The amazing story of two 40-something women on the path to matrimonial bliss

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Monday, December 31, 2012

A Year of Bread and Books

The past few weeks has found Teri and I in a natural state of wrap-up and what's next? You've likely been in that place too--finishing up the loose ends of 2012 and making little declarations and intention statements about what you want 2013 to be about.  I don't do resolutions and Teri has been somewhat sucked into that mindset as well.  Instead, we do what I like to call themes--what's the focus? What might be an overarching direction, idea or topic for the coming year?  Sometimes, it is as simple as "drink more water" and other years, it has been a bit more structured.  So, we've been working out what our 2013 themes will be...

At the onset of this past year, my intention was to experience more pleasure and less stress.  I hoped this would come in the form of more massages and evening walks, less long work weeks and late nights.  Alas, I didn't really do so well on this intention, as the world seemed to have other plans for me.  Fortunately, there is no failing at this intention stuff, as far as I am concerned, and I just might have to take some other measures for 2013.

Teri has decided that in the next 12 months, she will augment her typical voracious reading appetite with 12 recommended classics.  A couple weeks ago, she asked me, as the resident English Major, what "classics" I would suggest?  "Well," I mused, "What sort of parameters do you have for Classics? It would be more helpful if you picked a genre, time frame or even a continent as the cannon is always changing--we need to reign in the quantifiers a bit."  So, she decided to ask all the kids at weekly drop-in what books they would put at the top of a must-read reading list for the coming year.  It definitely helped her create a unique and varied list from which to pull her books. She now has twelve personally suggested books in her bull pen:
  • Sometimes a Great Notion, Ken Kesey
  • Les Miserables, Victor Hugo
  • Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte
  • All Quiet on the Western Front, Erich Maria Remarque
  • Night, Elie Wiesel
  • The Once and Future King, T.H. White
  • Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston
  • The Count of Monte Cristo, Alexandre Dumas
  • Catch 22, Joseph Heller
  • The Good Earth, Pearl S. Buck
  • My Antonia, Willa Cather
  • Tropic of Cancer, Henry Miller
In case you are wondering at the parameters for this little dozen--all recommended by 20-something young adults educated in U.S. public schools--except Tropic of Cancer; that one was mine.

So, that is a little piece of what Teri will be up to for the next 12 months, I have decided to go in a different direction.  My overarching theme is to create more and do more with my hands.  The tangible, initial focus of this is to make all our bread.  I don't know if I'll be able to sustain it or not--it is terribly easy to buy a loaf as needed--but I thought if I could make every loaf and every roll we ate for the next twelve months, it would slow me down just a little and be a good, solid basis for creativity and less cerebral activities. 

I suppose if one were to attempt to capture our separate efforts into a simple theme, you might say we are attempting to get back to basics in some way.  It seems we are both striving for perspective, a deeper connection with the human condition.  As two people who already live rather public, involved lives through our work and volunteer efforts, it seems we might be needing something a little more introspective and personal.  Like all of you, we have no idea what the next twelve months will bring, but it somehow helps to have a little intended structure to send us out into the great unknown!

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Lessons Learned from First Year of Urban Farming

Now, we've gardened before, but this past year was our first very intentional foray into the sometimes pretentious world of the urban farm.  We started calling ourselves urban farmers for fun and referring to our "farm chores" but, in all actuality, we have jumped in with both work boots, a pitchfork and a few chickens! Along the way, we've learned a few things to keep in mind as we plan for our 2013 adventures...

We learned that chickens are about as trainable as cats or kids.  They tend to come with their own ideas about how they'd like to spend their days, what they want to eat and where they'd like to lay an egg (or not.) When our first-to-lay hen, Virginia, took up laying her tiny pullet eggs in the cat box, we were admonished by the wonderful guy who runs the fancy farm store. After feeling guilty and shamed, we tried to retrain her to no avail.  A couple weeks later when the second hen, Hilda, started laying in the nest box from the very first egg, Ginny moved her operation into the nest box too.  Like kids, they figured it out themselves and we might have saved ourselves a bit of shamed fussing.

Despite what all the sassy books say, this gardening/farming stuff can be expensive!  That has been another lesson learned.  With the search for organic, non GMO seeds and starts, to the purchasing of chicken coop and supplies, chicken wire, tools and organic slug bait, our garden budget line item was a little high. Could we have done it cheaper? a perfect world...but not everyone is tool savvy and talented in upcycling, recycling and uncycling (or unicycling, for that matter.)  We could have spent a few dollars less for each of our chicks, but we opted for the heirloom, sexed, happily-hatched-local varieties and we haven't regretted that.  It's sort of like growing the heirloom vegetables, why raise and grow the exact same thing we could get at the store?

Thirdly, we could have canned and preserved more than we did.  At the time--in the heat of late Summer--it felt like we put up jars and jars and jars and we would never eat/share/use all those gorgeous glass goblets of tomatoes, salsa, sauce, jams and preserves. We now know that, despite the fact that we grew 22 tomato plants, we could have canned three times as many jars of tomatoes and sauce to meet the reality of how much we use through the fall and winter.  Honestly, we ate the last of our garden grown fresh tomatoes right around Thanksgiving, so we had more than 5 solid months of fresh tomatoes of every size and color AND canned dozens of jars, but we could have done more. We are also already out of pear jam and are hoarding our precious jars of fig preserves--even though we canned a good dozen jars.  Sure, we've given a few as gifts and our adult kids have snagged a few jars from the larder as needed (Who knew they'd find the regular jar of applesauce or marinara sauce to be so enticing?), but we surprised ourselves by how much we use on a regular basis so this next year, we need to do even more!

Additionally, we need a food dehydrator!  We thought about getting one this year, but were a bit intimidated by acquiring more gear that we didn't know how to use.  Now we know we could have dried apples, figs and persimmons from our trees (not to mention some cherries) and would have used them in all sorts of things.  Alas, next year...

Other things to grow more of this year: lavender, cilantro, kohlrabi and we seem to never grow enough carrots or onions.  There were a few things we didn't eat as much of as we thought we would--namely lettuce--we tended to lean more toward spinach, kale and chard for salads than lettuce. Plus the slugs and snails thought the lettuce was a banquet!

We have new projects on the horizon for this year: hopefully bees, building our rain collection barrel system, adding a couple new chickens to our flock, and experimenting with some new ways to grow potatoes. We'd also love to find a place/person to get the fresh goat milk from while we contemplate what our lives might be like with a couple dwarf dairy goats hopping around our back yard.  We'll see, but if nothing else, there ought to be a few more lessons in store for us for 2013!

Friday, December 14, 2012

The Package

Today, we mail the packages.  This year is the first year I have compiled a send-away package for one of my baby heads.  21 year-old Lillian is living out of state for the first extended period and this will be the first time in that many years I haven't shared Christmas with her since her birth.  Teri is more seasoned at this than I.  Along with Lilly's Priority Mail box stacked by the front door, there are two others: one for Teri's twin sister and one for her baby head--both of whom live on the East Coast. 

This isn't to say that I have never shipped away the Christmas presents--when I lived in the Midwest years ago, I put together the paper-wrapped boxes to send back here to Oregon; and my sister lived in Seattle, London and New York city for decades and I sent her treats and treasures every year, but this is different. Strangely fine and strangely not fine all at the same time.

If you ask my kids, they might tell you that I've been raising them for adventures since the very beginning.  I wanted them to know there was a great, big, available world out there and that they could do anything, live anywhere, change their minds, make mistakes, and live out myriad versions of living in one lifetime, so it was inevitable that they would leave home and wander out.  In an over-used phrase, they get to do what they want. But the thought of Lillian actually opening her little presents a time zone away on Christmas is bittersweet.

Sweet in the yay-she's-living-her-life-and-we're-so-proud-and-supportive and bitter in the I-can't-believe-she's-really-all-grown-up. While Teri and I are planning a trip out to see her in the Spring, I haven't actually seen her since she left for the wilds of Colorado this past June. Yes, we talk and text and send each other photos of daily snowfalls, meals and odd happenings, but that isn't exactly the same as meeting up for lunch or plopping down on the same couch. 

According to Teri, packing the Mom's (Moms') Christmas Box takes skill, art and restraint.  A balance must be achieved between the practical and the sentimental.  We want them to have a little bit of momish gooeyness, but not so much as to be morose.  After all, as Teri and I have determined, part of our job now is to send the constant messages that we have complete and absolute confidence that they all can manage their own lives just fine (coupled with the reassurance that we are here no matter what.)

Our kids are all so different and we are really in the early years of separation by time and space and purpose. While we have been letting go for over two decades in this dance of mother and child, as many of you know, that means getting used to walking around with an enlarged, bruised and bewildered heart.  We do our best, whether they are coming to us, running from us, or we are sending a little piece of ourselves out into the world to find them wherever they may be.

So, we've wrapped our packages; tucked in little bits of this and that; cushioned and taped and labeled--and I have likely hidden a little chunk of myself amidst the tissue paper and bubble wrap--just in case.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Christmas Cookies!

This time of year is about a bunch of things--lights, love, charity, goodwill--but let's get real here, it is also about the food.  No seasonal celebration would be complete without its arsenal of tasty treats and at our house, that means cookie jars and tins full of cookies!

In the home I grew up in, Christmas cookies meant dry sugar cookies with or without frosting, cut out in festive holiday shapes.  Period.  We might go to parties or potlucks where there were trays of choices and that is where my youngster self started to realize there was a great big world of colors, tastes and textures out there and they all came off someone's cookie sheet.

As an adult, I've built and developed my own pantry of favorites--greatly influenced by kids, friends and loved ones--and this is the time of year, the oven is working overtime producing everyone's favorites.  I generally bake a few batches of 3 or 4 different kinds each weekend throughout the season to keep the cookie crocks filled.
Some appear every year: thumbprint cookies, Russian teacakes, chocolate crinkles, gingerbread cookies, peanut butter cookies, and some sort of molasses cookie.  Others have been trendy or made by the request of a household member: chocolate chip, peanut butter chocolate chip, and various bar cookies (bar cookies don't fit so well in a cookie jar so I generally avoid them, but if a request is made, heck ya!) So much butter, chocolate and brown sugar...

I still generally do some sort of a cut-out cookie--sometimes a buttery sugar cookie and other times, I use this vintage recipe for cut-out cookies made with honey (I like the honey recipe better.) I confess, this was a much more pleasant process when all the kids were home and they could help with all the cutting and frosting--it can be a big job for one person!

Lately, Teri and I have been on a quest for a cookie press.  She has fond memories of her mother's butter or "spritz" cookies and those are part of her memories of Christmas past.  Now days, most of the cookie presses are made of plastic parts and we are searching for one that it is not.  And one that is not super expensive!  We found one at Hardwick's, but it was in the too expensive category, so the quest continues.  We are about to start searching thrift stores to see if we can't find a trusty old simple one!  Until then, those little buttery shapes are missing from our cookie tray.

I don't know how cookies became a key player in the Christmas tradition.  I reckon I'll credit the Germans--my memories of visiting Germany are dusted in the sugar and spices of some of the most amazing bakeries (die b├Ąckerie or Konditori) I've ever experienced. Windows and windows piled full of yum! My limited German being just enough to get me into trouble in those very bakeries.

Before I indulge my tendency to wander off topic into all the bakeries I've visited around the globe, back to our own kitchen--where I think I'm due to bake up another batch of Christmas cookies!

Friday, December 7, 2012

Dear Santa...

Dear Santa:

I know that you haven't heard from me in oh, let's say 35 years or so, and I guess that is a pretty long time to lose touch.  How is Mrs. Claus and how are the reindeer?  If I remember correctly, that is how I used to open my yearly missives. Yeah, I know I probably didn't use words like missives then, nor was I likely to spell words like reindeer correctly (and, in the mis-directed spirit of confession I have to admit that I have actually eaten reindeer since would have been culturally rude for me not to) but, as someone once said, that is neither here nor there...

Now then, I've gotten caught up in the whole Great-Recession-Simple-Living-Deprivation scene so I haven't actually allowed myself to want or desire stuff for the past several years.  After all, I have plenty; other people have less and there is so much judgment going down about greed and consumerism, I feel guilty craving a bag of potato chips (shame!) This year, however, I am giving into my rumblings of want; there are a few things I would really, seriously dig:
  • A big, new waffle iron--not one of those piddly, makes one waffle at a time modern jobs, but one that makes six or eight golden waffles with one snap of the lid over a poured glob of batter.  They are hard to find, but maybe you have a sturdy old one laying around the North Pole somewhere?
  • A new flour sifter. Enough said.
  • The latest Red Hot Chili Peppers album I'm With You--yeah, I know I'm old, but they are as old as I am.  I really groove on that song The Adventures of Rain Dance Maggie and I still like to buy and own entire albums; I'm old-school that way. Besides middle-aged, white, West Coast funk sounds mighty fine seeping out of the windows of a teal green PT Cruiser driven by a sassy middle-aged me.
  • A year's supply of stamps.  I don't mail much anymore, but standing in line at the post office sucks (you know what I'm talking about) and it takes 2 weeks to get them through the mail when I order them online.  I think about 100 would do us just fine.
  • A Book: The Holy or the Broken: Leonard Cohen, Jeff Buckley & The Unlike Ascent of "Hallelujah" written by Alan Light. I don't know why, it sounds intriguing and very English-major-y--an entire book devoted to one song, just like an entire college class devoted to one poem. Yeah...pretentious...I want it and not from the library.
  • A Kenyan top-bar bee hive.  Those babies are a little spendy and I just don't have the skills to build one. If one appeared wrapped in a red bow on Christmas morning, I would show you a bee dance like you've never seen (nor has anyone else seen it, really. I don't really know how awesome it would be myself, but it would be amazing.)
That's it.  I think.  It feels odd, Santa, asking for things.  I feel a bit guilty. I mean, sure I really want world peace and justice and equity and access to affordable health care and prosperity for everyone, but, seriously, I work on those biggies all year long.  It's a little bit of a flip-flop from those folks who wish for it once a year. Not being Snooty McRighteous here, just sayin'--I want to indulge a little selfish want too! Maybe I'll call it by the trendy moniker I hear others use: self-care and I won't feel so guilty. So, if you have a minute--or maybe Mrs. Claus does, or maybe that gay dentist elf wants to take on a special project? Other than a few stumbles this past year, I think I've been a pretty decent person...and I haven't really asked for anything in decades...

Warmest Regards and Happy Holidays,
your pal,

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Cold Winter Mornings

Lately, our mornings get started quite early around here.  With Teri working the seasonal job at "Harry & David" and finding herself with an early morning shift starting at 6:00 am, we stumble out of bed in the dark and dress by the light of the Christmas tree.  It has made me start to question my claim to be an authentic morning person.  After all, a leisurely 7 am start to the day is a little more civilized than a 5:00 am one!

You may wonder why both of us are crawling out from under warm quilts so early? Well, we figured no need to pay for downtown parking and there really isn't a safe place for Teri to stash a bike, so I do the drive and drop-off and then she walks the 2 or so miles home midday.  It is working and it is temporary, but it is damn early.

There is, of course, an upside.  I have been taking advantage of the early start to do a little work, do a few chores, and enjoy watching the street come alive while I sip my second cup of coffee. After two weeks, I'm getting into a bit of a routine...

After an hour or so of work on the computer, I notice the morning light prying its way through the curtains and head out into the cold garage to scoop a big bowl of cat food for the miscellaneous outdoor cats who clamber on our back deck.  I refill the water the dish with clean water and fluff the various pillows and blanket beds. By that time, the chickens have realized that I'm out and about and they are clucking and pecking the wire walls of their little coop, anxious to be sprung free.  With chicken feed scoop in hand, I tromp to the coop and unlock their door and they all three immediately stretch and march over the threshold (unless one of them happens to be already on the nest, which happens every couple days.) The chickens get fresh water too and I check the nest box to see if it needs a bit of a clean-out--replacing the soiled winter cedar chips with clean ones (summer=straw, winter=cedar).  Lately, I've been feeling particularly farmer-ish on the cold, wet mornings so I head over to the compost bins--looking like a funky Mother Goose with a trio of chickens trailing--and after I turn a few pitchforks over to mix in all the garden debris and newly-added fall leaves, I pull out a couple warm scoops and dump them on a nearby garden bed--the chickens consider this the poultry-equivalent to steaming oatmeal with raisins and honey and they dig in searching for unsuspecting grublet morsels.

Usually, around this time, our neighbor has come out in his saucy knee-length blue bathrobe to tend to his little chicken flock. We share a 7:30 am wave across the garden fence as he bends over not-so-delicately to free his hens from their little cage. Seriously, talking chicken farming only here.

Climbing up onto the back porch and sliding open the glass doors, when I step back into the kitchen, I feel a bit of self-righteous satisfaction. Out the front picture window, the yellow school bus is stopping for kid pick-ups and windows and shades are being pulled up and open up and down our street. Maybe it is time for breakfast or maybe I should sit down and write and address a few more of the big stack of Christmas cards temporarily living on the dining room table? It might be time to heat up my chilly coffee mug in the microwave (unless the cup is still sitting in there from an earlier heat-up) or it might be time to think about the house-wide tidy before getting ready to head off to work myself.

All in all, the morning chores and productive fiddling haven't been too bad--I just wish we didn't have to get up so damn early to make it all happen!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Awesome Ghosts of Holidays Past

Neither Teri nor I are very sentimental people by nature.  I don't even make excuses for myself around it any more and Teri is the quickest person to pack up, discard and give away of anyone I have ever known.  This tendency to live in the present, however, does not mean we don't have attachments, memories and ghosts--and this is the time of year when a flurry of memories whirls around us.

Here's my confession: I have not saved every piece of schoolwork or homemade ornament my kids made while growing up.  I have a few--representations, if you will--and they suffice.  I've given back many items to the kids so they can have, cherish or not, depending on what matters to them. Besides, for me, the ghosts and memories aren't really in items or things--they are more in smells, recipes, activities, and stories.  Teri and I find ourselves doing a whole lot of story-telling this time of year--remembering benchmarks, comparing childhood experiences, and thinking about holidays that have come and gone.

For me, the best Christmas is always the one that is going down right now--everything else seems shadows or rickety drift boats floating off in the distance.  That does not, however, stop us from remembering people who are no longer with us; versions of our kids that pop up in stories of certain times and places; or versions of ourselves we've said good bye to long ago.  I think this is one of the reasons Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol has stood the test of time and still rings true with so many people; we all have whole lifetimes we've lived and people we used to be and this time of year gives us full on permission to revisit, re-tell and repent.

The ghosts come and go--they wander in and out of the kitchen while I am making Russian teacakes or stirring up the zillionth cup of hot cocoa; they slide across the floor when I unwrap the set of colorful Nutcracker ornaments three school-age kids and I got in the lobby during intermission at one of the many performances of the Nutcracker ballet we attended; they slosh across the backyard in the plump, green mist of a Pacific Northwest December; and they gyrate through the air while Burl Ives sings "Have a Holly, Jolly Christmas"...

These ghosts mean well, but they are not always welcome.  It can be hard to reconcile my 3-year-old son, Stuart, dressed as a pirate-superhero-ballerina with the tall, thin, soft-spoken and stoic young man he is now.  Thoughts of my grandparents dressed up for the annual Christmas party at the Elks club in all their polyester finery are bittersweet. Memories of sad Christmases--deaths, loss and loneliness--remind us even more of the attachments we have made and lost.

There is something about these short, dark days and the need to light them up with candles, twinkle lights and the burning of the home fires that all goes hand-in-hand with the dance of the mid-winter ghosts. If we allow ourselves to settle in to the darkness and the cold damp, it is tailor-made for waltzing with memories, sharing our stories and giving in to the soul-healing rituals of bringing ourselves solidly into the present. There is no where else I'd rather be than right here, right now, and the Christmas ghosts help to remind me how I got here.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The Road to Burnout Mountain

My true confession is that I work...a lot.  Seriously. Early mornings. Most week nights. Many weekends. My cell phone goes off at 11:30 pm with texts from staff or volunteers, and whether I am at home or at work, I tend to be either working, worrying about work, strategizing about work, or knowing that my phone could ring or buzz at any moment and I'll need to problem solve, go somewhere or just think about work stuff.  Even my so-called volunteer work tends to somehow end up work-related. I am neither bragging nor proud. In fact, I fully acknowledge that it is, to put it kindly, a bit much. I also know that I am not particularly unique.

Working in a small nonprofit is very much like running or working for a small business.  Things are rather entrepreneurial and quite precarious.  Awesome, amazing people who have true passion for the work tend to find their way into a world of long hours and low pay (when and if there is pay) and rising to the authentic expectations means going above and beyond on a fairly regular basis.  The propensity for burnout is well-documented. But, alas, that doesn't necessarily mean that those of us who do this work know how to do everything that needs to be done and avoid the stressors that contribute to burnout!

Perhaps the saddest reality is that we tend to unintentionally drag those closest to us into our world of overwork too.  When your job demands you work all day and attend evening meetings and weekend events, families and partners tend to choose to join in or go along just to make sure that there is some "together time." Teri has helped raise thousands of dollars, staffed many a table, stuffed a zillion envelopes, and been what a few of us call "adjunct" or unofficial staff.  Our kids have attended events, volunteered and pitched in as well.  While all of this household support is awesome, it is not really sustainable--nor is it what most people are expected to contribute to their jobs.

Obviously, I haven't figured out the answer or the solution--but I think I am in good company.  As long as we live in a society with the values and expectations of ours, the high-paying and economically just jobs will not be those providing social or human services, nor those that contribute to a more just and equitable society. Just like any other business, we have the weight of making payroll, paying taxes, and providing health insurance for employees, and just like any other business, we must earn or raise enough money to do that--or we close our doors or resign ourselves to doing the work without adequate salary. Unlike other businesses, raising and earning the money is not always directly linked with the services we provide. This results in a great deal of free or donated labor to the greater society. Honestly, the handful of economics classes I took in college never really explained to me how to preserve the dignity and recognize the worth of all the workers who give their lives over to the social good.

So, we all do our best.  We work until we can't work any longer and hope that someone else will step in and carry the load a little further.  We hope our families and loved ones can hang in there for just a little more and that we can leave things in some sort of shape for the next person. We juggle, take an extra aspirin, drink an extra cup of coffee, or swallow a spoonful of peanut butter for lunch and hope it carries us through until dinner time. In the end, we cling to our belief that we can move things along and make the world a little better--empower, support, encourage and involve--even if it means stretching ourselves a bit further than we ever imagined we could go.  And then, unfortunately, sometimes, we burn out and need to tend to our very human bodies and spirits.

I really don't know the answer. I tend to offer advice that I don't follow and spout platitudes about self care that I don't adhere to. I am hesitant to ask people to do anything I won't and don't do myself and I'm not sure what to do about that.  In the end, I know that there are all sorts of contributors--a crumpled economy, societal priorities, gender politics, technology, etc. but I don't imagine explanations and excuses stand much of a chance against good, old-fashioned burnout!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Sacred Acts of Culinary Variety

Today, it begins.  Well, truthfully, we have been prepping, gathering, cleaning, sorting and making lists for over a week but today, the Thanksgiving holiday preparations begin with diligent focus. I find I approach them with such anticipation. Teri likes to say that Thanksgiving is "my day" but it doesn't feel that way at all to me.  I actually feel like a tiny piece in something bigger and it has absolutely nothing to do with mythological pilgrims or imagined Jamestown multicultural picnics.  It feels intensely emotional and sweetly sacred.  It is about storytelling, multigenerational connection, community and this flawed human stumbling we call life...
Teri and I share stories of childhood Thanksgivings--they are wrapped more in the emotions of how we felt--hers were pleasant affairs of predictability and order; she remembers them as easy, stress-free celebrations of good food, football and good behavior.  My memories are steeped in a bit more anxiety.  I imagine my childhood Thanksgivings fall more on the post-modern therapy couch scale of things and because of this, my adult Thanksgivings have become a ritual of healing.  Every year is a little different and the older I get, the more holidays become participatory benchmarks of aging, connection and forgiveness.
Our kitchen is sacred space.  It is the blood-pumping organ of our home and life together, and it is where Teri and I have both best combined our two separate selves and where we continue to tussle over differences and preferences.  We have our own individual favorites--favorite pots and pans, measuring cups and bowls.  We each have our own separate rolling pins. But, Thanksgiving is more than just the two of us.
My cooking influences are complicated. I am largely self-taught, although I do pay homage to Mrs. Bonebrake's 7th and 8th grade Home Economics classes (I only took the cooking half of the year and not the sewing!) The other day, when Teri and I were doing our last big grocery shop for Turkey day, I was patiently waiting in front of the spice shelves for a hunched older woman to move herself and her cart aside and when she turned around, it was none other than Mrs. Bonebrake--30 years older and with the same terse look on her face--and it seemed a sacred nod to my historical culinary continuum.  Before you ask, no, I didn't introduce myself--I can't imagine she remembers me; she's surely 80 now and I wasn't particularly a stand-out student at omelet making and I hated the way she made us do all that math at the end of a project.  Honestly, I never figure the cost per-serving in my middle-age life!
I learned from cookbooks, cooking shows and by being a guest in other people's kitchens.  I learned how warmly beyond tepid to heat the liquid for bread dough and fail-proof pie crust from my former mother-in-law; I learned how to boldly cook copious quantities and complicated recipes fearlessly from my friend (and Best Gal at our wedding), Wendy; and I have gathered recipes, tips and tools from a wide variety of sources and like a chameleon, they have become my own.  Once I got out into the big, wide world as a young adult, I realized that there were a zillion people who wanted to share and who saw the kitchen as a playground of possibility. This had not been my childhood understanding of what a kitchen was. Now, I experiment.  I make stuff up. I make substitutions.  And, I've learned over the years to be unapologetic--so what if the sausages get a little crisp or I don't know the perfect way to carve a turkey? There is no one right way to make a salad, or a pie, or to glaze a ham--there are endless possibilities!
Cooking is alchemy, love, an offering; it is a prayer of hope and sustenance--it is meant to be shared.  As we spend the next couple days in our kitchen, we'll be joined by our kids, our friends, and family and we'll be committing sacred acts of gratitude and merry mess-making.  These are the new, evolving memories and what a gift they truly are.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The Age of Precariousness

I was recently chatting with a friend who sighed a yearning sigh for what he called "security and stability"-- it wasn't until an hour or so later that I realized I could no longer really wrap my head around what that actually means.  It seemed mythological, an almost unreasonable Utopian pining. Who has the luxury of security and stability these days?

I've stopped really paying attention to those who appear to have it all--and by have it all, I don't mean mansions and yachts, I mean stable full time work, a reasonable benefits package, and enough to tend to the basics in life. I just don't move in those sorts of circles.  I know you are out there and, well, good for you, but I know many more individuals who are striving, scraping, and bowing under the weight and stress of precariousness.

It is not lack of education--in my little work world, for example: six people have a combined minimum of 10 degrees--this includes three master's degrees.  We are super well-educated, super-competent and work long, lumpy hours.  This is not enough to guarantee dental care or even a steady paycheck. We struggle to pay off student loans with low-paying social service sector jobs and probably donate as much time and talent as we'll ever be compensated for.

We never know if the computers will be working, the funding will come through or whether we'll even have a job to claim tomorrow.  That is an exhausting form of precariousness. And, still, we piece it together--multiple jobs, contract work, and by sharing whatever we have with friends, family and community. When Teri and I aren't feeding kids or making sure they have shoes, toilet paper and toothpaste, we scrape together what we can to donate to various charities and causes that are hanging off those precipices of precariousness too. Don't ask me why, it just never dawns on us that this is not the way to go about things.

Is this the way things are going to be for the near and distant future?  Is this simply the "age" in which we live? I know this is not the way things are for everyone, but it is the way things are for many. I also know it depends on where you live, what you do, and various uncontrollable factors like skin color, gender and age. But  knowing all this does not really justify the age of precariousness. The other day, Teri said that maybe the path to peace was to simply accept that this is the reality, plain and simple.  I couldn't figure out, however, how that would make things feel any less tenuous and temporary?  I imagine she was imagining it would be less exhausting without the struggle for something else, but that doesn't account for the effort to simply maintain...

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

What it All Means (to Us)

As Teri would say, I'm not going to lie--this is often her prelude to true confessions of the blunt variety.  So, this morning, I'm not going to lie, this election season has been nerve-wracking to say the least and downright frightening on some days.  As we sat, paced, and baked our way through the dispensing of the results last night, there were some moments where we felt cautious, tight-lipped surges of hope...

As we watched first Maine, then Maryland and, hopefully, finally Washington state all approve marriage equality (or as the news reporters like to say "Gay Marriage" because it is somehow completely different and separate from any other sort of marriage--I think it is lumped in with "plural marriage" and other italicized arrangements) popular the ballot...we got a little teary.  Teri summed it up in a simple sentence when she said "There are some good people out there who stand by us."  It is hard not to take it personally--both for those who are finally voting to approve marriage equality and for those who surely now know plenty of good and awesome gay people, but who are still clinging to discrimination.

It feels monumental, historical, and, honestly, exhausting.  I am so grateful for all the people who organized, phone-banked and literally went door-to-door talking to folks in these states.  These are amazing victories--the first ever achieved by vote.  What we hope this means is that we will eventually be able to overturn some of the discrimination that has been built into state constitutions (like ours in Oregon) but there is also something bittersweet about stitching together rights state by state--rights still for some but not for all.

We are solidly the first generation encouraged, cajoled and pressured to be "out"--there was a sense that if we all came out of the closet, our visibility would inspire change and this has been true. What has also been true is the painful, soul-searing backlash.  Teri and I realized last night that these victories would not be met without plenty of push-back from those who are convinced that all this equality is just the sort of shameful horror that will bring about the end times. So, out of habit, in the midst of all the Yay! we were bracing ourselves for the Yuck.

Meanwhile, there were/are other things that matter to us too: Maryland also approved a measure that would allow immigrants who have attended high school to pay in-state tuition for college; many of our local bond measures to pay for schools, road repairs and parks were passed; and progressive ballot measures legalizing recreational marijuana use (and thus decriminalizing while paving the way for taxes to support the public coffers) passed in Washington and Colorado--but, alas, not here in Oregon.  Tammy Baldwin was elected as state senator in Wisconsin--first woman and first out lesbian to hold that office. The state of New Hampshire now has an all-female delegation--including a female governor. The presidential race mattered as well, but it was one piece of a whole lotta big and heavy stuff!

I know full well that just as we are feeling cautiously optimistic and breathing a little easier this morning, there are those who are praying fervently or brooding about the disgusting trajectory of America. I've already read the remarks about how "we Christians need to stick together" and a variety of racial and homophobic slurs.  In other words, it's not a clean win.  It feels like hard-won progress but not really a victory.  We know the battles are important but we have to fortify ourselves for the rest of the journey.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Is it Possible to Lighten Up?

It's been a minefield lately.  A minefield of contentiousness, assertive opinions, hurt feelings, name-calling, and all around unsavory human behavior.  I imagine it is part economy, part election, part seasonal, and all rooted in fear.  I don't know about anyone else, but I, for one, am exhausted.  I can't remember the last day I experienced without a contentious meeting, a conversation of complaints, or the need to address misunderstandings and disagreements.  There is a lot of metaphorical chest-bumping and horn-locking; accusations flying.We seem to be operating at a high level of impatience and distrust and instead, I am craving humor, collaboration and the assumption that people are doing the best they can.

When the bulk of folks are motivated by fear, it is hard not to take some of that on. It is tough not to feel backed into a corner of carefulness, asking oneself What can I say? What did I do?  or the more accurate Who needs extra care, carefulness, and consideration to keep things from imploding?

In the end, I start to wonder, What is even possible with things being the way they are?

The idealist in me likes to think that there has to be a way to lighten up, allow for discourse and disagreement while staying focused on the big stuff. We need a little self-awareness around what sort of stuff we might be bringing to the table to contribute to the scene of fear and ugliness. It might just start with a good, hard look in the mirror: What am I doing to contribute?  Am I taking things too personally? Am I assuming the worst? Am I determined to have my way with little regard for anyone else? Do I expect everyone to behave according to my moral compass? Am I afraid of losing my place, voice or relevancy? Do I feel like I have something to prove?

The world is shifting. I would argue the world is always shifting, but there are times when we all seem to notice and feel it more than others. Clinging, clenching and being downright disagreeable are not strategies to stop the wheels from turning--but they are community buzz-kills! What if we lighten up, laugh, talk about some fun stuff, play with our kids, bake for a neighbor, sing, hand stuff over to someone else, step aside, make room, embrace differences, stay in bed, go shopping, make something...anything to lift us out of the place of fear and worry?

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Full-on Fall--Seasonal Transformations

Well, it's mid-October.  Teri has just finished pulling up all the spent summer vegetable plants and filling all the garden beds with fresh compost.  Soon that compost will be buried under a blanket of leaves to age and wait for Spring.  We do garden year-round, so the winter veggies: kohlrabi, broccoli, kale, cabbage, chard, and Brussels sprouts are still growing away in one bed, but the rest of the garden is looking pretty dormant.

Leaves are falling, the rains have come, the chickens are laying less prolifically (just when we were getting pretty self-righteous over their daily output), the lawn furniture has been stacked and sequestered and our thoughts have turned to holidays, warm sweaters, and digging out the rain gear we'll depend on for the next several months.  There is a need to pull in, to pull away from the world a bit and focus in on family, close friends, conversation, and introspection.  That all feels as seasonal to me as the shedding of the bright orange and red maple leaves along our street.

Lately, I have been thinking much about seasons, aging, and cycles--the tensions that exist when the seasons change or the seasons need to change. I see the older, the what-has-been holding on with vice grip and deep roots as the younger, the what-will-be are trying energetically to push up through the dying foliage and tangled roots.  I can't remember the last time I sat in a meeting where this tension hasn't been at the core of things--the core of managing change, letting go, making room, stepping aside, and reflection on who should be talking and how much.  We are not doing a very good job of honoring the inevitable changing of the seasons.

I am solidly in the middle and maybe there is some validity in the role of the middle-aged.  I can see the struggle from multiple perspectives.  I am not so old that I don't remember what it was like to be at the beginning of my career and my urge to be relevant and useful.  I am not so young that I don't understand the indignant clenching of those who have spent a lifetime doing important and soul-feeding work.  It is hard to be patient and it is scary to let go.  There is a tendency to want young people to step in and take up the causes, but they should do it our way, they should listen, learn and remind us of younger versions of ourselves (or how we like to imagine we once were.) And what will happen to the older when the identity of our work is taken from us?  Who will we be then?

We bark at the young to honor their elders, which, as near as I can tell, means that we want them to do what we tell them to do, but the honoring does not seem to go both ways.  The very fact that the moniker "elder" has become yet another self-identifying claim to authority as opposed to a title of honor granted by others speaks to what I call Baby Boomer Entitlement. "I am an elder" is quite a different statement than "you are an elder."

I feel very fortunate to be hearing the voices of the younger--educated, passionate, surging with energy and fresh perspective--and they are ready and willing to take up the challenges.  Will they make mistakes? Of course.  Do they sometimes seem brash, impatient and bordering on obnoxious?  Yes, sometimes.  Do they lack appreciation for all the work that has gone before? No, in fact, I see a great reverence for what has happened and the possibilities that lay ahead.

I am also fortunate to be hearing the voices of those that have been at this for many decades.  I see both great and not-so-great examples of how to age with grace and dignity.  It is possible to stay involved, expand one's experiences and still make room for the new growth. It is also possible to stifle and squelch with the heavy rotting leaves of stubborn immobility. There is value in introspection and self-reflection--just as there is value in action.

The seasons change whether we are ready and happy about it or whether we resist.  It happens anyway. We do have choices about how we approach the inevitable cycles and changes--with wonder, active participation and support--or reluctance and bitterness.  I am always a little sad to see the garden die back in the deep Autumn--I miss those productive tomato plants and fruit trees that have given so much--but for a healthy garden, they must let go and give life to what is yet to be.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Grown Ups

Teri and I are very close in age (exactly 2 years difference), so we have had similar cultural and educational experiences growing up. We both went to public schools, albeit her experiences were much more urban and diverse--having been educated on the East coast and in cities.  Our families shared some core values and experiences even though on the surface they look very different--she raised in a larger, strictly Catholic, military household with urban-raised parents and me raised in a working class, West coast, religion-ambiguous household in a decidedly rural locale with parents who also grew up in a small town.  Still, we were both infused with some major cultural expectations and idioms handed down around what it means to be a grown up:
  1. Life isn't fair; but that doesn't mean we shouldn't attempt to be fair-minded.
  2. Be a good neighbor--personal feelings aside when it comes to helping, getting along, looking after and living in community with neighbors.
  3. Share what you have, help when you can.
  4. Unless it makes for an entertaining story, no one needs to know your personal business
  5. Manners first and always
  6. Feed people
  7. Take responsibility for your choices
  8. Fight your own battles, fix your own mistakes
  9. Know when to step away, step back, and detach
  10. Know when to step in and get involved
  11. Appreciate and respect differences
  12. Strong work ethic defined by: being on time, consistent, diligent, efficient, skilled, team-player, competent and respectful
  13. Support your family (and this is non-gender-specific)
  14. Be dependable, follow through
Now, of course, we have some fun differences too:  Teri was raised with a strong message to "never volunteer" when it comes to extra commitments and work tasks--I suspect this has something to do with survival in the military. I, on the other hand, saw the adults around me volunteer to take on extra tasks at work, work late, fill in, and cover for other co-workers, so I realize I've adopted a go-above-and-beyond approach to many of my projects. We each strive to learn some balance--Teri is learning the joys of volunteering and I am struggling to learn to say no and let go.

When sorting through all this baggage (and while this word has a negative connotation, I think some of our baggage is valuable and worth carrying along), it has also been worthwhile to identify and name what we think "being a grown up" means. I tend to use this phrase dogmatically, sometimes judgmentally--as in: "We need to be grown ups here" or "What sort of grown up does that?"  Like many things, it's all in the spin as to whether it is a useful or constricting definition.

I tend to retreat into an over-developed eldest's sense of responsibility, egotistically assuming that I have to be the grown up because no one else will. In our family, we have coined a term for this condition, which I have perfected, called the put-upons-- the put-upons are not to be confused with being a grown-up, but are more of a pathology; that feeling you get when you have said yes when you should have said no, when you take on extra tasks because you doubt someone else's ability, or when things have fallen in your lap because someone else really didn't do their part. The put-upons are a good sign that a person might need to take a step back and re-evaluate.

In my middle-forties, I am solidly a grown up--with all the experience, expectations and occasional rigidity that comes with maturity. One of the many things I love about Teri is that she is too.  With all of the playfulness and passion for fun, that sturdy spine of grown-up-ness is always there. The animals always get fed first, the bills always get paid, we can walk away from things we can't afford (even if we have to pout for a moment or two), she can support me without feeling the need to step in and fight my battles, she's always there for the kids, the neighbors, friends, etc., if she says she will do something, I can count on her making it happen (alright, so maybe not at my pace, but that is another blog...)

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

I Bought a Ticket to the World

I am currently the first one out of the bed in the mornings in our household.  This hasn't always been the case, as there have been various chapters and incarnations of household: small kids, school-age ones, different jobs, different schedules, teenagers, etc. Often time, it was competition for the bathroom that dictated rising schedules. By nature (I think) I am a morning person and I especially enjoy the quiet time just before the skies come awake. Lately, that quiet doesn't last too long because, alas, chickens seem to like to rise with, well, with the chickens--and they start squawking and clucking to be released from the confines of their very adorable coop when the first bits of light stretch across the sky.

So, I tend to start working--both with home stuff, "farm" chores, and world work before the sun comes up.  How did life function without computers?  If memory serves, I was able to sequester and plot my days with less interaction from the outside world, but that is not the way things are any more; this is the world we live in now.

My morning Pandora Radio station (with headphones, of course) is my Bee Gees station.  Yup.  I know I am not alone in that I have various stations for various moods, challenges and times of day.  Disco at Dawn would be a better title, I suppose, and there is something about all those dance beats and false setto that helps me ease into what is a rather chaotic and kooky time to be in this world. I think I prefer that 70's and 80's sound first thing in the a.m. because it is tidy--themes are simple, the beat is predictable and gosh darnit, I can type to it.

Last year at this time, there was a cry for revolution with the Occupy Movement world-wide.  I believe we are still in the midst of transition and transformation--and it is playing out on a local, national and global stage in myriad ways. Things feel surreal, scary, hilarious, ridiculous, disorganized, and the word I have been using more and more: polarized. I have learned things about people that I sort-of wish I could "un-know."  Teri blames this on social media...the good and bad of computers.

We joke a bit as a family about Teri's philosophy that "no good can come of Facebook" but I'm thinking that while I disagree with her generalization, there are points where I complete agree.  Used to be that I didn't have to know which of my colleagues and family members were bigots, right-wing Republicans, racists, homophobes, or whatever--unless they chose to disclose.  To be fair, they didn't have to know the extent of my politics, volunteer work, how gay I am, or even about my career--it could all remain shrouded in a veil of hmmm...we suspect, but don't have to actually know. Has it changed the way I feel or think about some people?  I have to give Teri some credit here because the answer is...probably.

Some days, I fantasize about a world where I could disconnect from social media, disconnect from the computer, slow down and un-know how close some of the problems and challenges are. I have studied history and I know that this is not the first time this nation has been so polarized, but like the sometimes skeptical Teri, I'm not sure how we will come out of it. With help from one of our daughters, I have learned how to block and organize things a bit on Facebook, so I don't have to see so much of the icky stuff, but I confess that some of the damage is already done. I have become more ruthless about deleting and I know it is reciprocal.

On one hand, I love the connection to people all over the world--those I've met on travels, through work and in other ways; I like being able to share and promote events and activities and the way social media can be used to organize, educate and mobilize. It is a tiny half-hour piece of my day and I still believe the real work and the real connections happen in real time--face-to-face. On the other hand, it can be an instrument of oppression too--perpetuating myths of mainstream, and spreading misinformation, fear and hate.  I still agree with the late Gil Scott-Heron: the Revolution will not be televised...but surely social media will play a compromising role.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Neighbors and Neighborhood

It may seem anachronistic, but over a year ago, Teri and I went searching for a neighborhood.  Some people go house hunting looking for a specific sort of house, nearby amenities such as stores or churches, or even value a neighborhood based on its perceived affluence or zip code.  There were some house-related issues on our wish list: a multi-butt kitchen, a big enough bath tub, double-paned windows and space for our dining room table. Our driving motivation for the perfect house, however, was a yearning for neighborhood, community, diversity, and connection.

Now, we are happy to report, we know all of our close neighbors and many others on our street, on the block and throughout the neighborhood.  Despite detractors or those who value homogeneity, we have found what we have both been searching for--a true neighborhood: quirky, alive, and sustaining.

We live in what is lovingly referred to as "the Whit"--the most socio-economically and racially diverse neighborhood in our small city--also known as Whiteaker neighborhood or Ward 7 for those of us who like to know who are city councilor is.  On our street, there are grad students, families both large and small, retired seniors, and Teri and I are not the only queer people--not by a long shot.  Small children draw chalk towns in the middle of the street, an athletic teenager plays basketball incessantly at the end of the block, and seniors do Tai Chi in the nearby park.  We can call across the street if we need to borrow a ladder and our next door neighbors give us their house key every time they leave town so we can look after their skittish cat.  I recently told a friend that I finally live in a neighborhood that feels like the Sesame Street I fantasized as a youngster. This is the sort of neighborhood where no one is likely to go unnoticed if they fail to emerge from their house for a few days.

As perfect as our neighborhood community is to us, we are well aware (because we hear it often, people write snarky letters to the editor, and politics reflect it) that some of the realities of our neighborhood are considered "undesirable" by others: the train tracks run right through the middle of our neighborhood; because this has historically had some of the "poorest' areas in town, there is a tolerance for the unhoused, newly-arrived, and those challenged with mental health issues.  These are our neighbors too; we are lacking wide streets and sprawling lawns--instead there are intentional living communities, renovated bungalows, apartment complexes, and post-WWII tract housing all nestled in together. 

Teri originates from the East Coast and when she refers to "the city" she is almost always referring to the city: New York city.  She has expressed that The Whit has as close a feeling of pulsing energy and diverse human living as she has felt anywhere in Eugene.  The fact that we can chat over the back fence with our neighbors or walk to a nearby brew pub on a Saturday night reminds her of the urban neighborhoods where she grew up.  When we had our big snow on the second day of Spring this year, there was an "old school" way that the neighbors all checked in on each other and helped move branches and shovel pathways.  Honestly, we never feel the fear that those who don't live here complain about.

I imagine it all depends on what you want out of this short life. I have no desire for a fancy address or a big, brick house--isolated from the surrounding community.  I want to know the people who share this journey and I want to be challenged to stay connected, authentic and in touch with the intense and ordinary concerns of life.  I delight in the neighbor who sells tamales out of a little red wagon; the sound of squealing from the Head Start classes one block over; the swapping of fruit overload as neighbors share the bounty of their cherry, pear, apple, and fig trees; the curb-side chats as we pet cats; and they myriad other benefits of living in a genuine neighborhood. 

Saturday, September 15, 2012

It's Meant to be an Adventure

Many of you may know that Teri and I are parents to a combined 6 young adults, a few of you know that we have actually embarked on a journey to add more to our family.  Now, likely, most of you are wondering why?

Our kids are attached to us in a variety of ways and while we claim, fuss, and are deeply committed to all of them, we accept that they all have different feelings and levels of attachment to us.  They all have other parents or parental figures with whom we have had to come to terms with sharing.  Each of our kids (ages: 18, 20, 21, 22, 22, 26) is unique and each one has expanded our lives, our understanding of ourselves, and our capacity for love, compassion and commitment in different ways.  We're not going to lie--it hasn't always been easy! They take us in directions we never imagined.

I don't care what anyone says disparagingly about "kids today," I know that our kids get a great deal of pressure from multiple directions to go to college, get good jobs, settle down, shape up and grow up. They are wrestling with all the same identity, education, economic and personal challenges that that those of who are older maneuver and Teri and I figure the last thing they need is two more people trying to squeeze them into a "performance box." Instead, we try to remind them that life is not a race; they only have to be themselves and please themselves; mistakes and missteps happen; they can still be scared or anxious and do what they need to do; there are always options; and we are going to be here no matter what.

We are not really achievement-oriented people.  Life is about effort, involvement, showing up and the sheer adventure of living in this world, as far as we are concerned. We are well aware that we have made our own mistakes, have flaws and foibles but it isn't our kids' jobs to augment anything we might or might not have done.  They don't owe us anything--we are the grown-ups who have a life long responsibility to them.

Don't get me wrong--we are incredibly proud of each and every one of our kids--they are loving, compassionate, and intelligent.  They have things they want to do, places they want go, and hopes, dreams and challenges of their own. We appreciate whatever role they might let us fill and try to check ourselves from overstepping boundaries.  After all, we really do have absolute confidence that they can and will run their lives just fine.  So, with all this parental pride and fabulously functional young adults, why on earth would we be open to more?

For Teri and I, the question has really been: Why not? It is a little bit selfish--we would not be who we are without these incredible learning partners.  Our understanding of "personal growth" is not necessarily centered around self-help books and the constant self-absorbed focus on personal work, but what we can do, share, give back and how little we can actually think about ourselves.  It has taken both of us twenty years to come to terms with who we are as parents, not who we are not and we have the battle scars to show for it.  We figure if the universe allows, we've still got a bit left to give--we haven't left it all on the court yet...

Friday, September 14, 2012

What is It about Paint?

There are those with a finer eye for design than either Teri or me; there are those who prefer minimal, beige and neutral; and there are those who can exist just fine in any sort of environment.  I am a little pickier and I love color, texture, warm and whimsical--even if I don't have the confidence of a sassy and talented designer.

We are painting!  As two who spend a great deal of time in our kitchen, and in anticipation of the grey, dreary months--we headed off on a search for a color that would be bright, warm and make us smile when we looked into the kitchen from the living room.  We came home with paint samples printed with make-or-break names like avocado kiss and orange you glad.  We moved them around on the walls, slid them up against the glossy white wood trim, and taped them to the walls until the choices were clear: sunnydale and warm embrace--let's paint!

Well, Teri and I have learned that projects are where we either shine or slime as a couple.  In reality, we've gotten much better at it over the years--we know each other, we've learned how to communicate and collaborate, but mostly we've learned how to let the other do what she does best and work in the way she can't help but work.  Teri has accepted that careful, detail work is NOT where I do well, and I have accepted that she will never be a skip-steps, slap-it-on or make -do sort of person.  I could probably build a book shelf with a rock and some hemp twine--it might not look symmetrical or last forever, but I could creatively tack it together.  Teri's bookshelf would be sturdy, steady and level--but it might take her two years to build.  You can probably imagine how we both compliment and aggravate each other with our painting style!

Honestly, had I been working alone, I probably would have jumped in and had the kitchen "painted" in two hours.  I probably would have avoided the scary narrow part around the kitchen window as long as I possibly could and I likely would have just added coats until I masked all my patchy coverage.  But, that is not at all how our painting adventure is going down.

First, Teri announced that we would be doing one room at a time.  What?! That seemed awfully conservative to me when we had two separate cans of paint.  Then, there was the taping--which I did start, but soon found to be tedious and particular.  After all, houses are no straighter than I am--despite their appearance to be made up of lines and angles.  Taping is where Teri shines and she carefully outlined edges, doorways and window sills.  At last, I got to use the roller--that is where I rock (and roll.)

Thing is, I hadn't realized there was still a specific way to roll AND that there had to be some brush painting all around the edges first.  I likened it to kids who outline their coloring page images in crayon first, and then color in the middle.  What?!  Can't we just roll on the paint until we run out of wall or bump up against the blue tape? That's how I've done it for years.

No.  We cannot.  And while we are at it, I forgot to mention that the walls, floors and trim are getting scrubbed and cleaned thoroughly, straight edges are being used and switch plates are being washed.  This is just how it goes.  I want color, and lots of it, fast!  Teri wants perfection. While I'm saying, "Oh well, that is where the shelf goes anyway," she is gleefully noticing where whoever painted the kitchen prior to our occupation didn't get close enough to the counter or forgot to cover a nail hole.  It is really the best of all possible worlds.

And, in the end, we both agree that there is nothing like paint--affordable, gorgeous and personable--to change up a room (or rooms.)

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Reinvention, Evolution & Progress

Teri has a fun new t-shirt with one simple word on it: "Evolve."  We are both in a place.  Heck, who am I kidding? One of the big things we like about each other is that we are both what one of the kids calls furniture movers--people who embrace change, move their furniture around on a regular basis and forget past happenings because, well, they are in the past after all! So maybe we are always in that place of reinvention and evolution.  Life is short.

I am finding that my view of myself and my place in the world is changing as I age and that seems entirely appropriate.  Unlike some of my other middle-aged colleagues, I love working with much younger people, much older people and bringing in perspectives that shake up my world.  It is definitely time to move the furniture around! (personally, nationally and globally.)

And maybe we should paint the walls while we're at it?  Teri and I are gearing up to paint our kitchen and dining nook--going from a perfectly serviceable creamy latte color to a collection of brighter yellows. I wouldn't mind giving my wardrobe an overhaul, taking a class, embarking on a new career, and finally learning Spanish!  Life is short.

I hear the skeptics and pessimists reminding me that things don't always seem to change for the better.  I don't know about that--even though the pendulum definitely swings, I DO believe in progress and evolution and the inherent worth and good in everyone. In fact, I consider myself "progressive" in my politics, preferring that moniker to the oft-battered "liberal"--especially since the latter has been appropriated, recycled and used differently in different times and places.  To me, they are not necessarily interchangeable terms. That aside, moving forward sounds like a much better option to me than going backward.

Inherent in the reinvention and evolution process is letting go...letting go of the stuff, ideas, assumptions and identities that no longer fit or serve.  It means actually cleaning out the closet, garage and cupboards to make room for what comes next.  It means a leap of faith, a taking of risk and a willingness to bump into the furniture until one gets used to its new location.  Life is short.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Modeling Gay

At times, we embrace it; at other times we get cranky and resentful; occasionally we can have a sense of humor around it; and at other times, we wonder why it still has to be a big deal.  Regardless of how we'd like things to be, we have to live in this world and that means a certain amount of what Teri & I humorously dub "advocacy work"--showing the world what ordinary, dull, responsible, authentic, loving, sane, non-threatening, appropriately affectionate, parental, educated, fiscally solvent, lawn-mowing, healthy-eating, moderate-drinking, hard-working, church-going folk we are.
Whew!  Sounds a tad exhausting, doesn't it? We get that it is a little counter-intuitive to what was originally a big part of the "Gay Pride" movement--maybe that is why all of us ordinary people love us some rainbow streamers and dancing feathered queens every June--the rest of the year, the cry to "be yourself" has morphed into "be like the dominant culture (translated: white, heterosexual and categorized in gender binaries)--only more so and flawlessly."
There is a pressure to perform, represent and repent.  When my kids were going through school (and to a certain extent, I still go to these places)--and they had challenges, bumbles or stumbles, I would brace myself for the assumptions that it had to be because they 1. had a queer mom and 2. their bio parents were divorced. Well, what could you expect? and How could she have done that to those kids? For those of us who have made the journey of coming out and being out, we've been accused of putting our families through hell, bringing shame, making things harder, and a whole bunch of other not-so-sanctioned behaviors.  No wonder we have something to prove. For some of us, there is a feeling we owe it to those who follow to do our part in this long struggle to make things ever better and that can mean taking up the charge to model relationships, parenting, citizenship and gayness with exemplary flair. And, there is certainly an obligation to those who went before to continue to move things along. 
We are working against stereotypes, myth, and the continued demonizing of LGBTQ people.  We are challenged to be "on message" with the marriage equality and gay/trans rights movement and that doesn't just mean out in public or at the polls.  Imagine living with what we know--every introduction, group meeting, dinner party, or trip to the bank is a moment in time to represent. As much as we may try to normalize or ignore, we know full well how we appear, model or manage the most ordinary of situations can be extrapolated out by people to "represent" and that can reflect well or poorly on our fellow gays (after all, you know how they are.)
It can be a tiny tightrope to maneuver and an invisible one that only those on this journey can understand. There is no room for error and trying to hold on to what is at the core an authentic, soulful, complicated human takes every ounce of effort we've got--or, at least, what is left over after striving to show the world what model gays we are!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012


In chatting with my sister earlier this summer, I had a realization that I cannot remember the last time I felt "bored" or at a loss for tasks, work or things I wanted to do or accomplish.  This is not to say that my days are always filled with important effort--in fact, there are days when gardening, cleaning closets and mopping the kitchen floor feel like adequate effort.  What it did mean to us (my sister and I) as we were talking about the values we shared about what work should and shouldn't be, was that boredom, laziness or idleness simply weren't an option.

I have learned a few things in my five decades.  One is that "work ethic" is not a static or singularly defined term.  It is subject to family heritage, gender, culture, age, politics and myriad other factors.  We tend to want to use "good work ethic" to define how we work and to pass judgement on how others don't. Even with that understanding, I have also come to realize that I bring what I bring in terms of my "work baggage" and what I like to call "grandparent voices" to how I approach every single day.

When I was getting to know Teri, we had quite a few chats about values, belief systems and personal philosophies. We realized that we were kindred spirits in terms of our solidly working class backgrounds and that while we both managed to get ourselves educated in ways our parents or grandparents never did, we strongly valued and appreciated some of what had been instilled in us.  I remember a story Teri told about how as a young child, all she understood about her dad's work as a machinist in the U.S. Navy was that he had to work with a bunch of idiots and slackers.  As we chuckled with understanding, I recognized that high standard of what it means to work a full

In order to live in the real world and work with a variety of people, I've had to figure out what values, voices and assumptions I bring to each day and to acknowledge these are not carved into stone anywhere, but they are part of how I work and who I am.  Some came from my upbringing; but some were also developed out of response and resistance; through education and travel and evolution:

  • Be reliable, follow-through on promises and commitments, don't let people down
  • The more you do, the more you can do--do your part and more
  • If you don't know how to do something, learn or find someone who can do it better
  • Don't take things personally
  • Learn from mistakes (but making the same mistake multiple times is irresponsible)
  • Surround yourself with awesome people, whenever possible, and try to hire people who are smarter, better and more or differently skilled--then learn from them
  • Enjoy the effort, as well as the end-product
  • Take pride in work well done
  • Thinking is work...sometimes...other times it is avoidance of what really needs to be done
  • Working as a team means doing your part and being appreciative of what others do
  • Your team is only as strong as the weakest player
  • Rest is earned
  • Live within your means
  • Approach problems with the assumption that they can be solved, and that there are probably multiple ways to solve them
  • You'll never get this day back, so make the most of it
  • Balance personal goals and efforts with what is best for the good of the order
  • You don't have to like everyone you work with, but respect is imperative
  • Know when to step away, move on or let go
  • Work and effort are equally valuable, whether they are paid, volunteer or for home, community and family
  • Don't try to make other people responsible for your personal stuff
  • Avoid excuses, defensiveness and rationalizations
  • Do a job as well as you can so you won't have to do it again
As you can see, these are mine--I own them and acknowledge that other people have other branches on their work ethic tree.  My truth and my mission are in no way one-size-fits-all despite the reality that values and belief systems can sometimes feel like commandments carved in stone.  I work because I love to be useful, purposeful and productive and because I choose to.  If I look puzzled when someone tells me they are bored or overwhelmed or wondering what to do next, it is because it seems foreign to me--it's coming from a different world of work.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Deep Living

We are in the midst of a bit of an experiment.  Truth is, however, we are part of a bit of a movement--we are running with a bunch of other people who are also in the midst of an experiment. With an urge to sort-of simplify and sort-of just experience the ordinariness of every day, we all seem to be trying control what goes into the food we eat; and how we contribute to our environment.This is what our daughter, Lucy, has dubbed deep living...

I think she was teasing us a bit as we were sitting out in our garden sometime in early August on a weekday night.  Our black Austalorp hen was scrunched in the cat bed laying an egg with little regard for the bustle of people coming and going from the kitchen door and we were serving up dinner to our kids in what has been dubbed the weekly "Drop-in."  Lu surveyed the scene with a bit of humor and declared: "This is some deep living you've got going here."  Indeed.

We like living in town.  In fact, we live incredibly close to DOWNtown.  We can head out our front door and within 15 minutes on foot, find ourselves sitting at a coffee shop in the parks blocks in the middle of downtown. I love just about everything that urban living has to offer--public transportation, street fairs, art galleries, and neighbors who get all up in each others' business.  But, we like some other presumably non-urban stuff too.

I don't think we really have any desire to wrangle goats or do any farming on a serious farming scale. What we are really motivated by is a desire to strip away some of the chemicals, machines, and layers of commercial exploitation that post-modern living has to offer.  We want to grow some of the food we eat, make our little bit of yard/land/garden healthier, and feel a more authentic connection to the seasons. We don't want to get back to nature in any sort of hiding-out-utopian way, we want to uncover the nature that exists right out our back door--with the sound of train whistles in the background.

Our 3 chickens are pretty spoiled city chickens.  They get to "free range" the back yard all day--which includes 2 happy apple trees, a cherry tree, a fig tree, a persimmon tree, several garden beds and a 2-bin composter that works overtime providing worms, grubs and rotting treats. In return, they offer up some pretty ordinarily amazing brown-shelled eggs.  All of this thrives on a typical urban lot that takes about 20 seconds to walk from end-to-end.  We live in an ordinary post-WWII ranch-y tract house on a city street where all the houses are the exact same distance from the street (or at least they were originally before modifications and add-ons.)
There is really nothing revolutionary about a little organic gardening, a small chicken flock and some honey bees (next spring's project.)  In fact, if the way canning jars are flying off the shelves of local stores is any indication; or the success of urban farming supply stores--our experimental version of deep living is in keeping with what many of our neighbors are up to as well.  In fact, on our little street, there are at least three other chicken coops, a beehive or two, and we could probably feed the entire city for a day if we all put our buckets of produce and fruit along the curb!

So, if this attempt to get real, make use, make do, grow things and give back is part of a greater movement to live more deeply, we are so digging it...

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Couple Culture, Family Culture

While I am of the opinion that all families are created equally, there are still many different ways to do family.  When Teri and I came together as a couple nearly four years ago, all we knew was that we wanted to figure out how to blend, create and commit to a new version of us as a couple and an evolving concept of family.  We talked about it, we argued and cried and strategized about it; some things evolved organically, but there was a fair amount of intention as well.  While people and families are always changing, we are also finally starting to feel a solid connection and steady acceptance of this is who we are.We have definitely realized some things about ourselves along the way!
When we moved in to a home together, I was still grieving the end of an era as all of my bio kids (or "baby heads" as I choose to call them) had pecariously launched themselves.  Teri was pretty sure that while grown kids were fine, she was done with the whole parenting thing.  I wasn't sure what the next chapter of my life would look like, but I knew there was still plenty of undefined mom-ing to do. Teri had learned that middle-age single socializing and the neo-adolescent drama that went along with were not for her and we both knew we had lots of energy, passion and playfulness left in us--even if we are both responsible grown-ups. So we embarked on an ordinary quest to figure it out.
Here's what we've learned about our couple culture:
  1. We are clean, tidy, and organized--in an easy, comfy sort-of way (our house just never really gets messy and we both tend to clean when we get cranky)
  2. We like a bit of earthy family chaos: kids, cats, chickens, neighbors, etc.
  3. We feed people.
  4. We are determined to work on our baggage--unpack the "isms;" challenge unproductive behaviors; and be as authentic, open and present as possible.
  5. We grow things.
  6. Community matters--so much that we want and need to be involved, volunteer and work for change and livability. We like knowing and helping out our neighbors.
  7. Our kids will always be a priority and they have direct access at any time--we work to encourage, support and pay attention without enabling, invading or judging.  Now, we will always be learning as we go so we still make mistakes!
  8. We are out and accept that informs our politics, spirituality, and presence in the world.  It is not all of who we are, but it is part of the work we get to do in this lifetime.
  9. We value diversity, differences and the vibrancy that comes with living in a diverse neighborhood, working with all different sorts and embracing the messiness of the human experience--and we have bigot-radar.
  10. We love holidays.
  11. We are both competent and fearless fundraisers.
  12. We don't really like the same movies or the same books--usually.
  13. We have low threshold for self-absorbed, inconsiderate or immature "grown-ups."
  14. We are surprisingly compatible in the parenting realm.
  15. We can both keep secrets.
  16. When in doubt, stressed or overwhelmed--make it funny and add chocolate or cheese puffs, followed by a big dose of forgive and forget.
  17. Camping rocks.
  18. Adult kids will spill their guts IF you feed them bacon or home-made mac & cheese (and always keep ice cream in the freezer.)
  19. We give each other veto-power over our respective schedules/calendars.
  20. and, finally, there is always room for more.
We are still growing, changing and building what will likely be the work of the remainder of our lives--our relationship with each other and our connection to family, friends and community.  As we negotiate letting go, hanging on, and making room, we find ourselves solidly grateful for finding each other.  As we tell the kids when they bark at us that we better not "ever get divorced:" we just fit and, besides, no one else would have either one of us!