When it rains…

I have a story to tell. It’s a story about inner voices, parenting, perceptions, professionalism, growth, and aging.

Unfortunately, I currently have only one hand to type with, and that is slow-going. So, the story-telling is going to have to wait a bit. Here’s the short version: I fell while learning a routine for an ice-skating show I had mixed feelings about participating in. I went to urgent care because I hit my head (hard), but it was my arm/wrist that was more seriously hurt. It’s in a splint, but will likely get a cast next week. A bone-density scan is in my future. A nurse-practitioner was a jerk and triggered old things. Many thoughts and realizations followed. I’m OK. Planning to get back on my skates as soon as I can because I want to and I get to and F*** that guy who was a jerk.

Take care out there.

Simple things, done beautifully

Almost a year and a half ago, I wrote a post about my rekindled romance with ice skating. Me + skating was full of what a friend of mine calls “new relationship energy.” I was positively giddy with possibility, and it felt amazing.


Those first-stage-of-love endorphins have died down, and a part of me was relieved to take a break from skating when we left to spend the summer in Louisiana. I hadn’t been able to skate consistently for several months, and my progress had stalled. I wasn’t sure about what kind of skater I wanted to be, and I was struggling with all the beliefs I’ve internalized about productivity and how they rubbed up against the time I was taking to do an activity that I saw as being primarily about my own enjoyment. I just wasn’t sure where I wanted the relationship to go, to the point that I was wondering if I even wanted to continue it.

Still, I returned to the ice in mid-August. The first few times were rough! I loved seeing people I’d missed, but I’d lost strength. I’d lost moves I previously had. I’d lost stamina. I made myself stay for an hour, but after only 20 minutes what I really wanted was to go home.

What a gift. For all that I know–truly!–that many of my feelings about productivity and time stem from problematic socialization, I have a really hard time doing something that’s just for me, just because I want to. The quick deterioration of balance, strength and stamina, despite a summer of hard, physical work, helped me see that skating isn’t just fun for me; it is a way for me to maintain physical functioning as I age. Because I’ve become part of a community of skaters, it also provides the mental health benefits that come from connection and belonging. It ticks off two of the seven keys to longevity that mark the lifestyles of those living in blue zones. I got off the ice my first day back more committed than I’d ever been to make space in my life for skating.

Committing to the relationship was only the first hurdle. I quickly realized that I still had to figure how to be in the relationship.

There are a lot of options for adult skaters–testing, competitions, clubs, classes, private lessons, etc. There are different kinds of skating a person might focus on–freestyle (jumps and spins), dance (solo or paired), moves in the field. I’d thought about and dabbled in different ways of skating since first returning to the ice. Exploring was good and I’m glad I tried on different goals and ways of being a skater, but my lack of a clear focus contributed to my feelings of ennui. Then, a long thread in an online forum this August full of older skaters talking about life-altering skating injuries gave me serious pause about my attempts to return to jumping and spinning. Did I really want to risk my ability to do all kinds of things I now take for granted just so I could do a waltz jump that was likely never going to look or feel the way it did 45 years ago? A few weeks ago, while talking about possible goals with another skater, I said, “I think I’d rather do simple things beautifully than hard or risky things I can barely get through.” As soon as I heard myself, I knew I’d figured it out, my new skating manifesto:

Simple things, done beautifully.

I want to be a strong skater. I want to skate with speed. I want to skate without fear. I want to skate gracefully. I can do all of those things if I’m skating simply.

At my next lesson, I shared this way of thinking about it with my coach. “You often say you don’t want to nit-pick,” I told him, “but I think I want you to nit-pick. I don’t want to just execute a move. I want to master it.” He took me back to working on basics.

I then had one of the best lessons I’ve ever had. Focusing on moving beautifully broke through a block in understanding I’d had about doing crossovers, one of the simplest moves there is. I was able to do crossovers more powerfully than I had previously, and with less fear.

That felt so good, I started thinking about how it might be to do other simple things beautifully. I followed Kate Lebo’s process for making chicken pot pie, one night roasting a chicken and making gravy, and the next roasting vegetables (using herbs from our garden) and making pie crust. The third night I put all the parts together into a pie, and it was pretty amazing. Pot pie is one of the simplest dishes there is, and Lebo showed me how to make it beautifully. Now, I’m wondering how I might apply this way of thinking and being to everything–to my relationships, to work, to writing, to making a home.

I’ve been thinking particularly about how this idea can serve me within the context of aging. My return to skating has, like nothing else, made concrete the disconcerting abstraction that my body is going to deteriorate (if I’m lucky) before it dies. I know in new ways that the longer I live, the more I will lose of the physical being I once was. Losing things is hard. It has been hard to accept lost abilities that will never return. It has been hard to lose my youthful conviction that if I just work hard enough, my body can do whatever I want it to. I know that confronting such kinds of loss this late in life is a sign of my good fortune. I’m grateful for it, but loss is still loss. I think, perhaps, that one way to find peace with it all is to think about how to do fewer things more beautifully.

Doing simple things beautifully wasn’t always an option when I was younger and in the thick of parenting and teaching, because doing things more beautifully doesn’t necessarily mean doing them more easily. I lived those years in survival mode, getting done what I had to get done in whatever ways I could manage. My life was complicated, and it was often far from beautiful. Chicken pot pie from scratch for a weeknight dinner was not something I had any capacity for.

But, now I do, at least some of the time. Again, what a gift.

It is nice, in this stage of life that can be so marked by loss, to find things we might gain. I love the paradox of gaining by letting go, of expanding what’s possible by lessening our expectations. In my first identity as a skater, I was someone who advanced quickly. I was “a natural.” My coach would show me how to do something, and I could just do it. Big goals were in the realm of possibility. I have had to let go of that identity. I am not that skater now. I’m never going to land (much less attempt) a double salchow again, and it takes me much longer to improve when learning something new, but a strong, sweeping, beautiful, simple swing roll, for example, is definitely within reach.

Isn’t that a gift, too, to be be able to find paths to growth, even as we become, in some ways, diminished? I think it is, and I’ll take it–to my garden, to my friendships, to my home, and even to my writing here.

I would love to hear how any of these thoughts land on you, and of how you do simple things beautifully.

(Tomatoes picked yesterday from our simple garden. We grow only tomatoes, a few herbs, blueberries, and raspberries.)

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.


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.

Fleetingly sweet

carton of strawberries

I discovered Hood strawberries about 15 years ago; a classmate brought them to a potluck we had for our final class session. Despite having lived in Oregon for nearly two decades, I had never tasted them, a local berry more tiny, juicy and sweet than any I’d known.

They are named for the mountain I once lived on, which is named for a British admiral who never stepped foot on it, by an invader/explorer who came from the people who took over the land and, thus, got to name it. I’d much prefer that they be called Wy’east berries, which is the name the Multnomah people used for the mountain.

A potluck is not the same thing as a potlatch, which I learned about in second grade in Mrs. Smallwood’s class. “Potlatch” is a word from the Nootka, a northwest Native tribe, that means “gift.” At a potlatch, hosts give away gifts to show their regard for their guests. Hood strawberries, despite their name–which came through a process of theft–would be an appropriate thing to either bring or give away at a gathering. Mrs. Smallwood lived on the shore of Puget Sound, a body of water named by the man who led the expedition of the man who named the mountain, for another man in his party. It is part of the Salish Sea, a name and way of viewing the waters I grew up near that I did not learn about as a child. (Washington state did not officially recognize the name until 2009, long after my childhood had passed on.) Mrs. Smallwood invited all of us to her home on the beach for a potlatch that was more of a potluck. Our parents brought food, and we fired the coil pots we’d made in our classroom in pits in the sand, as we were told the Native people had done. What a gift–no matter the name of the gathering–to be a child in a time and place where a teacher could open her home in such a way.

The strawberries are only available for a few short weeks in June, a gift fleeting as that month’s green grass, mild sun, and rose blossoms. I used to try to make the gift last longer, boiling the berries into jam or freezing them whole. I had fantasies of perfect June berries in my January yogurt, a spot of sunshine in the cloudiest time of year. The jam proved to be no substitute for a solid berry, and the whole ones I froze defrosted into a sloppy mush. I threw them all in the compost bin the next June, after thinking all winter that I would surely do something with them, and finally admitting that I wanted them only the way that I can have them in June, or not at all.

I now have them only once a year, for a few short weeks that are never enough and always so much.

This week my friend Lisa brought Hood strawberries and angel food cake to an impromptu dinner. We talked of many things that are changing: our bodies, our work, our environment, our world. “Enjoy avocados while you can,” she said as we discussed diminishing water supplies and schemes to desalinate ocean water and pipe it to southwest states.

I used to want to dole the berries out and eat them slowly, as if that might somehow make them last longer. Or, I’d only get them when I could make them into some dish worthy of their greatness. Or, I’d only eat them when I could savor them, fully appreciate them. I was afraid, if I ate them too quickly, that I wouldn’t have them when I really wanted them. Inevitably, some would rot while I was waiting for the right time, or I’d end up getting only one carton in a season.

Now, I buy them whenever I see them and eat them while they are fresh. I’ve given myself permission to take a few each time I open the refrigerator. I get them as often as I can, because the season is so short and nothing is guaranteed. For all I know, this is the last year I will get to eat Hood strawberries. I know for sure it is the last year that this version of me will. Next year’s Rita might not be able to enjoy them in the same way that this year’s Rita can.

Life is so full of big, hard things we can barely swallow. People lose their land, their names, their loves, their lives. The more I lose the more determined I am to eat all the sweet things that I can, while I can, with love and appreciation and gusto.

single strawberry

Spring gleanings

50-something woman in an old t-shirt and gardening hat, smiling, with trees blooming in the background

This week, the sun finally returned, and it was glorious. I spent three mornings in a row working in our yard, reveling in the glory that is morning gardening on a mild, sunny day: getting my hands in the dirt, feeling sweat trickle down the small of my back, knowing that at night my body is going to be the right kind of tired.

I spent the first morning releasing root-bound plants from their pots. They reminded me of my life before. Before this marriage, this home, days filled with this kind of work. After freeing the plants from their clay prisons, I put them directly into the ground, where their roots will have room to roam, to weave themselves into soil I have amended with compost. Isn’t it funny how garbage and shit is a thing that can help flowers grow taller and bloom brighter, filling in their leggy stems with glossy leaves?

A collection of unplanted flower starts, grouped together in a box from the nursery

This weekend Cane and I celebrated our second anniversary. That seems a silly milestone, a pittance of time, a meaningless marker in the story we’re living. We have known each other for more than 20 years, and I don’t know how to measure our time together, how to measure us. There have been so many iterations and mutations of us. I cannot remember when I first met him and cannot say when we first became a couple. I mean, I can give you a year, but the line of crossing over from one thing to the other was fuzzy, and now drawn so long ago that it’s become quite faded. Even I can’t see it clearly. Years after that, there were the years we weren’t a couple but were still friends. Still loved each other. We were each still the person the other called when they really needed a person. Later, we became a couple again, but again I cannot give you a date that a line was crossed. It was something we grew back into tentatively. With all that, we were not legally married until two years ago. I want to say that, perhaps, an anniversary is about a lack of fuzziness–that it the marker of a clear line between one state of togetherness and another–but, even after we crossed that line we did not live together as husband and wife. That did not happen until several months after we became husband and wife.

So, the official anniversary seems a bit of a contrivance, but we marked it anyway. It was a good excuse to treat ourselves to our favorite things: walks, naps, good food, long talks, gardening, time at home together.

The traditional second anniversary gift is cotton, which brings to mind bed linens or fine stationery. We decided to buy ourselves plants for the garden. Close enough, we think. Cotton is a plant growing in the ground before we transform it to meet our needs. We bought herbs, strawberries, native perennials, and annuals: flavor, sustenance, longevity, and bright, fleeting color.

Dark, mossy cement patio with curving light lines left from a power-washer

Friday was one of my favorite days of the year: Power-washing day. Every spring there is a day when we bring the power-washer out to clean the backyard patio and sidewalk, and this year it was Friday, the third day in a row of morning gardening.

For some reason, this year, before I began, I told myself that maybe the patio didn’t even need washing. It didn’t look very dirty. Maybe just in a few spots. Then I began, and I could see how wrong I’d been.

This is the thing I love about white space: How it helps us see. It’s only when I create white space on the patio that I can fully appreciate the story winter has written on our home. As I twirled the water nozzle over the concrete canvas, making designs, I thought about all the things for which white space is essential: poems, graphic design, architecture. A garden, a marriage, a life. I thought about how, sometimes, I love white space for what it reveals, for what it shines a light on, and other times I love it for itself. There are times when the clear blank space–not the dark matter it weaves itself through–is the thing of beauty, is the art, is the point of it all.

Sun setting on a lush, spring-time garden

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.