reverse threading

the path back is the path forward


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the birdies. [merely-a-thought monday]

ehhhhh, i’ve turned into my parents.

that’s not a bad thing. it’s just a fact. well, at least it’s partially a fact.

on long island, in the middle of growing up, riding my bike with susan, writing poetry in my tree, practicing the piano and organ, doing my homework, playing frisbee at the beach all-year-round, toting my camera around, hanging out at the dive center, fishing with crunch, cruising around in my bug, adoring my baby nieces and nephew, i didn’t notice. maybe i just didn’t pay attention.

they talked birds. birds in the yard, birds on roadtrips, birds upstate, birds at the beach. birdcalls from the woods behind our house, birdcalls passing overhead. they tossed birdnames around and, every now and then, i’d catch one and it would stick somewhere in my memory. but for the most part, their lobbing of vital bird information swooped over me and flew by.

and now.

now i want it all back. because we.love.birds.

we watch their antics in our backyard…at the birdfeeder, at the pond, on the fence, tucked under the awning over the back door, in the trees, hopefully building a nest inside the old barnwood birdhouse on the pine. they are sweet, sweet, sweet.

we guess what they are…sparrow, grackle, mourning dove, starling, crow (oh, so obvious), junco, wren, finch, cardinal, red-winged blackbird, bluejay, chickadee, tanager, oriole… i recognize some from home-home, but some have so many similarities that identification is tricky.

surely they are not looking at us thinking human or ….? they just know. so it feels important to know the difference.

on a great adventure at the botanic garden, we picked up the handiest little spiral pocket-sized quick-guide book called “birds of the midwest“. there are color-coded tabs and you open to the color page that correlates with the primary color of the bird you are trying to identify. such a remedial approach is good for us. (it’s kind of like avoiding the issue of looking up a word when you don’t know how to spell it…you don’t have to look up the bird under what kind it is when you don’t know what it is.) we keep it on our table in the sunroom and use it often as we gaze out back. i imagine we will take it with us as we hike.

in other amazing tools, thanks to dear deb-on-island, we have an app on our phone that is a bird identifier. not only can it identify a bird from a photograph or a list of questions you answer, but – and this is soooo cool – it can identify a bird from the birdcall you record. amazing! the cornell lab of ornithology deserves a giant round of applause for this app, which can identify up to 6000 bird species. the power of science. !!

my sweet momma had an iphone. she adored it, sending random photos to people and receiving photos from everyone in the family. it kept her in the loop and, at almost-94, she was a texting maven. we were in easy contact with each other and she with family and friends from all walks. she both embraced it and made silly technological mistakes, just like us, but nothing a quick turn-it-off-turn-it-back-on couldn’t really solve. it assured her that she was involved, particularly after my poppo died. the power of connection cannot be underestimated.

i wish that i had known – back then – about this app. it would have rocked her bird-loving world.

as it is, i know that every time we are sitting and pondering what a bird is or admiring one aloud or peacefully listening intently or just simply watching the bird-play in our yard or in the woods or at the shore or anywhere, she and my dad are giggling, knowing i’d get there someday.

*****

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uff da! [not-so-flawed wednesday]

bumper sticker on the car in front of us

every week we would drive to st. james so that i could take norwegian lessons. my sweet momma and poppo took them too. i had no idea why i was taking these lessons, but far be it from me to question the stubborn pull of the sons of norway lodge for my parents, who loved their membership there, a little inland from the north shore of long island. i belonged to the sons of norway youth group as well. one of my really close high school friends belonged to the greek youth group, so my membership at the loyal lodge didn’t seem quite so weird, but the greek youth group was way more lively than the norwegian’s, with many festivals and dances. i mean, just think of the food alone: norwegian fish pudding vs. greek moussaka, lapskaus vs. souvlaki, krumkake vs. baklava, akvavit vs. ouzo…there is a different level of excitement and celebration. anyway, i felt less like an anomaly going to norwegian lessons because angela went to greek school.

not much of the norwegian tradition has carried on. there have been times when we have made krumkake, filling the plain waffle cookies off the iron with fruit or whipped cream. there have – never – been times that we have sought out norwegian fish pudding nor lutefisk. never ever. i have never – ever – used my norwegian lessons. sadly, even if i went to norway, which is most definitely on a bucket list, i would not understand any of the language now’days.

but “uff da” has endured.

my dad used the expression often. it was a substitution for “oof!” or “oh geez!” to express surprise or dismay or just to buy a moment of thinking-time. “uff da!” is synonymous with him in our family. so it is likely if any of us sees a bumper sticker or what-have-you that says “uff da!” we will send it on and around. it’s like we have had a tiny visit from my dad; erling has spoken.

we have a couple “uff da” magnets on our fridge that came from their fridge. and my nephew named his children beautiful and unique heritage-rich norwegian names, carrying on legacy my dad passed down. i get to carry my dad’s name with me (as well as his jowls). and you can sometimes – though not too often – hear me say “uff da” out loud.

my sons of norway days are no longer, but i remember fondly the cute boy “j-r” in my class, the norwegian dancing instruction, the man from the lodge who built our stone fireplace rock-by-rock, the miss norway pageant in the city and the marzipan.

always the marzipan.

uff da!!

*****

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scrabble dreams. [not-so-flawed wednesday]

i’d be looking for a double-word-score square. or even better, a triple-word-score square, though that would be less likely. but heck, 8 points could be 16 or 24!

i love scrabble. i love words. and spelling. and, yes, even punctuation, though i know i am not impeccable in that arena. that is all sort of nerdy, but my sweet momma passed it down to me so i come by it honestly.

i was, admittedly, kind of nerdy in school. i never cut a class, never skipped a day jaunting around. i did my homework and i didn’t sit in the back. i passed notes all folded up into tiny squares, like everyone in the days before cellphones, but tried really, really hard not to get caught. i did my share of daydreaming but never in math class, which i also loved.

my sweet poppo, in later days, would sit in his chair by the sliding glass doors and gaze out over the lake out back of their house. he’d watch the cormorants and ducks, study the water for the slightest hint of an alligator, soak in the colors of the sun as it passed over the water. and i suppose he would daydream. all their travels and experiences – a rich melting pot of daydreams from which to fish. his quiet sitting was peaceful, almost meditative, interrupted only by coffeetime or a small project at his workbench in the garage.

the internet makes it easy to daydream. google anything and there is fodder for your wishes. yesterday i spent well over an hour immersed in all the details of a mountain home i literally fell in love with. dreaming, dreaming.

we bought a big bag of scrabble letters at an antique store a while back. we were going to use them to spell out words for our website and for marketing “the roadtrip”, a play we wrote that mimics a.r. gurney’s “love letters”. we used a few of them on our old stove, labeling the front/rear burners and oven with magnets glued onto scrabble pieces.

visiting a new antique store a bit west, we stumbled across another use of these tiles. thoughtful personalized gifts. with all the letters at your disposal, anything is possible.

it made me think that it might be fun to have a giant bowl of wooden letters – especially the blank ones which could make things interesting – and a scrabble tile holder out somewhere – on the table or the kitchen windowsill. whenever you wanted to, you could pick out the letters for how you were feeling or what you were thinking.

“dream” is a good place to start.

so are a few blanks in a row.

*****

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backwards. [merely-a-thought monday]

maybe it was the glass of wine in my hand, but i doubt it.

we sat at the table in our sunroom, happy lights on, gazing into the inky blackness of the backyard. it was still rather early in the evening but, these days, dark happens early. it suddenly caught my eye and it made me laugh. the backwards “let the adventure begin” seemed just about right, right about now.

we bought ourselves this little wooden sign a few years ago now, for the littlehouse on washington island. it graced the table that looked out on the lake and was the opening line of our time with TPAC, a magical performing arts center on that tiny island. a treasured adventure. and then covid. we packed our sign into a bin and brought it back home.

it sat in the bin in the basement, quiet, for months or so, i guess. then we redid the sunroom…more plants, our table, a new rug, an old door on horses, happy lights, an old suitcase. a few more adventures later – and i went downstairs, seeking the sign.

it sits on the old door in front of the old suitcase that holds the old cd player and lost-man, who is a stuffed mountain goat that reminds us of an amazing hike our intrepid girl took us on – to lost man lake on independence pass, with exquisite high elevation views and tufts of mountain-goat-fur snagged on the branches of bushes along the trail.

“let the adventure begin” makes me smile every time i see it. for it has already begun. we are in the middle of it. covid and wrists and job loss and angst and incredible-joy-times and glasses of wine and dogdog moments and new work and questions and hikes and dancing and music and plans and tiny trips and big trips and grief and laughter and babies and water and cartoons and writing. the middle of it. no re-sets necessary. like the tide, it ebbs and flows, but it’s ever-present, this adventure. like john lennon said, “life is what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans.” while you are waiting. it’s right there.

when i was in junior high or maybe early high school i had to do a project for science class. i had this clock that, for some reason, ran backwards. a big round face, the second hand ran backwards, which pushed the minute hand backwards, which pushed the hour hand backwards. with a master bulova watchmaker as my dad, we collaborated on this mysterious phenomenon: time running backwards. we researched and experimented, asked lots of questions, tried to get the clock to go forwards. it never did. instead, we devised a new face for the clock. and we learned how to read the time as it ran backwards. it made us think and laugh and think more and, also, gave us an interesting perspective on time. it’s happening. whether it’s forwards or backwards, it’s marching on. we simply need to adjust and adapt. at dawn, in midday, at dusk, in the darkness.

it was particularly funny to me when this sign – “let the adventure begin” – was backwards in the window reflection. well, maybe not really funny. maybe just really, really wise.

it feels like it might have been an even-greater little sign painted that way.

*****

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the best part of waking up… [merely-a-thought monday]

the conversation started just over nine years ago. emails back and forth and then texts. going back, reading, it is stunning to see how many times coffee entered the stage of our new relationship then, as if it were anxiously waiting in the wings or in the green room, one of the stars of that friendship that grew into love. we would send photos of mugs or cups full of coffee across the country, finding each other in our respective days, the places we were sipping, where we were headed. coffee became a locator. and still now, it was one of the joys of those early days, months and months and months of writing and wondering what it might be like to have a coffee together.

the tiny house had a coffee station. nothing run-of-the-mill and industrial, instead it was a sweet spot along a bit of wall bespeckled with signs about coffee. certainly this was an airbnb owned by someone who appreciates the finer points of first-thing-in-the-morning brew.

i think coffee is one of those things you either love or totally dislike. it’s not really a take-it-or-leave-it kind of beverage. my sweet momma and poppo could sit over coffee for hours. it wasn’t the cup of java that lasted that long; it was the coffee-sitting. it was conversation and quiet, it was waking up and catching up. it was at breakfast, at coffee-break time, maybe a cup after a celebratory dinner. i learned the goodness of coffee-sitting from them and miss those times around their table. coffee makes me think of them.

i know that, although my dad never met david, he is rooting every day for him. i’m sure he watches each evening as david sets up the coffee for the morning, his own practice back in the day. i’m sure he approves heartily when d pours mugs early in the morning, adding no sugar or creamer or milk or sweetener; he was a black-coffee drinker too. i’m sure he smiles and nods when d walks steaming mugs in to me, still with my head in the pillows. he is likely whistling, “the best part of waking up is [coffee] in your cup.” it took a long while for me to convince him that there was coffee that wasn’t folgers. we are big bold coffee fans. but when there was a ball jar sitting on the counter in our tiny house with the words “fresh folgers” on a lid it was me smiling, positive of the presence of my mom and dad.

it is the wee hours of the night as we write today’s post. i couldn’t sleep, so we decided to sit up and compose our blogs. david said, “should i put the coffee on?”. i emphatically replied “no!” as i have every intention of trying to sleep again once we have written and my insomnia turns to sleepiness.

besides, i so look forward to a bit of mountain-town light streaming in the windows in a few hours and hearing david’s voice as he offers me a mug, a cuppajava, as i pick my head up from the cozy pillows. and just like my dad, i can hear it: “the best part of waking up is [coffee] in my cup.”

*****

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the holidays. messy. [merely-a-thought monday]

we have a small stack of unopened envelopes on the counter. it’s a stack of holiday cards and we’re saving it for closer to christmas. opening these while sitting together will seem like a visit from these people we care about at a time when visits are scarce and time together is minimal. these cards will help.

because these holidays are messy.

we’ve been succumbing to the hallmark channel. it has been both delightful and a disservice, a bar we cannot touch, with families gathered around roaring fireplaces with cocoa, around kitchen counters icing cookies, around the town square christmas tree singing, around the tree farm choosing the exact right tree to cut down, dancing at the christmas ball. our hearts soar with these picturesque modern-day norman-rockwells and yet…

because the holidays are messy.

in my mind’s eye i can create all kinds of wondrous times – with our children, our extended families, our friends. i envision everyone here at home or at a giant cabin in the mountains with snow gently falling outside, arriving at the door with ecstatic hugs of anticipation. i can hear laughter and records spinning and song and many shared old stories. i catch a whiff of the fireplace and the cocoa, early morning coffee brewing like in all the old folgers commercials, the turkey or ham or lasagna in the oven, snickerdoodles and peanut butter cookies with hersheys kisses and krumkake baking. i can feel the excitement with everyone throwing wrap on the floor, bows and ribbons flying, opening thoughtful gifts. i can see evidence of our angels in the air, my sweet momma and poppo, columbus, my big brother, grandparents, even our babycat. i blink and i’m back. like many of you, i know this wondrous time, though perhaps entirely possible someday, is – again – not reality.

because the holidays are messy.

in this final stretch to christmas i know that expectations are high and disappointment is higher. the simplest moments that our hearts desire are somehow unattainable and complex. it is not an easy time and it is on the heels of a not-easy year for so many, including us.

the holidays are messy.

so we keep the small stack of cards and wait to open them. we sit at the end of the evening in the living room lit by the lights of our tree and the white branches of previous years. we write cards and sticker envelopes and wrap packages and ship. we, like you, try to immerse in both memory-rituals and new traditions, try to make-the-best-of-it. we know that time marches on, too quickly-quickly. in looking back we all know how fast ahead goes. we wish for the holidays we can see – but not quite touch – in our mind’s eye. we know that angst and worries and loneliness and exhaustion and issues and comparisons and striving for perfection and dismaying sadness are not supposed to be a part of the holiday spirit, yet we see tidbits of these shades of blue as we look around. we work to move in grace and trust and hold unconditional love as guiding forces.

we hope for less-messy another year.

i believe the cardinals out back at the pond came to reassure me.

*****

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not so ruthless. [two artists tuesday]

i dare not hang them inside (or even on the actual front of the house, for that matter). but they will find their place. my mom and dad’s old christmas lights were in the bottom christmas bin in the storage room in the front of the basement. all bins had to be moved for the water utility folks to replace our water line so it seemed a decided task to go through the bins and, maybe – if i could find any ruthlessness – pare it all down a bit.

this is not a task for the nostalgic.

my digging and sorting and organizing and paring-notparing-paring-notparing down was like listening to all the old christmas record albums at once. it was frank sinatra and the carpenters and jim nabors and the firestone orchestra and chorus and herb alpert and the tijuana brass and dean martin and john denver and bing crosby and julie andrews and burl ives and doris day. it was old glass ornaments sprinkled liberally with glitter and felt cut into homemade trees with elmer’s-glue-laden-decorations. it was golden angels and hardened flour-water wreaths and crocheted bells and plastic poinsettia corsages and thick red yarn for stringing. it was cloves and pomegranate seeds and macaroni and tinsel and sugar-coating and silver sleighbells and styrofoam snowmen. it was crayon-printed “kirsten” and “craig” signatures, old red stockings-to-hang and fuzzy santa hats. tree skirts and tablecloths. rogers’ christmas house treasures and andrea’s christmas candle bubble nightlights. gift tags with long stories in a simple “from”.

as i was standing over those bins on thursday and friday, half my body buried deep into the bottom of the piles, i came upon a snowman ornament. “to kerie, from patrick” read the gift tag i had saved in the box from circa 1982, a gift from a piano student to me, his teacher. i took a picture and sent it to patrick, now my friend across the country on instagram. instantly, i had one of those heart rushes you get when you stumble across something tiny yet just simply precious. reaching out and letting him know seemed obvious. (not to mention a distraction when i needed one.)

i pulled my sweet parent’s vintage lights out and, because of that way that wires entangle even in the best of circumstances, i took my time detangling. i plugged each strand in, tightening the bulbs and removing the ones that had burned out. on the dining room table, i put together one long strand with working bulbs and made a decision. this year – as opposed to most all other years – i would wrap our front porch rail with memories. i would carefully place each old bulb so everyone passing could revisit a time long ago, decades in fact, a simpler time. i would succumb to the multi-colored-lights this year. on purpose. and after the new year, i will gently place them back in one of the bins, next to the painted-glass ornaments and the trees made of construction paper and paste.

and though next year we’ll likely go back to white twinkling happy lights out front, i will always remember the multi-colored lights and the enormity of love-filled stories and i will – just-as-always – know they will be a treasured part of my heart.

there were three overstuffed bins when i started. with a few things to donate and much in bags to dispose of, there are neater, tidier, more organized bins now. but there are still three.

*****

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magic fluff. [two artists tuesday]

though we are not ‘good’ at many plants, it seems, we are ‘good’ at ornamental grasses. maybe it’s the soil, maybe it’s the sun, maybe it’s location, but grasses have given us a sense of garden-accomplishment that nothing else (shy of mayyyybe the cherry tomatoes and basil and lavender this year) has bestowed upon us.

we won’t cut them down. no pruning. they will stay through the winter, magnificent plumes golden against the drear, against the snow, reminding us of good fluff of the day.

i imagine tiny animals sheltering in their masses, dense bush allowing warmth and security and invisibleness. maybe tiny chipmunks, with pantries of birdseed they have stolen from the finches and sparrows, waylaid from intrepid robins and scarlet cardinals. we’ll just keep filling the birdfeeder. judging by the birds partying in our backyard yesterday, i think we may try and find another birdfeeder to hang as well. i have turned into my parents.

dogdog comes inside each day now, laden with seed pods. if wishes were granted on seedheads, we would have so many magical dreams coming true. he seems to not mind these tiny hitchhikers tucked into his very-furry fur. we pick them off, one by one.

and now i think, who’s gonna stop us from wishing on each one? these grasses grace us in more than one way. let the magic commence.

*****

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thunkthunkthunk. [saturday morning smack-dab.]

the check-engine light is on. i felt compelled to explain it to my daughter and her boyfriend when i picked them up at the airport, lest they worry i wouldn’t be able to deliver them downtown – in the middle of a snowy, rainy, sleety early afternoon. “we’re waiting for a catalytic converter,” i told them and they nodded. the only saving grace to not picking them up in a horse-drawn carriage (or that ferrari that chris-the-spectrum-guy had promised me) is that i brought snacks with me, making me a “pretty good uber”. ahhh, yes, it puts a momma’s heart on steroids.

we are used to a ride with sounds and not just in littlebabyscion. big red has these running boards that rattle over bumps (for which we are seeking welding help) so it is never quiet in either vehicle. neither has the sound-proofing of vehicles for which we have seen commercials….where the mom stays out in the lincoln suv and peacefully avoids the chaos in her home. no…we bring our chaos with us as part of the travel package. but eh, we don’t mind.

it is usually me who hears the new sound first: the seatbelt in the back thumping against the window, the back seat not fully engaged and squeaking over bounces, the sunglasses on the dashboard jiggling. tiny ambient sounds. the larger ones too. the sound of the hole in the exhaust system, the metallic quaking of a truck with a blown coil. i would mention the things i sniff out first too but it just might be too much here.

regardless, there have been moments when i seem to be channeling my sweet dad as i slough off the sound and keep driving. i know the proof will be in the pudding (that is a really strange saying) and we will see, if we continue on our merry way, what happens.

changing the subject i’ll look over at d and quote my poppo, “do you think the rain will hurt the rhubarb?” “not if it’s in cans,” he quips my dad’s standard answer. we both laugh and keep driving.

*****

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cactus, candles and a red wagon. [d.r. thursday]

i started a business when i was young. nothing cost more than about a dollar but i was a zealous salesperson. i pulled a red wagon around my neighborhood, going door to door – in the days when that was actually safe – and sold cactus. my sweet momma had prolific succulents and would pot tiny offshoots and volunteers into cups or chipped mugs or little clay pots, turning them over to me to sell. it’s amazing how many people would buy a 25 cent baby cactus from an eight year old at the door. i was thrilled counting my earnings at the end of the day and would impatiently wait for the next proliferation of cactus pups.

after a while and some market research, i decided to add candles to my stock. i purchased wax and three-dimensional plastic molds, tape and had a perfect little finnish knife to trim the wax after taking it out of the mold. i never lit any of those candles. they seemed more like decorations and less like candles-to-burn. funny to think about not-thinking-about-lighting-them and i wonder how many of the candles i happily sold on the streets of my growing-up were ever burned. though i’d love to revisit that project now, for fun and maybe to actually try the candle as a candle, my supplies are stuck somewhere – since 1979 – in the somewhat-finished attic room closet of a methodist church on long island, where i had helped with a youth group and taught them how to make candles.

i wonder now about what someone will think when they stumble upon all of that – my dad’s old hard plastic luggage case with molds and wax. i wonder if they will laugh thinking about the simplicity of it. after all, for my tiny business all i really did was melt the wax in a double boiler, choose a color dye, place the wick, tape and set up the molds, pour the wax into the molds and wait. once they were set, i trimmed along the seam line to create a seamless looking alligator or snail or mushroom or a variety of other marketable shapes of candles i can’t recall. i simply changed the form of wax.

i suppose it’s all like that. changing the form. the notes float and the composer grabs them out of the atmosphere, placing them together into a piece of music, changing the form of their ethereal bobbing-around-out-there. color bursts around us, nature offering us every iota of choice, and the painter gently retrieves them and places them together on the canvas, translating the iron oxide red of delicate arches into a vibrant sunrise or the flower of a still-life. the butterfly on the wing dances and the ballerina’s steps mimic the form, an expression of freedom and joy. words and expressions whirl around and turns of phrases hide inside dictionaries and the writer plucks and chooses, creating poetry and story from the raw.

my sweet momma and poppo discovered ikea in their 80s. they were intense fans. from time to time i would get big ups packages from them – ikea runs – with new wooden spoons or lanterns or cork trivets or tealights or whatever was their latest discovery there. and so i became a tealight fan. we burn them often. to light the table on our deck, to light our pop-up, inside all around the house, to honor someone with a flickering flame all day, safely burning on the stove. i guess that these are a lot easier to make than alligators or snails. and i know that they are obviously a lot easier to light and actually burn.

i still have a round yellow happy face candle i received years ago. i haven’t burned it. something about not messing with its form, i guess. why do we have candles we aren’t going to burn?

today, i think i might take out that round happy face candle. maybe i will put it on the stove, in a safe-to-burn-all-day spot. maybe it will infuse inspiring form-changing into the air around me. there’s much to purge from more recent times and much to welcome in next days. it’s worth a try.

*****

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adding an image from later that day: