A Twist on NIMBY

I don’t always stay right on top of catch-phrases. Somehow I missed NIMBY until not long ago, though it was first used in 1980 (!). It encapsulates the concept of opposing development, even development of worthwhile projects, unless it is happening somewhere else, thus Not In My Back Yard. Examples abound. Everything from nursing homes to bike paths to power plants to sports stadiums to cell phone masts – all of which are indispensable and/or desirable in today’s world – are certainly best located in somebody else’s back yard.

The property I can see from my own happens to be surrounded by land that is under conservation easement. When I look in any direction, all I see is woods and mountains. I didn’t have anything to do with this but am the grateful beneficiary of someone else’s efforts to protect the natural area within my view. This morning as I stand on my back deck, this is what I see. It wouldn’t be everyone’s idea of a peaceful and lovely February morning, but it fits mine.

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What is it about us humans, though, that can be on the one hand so very content with what we have and on the other intensely desire what we don’t? I’m talking about what could be called YIMBY (YES! In My Back Yard). Here’s the thing: As much as I (on the one hand) love, love, love where I live, and as exceedingly grateful as I (on the other hand) am to have the time and resources to travel and visit my beloved Rise, Eppie, Ellie, Nelson, Piper and Zoe in their homes now and then, I wish they were, yes, in my back yard, more often. I wish they didn’t live SDFA (So Damn Far Away). I wish getting to them and my own grown children didn’t involve SLAROP (Security Lines And Rides On Planes) or ELTIC (Exceedingly Long Trips In Cars). I wish they were CETHOFAT (Close Enough To Have Over For Afternoon Tea).

I wish for a lot, I know. We do what we can and I try (really I do!) to see the upsides of being APRA (A Plane Ride Away).  Last week in Boise we made a snowman…

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… and enjoyed outstanding croissants from JanJou Patisserie (those on the left have chocolate chips in them!)…

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…and in Seattle watched colorful fish at the aquarium…

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…and saw a painted lady in the street.

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All of this, and many more special and wonderful moments happened last week: Nelson (16 months) danced in front of the TV as Dick van Dyke danced with the penguins in Mary Poppins and tried to add Cheerios to the meatloaf mixture. Piper (2 1/2 years) killed us all during a round of her new Memory game and sat angelically through her first stage play. Ellie (3 1/2 years) made chocolate chip cookies with me, enjoyed her first reading of One Morning In Maine (thank you, Robert McCloskey) and made us all play dead! Zoe (5 months) studied and taste-tested her first crust of bread before throwing it to Zadie, happily waiting below (how do dogs know that when there are little children in the picture, food will fall from the table?).  All of this builds the gigantic and fabulous memory bank that is unique to me. I like being In Their Back Yard, I do. I just also like Mine. Theirs and Mine are just so far apart, and the occasions so infrequent. I’m not sure I’ve ever felt so conflicted about something, and day to day I’m working out how to manage it all – the feelings, the logistics, the upsides, the downsides. This seems to be the best we can do in most any situation – try to figure it out day to day, try to make each day the best it can be.

Tomorrow will be a lovely day! Rise and Eppie are here for a visit (first time in six months, super exciting for me) and we are going to enjoy the sun in my back yard, visit the silly chickens, play with Coco, read about Edward Tulane and see what’s coming up in the garden. Maybe we’ll bake cupcakes, or do puzzles, or play games, or make something pretty, or… it really doesn’t matter, does it? Spending precious days together is what matters. Life is short. We are so blessed. Never forget that.

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I learned a new word today as Samuel and I started out on a walk with Coco. I put the hyphens in the title for clarity, but probably they don’t belong, and probably foofoofication isn’t in the dictionary.

This funny new word came up because it’s a beautiful sunny day after too many cloudy days, a good day for a walk with the dog.

This dog loves the sun. She likes it indoors by herself

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and outdoors anywhere near her favorite human.

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She doesn’t care if he is paying attention to her or not. All right, maybe she cares sometimes. But in general, if there is a sunny spot, she’s going to find it. So let’s take advantage of a sunny day and get us all a little exercise.

Oh, but where’s her leash? I’ve been out of town so I don’t know. It could be hanging up on a coat hook. It could be in one of the drawers in the foyer. While we rummage around, I see the leash I got from Jerry a few weeks back when I went over there with her but without a leash (just forgot, it happens). Jerry had said, “Use this one,” and pulled a perfectly fine leash and collar (left from his dear corgi) out of a drawer in his foyer.

See what I mean: a perfectly fine leash and collar.

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No, we can’t use that, Samuel said.

Why not?

Foofoofication, he said.

Are you kidding me? What’s wrong with this leash?

Come to find out (and you learn something new every day, don’t you?) it’s not about what’s wrong with Jerry’s leash. It’s about what’s right about Coco’s leash, which by that point in the conversation he had found (hanging on a coat hook).

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This is rope, he said, with an emphasis on rope. I’m sure you can see that. Coco’s black leash is a piece of rope fashioned into a leash. The alternative, a vaguely feminine-colored purchased leash, is obviously inferior and unacceptable.

How could I not have anticipated this? How could I have assumed that the choice of which piece of equipment to use for this walk matters? Both exist exclusively for making sure you have control of a 16-pound, arguably foo-foo dog, in this case along a road which offers lots of woods on either side but only the slightest chance of seeing another human. But one choice is made with rope, not some skinny, shiny, ribbed nylon. Samuel already has Coco, whose origin story (as they say with superheroes — have I been watching too many of these movies??) was told in another post. He can’t possibly go any farther down the foo-foo road.

While I laugh inwardly at the silliness of today’s leash selection, I look down at said cutie pie, attentive and hopeful as always, surely singing (in her funny little head):

There might be food,
there might be food,
if I am cute enough,
there might be food!

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And I think about the material things that I myself have an attachment to, some for reasons I couldn’t even say, such as the cup I like best for my tea in the morning, the scarf I grab most of the time, the furnishings and artwork I’ve surrounded myself with. Maybe some people would think the stuffed lamb propped against a pink lacy pillow on my bed is foo-foo.

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All right, yeah, that probably qualifies.

Until this moment I never thought of it that way. I just like the lamb because my daughter Marie gave it to me. It seems my foo-foo line is in a different place than Samuel’s.

The subject of foofoofication makes me think about those lines, about how we all draw different lines in different places, reserving the right, of course, to redraw our lines on a whim. I think about the complexity, the hilarity, the wonder of us humans. However do we manage to get along as well as we (usually) do??


Beyond Comeuppance

We all know someone like Edward: stuck up, conceited, vain, smug, no thought whatsoever for the well being of anyone else. People like this don’t necessarily hurt anyone, they just ignore, push away and take for granted the love and the goodness that comes to them. They get sulky when they don’t get their own way. Their self-importance rules the day.

Comeuppance comes to mind, as in One of these days, he’ll get his comeuppance for treating people so arrogantly, which is Merriam-Webster’s example sentence for a word defined as “a deserved rebuke or penalty.”

But what if people who deserved it didn’t get only their comeuppance? What if their rebuke or penalty were also transformative? What if comeuppance did a kind of magic, and people became better people?

It happens. It happened with Edward Tulane. And if it can happen with a rabbit, it can happen with anyone. Right, Edward is a rabbit, a fancy toy rabbit in a wonderful children’s story I just discovered. Brad and Beth and Piper and Zoe and I went to a stage production of the 2006 book by Kate DCamillo at the Seattle Children’s Theatre. The purplish guy in the middle with the long ears – that’s Edward.

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In The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane* a china rabbit, though unable to move on his own or communicate with those who take care of him, can nonetheless think and feel. Edward was as full of Self as a china rabbit from a posh toy store leading a cushy, swank life in Paris can be. The little girl who loved him, Abilene, dressed him every morning with yet another outfit from his extraordinary wardrobe. He “never ceased to be amazed at his own fineness.” Abilene propped him carefully on a chair every day before leaving for school and assured him, “I will come home for you.” She loved loving him, though he cared absolutely nothing for it.

Abilene’s wise grandmother Pellegrina told her a story one night about a princess who was loved dearly but loved no one in return. “You disappoint me,” the witch in the story told the princess, after which she turned her into a warthog. Before Pellegrina left, she tucked Edward in and said the same words to him: “You disappoint me.”

The rabbit’s journey of redemption began where his self-obsession ended. He went with the family an ocean voyage and – oops! – was tossed overboard by some miscreants who had first stripped him of his finery. The last thing he saw was Abilene standing on the deck, holding up his gold pocket watch and shouting to him to come back. (Illustrations by Bagram Ibatoulline)

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Imagine Edward’s new life, face-down on the bottom of the ocean. Forget the silk pajamas. Forget admiring his own reflection in the glass. He was humiliated and upset, but stuck. One day a storm churned up the water and he was lifted high enough to land in a fisherman’s net. Lawrence kindly brought Edward home to his lonely wife Nellie, whose immeasurable sadness was brightened a thousand-fold by having this inanimate rabbit in her care. Edward scoffed when she put a plain dress on him and called him Susanna, but Nellie was gentle and told him stories, some of them very sad. The fisherman showed him the stars at night.

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But what does it look like when someone fawns over a toy rabbit? Nellie’s daughter couldn’t stand the talk in town, so when she found her moment she secretly snatched Edward and pushed him face-down into a garbage can – yet another humiliation for him. But being separated from Lawrence and Nellie made his heart pang for the first time.

The town dump was worse than the bottom of the sea. Talk about stink! A dog named Lucy found Edward in the rubbish and presented him to Bull, the hobo he was traveling with. The threesome then spent happy years riding the rails and sleeping under the stars – Edward does love the stars! Bull passed the hours telling Edward stories of the family he left behind to find work, and a lot of other hobos likewise found consolation in sharing their woes. Edward added Bull and Lucy to the names of the people who loved him, and he repeated the names over and over as he stared up at the stars at night: Abilene, Lawrence, Nellie, Bull, Lucy.

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Their quiet, nomadic life ended abruptly when an angry conductor threw Edward off a moving train. Once again he was alone, hopeless and helpless, primed for the next humiliation: the woman who picked him up thought he’d make a good scarecrow. The nasty crows incessantly attacked him, but Edward’s journey did not end there.

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Where there is a need and a kind heart, good will happen. Bryce, a young boy who worked in the garden, repurposed Edward, giving him to his frail and sickly sister, Sarah Ruth, who loved him deeply as she got weaker and weaker. Their abusive father created a fearful situation, and Edward understood more and more how important he was to the children, how much power there is in this thing called love.

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After Sarah Ruth died, Bryce took Edward with him to Memphis, where he outfitted him as a marionette puppet. Together they earned a bit of money for food. But not enough. The owner of a diner got angry with Bryce when he couldn’t pay fully and smashed the rabbit’s china face. Reluctantly, Bryce brought Edward to a toy repair shop and left him there.

Restored to a semblance of his former glory, Edward resolutely sat on a shelf, determined not to open his heart again. You know how painful it is to lose someone you love.

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Years he spent sitting on that shelf. He wore his misery on his sleeve. One doll couldn’t believe he didn’t want someone to come buy him, didn’t want someone to love him. He said, “I have been loved by a girl named Abilene. I have been loved by a fisherman and his wife and a hobo and his dog. I have been loved by a boy who played the harmonica and by a girl who died. Don’t talk to me about love.”

Someone came for that doll but no one came for Edward, and he sat alone with his shut-up heart. Another doll, this one very old, thought it was dreadful that he didn’t care if anyone came for him. “I am done with being loved,” Edward told her. “I’m done with loving. It’s too painful.”

“You disappoint me,” she said. “You disappoint me greatly. If you have no intention of loving or being loved, then the whole journey is pointless.” After a little girl came and took the old doll to her new, loving home, Edward heard the doll’s voice inside his head over and over: “Open your heart. Someone will come. Someone will come for you. But first you must open your heart.”

Little by little, as he sat there through countless long and lonely seasons, softening happened. One day a mother and daughter came into the shop. The little girl took Edward from his shelf and “held him in the same ferocious, tender way Sarah Ruth had held him.” That’s when he saw what at first looked like a locket around the lady’s neck. But no, it wasn’t a locket. It was a pocket watch, the one that had been his many years earlier. Abilene looked into Edward’s eyes and knew him. She and her daughter took the rabbit home.

Edward’s journey included generous portions of love and tenderness and pain and sorrow. Step by step, little by little, these helped him shed his vanity, become a little wiser and learn to love.

May we too, all of us, make room in our hearts for love. May we find, deep within ourselves, love we didn’t know we had. Most importantly, may we pour forth that love to those who need it and who, in their own way, give their own love to us.


*The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DCamillo, illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline

The Flavor of Seattle

I’m a big fan of farmers’ markets. I love the little guy, the one who knows he has a better product than you would get in a standard retail store, can’t mass-produce it and is okay with that. I want to buy something from them all and I wish I could. I admire their chutzpa, their willingness to stand out in the cold (while the rest of us walk in the sudden rain (this being Seattle, so of course).

What better way to get an idea of a city’s people than at a farmer’s market? You get the people wandering, buying, wishing they could buy, hungry, exploring or posing for me. This is Brad and Beth and Piper and Zoe at the Ballard market during a break in the clouds (Piper uninterested in her Sea Wolf Bakery “lye roll” or photos at this moment).

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You get random people, so many people. Where do they come from? Do they live here and come every week? Are they visiting family as I am? Do they like the crowds? Tolerate the crowds? Wish this particular farmer’s market was on Saturday instead of Sunday?

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Do they tolerate the many dogs (on regulated short leashes)? Or hope to see unusual ones like this brindle pug?

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I never saw a brindle pug before.

Was it just this very moment that LOWER CASE BREWING (note upper case letters) stood waiting for customers? I guess (I hope) it was a momentary lull. I guess LOWER CASE has to do with the case of wine rather than the letters of the company name. Did you know that letters being called upper case and lower case refers to the time when typesetters had two literal (wooden) cases with individual letters in them that they set in the press, and the lower case sat below, closer to the person setting the type, because they were used more often?

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The guy at King’s Mozzarella was super friendly and gave me a sample of his cheese that was marinating in olive oil with sun-dried tomatoes and fresh herbs. It was perfect and wonderful. I hope he sold out his supply.

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Speaking of perfect, Pete’s Perfect Toffee made me think of confidence. How confident do you have to be in your product to call it perfect? One of his was made with coconut, which I love, which sorely tempted me.

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Bakeries always draw me like a magnet. Everything at Tall Grass Bakery looked fabulous. Handmade artisan anything deserves praise and success.

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Some of the names made me smile. You wonder how much time they spent thinking about what to call their business. The alliteration of Pete’s Perfect might stick in your head, but what about Taquiera los chilangos? I am likely to remember it as “Meat Choices.”

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But GnomeinPottery made me think of nomenclature, a term we used in Montessori a lot, but oh wait, it wasn’t GnomeinPottery, it was LaughinGnome Pottery. I might just think of it as “the gnome place” and tell myself it wasn’t nomenclature, but something else with gnome in it.

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I so wanted jonboy’s FRESH CARAMELS too! Isn’t this a guy you want to give business to? And why are caramels so tasty?? There are way too many temptations in this world. I was surrounded by goodness calling my name.

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Wine, cheese, bread, even pickles! It’s not so easy to make a good pickle, you know. I’ve made them five times in the past two years and only twice did they come out the way I hoped.

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Give credit to Firefly Kitchens for looking so friendly and having a colorful display, even if their name is firefly and the graphic on their logo is not.

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Give credit to Deborah’s Homemade Pies too, even if the seller is sleepy in Seattle. They have to be fresh and flavorful, and what you don’t sell this week you can’t sell next week…

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…which the good people at Skagit River Ranch (what a great river name) can do because their grass-fed-and-in-every-other-way-amazing meats are frozen.

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And the preoccupied woman at finnriver farm cidery can do…

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And the lady hoping to sell beautiful plates at RS Ceramic Dinnerware can do. Do you think it helps her business to be next to HotBabe-HotSauce?

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This is just a sampling, but my hat’s off to all of them – setting up shop week after week, trying to draw you in with their smiles, their clever names, their admirable products. Trying to appeal to a diverse group of shoppers, stay warm, watch people walk away time and again while seeing each new one that approaches as a potential contributor to this week’s success.

That kind of spirit is clear and strong in a farmer’s market, and the personal touch does not go unnoticed. I love a plain reminder that humans – ambitious, friendly, hardworking, innovative, creative, stand-in-the-cold-hoping-for-a-good-day humans – are part of our world wherever we go.


This Hen’s Got Pluck!

I had trouble with a chicken.  You may recall. Goldyneck was a bully, always harassing the little silkies – chasing them, snatching at their back feathers with her beak, intensely and recurrently bothering them. This is the one I’m talking about. She’s pretty, you have to admit. Who would guess she has such a mean streak in her?

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I can’t have a bully.

She’s big, but not as big as the bigger girls in the other coop, so I banished her. I put in her with them for a while. They sneered at her. Snubbed her. Ostracized her. You wanna see something funny – watch a big hen puff her chest out in the direction of a smaller (clearly inferior) coop-mate with a gesture that has who-do-you-think-you-are? written all over it.

She hid under the coop trying to steer clear of them. She was clearly at the bottom of the status heap. See her in the upper left-hand corner? She won’t be able to get near that feeder until the rest have had their fill.

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I felt sorry for her and put her back with the silkies, hoping she had learned her lesson perhaps? But chickens don’t learn. Their brains are very small. In no time she started the bullying again. I seemed to have a no-win situation on my hands. Maybe someone could just take her away?

Solutions are often not that easy. No one volunteered.  No one came. I was stuck with her. But the bullying annoyed me. I saw it every day. First thing in the morning she started in with the chasing, snatching, bothering. In one decisive moment a couple months ago, I put her back with the big girls, come what may.

The square footage of their run is more than twice the recommended (generous) amount. The others eventually wander away from the feeder. Bugs are to be found here and there. I throw leftovers in randomly, plenty for all. I knew she wouldn’t starve. But she sure was getting a lesson in pecking order. They still made her sleep separately.

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What’s a girl to do?

Before I tell you what she did, we must be clear that this is a female chicken. She has no external evidence of being anything else, and I am not going to look further.

If you are not familiar with chickens, let me review the basics.

Status Pecking order is a real thing. We get the very term from chickens. They are good at it, unabashedly cold-shouldering the weaker, smaller, lesser among their flock. I have even seen murder, no kidding. In one fell swoop, Goldyneck went from the top of the order to the bottom. I do not fear for her safety, but it’s her lot. She asked for it.

Eggs Hens lay eggs. Roosters don’t. Roosters fertilize eggs. If you have a rooster in the mix, you will get chicks eventually. If you don’t have a rooster in the mix, you still get eggs.

Noise Hens cackle. Their noises make it seem like they have something caught in their throats. Cackling has its charm, in the evoking-sympathy, is-that-really-the-best-they-can-do sort of way. Roosters crow. They don’t just crow in the morning, the way storybooks present it. They crow all the day long! I find crowing annoying.

Roles Hens are good for eggs, wonderful eggs, and entertainment (they are very funny looking). Roosters are good for lawn ornaments (some people think the chicken picture is not complete without a strutting cock), protection (some predators, not all, might think twice if there is a big rooster defending the ladies in non-protected, open territory), dinner (some people eat them) and fertilization (if you want chicks down the road). I want/need nothing that roosters offer, so I have only hens.

What Do Hens Do All Day? Mine scratch around in the hay and the dirt, looking for anything edible. They eat pretty much anything. They dust themselves in the dry sand under their shelters. They sit to rest and lay their eggs. They get wet in the rain and look ridiculous.

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It’s not a rough life around here: Frequent kitchen scraps. No predators to worry about; (very secure enclosures). No bravado males running around after them always trying to jump on them to get, you know, theirs.

Back to Goldyneck. She seems to have come to terms with her now-permanent location among the big girls as well as her low status. She finds her food and finds a place to lay her eggs.

But this hen, this would-be dominatrix, this bully-taken-down-a-notch, does not cackle. This hen decided to sing!! By singing, I mean crowing. I mean I have a hen that crows! This hen’s got pluck!

She starts in about 530 a.m, before the sun comes up. At first I thought I was hearing my neighbor’s roosters. It’s wintertime and the leaves are down and I reasoned that the sound had to be traveling from Tracy’s coop to my ears. But I was wrong. Early one morning the noise seemed too close so I went out there to investigate. I watched her myself. Thankfully she does her crowing strictly in the early morning, for a few minutes only, and not at all during the day.

She’s some kind of chicken.

You won’t let me chase the silkies, she says. You won’t let me show them how much better I am. You put me in here with these big girls who make me eat last and sleep alone.

Fine. I’ll show you. I’ll call attention to myself another way. I’m cleverer than any of them. I’ll do a thing that you can’t take away from me. I’m special in my own way. And it won’t hurt anyone.

You gotta hand it to her! Hens don’t crow when there is a rooster around, but apparently, rarely, they do crow among just their sisters. Goldyneck had something to prove, and by golly she’s proving it on a daily basis!

Let us all sing in our own way, especially when we can’t do the thing we really want to do 😊

Raining Hearts

Somehow holidays creep up on me. Naturally, today, Valentine’s Day comes to mind – is it tomorrow already? I see images of hearts everywhere, an eternal expression of love, as well as other suggestions such as small gifts that often hold to the red and white (maybe some pink) theme, maybe roses or carnations and yummy sweets.

What do you do with that? How far do you take it? How much do you buy into the expectations that umpteen ads and displays impose on you? Especially if the people you love are far away…

One lovely little paperback my children had put things in perspective for me – it was called Four Valentines in a Rainstorm.* On the surface it’s about Valentine’s Day, yes, but see what you think. Maybe there’s more to it…

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A little girl named Cornelia Augusta “caught some” and proceeded to use them in clever ways to make Valentines for her friends. She used little ones to make a heart necklace, an “especially handsome” one with a very white and very soft cotton ball to make another, a whole lot that were “so small” she had to paste them on one paper and paint around them, and one she cut holes in to look like Swiss cheese!

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“…and the next, and all the years after that, Cornelia Augusta found other ways to make Valentines.”

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Such simple lessons!

1. Oh, look! It’s raining hearts. Maybe I can do something with that. She saw an opportunity. Instead of analyzing the meteorological quirkiness of it or looking with disgust at the mess it made on the ground, she saw the hearts as a means to make others happy.

2. Hmmm, with a little string and glue and paint and a cotton ball… She didn’t go out and purchase a pre-made anything. She didn’t take a class to learn tole painting or paper quilling. She used simple materials that she had at hand.

3. How about a sweet necklace (kind of like a collar) for Puppy, swiss cheese for Mousie, a heart with a fluffy tail for Bunny with the fluffy tail and watercolors for Mr. Turtle? No one-size-fits-all for Cornelia Augusta. She matched the gift to the one she gave it to.

4. No big deal. She did the thing she could do – she gave from her heart – and skipped along on her merry way. She didn’t peek in her own mailbox longingly, waiting for reciprocation. The giving was the important thing.

The fact is, it doesn’t rain hearts every day. The ways we have to show we care, to show we love, present themselves randomly and strangely. Opportunities don’t necessarily fall on the designated days. People are different, with different likes, schedules, sensitivities. Let your heart (not the media) be your guide as to timing and substance.

Just pay attention. See what comes your way. Do what you can with it. Don’t worry if it doesn’t fit the mold as long as it fits the person. Know that in the end your kindness brings great reward — even if it’s a far different reward than you ever would have imagined.


*Felicia Bond’s book was published in hardcover by Thomas Y. Cromwell, New York, and then again in 1990 as a Harper Trophy edition. It seems to have been renamed The Day It Rained Hearts.

Cut Marks

When I was a kid, we had pizza every Sunday night. Tradition on Sunday was: Eggs for breakfast, then a mid-day dinner invariably including macaroni with red (tomato) meat sauce, often with Italian sausage or meatballs or eggplant parmigiana and a tossed salad on the side. This was a more formal meal than during the week, thus Sunday night being Mom’s night off from having to cook.

If we got a couple of pies at the local pizzeria, my dad asked for them uncut. He would slide them out of the box and into our preheated oven, straight onto the rack. In this way he attained optimal crispness (to his own point of perfection), a thin, crispy crust being a requirement. Plus, he always wanted his food hot (not warm, hot). If we didn’t order out, he would make pizza from scratch with purchased frozen bread dough that we let thaw and he then rolled out himself. And even though we only ever had cheese on pizza – freshly grated of course, and heaven forbid we spoil it with pepperoni or any veggies – it was of course delicious.

Maybe I learned to love pizza then, maybe I would love it anyway. No matter, it’s an all-time favorite for sure. I’ve made it more times than I can count. When my kids were growing up, I often made it for lunch, once a week at least I’d say. All three of my pans look like this, confirming way more than a few uses.

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While my friend Fred was here last week, we made pizza one night because he wanted to practice making the dough himself. When I pulled the pans from their storage place alongside the cutting boards, I offhandedly called attention to the many, many cut marks as evidence of the many, many pizzas having been made on them over time.

You know how it is with offhand remarks. You forget you even said anything. I never gave it a second thought.

When he returned home to Kentucky, he wanted to make pizza. He made the dough himself and was super pleased with how it came out. Bravo, Fred!

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Our little pizza lesson paid off, I thought, and now he can make his own whenever he wants, and perfect his dough and play with toppings (using my recently developed pizza pile method of course!). Good for Fred! Good for his family!

Then he sent me a photo of his two slices on a plate, and later a photo of his cat licking the drippings off it. Clearly this is a man who enjoyed his pizza!

Hours later I got this photo.

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Yes, that’s a pizza pan. When I saw the holes I thought he was going to tell me about whether the crust was crispy or not on account of those holes, or maybe how they affected the slide-off onto the oven rack. I was not expecting thoughts on the cut marks. He said:

My first cut marks.
I didn’t have a pizza baking pan so I bought this one today. After using it and cleaning it my first thought was that I shouldn’t cut pizza on it as it leaves cut marks. Then I thought of how you proudly reminisce of the cut marks on your pans. Sometimes we leave marks where we have been, better than shiny things with no history or attachment. 

Amen. Leaving marks where we have been is a thing to ponder. Cut marks are perhaps not the best analogy, but if you can get past the sharp-object implications and onto the idea that the blade connected with the pan in such a way as to leave a permanent reminder of that connection, then maybe we are onto something.

First of all, yes, better to connect and be left with a mark than to stand alone – perhaps even shiny! – but still lonely, untouched. So what if we look perfect or have a perfect job or eat a perfect diet but have no meaningful relationships. The marks we gain through valuable personal interactions, through caring for someone besides ourselves, make us only more attractive – especially and most importantly to eyes that can see beyond the surface.

But, pizza-pan-cut-marks analogy aside, the marks that matter are often not visible.

I’m thinking about the people I know and the marks they have left on me, more than I can possibly list, but for starters: those who don’t just wait for me to finish speaking so they can say their bit, but instead really listen (how many people really listen?), those who brought (and continually bring) laughter into my world, those who taught me to get outside of my own little box and consider the needs around me, who encouraged me to think a little more (and not just swallow the party line), to slow down and look at the stars on a clear night or listen to the soft rain pattering, to find something nice to say to someone because maybe it’s the only nice thing that person hears all day.

I am the grateful student of those who taught these things, encouraged these things, modeled these things and much more. Their shining examples, their admirable character, left permanent impressions on me. I want to be like them when I grow up. They have countered and helped push away the prevalent me-first stand of so many others who also tried to leave marks.

They say you become like the company you keep. We keep company in lots of ways these days – not only in person but also through our computers and phones. Perhaps we should be more mindful of the marks we subject ourselves to and concentrate our people-time with those who are likely to leave good marks. Likewise, what about the marks we ourselves leave – now there’s a sobering thought…

Man and Dog

One moment in the scene I witnessed yesterday was like a puzzle with 1000+ pieces, a puzzle made from a photo of a man and a dog. Imagine you finally found a significant piece you’ve been looking for, the one with the man’s eyes. But the eyes look different than you had expected. Most eyes look up at a camera. Not these. That’s because at the moment the camera shutter clicked, the man didn’t care a hoot about the photo. He cared about the dog he was about to take home. His eyes – eyes that can’t possibly give full account of the love in his heart – are looking at the dog.

Joe and Max.jpg

Going from unloved to loved is a remarkable journey that does not have to take a long time. I saw it happen yesterday to this beautiful black Labrador retriever in about an hour. We arrived at the shelter and waited for Max to be brought to us. Joe reached toward him with a hand. Max wagged his tail and moved toward Joe, welcoming his touch. We walked down to the lake, then to the play area. Max ran after the ball Joe threw to him, frolicked with it, frolicked some more, brought it back. Joe said, “That’s the icing on the cake.” Paperwork happened. Man and dog now each have someone to care for, someone to love.

Nothing really happens in an hour though, does it?

Just like that puzzle, lots of individual pieces came together to make this scene, pieces that have evolved over time, pieces that even last week didn’t seem to go together with any other piece.

Wendy walks her own two dogs in her neighborhood and had been watching Max for years. He had not been abused per se, but was left outdoors year-round and certainly wasn’t loved. When a medical issue arose and his owners were unwilling to follow through, they agreed to release him to Wendy.

She knew she couldn’t keep him herself, even though Max was a littermate of one of her own dogs. She brought him to the local shelter hoping to buy a little time and get him some medical attention – with strict instructions that they not to do the thing they do at this shelter when they have too many dogs or deem them beyond hope of finding a family. You know what I mean. Right about then, she and I spoke. Did I know anyone who might be willing to take Max?

Joe came to mind. He had had a black lab some years ago; the situation had turned sad, leaving him without a dog. A few weeks back he mentioned to me that enough time had passed, and he was ready again. I contacted him to see if he might consider Max. Joe didn’t need a lot of words to answer that question. Yes, he said.

My attempts to connect Wendy and Joe misfired a few times, so it took a week or so for them to finally talk about Max’s condition, background, etc., none of which deterred Joe in the least. He was clearly excited on Friday night as we made plans to meet at the shelter on Saturday to meet Max. I asked him if he had a dog bed, leash, collar, etc. He answered, “I have only lots of room in my heart, my house and my yard.”

That seemed like enough to me. I got a big bag of dog food, a leash and a collar. Wendy got the crate, two dog beds and his food and water bowls. On Saturday morning at breakfast, I told Mom and Jerry what was happening and Jerry said, “Could he use an electric fence?” I wasn’t absolutely sure, but there was a good chance. Jerry packed it up and I brought it along.

We met Joe at the shelter. He and Max became fast friends, and we all took a little walk to get to know Max a bit. Wendy explained more about Max’s previous situation and observed that the medical condition was already improving. Good diet combined with enough activity and enough love (which would all be part of Max’s new life) can clear up all manner of issues – we all knew that, we all shared examples, and we all hoped that would be the case for Max. No doubt he would get whatever he needed. When I asked Joe about the electric fence, he said, “That would be awesome.” A breath later, he said, “There are just too many pieces falling into place for this not to be the right decision for me.”

Joe got the okay from the shelter and looked up at the camera.

Wendy Joe and dogs.jpg

Max has a ways to go. He needs to be housebroken, to adjust to a steady diet of good food and tender human attention. He’ll have to get used to car rides, to games of fetch, to a warm home, to being loved and cared for. His face needs to heal. All of this will happen, I have no doubt, just as it did for Mrs. Donovan, the town busybody, and Roy, a sadly neglected retriever, two of the most amazing characters in James Herriot’s Dog Stories.

Herriot’s commentary at the end of this story includes: “Mrs. Donovan’s dedicated care was rewarded with many years of loyal companionship and Roy, despite his bad start in life, lived well into his teens. The salvation of Roy and the wonderful transformation of his appearance and in his entire life is one of my warmest memories.”

When she encountered him around town, Mrs. Donovan used to always say, “Mr. Herriot, haven’t I made a difference to this dog!” It won’t be long before Joe will be able to say the same about Max. He probably won’t say it out loud to anyone, but he will know it in his heart.

What We Don’t See

Yesterday afternoon a fog took over. I had been too busy to notice when it started, but it just kept creeping closer and closer to the house. This view looks out toward the mountains.

view from porch.jpg

The air was palpably wet but not actually precipitating. Night was beginning to fall. Was much happening here? Many would say: Not a thing! Do you see mountains? Neither do I. Is this anything except a photo of the woods on a dreary winter day?

Looking at the cottage with fog in the forest behind it had a somewhat lesser sense of the world encased in a temporary, foggy hold where nothing is happening. The cottage itself gives at least a focal point, a bit of eye candy, as they say (for someone who is intrigued with home design anyway!).

cottage in fog.jpg

Most of the time when I look at a scene involving nature, I am astounded by the colors, the complexities, the design, the way the ever-evolving world appears at this very moment. The fog yesterday made me think of the ways that the world – the one we live in, function within and find ourselves every day immersed in – speaks to us visually.

It is the goal of media to get our attention. If you partially close your eyes while watching most any show (eyes closed enough so that you can’t see detail), you still see that the camera angle changing frequently and the images randomly alternating (just as frequently) in degrees of brightness. You are hardly allowed a few seconds to become adjusted to one scene before another pops onto the screen. This is not accidental. Look here! You know this is the most interesting thing happening right now! Nothing else (in the room in which you sit or anywhere else) is more important! Some new stimulation wants your momentary devotion.

In everyday scenes involving people, while we sit in traffic or navigate the challenges of the home or workplace, our senses are bombarded with the colors and styles of the clothes people wear and the vehicles they drive, the technical and mechanical gadgets that continually try to outdo the one that came before (even if before was yesterday), and the personal antics, showiness, bossiness, and buzz of humans wanting to be noticed, jockeying for status, dominance, and favor. Your eyes don’t get much rest.

Nature is a bit more subtle about it. A photo can look like a still life, but in real time even a tranquil scene of fog enveloping the woods will soon include a scampering squirrel, a flitting bird, a falling leaf. The photo may look static, but there is activity aplenty within the scene.

All of which is to say that we get so caught up with what’s in front of our eyes, we miss what’s not.

What, besides the presently invisible mountains, am I not seeing in these photos? What fox is lurking? What birds are looking for nesting material? What branch needs only a strong wind to snap it from the trunk? Every fallen log is in some stage of decomposition. Animals of every kind are looking for food, protecting their homes, doing their best to stay hidden while they get their own needed rest.

When the scenes around us include people, we routinely don’t see so much. To name a few, we don’t see the effort some people are making just to appear “normal,” the misdeeds others are desperately covering up, the heartache of recent news, the fears that accompany decisions, the competitive spirit masquerading as teamwork, the fatigue that’s making it hard to focus, or the careful maneuvering of circumstances (benevolent or malign) to accommodate a singular need.

We are so busy, so occupied, so full up (!) seeing what we see that we forget there are invisible pieces to this puzzle, pieces kept invisible on purpose or not, pieces just as pertinent to the big picture but much harder to detect. And because they are competing with the bombardment of what we do see, because they remain invisible, they are often not considered. What we don’t see can be more important than what we do see. It may never actually surface but might often more directly affect the outcome.

I don’t suggest we can ever have all the pieces that would construct a complete image. For all the bright colors and sharp images playing out in front of us, we still see dimly. Anyone trying to solve a crime, figure out why an engine won’t run or attempting to fix a broken relationship suspects or knows they are missing something vital. What we have at hand to work with, at any given time, is only marginally above scanty. We can never see it all. Even under the best of circumstances, it’s a stretch to think we are ever, truly, fully informed.

That’s okay. That’s as it is, as it must be, as it will always be. But don’t forget that there’s more to the picture than what you see. And don’t think that everything you don’t see is bad. For every person who’s conniving, another is making a grand effort to be positive. For every snide look, there is one (let us hope more) of tenderness. For everyone who’s posturing for kudos, another is quietly and lovingly serving a fellow human.

You know who you are – doing good every day in your own way, wondering if it will amount to anything, hoping the situation will turn around, wanting so much for this person you care so much about to heal, to accept, to grow. You may think that what you are doing is invisible, and maybe it is to the world at large, but goodness makes its mark just the same, never doubt it. Kindness, caring and good cheer are never for naught.

Today I want you to know that I know you are there, doing your seemingly invisible good. You, bringing a quiche to a friend whose father just died. You, going to hospice house to sit with a lonely someone for a few moments. You, visiting one you love who doesn’t know your name any more. You, warmly welcoming others on a regular basis. You, sweeping up so someone else doesn’t have to. You, including someone who is often excluded.

Bless you, and all like you, who make the world a better place.

Three Wintertime Lessons from My Garden

I don’t always get around to things right away. I don’t qualify as a professional procrastinator – you all know people like that, the kind who can say: I used to just crastinate, then I turned pro. I’m not that bad. But I did not rake out the garden beds and paths last fall after the leaves finished falling. I didn’t break off the dead branches of the gigantic, once-glorious-now-sadly-bygone mum. See what a mess?


Here in early February, all that old, dead stuff was still there. Even when a strong wind might send the leaves in an upward spin, the barriers of the 8-foot-high deer fencing that surrounds the entire garden ensured that they would still require labor to move them out of there at some point.

It was time.

Sunday was a decently warm day, mid 40s. Having just returned from sub-zero Vermont made it feel downright balmy. I could have used the leaf blower but it was early in the day and I didn’t want to disturb my cottage guests; besides, I have trouble starting it on my own. So I raked. And raked. And raked. My garden is about 400 square yards (334 sq. m.). The entire space was not covered with leaves, but some was. It took a few hours to make it respectable.

east side (2).jpg

Not bad, eh? When the afternoon sun pierced the trees along the back and came streaming in like this,

back with shafts.jpg

I marveled at the beauty and thought about three wintertime garden lessons.

1. Rest is vital. The garden needs to rests in winter. It did the active, hard work throughout the spring and summer, bore its fruits, then slowed down and closed up shop for a while. It’s not dead – though I know it looks that way! – it’s just resting. Once I broke the branches off that mum, I saw little bits of green …

new mums.jpg

The pachysandra that Louisa gave me last summer can hardly wait for spring.


It’s as excited to send forth new green as the mum is, as the garlic is.


We ourselves close up shop when we sleep at night, or when we step off the hamster wheel we have been running on long enough to regain some strength and perspective. Being inactive for a while is vital to the activity that comes before and after.

Seems to me that people fall often into two camps: those who can’t get moving unless some outside force forces them (otherwise known as a kick in the pants), and those who can’t stop moving until some inside force forces them, i.e. until they practically drop. Life does not always allow it, but as much as possible, somewhere between these two extremes is a better place to be (though how much we know and how seldom we apply!!). Imagine if we could organize our lives and make decisions about everyday activities such that we can get the right amounts of both rest and activity, motivated by our own determination coupled with reasonable expectations.

2. How good it is to clean things up! How good to finally clean up those leaves that were cluttering up the garden path, looking like Hey, who’s the slouch that didn’t finish the job in here? This doesn’t mean we go crazy raking in November if November is full of other things (the leaves will still be there in February!). It does mean we recognize a needed task/change and make sure we get to it in due time.

How this primes us for the Better Next Thing! A fellow blogger (thank you, Sarah) reminded me this week of the need to take stock of the things that creep in and clutter up our lives, get in the way of our goals, serve only to eat up time. At some point we need to take steps to put the house in order, so to speak, or at least give good thought to whatever it is we want to have, do and aim for, and then eliminate, greatly reduce or find an alternative way to manage whatever stands in the way.

Mind you, I did not rake away every last leaf, even in February. Not only am I determined not to veer into OCD territory, I also know that decomposing leaves put nutrients back into the soil. See my herb garden? This is not the work of an obsessive woman. A little of the old often assists the new.


3. Getting rid of the Not-As-Important makes way the More-Important. Like raking the leaves out of the garden so that new, unobstructed growth can happen in the spring, taking time to figure out the balance in our lives – the place of “enough” work/rest/play – gets us to where new, unobstructed growth can happen in our lives. Along with Sarah, we can all hope for the magical day when the stars align and we are doing enough but not too much of any given thing. Zu viel nimmt weg von genug, as they say in German: Too much takes away from enough.

We need activity, but too much activity detracts from our doing the right amount for our current physical and situational constraints, which in turn may make us either tired or frustrated or sick.

We need food, but too much food sends us over the edge, past the that’s-quite-enough mark, into feeling uncomfortably stuffed, which (if you do it too often) leads to all manner of problems.

We need friends, but too much social time stretches us too thin, which gets in the way of other, equally important things like work, rest and alone-time.

As with every other aspect of our lives though, it takes more than hope to be in a good, balanced, healthy place – whether that place is emotional, physical, professional, or relational. It takes common sense, good decision making (on a fairly continual basis), frequent reassessment and a reasonably strong will, i.e. the need to say no when the less desirable thing rears its head and wants to dominate our time, energy and attention or pull us away from the direction we intended to go. That’s all 😊.

The ebb and flow, up and down, pull-back-push-forward motions of our lives are not carved in stone of course, but rather always in sometimes-maddening flux. But again that is where life is like a garden – we are always in one part of the cycle or another, even if, for the moment, it looks like nothing at all is happening.

It won’t be long before I’ll be showing you this area along the fence full of fresh leaves and abundant strawberries. It looks brown and desolate now, I know, but a good future is within that dead-looking stuff!