reverse threading

the path back is the path forward


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snakeinthegrass. [two artists tuesday]

sansevieria (snake plants) make me think of my sweet momma. after buying one for our son, i announced that we needed to get one as well. this past spring we added snakeinthegrass to our growing army of plants and it has not let us down, growing no matter what, the best part of sansevieria – its fortitude.

“snakeinthegrass” does not seem to be a loving name, for we all have encountered people we would describe as such. you know, the ones talking out of both sides of their mouths. the mean ones with agenda. the ones who, despite any variety-pack of livelihoods or assumed compassionate demeanor, go for the jugular or throw you under the bus. mm-hmm. not necessarily a nice name. perhaps we named snakeinthegrass “snakeinthegrass” to ward off the snakesinthegrass we had encountered. we hisssss when we call it by name. “sssssssnakeinthegrass,” we say. it makes us laugh. and our snake plant giggles with us and filters the air and grows taller day by day.

maybe that is how we should deal with all negativity. get a plant, name it something that is irking you, laugh every time you call it by name, let it cleanse the air and shed the bad juju. “li’l bitch” is the name of another succulent we have in the sunroom. it stabs you, without warning, if you get too close to its long branches, hidden spiny needles at the end. quite beautiful in shape and rich green, it also reminded us of people we have encountered, hidden motives just waiting to stab you. yuck! and phew! now we laugh as we talk to our plant.

kc and boston remind us of our beloved children, spikey gets his name for obvious reasons, leticia and stumpy as well. we’re not sure about ralph and, perhaps not coincidentally, ralph-without-a-real-reason-for-his-name is not doing well. perhaps he needed a different name, a name with the job of sage. several options come to mind.

time marches on and hearts heal. eventually tales of goodness mesh together with stories filled with pain. and the air gets clearer and cleaner. and the plants grow.

*****

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la vida. [two artists tuesday]

i don’t remember what grade i was in when it was assigned: a project detailing what your ideal life would look like. it was either later junior high or early high school years. if i could find it in one of the bins in the basement i’m sure it would be predictably naive. i remember designing a house, writing about family, but not too many other details come up for me. designing an ideal life is never really inclusive of actual reality, difficulties, disappointments, hardships. i think it would be interesting to find this report anyway. the 1970s were a different time and this project would reflect that. were i to write a report now to reflect my ideal life, it would be a much simpler picture than i would guess that old paper would paint.

i remember columbus saying that he worked his whole life to have weekends with his family. to enjoy his backyard, his garden, a little fishing, time with the masons. he was living his ideal life each day, though the look in his eyes when we took him back to iowa and he stood in the fields gazing out at maize corn and blue sky would belie that. his dream was to raise his family in his hometown and, though he ended up in colorado, his other life was, i’m sure, somewhere in the farmland daydreams that swirled in his heart. he was wise, though, and didn’t wait to live until he was back in the midwest. instead, he set his sights on now. he didn’t wait. and each time his children or grandchildren visited he would cry upon their leaving, giant tears falling on this rugged man’s face. dolce.

some people are fortunate enough to have both: real life and the other life, la otra vida. crunch always felt that way about his boat too, so he’d understand the boat owner who named his boat ‘the other life’. moments of escape away, drifting, piloting to block island and fishing in long island sound, these are crunch’s ideal moments. though many of the boats and yachts in our harbor never leave their slips, perhaps just sitting on them in fresh lake air yields much peace for these boaters.

a house with lots of windows and open space, lots of repurposed old stuff, a kitchen in which we love to cook. nothing fancy. wood floors and a lot of white paint. a fireplace, my piano, david’s easels, places to sit and write and room for our beloved children, family, friends to come with significant others and visit. mountains and a lake out the window, a couple horses grazing.

last night as we sat on the deck in waning light turning to dark, tiki torches and our tiny firepit burning, dogdog sprawled out at our feet, we listened to the soundtrack of richard curtis’ movie about time. arvo pärt’s piece ‘spiegel im spiegel’ came on, a long piano-cello interplay of simplicity. we both had tears. if contentment was a piece of music, it would look like this.

though there are not mountains, a lake and horses out the window, perhaps someday there will be. it’s my maize-corn-blue-sky vision. but columbus was right. there’s the rest of it. the other life is always right there.

andrea wrote to me in 2009, “nothing is idyllic. i think we have idyllic moments. we have to take time to savor what is around us.”

la otra vida = la vida. ideal living.

*****

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a smidge away. [two artists tuesday]

it felt like we were away. we had never explored this area of milwaukee and, with time on our hands on a stunningly beautiful day, we walked. we decided it didn’t matter if we knew our way around or not, our phones and gps would get us back. so we left the airbnb in walker point and started north. knowing the lake was east of us, it was a natural turn to the right, the water drawing us.

the architecture of cream city brick and old warehouses is charming and i kept thinking how we needed to return to take photographs when we had more time to linger. we turned east at a warehouse that had been converted to condo living, industrial balconies lining the river with colorful bistro tables and teak adirondack chairs and strands and strands of strung lights. the evenings must be beautiful walking along the river toward lake michigan.

we could see the hoan bridge arching into the sky and headed toward it. we passed a guy on the sidewalk with a shirt that said “light the hoan” and i looked it up. “light is swiftly becoming one of the most powerful tools to breathe new life into cities,” the website promotes. i remember a beautiful suspension bridge lit across the river in east boston when our son lived there. the light changed everything and was stunning. you can purchase a bulb on the hoan, be a beacon in the night and know that people are sitting on balconies gazing and dreaming, much like staring into a bonfire. the bridge and its design drew my iphone camera toward it.

we wound our way through outdoor dining seating and along the docks, multiple times mentioning to each other that we would “come back” and explore more. it amazed me that, such a short distance away from home, we felt like we were away and adventure was simply waiting. an early evening wedding stopped us short of much exploration, but there’s always the next time.

we walked out to the lighthouse where the milwaukee river met lake michigan and stood for a few minutes before turning around. the art museum beckoned from up the lakefront; beyond that we know there are beaches and a favorite coffee house in an historic water treatment plant.

we walked back some of the way we came, sticking to the river as much as possible. flowers and shadows and railings and vintage glass finials, textures and surprises, restoration and beautiful intention our companions.

passing the docked boats, though no salt in this air, i got a whiff of the past. i could imagine i was at northport harbor, watching the comings and goings of boaters and fishermen. it made me have a taste for baked clams and buffalo calamari from skippers pub, a hop, skip and a jump away in my mind as the scent of waterfront and moored boats surrounded me.

though the pandemic and travel warnings might preclude a trip to long island, we, aloud, promised each other we would return to this walkway, to stroll along the river chatting and snapping pictures, to immerse in a sculpture walk, to find the perfect bistro table on the dock sidewalks, to dine al fresco in the swirl of memories and new adventures.

getting away just a smidge away.

*****

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sanctuary. [two artists tuesday]

i have sat on the edge of this deck and prayed many a prayer. i have wept and i have laughed. i have sat against the wall, warmed by a winter sun, sipping coffee. i have sat under the umbrella in hot summer sipping cold wine. i have read books and letters, texts and emails. i have written manuscripts and lyrics and poetry and correspondence. i have learned and learned again. i have had hard conversations and gleeful announcements. i have sat – all alone – in the wee hours of the night and i have entertained many, many parties, many rehearsals, many gatherings of relatives, of friends. i have played with my beloved children and potty-trained puppies. i’ve shared a fort with my girl and pushed my boy on swings. i’ve checked kids’ hair for lice and i’ve played basketball and i’ve caught fireflies. i’ve grown black-eyed susans and lavender and hosta and ferns and grasses and basil and tomatoes and weeds. i’ve grown grass and dug out grass and grown it again. i’ve caught snowflakes and i’ve had waterfights with hoses. i’ve dug a pond at our big-dig and carried home rocks to lay around it. i’ve bird-watched and star-gazed and fallen in love with pond-frogs and watched for the owl and studied a cicada’s transformation and cheered on chipmunks. i have strummed ukulele and sang with a community of people i have called family. i have lugged keyboards and amps and music stands out and played with a band. i have danced to music from a record player plugged into the outdoor box. i’ve stared at the firepit and roasted marshmallows. on this deck. on this patio. in this backyard. i have full-spectrum-lived out there.

it doesn’t look like what you think of when you hear the word “sanctuary”, particularly if you have been even remotely involved with any sort of religious institution. but it is indeed a sanctuary. it is a place of refuge and safety. it is a holy place. no less than any building i have ever been in, it offers introspection and meditation, time for wonder and gratitude, moments to connect directly with serenity and my faith, chances to ask the wisdom of the universe hard questions and listen for the answers. it has not ever let me down. though my questions have not always been addressed, though i have unanswered prayers, though i ponder layers of existential, this sanctuary has always embraced me.

i walk out and it whispers to me that it is there, simply waiting. to others’ eyes, it may not appear this way – beautiful and inviting – it may not be pristine or perfectly landscaped, it may not be tended with a keen hand, but it is ever-perfect. it is unfailingly omnipresent, undeniably not ulterior. it calls to me without agenda, without intent, without chance of betrayal. it is inclusive of all who have ever walked there, of all who would ever take time to sit. it is consistent. dependable. a constant.

it is a sanctuary beyond reproach. a place of peace. outside, under the dawning morning and the galaxial sky, the heavens holding us.

it is – as i have learned – everywhere we go, under every rising sun and waxing moon. we are held to mother earth by gravity and the grace of spirit difficult to describe. this great big sanctuary.

i have not yet found a building as worthy.

*****

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pinch back the suckers. [two artists tuesday]

and so, these two dwarf indeterminate tomato plants make me want more. the every-morning greeting, the dew on their leaves, raindrops on their fruit, the exquisiteness of having tomatoes from our tiny container garden on our table, in our salad, our pasta.

it wasn’t much of an investment. $6.98 times 2. we already had big old clay pots, a couple hand-me-down tomato cages, some potting soil. we just had to pay attention. i read articles about yellowing leaves and how damp the soil should be. i asked 20 questions about snipping off suckers, the shoots that grow where the stem and branch v-intersect. researching, i read, “suckers don’t serve much of a purpose. they can, however, draw energy away from the main stems, decreasing tomato growth.”

our basil story is much the same. basil leaves are delicate, but with gently pinching the plant back, pruning off the buds that appear, the sweet basil has been amazing. many red pesto sauce pastas, bowls of caprese salad, salmon with basil and cherry tomatoes on the grill dinners – a smorgasbord from a few plants on a potting bench.

it just goes to show you what a little bit of nurturing will do. these plants – like people – have responded to the attention, the up-close and personal care, the encouragement and cheering on, the constant delight in their growth. they have risen to gentle handling, careful hydration, a bit of nutrients. they have flourished and, in both cases, removing the suckers has been of great value, has opened a chance for maturation of the plants, has helped.

now that we are the tiniest of farmers, it is hard to evade the tiny-farmer-metaphor in my mind. i think aloud, “this should be a mantra for places of business everywhere: remove the suckers…those who draw energy away, those who decrease growth.”

for what place of business, what organization, what non-profit, what institution wants to decrease growth, to suck the life from its employees and its volunteers, to smother their energy, to manhandle their efforts, to discourage their development, to undermine success?

only one, i guess, that doesn’t want tomatoes and basil.

*****

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free-hearted. [two artists tuesday]

with a cowboy hat perched on his head, he rode toward us on the trail through the woods, his gorgeous horse nickering as they approached. as he passed by he looked down at us, smiled and said, “you look like you like each other.” we squeezed arms, already linked and thanked him, telling him that we do like each other, most of the time.

as we left the trailhead parking lot that day, an athletic-shirted mohawk-haired motorcycle guy looked over at us crossing the lot to littlebabyscion and gravelled, “you two look good!” we are not even close to cool and gravelly in appearance, but this guy’s comment warmed our hearts and put a little jaunt into those last steps after a few miles of hot and humid hiking.

we have been the recipients of many sweet comments along the way. i don’t know if it’s simply because we usually walk – and hike – arm in arm or if we are just somehow comment-magnets. it is usually something like what these gentlemen said to us and it’s always unexpected. the guy trimming his trees, the woman stepping out of her car in her driveway, the guy passing us in gunnison on the sidewalk, the gal in the grocery store…all positive words which have upped the ante of our days, the free-hearted surprise-gifting us.

my momma was like this. she would speak simple kindnesses to people she passed by, gentle words of compliment to people she knew, generous encouragement and – even unruly – cheering on for those she loved. it makes a difference. in each case. just a little positivity wave starts concentric circles outward. every time.

i don’t know if that cowboy speaks to everyone, but i know he impacted our day. he could have just ridden past, me gazing back at his horse, pining, as he rode on. but instead, he spoke and, in seven words, he reminded us of goodness. i wonder how many people he touched that day on the trail.

any time i have reached out to another, recognizing to them something beautiful, something helpful, something of gratitude, something in their demeanor or their appearance, something touching, it has been restorative for me and, though i will never know, i hope it circled out from them. on or off the hiking trail. on or off the sidewalk. in or out of the store.

i know – that on any given day – i have seven extra words to give away. even ten. or more.

i’ll just grab my virtual cowboy hat on the way out to the world.

*****

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just as particular. [two artists tuesday]

“not like my mom at all,” she said, talking about decorating in an exquisitely joyful conversation. she described her template, “the colors of a desert sunset.” i was instantly in a different place, watching the sun go down over canyonlands and high desert. i can sooo understand surrounding yourself with the divine colors of these moments; i can sooo relate to taking them with you.

as a person who has surrounded herself with rocks and sandstone and sticks and branches and feathers and pinecones of the high mountains, i get the connection to these places and the desire to live within them, even if you are not there. she went on to describe the colors, a template that made me want to immerse in them, like a favorite quilt. i lingered in every word she spoke, this beautiful, creative daughter of mine, trying to remember each one just as she described it, store them away in the kaleidoscope of treasured bits of knowledge.

i walked around our house after that. black and white. a little bit of flour-tortilla. green plants. old clay pots. old wood floors. there’s a certain ochre in our sitting room and in the stairwell going upstairs. and there’s some barn red in the bathroom. it’s kind of a cross between the extremes of ansel adams’ color palette or sheet music tablature, golden sunrise moments, a new england farm, deep woods in the mountains, canyonland red rock.

the photographs i take everyday and everywhere vary. but lately, i have found myself drawn to these small canvasses of almost monochromatic still-life outdoor paintings, just waiting on the side of the trail, waiting in flower gardens, waiting in the woods. nuances of shade, a tiny pop of color … nature’s natural inclination to visual cohesion. i’ve been especially seeing the greens in the greens, really delicious shadings, no competition for spotlighting, just color intertwined and inclusive. i’ve noticed even more distinctly the genius of a single bloom, petite berries, nestled in all the verdant green.

i came home from such a hike one day recently and took out the 1940s opalescent aqua blue hobnail glass vase that was my sweet momma’s. it reminds me of sky and water; it reminds me of grocery store flowers my dad always bought my momma. it doesn’t go with our house, i had thought, going through bins and boxes. and then, i placed it in the window seat of our black and white and flour-tortilla living room, a gentle nod to days spent in the grass drawing with clouds and on long island beaches with coppertone floating in the air. a “yes” to my daughter.

she is right. the colors in our home aren’t the incredible desert pastel spectrum, the intensity of sage peacefulness our girl described – the sunsets she holds close to her soul. but it is as particular to the desire to surround oneself with that which is meaningful, to what resonates inside, to what gives you serenity, keeps you still in all the whirling world, brings you contentment, is part of the nirvana of tranquility, is your sanctuary. it’s decorating with true heart.

not so different after all. ❤️

*****

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tiny fountain. [two artists tuesday]

in 1969, when i was ten, i stood on the viewing deck and stared at a motionless niagara falls. they had turned the falls off, so to speak, building temporary cofferdams to divert the water from the american falls to the horseshoe falls on the canadian side. my parents had pitched the trip to me as something very few people would see – in comparison to those who have seen the falls with water. but as i stood there, gazing at a waterfall sans water, i had deep disappointment to not see the majesty of that landscape as it usually existed. the next time i went to niagara falls i was sixteen and there was water, glorious water, and the static electricity made my hair literally stand on end. it’s powerful watching waterfalls…powerful and meditative and inspiring. simply water. falling.

for years it sat motionless on a living room window seat. i suppose it, like the american falls, was waiting. “un-dam the coffers” (or just add water and plug it in), this little fountain was thinking. i would dust around it and wonder why i was holding onto it, my tiny 1969-niagara.

and then one day, a few weeks ago, i picked it up and took it outside to the deck to clean it up. i added water and plugged it in and watched it come back to life. instantly, its flow, a gentle trickle, spoke to me, reminiscent of standing in a cool woods next to a stream flowing just a bit downhill. i moved it inside to the sunroom, put it on the old table we have in the eastern window that catches rays of the sunrise, and plugged it in.

this little fountain’s presence, the sweet sound of water moving, is inescapably soothing. a simplicity, the element of emotion and wisdom, moving freely, continuously, a reminder of the fluidity of these days – the coming and going of change, gentle adaptability. all good as we sit near this tiny fountain full of big lessons.

*****

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intrepid. [two artists tuesday]

and just like that – on a beautiful sunday driving a back road in wisconsin – little baby scion turned 250,000 miles.

we drove with the camera ready…ready to take a video of the 249,999-250,000 turnover, ready to stop and take a picture on the side of the road of this momentous moment. this tough, scrappy little vehicle is intrepid. with a few bumps and scratches (like the rest of us) and a few rattling noises (also like the rest of us) littlebabyscion diligently trods on, dutifully and reliably chalking up miles and experiences with us. and we are devoted to it.

we knew it was coming. we were less than thirty miles away, a mere backroads drive to lake geneva to pick up a piece of flourless chocolate cake in anticipation of our celebration of this no-frills little square vehicle. we planned our sunday afternoon around it, loaded dogdog in and, in sunday-drive fashion, took our time both on roads we knew and roads we turned onto, just to see where they went. we pulled over when it turned. it was astounding to actually think about: that this little car had safely driven me/us 250,000 miles. that’s 83 times across the united states! we sat there and thought aloud about all the places we’d gone in it, all the roadtrips, and all the really significant events that had happened.

when littlebabyscion turned 235,235 miles i recounted some of those; it is no less inspiring to me now. littlebabyscion delivered my girl and my boy – and all their stuff – back and forth and back and forth and back and forth etc etc etc to college dorms and apartments. littlebabyscion brought babycat home from florida. littlebabyscion drove across the country loaded with cds for concerts and wholesale and retail shows. littlebabyscion picked up david at the airport for the first time we met and drove us away on our honeymoon. littlebabyscion drove dogdog home from a farm in a little town on the river on the other side of the state. littlebabyscion took us back and forth and back and forth and back and forth to florida to see my sweet momma in the last of her life. littlebabyscion was our haven the day, on the highway to see her, my momma died. it held us safe, a buttress for our grief. littlebabyscion moved us all – with dogdog and babycat ferry-quivering each time – to the island littlehouse and then home again. littlebabyscion has determinedly climbed mountain passes to get to see our girl and driven in traffic jams out east and on chicago’s highways to see our boy. littlebabyscion has slept in rest areas, restaurant lots, parks. littlebabyscion has eluded storms and hail and snow and straight-line winds. like 20 said, when he heard of its milestone, “to the moon and back!”.

i asked steve, our miracle mechanic, what i would do when littlebabyscion reached 300,000 miles. “keep driving it,” he said.

he’s right. keep driving it.

so one of these days, a while from now, expect to see this same shot with 300,000 miles on the odometer.

you go, littlebabyscion, you x-ceptional xb.

*****

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every sanctuary needs a crank. [two artists tuesday]

it’s all about the crank. it’s one of those unremarkable-yet-remarkable imperative gizmos that makes all the difference.

we’ve had an umbrella. it was 9′ in diameter and dark green in color. but there was no crank and it was – now – in the departure of having a “normal” wrist and the genesis of a we’ll-work-this-as-hard-as-we-can-and-see-where-we-get wrist – literally impossible for me to open or close it. i would huff and puff and stand on a chair, but even in the good old days of normal-wrist, i was hard-pressed to open it. and so, it would remain closed. and closed is not the life-goal, not the self-actualization of an umbrella. so it was time for the big-green-umbrella to move on, to be loved by someone else…someone with two normal wrists. we put it out by the big tree between the sidewalk and the street with a sign that said “free” and it was gone within fifteen minutes. that made my heart happy. but it left us with a challenge: to find another umbrella.

now, if you haven’t been out there looking – in brick and mortar or online – there are a LOT of umbrellas. they come in all different sizes and shapes and with all different purposes. there are umbrellas that tilt and market umbrellas and patio umbrellas they have named cantilevers – which stand next to chairs or outdoor settees and gracefully shade you from the side or the back, not just the middle of a table.

we wanted one for the middle of the old wrought iron table and found one – after much research (as you might guess) – that we really liked. i did all the proper investigating: does it have a crank? is it heavy enough to stand in the wind? does the diameter of the pole fit properly into the stand we already have? will it match or complement our deck and patio? is it spf friendly?

the umbrella we found was just lovely. off-white with a floral print of black flowers, some of which are faded to a deep gray. that may sound weird, but it was really pretty and somewhat unusual and matched our vision of the deck…a little pattern in what was mostly solid or simple design.

we ordered it. we picked it up. we glanced at the outer covering, a sheath with a photograph of the umbrella set up in some faux-yard. we were pretty excited -like when we got our fire column (for this umbrella preceded it) – when we opened it up. we were setting the stage for our backyard sanctuary, this place of peace, with much planning and as few expenditures as possible.

we slid it out of the sheath we would later store it in during cold winter days as it waited to be used once again in early spring.

we brought it outside to the deck.

and we started to open it up.

and. . .

there was no crank.

none.

not a handle to be found.

though the photograph and the description depicted a crank handle, it was a misnomer. false advertising. someone mightily slipped up.

and though it was quite lovely, i could not open it alone. what good is an umbrella you can’t open? we had just given one of those away.

a couple of umbrellas later and in umbrella-information-overload, we settled on this one. it’s not perfect. it’s not exactly the color tone i wanted. the pole is not black as it was advertised. it doesn’t have a self-tie. but it was on a terrific sale and – – – it has a crank.

i thought i was over the lovely off-white-black-flower-patterned-umbrella until i saw it in a yard in the ‘hood. i stopped in my tracks and stared, poking david in the arm and pointing, speechless. i wondered if they were also surprised by its no-crank-handle-ness. i wondered if they ever open it. i wondered if they have normal wrists.

but i’ve moved on. i no longer think about the off-white-black-flower-patterned umbrella. because there are some things that a sanctuary really needs.

a crank is one of them.

*****

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