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what we seek. [d.r. thursday]

our favorite thing in the woods, when i was about eight or ten or so, were the salamanders. red-backed salamanders had a red stripe down their spine and, back then, were all over the woods outside our rustic cabins in the upstate new york state parks.

we stayed at many of them: selkirk shores, chenango valley, watkins glen, green lakes, letchworth. my sweet momma and poppo were not tent-campers, but they fully embraced the very-bare-minimum cabins in the woods and my mom would pack for a week ahead; we had to bring everything with us, including pots and pans. the bunkbed frames and mattresses were about all you got, with basic kitchen and bathroom necessities. we’d go for a week and for that glorious week, i would roam the forest and swim the lakes and ride bikes all over the park with my best friend. we didn’t do fancy vacations, but, for me, these trips were heaven. i think about my momma now – for her it was a lot of work, but she seemed happy to be “roughing-it” as she said. and she would run around each night, can of raid in her hand, singsong voice, announcing “raid! raid!” while we buried into our sleeping bags on our bunks and tried not to breathe.

before we discovered the lifeguards, we would hike through the forest, looking for anything interesting we could find, devising paths and mysteries to solve. mostly, we looked for the salamanders. one year, we found one that was particularly sociable with us and we were convinced it would stay around and be our friend. for obvious reasons, we named him sal. once you’ve named something, it is much harder to say goodbye.

now, the thing that’s hard to say goodbye to – out in the woods, high in the mountains – is the whole visceral experience. the cool fresh air, the trail under our feet, the sun filtering through the trees, quaking aspen leaves, the absolute drop-dead-amazing smell of a pine forest, the quiet.

we haven’t found salamanders in colorado woods, though we haven’t been seeking them as i did when i was in elementary school. instead, we have sought the feeling you get after you have hiked miles and some decent elevation. that exhausted adrenaline bursted rush of ahhh. the slightly burning lungs-are-in-your-chest feeling. the your-legs-want-to-sit-down-on-a-stump-for-a-moment tiredness. a little bit of wind-sun-scorched face. and the overwhelming desire to keep going.

*****

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in the spirit of competition. [saturday morning smack-dab.]

in case you are wondering, i won.

the truth is, i’ve had a lot more experience in twizzler-eating, so i have an edge. my twizzler days go way, way back to earlier times. to get me through driving all over the country loaded down with cds and maps, my sweet momma would send twizzlers in care packages, along with peanut m&m’s and those lance peanut butter crackers in the cracker-color that does not naturally occur in nature. some things never change, regardless of age.

we basically eat our way across the country. the roadtrip feeding frenzy pauses but every couple hours revives with a vengeance. twizzlers fill in the gaps between more nutritious snacks like bananas and halos and real sandwiches, double espressos and, yes, some of those chia-flax-millet-quinoa-amaranth late july chips.

and when conversation has ceased and we’ve solved all the world problems, the road is straight and the highway is lulling, it’s time for a little competition.

suffice it to say: he needs more practice. as my poppo always said, “practice makes perfect.”

ha! good luck with that.

*****

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in half and in half again. [merely-a-thought monday]

anna quindlen writes about it in “a short guide to a happy life“. the dividing line between before and after. we all have them. though mathematically incorrect for this lyric, as “sawed in half” only leaves the other half, many of us have more than one dividing line, more than one qualifier of our lives, more than one change agent.

i remember my first apartment. it was on long island in a basement partially paneled and partially wallpapered with red brick wallpaper. my dog missi and i moved in with my old piano, a convertible couch, beanbag chairs, a bookshelf and a bistro set. i had free bank-account-giveaway plates and cheap silverware my grandmother gave me, forks, spoons, knives still in my drawer to this day. i had a tiny kitchen in this studio and, though i cooked often, missi and i both ate plenty of cornflakes for plenty of meals. it was not fancy but it was mine.

after i was sawed in half i had to move and, ultimately, found myself in florida, seeking safety from a man whose aggressive pedophilia was predatory, for whom vengeance was foremost. everything was different. from those moments on. there was no going back, no return to innocence. the dividing line was stark and, in 1979, there was no real resource for processing it.

since then i’ve had a few more dividing lines. but, i have found in many purposeful meanderings through my lifeline in recollections and in much intentional parsing out of cause and effect relationships, that many of them relate back to the first sawing-in-half.

having children did not ‘saw’ me in half, but it indeed sawed time into before and after, for nothing would ever be the same and all my after has been waking and going to sleep thinking about them and wishing for their good health, good relationships, good work, love. there can scarcely be a parent who has not been profoundly changed by having children. before. after.

the loss of my big brother came as a mortality-blow. i had lost grandparents at that point, but their lives had been full and eight and nine decades long. my brother had merely reached his fourth decade – forty – an age twenty years ago now for me – and it was premature and devastating. he had been a stalwart rock for me in my years-post-first-sawing and to lose his wisdom and strength had me questioning how the world could go on without him feeling it. it divided time – from a more casual look at life to a more intensely emotional connection to those around me than i already had. if i am needy, emotionally, it is grasping on to beloveds. though i know i must not hold too tightly, i have likely not always succeeded at that, but i try to be at least close enough to always at least feel the wind from their wings. it’s not always possible and it’s sometimes impossible, and i yearn to have my family right close to me as many friends have, but i try – that word again – to trust life and its gifts.

the day i realized that there was no one left to ask questions of my birth, my childhood, my teenage years, the intrepid and enduring memories moms and dads have, i stared at lake michigan. i won’t forget that moment. i was wondering about my first time on the lake on a sailboat and i suddenly was aware that, without my sweet momma and poppo still here, there would be no answers that i could not remember myself. it came with intensity and orphan-hood surprised me – even then, at 56.

there are other lines in the sand, other befores and afters. relationships, jobs, places, mistakes and learnings, successes and failures. they all count, like every slice of blueberry pie making up the whole, even every rich ingredient making up the slice. the passage of time is a vast bakery of experiences, some more contingent on others, some more independent.

so when the song “life is long” came on at the end of the grace and frankie episode while i was on the treadmill and david was on the bike i was struck by the lyric “sawed in half by the passage of time”. i spoke into my phone recording the words i had just heard, words that made time pause like the button on the netflix video.

and i stared into the timeline in my mind, thinking about life sliced up like pie – a little less vigorously than a saw – but with just as much impact.

*****

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woven wicker paper plate holders and love. [two artists tuesday]

“mom’s beloved paper plates,” my son called them. the boy was referring to plain and simple paper plates, the least expensive kind, not the dixie plates or chinet plates or the styrofoam plates that make you cringe when they squeak. just the kind of paper plate that is uncoated and recyclable.

i’m not sure that is a good thing to be remembered for. but in busy times with busy schedules and no dishwasher, paper plates were often a choice. “double them,” my momma would say. or she would hand you one of these woven wicker paper-plate-holders, of which she was a big fan.

and so, walking in the aisle of the grocery store and passing a gigantic display of these was like a gentle ‘hello’ from my sweet momma. since we already own some of these, from our beaky, we didn’t need to stop and buy any. plus, we rarely use paper plates these days. in these times there is more time for dishwashing. and real plates and cloth napkins. but oh, that ‘hello’.

cardinals in the backyard, notecards in the bottom of old purses, paint-by-number paintings in antique shoppes, peeps in easter candy displays, woven paper-plate-holders…they all keep alive memories of my sweet momma. in short order, this month, we will mark six years since she left this plane of living, nine for my poppo. it doesn’t seem possible. the blue metal planters peanuts can that my dad kept in his drawer for a zillion years sits on top of my dresser, the small wooden boxes from his workshop hold our nespresso pods, the ceiling fan chain wraps around our wrists, braceleting a reminder of him.

like you, i notice things, whether antiquing or sitting or cleaning out or grocery shopping. thready and emotional, beyond repair, i will always stop in my tracks. i choose not to see these things as passively there. instead, i choose that somehow, crossing the invisible ‘over’, this tiny gesture is a greeting, a reminder, a reassurance, love itself.

*****

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damning ice-damming. [two artists tuesday]

there is a price to pay for having an adored old house. ours is 93 years old. sturdy, charming, with wood floors and crown molding, built-in cabinets and solid doors, details that wouldn’t necessarily be affordable in new construction. but then there’s that thing that many of these sweet old houses don’t have enough of — called insulation.

many’s the time i have been on a ladder in the winter with a hose that is stretched to the basement laundry tub spigot. just me and hot water tending to the ice in the gutters. one year, when it was a particularly big problem, big jim came over and performed magic. i remember driving to illinois to purchase the proper tools: heating cables (they were out in wisconsin stores) and one of those really long telescoping snow rakes. and now d has had the distinct pleasure of dealing with this as well. each fall now we check the gutter cables – i’m always holding my breath to make sure they are still working lest the winter comes and they cease being warm in the middle of ice-damming weather.

and ice-damming weather it is.

it’s not like i’m happy that other people are dealing with it, although there is a little bit of content that we aren’t alone in this. as we walk around the neighborhood or drive around town we point at houses and icicles, inches of solid ice clearly stoked up in the gutter, snow falling off roofs like icing sliding from a cupcake on a hot summer’s day. even newer houses and brand-new construction have ice-laden soffits and fascia. and i listen and just keep hoping i don’t hear the telltale drip-drip-drip sound somewhere inside the house; that is never a good thing.

my first experience was memorable. i was alone when i walked in the front door and could hear water literally pouring somewhere. thinking someone had left a faucet on, i immediately went to check the bathrooms, but the sound lured me directly to the sunroom where i stared at the scene that ice-damming had created. my dad and a friend, neither in town, provided some pretty healthy support over the phone for my first adventure on the perilous ladder perched on the icy deck with an unwieldy and uncooperative long garden hose that i had to first thaw from its frozen coiled state as i tried to win against mother nature and too little insulation. eventually, i did win, but not until i was solidly drenched in 20-degree temperatures and i had earned the nickname ‘hoser’ over my moral-support-suggestion-laden-phone-calls and their quest to keep me laughing.

another time, my son can attest to walking into the sitting room one day to find water coming in from above the windows. we both stared at the phenomenon (staring is a requirement as a first reaction in ice-damming). then we got to work with every spare towel we could find. so, yeah, it’s not like i’m happy other people are dealing with it (isn’t that something like schadenfreude?) but i am happy for company in misery. and i know that in the summer, when we are calmly sitting outside in adirondack chairs in the warm sun having an iced tea, these will be funny stories.

but now? this year? yes, i am still holding my breath. the ice is particularly stubborn and the temperatures are lingering in ice-damming territory. facebook posts are abounding with pictures of dammed ice (or “damned” ice, depending on your level of zen) and people’s comments are empathetic and knowing. i don’t remember this from long island at all. i blame wisconsin. nevertheless, in the words of my momma, “this too shall pass.”

i seem to be thinking about those words a lot these days.

*****

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unpredictable beauty. [two artists tuesday]

“sometimes beauty is that unpredictable; a threshold we had never noticed opens, mystery comes alive around us and we realize how the earth is full of concealed beauty.” (john o’donohue)

a simple errand. we needed to pick up some furniture to transport in big red for a friend. destination: ikea.

there is something magical about ikea. we hadn’t been there in ages and were relieved to find few people there and everyone masked properly. vowing to hopefully come back soon and browse a bit, we pulled the boxes off the shelves on our pick list. pushing our cart to the front checkout lines, david, more than once, had to re-focus me away from the enormous displays of product. iphone in hand, we wove our way through the covid-floor-circles-disney-style line, waiting our turn at the cash register.

every where i looked, we were surrounded by interesting color, repeated pattern, textures that begged to be touched. david, more than once, softly called my name from the other side of the pushcart, gently spurring me out of the threshold-of-alive-mystery-of-concealed-beauty, snapping pictures with inordinate joy. “k-dot,” he would quietly prod.

the spatulas called my name too, repeating patterns of red-mama-dear-lips making me smile. spatulas are usually not mysterious creatures, but their color, design, stacking lures you out of ordinariness, opening that threshold, the place for glitter to be seen.

it wasn’t just the spatulas, though. i was victim to the lint rollers, the stainless steel utensil holders, the cork trivets. hidden beauty everywhere. i could feel my sweet momma and poppo cheering me on; they were likewise entranced by ikea.

if safety allows, we will return. there are a few small things on my own pick list i’d like to consider purchasing. but mostly, i just want to wander the aisles with my camera, noticing the unpredictable beauty.

yes, not a bad way to spend any day. noticing the unpredictable beauty.

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the little people. [flawed wednesday]

“you can’t take it with you,” my sweet poppo would say, referring to money and an eventual dying. he and my momma were generous people. even in the lower-middlest-of-middle-class living, they were giving and altruistic. they gave out of pockets-not-full-of-plenty, never hesitating, never clutching onto money. they worked hard, paid taxes, contributed to organizations they believed in, helped their children and their children’s children. they were amazing examples of character, especially as defined by the ironic presidential proclamation earlier this week. they never failed to lift others up and believed in those who needed assistance. they were not greedy.

but greed rears its exceptionally ugly head nevertheless. and the administration that currently rules this nation (i rue the use of such an unfortunately appropriate word) continually thrusts forward self-serving agenda for those-with and denies the importance of policy for those-without. in a country that calls itself a democracy and ensures domestic tranquility, it is a pitiful state of affairs to celebrate, undermine and invite more disparity in its populace.

it should be with a (large) modicum of shame that leona helmsley is quoted as saying, “only the little people pay taxes,” but instead it is apparent that is the whole point. keep the little people little; keep the rich people rich.

we drove through tiny towns from canon city, colorado to limon, colorado. the never-ending rangeland boasted tiny mobile homes and collapsing houses, people living in squalor. the trump 2020 signs were prevalent. i wondered aloud why anyone living in such circumstance would fly a giant flag for a man and a complicit administration that could care less about them. i wondered why they would choose to campaign for a person who cannonballs along the unfair advantages for the wealthy, the keeping-those-with-less down policies, the brutal inequity under every umbrella. i wondered why they would support someone who has clearly paid less taxes than they had. i wondered if they knew that this very president, a self-expressed billionaire, had paid merely $750 in taxes. i wondered if they knew that he and his cronies consider them the “little people” of this leona quote. i wondered how they, as humans who are citizens of this country and deserve respect and equality and opportunity, would feel about being called “little people”.

it was my dad’s 100th birthday on saturday. he always wanted to live to be 100 and, as we talk about him and tell stories and i talk to him aloud, we celebrate him as 100 even if he is on another plane of existence.

as we drove the rest of the way home through green fields turning to gold, viewing signs of a clear misinformation election campaign, i thought about my dad. we entered quick stores after pumping gas to use the restroom, stores with large signs on the door that clearly stated “masks required”, to find misinformed, defiant and cavalier people wandering about with nary a mask, and i thought about my dad. we stopped for a picnic by the side of a lake, stretching our legs, and i thought about my dad.

in the warped definition of the current pompous leadership of this nation, i suppose he, like we, would be considered “little people”.

but i thought about his integrity, his love, his tolerance, his hardworking nature, his just-make-it-work-ness, his generosity, and i have no doubt about how he would feel about the united states’ current administration and attitudes.

the topic of money is an easy one. “you can’t take it with you,” my dad would say. virtue, on the other hand? “no,” he’d say, “you can’t take it with you either.” and, after a pause, he’d add, “especially if you never had it.”

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apples and numbers. [k.s. friday]

it’s approaching. you can feel it in the morning air. fall. its scent lingers in the fields of wildflowers, succumbing to cooler nights, a lower sun on the horizon. the bees are desperately, frantically, trying to hang on for dear life. the mosquitoes, thankfully, are writing their wills and the cicadas are singing as if the judges of ‘american idol’ or ‘the voice’ were gathered beneath the trees, an audience of appreciators.

it’s different though.

this fall is all about numbers. covid-19 pandemic numbers. lethal-force racial fatality numbers. protest numbers. healthcare numbers. unemployment numbers. eviction numbers. payroll tax numbers. rally numbers. poll numbers. we are surrounded by a plethora of numbers with an increasingly urgent need to be aware of all of them.

there will be no relaxing inside starbucks sipping pumpkin spice lattes. there will be no apple festivals or street fairs celebrating fall. there will be no hayrides, bale-bouncing with friends on a rickety wagon. there will be no chili cook-offs or slow dance parties on the patio. this was the stuff of pre-pandemic. the stuff of the olden days. the stuff of 2019. the stuff of 1996. the stuff of 1973.

there will be thoughtfully attended protests. there will be emotional vigils. there will be testing sites. there will be virtual funerals. there will be video-conferenced schools and meetings and religious gatherings. there will be jobs sought, financial devastation for too many, unreachable healthcare. there will be speeches to listen to, about which to have hope. there will be speeches to fact-check, about which to have righteous anger.

the numbers have risen to the surface and rightfully demand our attention.

but there’s this – written one year ago: every fall, my sweet momma and my poppo would load us up in the dodge with the old wicker picnic basket and a small cooler.  we would drive out east on long island or head north into upstate new york.  the baby of the family with siblings already out of the house, i always had a friend along.  susan went everywhere with us.  we would take mad libs and gum, snacks and cans of soda and we would talk and giggle our way to the apple farm. it wasn’t like we couldn’t find apples near us; the jaunt away to apple-picking was the point.  the walk in the orchard, the drive through leaves of indescribably stunning color.  we’d stop at roadside picnic tables and take back country roads.

and now, a long while later, i think of those places, those times.  the memories are sweet, macintosh-apple-sweet.  but the yearning is real.  every autumn makes me just as wistful.  i think of my children jumping in leaves and pumpkins carved with silly faces.  my parents and the old dodge.  pies with homemade crust, hot soup and cocoa, the smell of cinnamon and caramel candles.  fires in the fireplace or outside around the firepit.  jeans, sweaters, boots.  and apples.

and so now that the time for jeans and sweaters and boots is in the offing, i need remember. there are still quiet fires in the firepit to have. there are pies we can make and cocoa we can brew up. there are big stock pots of soup to steep. there are trails with crunchy leaves. there are pumpkins to carve, sunflowers to vase, and backroads to drive.

there are things that must be done. the numbers insist. it’s a profound time filled with information and a call to speak up, to question, to research, to, yes, wear a mask and yes-yes, to vote.

but my wistful-near-autumn heart also needs apples.

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MILLNECK FALL from BLUEPRINT FOR MY SOUL ©️ 1996 kerri sherwood


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we deserve better. [merely-a-thought monday]

we deserve better

“words matter,” my sweet momma would tell me, “things people say matter!” she was right, of course.  even back then.

so i did an experiment.  i deliberately straddled the ideological fence and listened.  and this is what i heard and saw:

“masks. eh, they’re a symbol of fear!” he spouted.(*1)  what?!

on reporting on his own viewing of a reporter at a protest on long island getting verbally attacked, he mouthed off, “it was pretty entertaining!” (*2) what?!

on the president haughtily announcing ‘we’re back!  with or without vaccines!’ she cheered,  “i was doing the fist pump there!” (*3) what?!

and then she needled, “democrats are favoring lockdowns over liberty!” (*4)  what?!

“libtards,” she wrote. (*5)  what?!

wow.

we were hiking and passed by a couple people on the other side of the trail.  moving into single file and off the path in an effort to avoid their non-single-file-ness, we heard, “i want to  keep people safe and this is a big deal, but….” she resisted.  (*6) but what?!

the wisconsin supreme court overturned the safer-at-home order and five minutes later the bars were crowded.  “i miss going out,” she whined to the news, maskless and inches away from the next person at the crowded not-a-mask-in-sight bar. (*7)  what?!

on america, he ruminated, “we don’t do critical thinking in this country.” (*8)

now there’s an understatement.

spouted.  mouthed off.  haughtily announced.  cheered.  needled.  ruminated.  whined. resisted.

he’s right.  we don’t do critical thinking in this country.  otherwise we would expect better.

we would expect a leader who is respectful and thoughtful, steeped in truth, who has an ounce of empathy and who recognizes that the divides in this country – economic, political, moral, prejudicial – are perilously close to chasm-esque, never to return to center.  a leader who sets an example.  a leader who wears a mask, just like the rest of us.  the centrifugal force is spinning out of control; the lack of careful, prudent and meticulous planning, the words from his mouth making us all teeter into the danger zones of no return, of never-be-the-same, of absolute division, of a dismal road ahead.  especially in matters of health.  in all matters of disease.

we would expect a country with a primary intention to attend to the most basic of needs for its populace (think maslow’s hierarchy):  physiological needs.  health.

we would expect the encouragement of the coming-together of people instead of the touting of ripping-apart division.  extremism, headstrong nationalism –  in the name of patriotism (def:  devotion to and rigorous support of one’s country) doesn’t consider the equality of all people and their fundamental rights and needs.  ie:  health.

we would expect that people will – in their willingness to acknowledge that their every behavior will impact literally everyone around them, everyone they come into contact with –  sacrifice and rally around that which protects all, that which will help eradicate the invader, this pandemic.  efforts to protect the health and well-being of all.

we would expect to take advantage of the brilliant minds of scientists, doctors, researchers in order to responsibly get the country back on track.  for our health.

we would expect consistency in message, consistency in plan, consistency in dedication and commitment to the well-being of the people of this country, the people of the world.

we would expect that the weight of a person’s life is far more important than the weight of that person’s (or any person’s) bank account.  for as my poppo would say,  “you can’t take it with you!” and any money or stock or holding or real estate or hedge fund pales in comparison with, say, your own actual life.

we would expect more.

yes.

because we deserve more.

————

* and if you are curious about the quotes:  *1: rush limbaugh, *2: sean hannity, *3: laura ingraham, *4: laura ingraham, *5: someone i went to high school with, *6: a young woman on the des plaines river trail, an Illinois park with signs posted requesting single file trail-walking, *7: a woman interviewed at a wisconsin bar, *8: chris cuomo

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my lullaby. for them. [k.s. friday]

i will hold you forever and ever

and as yesterday passed into today and i drifted off to sleep i knew, despite that she is on a different plane of existence, my sweet momma was holding me close to her.  it was bracing to think of the five year mark that has just passed now since she has been gone and the every-day-missing-her that goes along with that.  no different with my dad.  in a month it will be eight years and i can hear his “hi brat” in my heart.  i have no doubt that he is right there, holding on tightly.  both of them.  forever and ever.

it is a fact.  this parenthood thing is mind-bogglingly paramount.  ever forward from the day they are born.  it is all-consuming.  in every good and every daunting way.  every most-jubilant and every brutally-difficult way.  every securely-confident and every tumultuously-distressing way.  every way.

in this pandemic time of chaos we pine for a sense of normal which escapes us.  anxiety barges in and replaces our regular routines; peace escapes us.  we long to see each other.  we feel tired; we feel restless.  we sleep more; we cannot sleep.  we are astounded by the surrealness of this; we are crushed by how real this is.  and we worry.  it is hard to be away from those whom we love and knowing that right now we cannot go to them compounds it.  my heart needs to hug My Girl and My Boy and see that all is well.  we feel anxious.  our wishes go unfulfilled.

and yet as today passes into tomorrow and they drift off to sleep i know, despite how busy they may be or where they are in the world, that i am holding them close.  that no doubt can exist –  i am right there, holding on tightly.

and i hope, like you with your beloved children, that they can feel it.  forever and ever.

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I WILL HOLD YOU FOREVER AND EVER ©️ 2005 kerri sherwood