reverse threading

the path back is the path forward


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the blank slate. [merely-a-thought monday]

we are incessant trail-watchers. even after a fascinating show seeking life-in-some-form in some other part of the universe, we took to the trail. with our mind’s eyes full of scientific wonder, we hiked along the pct with the wanderwomen and headingsomewhere and followed redbeard and checked to see if joey coconato posted anything new. on our hike yesterday, somewhere in the middle of our six miles, we talked – again – about hiking the pct. we figure in a few years it might be something we would truly consider.

the pct has plenty of obstacles; many people start this hike but fail to finish it. we read a blogpost (by mac) about some of the challenges. but, the bottom line, as he pointed out, was that “the unknown should instill you with excitement, not fear.”

this week is a time to acknowledge gratitude. with thanksgiving merely a few days away, preparations are a gathering storm. and, though there is a specific day that has been deemed ‘the day’, yesterday as we walked together we talked about our gratitude. we are reminded that there is nary a day that goes by that one shouldn’t be grateful.

yesterday i suddenly realized that i was also actually grateful for the unknown.

the blank slate that is in front of me stares at me. it makes me ponder. it makes me squirm a bit. blank is uncomfortable.

the blank slate that is in front of me beckons me. it makes me step. it makes me put a toe in the water. blank is tentative.

the blank slate that is in front of me challenges me. it makes me yearn. it makes me stretch. blank is exercise.

the blank slate that is in front of me encourages me. it makes me think outside the box. it makes me dream. blank is generous.

the blank slate that is in front of me urges me. it makes me yield to the new. it makes me let go. blank is learning.

the one thing – now – at last – that the blank slate that is in front of me doesn’t do…is scare me.

and for that, i am grateful.

*****

read DAVID’S thoughts this MERELY-A-THOUGHT MONDAY


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one giant blue notebook. [merely-a-thought monday]

when i was twelve, my parents took a six-week vacation to europe. pre-departure, they arranged to purchase a brand-new 1971 volkswagen super-beetle in germany, picking it up and then driving all over for adventures at hostels and relatives’ homes and small inns in the countryside that served family-style pork chops. they talked about this phenomenal trip for the next forty years or so, reliving memories and favorite moments. in the end, the last time i saw my sweet momma was the day we delivered her cherished blue notebook to her at the assisted living facility and she clutched it to her chest, cooing, “this is it. this is the notebook.” she had written everything down – diary entries and details to remember – and having this spiral was like re-vacationing with my poppo who had died three years earlier. we had searched high and low for it for a couple days and found it in the very last bin we opened in the garage. a treasure. the one thing she really wanted.

there were other trips – indeed, they attempted to visit each of the united states. never extravagant. always cherished.

when i was eighteen i rode in the backseat across the country with my parents in the front seat. they purchased a cb radio before we left and i spent long hours “10-4”-ing as “goldilocks” across the great plains states and up pikes peak and next to the wasatch mountain range and through the flint hills of kansas, which was clearly on a mission for spare change as they pulled my dad over twice within a half hour, deputies standing on the side of the road waving over long lines of cars they then escorted into tiny towns so that you could place money in an envelope at the post office. (i still invoke my dad when i drive through kansas, especially since we’ve had a few breakdowns in that state.) i developed a huge crush on a cute boy in colorado springs at a motel 6 and almost signed on as the touring piano player for the band that this boy and his brothers were in, their parents befriending mine poolside. i pined for days and days after we drove off with four new tires we got at sears and a broken heart i got in the desert meadows behind the motel. i clutched the record they all signed for me and stared at the cover art. no amount of stuckey’s sticky pecan log rolls helped. but my camera and gorgeous scenery were eventually soothing and, even now, as i chalk it up to opportunity not chosen, i remember my mom’s encouragement to consider an unusual path, a road rarely traveled.

in the middle 70s my mom and dad took advantage of what they called “dunphy weekends”. i couldn’t find any details when i quickly googled that, but i remember three day weekends, in places like providence, rhode island – not too many hours from new york – that hotels offered for dirt-cheap, prompting reservations. because they were thrifty, they also would sign on to drive cars to destinations and be flown back, ever the road warriors willing to take on a highway and add to their growing list of states-they-had-been-to.

when i was much littler, i climbed into the pink lilco (long island lighting company) van that my dad and my big brother had converted to a camper and rode upstate with them. never disappointing their rube-goldberg leanings, the camper would always break down on some back road near basically nothing. my dad would take out wire cutters and, clipping wire off of fencing they found on roadside pastureland, they’d figure out ways to fix the van, while i would ponder being lost and never getting home again. their laughter and bantering on those trips was the key to a successful camping trip and we beverly-hillbillied our way across the catskills and the adirondacks.

camping some, airbnb-ing lots, hampton-inning in between, i’ve spent a lot of time on the road on trips and for work, both. when my children were small, we would drive, drive, drive, hiding easter baskets in the stow-and-go compartments of the minivan and toting all the age-related child-paraphernalia we needed. living away from family means that most of your vacation trips are to go see them. as time goes on, that’s really still the case.

in this last not-quite-a-decade, we have driven together thousands and thousands and thousands of miles and snacked and laughed and sang and were quiet across the country. we’ve slept in rest areas and in mcdonald parking lots. we’ve found hiking trails all along the way and have cooked in lots of kitchens from the boundary waters of ely to the beaches of the gulf to up-north wisconsin to high elevation of colorado to the cape. we’ve raced storms through alabama and through wyoming. we’ve had happy meals in montana and california and washington and tennessee and new hampshire and new york and florida and most of the states in-between. we’ve walked through tiny towns, toasted life on long island, combed the beaches of hilton head and had coffee in unexpected places in appalachia. the four days we spent in paris, as an add-on after work in the netherlands about seven years ago now, was exquisitely low-key. we walked everywhere, training only once or twice. we carried baguettes and cheese and wine and tiny salads into parks, onto cathedral steps, up montmartre and into our boutique hotel, choosing picnics over restaurants and never feeling like we had missed out.

the list of places i’d like to go grows. from a night or two to full-immersion for a longer stay, i look forward to all of it. i’m guessing i come by it honestly.

so i’ve never been on a luxury vacation. never taken a cruise. never stayed at an all-inclusive resort. i’m 62 and haven’t done the let’s-just-go-lay-around-and-do-nothing-or-anything-we-want-and-get-waited-on thing. i don’t know if i ever will. but it hasn’t stopped me from loving vacation. it’s all really one giant blue notebook.


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pointed at wonder. [merely-a-thought monday]

my yashica fx-2 35mm camera went everywhere with me. a prized possession i had gotten for my high school graduation, it opened my vision of the world, the things i looked at. in the days of film and negatives and developing, i was an enthusiastic participant, eating boxes of cornflakes so that i could develop the next roll and the next.

i passed through the minolta auto-exposure-auto-focus phase when my children were young. it was easier to grab the camera and snap a picture of them doing something amazing or indescribably adorable with the auto-camera.

then came the sony tiny-cameras you could slide into your pocket, also easy and accessible. that camera and the minolta and my treasured yashica are still around here somewhere, lenses for the 35mm in a hard-shell briefcase my dad designed with foam fitting around the wide-angle and telephoto choices.

in these days i carry my phone. it is the height of easy and always right there, ready to record a moment. in recent years, i have rediscovered the utter joy of taking photographs, of recording the sun glimmering on dogdog’s fur, of capturing the blossom as it wanes and the curl of the wave and the way the mountains look in a dark sky. a camera pointed at wonder.

“come forth into the light of things. let nature be your teacher.” (william wordsworth – from today’s daily wonder app)

i haven’t opened the “daily wonder” app in a while. i discovered it when we chose and featured the movie “wonder” on island. a single snippet of thought for your day, it is a tiny gift i had forgotten about, often reminding you of the wonder of simply being here.

we carry the not-so-wondrous around in heavy baggage, somewhat unwilling to part with it, feeling as if it somehow defines us. how buoyant we might be without it, how resilient. letting go might yield a smidge of wonder.

one evening, watching “life below zero” one of the intrepid alaskans said, “bring the wonder back in life” and i grabbed my phone to jot it down. as we travel to his memorial service to honor columbus’ life and his earnest grasp on happy-living, intentionally marveling, i know he would immediately agree with the person who said that.

undoubtedly, he would laugh a little and add that the wonder was always there.

*****

read DAVID’S thoughts this MERELY-A-THOUGHT MONDAY


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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.

*****

read DAVID’s thoughts this TWO ARTISTS TUESDAY


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no timely manner. [d.r. thursday]

now i understand. at least, i am beginning to understand.

my sweet momma and poppo would linger…watching birds, gazing at flowers, studying the horizon – be it shorefront or mountainside, cityscape or tiny town or rural farmland, slowly taking it in. in the hurry-hurry of my younger years, i would scurry past, noticing but maybe not really.

i am moving slower now. not because i can’t scurry, but because i am choosing to list to the linger side. though we still watch re-runs after re-runs of joey hiking and climbing and backpacking and pitching tents any and everywhere, imagining ourselves in those canyonlands keeping up, imagining ourselves on the pct or the john muir or the colorado trail, i know that our pace would not match the pace of joey or the exuberant younguns on heading somewhere or walking with purpose or the meticulous norwegian xplorer. we would be slower, lingering, lingering. i’m not sure that would get us from point a to point b successfully or in a timely manner, but i’m thinking that our definition of ‘timely manner’ may have to just be different. because now – in the middle of this grand middle age – is different.

for now i want to watch the birds and gaze at flowers up-close. i want to stop and stare, drop to sit on a nearby log and take it in. i want to notice the intricasies of all of it, the undertones, the overtones.

as i look at the close-up of this milkweed trailside i am struck by the layers of detail. it somehow makes me recall decisions between the major chord and the relative minor, a continuum of impact. it makes me think of melodic gestures, a spectrum of color and of grace. a horsehair brush extended from the heights of the universe, painting perfection in the woods. artists’ hands waving paint on canvas, cupping clay on a wheel, flying over the white and black on a piano, coaxing lines that make you weep from a cello. all the same. creation in all its iterations.

on the call pat told me that the music – my music – had harmonics, tuned with the universe, that made her travel. humbling.

for i see that is what my momma and poppo were doing. traveling. they allowed the beauty around them to touch them, to slow them down, convincing them – in all the infinite glory that beauty -and art- can muster – that ‘a timely manner’ was relative, that time was relative. that time spent in a slow linger was precious.

*****

read DAVID’S thoughts this D.R. THURSDAY

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blooming. [merely-a-thought monday]

as i stand with david, together with his mom and siblings, watching his dad walk down the path of dementia, i am deep in thought of my own parents, missing them. elusive complexities become simple and unimportant as i think about my sweet momma and poppo and their stamp on the world. though certainly worthy, they will not be detailed in history books or in record-holding guiness lists, nor will they be featured in paintings in state buildings or referenced in periodicals, footnotes of prestige. but, just as the life that columbus is forgetting, a life rich in experience and love, so were the lives of my parents. their lives had purpose, their stories were and are important. their dreams counted and their voices mattered. and, though it need not be said, they made an impact.

there are moments when i gaze around and marvel at the rapid movement around us. i feel as if i step back away from the edge of the chaos that is everyday life in a society that values ‘more’ and i just wonder. i wonder about how we all fit in, how, from beginning to end, our lives – in the swirl of everyone’s lives – play a part in this world. i wonder how our very molecules affect other molecules, how permanent or impermanent this effect we have.

pat said, “it’s why you’re here.” she seemed much more certain of that than i. middle age, or maybe it is later middle age, as ross pointed out the other day, is complicated. there is a bit of that elusive complexity whirling around, waiting for us to reach up and cup it in our hands, like catching fireflies on a muggy summer night. holding memories close, we glance back at our lives, pondering the rights and the wrongs and the joys and blisses and the mistakes and the regrets and the happies and the sadnesses, and we watch the glimmering light, surprised at the time that has gone by, stunned by the arc of life that even the tiniest path-choices brought us. in the looking-back we notice the insignificant. in the looking-back, we notice the significant. and sometimes, when we are lucky, we realize how absolutely preposterous it is that we are here at all, how miraculous that we can feel, that we are breathing in this very time.

and i think about my mom and dad. though perhaps generations from now – even possibly just a few – there may be no more out-loud mention of their names or their stories, but they will have been here and, for that, the world is different. i think about columbus, who, though forgetting, is still here, is still holding to life and the filmy stories he can access, his innate and unspoken courage on that path – so painful – moves us, brings us to tears, yet, inspires us. his forgetting reminds us to remember – to live.

we are all on our way to changing the world. each and every one of us, despite our differences, despite anything. it’s why we’re here. it’s ridiculously simple and ridiculously complex.

*****

read DAVID’s thoughts this MERELY-A-THOUGHT MONDAY


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time is flying. [saturday morning smack-dab]

these days, in the middle of middle age, time seems to just fly by. at inordinate speed. slowing it down doesn’t seem to be an option. i guess my sweet momma was right when she said, “live life, my sweet potato.” don’t wait.

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“i know you can do it.” [merely-a-thought monday]

inside a what-is-now-considered-vintage liz claiborne barrel purse was a treasure. not unzipped in years, i unpacked it the other day. i found a rattle, two small children’s board books, photographs in one of those plastic wallet picture thingies, a couple expired credit cards, a slew of emery boards, faded receipts i could no longer read, old chapstick, a collection of assorted pens and pencils, a few lists, some coins and two tiny mystery keys, a few notes from my girl, cars on scraps of paper drawn by my boy, and a card in the envelope it was mailed in. every now and then you stumble upon a treasure you forgot you had.

my sweet momma was famous for her handwritten letters; most of our family would easily recognize her handwriting, even in a crowded handwriting sampling, even years after last seeing it. this little card in my old purse was clearly something i carried around for some time. it was a note of reassurance, a note with great empathy, a note of encouragement. she mailed it early in january 1989, just a few months after i moved to wisconsin. still in the middle of homesickness and adjustment, though – as i realize now – she must have been feeling loneliness as well, she wrote to me. and she penned six words that i remember her repeating throughout my life:

“i know you can do it.”

those words – just six – can make all the difference.

momma was a glass-half-full type. her fervent cheering-on was a solid part of her nurturing. she fostered support with easy acceptance of failure, “if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” she didn’t list to the negative, nor did she wallow in it. in all her life, from early in marriage my dad MIA and then a POW in world war II, to losing her first baby within a day of her birth while my dad was imprisoned and she knew nothing of his whereabouts, to losing her grown son to lung cancer, to standing by my dad in his own lung cancer, a myriad of rough patches, to being left alone with my dad gone to face a double mastectomy at 93. no matter the challenge, she faced it down. she knew she could do it. and, despite any enormity, she left you with no doubt. even though her heart was thready and vulnerable, her positive spirit was contagious, her strength a force in the world.

these times – the pandemic and all it has wreaked, personal physical injuries or illnesses, job trials, isolation and loss of too much and too many to list – have cued up a range of mountains for each of us to scale. my mom’s “good morning merry sunshine” couples with her “live life, my sweet potato.” lines of counterpoint for melodies in life that are askew, her words brace against the storm. my sweet momma did not give up and she did not expect you to either. “you got this,” would be her brene brown shortcut message. she stuck with it all and rode each complicated wave, each complexity, each twist. she lives on in my daughter tearing down a run on a snowboard. she lives on in my son setting up a beautiful new place with his boyfriend. she lives on in the love her granddaughters and grandson bestow upon their children. she lives on in me.

in these times, with all its obstacles daring us to succumb, i can hear her. “i know you can do it,” her voice whispers to my heart.

*****

read DAVID’s thoughts this MERELY-A-THOUGHT MONDAY

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tacet root vegetables. [k.s. friday]

ritenuto: an abrupt slowing down of tempo

tacet: silence of instrument

fermata: pause of unspecified time

and, suddenly, a prolonged tacet. no notes. no instrumentation. no expression markings. no crescendos or decrescendos. just silence. the baton is laid down. there is no beat pick-up. there is no rest. it is silence. issued. written in the music. a ritenuto – screeching to slow, a subito tacet. suddenly still.

the reassurances are generous, heartfelt. they are reflexes, like putting out your hand when you fall. they are meant to help in the silence, in the sudden slowdown, the sudden stop, the fermata holding the tacet. they make my heart quiver, these well wishes. but they don’t change the composer’s notes in the music: the ritenuto. the tacet. the fermata. those are printed in the music; those are decreed. they are unquestionable, immovable, indisputable, final.

i was voted off the island, in “survivor” talk. it was not an island, but, nevertheless, i am not a survivor. not there, anyway. i am forever tacet-ed there. the fermata above my tacet-ed head reminds me.

it, too, reminds me to be still. to step lightly. to be gentle with myself. i run the scores in my head – scores of scores in that place. i emoted each expression marking, each twist of the music, each gradual shaping, each change of tempo, of timbre, of voice.

and now.

i opened this book randomly, hoping to arrive on a page that might offer me wisdom. i read: “upheavals in life are often times when the soul has become too smothered; it needs to push through the layers of surface under which it is buried….it reminds us that we are children of the eternal and our time on earth is meant to be a pilgrimage of growth and creativity.” (john o’donohue)

it doesn’t feel like a platitude. i’ve read it over and over and over again now since the morning i was fired. i wonder, each day, when the baton will be lifted, when the pick-up beat will come. i remember the all-engulfing power of change works both ways – to decimate and to breathe new life. i – try – to trust the dusty trail i am reluctantly set upon.

upheaval. sudden arrival at prolonged silence. not much more upheaval for an artist than silence. yet, as i sit in this silence, deemed as fitting by the composer, i feel the root-vegetable-of-my-soul gathering energy. with no idea and no preconception, i await as it will push through the earth one day, steeped in nutrients, rooted in rich soil.

my sweet momma said, “live life, my sweet potato.” oh wise woman, you must have known.

read DAVID’s thoughts this K.S. FRIDAY

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incessant. my sweet momma. [not-so-flawed wednesday]

good morning sunshine

she was incessant.  every morning she greeted me with the words, “good morning sunshine.”  rain, sleet, snow or ice – none would dampen her good-morning-spirit.  a new day, a new beginning, another chance.

my parents weren’t complicated people.  they grew up with great-depression-survival parents.  they were married and almost immediately separated by the second world war, by my dad’s missing-in-action status, by his time as a prisoner-of-war and, thus, they navigated the loss of their first daughter on two continents, my mom without knowledge of my dad’s whereabouts.  they processed-without-processing the end of the war and my dad’s escape and return home to struggle through post-war times.  they had two more children, another girl and a boy and began to raise a family on long island in a cape cod house with a chainlink fence and a dachshund.  after i was born they moved to the house i grew up in, the only house i remember without looking at old photographs.  we had a single driveway with a grass strip in the middle.  some neighbors had solid concrete or asphalt driveways, no grass strip, and even as a child, i suspected this meant something.  they were thrifty and conserving.

my parents weren’t hip.  through the rebellious 60s and mod 70s they raised me, older than most of my friends’ parents by at least a decade or more.  i listened to jim nabors and doris day and robert goulet in the house, herb alpert and the tijuana brass and frank sinatra on the stereo and the old wgsn on the radio on top of the refrigerator, while friends were hearing their moms sing to carole king and simon and garfunkel crooned in their kitchens, the mamas and the papas and herman’s hermits in the family rooms.  my dad would whistle for hours; hearing anyone whistling now feels like a hug from him.

my parents weren’t frivolous.  my dad would turn boxes inside out to repurpose them.  my mom would assign him tasks first in in his basement workshop and, later, his garage workshop, giving him something to focus on.  he was always rube-goldberg-ing everything; he could make or fix anything.  they didn’t splurge on stuff, well, until they discovered ikea.  after years and years and years of exclusive use, the aluminum colander they gave to me (and after a couple more decades and the loss of a foot, i finally retired) is likely 70 years old.

my parents weren’t problem-obsessive.  my mom would do laundry, especially later in life.  i think it centered her.  the simple task of cleaning a garment or bath towel and putting it away felt grounding; i have learned this from her and you will find me scouring the house for laundry items in times of stress.  they were reasonable and rational; nothing needed be too complex.

but they were loving and encouraging and accepting.  i could tease or cajole my dad into doing almost anything.  and, when my dad’s reaction to a circumstance was more impatient, my mom would listen, listen, listen.  she would admonish him, “Erling!” she’d hammer.

simple.  no fancy titles.  no wildly exotic trips.  no fancy foods.  only one fancy car to try-on-for-size.  no fancy clothes or shoes. simple furnishings, treasured mementos.

simple.  no emmys, oscars, grammys.   no nobel peace prize.  hardworking and uncomplaining.  a lot of volunteering.  a jewelry store failure in early days of big box stores.  early retirement and a move-down-I95 south.  self-admonishments to do-the-photo-albums and clean-out-the-file-cabinets.

simple.  a dedication to handyman magazine, national geographic, jigsaw puzzles, crytoquotes and crosswords.  tomato plants and hosta.  forsythia and four-o-clocks that ran along the whole side of the house.  succulents and bougainvillea.  harlequin romance novels and old doris day/rock hudson movies.  bird-watching and klondike bars.  feeding their family.  entertaining their friends.

simple.  times around the table coffee-sitting.  long conversations on the couch.  egg mc-arnsons or waffles and ice cream on sunday mornings.  time on the stoop and in the lanai, just talking.  time.  spending time.

she was incessant.  her joy at the day, her exuberance, her kindness, her piercing eyes, her absolute, uncompromised, unconditional love.

i woke today thinking about this day five years ago today, when i was not physically there to hold her hand as she passed from this life to another plane.  we were on the way, driving there, on an interstate when we found out.  in el paso, illinois.  we pulled off and found a park not far from the highway.  we walked and walked and walked, trying to process.  i have no doubt that she knew i was right there with her, always, and how much i love her.

life will never be the same without my sweet momma on this earth.  ever.  i can only hope that in some way, as a new day dawns and i think to myself, “good morning sunshine,” that i will be somewhat like her.  somewhat as incessant.

read DAVID’s thoughts this NOT-SO-FLAWED WEDNESDAY

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