The Edge (part 1)

In the opening pages of To Kill a Mockingbird (one of my favorite books), narrator Scout spends a few pages exploring the question of when her story truly starts, concluding that perhaps it goes all the way back to the arrival of her ancestors in Maycomb county. Consider this fair warning:  This post might be a little bit like the first few pages of that book (wandering and hard-to-follow and leaving you wondering what the point of all those words was).

It might seem as if the start of today’s story was a day this past spring when I was making dinner and heard a loud thunk from the room adjoining the kitchen and our two wiener cats dogs came barreling into the kitchen in a barking flurry, but I don’t think that’s the true start.


I think it really began in the first days we owned this home, when we removed baseboard trim in our dining area to install new cork floors, and we discovered this evidence of previous home “improvement.”


It was clear to us that the opening between our dining room and kitchen was once larger, and the wall to the left of this seam wasn’t original to the house.

Another thing not original to the house was every one of the six wallpapers we hated that came with it. I started to tear at the paper that first day, but Cane stopped me.

“Uh, this wall looks all kind of janky,” he said. “I don’t think we want to rip that paper off. It’s probably hiding a bad wall fix that we’ll need to really fix, which will be a big job. Best leave it alone.”

And so we ignored it, because there was all kinds of other janky going on in this house that was of higher priority.

My son did not dig the hearts-and-stars border all around his bedroom wall.

My son did not dig the hearts-and-stars border all around his bedroom wall.

Not too far into our first year of home ownership, we began repainting the walls in our living/dining room area. (We don’t actually use it as a dining room. We just have a really big L-shaped living room instead.) We decided to paint just one wall at a time, and after more than year we’d gotten to all of them except for the wall of green stripes, the janky wall.

I hate to use the word “hate” in conjunction with our home, but I really really really really really did not like that wallpaper. And we really really really did not want to open a can of worms by tearing the paper off.

“Why don’t we just paint over it?” Cane suggested.

Um, because that would make us the people the next owners of this house would curse and make fun of to their friends? Because I didn’t want to be that guy who takes shortcuts for an immediate, easy win that’s a big lose for someone down the road? Because everyone knows that removing wallpaper is a bad enough job, but removing wallpaper that’s been painted over is a task reserved for one of Dante’s circles in hell? (Or it should be.)

But I looked into it, and what I learned was that sometimes, even Bob Vila says it’s OK to paint over wallpaper.

“Are you SURE we’re never going to want to remove this paper?” I asked Cane. Because every source I consulted said that if you’re going to paint wallpaper, be sure you’re never going to want to remove it. It’s supposed to be much, much harder than removing wallpaper that hasn’t been painted, and thanks to those six wallpapers we really really really really did not like, I’d come to know that removing wallpaper was something I disliked almost as much as the wallpaper itself.

He assured me we were sure, so I reluctantly undertook the project. I’ll skip all the details of the project (mostly because I don’t want to relive them), but it was a hard, messy job (oil-based primer, anyone?) that looked, well, kinda janky when it was all done.

painting wallpaper

We got the great idea to cover the seams with joint compound, which we sanded smooth before painting that oil-based primer.

joint compound

Despite the primer and the joint compound, the seams still showed through. So we just slapped another layer on. Janky is as janky does. We finally gave up and just painted it.

“Ah, put the furniture back and slap some art on the walls,” Cane said. “It’ll be fine.”

“I guess it’s still better than the green stripes,” I said.

The Cowboy covered a multitude of wall sins.

The Cowboy covered a multitude of wall sins.

Life went on, and we moved on to bigger and better home improvements.

You wanna talk janky--look at the wall we had after removing our bathroom vanity!

You wanna talk janky–look at the wall we had after removing our bathroom vanity!

Last summer, though, we decided that we didn’t really like the color we’d painted the walls in this room (in what felt like about 5 minutes after we’d finished painting the last wall).

“Oh, man. Are we going to paint another coat of paint on that paper?” I asked. That seemed more kinds of wrong, and I just didn’t want to go there.

Luckily, I didn’t have to answer my question, which allowed it to remain rhetorical, because we’d also decided that we were going to replace all the trim around the windows as we repainted each wall. This made the painting of the walls happen very slowly. We got the two main walls of the living room done last summer/fall, and then we stalled out. Because school, kids, life.

When we moved in, the trim on all the windows had been painted white. Then we painted them brown. Then we replaced the trim with stained wood. We rarely get things right on the first try.

When we moved in, the trim on all the windows had been painted white. Then we painted them brown. Then we replaced the trim with stained wood. We rarely get things right on the first try.

That’s where things stood until the evening of the loud thunk and the flurry of barking wieners.

When I heard the noise, I thought for-sure that somehow, a bird somehow didn’t see the perpetual haze of the glass in our sliding glass doors and flew into it. That’s the only thing I’ve ever known to make a sound like the one I’d heard. I rushed into the room to see this:


This isn’t actually what I saw when I first rushed in. I didn’t have the presence of mind to grab a picture until this event was well underway.

I scanned the deck for a bird body. No bird. Dogs still in the kitchen, barking their little fool heads off.

Did someone throw something at the window? I wondered. Hey, maybe I shouldn’t be standing right in front of it?!?

I scurried into the kitchen with the dogs, wondering what the hell was happening. I didn’t hear any more thunks, but what I did hear was more disturbing: A chorus of tinkly notes as the window proceeded to crack. And crack and crack.

Um, the sliding glass door is breaking” I texted Cane.


No response.

I then did what all of us now do when confronted with that which we don’t understand. I Googled “sliding glass doors spontaneously shatter” and learned that, indeed, I was not the first person to experience such an event.

Sometimes, tempered glass doors do just break, for reasons you can read about here. (Which might mean, if you really think about it, that this story started in 1978, when this particular door was installed.)

Who knows why our door shattered? All that really matters is that it did, spectacularly, leaving us with a mess of glass pebbles and a door with only one pane of glass.


I’m guessing that right about now, you might be wondering what this door has to do with our janky wall and edges and breakthroughs (the original premise/promise of this story). If so, this might be a good time to note that another of my favorite books is If You Give  a Mouse a Cookie, because every home improvement story I’ve ever lived is basically a different version of that one.


You might also be wondering how long this story is going to be, because this post just went over the 1,000 word mark–which is why I’m going to make it a 2-parter.

Rest assured, I will get back here to tie these ends together and wrap the story up in a bow–right after I share our amazing adventure at the Clackamas county fair.



Real Life

OK, “Edge” it is…but not quite yet today!

Because today, this guy and I have to go to the Clackamas County Fair!

cane asleep on couch

OK, so I know he doesn’t look super fair-ready in this shot. But believe me, he’s super-excited!

I mean, how could we miss such events as Pigeon Rolling, Rabbit Agility, and Chicken Races? (Well, we will miss some of those, because it’s already 10:00 and I’m sitting here typing this post. But we should be there in time for Chicken Races!)

So, the Edge story will come soon. And for those of you who wanted “Yellow,” it’s basically the same story. Or at least I’m going to roll them into one.

In the meantime, here’s this week’s August Break entries. As with previous posts on this topic, didn’t exactly follow the rules/timeline and how only a few entries.

First one up is not my photo. I couldn’t capture what wildfire smoke did to our air yesterday, but it was bad.

Smoke from wildfires made our air smoky and hazy yesterday. Continues today. So much loss.

FIRE: Smoky haze continues today. So much loss.

This one's a sneak peak at that Edge story...

REAL LIFE:  This one’s a sneak peak at that Edge story…

LOOK UP: I also like to look close.

LOOK UP: I also like to look close.

READING: I have been reading about fashion for women over 40. Which I keep on a secret Pinterest board because I'm embarrassed to admit that I care. And that I no longer know how to dress.

READ: I have been reading about fashion for women over 40. Which I keep on a secret Pinterest board because I’m embarrassed to admit that I care. And that I no longer know how to dress. More to come on this topic. Clothing is going to be my newest political axe to grind.

TWO and SWEET DELIGHTS: What could be a sweeter delight than a summer afternoon nap for two?

TWO and SWEET DELIGHTS: What could be a sweeter delight than a summer afternoon nap for two?

And…I’m off to see some chickens! And eat pie! Can’t wait to see the entries in the table setting competition…

“Break” has more than one meaning

So, about that August Break project…

Typically, when I think of “break” in the context of summer, it is the enjoyable kind of break–a break in routine that allows us to rest, restore, rejuvenate.

My second week in Susannah Conway’s August break project reminded me of the other meaning of break:  Things coming apart. This week was more about that kind of break than the first one, which has everything to do with why I only have photos for 4 days.

Here they are:

august break earth

august break edge

august break yellow

august break talisman

Of course, sometimes breaks are necessary to get to a better place:  There could be no break-throughs without the coming apart of something–an idea, a belief, a viewpoint, a stance.

There is, in each of these images, a story of breaking through. If I told them all, this post would be far too long. So, let’s make this blog a bit of a choose your own adventure affair:

Please tell me, dear readers, which story you’d like to read by leaving me a quick note in the comments. At the end of the week, I’ll write a post about the image that got the most votes.


August break progress report

For once I’m actually following through on a project I announced on a blog! I’ve been doing the August Break project for a whole week now!

This wasn't part of the project, but it was part of the week--a birthday card I made for Cane.

This wasn’t part of the project, but it was part of the week–a birthday card I made for Cane.

I have also been breaking breaking all the rules (even though the project has no rules). I have not experimented with taking photos in new ways, I’ve not stretched my technical skills (these are my self-selected hopes/rules) and I’m not following the topics as assigned. Because I’m a slow thinker sometimes and I need more than one day to ponder the topic. Or because my life doesn’t conform to a list of topics very well. Or because the beginning of the week was hard and I didn’t feel like taking any photos.

Oh well! As the instructors at my gym often say, “The important thing is to just keep moving!”

Here’s what I got for week 1:

Day 2:  Air (You can see Day 1 here.)


Cane and I went to our favorite summer outdoor spot for a fun drink and gorgeous gardens and free music. It’s pretty glorious to be out in the air at dusk, warm with no jackets.

Day 3:  Skin


Lemon for lemon chicken. I lost the lemon chicken recipe my kids love. It was in my gluten-free cookbook, which I purged a few months ago. (Thanks a lot, Marie Kondo.) The book didn’t give me pleasure, but that recipe sure did. Tried to find something else similar, but struck out. 🙁 Made something new with lemon instead.

Day 4: Numbers


I supposed I could count the number of pieces of scrap fabric I’ve hoarded, but there are far too many of them. They are out on my counter because I have some ideas about making a quilt out of them. I will try to write about this separately. I have finally started some creative projects again, and I’ve been kind of on fire with them this week. Not sure if that’s because of this photography project. Don’t need to know why, just happy to be happy making things again.

Day 5:  Citrus

Oops. Have not been reading ahead on the topics. Didn’t feel like finding another citrus. No photo today.

Day 6: Notebook



I want to make things. I want to make Christmas gifts. I love the idea of these fabric-covered notebooks, and I think I’ve established that I have a bit of a fabric-hoarding problem. (See Day 4.) But does anyone really want/need a fabric-covered notebook?

I wonder this because I don’t know that I’ve ever really used a pretty notebook given to me. I need to ponder this one some more. I am aware, however, that composition notebooks are currently on sale everywhere and are frequently the loss-leader of back-to-school supply sales.

Day 7:  5 Facts about Me

things collage

Well, I got 4:

1. I love to plan and design projects. These are sketches for a shelving system that Cane and I are making.

2. I love old things and estate sales in older homes–not so much because I want to buy anything, but more because I love to see the home and the items in it. This one was a gem. The kitchen hadn’t been touched–original cabinetry and appliances from the 50s.

3. I love flowers and I’m a lazy gardener. These came from our garden. The purple blooms are on the mint I did not  harvest before they flowered.

4. This is the person I most love doing all these things with, and this is what he looked like on his birthday. I think 48 looks pretty darn good on him!

Day 8:  Smooth

I got nuthin’. That’s OK. Having photos to take and think about is making me appreciate these days more. I am feeling that we truly are not in July any more. I miss it and wish we were still there, but there’s good things right now, too. It’s easier to see them when I’m actively looking.

Are any of you participating? Would love to know how August is going for you…

In praise of the hobbyist


Last week I wrote a long brain-dump on the notion of following our passion and making creative passion the center of our livelihoods. While I was working on it, this came across my Facebook feed:

If you don’t want to watch the whole thing, at least go to just after the 3:30 mark, just so you can hear his voice and see his face. If you want to know what the expression of creative passion looks like, this is it.

What this video helped me see is what a lesser place this world would be if only those who made  creative passion the center of their life’s work were the practitioners of it.

According to the BBC, this priest, Father Ray Kelly of Oldcastle, County Meath, Ireland, is a trained singer with 3 albums to his name, but singing is (obviously) not his primary calling. He sings “to make a few bob for local charities.” He says, “I enjoy singing but I wouldn’t want to do it full-time–I love what I’m doing as a priest. The way I look at it is, it’s a gift one has, and if you have a gift you use it.”

Ever since seeing him, I have been acutely aware of all the gifts being used in large and small ways around me every day. This weekend Cane and I went to small, free music performance at a local eatery. There were about 15 of us there, lining a small hallway

The singers had great voices, great stage presence. I closed my eyes to listen, and I could hear no significant difference between their voices and the ones I might hear coming through Pandora.

“Talent is a key ingredient, for sure,” I said to Cane, “but really there’s so much more to becoming a star, that particular kind of big success. Because there are so many people who have the same kind of talent who never get rich or famous from it. It’s also luck, and connections, and resources, and a drive to achieve at that level, in that way. It requires a set of skills and qualities that have little to do with the creative talent.”

As we listened, I became so deeply grateful for all the “small” musicians who’ve entertained me throughout my life–the ones who play at bars and restaurants and weddings and parks. I’m not a concert-goer because I don’t like music in large venues with big crowds, and the price of tickets to such events are so often more than I’d like to spend. I like to take music in with other things–food, friends, scenery. Without musicians willing to play in small places for small audiences for little (or no) pay, I’d likely never hear live music, and that would be a loss.

local music

I have been wanting, since I started working on that other post, to see the new documentary about Amy Winehouse (sadly, every attempt to do so has met with misfortune). Though I haven’t yet seen it, she keeps coming to mind as I consider these questions about gifts and passion and what we do with them.

I keep wondering how her life–and the lives of so many others whose talents were so large when they were so young–might have been different if we broadened our ideas of what it means to live our passions, to use our gifts, to be “successful.”

At the end of the trailer, we hear her voice: “I’m not a girl trying to be a star. I’m just a girl who sings.” How might her story have ended differently if she hadn’t become a star, if she had remained “just a girl who sings,” if we honored and celebrated all the small kinds of creative work as much as we do the work that garners a huge audience and prestigious awards?

Early this summer Cane wrote a blog post of his own that elicited a strong reaction in his jiu jitsu community, “Confessions of a hobbyist black belt.” In it, he doesn’t just defend the hobbyist, he makes a case for the importance of the hobbyist:

What is often missing is the voice of the hobbyist. The student who has a full time job, maybe a family or other demands and chooses to not dedicate the bulk of their life to the art. This is where the vast majority of people who study Jiu Jitsu live. Either by choice, circumstance, or necessity we are part time grapplers. We enjoy the art as much as anyone and aspire to be the best grapplers that we can be but we are realistic that we don’t choose to train in a way that will make us the next world champion. This is the realm of the hobbyist.

It’s okay to be a hobbyist. There is no shame in it and it doesn’t make you any less of a Jiu Jitsu student. Everyone has their own role to play in the art. …We need people who are successful parents, professionals, educators, tradesmen, students, doctors etc. These people give the school a wonderful diversity and richness that it wouldn’t have if everyone was full time athlete. … Each has an important role to play in creating a rich tribe that nurtures everyone’s aspirations and respects everyone’s path through Jiu Jitsu.

I couldn’t agree more with him. Each of us who practices any kind of creative art has a role to play, and we all make a contribution to the lives of others when we do it. My challenge to you today is to notice all the small creative gifts that you encounter in the next 24 hours, things crafted by those who’ve earned no fame or fortune or even a small paycheck from their work, and to think of what your world would be like without our creative hobbyists.

clay pot

Both the pot and the plate are hand-made thrift store finds.

For me, I wouldn’t have the blankets on my sofa, the art on my walls, or the words in my blog reader. I wouldn’t have the table I’m sitting at to write these words, or the food I’ve eaten while gathering them. My world would be colder, bleaker, quieter, and I’d be hungry for so many things beyond food.

What would be missing from yours?


Antidote to the August blues

Time plays such funny tricks on our minds.

When Cane and I are released from the rigors of the school year each June, we have two weeks of suspended-time feeling. Although we know–we know–that summer will end, we just cannot feel it in June, and all things for summer feel possible. We will grow vegetables and cook real food and tend the garden and float the river and take walks and do all the house projects and we will do it indefinitely.


And go for scooter rides. We will take all the scooter rides, too.

For the most part, we do. We have time to do all of those things, for which we are  profoundly grateful. (Well, we don’t do all the projects. We will never do all the projects. But we do do projects.)

Nonetheless, when the calendar passes July 4, time changes a bit, and then when it turns to August, something turns in us. We become keenly aware of  the subtle signs that summer is slipping away–dusk falls earlier, we see the first dry leaves on the lawn, there is a different coolness in the early morning air. And in spite of all our gratitude, and even though we know–we know–we still have a month of summer left, we can find ourselves feeling just a little bit blue, and a lot less present. We can let our anticipation of summer’s end steal from us the time that remains.

All of which is why, yesterday morning, I was happy to learn* of Susannah Conway’s August Break.  It is one of those photo-a-day projects, which generally don’t do much for me, but I so love the intention of it:

Pause, look around you and shoot what you see. Live inside each moment. Pay attention to what’s there. If it’s the summer where you are it’s a lovely way to be present to the moments that will be gone before you know it.

Yes, please:  I want to be present for all of our August moments this year.

wading pool

This has been our go-to strategy for dealing with Portland’s completely unreasonable heat, and I’m sure we’ll have very similar August moments like this. Going to be in the 90s again today.

There are prompts for each day. The prompt for August 1:  Breakfast.

Because I am a born over-achiever (probably the main thing that keeps from from actually achieving much of what I’d like to), I took more than one photo:


banana bread batter

banana bread in pan

banana bread

And because I got hungry before the banana bread** finished baking, this is what I actually ate for breakfast:


I have an uneven  relationship with photography. Not so much because my skills are basic, but because of how it impacts my connection to the world. Sometimes, a camera brings me closer to experience. I pay attention to it in a different way. Sometimes, though, it separates me from it. Instead of being fully immersed, I am observing from the outside.

Hard to simultaneously look around and through the lens.

I am interested to see which way this project will go. I like the structure of an assignment. (Did I mention over-achiever?) I am hoping it will help me more fully see and appreciate and experience the sweet days that will slip away, as they must. I’ll let you know how it goes.

fire pit

* I learned of August Break from the lovely Jill Seeger Salahub. I think that many of you who read here would really enjoy her writing and her perspective on living. Every Monday she publishes Something Good, an extensive list of great reads from the interwebs. That alone is worth the price of admission (your time).

**I don’t know if I’ve ever had a Martha Stewart recipe go wrong. This banana bread lives up to its name (The Best Banana Bread).