Thursday, December 31, 2009

Good news

First, let me just wish my small but faithful band of readers a very Happy New Year full of peace, good health and plenty.

I'm so glad to be ending the year on a high note. One of the things I haven't mentioned before that made this a rough winter was finding out back in mid-November (in fact, the same week I found out I was pregnant) that my dad has kidney cancer. Fortunately, they caught it very early.

This morning my dad had surgery to remove the tumor and the operation was successful. He's still waiting on biopsy results; hopefully the doctors were able to remove all the malignant tissue.

Oh, and more happy news to ring in 2010: on January 15, Every Day Poets will be publishing a new improved version of my poem "Waiting for Charon." Circle the date!

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Blue days

In the middle of November, Jim and I found out we were expecting. This was planned—I'd even go so far as to call it a carefully orchestrated attempt to thwart the thunderous ticking of my biological clock—so I was really over the moon about it. Even though I was only five and a half weeks along, I told some family and a few friends; the elation was practically bursting out of me.

On Thanksgiving afternoon, a few hours after dinner, I started spotting. And cramping. My spirits sank in fear and long before I was ready to accept it, I think my body knew exactly what was happening. That night I called my mom, who's a nurse, and she gave me good advice about taking care of myself over the next few days. I also talked to the doctor on call at my clinic (which was closed over the holiday weekend) who told me I need to watch and wait for the next few days before I could be sure I was miscarrying.

So I watched and waited.

Deep down, though, I knew. On Monday, my doctor confirmed it. I told him, intellectually I could wrap my brain around understanding this was my body's way of taking care of a fetus that wasn't developing properly, and I knew it was ultimately easier than the alternatives of losing the baby further along or giving birth to a child with health or developmental problems. Knowing that intellectually was one thing; riding the emotional roller-coaster of grief and pregnancy hormones was another entirely.

I've been surprised at how much I've pulled inward and wanted to isolate myself, how difficult it's been to get out of the house or reach out and ask for help, let alone tell people, even close friends and family. I have girlfriends and family members who've been through this, too, and I've been deeply touched by the empathy of those women who know what I'm going through. But sometimes it's too hard to talk about it, or see people with new babies, or be around mothers-to-be with their soft swelled bellies who still have their babies to look forward to.

This is completely new territory for me, and some days, some moments, I'm at a loss for how to cope. I'm so grateful, though, for those who have supported me by bringing in dinner, taking the kids to play for a few hours, calling or emailing to check in on me, or even just giving me a good hug. Thank you, thank you. And I'm grateful for a loving, patient, helpful husband who anticipates what I need and does it before I can even ask.

The only way out of grief is through, and I will get through it. Each day is a little easier than the one before and I know I can continue on one day at a time, with God's grace leading me by the hand.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Running away from home

A while ago Jimmy started asking me when we could go back to the ocean. He must have known somehow I needed to get out of town--or maybe he was needing a change of scene as much as I was. I've been plotting a trip for over a month now, but then we all got sick and I had to wait until everyone was feeling better, hoping desperately we could make it before the mountain passes got hit with nasty winter storms.

Last Wednesday afternoon I loaded up the car with snacks, blankets, pillows, coats, hats, mittens, extra changes of clothes, waterproof boots, plastic pails and shovels, and headed west with Jimmy and Audrey. Jim had already taken off a few sick days, so he stayed in town to work.

We spent Wednesday night at my mom's, just south of Seattle, and then left in the morning for Grayland. When we got there, the weather was great for this time of year: partially cloudy, hardly any wind, and in the mid-50's. We had lunch at my great-aunt's house with her sons David and Francis, her daughter Anne, Anne's husband Eric and son Quinn, and some friends who were helping with the cranberry harvest. Harvest had just ended the day before, but they were busy with clean-up work.

Anne gave us a tour of the bogs, machinery and work sheds, and showed Jimmy how the cranberry vines are trained to grow in one direction and don't like to be "rubbed the wrong way", just like a cat likes be petted in the direction its fur grows. Jimmy had a great time running along the boards covering the irrigation ditches and jumping from side to side.

Here's Audrey with Anne and Francis.

She warmed right up to Anne and let her carry her around the bogs.

Before we left, Anne helped us sort a couple pounds of berries to take home so Jim can make homemade cranberry sauce for Thanksgiving. Thank you, Anne! Then we headed to the beach. It was so beautiful, I just stood and breathed everything in.

Jimmy didn't waste any time in starting to hunt for seashells and other finds. I put the kibosh on any crab shells (which stunk up our car for a week after our last ocean trip), but he found some snail shells, hairy cockles, and a very cool volcanic rock with lots of holes in it.

More beach combing.

It was really a perfect day, and I loved being there in that perfect place with Jimmy and Audrey: shreds of blue against the shell-colored clouds with shafts of sun filtering through, all reflected in the mirror of water on sand.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Bless you

Since early last week, I've been fighting the onset of a nasty head cold, mostly through a combination of sheer will and insane amounts of Vitamin C. I managed to stave it off long enough to finish sewing the kids' Halloween costumes and then dress up with them for the annual trunk-or-treat on Friday night (thank you, Dayquil).

Saturday and Sunday, the cold fought back with a vengeance and knocked me flat on my back. My poor sinuses have been rocked by the kind of violent sneezes that are seismic events unto themselves.

It doesn't seem to matter where I am in the house when I sneeze. If I wait quietly, just a moment later I will hear Audrey's voice, soft but clear: "Bless you!"

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Bread of the dead

I have an on-going love affair with many things Mexican. Mexican oilcloth. Mexican hot chocolate. Mexican history. Mexican culture. Mexican art. Mexican literature. Mexican molcajetes. Mexican music. And, por supuesto que sí, Mexican cuisine. I think my Mexico thing goes back to my BFF in first grade, Susí. She and her family were from Mexico City and she was Just. So. Cool. We spent hours listening to ABBA on the boombox in her bedroom, pretending "Dancing Queen" was all about us.

As I've mentioned before, one of the things that fascinates me most about Mexican culture is the Day of the Dead. I won't go into the boring details but if you're interested, has a good explanation of Dia de los Muertos' history and significance. I volunteered to do a small cultural lesson for our home school group this week, and thought the timing would be perfect to spotlight Dia de los Muertos, which is coming up on Sunday and Monday. And not just because I wanted to bake pan de muerto again (though that would have been a good enough reason all by itself!)

My loaf turned out a bit misshapen compared to the real thing, but it tasted heavenly. Yes, technically the sugar topping made it off limits, but I ripped a piece of crust off the bottom to sample (all in the name of quality control, mind you!)

This recipe is easy, absolutely delicious, and the heavenly smell of the cinnamon and anise seeds when it's baking is divine. I had to fight the kids off after their third and fourth helpings so I'd have enough to take home to Jim.

Pan de Muerto (Bread of the Dead)

¼ cup milk
¼ cup butter (half a stick)
¼ cup sugar
½ teaspoon salt
1 package active dry yeast
¼ cup very warm water
2 eggs
3 cups all-purpose flour, unsifted
½ teaspoon anise seed
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons sugar

Bring milk to boil and remove from heat. Stir in butter, ¼ cup sugar and salt. In large bowl, mix yeast with warm water until dissolved and let stand five minutes. Add the milk mixture. Separate the yolk and white of one egg. Add the yolk and the other whole egg to the yeast mixture, and save the white for later. Now add flour to the yeast and egg. Blend well until dough ball is formed.

Flour a pastry board or work surface very well and place the dough in center. Knead until smooth. (I used the dough hook on my stand mixer and kneaded the dough for five minutes, which worked just as well). Return to large bowl and cover with dish towel. Let rise in warm place for 90 minutes. Meanwhile, grease a baking sheet and preheat the oven to 350° F.

Knead dough again on floured surface. Now divide the dough into fourths and set one fourth aside. Roll the remaining 3 pieces into “ropes”. On greased baking sheet, pinch 3 rope ends together and braid. Finish by pinching ends together on opposite side. Divide the remaining dough in half and form two “bones”. Cross and lay on top of braided loaf. (Note: I think the form of the loaf varies regionally. I followed these instructions the first time I made the bread, but the loaf I made today was round, with “bones” on top, modeled after some images I found on the internet).

Cover bread with dish towel and let rise for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, in a bowl, mix anise seed, cinnamon, and 2 teaspoons sugar together. In another bowl, beat egg white lightly. When 30 minutes are up, brush top of bread with egg white and sprinkle with sugar mixture. Bake at 350° F for 35-40 minutes.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

It's true...

...that I've been ignoring my blog. One of the things I've been doing instead is experimenting with reworking and rethinking some of my writing.

Last week, I made a second attempt at starting a poetry group, and was grateful (more than I'd care to say) when someone showed. It was worth the wait. I met a local poet who teaches psych up at the college and she had some interesting insights about my poems. One thing she told me, I already knew: I tend too much toward the narrative. But instead of viewing this as a weakness, she said, "Maybe you're a poet who should really be writing stories." She also pointed out that some of the longer pieces seem to have poems within poems that interrupt or detour from the flow of the larger poem, that maybe could stand alone.

When I got home, I looked of those poems and started to experiment with pulling them apart and reworking them, both as prose and separate poems. I tried not to think of it as chopping apart my babies but rather that the sum of the parts might be lesser than the actual parts themselves. It's a challenge to think about my writing in new ways, since I'm such a creature of habit, but I'm trying to be open.

One of the ones I've been working with was "Lac De Roche", a poem I wrote earlier this spring. The middle section is a vignette about picking gooseberries for my grandmother, and in looking at it with fresh eyes, I think it can (and probably should) stand alone. Last week I tried reworking it as a short, short prose piece, and am not sure how I feel about the product. So this morning I've been trying it as a poem. I'm going to give it a test flight at a poetry open mic night this evening, down in Yakima. Wish me luck!

Gooseberry Pie: a Disappointment in Three Acts

Hidden in the tall grass
low bushes of gooseberries grow wild
along weather-silvered fence rails
their taut globes whiskery
pale-veined translucent green
warm under my fingertips
from hanging all day in the sun
my hands weave a delicate dance
through prickly branches
plucking enough to fill an old plastic bucket
and when the soft one-by-one of them
no longer plunks against the bottom
when a few unruly berries
spring over the rim
when it holds enough for a whole pie
I carry my bucket back to nana.

She measures butter, flour, sugar
leveling each cup
with the straight side of a table knife
rolls out a delicate crust
with deliberate strokes
eases it into a glass pie plate
fills it with berries
then more butter, flour, sugar
finally, she cuts and weaves a fragile lattice
to crown her masterpiece
before commending it to the oven
and for a delicious hour
the cabin walls strain to contain
the golden aroma
of buttery crust and bubbling berries.

No scent of foreshadowing
prepares me for the sour regret
of braving thorns for bitter fruit:
I suck my cheeks in hollow
after a single sharp bite of pie
poke once with my fork at its sugary crust
and leave the rest
still steaming on my plate.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009


It's a bit after the fact, but here's a little birthday wrap-up:

My fortieth got off to a rousing start because I had to renew my driver's license, and this is the first time I can remember not lying about my weight on my license. I've always fudged the truth by at least ten pounds, and sometimes even more egregiously. This year I agonized but finally decided it's time to make peace with myself. After all, truth counts most in those little areas where only I would know I was lying. That said, I'm still feeling bitter about having to give up my old license, which had a much better photo than this time around.

Jim and I took the kids to dinner at one of our favorite local places, and it hit me unexpectedly as I was cutting into my big, juicy steak: there was no one I'd rather party with than them. One of my girlfriends asked recently if I was doing something special for my birthday. A year ago, I would have wanted to go out and celebrate this milestone with friends, and maybe have a separate party later with family. Somehow, when I wasn't paying attention, that changed, because now nothing matters more than being with my husband and kids. It's even more enjoyable to watch Jimmy getting a chocolate mustache while slurping down my birthday sundae with gusto than eating it myself.

Don't get me wrong; I loved my kids before and tried to always put them first. But it used to be because I knew that's what a mother is supposed to do and while I wanted to be a good mom, I sometimes resented having to place my children's needs before my own. Now, so much more of my own personal joy comes from seeing their happiness and growth, rather than from my own gratification. Paradoxically, I'm also better able to find the balance in taking care of my own needs so that I have the energy and inner calm to be available and present for them.

And that joyful balance is the best gift. EVER.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

At last

Just shy of two months ago, I found out Boston Literary Magazine accepted one of my poems for publication in their fall issue. I'm happy to say, it went up today. Check me out.

Yes, I'm giddy.


Monday, August 31, 2009

By request

Several people asked after the recipe for Audrey's cake, so here it is. The first time I made it was a couple years ago, a sort of hybrid of about three different recipes, plus some tweaking all my own (like adding the zest to both cake and frosting).

Of course, I didn't have any yesterday but my taste-testers swear it's light, with just the right amount of tartness, and is super-moist... Mmmmmmmm... (and it's already gone, just 24 hours later!)

Audrey's Lemon Birthday Cake

1 18.25-oz. package yellow cake mix
1 4.3-oz. package instant lemon pudding mix
1¾ c water
3 egg whites (or two eggs)
Juice and zest of one lemon

½ c shortening
¼ c butter
¼ c milk
1 t vanilla extract
4-5 c confectioners' sugar
Juice and zest of one lemon

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Spray a 10x15 inch pan with non-stick cooking spray.
2. In a large bowl, mix together cake mix and pudding mix. Pour in water and egg whites. Beat on low speed for 1 minute. Increase speed to high and beat for 4 minutes. Pour batter into prepared 10x15 inch pan.
3. Bake in the preheated oven for 25 to 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Allow to cool completely.
4. With an electric mixer blend all frosting ingredients until mixed. Frost cooled cake. Store cake covered with plastic wrap in refrigerator.

Sunday, August 30, 2009


I wanted to keep Audrey's birthday party low-key because let's face it, plying a two year-old with all the sugar in cake and ice cream is crazy enough without any additional over-stimulation. At the same time, it was important to me to celebrate how much it means and how grateful we are that she's here, with us, for this birthday. So this morning I helped her put on her favorite dress, then I made sure she had a good nap (even if it meant I had to rock her to sleep in order to seal the deal, which I did), and while she slept I whipped up a yummy lemon cake.

Even though she actually turns two tomorrow, we had a small party this evening with just family and a few close friends. My mom and baby sister Meredith drove over from Seattle for dinner and the party, and then Jim's folks and his youngest sister Anna were here, along with her husband her son. My dear friend Gretchen came, too, with her husband and two sweet boys, and snapped the fun shot of me gettin' some sugar from the birthday girl.

Happy birthday, dear Audrey. I'm so blessed to be your mother.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Picking up the spare

We started back to school last Wednesday, and just one week into first grade we're already hitting a bumpy patch. As challenging as it is, I'm glad I'm the one teaching Jimmy because we have the one-on-one time and the latitude with our curriculum to take as long as we need to work out the snags.

This afternoon we did a math lesson. I've been using Saxon Math, which I really like because it utilizes hands-on manipulatives and a variety of other tools that engage Jimmy's very tactile learning style. Along with whatever concept is being introduced, each lesson in the second grade workbook has a fact sheet, and each fact sheet has twenty-five problems, which the student has one minute to solve as many of as possible. Jimmy absolutely loathes the fact sheets because he hasn't been able to solve all the problems in a minute, and often doesn't even finish half of them.

I wish I could say it was my fault he's such a perfectionist, but I don't believe it's entirely a learned behavior. Too bad, because then there would be some hope that he could be de-programmed from my terrible example by exposure to a more effective role model, or possibly some day in the future when he's got enough money to throw at therapy. I do honestly think Jimmy came hardwired that way (like both his father and I did), and let's face it: with the two of us as parents, he didn't stand a chance in the genetic crap shoot. The good news is, while we're both still wrestling to overcome our own perfectionism, Jim and I are aware that we struggle with it, and are hoping we can talk openly with Jimmy about our own challenges as we try to guide him to find his own healthy ways to cope.

During this afternoon's obligatory fact sheet, Jimmy only finished eight out of twenty-five problems and promptly imploded. Math was our last subject, so I suggested we stop where we were and be done for the day, then corralled him over to the couch for a chat. I told him that I really understood how he was feeling, being angry about not doing a perfect job, and not wanting to even try again because he couldn't do as well as he wanted.

Jimmy responds well to analogies, so after he had calmed down, I told him about what a terrible bowler I am, and that I used to be really grouchy about bowling because I was so bad at it. I didn't want to belabor my point too much but I told him that for me, bowling a strike was like getting a math problem right, while throwing a gutter ball was like getting a problem wrong. He got excited about the bowling metaphor, because he's quite good at bowling, and said, "Well, next time we go bowling, I could help you, Mom."

I said, "That's great. The thing is, on your worksheet, you still bowled more strikes than gutter balls--you just didn't finish bowling every frame." He was quiet for a minute and then he said, "Yeah. And you know what picking up the spare is? That's when I get a problem wrong, and I go back and make it right."

I love homeschool. Because I always get schooled, too.

Monday, August 24, 2009

And the winner is...

...after a highly scientific selection process (me writing your names on scraps of paper and choosing one with my eyes closed)...


I'll get the relish in the mail this week; it will be winging its way to Munich soon.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Almost like it never happened

I snapped this last night before I went to bed. I've been meaning to take pictures of Audrey to keep track of how her healing has progressed, but it's been hard to catch her sitting still long enough to get a good shot.

It feels a bit crazy to me that tomorrow she will have been home a whole week. Especially when the signs of her injuries are fading so fast. You can still see the shiner on her right eye, but it's a pale shadow of the spectacular swollen-shut black and purple it was a week ago. She still has some small bruises and marks from the IVs and blood draws, but they're practically gone. And that shiny pink spot on her forehead above her right eye is where she had a bloody scrape the size of a silver dollar, crowning off a goose egg the size of, well, a goose egg. The very last of the scab peeled off yesterday morning, and the swelling is almost completely gone.

What won't fade so quickly is the mark this has left on me, the enduring impression of thanks to everyone who has held Audrey in their hearts and prayers, and above all to my Heavenly Father, who is a God of miracles today and forever.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Relish giveaway extended

I'm extending the deadline a full week to midnight of August 23rd.

Because I feel like after all I've been blessed with over the past few days, I want to give (even just a little bit) to someone else.

And because I will probably need a whole week to pull myself together and figure out where I stashed the bubble wrap.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Audrey is home

Audrey was discharged from Harborview Medical Center shortly before 1 p.m. She's doing very well, but we'll be keeping her pretty quiet for the next three weeks, per the doctor's orders.

Thanks one and all for your prayers and support. The extension of faith and the love shown for Audrey from family, friends, and so many people we don't even know is deeply humbling, and means more than we can ever articulate. We pray that God will bless each of you for what you have done to help our family.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Update #2 on Audrey

Dear Family and Friends,

Audrey continues to make great progress; earlier this evening she graduated from the pediatric intensive care unit (PICU) to a regular pediatric wing. The swelling on her forehead and eyelid have gone down considerably, and her liver is healing well, too. The surgeons seem optimistic we will be able to take her home some time tomorrow. Jim came over to the hospital today, and is staying with Audrey tonight so I can sleep in a real bed at my mom's place.

Thank you again for your prayers and support. They mean so much to us and we have seen their power in a very tangible way, both as a strength to us, and healing for Audrey.

Jim, Katie, Jimmy and Audrey

Update on Audrey

Dear Family and Friends,

I finally got internet access this morning and wanted to take this opportunity to thank all of you for your support and prayers.

In case you haven’t heard many details, our daughter Audrey had an accident when we were playing at a friend’s home Tuesday morning. She fell from a second-story window about 12 feet onto a cement driveway. From what we could tell, she landed on her right side and hit her head hard, which resulted in a large bump above her right eye and some scrapes and bruises on her right elbow and fingers. She was conscious when we found her, just a minute after we heard her scream, and as far as I know, she didn’t ever lose consciousness. In the past I've joked about Audrey someday being our "sky-diving bungee jumper", but I never dreamed she'd start so soon--and without a parachute!

She sustained a small fracture in the skull above her right eye (which had only the tiniest amount of internal bleeding) and a contusion (rather than a laceration, as originally thought) to her liver, for which the internal bleeding has seemed to be well contained. The EMTs took us to the ER at KVCH in Ellensburg, and within a couple hours we were transferred by ambulance to Harborview in Seattle . The team of neurosurgeons who have consulted on her head injury have expressed the opinion that it should heal quickly and leave no permanent damage at all. The surgeons who are monitoring the condition of her liver are saying that she is progressing steadily and they are hopeful she will not require surgery but are being very cautious to watch her hematocrit (liver enzyme) levels for signs of any additional internal bleeding. I think I can speak for Jim, too, when I say we are just so grateful that her injuries weren’t any worse.

Audrey seems to be recovering extremely well; she’s been very brave, resilient and easygoing, considering how overwhelming this experience must be for her. Yesterday I could see progress on almost an hourly basis, from the time she woke me up when I overheard her chatting up the nurse. She spent the day reading stories, looking at books, remarking on what she saw out the window, and enjoying our visitors.

We are still at Harborview Hospital in Seattle, and based on what the surgeons told me this morning, I anticipate we will be here again tonight and probably going home tomorrow. We’ve had the best care possible from all the medical professionals who have helped Audrey: EMTs, nurses, doctors, and other hospital staff have without fail been skilled and compassionate, and we are so grateful for everything they’ve done.

Again, thank you for your outpouring of love and support. Our family has felt the calming and healing influence of the prayers on our behalf, lifting and strengthening us, even though many of you are far away. We are so grateful for each of you!

Jim, Katie, Jimmy and Audrey

Monday, August 10, 2009

Relish giveaway

I've never done a giveaway on my blog before, but it's always seemed like a fun idea when I've seen other bloggers do it. Since I'm up to my elbows in this yummy relish (which we tried today on hotdogs for lunch and it is just as tasty as I remember), I want to share some of the freshly home-canned lovin'.

Make a comment on this post sometime before midnight of Sunday August 16th, and I'll randomly select someone to receive one pint of juicy zucchini goodness. Winner to be announced Monday August 17th.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Nana's zucchini relish

One summer when I was a teenager, my Nana (or maybe it was my mom, using Nana's recipe) put up several quarts of zucchini relish. I remember running down to the dark hall shelves in the basement, grabbing a jar, then popping it open to have on burgers, hotdogs, even in tuna salad. Looking back, I'm surprised I liked it as much as I did, as I've never been a big fan of sweet pickles or relishes—but this stuff was delicious.

A few years before she passed away, Jim and I were up visiting Nana at her home on San Juan Island, and I remembered to ask her for the recipe, since I had recently started canning. She rummaged around but couldn't find it. A few months later I got a note in the mail in her typically brief style, which had the recipe attached.

I've never had zucchini plants of my own, but each year when one friend or another offloads some of her bounteous harvest, I dig around for Nana's recipe, with about as much luck as she had trying to find it when I asked. It usually turns up some time in the winter or spring, when canning season is long gone, and I tuck it in a spot I'm sure I will remember for next year.

So this summer, when my friend Gretchen gave me a couple enormous zucchini, I started trying to find the recipe again. It took me a few days, but I finally found it. (And yes, I've already forgotten where I had it stashed.) Here it is, transcribed for clarification, and easy cutting and pasting:

Nana's Zucchini Relish

7-8 medium zucchini (washed)
4 large onions
3 large stalks celery
1/2 cup pickling salt
3 cups sugar
3 cups cider vinegar
2-1/2 teaspoons celery seed
2-1/2 teaspoons mustard seed
2-1/2 teaspoons turmeric

1) Cut vegetables into 1/4 inch cubes. Add pickling salt, cover and let stand in refrigerator overnight. Drain in colander. Rinse under cold running water to remove salt.

2) In large kettle, combine sugar, vinegar and spices. Bring to a boil and simmer for two minutes. Add vegetables. Remove kettle from heat, let stand for 2 hours (I actually cooked the mixture for 20 minutes and skipped letting it stand, which seemed to work just as well and saved some time.) Return liquid to boil and simmer 5 minutes.

3) Spoon relish into clean jars and seal with lids in a water bath. Process for 10 minutes. Makes about 4 pints.

The plan was for me and Gretchen to get together and make relish at her place, but we didn't manage to connect, and I went ahead and made the relish tonight so I could use those gargantuan zucchinis before they went south. Gretchen, if you're reading this, now that I've test-driven the recipe, we should definitely get together and make some more.

I used my nana's recipe as the basis, with a few alterations. Her recipe called for 7-8 medium zucchini, but since I had two very large zucchini, I approximated by using 10 cups of ground zucchini and 2 cups ground yellow summer squash. I used the grinder attachment for my KitchenAid stand mixer, which worked fine on the zucchini and squash, and saved me some prep time. For some extra color, I added red and green bell peppers (one of each). I had mediocre results using the grinder on the peppers, and it didn't work well at all for the onions or celery so I chopped them by hand. I also added two tablespoons of cornstarch to help the relish set up.

I found the recipe with these modifications actually made about 9 pints. GOOD.

Ah, Nana, I miss you.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Died and gone to heaven

For the past two days we've been in Seattle for a mini-vacay. Most of the places we went were specifically for the kids: the Children's Museum at Seattle Center; Ivar's on the waterfront, so they could feed fries to the seagulls. Yesterday we visited the Seattle Art Museum, which currently has a small exhibit of Andrew Wyeth paintings. And while I could lie and say this was for the purpose of exposing Jimmy and Audrey to art, well... that's simply not true.

Jim was the one who suggested it; he knows how much I love Wyeth, and that I haven't seen any of his paintings since the summer after my senior year in high school when I visited the Farnsworth Museum in Rockland, Maine, with my Nana. We went through the exhibit once all together, and then Jim very sweetly offered to corral the kids off to the children's play area so I could go back for a second, longer look at the paintings.

It would be the height of presumption to compare my poetry to Wyeth's paintings, but as I was looking through the exhibit, it felt like a physical manifestation of the way I like to write: framing portraits of places I've been, people I love with as much realism and detail as I can. It was like being in a religious shrine for me, and I could have easily spent the entire afternoon drinking in the stark magnificence of just those seven paintings. But oh, what paintings:

If I had to pick favorites (which is difficult), I loved Braids and Cape Coat best. It was all about the details for me: how Wyeth painted light on the texture of a gray sweater in Braids by using so many different colors other than just shades of gray. How the edges of the watercolor paper for Cape Coat were torn and spindled, and the painting bled off the very edges, yet the brush strokes around the face, the buttons on the coat, were so crisp and sharp. I love how all his paintings somehow manage to juxtapose movement with stillness, capture passion lurking below the surface of something quiet. Love it.

Then, as I was leaving the exhibit, my eye returned to the photo of Wyeth at the entrance, and a quote printed on the wall next to it. And I admit I whipped out my camera and snapped a very illegal photo (just of the quote) because I didn't have a pen and paper to write it down:

Really, I think one's art goes only as far and as deep as your love goes. I don't paint these hills around Chadds Ford because they are better than the hills somewhere else. It's that I was born here, lived here—things have meaning for me.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Good news

It was a Very Big Deal to come back from taking Audrey to her first dentist appointment yesterday morning and find an email from this fine publication waiting in my inbox, offering to publish one of my poems in their upcoming fall issue.

The poem in question is a revised version of this, and I love the cosmic rightness of it being published in a magazine from my Nana's hometown.

Almost as much as I love the exhiliration of getting published again after 15 years.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Tightwad tuesday: ask and ye shall receive

This is on my mind because for the past month we've been looking for a "big girl bed" for Audrey. I've put the word out to family members and friends who frequent yard sales, I've scoured the classifieds and Craigslist postings, and finally, I posted an ad on my local Freecycle group.

A couple days ago, someone who had seen my post emailed me, saying he had a bedframe, mattress and box springs. He sent us some pictures, we arranged a time to pick it up, and last night Jim and his brother-in-law Jared drove up to Cle Elum to get the bed. It's old but barely used, and is perfect for our needs.

My sister Dorothy and I had a conversation on this topic about a year ago: if you have a need but are worried you don't have the resources to buy or do it on your own, put that desire out into the universe—ask for what you want, instead of just waiting for it to fall into your lap, or hoping someone will notice you need help and offer it—and what you need will come to you.

I think this is a true principle, regardless of one's religious beliefs (or lack of them): when we have the humility to admit we need help and ask for it, we open up a place for that need to be met. It's empowering and emotionally healthy to give ourselves permission to ask for what we need, and it places the responsibility to act squarely on our own shoulders, while opening up our hearts to the possibility of goodness and generosity in the hearts of those around us.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Tightwad tuesday: economical exercise

In my very first Tightwad Tuesday, I mentioned that walking is one of the best bargains ever because it requires no special equipment, no memberships, no outlay of cash. Few forms of exercise are so adaptable in terms of fitting your schedule and personal needs; you can walk fast or slow depending on your fitness level, at any time of day, with others or alone, in most kinds of weather, and no matter where you live.

Walking is an economical form of exercise time-wise, too, in that you can work out getting somewhere you need to go or while burning off tension when you're feeling stressed. Personally, I love to go first thing in the morning while my husband and kids are still in bed: I don't have to worry about child care; I can plan, even pray, for my day while I'm walking; and I still get home to eat breakfast and shower before the kids are up so I feel like I hit the ground running.

There other ways to get a cheap workout, too. Consider getting a membership at the local community pool instead of a fitness club or gym. Many community centers also have an exercise room with machines and weights, and offer quarterly and yearly passes, as well as punch passes (so you get a discount but are only paying for when you actually work out).

Check out exercise videos and DVDs from your local library, especially if you are considering purchasing some. You can find out if you enjoy exercising in your own home and discover if you are actually motivated using that method. Library loaners can help in determining what form of exercise works for you (pilates? yoga? aerobics? martial arts?) before you commit to a purchase.

Just remember: the key is to be creative. And honest. If there's one form of exercise you really prefer, it will be worth shopping around to find the best prices, and then investing in quality equipment so that you will actually work out. Because being healthy is one of the best ways of all to save money.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Tightwad tuesday: know your cash flow

Nothing gives you a reality check like seeing in black and white where your money is actually going. Personal finance software is a valuable tool because it provides all kinds of graphs and charts that show you exactly how much you spend on what (the caveat being, of course, that you do have to be unflinchingly honest in tagging your purchases; e.g. those new red patent peeptoe pumps don't really belong in the "household items" category).

For a long time Jim and I used Microsoft Money to track our expenditures, but last month Microsoft announced they would be discontinuing Money, so Jim started shopping around for new personal finance software. There are a lot of good options on the market, but if you really want to cut costs (like we did), you may want to consider one of the many free financial programs available online. (Incidentally, we decided to go with also has a great little article about using electronic budgeting tools as a springboard to make over your budget and really get a handle on your spending.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Anniversary quilt

Ever since I made my first quilt right before Audrey was born, I've been wanting to do a bigger one for our bed. Making a quilt to commemorate our wedding anniversary seemed appropriate, and the sixteenth anniversary was a logical choice, since a square quilt will nicely cover our king-size bed, and a completion goal of May 2011 would give me plenty of time for the ambitious tasks of piecing a large quilt by machine and then quilting it by hand.

Back at the end of December, I started sketching. My color palettes (warm tones of orange and yellow, and cool tones of blue and purple) were inspired by some of my favorite flowers: lilacs, hyacinths, hydrangeas, irises, poppies and marigolds. After repeated rearranging and several designs I scrapped completely, I came up with the sketch above.

It's the same arrangement of pieces as the squares in Audrey's quilt, but the colors are grouped to create a completely different design, and the sashing and borders are also different.

The middle sixteen squares are surrounded by a modified "piano key" border, which will be made from 1" x 4" strips of fabric from the same palette sewn together but in random order.

Outside of that is an 8" border I had originally intended to be contrast fabric (a fabric that picked up all the colors from both my palettes), but after some browsing online, I realized it was going to be virtually impossible to find a fabric with all those colors (or even most of them) together. So I looked in some art books and online at Aztec and Mayan textiles and stonework, and came up with a sort of "Aztec key" design that I could plot out in 1" squares of fabric for a mosaic effect that would accomplish the same purpose as the contrast fabric.

On the very outside, I added another 4" piano key border to bring the quilt's dimensions to 96 square inches, which should cover my bed nicely.

For the past six months I've been collecting fabrics here and there, and just this week I got my final piece. Now the fun starts!

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Cheap cherries, part 2

I've mentioned before what an Alton Brown fanboy Jim is. A couple years ago he saw the "Whithering Bites" episode of Good Eats and ever since, he's been dying to try out Alton's improvised dehydrator made from a box fan, bungee cords, and furnace filters. I know—furnace filters?

Our recent windfall of cherries provided the perfect opportunity for Jim to finally make the dehydrator. Right before lunch we created a little assembly line with Jimmy pitting, me slicing, and Jim arranging the cherries in the filters. We prepped a batch of about three or four pounds of cherries, two 20" x 20" filters full. It takes around 48 hours for the fruit to dry out, which means it'll be a warm night in our bedroom without the box fan... but it should be worth it!

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Tightwad tuesday: cheap cherries

This post doesn't exactly fall under the category of tightwad tips, but I suppose I could sum it up by saying, Always be prepared to jump on a good deal when you see it.

A couple weeks ago my mother-in-law called and asked if we were interested in ordering some cherries; she had a source in Wenatchee where she could get Bings for $1 a pound. That was a definite no-brainer. We ordered twenty pounds, so we'd have enough to eat some fresh, dehydrate some for later, and still have plenty for Jim's latest pet project: making cherry jam.

We picked up the cherries at her house yesterday afternoon and on the way home, we stopped at Bimart to buy a cherry pitter. They were fresh out of the cheapo plastic two buck hand pitters, so we sprang for the extra thirteen dollars to get a fancy-shmancy cherry stoner. Jim claims it paid for itself in the first ten minutes, since he and Jimmy had to pit nine cups of cherries to make ten pints of jam.

Jim's Spiced Cherry Jam

4½ cups pitted and chopped cherries
7 cups sugar
1 teaspoon almond extract
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon red food coloring
¼ teaspoon ground allspice
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
6 oz. pectin

Measure the prepared cherries into a large, heavy kettle. Add the sugar and stir well. Place over high heat and, stirring constantly, bring quickly to a full boil, with bubbles over the entire surface. Add the remaining ingredients, except the pectin. Boil hard for one minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and add the pectin. Skim off any foam. Ladle into eight hot half-pint jars. Seal, then process for four minutes in a hot water bath, counting the time from when the water comes again to a rolling boil after immersing jars.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009


Audrey's teachers in the nursery class at church took these snapshots, for her to choose one to put on the front of a Father's Day card for her dad. She picked the third one down, and also made an outline of her hand and some crayon scribbles on the inside to finish it off.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Tightwad tuesday: turn and return

I have to admit, wrapping up the home-school year really cut into my blogging, and it's taken me a couple weeks to set my house in order now that we're finally done. But I'm hoping to get back into blogging more regularly now that it's summer vacation. So, in the spirit of getting back into it...

A while back Jim sent me a link to a great article on MSN that gave seven painless ways to save $1000. Here's my favorite:

Return unopened, unused items. Many times, extra money may be even closer at hand than you might think... Nearly everyone has a recently purchased product they will never use: the too-large blouse that still has the tag on it or an unopened set of salt-and-pepper shakers that didn't fit the kitchen decor... Even if you can't find your receipt, the retailer may accept the return for a store credit.

(Oh, and if you click on the link to read the entire article, be sure to check out the sidebars, which offer some great links to reader tips for frugal living.)

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Revise, revise, revise

As I mentioned before, one of the best things I took away from the poetry workshop I went to last month was an appreciation for the importance of revision, something I've always struggled to do with my poetry. Along with the guidance on rewriting I got some good tips for reference materials. One of them I immediately went out and purchased from The Poetry Home Repair Manual, by Ted Kooser. And I must say, like his poetry, this slim volume of advice for beginning poets is full of easily accessible, pithy insights that sing in their simplicity. But I'll stop gushing before I start to sound too much the fangirl (which I admittedly am).

I wanted, really wanted, to like the advice from Sam Green (and Kooser as well) to keep a notebook for working on drafts and gathering ideas, because those black and white notebooks poking out of Mr. Green's satchel just seemed so... writerly. I have to confess, though, that one of the things I've really hated about revisions in the past is the unruly sheaf of papers it seems to create: stray yellow sheets ripped from legal pads, pieces of odd-shaped scratch paper and even the occasional scrap torn from the side of a brown paper bag, trapped unreliably between the pages of a notebook swollen to twice its former size.

Barring that, bound notebooks make it difficult for me to keep drafts of the same poem in the same place (unless I leave a lot of empty pages after each poem), and ring binders are just too clunky. So after some tweaking, I think I've found a system for organizing my poems and tracking revisions that embraces the idea of a notebook, but eliminates the clutter and potential for losing that stray sheet with the perfect poem I will never, ever be able to recreate.

Originally I had one Word document where I kept all my poetry, with the most recent poems added on at the beginning as I wrote them. If I did any revisions, I'd usually make changes to the poem in the document without any way to keep track of what I altered. Unfortunately, that system didn't allow me to go back later and see what I had originally written. Word has a feature that tracks changes, but I found all the red tags indicating edits to be extremely distracting as I tried to concentrate on reading and re-crafting my words. I finally hit on the idea of keeping all my poetry in a single folder, continuing to use my Word document for any new writing, but then cutting and pasting any poem I was actively revising into its own Word document. Now, each time I want to revise, I copy and paste the most recent version of the poem at the top of the document and make a note of the date, then rework the copy, leaving the older versions intact below.

So far this new system has been working well; for the last month I've buckled down to rework three or four poems I've written over the last year, and in some instances have gone back to earlier drafts to recapture details or imagery. One of the poems I wrote last July and it's been through several incarnations since then, but I think I'm getting close to being satisfied with it.


She baked bread in old blue and white yeast cans
she set the loaves to cool on racks
in a row of lofty gold butter-brushed domes
mushrooming to spill over tin rims
they were best within five minutes from the oven
the knife freeing each yielding round slice
in a rush of sweet yeasty steam
gently spread with butter
and eaten hot enough to barely scald my palms
but not blister the roof of my mouth
as my teeth tore the glorious wheat tissue

within a few years she would send me
all gangling reticence behind bleach streaked bangs
shuffling my scuffed white hole-in-the-toe sneakers
the entire two long blocks to Safeway
chipped fuchsia fingernails shoved deep in the front pockets
of my pegged and faded 501’s
back pockets stuffed with change:
handfuls of tarnished pennies
gleaned from the yawning broken zipper mouth
of her frayed tan purse
a couple of dimes
that had nestled between her hairbrush's teeth
a few nickels
retrieved from the folds of old grocery receipts
maybe even one or two quarters
from the side coin purse on her wallet

always just enough for four cheap loaves of
foamy white
perfectly square
uniformly sliced
preservative laden
negligibly nutritious
every loaf enshrined
in its own shiny bag
blue and yellow letters
cheerfully emblazoned
on all five sides
Ovenjoy Ovenjoy Ovenjoy

I slid first one slice, then another
in and out of the toaster
slathered them in margarine
sprinkled them with sugar cinnamon
then retreated to my room
closed my door behind me
balancing a stack of cinnamon toast
in a pile on a plastic plate decorated
with a faded spray of brown and pink roses
surprised I couldn’t taste a single slice
no matter how many I ate
could only feel the viscous grit
of margarine mixed with sugar
and all the thousand sharp edges on each piece of toast
tearing into the roof of my mouth
and the insides of my cheeks

I’d always try another slice just to see if it
would taste the same
would finally feed me
the way her bread used to do
but it never did.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Memorial day

Memorial Day was a big deal at our house because Jimmy rode his bike without training wheels for the first time. In the morning, Jim took him out back and had him help take the training wheels off the bike, then they walked a couple blocks to practice on the quarter-mile track behind the local middle school.

About ten minutes later Jim called me on his cell phone, ecstatic that Jimmy had already gotten his balance after a little shove off from his dad, and now they were working on stopping and starting. I didn't really need to ask, but I did anyway: "Should I come down there with the camera and camcorder?"

So I strapped Audrey into the stroller, grabbed the camera bag, and we headed to the track.

Starting up is still a bit tricky.

Look at him go!

That's another lap around the track!

The smile says it all.

Audrey was very intent on watching Jimmy ride.

Go, Jimmy, go!

There's little bits of me in there, but this girl sure looks like her father.

Gimme some sugar, Daddy!

Monday, May 18, 2009

Dream big

Last week I got a new calling at church: teaching the Valiant 9-10 class. For my non-Mormon readers, that means I'm teaching a Sunday School class of nine and ten year-old boys and girls. Sunday was my first day on the new gig, and I must say, it was fun to be back in Primary after five years away.

So, I'm sitting with my class on a row of plastic chairs in the cultural hall (read: gymnasium with carpet) and Jimmy is sitting with his teacher on the row directly across the aisle, not so subtly waving at me. My friend Debbie is leading the music, teaching all the kids a song about Jesus getting baptized. She says, "When Jesus came to John the Baptist and asked to be baptized, he said, 'But you don't need to be baptized Jesus, because you're already perfect.'"

From the third row, my son pipes up, "I'm perfect, too!"

My need to maintain some semblance of dignity as the new teacher is the only way I manage to keep from rolling on the floor. Barely.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

NaPoWriMo #30: re-write

This is the super-duper chock-full-o-poetry final installment of NaPoWriMo. What a blessed relief! It's been an amazing day for poetry; I spent all day at a poetry workshop with Sam Green, the Washington State poet laureate. Wow.

Not just the wow of having an entire day to myself (sans children) to focus on art and creativity and the stimulating conversation of other poets. But wow of wisdom shared. Wow of being able, for once, to go to the table teachable and be schooled in where I could do better. Wow of embracing criticism and the excitement that comes from growth after. Wow of driving home completely drained from the mental exertion of being engaged and present in my art, and not having to cook dinner after. (Thank you, thank you, to my dear husband who wrangled the kids all day and didn't complain, then suggested we hit our favorite Chinese buffet for supper.)

I came away from the workshop with more interest in revising my work and more confidence in how to do it. I feel like I came away with my toolbox filled with functional implements for working my craft, for which I'm so grateful, as well as a shift in attitude about embracing failure and imperfection as a means to better understanding. And since the most recent prompt at Read Write Poem was to revise an existing poem, that's exactly what I'm doing, with the understanding that this is only the first of what will most likely be many revisions. Go here to see the original (which is very recent); the revision—mostly minor tweaks, with a few cuts and a few additions—is below.

Going to Grayland

I’ve got two little ones
strapped in the back seat
and it’s me alone up front
on a day trip to my roots
with an option to stay awhile
each town a bright bead
on this gray silk string
Ellensburg on one end
Seattle somewhere in the middle
Tukwila, Tacoma, Dupont
Olympia, Tumwater, Elma
Satsop, Aberdeen, Westport,
Grayland tying off the strand

hands relaxed on the wheel
my eye catches the glitter of sun
playing off two diamonds
two wedding rings nestled
next to each other on my ring finger
two Christmases ago my mother
gave me nana’s ring, said
keep it three years then pass it on
to one of your sisters
purposefully I brought it with me
on this trip to the home
where my nana came as a new bride

she was a Boston girl, a lady
with wit, sense and style
a trim Navy nurse with soft brown curls
blue eyes that laughed, cried and
smiled all at the same time
she told stories about the war
she and the other nurses living in Quonset huts
near the base hospital on Oahu
and lowering her voice
as if someone might overhear about
another nurse getting discharged
for fraternizing with a married officer
which is why when one of her patients
a young officer
asked her to dinner
she looked up his next of kin first
then graciously accepted
the invitation of the son
of the Reverend Clark Cottrell
from Grayland, Washington

could she have known then
what it would mean
that he would bring her home
down miles of narrow roads winding
through interminable shades of silver, slate and jade
crisp salty stiffness of a breeze blowing
from the ocean to mix with pungent
moss-grown spruce, fir and pine
across one-lane bridges
arching over tidal flats
then down Highway 105
through shorter coastal forest
dotted on each side with small, scattered houses
turning onto the final stretch of Gould Road
that he would bring her home
to Reverend and Mrs. Cottrell
to a younger sister and three brothers but one
to cranberry bogs, skunk cabbage, weather-beaten dunes
to no running water and
all her favorite shoes spoiled with mold?

I look at her ring, then at mine
thinking of my own husband
bringing me home to his parents
to windswept Kittitas Valley
rolling out from the sinuous backbone
of Manastash Ridge and laced
with Yakima River's meandering tree-lined ribbon
fertile but still browner and drier
than the lush emerald bordered sound
and shimmering drizzled swath of my hometown
bringing me to live
in a single-wide trailer
with running water and a toilet
but no shower

and now returning through the familiar green
that became her home
and once was mine I realize
like her, I didn’t choose the landscape of my love
but only who took me there.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Field trip report

The following is copied and pasted directly from the report Jimmy emailed to his advisory teacher this afternoon. And yes, he typed it himself.

dear miss gregerson,

Last week I went on a field trip. On Monday I went to the beach at Grayland. At the beach i collected lots of shells. my favorite shell was the crab legs. on Tuesday I went to the maritime museum in Westport. At the museum I liked looking through their binoculars at boats. I didn't get to climb the lighthouse because my little sister was to short. I did get to see a really big lighthouse lens at the museum. it was 18 feet tall and weighed more than 1000 pounds.

on Thursday i went to the aquarium in Seattle. i saw jellyfish and sharks and anemones and lion fish. i liked touching the anemones on their tentacles. then I went on a boat around the harbor in Seattle. it was fun. on Friday i went to the zoo. i saw giraffes and a snow leopard and gorillas. i got to feed a parakeet birdseed on a popsicle stick and ride a merry-go-round.

i had a great week.


NaPoWriMo #29: haunted

The end is in sight! Here's my penultimate poem for NaPoWriMo, which was inspired while I was doing dishes this morning and thinking back to the brief week after my senior year when I worked up at the Roche Harbor Resort with my cousin Sarah. She had been there all summer and I was just passing through, but she worked it out for me to come help her for a few days, since I needed the extra cash. I remember my first afternoon we were working at the Hotel de Haro and she told me how it was supposed to be haunted. There was a sort of thrill to that, a possibility of something supernatural amid the grind of pushing the housekeeping cart up and down those hundred and fifty year-old halls.

Of course, having started out with ghosts, the poem took off in a completely different direction.

I'm Not Afraid of Ghosts

I’m not afraid of ghosts
not your ghosts not mine
those washed-out ephemeral
embodied memories of
pain never put to rest
have no power to possess me
when it is I who embrace them
come pain I say
come do your worst
choke my voice with bitter loss
and unanswered longing
wrap me in icy tendrils of grief
pierce my heart with frosty shards
for I have peace with which to heal
love burning fierce and bright within
until I am warm enough to thaw
even the most wicked winter
of disappointed dreams.

Monday, May 04, 2009

NaPoWriMo #28: promises

I know it's a few days after the fact and that if I finish at all, it will be 30 poems in 30+ days, but that's okay with me. I'm tearing the leaf of perfectionism out of my book, and allowing myself an extension. Which fits really well with the theme of this poem; sometimes it takes longer than we planned to get around to finishing something, but that doesn't mean it's too late.

Amends to the Dead

Other people I've loved have died
but none so young and
none who came to me years after
asking a favor only I could return

I remember more than six years ago
a dream so unlikely so surreal
I almost wrote it off to the cocktail
of raging pregnancy hormones

but woke up startled
with a realization of what it meant
and promised faithfully
I would do what you asked

it wasn’t until after my son’s birth
I could muster courage enough
to take the first and hardest step
but aided by heaven’s hand I did

then life or rather more specifically
fear of living got in my way
of honoring promises to the dead
and another four and a half years passed

in shameful remembrances
of a promise half-kept then postponed
and dread that now it was
too late too late too late

a few months ago someone I know
told me about her own pledge to a friend
told me when I didn’t even ask
about keeping her promise and I knew

she wouldn’t have said that
wouldn’t have brought back my hope
wouldn’t have whispered it’s not
too late too late too late if it was

so I’ve picked up where I left off
and I’m begging literally praying
for you to please forgive my frailty
my faithlessness and forgetful fear

which is not to say I’m not still afraid
but more than anything else
I want to be true want to do for you
what you cannot do for yourself

and in that single moment
where I am silent where I can
still the churning fears in my head
your voice comes soft and wise and kind

I saw
I know
I understand
I forgive.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

NaPoWriMo #27: grayland

I've been out of town since Sunday night (more on that in some future post), and during the first few days of the trip I was down in Grayland, one of my favorite places ever. I thought about writing while I was there, but I was enjoying myself and relaxing and wrangling kids at the beach too much to make time for writing poetry. And I had no internet access, so there was really no pressure to write something I could post. Which is just what I needed, because then I could let the creative juices percolate for a few days.

Going to Grayland

I’ve got two little ones
strapped in the back seat
and it’s me alone up front
a day trip to my roots
with an option to stay awhile
towns like bright beads
on a gray silk string
Ellensburg on one end
Seattle somewhere in the middle
Tukwila, Tacoma, Dupont
(my original hometown
according to my birth certificate)
Olympia, Tumwater, Elma
Satsop, Aberdeen, Westport,
Grayland tying off the strand

my hands relax on the wheel
my eye catches the glitter of sun
playing off two diamonds on my left hand
two wedding rings nestle
next to each other on my ring finger
two Christmases ago my mother
gave me nana’s ring, said
keep it three years then pass it on
to one of your sisters
you choose which one
it was on purpose I brought it with me
on this trip to the home
where my nana came as a new bride

she was a Boston girl
a lady
with wit, sense and style
a trim Navy nurse with soft brown curls
blue eyes that laughed, cried
and smiled all at the same time
she told stories about the war
all the nurses living in Quonset huts
near the base hospital on Oahu
and lowering her voice
as if someone might overhear about
other nurses getting discharged
for fraternizing with married officers
which is why when a young officer
asked her to dinner
she looked up his next of kin first
then graciously accepted
the invitation of the son
of the Reverend Clark Cottrell
of Grayland, Washington

could she have known then
what it would mean
that he would bring her home
down miles of narrow roads winding
through interminable green and gray
moss-grown spruce and fir and pine
across one-lane bridges
that arched over tidal flats
then down Highway 105
through the shorter coastal forest
dotted on each side with small, scattered houses
turning onto the final stretch of Gould Road
that he would bring her home
to Reverend and Mrs. Cottrell
to cranberry bogs, skunk cabbage, windswept dunes
to no running water and
all her favorite shoes spoiled with mold?

I looked at her ring
then looked at mine
thinking of my husband
bringing me home to his parents
to a windswept valley
fertile but still browner and drier
than the lush green of my childhood home
bringing me to live
in a single-wide trailer
with running water and a toilet
but no shower

and now driving through the familiar green
that became her home
and once was mine I realize
we don’t choose the landscapes of our love
but only who takes us there.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

NaPoWriMo #23-26: spring

In spite of being under the weather, I fired up the mower last night and beat the lawn into submission. We'll be in Seattle all next week, and I knew I'd be sorry if I let the grass go three weeks in a row. A brisk breeze was blowing, but even so, I loved sunset among the blooming violets and tulips, the fragile new shoots of bleeding hearts and peonies, the smell of fresh-cut grass crisp enough to penetrate even my stuffy nose. We've had a long, dreary winter, and it feels so good to get out into the sun, the air, the smells... ah!

The tiny bloom of
humble violets in throng
bring spring’s purple haze.

Tender buds only
just appearing mean lilacs
by May’s second week.

Marigolds bloom too late
after May crushes the bells of
tender hyacinth.

If all the flowers
I loved bloomed at once there would
be none left for June.

Friday, April 24, 2009

NaPoWriMo #22: blood

First, let us pause for a moment of self-pity and complaint: April's not even over yet, and I've been sick twice. Both times the same nasty throat-scratching, coughing, hacking bug. I'm so ready to be done with this. Not least because it's really interfering with my writing. Oh, and did I mention I got a rejection letter the other day? Yeah, Literary Mama; go ahead and kick me while I'm down.

Sorry. Had to get that out of my system. Now back to our regularly scheduled programming. A couple days back, Read Write Poem had a great prompt about rites of passage. A couple of the particular ones mentioned—birth and death among them—blended oddly with a phrase that's been bouncing around inside my head, so here is the result.

Blood Will Out

The first I drew was not my own
but hers who gave me
life with her blood
life ushered into sterile solitude
blood blossoming
poppies on a field of white
a mother
a daughter
delivered by strangers
surrounded by empty beds
a father
a husband
both distant in passion and place
I can tell myself
it was a different time
it was how it was done then
but I still hear slow ticking
of wall clock’s minute hand
smell bleach on rough sheets
taste salt as waves closed
over her head and she sank
down down down.

Fourteen years later
my own bleeding came
not life, but that pale promise of
life yet to come
away from home
fleeing to clammy-tiled solitude
protected only by flimsy restroom walls
of gray paint-flaked steel
I found a single poppy blooming
blood on white panties
a daughter
a daughter
delivered by a stranger with a dime
surrounded by empty stalls
a mother
my mother
distant in person and place
I can tell myself
she would have put her arm around me
she would have said just the right thing
but I still feel soft cotton of my pink striped dress
hiked up above my thighs
smell industrial strength sickly sweetness
of restroom air freshener
taste hardness in cold water
I splashed on my face as I sank
down down down.

Twenty years after that
was the first time I gave
life with my blood and
killed a part of her as well
she who had been so alone her first time
I didn’t understand she feared the same for me
she didn’t understand I feared the opposite
dreaded being center ring in some
frenzied circus spinning around
blood blooming scarlet petals from
thin red line across my belly
a daughter
a mother
and so by my own will I was
delivered by strangers
surrounded by steel instruments
a husband
my husband
his clammy hand folded tenderly around mine
I can tell myself
it was my right to draw my line
it was healthy to have boundaries
but I still smell sharp oxygen
pricking in my nostrils
taste steely sweetness of my blood
mingled with hers
feel waves of regret sweeping me
down down down.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

NaPoWriMo #21: alone

“To love oneself is the beginning of a lifelong romance.”
—Oscar Wilde, An Ideal Husband


A love affair dies without
time alone together to blossom
and not just time but
time wisely chosen well spent
when every light is still out except
soft waxing glow of first twilight
when a knife scraping butter across toast
or a pencil’s deliberate scratch
echo across this house and no one hears
when I can run away from home
fly to the distant side of sawtoothed mountains
swim among corals at the bottom of some strange sea
bury myself among stalactites and stalagmites
wander thirsty deserts in search of myself
and still be back before breakfast.

Monday, April 20, 2009

NaPoWriMo #17-20: surrender

Don't think from the title of this post that I'm giving up on NaPoWriMo; rather, I'm giving myself a get-out-of-jail-free card. 'Cause this is my blog, so I can do that!

Trust doesn’t walk a
tightrope with no net; it jumps
out into the void.

Here am I clinging
to the ledge, both feet planted
praying for a net.

Someday I will stop
trying to surrender, be
willing to just jump.


Wind does not break a
yielding sapling; new leaves
grow after spring’s storm.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

NaPoWriMo #16: soundtrack

A few years back I saw O Brother, Where Art Thou? for the first time. Ordinarily I can take or leave the Cohen Brothers (loved The Hudsucker Proxy and Intolerable Cruelty; The Big Lebowski and Raising Arizona, not so much).

Maybe it was because O Brother, Where Art Thou is based on Homer's Odyssey and I'm a sucker for The Odyssey, which I still managed to enjoy even while translating it from Latin my sophomore year in high school... I'm not sure. But I loved the fanciful update of a great story. I loved George Clooney's manic lip-synching to "Man of Constant Sorrow". I loved Pete getting "loved up and turned into a horny toad." And I especially loved the tins of Dapper Dan pomade and cows swirling through flood waters. But most of all, I loved the soundtrack, which I promptly went out and paid, well, almost full price for (I bought it at Costco).

Tonight Jim and I were watching In Plain Sight, one of our new favorite shows, which is just starting its second season. At the end of the episode, one of the tracks from the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack—my favorite track—started to roll. And I suddenly felt inspired.

O sinners let's go down
Let's go down, come on down
O sinners let's go down
Down in the river to pray

—“Down to the River to Pray”, Traditional Baptist Hymn

Down in the River

A smoky sweet autumn wind
weaves along river’s bank
caresses aspen leaves turned gold
coaxes maple leaves turned scarlet
gentles them down in slow spirals
through willow’s weeping tendrils
to catch shifting shafts of honey light
as trees bow in the breeze

I’m bowing in the breeze
gentled down low to weeping
coaxed to kneel broken-hearted
clothed in scarlet as I wait
leaves caressing my hair
carpeting the grass and dusty shore
under my knees and feet
how long till I give way

how long till leaves and grass give way
to smooth cool of riverbed rocks
under my bare soles
under my knees
till I give myself to living waters
washing dust from my feet and hands and mouth
till I float white-clad down the river
hair fanning out behind me
with maple and aspen spiraling above?

Friday, April 17, 2009

NaPoWriMo #15: instead

I wrote this last night after looking at the Read Write Poem prompt to make a list of things I do instead of doing something else. I started out making a list of what I was wearing (tan corduroys and denim sneakers from Value Village, a red hooded shirt from Costco) and thinking of what I would rather wear instead. Then I did away with the whole first part and the poem took on another life. I'm not totally satisfied with it, but I think it could be a good beginning.


Let me strip away
the apathy you wear
to cover nakedness of fear
let me fold you instead
in yards of cobalt silk
that billow then settle
to cling around your shoulders
let me hang lapis from your ears
drape opals round your throat
leave your wrists and feet bare
and free
let me brush your hair with soft strokes
twisting it through my fingers
till it tumbles in dark gleaming waves
let me lavish on you
all the thousand moments you’ve spent
on everyone but you
let me be the mirror
so that you can start to see

Thursday, April 16, 2009

NaPoWriMo #14: cars

I almost didn't know where to begin with the "road trip" prompt at Read Write Poem, since the subject of cars is highly evocative for me.

My parents were in the middle of their divorce the summer I took driver's ed, so taking me out to practice driving wasn't high on their list of priorities. Frankly, nerves were so raw (on all sides) when I did practice, it was a blessed relief to get a D and opt out by sheer failure.

I didn't get my driver's license until I was 21 and moved to California to be a missionary. Learning to drive in the Bay Area permanently stunted my driving style and it has taken years for me to unlearn my aggressive tendencies. The lead foot I will never unlearn—it's genetic—but parenthood has tamed (lamed?) it, and I usually drive right at the limit when my kids are in the car.

My first car, which I bought in 1993, was a burgundy 1989 Toyota Corolla, just like the mission cars I had driven in California. I paid for it myself, but was so broke after the down payment I had to borrow from my folks to pay for insurance. I've posted before about my tradition of naming vehicles, and Rosie Rolla was my first. I drove it for the next nine years, until Jim and I traded it in on a brand new gunmetal gray Camry (named Felix) as a graduation present to ourselves. I think the salesman saw us coming; the first feature he pointed out was the three child seat anchors in the back seat.

We're a Toyota family, between Rosie, Felix and the Batmobile (Jim's black 1992 Toyota pickup), but if I were ever to own the car of my dreams, it would be a 1969 Volkswagen Karmann Ghia convertible. Red, of course. Maybe someday.

I think the VW love goes back to our first family car I remember from when I was a kid, a blue VW squareback. I vaguely recall an old white Ford we may have had before the squareback, as well as a succession of cars after, but the squareback is the one I remember fondly, being buckled in the back seat and sometimes up front if it was just me and Dad, in the days before child car seats.

Are We There Yet?

You and mom up front
me and Lee in back
too little then to know
let alone remember now
why we were on the way to California
all I remember is a blur
riding the Nut Tree Railroad
straight streets lined with palm trees
driving through a wildlife preserve
and how even rolled up windows
failed to muffle the profanity
coming from under our dark blue hood

four of us packed in a squareback
white vinyl sticking to our backs and legs
leaving its impression of raised dots
marching across our clammy skin
windows rolled down
still failed to cool tempers
only made our hair stringy
plastered it across sweaty foreheads
blew it into our mouths
while we yelled at each other

you had pinned a yellow button
with a smiling face
to the back of your visor
for so much of that trip
it was the only face to smile
I coveted it from the back seat and
you promised me I could have it
if I would be a good girl
if I would just stop asking.