Getting collective with it

As promised in my last post, I’m working on launching a project and I want this project to be a collective effort. I’m reaching out to ask for your support and expertise.

I’m looking for adult/young adult fiction/memoir that illuminates the experience of Americans in the following categories: immigrant, refugee, Muslim, African-American, disabled, Native American, Asian, women, LGBT. I’m interested in any group targeted in the election campaign and/or vulnerable if proposed policies are implemented.

I’m most interested in contemporary works that depict current American lives, and I’d like a range of ages for the main characters. Please share any titles you’d recommend in the comments.

Thank You!

Wednesday Words: 1.6.16


To Her Absent Husband

I try to love you with light hands,
fingers cupped enough to hold you,
yet open, so you won’t mistake them for a cage,
but no matter how I curl them, too often
they are empty and you are gone again.
You seem to me then like a suit on a hanger,
or a car idling at a curb, no driver in the front seat.
I walk into love’s closet and bury my face in the suit’s jacket, inhaling
your scent, but the empty sleeves hang slack above my hips.
In the car, I rest my cheek against the cold window,
the chorus of a song you once gave me playing
in my head, wondering if you still listen to that music.

When I am away from you, my wonderings bloom
like weeds in the field of space between us, and then our marriage is a kite
I am running with to hold aloft.

I am tired of running, of looking backwards to see
if the kite is still there, bobbing in our infinite sky.
I need to let go of the string.
It is a beautiful kite, and I love it.
I love it.
But I don’t want a kite.
I want, perhaps, a glass of water.
A letter to read by the bank of a river, or in front of a fire.
A pair of warm socks.
I want something I can put on, hold close, drink from.
There are many things I might be for you,
would be for you, forever:
a sheer curtain, the limb of an oak, a painting
on the wall of a favorite room.
I do not want to be a shovel or a boot.
I do not want to be a cracked teacup, a scratched record,
a shutter banging against the house on a cold night.
I will not be the dog who whines outside your closed door.

Poem is mine. Photo is from: ** RCB ** via Compfight cc

Recently, someone asked about posting their own Wednesday Words and linking to them here. Please let me know in the comments if that’s something you’d like to do. And if you do your own version of Wednesday Words, please feel free to leave a comment with a link to your post. 

Yeah, about those napkins…


they didn’t get finished. But it’s OK.

Despite starting in early November, which I thought would give me plenty of time, I ran out of it. No–that’s not quite right. I chose to use my time differently.

I might have finished the napkins, if…

  • I’d chosen a simpler design for them.
  • I’d done pretty much nothing but embroider during every free minute from Thanksgiving to Christmas.


When I found myself feeling anxious and resentful about the project, I knew it was time to let go of it as a Christmas present. To hang onto my original goal, I’d have had to give up other things:

The quality of the finished product. I might have followed the advice some readers gave to embroider only one flower per napkin, but I really didn’t want to. I like them as they are coming to be, and I didn’t want to compromise that.

Time with my family. Although I can sometimes work on the project while in the same room with my family, I’m not giving them the same kind of attention when I do that. I chose to be more fully present than I would otherwise have been, which was something we all needed.

Other gifts that were also meaningful. I didn’t finish the napkins, but I did make these journals for a friend/colleague and her daughters. They were quick and easy and quite satisfying (and I’ll put up a quick post about them in a few days).


I really did want to finish the project and give it to my mom for Christmas, but the relief I felt when I gave myself permission to let go of it (for now) told me that letting go was the right choice. The work already done is not wasted; they will be just as appreciated for Mother’s Day or for her birthday in September. In the end, I got my mom a pair of pretty pajamas, which she loved, and I gave myself the gift of a little gentleness, which I sorely needed to get through the holidays in what has been (and continues to be) a difficult season of my life.


It was good to get a reminder that we always have the power to make choices and the ability to change our minds.  And, that what we originally hope for might not be the only good outcome.

I hope you’ve all had wonderful holidays. Looking forward to connecting with you more often in this space now that things will settle down a bit. (I hope! Don’t want to jinx things!)

Welcome to Siberia

Welcome to Holland, a pretty famous essay about having a child with a disability, likens the experience to ending up in Holland when one has booked a trip to Italy. While it contains some important truths, it doesn’t really capture the disability story I’ve been living, one of parenting a child who develops serious mental health issues during adolescence . So, I wrote my own version. I call it, “Welcome to Siberia.”

Having a baby is like moving to a fabulous foreign country–say, Italy. Sure, it takes a while to get used to living in a whole new land, but…it’s Italy. There’s sun, and good food, and beautiful things to see, and everyone loves bambinos.


Years pass, and life goes along as life does, largely without notice, but one day you and the rest of your family get on a train that doesn’t stop where you expected to get off.

You tell yourself that it’s no big deal and that you’ll just exit at the next stop, but the train moves past it, too. You’re not sure of what to do. You’re not even sure if you should worry. I mean, you’re all safe, and you’re in Italy of all places.

But stop after stop ticks by, and the train is picking up speed, and you start to feel a bit panicked. You look around for a conductor, some kind of helper, but no one seems to know what’s going on.


The train keeps going, and because you’re so stunned by the unexpected weirdness of what’s happening, it takes a while for you to register that the train is on its way out of the country, out of your country, your beloved Italy. It’s just so unbelievable. I mean, how did you all get trapped on a train to…where is this train going anyway?

You travel through terrain you think you’ve maybe read about somewhere, but it’s nowhere you’ve ever wanted to visit, and at some point (you don’t know where, because you still don’t know where the hell you are), you let go of your denial-fueled belief that someone is going to fix this obvious mistake and help you get back to Italy right away. You become angry, and sad, and in quiet moments when the kids aren’t looking you admit to yourself that you are very, very scared.

Just when you finally accept that you may never return to Italy, the train stops. The doors open, and you step into…Siberia.


The first thing you notice is that it is really fucking cold in Siberia.

The kids start whining and you know that none of you are equipped for this place. You don’t even have warm coats. Your co-parent (because parenting has become the defining element of your relationship to each other) shoots you a look that says, “How in the hell are we all going to survive this?

No one welcomes you to Siberia, but after awhile you see that there are some other people here. You’re desperate for information (Why are we here? How do we make it in this place? How do we get back home?), but you’re also afraid to approach them, afraid to get too close, afraid it might mean that this exile is not just some horrible dream.


You’re lonely and you want to talk to someone, but you’re also not sure you really want to hear what any of these people might have to tell you. You know it’s not rational, but on some level you think that if you accept them and this place, it will seal your fate, make it impossible for you to leave. And you really, really want to leave. You make small talk, but your heart’s not in it.

Your heart is back in Italy.

You send letters and emails home, trying to explain to friends and family still there what happened to you. Some you don’t hear back from, and some send messages full of advice that only works in Italy.

Clearly, they have never been to Siberia.

Some want to understand and help, they truly do, but you can’t find the words to convey how sharply a Siberian wind can cut, how empty the sky can feel. Some tell you it must not be so different from being in Holland (even though they’ve never been there, either), and you kinda want to snap at them,

“Do you know what I’d give to see a goddamn tulip right now?”

But you know they mean well and they’re trying to help and it’s not their fault you’ve been sent to this godforsaken place where you’re pretty sure tulips will never, ever grow.

It’s hard to keep trying to explain, and you’re more than a little afraid that everyone back home is wondering what you did to make this happen to your family (because that’s what you are wondering, too), so you begin sending messages with general pleasantries instead:

“The sky was blue today.”

“It was nice to have some warm soup.”

“The wind has died down a bit.” 

Your Italian friends miss you, but they seem relieved when it seems that you’ve begun to adjust. You still love them and they love you, but you know the relationships probably can’t be quite the same, what with them there and you here, in Siberia.


Eventually, just as when you moved to Italy, life goes back to going along as life does, and you become accustomed to your “new normal.” Still, you really miss Italy sometimes. You wish you’d appreciated more of it while you were there. You wonder if it would have been easier to have lived all those earlier years in Holland and never known Italy. You wonder if Holland is where you’re going to end up, and you’re just on this arduous detour through Siberia because that’s the path for parents who got to live in Italy first.

But mostly–because you now understand that you will never return to Italy and that anyone can be exiled at any time, with no warning–you allow yourself to let these questions go, and you surrender to Siberia.

Gradually, your expectations change. Your dreams change. You become grateful for different sorts of things–like, that you still have dreams and expectations. That although the landscape’s beauty is of the desolate kind, there is beauty, and you do see it.


It’s only then you realize that even in Siberia, there are seasons. There are days, weeks, even months  of relative warmth, and damn if there aren’t even a few tulips after all–flowers more lovely to you than any that ever bloomed in Italy, not in small part because they are rare, and because they’ve blossomed where you once thought nothing delicate could grow.

siberian tulip

Ball Crawl Photo Credit: Rita Ott Ramstad
Moving Train Photo Credit: Cellanova via Compfight cc
Winter Tundra Photo Credit: Photo Credit: dration via Compfight cc
Boots Photo Credit: sibwarden via Compfight cc
Mail Photo Credit: Ian Broyles via Compfight cc
Siberian Beauty Photo Credit: sidnegail via Compfight cc
Siberian Tulip Photo Credit:

Real Life

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

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

cane asleep on couch

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

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

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

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

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

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

FIRE: Smoky haze continues today. So much loss.

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

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

LOOK UP: I also like to look close.

LOOK UP: I also like to look close.

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

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

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

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

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

Are you already doing the thing you’re meant to do?

During a visit to Powell’s early this summer, I found myself irritated by yet another book of the follow-your-bliss ilk, Elle Luna’s The Crossroads of Should and Must:  Find and Follow Your Passion.

crossroads cover

What a churlish, bitter old person I must be, to find such a positive and inspiring (and visually adorable) book irritating! Yet, irritated I was, and irritated I have been at the plethora of voices telling me I have a One True Thing and that the path to a meaningful, contented life is to quit the things I don’t like so I can  live out my passion.



(The Holstee Manifesto, which you can find here:

I thought perhaps it was all just sour grapes on my part. I spent years–no, decades!–trying desperately to figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up. Sometime in the last few I decided that my time to satisfactorily answer that question had run out.

And that sucked.

It was a source of dissatisfaction and disappointment and a keen sense that I somehow missed out, had wasted my “one wild and precious life“–despite the fact that I had, for a while, rejected the whole idea that we have a One True Thing. Because there are so many, many things I am interested in and want to do, I’ve wondered if the idea that we all have a One Thing is counter-productive. Perhaps, even, destructive.

Being the kind of person who can’t help poking at a canker sore with my tongue, a few days later I checked out the viral internet post that Luna’s book grew from. And there I read the words that turned my irritation and discontent on their unpleasant heads:

Should is how others want us to show up in the world — how we’re supposed to think, what we ought to say, what we should or shouldn’t do. It’s the vast array of expectations that others layer upon us. When we choose Should the journey is smooth, the risk is small.

Must is different—there aren’t options and we don’t have a choice.

Must is who we are, what we believe, and what we do when we are alone with our truest, most authentic self. It’s our instincts, our cravings and longings, the things and places and ideas we burn for, the intuition that swells up from somewhere deep inside of us.

The turning didn’t happen instantaneously. The words had to stew around in my head for a day or so. Has there ever, I wondered, been a Must in my life? Has anything ever felt not optional? 

As a matter of fact, there has been, and the moment I finally saw it I felt the plates of my being shift:


This wasn’t the satisfactory shift of things clicking into place. It was more like the shifting of tectonic plates, the kind that jolts the ground beneath your feet.

No, no, no, no, NO:  Mothering could not be my Must, my One True Thing! If anything was, it was supposed to be  writing. I’d known that ever since 9th grade, when my first poem was published and a portfolio of my work placed in a prestigious writing contest and Mrs. Marchbank, my beloved creative writing teacher, told me that she knew one day she’d walk into a bookstore and see my books on the shelf.

I’d known even longer that mothering was not the thing that could or should be any woman’s True Thing. I grew up during the second wave of the 20th century feminist movement, when we listened to Free to Be You and Me in the classroom, and Title IX meant I had a right play sports with the boys, and passage of the Equal Rights Amendment felt like an inevitability. Sure, I was raised by a (mostly) stay-at-home mom, but she was one who refused to buy me Barbies because she didn’t want me to think looking pretty and dressing up was what being a woman was all about.

By the time I read Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique and Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale in college, I wasn’t even sure I wanted to be a mother. I’d never liked babysitting or young children and I felt none of the maternal stirrings some of my college friends voiced.

But-but-but…is it possible that all those messages, so well-meaning and positive and affirming, were the voices Luna describes as the ones telling us how we should show up in the world? Although the intent was to free me from limiting expectations–and I am so deeply, profoundly grateful for that–is it possible that I internalized the messages as expectations nonetheless?


When it comes to mothering, most things have never felt optional. I can see, thanks to Luna’s words, that the ways in which I’ve mothered have been inseparable from who I am and what I believe.

Although mothering seems antithetical to fully becoming one’s own self–isn’t it, by definition, about supporting others in doing that?–it is through mothering that I have become my truest and most authentic self. Mothering has pushed me to question just about everything I believe, to stretch my talents, to take hard stands. It has challenged and required both my creativity and intelligence. It has often been hard and heart-breaking, but it’s also the most satisfying work I’ve done. While I’ve done much for my children, at its core mothering them was all for me, too.


I don’t want to get side-tracked into a Mommy War skirmish. I’m not claiming that mothering is either lesser or greater than any other Must, or that I’m a better or more committed mother than women who have had both children and some other Must. I’m just sharing my own, personal, surprising truth–mostly because it raised for me a question I’m not sure I’ve seen raised in any of the things I’ve read about following your bliss:

What does it mean when your bliss is something that isn’t (or can’t) be your livelihood?

Because, isn’t that always the assumption, that somehow our bliss should be the foundation for our paid work? In her original essay and book, Luna explores the difference between jobs and careers and callings, and asserts that our highest forms of satisfaction and meaning come when all three intersect. That sounds pretty wonderful–it’s what I spent years longing for–but what does it mean if our Must is something for which we can’t get paid? Is it just as valid/valuable to do work that isn’t a Must if it provides the means that allow us to follow an unpaid passion?

As I contemplated these questions and searched for answers, I discovered Cal Newport, who’s given me a much more satisfying and useful way to look at the issue of work and passion:


Newport says that “the conventional wisdom on career success–follow your passion–is seriously flawed.” Instead, he argues, passion emerges when we adopt a “craftsman mindset” (asking, What can I offer the world?) and find/create work through which we can develop skill, autonomy, and value. As we engage in work that allows us to grow skill and develop value that sets us apart from others, we become passionate about it.

In other words, we don’t find or follow passion. We create it.

If Newport is right, love for work grows in the same way that love for people grows. Sure, it might start with an initial spark of excitement and attraction, but true love grows over time through an accumulation of engaged experience. And sometimes, love sneaks up on us and we see it only after we’re deep in the middle of it. Sometimes, not just in corny Disney movies, we realize that the flashy, hot-looking guy (perhaps a creative career?) doesn’t have as much substance as the good, steady guy who’s been right for us in ways we never even realized were important.

Suddenly, more plate shifting, of even larger seismic magnitude:  Is it possible I actually have been getting paid for doing a Must and I just never recognized it?


Is it possible I  was never able to leave education, even as I so often felt as if it was keeping me from my One True Thing, because it, too, is a Must? Did it turn into a Must without me realizing it because I was so busy looking elsewhere I couldn’t see its true value? If I take the paragraph I wrote above about mothering and substitute the word “teaching,” it is just as true:

…it is through teaching that I have become my truest and most authentic self. Teaching has pushed me to question just about everything I believe, to stretch my talents, to take hard stands. It has challenged and required both my creativity and intelligence. It has often been hard and heart-breaking, but it’s also the most satisfying work [for pay] I’ve done. While I’ve done much for my learners, at its core teaching them was all for me, too.

For years I resented teaching for keeping me from being able to immerse myself in writing, but I can see now that I taught in the ways I did not because of what others required of me but because of what I required of myself, to meet my  wants and needs for autonomy and creativity and work that mattered.

I can see now that I was never able to leave education because teaching and mothering fed each other–and me–in vital ways. Teaching allowed me to mother in the ways I needed to, and mothering fostered a love for students that made it impossible for me to walk away from them. Once I had my own children, teaching others’  babies could never be just a day job for me.

making cookies

Why wasn’t I able to see this before? I think because choosing education always felt like copping out, playing it safe, failing to live up to some best version of me. Although the traditional narrative about creatives is that we are told we Should do something more sensible (and so we abandon our creative pursuits), I think that, for me, Luna’s voices of Should were the ones that said:

  • You should practice your art to its highest possible level.
  • You should make your art the centerpiece of your work.
  • You should follow your artistic passion because to do otherwise is to waste it (and your life).
  • Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach.

What a relief to be able, finally, to hear these voices as ones proselytizing creative mythology, not truth. So, even though I disagree with Luna’s basic follow-your-passion premise (thank you, Cal Newport, for giving me a framework to help me understand why), I am so grateful for the ways in which her characterization of Should and Must set me on a path that’s ended with seeing my life’s work through a different and healing lens. It is such a relief to be able to lay the “what do you want to be?” question to rest and replace it with new ones:

What skills do I want to grow?
What can I provide that no one else can?
What is the best way to serve?

work is love

If you have wrestled with questions of purpose and passion and work, the question I want to pose to you, now, is this:

Is it possible that you are already doing the thing you’re meant to do? What would it mean for you if you are?

You know I’d love to talk with you about it in the comments, so feel free to leave one. 🙂