Maybe you can go home again

This week I got to go to “the place we call “home” even if we have lived somewhere else for decades longer than we ever lived there.” My mom is turning 80 this week, and I met a cousin and a family friend at my parents’ place to celebrate her. I went up a day early to visit and stay the night with a college friend who has moved back to the Puget Sound region after years away; she’s now living just a short drive away from my parents.

On Thursday morning, while taking a bath in a clawfoot tub at the top of a house built in the 1800’s, with windows that look out to the water, wishing I could live the rest of my life in such a place, I read an essay by Kirsten Sundberg Lunstrum, “On Moving Home.” In it, she describes her experience of moving back to Seattle after living in New York, and of her homesickness–“a full-blown virus from which I could not recover”–that precipitated the move. (You can find that essay, along with other rich meditations on home, in This is the Place: Women Writing About Home, edited by Margot Kahn and Kelly McMasters.)

I know that particular kind of homesickness.

My parents no longer live in the south Seattle suburb where they raised me in a house at the edge of woods with paths we took to the beach; for more than 20 years they’ve been living on the Olympic peninsula, in a different house within walking distance of rocky beaches. Both places are home to me. Bellingham, a city just south of the Canadian border, is the third place I think of when I think of home. All my grandparents lived there, one set of them on a hill overlooking Bellingham Bay. When I long for home I am not longing for any of these particular places, but for the things that mark all three locations for me. I am longing for a place along Puget Sound where you can smell salt in the air, and when you look in the distance long stretches of firs seam water to sky. I am longing for the plaintive cries of gulls and a ferry horn’s guttural bellow.

Friday morning I took a ferry from the peninsula to Seattle, where my son has been living. It was the kind of morning that makes people from other places think this corner of the world would be an amazing place to live: mild temperatures, quaint towns, and so much watery blue.

As I walked across the ferry’s loading zone parking lot to get the view above, I felt so lucky to be native to this place, to have this be the kind of place I feel most at home. (But, just to be clear for anyone who is not from here: Part of the reason such days feel so wonderful is that they are not common. There are many, many days of grey drizzle in the cold part of the year, which, in my youth at least, could be nearly nine months long. But many of us who grew up here love those days, too.) My deep sense of familiarity and of knowing how to be here–so deep I am usually unaware that there are, in fact, things to know about how to be here–felt so comfortable and comforting after the discomfort of the summer.

I am reading a book of essays about home, and thinking and writing about this home, because I am still thinking and writing about our experiences in Louisiana this summer. Last week’s post feels like a beginning more than an ending. It’s a piece of writing that I know I am not done with.

This week I have also been reading Kelly McMasters’s The Leaving Season, a memoir in essays about marriage and divorce I am appreciating far more than the one that was all the rage a few months ago. (McMasters is one of the editors of the essay collection that contains Lunstrum’s essay; I’d like to tell you how I stumbled upon her work, but I can’t remember. It was sometime in the spring that I placed both books on hold at the library, and I am only just now getting them.) From McMasters’s essay “The Ghosts in the Hills” I recorded these words:

“When we enter into a place that is outside of our usual experience, it is our position as an outsider that often allows us to see things differently. It also magnifies those things about ourselves that remain constant, no matter what world we enter.”

I suppose many readers would take these words to mean that a position as an outsider in a place allows us to see things in that place differently from those who are insiders–which is often true, of course–but my experience as an outsider in Louisiana is allowing me to see the places of my usual experience differently than I had before, too. For all the beauty I see in western Washington, for all that I love it more deeply than I will ever love any other place, I can now see, in a different way, its flaws, too. And my own.

This month, I’m entering into my third year of retirement (sort of, mostly) from education. A fair number of people asked me, when I left, if I was going to do more writing or focus on writing. It was a thing I always thought I would like to be able to do. It was a thing some part of me thought I probably should do. But any time I thought about it, I felt nothing but ambivalence. There was nothing much I wanted to say, and no goals related to writing that I could feel myself caring much about. Given that, writing hasn’t been something I’ve given much time to. Other things felt more compelling.

Over the past few weeks, as I’ve been writing about renovation and Louisiana, I’ve been feeling a shift. I don’t have a goal in mind, and I don’t have something particular to say. Instead, I have questions I want to think about, and this week it occurred to me (in a duh! kind of way) that questions are always my best way in, the best reason for me to write.

I’m not feeling ambitious or dutiful or purposeful. I’m feeling curious. That, too, feels like going home.

The work of our hands

Rehabilitation: “the action of restoring something that has been damaged to its former condition.”

Apparently, there is a difference between a house that is a fixer-upper and one that needs rehab. In our Louisiana house, we have replaced the roof, the HVAC, the electrical panel, and the entire plumbing system. We took out a wall and completely gutted the bathroom before building a new one. We will touch every wall, ceiling, and floor before we are done.

Guess which kind of house ours is?

In the five weeks that Cane, his brothers, his mother, and I worked on the house this summer, the kitchen cabinets were my primary project. We decided to keep and paint them, rather than replace them, a decision I was not certain about.

If you didn’t look closely–as we didn’t when first looking at the house–the cabinets didn’t seem that bad. (See photo above.) But as Cane’s mother and I started prepping to paint, we found years of built-up grease and dirt inside them, on them, and around them. Under the refrigerator and dishwasher, we found mounds of mouse poop. Yes, mounds.

Here’s the interior of one drawer after cleaning, and another one before:

The cleaning alone took more than a week with both of us working all day long on nothing else.

How can someone have lived in a place like this? I kept wondering. I’ve long believed that our homes reflect how we live, and it was hard to imagine a good life being lived here.

We knew from our realtor that the previous occupant of the house was an Army Special Forces officer. Over the summer we learned from neighbors that he likely had hoarding and alcohol disorders.

“I went into the house once,” a man across the street said. “I never went back again. I did not want to be in there.”

We bought the house from his daughter; he was estranged from her for years because he would not accept her same-sex partner. She has long lived in another state. He lived alone and died after a prolonged illness. He was divorced. Thinking about the man who had lived in the deteriorating house, who graduated from high school the same year my dad did, who likely served in Vietnam and perhaps in other dubious and difficult campaigns, I felt an uncomfortable mix of compassion, anger, and sorrow. It was clear from the stories and the state of the house that he was a person both damaged and damaging.

As the kitchen project dragged on through days sweltering from climate change, a failing HVAC unit, and air ducts damaged by rodents, I began to feel mired in dysfunction. It was a feeling that often followed me out of the house and into the community, where I saw so many churches, so many flags, and so many people living hard lives marked by poverty and a different kind of racism than any I’d previously encountered. In the beginning, I entertained thoughts of somehow healing something by healing the house, but as the days passed that idea began to seem, at best, a naive conceit. (At worst, an ignorant and arrogant one.) Anger–about so many things–became my dominant emotion, and I found it harder and harder to feel compassion for the person who had lived within the house’s walls. I understood all the reasons I should, but what I felt more was a desire to eradicate, not heal. I wanted nothing of the person and circumstances that permeated the house to remain.

(But what would eradication mean? To remove all traces of him, we’d have to tear the whole thing down. And what would that mean?)

“If we were flipping this house, keeping these cabinets wouldn’t even be a question,” I said more than once in our first week. The labor costs of rehab would have made new cabinets the more economical choice, but we weren’t flipping the house, and, although my labor was not without cost, it was free.

“They aren’t even very functional,” I complained. The corners of the cabinets, accessible only by narrow doors, are full of space that can’t be reached. The fixed shelves in the uppers don’t allow for the storage of any tall items; a bottle of olive oil we bought didn’t fit upright in any of them.

“But these cabinets tell the story of the house,” Cane would counter. And he’s right; they do. The kitchen was expanded and renovated in the 1950’s when the house was moved from a neighboring town by the parents of the man who lived here. The primary bedroom was added then, too. “We’re preserving part of the house’s history. And besides, they’re in good structural shape and we can’t really afford all new ones,” Cane said. He was not wrong.

So, as I spent hours that turned into days scrubbing and sanding old plywood, I thought long and hard about how I like to talk about saving and mending things rather than throwing them out. I thought about all the times I’ve groaned watching HGTV shows in which designers take crowbars to vintage cabinets full of historical character. I thought about all the costs of our throw-away culture. At some point, I stopped thinking or talking about replacing the cabinets (I was too far in, and our money was going too fast on other things) and tried to embrace in them what seemed worth saving.

It took the better part of five weeks to clean, sand (before priming and then between each coat of primer and paint), prime (two coats, to keep stains from bleeding through the paint), and paint (3 coats) those cabinets. As I worked, I had to make decisions about how much rehabilitation to attempt. To restore the cabinets to their original condition would have taken more time than we had. I’d have had to go home with the cabinets unfinished, and I was damned if I was going to leave knowing that this project would be waiting for me upon my return next spring.

“It’s patina,” I began saying about the gouges I didn’t fill and the once-sharp edges rounded by layers of paint that remained rounded as I covered them with yet another layer. “Good enough is good enough,” I told myself.

I came to understand that, even if I had all the time in the world, true restoration might not have been possible. Some scars in the wood ran too deep. I began to wonder if anyone or anything can be truly rehabbed, returned to its former condition, or if they should be. The scars are part of the house’s history, and I can’t think of any situation in which scrubbing history clean is a good idea. I wondered what is lost and what is gained when we try to rehabilitate, and when we don’t. How often, I wondered, when we attempt rehabilitation, are we actually hoping to reach some state of being that is even better than an original one?

We were told more than once that the man who last lived in our house reconciled with his daughter before he died. It was a fact offered as some kind of redemption story, or as evidence that he was OK, at least in the end. It was offered as contrast to the physical evidence in the house of the kind of life he lived. “He reached out to her at the end,” more than one person said, as a way of excusing his actions toward his daughter. “You know, he was a conservative military guy,” they said, as a way of excusing him.

Sure, I thought as I threw out the bottle of Jägermeister and the religious medals we’d found in one of the cabinets, on a day when I was far more interested in eradication than repair, he reached out to his daughter when he was dying. When he needed her.

I don’t know if the thought was a fair one or a cruel one. Maybe it was both.

We finished the cabinets the day before I had to leave. They are now clean, inside and out, with fresh paint and shiny, new hardware. The drawers no longer stick, because I sanded the sides of them down and rubbed the slides with wax. Soap and paint will never solve the problem of the wasted space, and if you look closely at them, you can see all the things that some would call flaws and others would call patina, the evidence of their long history and humble beginnings. Some elements of the cabinets cannot be rehabbed away.

I want to tell you that I came to love them, and the house, and the place the house is in. I want to tell you that I now believe the rehabbed cabinets are better than anything we might have bought new. I want the cabinets to be a clean, easy metaphor about damage and restoration–of objects, of homes, of people, and of our country with its complicated and too-often brutal history. The honest truth, though, is that I’m not sure about them, and since nothing about rehabilitation is ever easy or clean, metaphors for it probably shouldn’t be, either.

I suppose the value of the rehabbed cabinets depends upon what you value.

The cabinets and the house stand in a region that has been home to Cane’s family since the 1700’s. Everything foreign to me there is deeply familiar to him, and he is as comfortable among the markers of rural south Louisiana as I am among northwest Washington’s old firs, big water, reticent people, liberal values, and cold salt air.

As I worked and lived through Louisiana’s long, hot summer, I came to realize that the place that is a certain kind of home for my husband–a place we call “home” even if we have lived somewhere else for decades longer than we ever lived there–is a complex one I will never fully know, understand, or belong in. It’s a place he and I will never be able to inhabit in the same way. I wondered over and over again if we’d made and were making the right choices–with the cabinets, with taking on a house that needed rehab, with making an investment in a part of the country that troubles and challenges me in so many ways, with our plan to live the end of our lives divided between his original home and mine.

Eventually I wondered what other questions might better serve me, because no matter which line of thought I followed to answer the questions I had, they all took me back to this:

None of the reasons for our choices (love, family, longing of several kinds) have changed. I know that if we could remake them, even knowing what we know now that we didn’t before this summer, we wouldn’t change any of the big ones. We’d still buy the house, we’d still spend our summer rehabbing it, and we’d still keep the cabinets.

What’s done is done, and perhaps the only question that really matters–about anything–is how to continue moving forward in the best way from where we are, hoping and working for what is or can be good.


This post has been several weeks in the making. I’m not sure of how much I got it right, and I think the ending it still in progress, but it conveys something of my current understanding of what I experienced this summer. I read a gorgeous essay about Louisiana this past week: Wyatt Williams’s “Lucinda Williams and the Idea of Louisiana.” I want to offer it here as a counterpoint to what I’ve written. In it, I recognize much of the Louisiana I got to see that is not represented in my words above. My words, which can only tell my experience from my perspective, can’t convey what the place is to those who have lived their lives there.

Louisiana is a mystery to me. It feels like a puzzle I will never know enough to solve or adequately describe. I suppose any place is to someone from outside of it, if you scratch even just a little bit below the surface of its food, language, and tourist attractions. Our weeks there were challenging and hard for me in so many ways: physically, intellectually, emotionally, socially. I loved having extended time with Cane’s family, with whom I felt moments of true joy and ease, but disorientation and disequilibrium were far more common. I remember telling my students more than once that learning is often uncomfortable and can even be painful. I learned a lot in our time there. I am deeply grateful for the opportunity to develop a fuller understanding of my husband and his family, of our country and its people, and of what it means to love.


Oh, here’s my Sunday post on Monday. Or, was the post last on Tuesday my Sunday post, and I’m now early for next Sunday’s post?

Does it even matter?

I am all wonky and discombobulated, even though I’ve been back home for several weeks now and feel as if I should be back on track with everything.

I am not.

I am still grappling with what season it even is. (Kari made me feel better about this, though I saw her post late because: wonkiness.) Cane goes back to work this week. We tried to cram as much summer into last week as we could, but we couldn’t make it feel like high summer, much as we tried. Leaves are falling. Everything looks like late August (brown, dried up). We can’t hold off the mental shift toward school and the school year. We went to many of our favorite Portland places, but I ended up napping every single day, and then migraine hit me over the weekend.

I can’t get back into the rhythm of food. I have not gotten to eat enough of what I think of as summer food. (We couldn’t get the usual ingredients in our small Louisiana town and I could not cook in a construction zone.) I went to the store and bought far too much, but then we ate out far too much or I was too tired to make meals.

I don’t want it to be fall yet, but I also deeply dislike living in limbo, on the cusp of things. It’s not summer (not mental/emotional summer, anyway) and it’s not fall and I don’t want it to be fall.

I want to feel some kind of normal again. I want to be able to stay awake for an entire day. But last week Rebecca Solnit posted something on Facebook that I’ve been keeping it in mind as I’ve drifted off to sleep more than one afternoon recently:

“If you’re sick or injured and healing or growing a new life inside you or just worn out, please notice that that thing known as ‘doing nothing’ is when you’re doing the utterly crucial and precious work of growing and healing and restoring.”

(I recommend clicking through to read the whole thing.)

Maybe I’m growing a new life of some sort, or maybe I’m just worn out. There’s been a lot this year, most of which I haven’t written about here. In most of the stories, I am a supporting character, not the main character. I find the whole “it’s not my story to tell” tenet hard to wrap my mind around. Maybe I’m not the main character, but I’m still a character. I’m still in the story, and what I think and feel and do within the narrative is mine.

I’m wondering if this–being full of stories I don’t feel free to write freely about–is why I’ve been finding it hard to write here. A comment to my last post prompted me to write a personal response to the commenter, and in writing it I realized that I’d left out important things that might have allowed me to write a post that is more true. Maybe more worthwhile.

But I’m going to let the original post stand. I’m not going to change what I am and am not sharing in a public forum. I might have every right to give my story away, but that doesn’t mean I should.

Last week, I was watering our garden in an effort to stave off the effects of the high heat we’ve been living in. I was in a hurry. I was impatient. I was anxious. I yanked the hose, and I broke off two large branches of a shrub I’d once given up on. It had been all wonky, growing a few measly branches on one side, with the other side of the bush bare. I moved it to its current spot, almost daring it to live. If it died completely there, I figured it was no loss.

It’s not only lived there, but thrived, filling in beautifully. It’s a story that has given me some joy. And then, in one quick moment, I broke off two full branches, returning it to a state of bare lopsidedness.

I was so glad that it was me who did that, rather than Cane. Because it just made me sad. I was glad to be angry with myself, rather than him.

Cane suggested putting the branches in water. Maybe they will sprout roots and we can replant, he suggested, get a new plant out of it. I think that’s not likely, but I did it anyway.

This morning, as I sat here writing these words, the branches were right in front of my face and I noticed something that stopped me:

The branches are flowering. My broken branches. Sprouting tiny little flowers. Not the roots we hoped for, but flowers we didn’t even know to hope for.

Isn’t life often like that? There’s almost always a gift of some kind in discomfort. In wonkiness, in broken things. Maybe I’ll dream about those when I take my nap later today.


I am continuing my adventures in pie:

This one is whiskey-peach. It both looks and tastes better than the last one. My bottom crust is a little too dense, but the top crust is lovely.

I’ve also been consuming books. A few highlights from last week:

Pie is comfort food, and these were comfort reads. They did not stretch or challenge me in any way. Books by women a lot like me, most likely mostly for women a lot like me.

Now this one–this one is a different kind of story:

I cannot figure out an elevator pitch for it. It’s academic, it’s poetic, it’s fierce. It’s about cooking, food, and women. Maybe I’m starting to wake up again.


One day last week Facebook memories sneaker-punched me with this post from 2016:

I was in the middle of a very lovely morning. I was baking a pie, waiting for my tea water to boil, enjoying some alone time in the house on a sunny, late-summer day. What I’m saying is: I was in a good place. And yet, as I looked at my little girl and remembered saying good-bye to the 18-year-old version of her, my eyes were filling with damn tears, remembering how it felt to send her off to the other side of the country for college, ending an era of our life together.

It was awful.

Facebook has been letting me know that many other parents are doing the same thing again right now. I know that everyone’s experience of this common event is their own. I know that part of the difficulty for me was all wrapped up in my life circumstances at the time, the distance (geographically and culturally) she was going, and the fact that I did about a hundred or so different things wrong as we made that transition. (OK, maybe only one or two things, but they were important ones.) Still, I cannot see how, even in the best of circumstances, this event can be anything other than some kind of wrenching.

It’s a big deal. No matter what your parenting experience or relationship with your child, if they are leaving you to go live somewhere else, it’s the end of something profound.

Yeah, it’s the way things are supposed to be (if you’re lucky). Yeah, there are all kinds of other good things awaiting both of you. Yeah, it won’t always feel so hard. Yeah, you won’t cry in the grocery store forever. Yeah, yeah, yeah, all true.

That doesn’t erase or mitigate what’s hard. It’s not either/or. It’s both/and.

I sent a screenshot of the memory to my daughter and told her I was cursing 2016 Rita for ruining Today Rita’s morning, and she replied, “Today Rita can tell her not to worry, she moves back home for years lol.”

I laughed out loud. She’s been back home for more than a year now, waiting for another country to tell her she can live within its borders with her husband. So, I get to see her all the time. It’s wonderful and I’m so grateful for this bonus time, but living with 2023 Grace didn’t keep me from missing 2016 Grace. My daughter now isn’t the same Grace that left in 2016, any more than 2016 Grace was the toddler in that photo from 2001. I’m not the same Rita, either. 2023 Grace and Rita are both, in many ways, in a better place than 2016 Grace and Rita, so the feelings were not at all about wanting to go back in time. I like where we are now. They were about remembering how hard that time was, and how much I loved who we were to each other then (and how much I have loved all the versions of us we’ve been together), and how no matter what good things I have now, I don’t have some of the ones I once did and never will again. That is why I sat in my kitchen and let those tears come (as if I could stop them).

I’m not going to prescribe what any other parent should do; what’s right for one is not right for another and the things I would do differently if I could have a do-over on that transition might be the the very things that would make someone else’s experience better.

I’m just here to validate that this kind of loss–like all kinds of deep change–is hard, probably no matter how you do it, and no matter how many good, healthy, positive things are wrapped around it. Don’t let anyone make you feel like you should be feeling something different from whatever it is you’re feeling and doing whatever it is that helps you get to some other side. There’s no wrong way to grieve, other than to try to keep yourself from doing it–which is why I let myself go ahead and cry in the kitchen for a minute or two, even though the pain is old, even though my life is now pretty dang sweet. I hope all the parents who are fresh to this particular circle of parental hell can do the same.

(The pie turned out kinda ugly, like the way I cried when she left home. Still tasted good, though.)

Of dreams and time warps

For years, I’ve had a recurring teacher-anxiety dream in the late spring or early summer. It goes like this:

In the dream, it is somehow, improbably, late August. There is only a week or two left of summer break, and I am bewildered and a little panicked: Wasn’t it just June? I’d think. Where did the summer go? I can’t remember any of it. How, I’d think, can it possibly be late August already?

Then I would wake up, and it would still be late spring or early summer, and I would feel relief wash over me. The season was still just beginning. It was all still ahead of me.

After a week back home, I feel a little bit like this dream has finally come true. How is it late mid-August? I keep thinking. As I see the obvious signs of a summer winding down, it’s all felt very Rip Van Winkleish to me, like my time in Louisiana was a dream, some time out of time that wasn’t real for me, but was for everyone and everything else. While I was sleeping/away, the rest of the world kept spinning. Now, I’m awake again and hardly recognize where I am. Hardly recognizing where I am might stem, in large part, from our garden; when I came home, most things were either overgrown or dried up remnants of the plants they once were.

And so, like Melanie, I will not be rushing to fall. I am not yet ready to get cozy inside with sweaters and candles. I need some time with dirt on my hands and sun on my face. For sure, I lived fully while I was away. I had a memorable and in many ways rewarding 6 weeks. It just wasn’t what “summer” means to me. There were very few unstructured days, and even less time outside (because it just wasn’t safe to be outside, especially for me.) It wasn’t summer at home, which I have a whole new appreciation for.

In a NYT newsletter Saturday, Melisa Kirsch wrote about how time away from home can help you see your home’s absurdities. For her, time away makes her question everything about home and realize how much of what she has there is unneeded.

Boy, that’s not me.

Time away–in a place where it was too hot to go outside, where we didn’t have any furniture to sit on, where we lived out of a suitcase for weeks and weeks–has made me realize how much I appreciate what I have here. How much I appreciate a comfortable, functional home and being able to live the summer months in it.

So, I am busy cramming as much summer as I can into these last weeks of it. I was home for only one day before my daughter and I got in the car and drove north to visit my parents in the place that I really think of as home. Every cell of my being was craving big water and cool, marine air. It was actually pretty warm there, too, but low 80’s felt like such a relief after weeks of temperatures above 100.

While there, we picked blackberries in my parents’ yard, and then I had to buy a new book:


And then we came home and I made pie! (Excitement because it is much more common for me to get jazzed up about a creative domestic endeavor and read about it and then not actually do it.)

This book has unlocked the mysteries of pie crust for me. Lebow is a literary writer as well as a renowned pie-maker, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. Not many dessert cookbook writers quote Richard Hugo or aspire to write “a tart book about sweet things” or craft such sentences as, “Pie can be critiqued as nationalist shorthand.” Come for the pie instruction and recipes and stay for the writing/ideas.

Once home, I spent every morning out in the yard, watering, pruning, and (sometimes) pulling up. This resulted in some bare planters I couldn’t stand to leave bare, so I went to the nursery.

The pickings were slim, and about half of the things I brought home were pretty severely root-bound. I mean, will that basil really grow? Is it too late for it? I don’t know, and I don’t really care. I had to tear out our entire herb garden, and I just really wanted to put something back in it.

Even though we have only one more week until Cane goes back to school, I’m planning to eke out as much summer as I can in the days that remain of it. I’m going to savor what’s still growing, and maybe make another pie, and sit outside as much as possible. Things are still blooming here, and the sun is still shining.

What I did on my summer vacation

Do any teachers still assign this as a first-week-of-school writing topic? I certainly hope not.

No matter what kind of summer you have, it feels an impossible prompt to write well to. I can remember summers that slipped by like dreams, days upon days of the same old wonderful same old, and others full of flat tedium; how to pluck any kind of narrative out of a span of days with no conflict, no rising action, no turning point?

Of course there have been a few summers with big, memorable events (big travel, big purchases, big life changes)–but those, too, are hard to write about. How to capture what a big event really was, what it really meant?

Early on in our Louisiana adventure this summer, I realized I could not write about it while living it. There were practical problems–no easy internet or time–but it was more about knowing I needed time to process the experience. From the very beginning, my summer was an “all of the above” kind of thing: big travel, big purchases, long days that quickly became a new same old, same old comprised of tedium, joy, pain, boredom, and wonder. I have not worked so many full, hard hours in such a long time, while also living through so many hours in which I felt like I was just killing time.

I was having big, tangly thoughts and feelings about all kinds of profound things–aging, mortality, the meaning of life, family, our country and the ramifications of its history, existential crises of various kinds–and I knew I wasn’t ready to share any of them in any public kind of way.

I didn’t trust my impressions to be lasting truth, and I didn’t trust my conclusions to hold water. Not when I was so exhausted and disoriented and mind-meltingly hot. (Good God, but the heat was relentless.) Not when I knew there were things I just couldn’t know in such a short time (and might never be able to know).

I’m still not ready. I might never be. These kinds of things tend to slip away if we don’t capture them when they’re fresh. I’ll try to write more about it all, but no promises.

What I can share now, in addition to these few paragraphs, as a way to get back in the habit of writing here, is a poem I wrote the last week of July. It’s only a few weeks old and I haven’t gotten back my usual equilibrium, but I think it is true.

When a PNW girl spends the hottest July of all time working in rural Louisiana

Every time she walks out a door, 
she gasps. 

She’d tell you that it feels
like the air is getting sucked 
out of her, except she’s busy
wiping the fog from her glasses. 

She is not used to this. 

Is anyone?
Isn’t it the hottest month on record, ever?
Isn’t the ocean off Florida now warm 
as a hot tub? 

But no one around her is alarmed. 

“What can you do?” they shrug.
“Gotta work,” they say, smiling.

She is a frog dropped 
in a pot that began warming long before her
legs touched its water.

“We’re like the coral in the Atlantic!” she wants to scream,
but she fears 
she’d get no response other than words
about the work ethic Here 

(to distinguish it, she supposes, from
There, where she’s from). 

What’s a girl to do? The day’s work, that’s what.

She picks up her paintbrush when she hears the church
bell chiming the hour.

She pushes closed the front door 
that keeps swinging open, 
knowing she’ll do it 
over and over again as the day wears
on, as if 
she can somehow keep the heat from coming in. 

She’ll dream of going home, as if home
is some other place, not Here, 

as if Here is some place she can escape from. 


I am out of gas.

Every day, Monday through Friday, we get up and go to the house and start working. On the weekends, we take time off from the house, sort of. This past weekend we spent all day Sunday shopping for items for it. We still aren’t sleeping there; we’ve been sleeping on air mattresses on the floor of my brother and sister-in-law’s living room. They have been nothing but welcoming, gracious, and kind, but I miss sleeping in a bed. I am tired of living out of a suitcase and having no space of our own.

I am just tired, period. By the time I can get to the library (the only place I can connect to internet with my computer), I am too tired to write anything. I am too tired to think.

So, I am officially on a break here on the old blog. I’ll catch up with you after I return home. Not sure exactly when that will be yet, but not until August. I do post small updates on Instagram, if you’d like to follow along there. Appreciate those of you who are blogging through the summer. I sometimes get to the party late, but I enjoy reading what you’re up to.


I thought that Texas broke me. Hah!

The day after completing our 5-day driving marathon through Oregon, Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico, Texas, and Louisiana, we began working on our house renovation project. In a major heatwave, with faulty air-conditioning.

Why was the air-conditioning faulty? Rats. Rats chewed more than 25 holes in the AC ducts in the attic, so much of the cool air was escaping into the attic, rather than coming down into the house. Add to that constantly opening doors (Cane and his brothers were replacing all of the plumbing) and little insulation because we’ve stripped many of the walls back to their (termite-chewed) shiplap beginnings.

It reached 86 degrees inside every day for the first three days, until Cane crawled up into the attic and taped over the holes. Then it was more like 82, until yesterday when the temperatures finally dropped a bit.

I spent the first four days in the kitchen, cleaning cabinets and drawers covered in years worth of greasy filth.

On the fifth day, we took the day off. I proceeded to have a complete meltdown. I was physically miserable, suffering culture-shock, and feeling homesick. I remember being homesick only one other time in my life–when I was 18 and took a school trip to Washington, DC. I anticipated many of the challenges this trip/project would throw at me, but homesickness was not one of them.

I would like to say that I’m doing better, that as we make progress on the house I’m getting to a better place. Some days, some moments, that would be true. But what I’m finding is that the hardness of this situation is something that comes and goes. Sometimes I’m doing OK, and then I’m not. It doesn’t take much to knock me down.

There’s much in this experience that is positive. I’m sure I’ll be grateful for many things in it when the house is renovated and Cane’s mom is living in it. It feels good to begin to see progress. But I’ll sure be glad when I get to go home again. I’ve always known I’m a homebody, but I have a whole new understanding of what that means.


Empty streetcorner in small New Mexico town

Restaurant with giant horse statue in front of it

Run-down small house

road with long horizon

Three 12-hour days in a row, through Oregon, Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado, the corner of New Mexico, and Texas, followed by an 8-hour day through Texas. So much Texas.

Texas broke me. Late on the 4th afternoon of nothing but driving, it was 104 degrees in Fort Worth. When I got out of the car at a gas station, it felt like stepping into a furnace. When I hit that wall of heat, my tenuous hold on OKness melted.

I felt overwhelmed by how foreign such huge swaths of my country feels to me. I felt overwhelmed by how much of the land is empty, or only very sparsely populated. I felt overwhelmed by our history. We passed so many towns that are shells of what they once were. Old buildings with empty or boarded-up store fronts. Dilapidated motels, falling-down gas stations, shuttered restaurants. I felt overwhelmed by the scope of ugly commercial sprawl. We passed so many towns with nothing but chain restaurants and gas stations. I felt overwhelmed by how many Americans are living such hard lives. It’s one thing to know it from images and stories, and another thing to drive through places and see it first-hand.

(I still feel overwhelmed by all these things.)

All the photos above are taken from the car, often through the window. We didn’t take time to stop for anything but eating and sleeping. The first three days we pulled into the towns we were staying for the night after 9:00 PM. I do not recommend traveling this way.

My ex-husband used to “joke” that if I were on the Oregon Trail, I’d never have survived. (We lived just off of what was once the Oregon Trail, and he said this fairly often. Part of this week’s journey took us past part of the Trail in Wyoming. Or maybe Colorado.) It was a mean joke, and I never appreciated it, but this week, I have acknowledged that he was somewhat correct. I probably would not have. But, as Cane pointed out when I said something about it somewhere in Idaho (or maybe Colorado), I would never have gone on that trail.

Or maybe I would have. I mean, I made this trip, probably for reasons not unlike those other women had for following their men to a place far from their homes.

Somewhere in the midst of the travel (honestly, it’s all kind of a blur), I read “Welcome to Iowa,” which provoked conflicting feelings. Yes, we (Americans, so many of us) are out-of-touch rubes with an inflated sense of ourselves, and, yes, I’m an asshole for having so many of the thoughts I’ve had about the places we traveled through (primarily, that we are rubes).

We did finally make it out of Texas, however, and I felt such relief when there were trees again.

There are absolutely gorgeous trees in Louisiana. We stopped in Natchitoches (pronounced “Nackatush”) for lunch on our last day, after I insisted at the end of day 4 that I needed some restoration before we reached our destination. I was able to take this photo while standing (rather than sitting in a moving car). It’s a pretty town, the oldest in Louisiana. (It’s also where Steel Magnolias was filmed, and I now want to watch that again.)

As you read these words, we are already deep into the reason we came: Renovating the house we bought last summer. Our first full day here we put in about 12 hours of work. It’s going to be another kind of journey. I’ll try to keep you updated, but I have to go to the library to have internet on my laptop, so we’ll see. I am posting small updates and photos on Instagram, if you want to follow along there.

(If you’d like to know about the Freedom School building in the first photo, here ya go.)

On the road

truck packed for a trip

Rita with sunglasses and a neck pillow

long flat landscape

Sun setting in rearview mirror

wyoming butte

We left Portland on Friday morning, heading to Louisiana. We drove east on I-84, through Oregon and into Idaho, and then I-80 through the rest of Idaho and into Wyoming. I’m writing these words at the end of a second 12-hour day in the car. This is the first really long road trip I’ve taken since I was 14. It’s feeling a bit revelatory.

The most striking thing about the miles we’ve covered so far is how empty of humans and the detritus of our civilizations they are. Miles and miles of nothing but open land. The highlight for me was a small group of horses living their best life somewhere in western Wyoming, running free, eating grass, no fences in sight.

The low point was a small town that used to be the home of a state penitentiary, which was operational until 1981. The main drag of the town was pocked with shuttered motels and empty restaurants. There was a neighborhood of what might have been charming homes. We’d hoped to eat there, but we couldn’t find any place we wanted to enter, and, honestly, the whole town felt creepy AF (even before we stumbled upon the penitentiary, which is two blocks off the main street) and we got the hell out of Dodge right after filling up our tank. (Later, I googled the penitentiary, and it IS creepy AF. Operational until 1981, with a grisly history. Now it’s a tourist attraction? And apparently haunted?) It was clear that the town was once thriving, but whatever it had was probably built on the misery of that prison. The whole thing left me feeling sad and icky and unsettled.

Driving through miles and miles (and miles) of land so different from what I know, I had a lot of thoughts about our country and its divisions. I won’t share them, as I know I don’t really know anything about what life is like in the places we’ve driven past, and they are all just speculation. I can say that I found myself having an easier time understanding why so many of us have such different world views; we are living vastly different lives. I knew that before Friday, but in a more abstract way. Something about driving through all these places makes it more concrete.

I can also say that this drive has increased my appreciation for where I live. For evergreen forests, big salt water, glacier-carved rivers, marine air. It was hard for me to drive away from home, knowing that I will be gone for most of the summer. The raspberries in the backyard were just ripening, and the blueberries hadn’t begun to yet. I will miss them this year.

It’s nice to have reminders of how much I love what I have.

And on that note, I’ll share a poem that crossed my feed on Saturday:

And my last breakfast at home. It was so good, and I’m so thankful to have had it.

We still have three more days to go, hitting a lot of Colorado and Texas before getting to Louisiana. Would love to hear about any of your adventures.