dad’s truck and even his dad’s Beloved Ibanez, and live to tell about it.

This is his Dad's chainsaw.

This is his Dad's blowtorch.

This is his Dad's chair.
This is his Dad's truck. (Yes, licking it)
This is his Dad's Beloved Ibanez...

... Up Close and Personal.
THIS is his DAD.
A chuckle,
A growl,
A sigh,
A “sweeeeeet!”
I’ve seen and heard it all.

This Thanksgiving I, a boy’s mother, witnessed the joy of ownership…
...in a giggle.

Oh, Boy!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Mothers Circle Show

“Another year has come and gone and the drums still haven’t made the cut.  They sit quietly in the dark basement clinging to their hopes that one day they too will make it to The Mothers’ Circle Show.  Well, There’s always next year!”

"Scarlett's Kitchen" ~ Sketch by Rick Stokes

A dear friend asked me the other day, from across a kitchen table, “Do you miss it?” 

Feigning indifference, I replied, “Nope”, and then downed my drink.

“I was going to buy a copy of The Power of Positive Thinking, and then I thought: 
What the hell good would that do?” ~ Ronnie Shakes

I realized only today, as I went about the business of laundry and cleaning house, with “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” blaring from the stereo and a blustery November day tapping on my windows, that the answer I gave was not completely honest.  Was hot glue really all that held us together, she must have wondered.  I caught the hurt smoldering there in her eyes, much like that of a mama bear just before she nips her cub in the butt for misbehaving.  (Ouch.  Okay, I give.  I miss it.  Hmph.)

“Help! I’m being held prisoner by my heredity and environment.” ~ Dennis Allen

I am wallowing in my first taste of freedom, my first non-obligatory nod to the season, as the holidays are fast approaching this year.  It is the first time in a long, long time that I find myself, so wishing my dear friends and I had tiny gingerbread men to undress and tease with our paintbrushes.  After all, we did spend many long days and even longer nights with the little guys.  I hardly know what to do with myself when I see them lying in those tight little boxes on the grocery shelf today, just imagining myself tearing away those little gum drop buttons. 

“I can believe anything provided it is incredible.” ~ Oscar Wilde

I’m sorry.  What was the question?  Oh, right.  “Do you miss it”, she wanted to know, trying not to reveal what is on all of our minds and lurking in our very muscle memory this time of year.  We, the loyal, the dedicated and the sleep deprived have joined the rest of the human race.  Well then, how could I not miss The Show?

“Fly Your Freak Flag!”

‘How will you raise those little monsters of yours to be generous and true’, I asked myself all those years ago, ‘if you cannot lead by example?’  Dr. Maya Angelou said it best I think, “Sister, when you get, give. When you learn, teach.”  I found the answer I was looking for then in a small, but fierce army of volunteers.  I still remember the day I hunted two of them down in my kids’ elementary school parking lot.  New to the neighborhood, I had decided I would just have to pull up my big girl panties and make the first move, since my phone wasn’t ringing off the hook with a personal invitation. 

And it has made all the difference. 

“You can’t depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus.”
~ Mark Twain

Together we sewed, painted, glued and glittered some 25,000 Christmas ornaments, January to December; summers off, if we were so lucky.  As fundraisers go, honestly, we were lucky to scrape the surface of the tens of thousands of dollars our school PTO brought in each and every year, but then it’s not all about money, is it.

“Never keep up with the Joneses.  Drag them down to your level.  It’s cheaper.”
~ Quentin Crisp

The Mothers’ Circle Ornament Sale is more than a thirty-some year tradition in our small rural community.  It is and always has been a symbol of what sets our school apart from the rest.  It’s Family.  Hundreds of kids and their families grow excited every year at this time, in anticipation of the unveiling in their school’s library window.  Their lists are checked, their pocket change counted and their holiday gifts are theirs to give.  All handmade, mostly recycled Nutcracker Dancers are lined up carefully in their plastic boxes and dragged up from the school basement; hauled out of our cars and kitchens and closets alongside Jolly Lollies, Joyous Angels, Fros-Tee Snowmen, and Spoon Santas, Icy Skates, Peek-A-Boo Penguins and Pajammy Lammys.

“Christmas gift suggestions:
To your enemy, forgiveness. 
To an opponent, tolerance. 
To a friend, your heart. 
To a customer, service. 
To all, charity. 
To every child, a good example. 
To yourself, respect.” ~ Oren Arnold

For nine years, I trudged along with the lot of them, calling in favors and begging for assistance from our kids and husbands, aunts and grandmas, friends and neighbors.  You knew us by the sparkle and smattering of glitter on our cheeks, in our hair, and if you asked, even in our unders.  Somehow we managed to pull it off every year, despite an occasional loss of time and perhaps a few missing clumps of hair.  Nothing a good helping of Kate’s ‘Fireside Coffee’ or Robin’s ‘Pine on a Twine Chicken Tortilla Soup with Lime’ or Michele’s ‘X-Treme Polar Bear Pumpkin Butter’ or Pam’s ‘St. Nick Stick Taco Soup’ or even Lucinda’s ‘Santa Stops Here Sweet Potato Pie’ couldn’t cure.  

“When you go out into the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands, 
and stick together.” ~Robert Fulgum

This year is a first for me and for them.  My youngest started Junior High this fall.  He was one of the last to go in our small group.  As he left those halls of our beloved elementary school and moved on, so must I.  So must we all.  Yes, I miss it terribly my dear friends, as I miss my little pink babies, my young children's wonder, indeed my journey through their childhood.  But the Mothers' Circle bond was made, and yes, lifelong friendships forged at the nasty end of a glue gun, the moment I laid eyes on that small group of women huddled together in someone’s kitchen, hands and eyes busy with their craft, mouths arguing over a shade of red, smiles and laughter in their hearts.          

“Joy to The World!”

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Are You Awake?

On any given night, in this house, uninterrupted sleep is something we only dream of.

"Am I keeping you awake with my breathing,” I ask, readjusting my pillow – better to feel his breath on my face.

"No, honey, your talking is", he answers, feigning a smile.

The house is still, but for the quiet, rhythmic thumping of a foot on the little girl's bedroom wall.  "Wait for it", I sigh aloud, shifting my legs to breathe above the covers.  "There is no such thing as, 'a last goodnight' in this house", I say too loudly. 

Her younger, less tactful sibling answers the call with a resounding thud on the other side of the barrier between them.  Indeed, he is still awake – unless mommy sticks her head in the door, then he is asleep, but breathing heavily under the covers.

"If this is allowed to continue,” I think aloud, "one of us is going to have to do something."

A choked snore escapes my exhausted husband, who when prodded insists that he is, "...not sleeping, only resting his eyeballs", and is ready to go back downstairs as soon as I am, so that we may at least pretend we have a life.

I touch his warm foot with my cold one. "Are you too tired for 'that'", I offer shamelessly.

One eyelid cracks open to determine the validity of that offer, then lazily shuts again. "I'm never too tired for that" he says, playing along with this ruse.

It's early on a week night and this is our life – stealing sleep whenever possible, making promises that tomorrow night, when the kids are in bed, we will do something, anything creative.

We will draw.
We will paint!
We will write!!

We will discuss sex, religion and politics in an opinionated, but friendly manner, say we're sorry for that last comment and then change the subject. I will finally match up that pile of socks, searching in vain for mates that vanished into thin air– or embroider them into sock puppets. We will sit down, he in his chair to sketch his next masterpiece of a family that is growing too fast, I with my book, my computer, my needle and thread.

"Are you still awake", I whisper.

"No", he answers.

"Love you."

"Me too."

When the lights are turned out for the last time, thick open-mouthed boys breathe soundly, having finally given in to their drooping eyelids. Their quiet rumblings are the only response to the persistent thumping still resonating against the little girl's bedroom wall.  I pay no mind, minutes later, to the familiar creeping at the foot of our bed.  She eases her head between my pillow and her daddy's with a stealth that would impress me, if I were more alert at this hour, and lies perfectly still, trying not to breathe, until I pat her on the cheek.

"Tonight", I whisper.

'Tomorrow is another day,' the child quietly, wisely ponders.

Furry members of the family yawn and stretch, as they begin their nightly routine of wrestling from room to room. On the hunt, they will miss the small mouse taking up residence in our kitchen, attacking the toilet paper instead, dragging it out through the hallway and down the stairs, stopping to cry outside of the closed shower doors for a drink – a personal favorite of my husband's.

This nightly ritual reminds the biggest critter with the smallest bladder in the house that she has to go outside – Right now!  So begins an uncharacteristically early bedtime in our house.

Like I said, on any given night, in this house, uninterrupted sleep is something we only dream of – if we're lucky.

“Get to bed said Sleepyhead,
Wait awhile said Slow.
Put on the pot said Greedy Gut,
We'll eat before we go." 

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Life Is Short


Life is Short! Remember, Hervé Villechaize? He was short and he provided the always mysterious, well placed comedic relief, as the eye-winking little man on the Saturday night television melodrama, ‘Fantasy Island’. Every forty-something year old remembers his taller and wiser boss, Mr. Roarke! They were a handsome pair all decked out in their late 70’s version of classy, white three piece suits. Hervé was just too adorable with his doll-like appearance. Tattoo, they called him; a little Polynesian sidekick forever in the shadow of his handsome leading actor.

Tattoo was, up to my pre-teen years, one of my first experiences with the concept that everyone doesn’t look like me, talk like me or walk like me. To all of those parents out there today, present company included, who go about diligently censoring their kid’s television diets, I might interject here, that I may very well have developed this all important knowledge of self from this controversial medium. Just food for thought.

Given my limited exposure at that age, I gave little thought to a "Tattoo" as being anything more than an oftentimes humorous, sometimes comically philosophical television character. By the time I was eighteen, however, I’d seen and experienced a bit more of my world around me. Enough, in fact, that on a side trip to visit my aunt and uncle in Los Angeles, I’d had it in my head that this might be the perfect timing for me to get a tattoo of my own, to which I recall my uncle stating very matter of factly, “Not on my watch!  Your mother would never forgive me!” 

Right, as he may have been to deny me what was, arguably a hasty decision for someone as young as I; at this point in my life I understood this much:

A) That it is Not legal OR morally justified, in any way, to aspire to own another person

B) That I wouldn’t know where to keep him, if indeed, I could somehow stow Tattoo away in my carry on luggage! Wasn’t that every girl’s dream at that age? (Yep, I did just say that out loud.)

C) That perhaps one day I would thank my uncle for sticking to his guns (Thank you), but at the moment I wanted nothing more than what I was being told, I could not have.

And...D) That a tattoo is not a real person, but merely an outward expression of one’s own soul. Even if it is, Calvin… pissing on a Chevy…plastered onto a walking billboard…in a three color representation that spreads out as you do... till you’re dead…dead...dead!

But then my preferences lie in the more subtle nuance of tribal art. The key word here is of course, ‘preference’, the definition of which is, to lay claim to the right or the power or the opportunity of one’s own opinion.

I officially joined the diverse ranks of the tattooed, not as the defiant teenager or as the radical miscreant, or even as the body art enthusiast, but rather as a forty-year old on the edge of a mid-life crisis ~ Experienced childbirth, but still chicken when it comes to sharp pointy things touching my body ~ Old enough to know better ~ But still young enough to not-give-a-rat's-behind-what-other-people-think-kinda-girl.

My decision to forever seal my fate as the "one who now sits on the Group W bench (Arlo Guthrie reference) with the rest of the riff-raff" is one that I have no regrets following through with. I wake up every day, look just below my pinkie toe and think to myself, 'Life is Short.  Life is Good.  Live it!'

I find it interesting, in a microscope on humanity sort of way, how society often dictates what is an acceptable means of self-expression, and what is deemed somehow as the moral decline of civilization. If nothing else, I would think history itself has shown us how dangerous it can be for a people or a nation to blindly follow the path of someone else’s deluded ideals, as a means of self-preservation.

I could write a spiraling diatribe on the perils of non-conformity in a conventional, narrow-minded, fear-driven society, but I won’t. Because I know that it is simply instinct. It is our human nature to want to classify, and therefore identify what is safe, in an effort to protect ourselves and our progeny, even if it means running the risk of losing our own identity in the process.

I see it as our obligation, as the free spirits that we were born to be, to claim our own self-worth.

Our similarities, as a people, emphasize our unity.
Our individuality and our own self-expression of it, however, breathes harmony into our existence.
Saint Louis,

When I was a little girl, I believed in magic. Christmas always brought snow for Santa’s sleigh, and at the stroke of midnight on December 31st, the New Year would arrive with a promise, late into the night, of a taste of sparkling cider and a host of wishes to be answered in the days to come. As I grew older the bubbly in my glass matured, as did my wishes, but the magic remained. Where I once anxiously awaited the clink of a plastic glass and the thrill of boisterous laughter, now I anticipated a kiss.

The New Year offers each of us a clean slate, a fresh start. True magic reveals itself in new opportunities and gently reminds us of those still there for the taking. Even as we dream of changing attitudes, set in stone only moments before the countdown lands on ‘Happy New Year!’, feelings of inspiration and motivation seep into our hearts and our minds, luring us in, if only to say to ourselves, “What if?”

What if – I could summon the courage to Forgive, to Love, to Live my life with eyes wide open? 

The year was 2010 – New Year’s Eve. The plan was – there was no plan. My husband and I would wrangle the kids into the living room once again for a raucous game of Win, Lose or Draw, maybe some shrimp, some wings, some punch – well, maybe something easier than punch. On second thought, what’s easier than punch, I ask. A few cans of silly string would then be revealed outdoors – for this lesson we learned long ago – and all would hoot and holler as we ushered in the New Year. Not long after midnight, the lights would be dimmed and the lot of us, furry and otherwise, would fall asleep to a movie, making our way upstairs much later to lock doors, tuck in a stray kid or two, and retire to that place, where we just might follow through with that promise the adults made to each other hours ago when they were more awake and enthusiastic about the late hour – or maybe not.

In our efforts to prove to our kids that we are not stagnant or dull human beings after all, my husband and I searched secretly, frantically, to find the perfect New Year’s Eve celebration with less than twenty-four hours to do so. Somewhere affordable topped our list – warm and dry would be nice. Well, two outta three ain’t bad! What we found, in our city and in ourselves, was the magic we were looking for.

In 1991, St. Louis organized its first community wide New Year’s Eve celebration. Nineteen years later, the people continue to gather along the outskirts of North Grand Blvd. in the hopes of creating memorable experiences with friends and loved ones, through the visual and performing arts of First Night.  This year’s theme, “Fantasea” transformed the Grand Center District into a playful ocean of glow-in-the-dark bubbles, bigger-than-life jellyfish floating on air, a forty-foot wall of wishes, shared in post-it notes painting an undersea mosaic, a fifteen ton sand sculpture of Neptune, numerous performers who sang and danced and entertained us all into 2011 – and two spectacular fireworks displays over the city!


First Night’s mission was to broaden our horizons and to deepen our appreciation of the arts, to share a cultural experience, in and with our own community, and to make it as accessible and affordable as possible. This evening, the evening after, I can honestly say, they achieved their goal with our family, despite Mother Nature’s efforts early on to send us home, with cold rain seeping into our shoes and chilly winds whispering at the backs of our necks.

Nearly seventeen years ago we moved further west of St. Louis with our first child, out of the city life and away from the madness of crowded streets and neighborhoods. Our small family of three grew to five over time, and though rich in our new rural community with friends, and opportunities wide open spaces provided – our simpler, more modest way of life kept us so comfortable, so out of touch, that we missed out on a few of the more extraordinary, remarkable experiences within that madness.

With the exception of many affordable trips to the St. Louis Zoo
(Free Admission)

The St. Louis Zoo

and more than enough to the St. Louis Science Center and Planetarium
(Also, Free!)

The Planetarium

 and lets not forget the Art Museum, where my children, literally, climbed the walls
(Yep, Free As Well!)...

The Art Museum, St. Louis, Missouri

...we’ve missed out on the excitement and the cultural growth to be found in
The Muny, St. Louis, Missouri
The Fox Theatre, St. Louis, Missouri

Powell Symphony Hall, St. Louis, Missouri

and *Here*
The Repertory Theatre, St. Louis, Missouri

...and numerous other venues there for us to experience, and join in with our world community. 

This New Year’s Eve, our very first First Night, welcomed us onto the streets of St. Louis, lit with the enthusiasm of the performers and the crowds, there to celebrate the harmony within us all, each uniquely the same. After snagging a free parking spot close by we headed north up the boulevard.

Jeff, The Juggler

Jeff, the Juggler lured us in quickly beneath the Fox Marquee and the dancing jellyfish, entertaining the crowd that had gathered with his interactive comedy and flaming batons. Huddled together beneath the warm brilliance of the stage lights and a very tall, blue man on stilts, who easily accentuated my shortness, I knew it was going to be a good night.

St. Francis Xavier Church, St. Louis, Missouri

Accompanied by a host of street performers, we eventually turned our damp brood southeast, aiming for the main stage and looking for St. Francis Xavier church. A man with a smile and a steel drum played island music beneath the eave of a building as we passed, while another stood on a box as a human statue, entertaining a break in character only when a passerby dropped a show of appreciation into his cup. The light rain hurried us on past the diver in scuba gear enveloped in a life size bubble, as she floated her way down the boulevard, stopping to touch hands with a small child in a little pink coat. That was us once, I thought.

There are moments in a life when something just sticks – a kid grows up, a cold rain seeps into more than just a coat, perhaps even a shared experience that moves you on a special night. We accept an active role in our world, among the human race, when we participate. We made new friends along the way when we met up with the family of our oldest son’s girlfriend. Who would have thought our kids would be setting us up on play dates? Gone, are the days when our little boy would have weaved and ducked a girl’s attentions. Spying her hand in his, as the lot of us welcomed the New Year, I was reminded yet again that he had grown into a mature and loving young man. My husband and I shared gentle nudges, some not, throughout the night, painfully aware of two more of our children who would follow soon enough. Once we have teenagers, birthdays aren’t the only thing that reminds us of our age or disposition. Here I am – that place I thought was too far in my future to ever become reality. Happy New Year to Me!

Start Over!

Our New Year’s Eve ended brilliantly to music and dancing and pageantry in the streets. However, it was our attention and our appreciation, which we gave to...

 The Reventones
when they shared harmony in their guitars and voices. 

 Buckets and Tap Shoes
when they entertained us all with their witty, distinctive talent.

Creative Pandemonium, Justin Kredible, The Cadence, and so many more we would love to have seen! Their energy and showmanship drew us in and will keep us coming back for more year after year!

My New Year’s Wish
for You and for Me
  ~This year I want to know Peace,
through exhilarating dance that will move my feet,
inspiring music that will move my soul
and passionate,
sidesplitting theatrics
that will move me to laugh.~

"Nobody can go back 
and start a new beginning,
but, Anyone can start today
and make a new ending."
~Maria Robinson

Sunday, November 13, 2011

My Brother, My Friend

My Brother and Me

I’ve shared many things with my little brother over the years – a room, a car, an apartment, friendships, adventure, and even a pair of matching flowered pants when we were three and four.  (Yeah, you heard right, Matching – Flowered – Pants!)  In these belongings, we shared something far more significant – Our story. Only thirteen months apart, we were always close, even when we weren’t.

I'm Sorry!

I closed him up in a bottom drawer, then turned the chest over while trying to climb into one on top. 
He taught me how to tie my shoes. 

I held a cloth to his head after racing him, “To the stereo and back!” 
He said he was sorry, when he broke my Snow White music box.  

I punched Earnest in the stomach at the bus stop when he wouldn’t stop saying mean things.
He held my hand and said, “You want me to break his knees?” 

I sat by his bedside when he needed me. 
He did the same. 

I love his children, as I love him. 
He loves mine, all three. 

I think of him often, far away. 
He calls me almost every day. 


Our story has taken many turns, weaving in and out of happiness and pain, darkness and light. Here today, I’d like to share one of Absolute Joy – A story of Travel and Adventure – A story of Friendship.

June 1999 ~ Happy Birthday, Jamie!
I flew from St. Louis to Des Moines to meet him. Said, ‘Good-bye’ to two kids under the weather and a baby, leaving them in their daddy’s most capable, loving hands. I think Jamie hardly recognized me in the airport. No diaper bags, no toddlers attached to my hip, just unencumbered little ol’ me.

We loaded the bike into the back of his truck, Honda Nighthawk 750, and headed West to Colorado. We hadn’t made a trip together since we were kids, seventeen – eighteen. Frankly, I am surprised he would have ever climbed into another car with me in the driver’s seat, after I’d fallen asleep at the wheel in the one we shared so many years before. It was Christmas – I am still sorry. A thirtieth birthday would be the call for this occasion. I guess I am forgiven. Well, off the hook for now, anyway.

It had been so long since we had been alone with each other, just a brother and a sister.  We talked about what we knew. Jamie shared stories of school, working his way through. I fessed up about babies, and how beautiful, though thoroughly draining, it was being a parent – life changing really. Both of us had struggled to find a story of our own and now, here we were – wounded, though not broken. It is in that struggle that we share our story with all of those who have lived the good, the bad and the ugly, and then told their tale anyway.

Chris, a longtime friend of my brother’s, welcomed us to Boulder by the days end. He opened his home to us, shared his beloved city in the mountains with us and fed us his delicious cookies. I felt like one of the boys in his company and have not forgotten his hospitality and his friendship.

Pearl Street Mall, Boulder, CO

Tulips bloom in Boulder

Russian Nesting Dolls

We strolled through the Pearl Street Mall on a sunny afternoon. The outdoor storefronts invited us in to a small world all their own. Street performers sang and danced and played among enthusiastic crowds, tourists and locals alike. We stepped in and out of the unusual shops that followed the sidewalks, handling Russian nesting dolls, which I bought for my children and shared a laugh over a t-shirt shop’s display,
“Mistakes… Ever think maybe your entire life was meant to be a warning to others?” Ouch.

Cafe Antica Roma

We shared a bottle of wine, drooling over homemade bread and zesty sun-dried tomato dipping sauce in the Café Antica Roma and enjoyed our dinner at a small table beneath hanging vines and beautiful hand-painted murals on the walls. I have never been so close to Italy than in that moment, sharing a warm and happy meal with friends! My mouth waters just thinking about my plate of bay scallops, jumbo shrimp and clams and mussels in the shell, all on a buttered bed of fettuccine.

The next morning we slept in (*Big Sigh*)  and fed ourselves once again at the North Boulder Café, before packing the bikes with our camping gear. It was a lesson in trust the moment I swung my leg over that two-wheeled rocket behind my little brother. Nervous excitement swirled in the pit of my stomach when he pulled out onto the road behind Chris. I breathed a little easier in the knowledge that I was wrapped up like a fat little burrito and settled into the seat with my arms wrapped around his waist like bands of steel. If it was to be our fate, that we plummet over the face of a mountain on this thing, then I would at least go with a warm backside and a full stomach.

West side of the Rockies

Trail Ridge Cafe

Looking lovely as ever!

We drove into Estes Park just ahead of the rain and began the long climb, weaving our way up Trail Ridge Road into Rocky Mountain National Park. The road, recently opened again with the warm June weather, carved a path through the side of the mountain, the snow plowed to the sides in great banks, snowy peaks stretching for miles. Canyons and rushing mountain streams, full with Colorado’s spring thaw, invited us up for a look-see. Reaching the top was momentous, though both the joy and the reward were in the journey itself. The Trail Ridge Cafe opened its doors to us, roughly 11,796 feet. They offered us nachos and cold drinks and we offered them cash. The trade was made – and we were happy.

Indigo Bunting

Bull Moose

Warmed and lighter in our wallets, we headed back down the West side of the Rockies into Grand Lake. We pitched our camp at Elk Creek Campground, excited over our moose sighting and our visit from an Indigo Bunting along the way. Suppertime called us back into town, in the form of Pancho and Lefty’s chimichangas. Later, on this eve of Jamie’s thirtieth birthday, we sat around the campfire, surrounded by tall, thin evergreens – knotted and twisted along the side of the mountain, just the three of us, and shared stories in low voices.  Jamie and I wandered into a clearing together sometime much later, searching the sky for constellations and remembering outdoor adventures from our childhood, in the smell of darkness and smoke. He drew my attention to Scorpius and Cassiopeia with a grown man’s eye. We found old friends in The Big Dipper and in the planets, Mars and Venus – and smiled at a shooting star as it burned out over the horizon. Never have I been more proud or more in love with my little brother than standing there next to him on that starry night.



We woke early on his birthday to the sun on the mountain. Hummingbirds and Goldfinches hummed about our campsite, thirsty for our chocolate milk, I suspect. Our ride back over the mountain was much faster in our efforts to make our dinner reservations. The wind against our faces was bitter cold and seeped in through any openings, no matter how small, in our overall gear. The guys drove us through the stinging rain, like the wind, thrilled with the challenge. Heavy storm clouds, dark and swollen, waiting in the trees, mingled with chimney fires nearby, as we drove on through Roosevelt National Forest. It was Christmas in June driving alongside the mountain stream. Water rushed beneath a footbridge and the smooth, round boulders scattered among the pines. I tucked my head against Jamie’s shoulder to warm my face, a little homesick with the familiar sights and smells flying past.

A Beautiful Rush

A straightaway opened up against the mountain. Neighboring cars on the road seemed to be traveling in slow motion. Jamie turned his face to me, his voice rising above the bikes racing engine. “Ready,” he hollered. I followed his lead, tucking my body into his, melting into the bike, as we flew past the convoy – warm and safe on the inside – me, having the time of my life. It took seven hours to climb that mountain and only two to soar with the wind all the way down. If my kids ever read this, I will deny, deny, deny.

The Gold Hill Inn

Home again in Boulder, rested and cleaned up a bit, the three of us drove the truck up the mountain following the old dirt road to a small town, called Gold Hill – Population 840. Established in 1870, it was originally an old mining camp. Standing alone on the top of a mountain under the stars, the people there still felt no need for streetlights. Chris had made reservations for the three of us to celebrate Jamie’s thirtieth at the Gold Hill Inn. Open spring, summer and autumn, they served great food, wine, cheeses and desserts to die for! Exposed wood beams crossed overhead, low lamplight and candles glowing against the weathered oak. Three, floor to ceiling fireplaces set in huge stone boulders, surrounded the dining room, breathing warmth from their hearths, as we ate. Smoked trout with herb stuffing, soup to comfort, salad – all on the heels of two amaretto sours from the bar – Delicious Love. Thank you, Chris, for a wonderful memory.
And Jamie, Happy Birthday, Little Brother!

We woke early, our last morning in Colorado with a ten-hour drive back to Des Moines to catch my flight home. We grew nervous about five hours in, hauling the bike in the back, trying to avoid a ticket on the highway. With twenty minutes to spare, Jamie delivered me to the gate. Our weekend had come to an end, standing there with no more time together – just a little girl and her baby brother, saying good-bye again. Once I had settled into the small prop plane, I felt sick with missing him. Since birth, his heart had somehow melted mine – my Gemini twin, my friend.


On take off the sun turned orange against the sky. The flight was quiet. I ate my five salty peanuts in a bag and downed a Coke with much pleasure. I had to run to meet my connection in the Minneapolis/St. Paul airport – this being something I never want to do again for as long as I live.

As I stepped off the plane in St. Louis, I saw my smiling husband waiting for me at the gate – back when a person, free of fear and restrictions could do so. As difficult as it was leaving my weekend of freedom behind me, it was good to lay eyes on him again! The time I spent with my brother would never be equaled, and even though it felt good to breathe in open spaces, it quickly felt even better coming *Home* to my family.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Small Spaces

Barefoot Acres

I am a collector of small things

Babies when I had them ~ I stopped at three
Critters a plenty inside and out
A few too many ‘saves’ for me to count

A house papered with small love notes
“And they lived happily ever after!”, among others I quote
Kentucky’s farmland in winter ~ my forever Home
Embroidered memories remind me I am not alone

Guitars acoustic, a few that are amped
A harmonica, a fiddle, a base drum that’s been tamped
Piano in the foyer, borrowed banjo against the wall
My children’s voices once so small

An American flag, in the corner it waits
Some old 45’s ~ a few 78’s
Albums that ‘crack’ and ‘pop’ when they’re played
In all the right places, no desire to trade

In my kitchen, an army of PEZ takes a stand
Two hundred and thirty give or take, ‘cause I can
An old plate, a glass bottle, a small candle ~ all red
Quilted hearts for a child or a very small bed

Happy Time! My mother’s little red barn
The farmer’s wife and her plastic children came to no real harm
A straw cowboy hat with a big red star
Grandpa’s clock on the mantel still runs like a charm

A boy in a snowsuit made out of clay
Lavender tied with a ribbon that’s frayed
Four leaf clovers ~ not so hard to find
You make your own luck is the lesson I mind

Gum wrappers made into a chain
My uncle’s glass bird against the pane
A tiny wren’s nest with five speckled eggs
The mother long gone, no mouths left to beg

So many things one collects in a Life
A hole to fill ~ maybe, though in my heart it feels right
Love in small spaces makes a place ~ to just Be
Though, it’s in the journey we share that will set us free.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

All Growed Up!





My mother's name is... Scarlett.
Her favorite color is... red.
For fun, my mother likes to... write.
My mother likes to eat... pizza.
The food that my mother cooks best is... green beans.
If I had lots of money, I would buy my mother... a book.
My mother looks pretty when... she's at a circus.
My mother doesn't like to... have a lot of noise.
My mother loves me because... I hug her a lot.
My mother makes me feel... happy.
I love my mother because... she loves me.
(Freddy, 6 years)

Freddy's Mother's Day Claymation

Write it down!

When I first learned I was pregnant, I knew I wanted to write it down. Eighteen years and three children later, I am still keeping journals for my kids. I began each pregnancy with lists. First, there were lists of every morsel, every crumb of food that I put into my mouth. (Didn't last long) Then there were my long, rambling attempts at keeping a poetic history of their childhood. (Lasted even less time than it took me to cuss, in disgust, that I could no longer tie my own shoes with this belly!) Eventually I found my groove, by simply promising myself and my children that I would be as honest as I possibly could with them, while being nice.

"In the fierceness of my own battles, I chose to tell you only what would inspire you and keep you safe." 

My cedar chest, that place which holds all things special, keeps many of these journals today. Someday, I will give them to my children. They are theirs, after all. Their artwork, Their words, Their memories... with all my love.  As a child, I remember sitting with my mother, as she read her own small hand-written notes. So many, in fact, that I knew then she must really love me. I had heard many stories, but here was proof, in writing, that I was loved and adored. I think it was my mother's listing habits, which inspired me to keep my own children's stories... to remember that I may not have been perfect, but I did love them.

This year for Mother's Day, my youngest son gave me something precious. Our story... through his eyes. (Stop-Action Video, "A Mothers Day To Remember", by Freddy, 12 years). And, as is now tradition, it will be added to his journal. It's the one busting at the seams with drawings of his family, his pets, his musings, his dreams! Rifling through its pages today, I found this entry...

May 2, 2006

"I was quietly doing laundry in my most favorite room of the house the other day. We know this by how much time I choose to spend there. I heard the laundry chute open up and slowly cast my eyes in the direction of the pile gathering just below it, to see a soft baby blue blanket with a hole in the corner and two stuffed bears plop on top and roll down the mountain of laundry below. 

Two seconds later, I heard your sweet little seven year old voice quietly call down, "Are you okay down there, Butter Bear? How 'bout you, Oats?".

When the hole in the ceiling snapped closed again, It came to me. I am already in Heaven, and I just don't know it yet. Then I wondered... So, what's Hell going to be like? 'Cause that's where I'm goin' for all of those bad thoughts I was thinking just before those bears plopped onto that mountain and into my heart.

You are still my littlest one, Freddy!, and I'm going to miss you when you're all "growed up". 
I already do."

Tell your children you love them more than life itself. Then show them. Their history resides in our memories. If nothing else, it will give them a head start in the lesson of forgiveness.