Just because you can

I thought I had spurned productivity culture. I thought I had embraced simplicity and small-life living. I thought I had divorced worthiness from accomplishment. I was wrong.

When, 19 days before Christmas, in the wake of a concussion that wasn’t healing, my doctor banned me from screens and driving and reading and even freaking jigsaw puzzles, prescribing near-total rest for two weeks, my first thought was: How am I going to get everything done? This was quickly followed by: What am I going to do all day?

After returning home from that appointment, I stretched out on the couch in our front room. Waning winter sunlight filled the space. I took a few deep breaths.

In-2-3-4, out-2-3-4.

Each time I expelled air from my body, as I felt my diaphragm sink into my spine, I released another thing from my to-do list. Our tree was in a stand in the corner of the room, but it was bare. Presents were not selected or purchased, much less wrapped and put in the mail. Dinner wasn’t made, the bathroom wasn’t cleaned, and the laundry wasn’t put away.

So be it (2-3-4).

While I’d felt some panic with the doctor, what I was beginning to feel was an emotion that surprised me: relief. I had permission to not do all the things. Doctor’s orders.

Only then did I begin to feel and understand how much difficulty I’d been having since my fall 3 weeks earlier. Despite breaking my wrist and seriously hitting my head, I went to work the day afterward. I’d been plowing through all my tasks and obligations ever since, as if my cast and recurring headaches were just minor inconveniences to be tolerated and navigated.

The next day, I ordered a coloring book and a set of nice markers. (Coloring was allowed.) I broke my screen fast just long enough to check out several audiobooks from the library. I finally broke down and switched my Spotify account to Premium, so I could listen to music without interruption from ads.

My days took on a new rhythm. After seeing Cane off in the morning, I’d sit at the table with a cup of tea and color while listening to music or a book. I’d then take care of some kind of household task–light cooking or cleaning or decorating for the holidays–and then I’d need to sit or lie down for a bit. (That might turn into a mini-nap.) Lunchtime followed that, which was followed by a real nap. Late afternoon would bring more coloring or some other activity involving pencils, paper, paint, or thread, usually with a snack and more tea. Then Cane would be home.

“I’m living like a toddler,” I told him after a few days. “Meals are events, I need naps every day, I play with toys, I have easy chores, and I rarely wear shoes.” I took to wearing a garment that is really nothing more than a soft, voluminous onesie (but without crotch snaps, which might have made it perfect).

When I wasn’t bumping into difficult thoughts about aging, mortality, and what constitutes a self, or chafing against my frustrated desires to read and write, the time was, in its own, weird way, kind of wonderful. Instead of spending our evenings zoned out in front of the TV, Cane and I began spending our evenings being together in a way that felt more present. We’d turn on music and he’d read, and I’d stretch out on the couch and just…be. I’d think about things while looking at a blank wall and listening to the music and…rest. He began painting again, something he hasn’t done for years, and I loved watching him paint while I did…nothing.

Although it was exhausting to be exhausted all the time, and I missed being able to drive and go out and see people as I was used to doing, and it was truly frightening to lose my ability to do so much of what makes me what I think of as me, there were aspects of this new way of being that were deeply satisfying. Just being able to sleep! I was sleeping long and deeply, for the first time in, maybe, decades. I was resting when I felt tired. Doing crafty things without feeling like I really should be doing something else–something more useful, or potentially useful. Something I am better at doing.

At some point, I realized that, if I chose to, I could live the toddler lifestyle even after my brain healed. I realized that, for the most part, I could have been living it all fall. I am (mostly) retired! I have been for more than two years! I retired early so that I could rid my life of toxic stress! And then I realized how sad it was that–despite all I thought I had done and changed to live in a healthier way and re-program myself from harmful cultural ideals regarding the relationship between work, productivity, and value–it took a freaking broken bone and brain injury for me to finally give myself permission to truly simplify my life. To truly care for myself.

It took that for me to see how tired and stressed I’ve still been, and how much I have not given myself permission to simply exist, despite my intellectual understanding of all the -isms at play in thinking that I need to be useful to justify my existence (namely, capitalism, sexism, and ableism). It goes without saying (but, if you’re like me, maybe I need to say it) that I am not talking about shirking things that must be done and singing la-la-la while things fall down around you. I am not writing without awareness that sometimes, often, we cannot care for ourselves as we truly need to be cared for because of broken systems and other limitations we live within. I know that some of you are living through nearly untenable situations right now, the kind that break and remake you, and people you love are absolutely counting on you to be there for them. And you have been and will be, just as I have when needed in those ways.

I am talking about how we live when our lives are what we think of as normal, when we are not responding to active crises. I’m talking about what we do when we have pockets of time (even very small ones) that we can choose to fill with rest or quiet or joy, and why we so often fill them with numbing agents (looking at you, social media) or tasks that may not need to be done. What I am saying is, even though I was living as a toddler, the things that really needed to be done did get done, and the ones that didn’t get done didn’t matter.

One morning in the dreamy space of days between Christmas and the new year, I found myself lingering at the breakfast table with my daughter and her husband. He was with us for only two short weeks before he had to return to the country he lives in, a continent and ocean away. Our time together is scarce, precious. We were sitting and talking, about nothing and everything, and I had the thought: Oh, I should probably get up and do something.

Then I thought: Why?

Then I thought: We are doing something. We are forming bonds, we are enjoying each other’s company, we are replenishing ourselves, we are making memories. We are being together. And I settled into where we were, grateful for the realizations my time of rest have given me, glad I didn’t get up and start bustling around the kitchen. It got cleaned, eventually, when our conversation reached a natural ending.

I want to think that I am going to be able to hold onto the silver lining of this experience forever, but I know its lessons will probably slip away from me. These seem to be truths I need to learn over and over again. So what I am saying to you here is as much for myself as it is for anyone else. And this is what it is:

Try pretending that something has happened to incapacitate you, and see what you really need to do and what you might let fall away. Then let it fall. Don’t wait for the broken bone, the brain injury, the catastrophic accident, the terminal diagnosis. Give yourself permission to take a nap, color a picture, bake cookies, make art (even bad art—maybe especially bad art), spend a whole morning–a whole day–eating and talking with someone you love. Do it because life is precious, and you–like a wildflower or a songbird or a even a worm–deserve joy and rest just for being alive. Do it because our work is long but our years are short, and one day you won’t be able to do those things. 

Do it just because you can. 

A technical note: Rita’s Notebook is moving to Substack, with a new name and slightly more focus. You can find it (and this post) here. I’d really appreciate it if comments/conversation about the post can happen there.

I’ll publish in both places for a bit, but I’ve made the decision to abandon the WordPress ship. This site has long had tech issues that need fixing, but I have neither the skills to fix them nor the desire to acquire them. If you’ve been reading here, I do hope you’ll follow me there and subscribe. (One of my tech issues is that I no longer know who my subscribers are or even how many people click on a post.) Although many Substack publications require paid subscriptions for full access, mine will not. I’m happy to answer any questions anyone has about the decision to change platforms.

A little PSA on head injuries

When I fell while skating, my most immediate concern was the hit I took to my head. I went to an urgent care clinic to have it checked out, but the people I saw there were more concerned about my wrist. I didn’t have any of the obvious symptoms of a concussion or other head injury (no loss of consciousness, no vomiting, no confusion), but my wrist was a little broken and required a cast.

The large lump on my head that emerged soon after the fall dissipated within a day. Although a very tender spot remained, my head seemed to be mostly a non-issue. I carried on with my life as normal, working as a substitute teacher a few days, traveling to visit my parents over the Thanksgiving holiday, writing posts here, reading, etc.

About 12 days out from the fall, however, I realized I was struggling. I kept having persistent, low-grade headaches that weren’t migraines. I was exhausted, even on days when I didn’t do much. And the sore spot on my skull wasn’t getting any better. I contacted my doctor’s office–just to be sure there wasn’t something I should be doing or having checked out–and was told I likely have post-concussive syndrome. As it turns out, it’s possible to have a concussion but symptoms that don’t appear immediately. I never knew concussion could work this way or that there is such a thing as post-concussive syndrome. Thought this might be useful information to share.

The treatment is rest and no screens and no reading. I spent all of this week following those orders. I’m happy to report that I can see progress. Headaches are gone, and my tolerance for screens is improving.

This whole experience has been an education in several ways. I can’t write about it now, but soon. I hope. One lesson is that plans are really just hopes. You never know when or how they might be upended. Take care of yourselves.

It’s been a lot

This week I had lunch with a friend I haven’t seen since late May. After filling her in on things that have happened since then, she leaned back and said, “And what are you doing to take care of yourself?”

I smiled and shrugged a little.

“Because I just want you to know: That’s a lot. All I’ve had to do is listen, and I feel exhausted.”

This month I began substitute teaching. I do this work only at the school where I last taught; it is a place I know and am known, a small school with a healthy culture and community. On Tuesday, as I attempted to support a student in finding another student to partner with for an interview activity, they stood up and walked out of the room. They came back a bit later, and they began crying when I approached and asked if they were OK. We moved to the hallway, where, in tears, they apologized for leaving the way they had and explained that they have anxiety and panic attacks, and that in the classroom they’d had their third one of the day. I’d like to tell you that this kind of incident is rare, but it’s not. (A lot of the kids are not all right.)

This week, I began reading KC Davis’s How to Keep House While Drowning: A Gentle Approach to Cleaning and Organizing. I am reading it because I want to learn how to better support someone I love. I appreciate this writer’s reminder of the importance of framing: “Care tasks are morally neutral.” It is our culture that assigns worth to how well we perform them–and shame when we fall short of cultural ideals. Davis tells us that “mess has no inherent meaning.” We assign plenty of meaning to it, though: That because of mess in our surroundings, we are a mess (or incompetent or disgusting or lazy). Davis encourages us to choose for ourselves what meaning it has for us, and to choose gently.

In my lunch with my friend, a retired teacher, we talked about how different today’s kids are from the kids we taught at the beginning of our careers, and how different they seem from the kids we remember ourselves being. We are elder Gen-Xers who came of age in a time with much less existential threat and far better economic prospects and supports, but we were given much less emotional support and time from our parents than today’s youth. “They seem to have so much less resilience,” she said.

“We didn’t get as much care as they do, and we turned out all right,” she added.

“Did we?” I asked. “I mean, I’m on my third marriage.”

“And maybe that’s because you turned out great!” she argued. “Maybe that means you had relationships that gave you something you needed for a time, and then you were strong enough to leave them when they no longer did.”


Last weekend I attended a funeral for a family member. “Have you been doing any writing?” my cousin’s husband asked me. He was a musician when I first knew him; after his son was born he gave up playing professionally and took a full-time day job with good pay and benefits. For years he has asked me this almost every time I see him, and my answer is always the same: “Not really.”

“How come?”

I shrug and smile. The real answer feels like too much to say in a big group of people standing around a small kitchen. I don’t actually know what the real answer is, but I know that much about it.

There is nothing like an unexpected funeral for someone younger than your parents to make you contemplate what it is you are doing with your life, and how it might be even shorter than you have, in recent years, come to realize it is.

“Are you just feeling like you don’t have anything to say?” he asked.

“Yeah,” I said, nodding. That is a truth: I don’t have anything I feel compelled to say. But I was also thinking: Or maybe too much. And: There’s not enough time. And: There are so many voices in the world already, so much that I feel like I’m drowning in the cacophony.

It’s a lot of things.

In one version of my substitute teaching story, I made a kid cry and leave the room. In another, I was an adult that a student felt safe enough with to talk honestly about their mental health struggles.

Something happened this week that made me lose it. Truly, out-of-control lose it. The kind of losing it where you slam doors and throw objects. Where you stand alone in a room and scream from a place deep within your body. Where rage demands physical expression. This has happened to me only a few times in my life, but they’ve all been within the past ten years. What did it mean? At first, I thought it was part of a story about powerlessness and betrayal. With more time and information, I could reframe it as one about suffering collateral damage from someone else’s childhood trauma.

With even more time and information, with my friend mirroring my stories back to me–It’s a lot, I am exhausted–I could understand my outburst as a response to not just one precipitating event, but to layers of events that have fused like a block of sedimentary rock in the bottom of a lake. I thought of Virginia Woolf wading into a river with her pockets full of stones, and I understood that all of it–my silence, my rage, my weariness–has been a response to an accumulation of small weights.

So, despite exhaustion, this week I began doing what I know will work to empty my pockets: resting, eating well, redrawing boundaries, taking care of what is mine to care for, moving my body, connecting with my people, disconnecting from noise, getting the words out. Framing the things that come at me through the lens of the serenity prayer.

The heavy, layered block is still there, under the waves. It will always be there. When I look down I can see it. But I am here, above it, treading water, still kicking.

And that is a lot.


Some things that were a lot this week:

A lot of veggies. I’ve been working on feeding our bodies well and eating less meat. This recipe is a keeper.

A lot of mushrooms. Spent time on Friday getting our outside world ready for winter and discovered this bed of mushrooms growing near our shed. It felt good to put the outdoor furniture away and clean out the tomato plants and disconnect the hoses. And to discover something that felt a little bit wondrous.

A lot of bark chips. We got a chip drop so we can expand our backyard planting area and kill more of the lawn there. Moving all of this from the front to the back is a lot of work. Felt good to use our bodies this way, though.

Seeing what there is to see

I’d love to tell you, after my last post, that we had a great, big, old-fashioned, raucuos, throwback Halloween.

Alas, we did not.

Our door got knocked on twice: we were visited by a small group of littles and their parents, as well as a pair of middle-school aged boys. Everyone was sweet, and we enjoyed a quiet evening eating soup and visiting with our friend, but at the end of the night we had a large bowlful of candy that no one wanted and I regretted spending money on.

I’d like to blame it on the weather, but I can’t do that, either. Unlike those of you who had snow (snow!), we had perfect trick-or-treating weather–dry and cool but not too cold.

“Probably would’ve been better to spend that money on some personal hygiene products to donate to the homeless village,” Cane said. Last year our neighborhood became home to a “micro-village” of transitional housing for some of Portland’s most vulnerable unsheltered adults. We are big fans of this project and the organization behind it, and we’re glad to see this so close to our home. I agreed, knowing that giving resources there would have been a much better way of serving our community.

His comment got me thinking about what I did and didn’t do and why, and I can see that I did the kind of thing that is typical of people like me who are full of good intentions but don’t take the time to really learn about the community they want to serve and/or be a part of. I did what would’ve been nice for me, thinking that what would work for me will work for everyone. Thanks to my years of work in diverse schools, I know better, but some ways of being are deeply ingrained. I see now that I didn’t pay enough attention to changes in our neighborhood to realize that what worked in the past probably doesn’t now.

If being a good member of my community was the goal (and it was), I’ve realized that I’m going to need to figure out some other ways of doing that. I’m going to have to stretch, probably outside of my comfort zone. Doing Halloween the same old way I’ve always done it was not that.

I know that letting go of traditions is easier said than done. It’s hard to let go of practices we once valued and saw value in–why I decided I needed to participate in trick-or-treating even though some part of me already knew that the payoff wasn’t worth the effort it takes–and that’s why I’m not beating myself up for not figuring out more quickly or easily that showing up at my door once a year with a bowlful of candy is not what my community needs from me.

All of this is coming at just the right time, too, with the holiday season now bearing down upon us. So much of what can make this time of year tough for me is trying to hang onto things from the past that no longer serve myself and those I care for. No matter how much I cling to the things we’ve always done, the holidays are not going to feel the same way they did when my grandparents were alive and my cousins and I all gathered at their house, or even when my children were young. That house is gone. So are those earlier versions of my family. So are important things I once believed about Thanksgiving and Christmas and my culture and the world. It’s a good time for thinking about what still works and what we might let go of, to make room for some new things that will be better for all the lives we want to nurture.

None of this is particularly new or revelatory. I know that letting go and revising and creating (a holiday, a family, a community, a world) is something that we are all doing all the time. It was nice, though, to have that knowledge brought to the surface this week. Learning is so often like ascending a spiraling path; you go past the same places again and again, but each time a little bit higher, so you can see things from a different vantage point.

In related news…

I saw Kari mention that she is taking a month off from social media, and the same day this post (A Permanent Good-bye to Social Media) came across my path and both felt like nudges to do something I’d been thinking about doing. I deactivated FB and Instagram and removed their apps from my phone. Messenger is still active if you want to reach me, or you can email me. I’m thinking about stepping back from this space for awhile, too. I’m not sure about that, but don’t worry if it’s quiet here.

Although this post is about letting go of old ways, I’m feeling curious about reclaiming some. I’m wondering how it will be–how I might be–with more quiet, more privacy, more time spent offline. Will I do more writing? More reading? About what? Will I take as many photos? Will they be of the same things? Why will I take them, if not to share? Will I make more things with my hands? Will I feel lonely? More peaceful? Restless? Bored? All of the above? Will I learn something about why and how to connect with others through some disconnection?

It feels good to take a break from a place of curiosity, rather than rage or fear or burn-out. (Although, those are all perfectly valid reasons to walk away from anything.) I’m looking forward to seeing what I can see.

Would love to know what you hold onto and what you’ve let go of, and why.

Why we’re not going to be Halloween Scrooges

I was going to skip Halloween this year. I made plans with a friend to go somewhere–anywhere–away from home so that I could keep the lights turned off and avoid trick-or-treaters. The candy has become so expensive, and I didn’t want to buy and carve pumpkins. It’s hard to know how many will actually come. Some years we get a fair number. Last year, when it rained, we only had two or three and at the end of the night I was left with a big bowl of candy that I didn’t want.

I just wasn’t feeling it.

Over the weekend, though, we had friends for dinner. They are Jewish, and as we talked about what is happening to them, for them, I found myself revisiting my Halloween plan. I found myself thinking about community, and what it means to be a member of one. In our conversation, I told my story about a rift with my next-door neighbor. More than a year ago we found ourselves on different sides of a conflict over the creation of a project to house unhoused people in our neighborhood, and since then my formerly friendly neighbor avoids me. She once turned around and walked in the opposite direction when she saw us approaching as we were out walking on a sunny evening after dinner. She is Israeli, spending part of every year with family there, and I have wanted to check in on her, offer something that would be helpful, but I haven’t had the courage to reach out.

I found myself revisiting memories of my childhood Halloweens.

There was the year my brother wanted to be a sprinkler. My brother, who is significantly autistic (though we didn’t know that until he was an adult), was fascinated with sprinklers. He could sit and watch them for what seemed like hours to me. He loved them so much that he would go into neighbors’ yards and pull out their hoses and turn their sprinklers on. (It was the 70’s, a different era. There were few fences and every kid we knew was free-range.) Our neighbors on one side complained, but the neighbors on the other side, the Fryes, were kind about it.

My mother was stumped about how to turn my brother into a sprinkler, but eventually she figured out how to do it. She made him a green cape, then fashioned a wave sprinkler (his favorite kind) from styrofoam and tin foil for him to wear on his head. Most people did not know what he was; many guessed that he was an alien. But Mr. Frye? As soon as he opened the door, he began laughing. Really laughing. Belly-laughing. He knew right away what Joe was, and that he knew made me like him even more than I already did. (The Fryes had two plum trees, and they gave me a standing invitation to climb them with my books in hand and to sit and read and eat as many plums as I’d like.)

Both Mr. and Mrs. Frye had cleft palates, and so their speech could be a little hard for me to understand. They knew, as our family did, too, what it was like to be judged and misunderstood for simply being who you are. What it was like to be treated meanly by those who more easily fit into society’s norms.

Another year, perhaps the last good year before invading hormones began to change Halloween for me, my group of girlfriends came to my neighborhood to trick or treat with me. We were a loud horde of shrieking tweenagers just beginning to glimpse what life might become as we kept running ahead of my mother.

We turned into one yard I was unfamiliar with, running and shouting and kicking leaves down a long front path to a small house. An old man opened the door to us, holding a finger to his lips as he waved us into the house. That was strange, and I felt a little uneasy, but we all trooped in. “Don’t wake the little one,” he cautioned, and I saw a young girl asleep on a couch, a hand-knit blanket draped over her body. There was a fire burning in a fireplace and old-fashioned music playing low from a radio. I felt like I’d stepped into one of my books, one that told a story set in a different time.

“Just a moment,” he said, and went into an adjoining room. He returned with a tray of caramel apples, each wrapped with the kind of plastic wrap our mothers all had in their kitchens. “Here you go,” he said, and told us that we should each choose one. We each slipped an apple into our bags, quietly, and moved to the door. I didn’t want to leave. Something about this house, so different from my own and from all the others we’d visited, felt so good to me.

Back out at the road, by mother was waiting anxiously. She asked me why we’d gone into the house.

“He asked us to,” I said.

“Don’t do that again,” she cautioned. I showed her the treat–one unlike any other I’d ever received–and she told me that I would have to throw it away because it was home-made. I protested, describing what the house had been like, what he’d been like, but she was firm. “We don’t know him,” she said, “and we can’t accept those kinds of treats from people we don’t know.”

I knew she was wrong–I knew it!–but I did what I was told, keeping only this memory that is still vivid nearly 50 years later.

After dinner with our friends, I thought of the children in my neighborhood, the boys who shoot baskets in the street and ride their bikes and skateboards in a loop in front of our house. They are Russian, and they’ve never come trick-or-treating, but there are others in our little part of this large city who have. I thought about how hard so many things are for so many children, and about my fears for the future they will be living their lives in.

Then I texted my friend and asked if instead of going out she’d like to come over for dinner and help me hand out candy. Ours is a neighborhood that doesn’t see a lot of kids on Halloween, even when the weather is good. We are tucked between two major thoroughfares. Many of the folks who live here are older, and a good number of the younger ones are members of cultures that don’t celebrate Halloween in the ways I traditionally have. Ours is the opposite of a destination neighborhood, one that people drive their kids to because they are full of large, decorated houses and streets filled with bands of costumed kids and parents. Even on a good year, our streets are sparsely filled.

But there are kids who come, and they live here.

So, Cane and my friend and I are going to eat soup and have a fire and maybe play a board game. When I asked her about changing our plan, my friend offered to bring some candy to add to our treat bowl.

I know that staying home and answering the door to families in my community won’t change the situation in Israel/Gaza. It won’t ease my friends’ or neighbors’ pain. It won’t house those without houses or fix the climate or our broken political system or any of the systems that make some neighborhoods a destination for Halloween and others something else. But it will help some people feel good right here, where we are all living together, even if just for an evening. Maybe it will make us something other than total strangers to at least some of our neighbors, so that if one of them at some time needs or wants something I can give, they’ll be more easily able to accept it.

In the work I’m doing with a school this year, we’ve been reading, thinking and talking about how to cultivate critical hope in children who are growing up in trauma. One of the keys to doing so is to provide “material hope,” and that “comes from the sense of control young people have when they are given the resources to deal with the forces that affect their lives.”

Maybe I’m pinning too much on a welcoming house and a generous treat, but a material gift that is an expression of love–one that says, “your neighborhood, too, has adults who want to care for you”–is probably worth the price of a few pumpkins and bags of candy.

A little visit from the ghost of Halloween Past…

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.


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.)

On cusps

In a week where Tennessee dealt a major blow to democracy, and folks in Wisconsin are worrying about a challenge to the election of a judge (the only political bright spot in my week), and (speaking of judges) we have (new? more?) evidence of corruption on the Supreme Court (not that all of us paying attention haven’t known since the 90’s that Clarence Thomas is several kinds of terrible), and there is a new and frightening move to restrict women’s access to abortion and control over our own bodies–all of which is evidence (as if I needed more) that the political norms I lived most of my life with are gone and a minority is no longer even pretending that they’re not going to take power in whatever ways they can–I come to this place feeling as if I have nothing to say.

These kinds of weeks leave me feeling shut down, with my words all stopped up in my head. The things that occupied that space this week (aside from the above) feel trivial in comparison. But here are a few of them:

The new documentary about Brooke Shields. Brooke and I are the same age, and if I ever needed validation that I came of age in an effed-up time to be a pretty female–in which you had to, somehow, be simultaneously both knowingly sexy and virginal–I’ve now got it. The first episode, which focuses on the late 70’s-mid 80’s, reminded me of just how much it sucked to be a young woman in that time. (Not that I could really see it while in the midst of it. I just tried to fit in and get by and be OK, as most adolescents do.)

Here’s 1977 Rita, wearing her first pair of pantyhose, her beloved puka shell necklace, a new dress, and heeled sandals. I can tell you that she is both pleased with these new grown-up things and uneasy about them.

Just two years later, 1979 Rita has a completely different vibe (despite the fact that, like 1977 Rita, she hasn’t started her period or kissed a boy), and there’s something in these two images, and what that documentary helped me see about the culture younger Rita was becoming a woman in, that makes 2023 Rita both furious and sad.

This is not to say that there isn’t plenty that’s still effed up, but if you want to know about the specifics of what is was like for those of us born female in the mid-1960’s, go watch the documentary.

Speaking of those born in the mid-60’s, I encountered another generational piece this week, “The Dazed and Confused Generation,” written by a later Boomer about how people his age need a different generational label. As someone born in December of 1964–making me, by two weeks, technically, a Boomer, I can relate. I feel nothing like a true Boomer, and while I don’t identify completely with the group he does, what some have named Generation Jones, I also don’t fully identify as a Gen-Xer, either. I guess that’s because I’m a Cusper. Me and Brooke. Makes sense that a kid born to parents of the Silent Generation has often felt invisible and unsure of what rules to play by.

This week I bought more books than I should have. Because of Bethany Reid’s review, I bought Linda Pastan’s Almost an Elegy: New and Selected Later Poems. My purchase was prompted because of this poem (continuing to speak of generations and cusps) that Bethany shared:

The Last Uncle

The last uncle is pushing off
in his funeral skiff (the usual
black limo) having locked
the doors behind him
on a whole generation.

And look, we are the elders now
with our torn scraps
of history, alone
on the mapless shore
of this raw new century.

—Linda Pastan

I’m not the elder generation in my family yet, but many people my age are in theirs. In a conversation this week about whether we are at the beginning or in the middle of what’s happening to our country, I could see how I was gathering my own “torn scraps/of history,” and Pastan is a good person to provide guideposts into the later stages of life. (Any stage of life, really.) I also bought Kate Baer’s What Kind of Woman, because Bethany’s post reminded me of how much I like a certain kind of plain-spoken poetry (Ted Kooser is a favorite in that vein), and I saw it in the bookstore one day after skating. I decided it was time I got over not wanting to buy a book by a popular, best-selling poet. Her writing fits into the plain-spoken category, and I’ve liked some of her poems that I’ve encountered via social media, so why wouldn’t I buy her book? (I’m not going to delve into what my aversion is about or where it comes from. Probably more social programming from my youth that involved responses to Rod McKuen.)

In addition to poetry, I bought a kind of book I never buy: City Farmhouse Style: Designs for a Modern Country Life. I encountered it in the library, and the first house featured looked so much like the Louisiana house Cane and I bought and have begun renovating that I bought a copy and sent it to my mother-in-law (who will be living in the house). What kind of woman buys a house in a part of the country that continues to vote in people she thinks are hellbent on destroying it and that is likely to be impacted by climate change in ways she can hardly bear to think about, and then buys a book that–on the surface, at least–is everything she dislikes about so much of contemporary discourse on home decor? This kind, I guess.

I wanted (and tried and failed) to write about the house, which we began demo on last week while we were on spring break. Here’s a peek at what it currently looks like:

Image of a room with exposed wood walls and ceilings. Wood is not in good condition.

This is the main living area, with doors to the bathroom and main bedroom. Here’s what the bathroom looked like mid-cleanup after demo:

Small room with rough wood walls, plumbing pipes. No tub, sink, or toilet.

I wanted to write about this house–which means writing about family and history and geography and politics and climate change and mortality and generations–but I got all stopped up with the complex messiness of it all. Maybe I’ll be able to sort it out in time.

Speaking of houses and design and artistic expression, I really liked a home featured on Cup of Jo this week. The owner is a pastry chef, restaurant owner, artist, and mother.

I like the homey-ness of all the images. I like how things don’t match. I like how it resists any kind of label I see in the titles of design books in the library (farmhouse, coastal, cottage, etc.). It’s a colorful, in many ways hand-made home, unlike so many of the ones I typically see in blogs, instagram posts, and real estate listings. (I love real estate listings and follow realtors even though we are not in the market to buy or sell or move.) We’ve painted almost every room in our house white, and my reaction to this house saturated in color has me wondering about that. The homeowner featured in the story passes on a suggestion from a designer to look in one’s closet for clues to our design style, and mine is filled with neutrals in solid colors. I like neutrals and I like our home (a lot), but there is something in the colorful messiness of hue and pattern in this home that really speaks to me and now has me wondering what kind of home 1977 Rita might grow up to choose and create for herself if she’d been 12 in 2007 or 20017 and why 2023 Rita is muted in so many ways and what these things that have caught my attention this week all have to do with what’s happening in the world as I am trying to keep my balance on the cusp of old age.


I would love to hear what’s caught your attention this week, or how you feel about your generational label or what it was like to come of age as your gender in your time or what you’re reading or what you’ve bought (or not) and what kinds of spaces you like to be in. Or mortality. (Good thing I haven’t aspired to write a lifestyle blog, eh?)

This shot makes me think of the last lines in Maggie Smith’s “Good Bones.”

“This place could be beautiful,

right? You could make this place beautiful.”

I’m guessing many of you know the poem and that she’s got a memoir coming out. This excerpt from it made the rounds this week. It’s a good read, speaking of women and their voices and socialization and poetry and success and how much things have and haven’t changed.

I go back to February 1963

Last month we celebrated my parents’ 60th wedding anniversary. As the milestone approached, I kept thinking of Sharon Olds’s “I Go Back to May 1937,” and the words she uses to describe her parents on the brink of their marriage:

“…they are about to get married,   

they are kids, they are dumb, all they know is they are   


From “I Go Back to May 1937“)

I tried to write about this, but it felt unkind to share that these are the words that came to me when I thought about my parents marrying. I worried how they might feel if they were to read my writing and see them. On the weekend we celebrated their anniversary, though, my mother made a joke about how she was sure no one thought their marriage would last.

“Really?” I asked.

“Oh, sure,” she said. “We were so young and dumb.”  

How could they have been anything else? They were only 19 and 22, for god’s sake! Before their second anniversary, we were a family of four, which means that I have memories of my parents in their 20s, 30s, 40s and all the decades that followed. It means that we were all very young together.

It’s a long story, the one of their marriage, our family.

Olds’s poem is harsh and bleak. For a time–back when my dad was still drinking, when my own life was unspooling–it was the kind of poem I might have written myself. I understood the desire of the poem’s speaker to go back and prevent a marriage that was an impetus of pain. I read her words and wondered if my parents, too, were the wrong people for each other, and if it would have been better for all of us if they hadn’t married. I wondered that even as I knew it would mean that I wouldn’t exist to wonder about anything.

Later, when we were all a bit older, a bit more developed–when my dad was sober and I’d managed to stitch together a healthier life–I no longer wished to spare us all by undoing their union. When I would look at their wedding photo I’d wish instead that I could wave some sort of magic wand and cast away the hard things we were all going to live through, keeping the good and tossing the bad. I’d keep the dad who did math problems at the kitchen table with me after dinner and came to every one of my track meets, but not his moods that could turn suddenly, frighteningly dark. I’d keep the brother I shot baskets with in the backyard, but lose his long-undiagnosed autism that no one understood or knew what to do about. I’d keep the kind, gentle mother who was my refuge, but also, somehow, let her have a larger life in which she could more fully be an artist or athlete or activist.

But that’s not how any life works, is it? That’s probably for the best, for who would my parents be, if I could possess such a wand, and who would my brother and I be, if we were not the people our fates have forged us into being? Who is to say that an alternate life would have been any kinder to us, that our sorrows would be lesser or our joys greater? After all, my parents are still here, together, by choice. Not habit nor dysfunction nor impossible-to-escape circumstances, but by deliberate choice.

When I was lost in the forest of my own marriage’s demise, I asked my mother why she’d stayed in hers.

“I always loved your dad,” she said. “Even at the worst times, I never wanted to be not married to him.”

What a great gift, to live your days with someone who has known and loved every adult iteration of yourself you’ve ever been and continues to willingly, purposefully choose you. It’s hard for me, who will never know that, to think of a better foundation for a good life.

I hesitate to let that last paragraph stand. To share any of this post, if I’m being honest. I have struggled to write it. I have struggled to find words that are neither sentimental nor simplistic, to convey truths more complicated than our usual narratives about long unions tend to be. I have struggled to find words that are both kind and true. Because the truth is: My childhood was hard. My parents suffered. My brother suffered. I suffered. My children have suffered as a result of the ways in which my suffering formed me. These words feel unkind, and how do I explain that even in the face of these truths, I wouldn’t go back and tell those young, dumb kids not to do it? It’s not just because, like Olds, I want to live. (Though I do. I want to live.) It’s because I want us to get to where we are now.

Please don’t misunderstand. I’m not saying that all you need is love, or that eventual benefit outweighs earlier harm, or that our pain didn’t matter or wasn’t significant. It did, and it was. But our suffering is not the whole story, and while things that happened cannot change over time, our stories, like people, can. I want to get to the story I know now.

When I look at my parents’ wedding day photo today, I still see two innocent kids who were far too young for marriage–especially the one they were going to have. But I also see in their faces, on what my dad recently told me was the best day of his life, a story about the kind of bright hope we all have when we are making our first important choices, and what I feel most for those kids now is tenderness–tenderness and the kind of protectiveness I feel for my own children, who are already older than my parents were when I was born. I look at that photo and I want my dad to have that day. I want my mom to smile that brilliant smile. I want these things because every life has its moments of tragedy and sorrow, no matter how carefully or prudently it is lived, and no matter what things did or didn’t happen afterward, their joy on that day was pure and true. I want that kind of joy to have happened, to have existed in our broken world. I want that joy to be what it has been, the seed of so many others we have all experienced throughout our lives. I want it for them, and for my children, and for myself.

When I look at that photo and then ahead to my childhood that will follow it, what I see now is how young and tender and gorgeous we all were, together, and, often, how dumb. How we were everything all at once, and still are.

I couldn’t see that when we were in the thick of it. I couldn’t see how much we all, more often than we got it, needed some grace and a hug. Of course my parents did damage; how could they not, damaged as they were by their own parents, who were in turn damaged by theirs, and all of them damaged by living in world of damaged and damaging people? Don’t all parents do harm, no matter how old we are when we make a family, no matter how much we are determined not to? Don’t we all struggle, doesn’t life throw hardballs at all of our heads? I tried to tell myself once, when I was a teenager, that they didn’t really love me, but it was no good. I knew that they did. I knew they always had and always would. And I know fully now what some part of me grasped only a little at 14: They always did the best they could with what they had, and that counts for more than a person might think. What I also know now that I didn’t then is that not all parents do these things–love unconditionally, do the best they can. I know that, in some ways, despite the ways in which fate was unkind to our young family, I have been all kinds of lucky.

Now, when I go back to February 1963, I see them the night before their wedding, she in impossibly tiny capri pants, he in a button-down shirt and chinos. He is lying on his back, legs raised to the ceiling, with her girlish body balanced atop his feet. She’s facing him, their hands clasped, and she smiles down at him, looking, perhaps, like she knows a secret. They are playing like the kids they are. They are young and dumb and all they know is that they are in love. In a few short years, when he plays this game of airplane with his daughter, she will fear falling but will also willingly choose the rush of flight, begging “do it again!” each time he lands her safely on the ground. This will not be a metaphor for her life with them. It will be only one kind of memory out of multitudes. She cannot have the one without all the others, which is why, when that girl grows up and is getting old herself, she will write her way to a place where she imagines going back in time and saying to them:

Yes, go ahead, do it again. Do what you are going to do. Fly.

It snowed

A lot.

image of outside chair with about 10 inches of snow on it.

The forecast was for a trace to 2″ in higher elevations. Hah!

image of outside chair with about 10 inches of snow on it.

It started snowing around 10:00 AM, but nothing was sticking because temps weren’t below freezing. It started to stick around 11:00, but not much, and the temperatures were still above freezing. Many of us didn’t think that much about it because…oh, I don’t know. Because we all count on weather forecasts to be accurate now. Because whenever we all get excited about possible snow, it almost never materializes. Because it was sticking to some things, but the roads were still clear. Because last week was false spring in northwest Oregon, and we’ve collectively decided that the time for real winter has passed.

Some schools closed early, but many did not because it wasn’t supposed to freeze until later, after the snow was supposed to stop falling.

Many, many people ended up on the road around 3:30, when, instead of tapering off, the snow started falling harder and the temperature dropped. People like Cane and me, who had to go feed his daughter’s cat. We could have left to feed the cat earlier in the day, when his school closed at noon, but instead we took a nap. Because we were tired. Because we knew we could go later. Because there wasn’t that much snow on the road and it would probably melt. Because the weather was not a big deal.


image of outside chair with about 10 inches of snow on it.

Once in the car, we quickly realized our folly.

About a third of the way there we realized that even if we could get to said cat, we might not be able to get back home. That realization took us a bit of time to get to because denial is a strong persuader, and it’s hard to let go of our ideas about what we can and can’t control and how things are supposed to be. But finally, reluctantly, we admitted that the cat could live until we could get there the next day, but we might be in some trouble if we didn’t turn around. We ducked into a side street and went around the block to get ourselves going in the opposite direction on the street pictured above. We then moved two car lengths in 20 minutes. And while we were idling and trying to make a plan, we had the further realization that all of the routes home we might take included a slope of one kind or another.

We needed to bail on the whole enterprise of driving.

We took the first turn onto a side street that we could, and we drove as far in the direction of our house as we could before hitting another clogged street or hill. Then, we parked our car on the side of the road, locked it, and began a nearly 2 mile walk to our house, with snow blowing in our faces in below-freezing temperatures.

Before we left the house, I’d grabbed a pair of thin, knit gloves I use for skating, but not my warm ski gloves. “It’s not like the horse is going to die and we’re going to have to get there on foot,” I’d joked, “but I feel like I should have something if we’re going out in bad weather.” I was sure I wouldn’t need them.


We walked a mile. We took our glasses off because we realized we could see better without them. The world felt a little apocalyptic.

We stopped at a bar to dry off and warm up because our pants and my silly gloves were soaking wet and my thighs had gone numb. Cane got his glasses out, and the frame snapped in two. We ordered a drink.

From the news playing on big screens, we learned that another 4-6″ was now expected to fall through the night. We realized we’d best get moving. So we did. More blowing snow. More trudging. More numb thighs and cold hands. And then we finally got home, around 6:30.

It kept snowing. And snowing. And snowing.

image of outside chair with about 10 inches of snow on it.

But our power stayed on, and we had food, and it was pretty, and we felt lucky.

It turned out to be the second-biggest snowfall that Portland’s ever recorded. (The #1 spot goes to a snow in 1943.) Ten inches wouldn’t be a very big deal in a lot of places, but it is here, where we rarely see that kind of accumulation. It took some guy on Reddit more than 12 hours to get home, and the news reported 6 hour commutes for many. Some people on interstate roadways walked away from their cars. It was a big deal because weren’t ready for it, we have little experience with it, and–because this kind of thing is rare–we don’t have a lot of infrastructure in place for it.

So much depends upon what you’re prepared for, doesn’t it?

The next day we took the bus to the cat. Had the whole thing to ourselves.

The cat was OK, and we were OK. We ended up doing some more walking in the cold east winds, but it was no longer snowing, and we had good shoes and hats and gloves. I wore thicker jeans than I’d had on the night before.

The day was beautiful. Still, it was cold, and it felt so nice to walk up to our cozy little house when we finally got there. Again.

As I finish these words, we’re in the ugly stage of snow. It’s raining, and the view out my window is full of chunky, dirty-gray sludge. We should soon be back to our region’s normal. I’m going to miss our brief respite from normal. The night we walked home, we passed a sloping street with a long back-up of cars. Several people who lived along that street were out with snow shovels, helping people get their cars unstuck. Stories of good samaritans made the news. On Friday, the streets were quiet in the way they were during the early days of the pandemic. The few of us who were out smiled at each other more than we usually do. Our Thursday night was challenging, but now we’ve got a good story we’ll tell each other when snow falls in the future. It’s been a quiet weekend of leftovers and movies and puzzling. A big part of me hates to see it end.

Still, I know other good things are on the way, and it will always be true that change is the only constant.

Daffodil sprouts pushing up through the snow.