reverse threading

the path back is the path forward


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more barn-red and grey after the black and white. [not-so-flawed wednesday]

we are beginning to see more of this: the basement floor. more clear space.

as you know, it is a slow process, tedious, actually. and it is not something he can do with me. this is mine to do. for most of what is down there – in the recesses and the corners, tucked into old built-in cupboards and in, yes, bins and boxes and even bags, precedes him. he is happy to help, but it is somewhat a moot point, as the decisions are mine and he respects that.

it’s not just a little bit of pressure, not just a little bit of work. black and white decisions that aren’t really black and white.

you are weary of reading about this, i suspect. skip today, i would suggest. the basement clean-out is not a short story – it’s an epic tale, really – and, if you find any form of redundancy abhorrent, you will be tallymarking-in-your-mind the number of times i am talking about this. this will be a tallymark mess, cross-hash upon cross-hash, the slashes accumulate.

a few days ago i turned the inner cardboard tube of a roll of wrapping paper upside down. more birdseed than i am comfortable with fell out. i suppose you are wondering how much birdseed-saved-in-the-wrapping-paper-roll i find acceptable. well…really…none…as we are not the ones saving birdseed in that manner and it brings to mind the question of a city of dwellers below us about whom we know nothing. they live in the barn-red-grey zone in silence and anonymity, leaving tiny clues behind in their stash. i wonder what they think of the rest of the stash down there, most of which they are not likely to be able to get to – the bins of barbies and matchbox cars, the mementos and art projects my children created in elementary school, every story they ever wrote or note they penned me or the overalls that were ever-so-adorable on my son, the pink dress so sweet on my daughter. maybe they are intrigued with the antiques, the tools, the not-oft-used kitchen appliances. they are hoping to be invited to the next cornhole bags game, the next bocci ball tournament, the next badminton skirmish, the next time the pingpong table is set up and ready-to-go. they are gazing at the collection of pingpong balls, golf balls, tennis balls, baseballs, soccer balls, thinking the upstairs-dwellers have a pension for round things. surely they are impressed with the stacks of boxes of shrink-wrapped cds, though they are more likely mp3 critters and, being 2022-born, roll their beady little eyes at the mere mention of cds and cassettes. i’m guessing our tiny visitors actually have no opinions about all this and clearly no interest whatsoever in the 8-track player or the record albums. they are not thready nor are they sentimental. they were simply seeking places to stash their seed-findings.

yes, i will need a new broom…one of those angle ones that gets into the corners. there is much to be swept.

in time, there will be more floor. barn-red and grey. i have to get past the black-and-white of it all first.

*****

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


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old roller skates and skateboards. [not-so-flawed wednesday]

there are presents and, then, there are presents.

20 knew what my response would be – ahead of time – when i opened his smartly-wrapped gift, fancy homemade ribbon coordinated with the wrappings. but the absolutely delectable time – inbetween giggling over a really wonderfully simple-yet-perfect bow while guessing what was in the box and moving aside the inner paper – was full of anticipation. conversely, i could see it in him too. it is life-enhancing. both ways. those moments you wait as someone – who you know well and for whom you have found something exquisitely perfect – begins to open your gift. it matters not how big or small, free or expensive; you just know you paid attention to little details and you cannot-wait-to-watch-them-open-it.

i pulled out the brown paper in its role as tissue wrap and there was an old-old pair of sidewalk roller skates with a set of keys. circa 1950/1960 heavy metal with rugged metal wheels. vintage.

instantly transported back-in-time to the feeling of rollerskating on abby drive, i could remember strapping on the skates up at the front stoop, following the sidewalk down as it turned and then turned again into the driveway, struggling to stay on the concrete driveway ribbon – as we had one of those driveways with a ribbon of grass inbetween the ribbons of cement and skating into that was a sure way to fall. the end of the driveway had a little bump too; you’d have to stop there (stopping was always an issue) and step over the end of the apron. and then, the street. and freedom.

at some point, my big brother took the metal wheels off of a pair of skates and made a skateboard. i can still feel that board under my feet – the rough ride of metal against cement-aggregate mixture. we sought out asphalt, though, back then, it was in shorter supply. over by the long island lighting company on the sound there was a really long curving road downhill all made of asphalt. it was a little bit terrifying. and required either driving there or toting your skateboard on your bike a few miles. so – in our everyday world – rough rides on steel skate wheels was our destiny.

my brother made the next skateboard with rubber wheels and a bigger deck and, though it was slower, you didn’t feel as imperiled on it. he mostly used that one and the blue painted one with the red hang-loose was relegated to me. there is much to learn from a rough-ridin’ skateboard, a ribbon driveway and an apron-bump.

i wish i knew where those two skateboards were.

but finding them is unlikely, as i’m sure they are long-gone. about as unlikely as 20 stumbling into a pair of old roller skates and knowing they would be perfect.

*****

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shabby chic. [two artists tuesday]

i was grateful when they attached a name to it – shabby chic. my inclination to love things with the texture of peeling paint and a bit rough-hewn was vindicated…wait!…not only vindicated, but reinforced by the decorating fashion industry. phew! that meant that the old screen doors on the wall, the glass-less window frames tucked here and there, the chopped-off-side-of-the-vintage-desk end table, the vintage black suitcases, the metal radiator grate catty-corner in the foyer, the old door laid horizontal on horses, the tin ceiling panels…these were all fashion statements and not statements of making-do-decor. such a relief.

i must say, however, that i wouldn’t have changed anything anyway. these all make me happy. they are cozy and warm and, mostly, they have history. and it’s the history-that-remains-a-mystery and the history-that-i-know-a-smidge-about that i love. i had no idea whose screen door screens these were when i got them at a wholesale trade show years ago but i could imagine the sound they made when they slammed shut. nor did i know where the old black window with one colored glass square in my studio was from. the old four-foot tall window frames were being thrown out of the historic lakefront building where i had my offices, making room for new windows. i couldn’t bear to see them in the trashpile and the way i adored those offices made it easy to take them home. someone literally chopped off the side of the old desk leaving three drawers and a rough edge and selling it in the estate sale for $5. you can’t see the rough edge unless you really look and this piece has been in the living room for years and years now, serving a purpose and feeling loved. the tin, well, who knows? what i do know is that they make marvelous places to magnet photographs and cards and tiny little signs with sayings that help each day. so, yeah, i guess my point is that whether i know the back-story or not, i really appreciate the warmth of long living they bring. they sit alongside many rocks and sticks that have made short and long journeys home with me, in the back of little baby scion or in backpacks with corks that come home from times spent with my children and moments i want to remember.

i haven’t purchased a lot of brand new furniture. there was the first herculon-fabric overstuffed couch with two matching overstuffed chairs, a tweed in lovely shades of very-early 1980s brown.

well over a decade later that was donated to a youth group and a new couch in mid 1990s floral barn red and forest green with a reclining wingchair of red and white checks made its way into the living room. both of those pieces still have a place in the house – though no longer in the living room. the couch, still very comfortable, is covered with a black slipcover and has a place in the sitting room with a hand-me-down lazyboy, an old farm table and an antique copper boiler tub that stores our roadtrip writings.

there’s a black leather couch in the living room now that has been there over a decade. it shares the space with the old secretary that was my brother’s, the bistro table that was in the second story porch of my old offices, a vintage typewriter 20 bought me for my birthday a couple years ago, a few paintings i spattered, the desk-turned-end-table you now know too much about and the driftwood we brought back from a trip to long island. the two big branches we painted white and potted to hold happy lights still stand steadfastly happying up the room and each day i pass them i wonder if they are too holiday-ish. i quickly reject this as too big a decision and plug them in.

it is in recent days i have had the good fortune of hearing from a dear old friend i taught with in my first two years of teaching way-back-when. we soon will have a phone chat and catch up on everything from a-z. what lois doesn’t realize is that i have thought of her simply every day…as it is her dresser that stands in our bedroom of vintage size that couldn’t really accommodate one of those bedroom suites you see in magazines. instead, this old sturdy five-drawer sits opposite the windows of the sunrise and hold my dad’s peanut can, one of the precious items i have of my sweet poppo’s, the planters peanut blue metal can he tucked in his drawer that always held a few dollars and was the place he sent you if you were going to go pick up the pizza.

as i look at the top of that dresser right this second, pictures of d and me and of my beloved children are on top. there is a small piece of the carpet padding from the irresponsible-gasket-flood waiting to go in the special box next to the yago-sangria-wine-bottle-turned-lamp i made when i was 19 and there is a card in a glass frame that reads: “someday, the light will shine like a sun through my skin and they will say, what have you done with your life? and though there are many moments i think i will remember, in the end, i will be proud to say, i was one of us.”

all of this – the stuff with history i know, the stuff with history i don’t know, the peeling paint, the rough-hewn, the used and the it-took-me-a-long-time-to-decide new…all of it – around me reminds me of that and is the connecting thread. of the concentric circles of me, of us. probably that’s why “shabby chic” speaks to me. it is most definitely why it works for me.

*****

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the beauty of $2.99. [k.s. friday]

my sweet dad would buy my mom grocery store flowers often. she kept a vase on the table in the high ceiling-ed foyer near the front door in their last home together and flowers would welcome you as you entered. momma wasn’t really a red-rose-florist-delivery kind of gal. she was more a bundle-of-flowers, a miscellaneous-bunch, a day-old-flowers-sale woman, always so pleased with the simplicity of her own arrangements. now, don’t get me wrong, she was delighted to receive flowers that arrived on her doorstep, but those were not required of my poppo. instead, she reveled in the extraordinarily ordinary blooms they found at publix.

we went to the citymarket when we got to carbondale. needing to find lunch and some dinner items to bring to our airbnb we walked into a new store, inviting and with lots of light. it was in the produce section that i passed the display, advertising a clearance – merely $2.99 for cellophane-wrapped bundles beyond their recommended dates. the hypericum beckoned to me whispering a suggestion, “table centerpiece”. we travel with a small jelly jar and tea lights and i knew we could find something we could use as a vase in our place. as it turned out, it was a ball jar and, together, ball jar with berries and jelly jar with candlight paired on our table. it was time to embrace a precious stay in the high mountains.

scrolling through my photos, the pictures of the hypericum berries on our table easily bring back the moments we had with my daughter and her boyfriend. so much anticipation when a child lives far away and yet the time uncontrollably flies by and, today, i am reeling with wistful thoughts that just over one short week ago we had already been to and left those giant red rock mountains, the snow-capped mount sopris, a trail along the rio grande, horses down the road, dinners at the gathering table, laughter at the high counter in our sweet unit, a pedicure and a few errands with my girl. it would seem the stuff of songs and somewhere, deep inside, they are writing themselves.

we left the hypericum berries in our airbnb. still beautiful, it was a way to say thank you to our hosts. besides, they belonged there on a little slate plate in the middle of the table in a room filled with sunlight. promise for the next occupants, perhaps. a little gratitude left behind.

we aren’t frivolous. especially not these days. anyone who knows me knows that i am a slow decision-maker when it comes to purchases for myself. most places we go we try to find a couple cloth napkins to bring home with us. as we sit at our own table it is a way to remember other places we have sat, meals we have shared. we didn’t find any on this last trip but at the hardware store we discovered after our river-trail hike, we picked up two tin camp mugs for our coffee. they have mountains on them and will remind us of our time this trip.

i already miss my girl and wish i had run outside for one more hug – an extra – the morning she drove off. but she was in a hurry, i knew, and i know a mom-hug can get in the way. so i held back and just waved, trying to be nonchalant about the tears running down my face.

i returned back into the space we had lived in for those fewest of days and looked around at the now packed-up airbnb. my eye caught the sun-rays through the window lighting up the hypericum berries. and i whispered back to them, “thank you.”

*****

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the last time. [two artists tuesday]

we knew it was the last evening we’d sit out on that big patio under the awning next to the garage in the backyard. and so, with a glass of wine in hand, we got a couple chairs and cushions and walked out into a gorgeous denver night. we watched as the light waned and talked about this house, the home in which david mostly grew up. i remembered the first time i was there, years ago, and how much time we have spent out on the patio, visiting, in years since. my favorite spot at that house, it’s an early-morning coffee place, an eat-dinner-out place and a late-night nightcap place. and this was our last time.

soon this house will be sold and a new family will patio-sit. a new family will plant in the garden out back. a new family will fill the old shed and park their cars in the garage. a new family will cook meals in the kitchen and play in the playroom downstairs. and this sweet house, sturdy and steadfast, will hold them safe and keep them warm and ground their dreams with the security of home. simple and mostly unadorned, it will, like it has always been, be embellished by the love of people together. but this was our last time.

driving back down from the high mountains we passed the exits that easily would take us there. in those minutes we knew that it was the last time we had the option of taking those exits to lead us to their home. we did not exit. they were not there. the time of life has flown by and new chapters were opening for them; out of necessity his mom and dad have flipped the page over and we start new times with them. change is never easy, but we seek the positive in it and lean on trust. the next time we drive down from the mountains we will take different highway exits. this was the last time these two could take us there – to what was home.

i have been past my growing-up house maybe five times in the last forty years or so, once, maybe twice, in the last decade. one time, about twenty-five years ago, i actually went inside. the owners pulled into the driveway while i was gawking at their house from the street. in an effort to help them feel safer, i explained why i was staring at their house. they invited me inside, showed me the main part of the house, brought me into the garage where my brother’s peanuts drawings still graced the walls. i can’t remember the changes they made; it’s all blurry now. i just know it was a gift to be able to step on the wood floors of that house, to touch the walls once again. it would be yet another gift to be able to show david that house, then all the stories would have a base-place, and i could linger for a few moments in the what-was.

i wonder if someday we will take the exit to his old house again. if we will drive in the double-concrete-poured driveway and walk up to the front door, trellis gracing it. i wonder if some new owner will invite us in, to peek at some of the renovating they have done. i wonder if we will step out back onto the patio, a place of so many memories.

or if the last time was the last time.

*****

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what is really real? [flawed wednesday]

back in the day, my sister drove a dodge charger. it was a pretty sporty car then, the 1974 model, and, as a driver on long island’s expressways, she was up to the task. she is still much a new york driver, conversation while driving in the car punctuated with relevant muscle-car-language. it was always an adventure being in the car with her. i am eleven years younger so i learned road-talk sitting in her passenger seat.

when the commercial came on for the dodge challenger i had to laugh. they have been pretty similar vehicles through the years. and the commercial made me think of my sister. until i saw the little boy driving it like a road-maniac. right smack dab in the middle of all the fancy muscling around, the commercial pauses and the little boy turns and says, “our lawyers just want you to know that this isn’t real.”

duh. it’s a commercial. is anything real?

the disclaimer at the end of pharmaceutical company ads listing possible side effects – though it is announced that it is not an all-inclusive list – is always bracing…especially the “do not use this drug (fill in the blank) if you are allergic to it or the ingredients in it…” seriously? what is real?

in our litigious country it is remarkable that you don’t have to sign a waiver no matter what you do. so many potential lawsuits, so little time. everything everywhere is closer than it appears in the mirror.

i had to text my sister and ask her what year her charger was. i remember clearly how much she loved that car – i remember it as butter yellow with a white vinyl top. when she texted me back i found out that she had purchased that very car because a playpen fit in the trunk. it was after her daughter was born so playpens and toting baby stuff was real for her. muscling on highways not so much.

my first car was my volkswagen. it was a 1971 super beetle and i adored it. my dog came with me everywhere and sat in the well. i toted my little niece all around, windows down and singing songs on our way to the beach or to feed the ducks or to play in the park. it was not a muscle car, it had zilcho storage capacity and it was not featured in cool cream puff commercials then or now. but it was real and it was a steadfast little bug.

pre-pandemic we loved to explore antique shoppes. we would stumble upon so many relics, so many memories, so many we-had-this moments. often, we would find things we still have, which made us laugh aloud that our possessions – the ones not obvious vintage treasures – were considered antiques. the mixing bowls, the salt and pepper shakers, the corningware, the irish coffee mugs. wandering through the aisles of antique shoppes, i have been known to exclaim, “people shouldn’t be able to purchase new glassware or mugs or plates or china! it should be a requirement to purchase from a secondhand store or an antique shoppe!” i am overwhelmed sometimes by the vast amount of wasted products, the vast amount of new choices, the vast amount of value people place in the stuff they have. what is really necessary? what is really real?

as the proud owners of stoneware i bought for 25ยข a piece at a wholesale show, passed-down corningware, a stove/oven circa 1980, a scion xb with 247,000 miles, an old 1998 ford f150 pickup truck and, yes, a 1971 vw bug, we are not the audience for the new dodge challenger commercial we saw.

because the little kid was right. it’s not real.

*****

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our echeveria. [two artists tuesday]

on a beautiful summer day, wearing flipflops and with a broken toe, we followed my son, rapidly walking miles through the streets of boston. it was wonderful, in and out of historical places, walking in gardens, taking in the library, strolling in restoration hardware, eating cannolis and people-watching from bistro tables on the sidewalk.

i did not pick up any rocks or sticks that day, now a few years ago, which is rather unusual considering my propensity for them and for saving some thing from perfect (and even imperfect) moments. but we did carry home this sweet and tiny succulent in the smallest of pottery pots, carefully wrapped and boxed by the attentive people at RH in packaging that reminded me deliciously of the packaging-guru-guy on the movie ‘love actually’ (but i digress.) $25 seemed like a lot to pay for this tiny gift we were giving ourselves.

it was 2017 and we devoted our energy to rules about overwatering, underwatering, not-touching-the-petals, enough sunlight, not-too-much sunlight. our little succulent, supposedly low maintenance (what exactly IS low maintenance, anyway?) devoured our plant-attention, but, in the coming years, suffered nevertheless. we transplanted it to a bigger old clay pot, careful to use nutritional potting soil. we read up. water, touch, sun – we experimented with combinations. it seemed to no avail.

the light streams into our sunroom. early in the morning, the sun rays across the room and into the kitchen. later in the day, the room of old windows and new windows invites the outdoors in. there’s an old door that sits on two wrought iron horses on the eastern window. art supplies and nespresso sit nearby. in spring last year, we moved a table into the sunroom, in front of the windows that look out back. we call it our covid table. we hung happy lights and strew them on the table.

we placed this little succulent next to the tiniest pine tree and a ponytail palm that makes me happily think of my beautiful daughter’s ponytails. we decided to forego the instructions we had read and gently watered the little echeveria, letting the water and our hands touch the leaves, talking to it, reaching in and extracting leaves that had dried, rotating the pot to capture light, the tiny rosette in the middle looking healthier by the day. i look at this plant now and think that it needs another transplant, a bit bigger clay pot. and each time i remember the day we got it.

a little attention, a little hydration, a little good soil, a simple old clay home, a little deviance from the plant-rules, a little conversation, a little inclusion in our every day, and this tiny succulent is flourishing.

what better metaphor for nurturing the people around us. give them at least what we give low (read: high) maintenance plants.

*****

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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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wishbones in the woods. [not-so-flawed wednesday]

we received a letter from the energy company that tree pruning may be required on our property. there is one tree that is closer to power lines than any others. this tree is out front and has been there the entire three decades plus that i have been here.

this old tree invited my children to climb it, was the source of limbs we used for christmas trees, shaded the front yard and gardens through the years. i watched this tree change through the seasons out the window as i rocked my children in the nursery; i’ve taken pictures of it with snow stacked up against its trunk. i’ve pondered what to do in the area around its roots, which rise above the surface of the ground; i’ve given up planting around it and allowed it to just co-exist with the dirt and scant grass. this tree has lost limbs in recent years and has some interior rotting causing some breakage to bear no leaves. but this is the source of long-time wisdom which has welcomed me home each time i’ve pulled into the driveway. each time i silently thank this tree and breathe a little bit easier to be at this place so familiar to me. i am wondering now if this is the tree. it pains me to think of this old tree pruned beyond recognition or, worse yet, taken down entirely. if indeed this is the case, i would hope to have pieces of this tree to save – slices as chargers for under dinner plates or even just simply a limb to wrap with happy lights and place in a spot of honor inside. yes. i am wondering if this is the tree.

the tree in the woods off the trail we follow was one that collected snow, its face to the wind. we hadn’t noticed it before; it blended into the rest of the woods and fallen trees. but, with snow on its bows it was clearly a wishbone, and, obviously, making a wish, i hiked into the underbrush to get a closer photo.

i wonder how often we pass by trees – and perhaps every living thing and perhaps people – without noticing them for what they are or who they are. how often do we turn a blind eye to that which is familiar or that which blends without any outstanding characteristic? it is possible that we participate in life more peripherally than we ought, more aloofly than the stuff of life deserves. the merit of each bow, each limb, each living thing, each person, is lost in our pursuit of next.

in the still threadiness of our hearts, perhaps slowing down and looking more closely might yield stronger connection to that which we understand, that which is familiar, that which we know well. more importantly, perhaps it might yield stronger connection to that which we don’t understand, that which is not familiar and that which we don’t know well. an opportunity to discard apathy and discuriousness and embrace old trees by the driveway and wishbones in the woods.

*****

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“christmas tree drop-off”๐ŸŽถ๐ŸŽถ [merely-a-thought monday]

it was instant. “christmas tree drop-off” to the tune of “beauty school drop-out” started singing inside my brain. it would not stop. i still cannot look at this sign without the 6/8 song incessantly nagging me and nagging me.

it was the day after christmas – just one mere day – and we went hiking out in one of the nearby state parks. we came upon the drop-off near the parking lot. already – not even 36 hours since santa’s arrival – there was a tree, lonely and discarded. a few days later, after the snow had fallen and sleet had crunched over the trail, there were several more trees. we are pretty certain that these will be chopped up into mulch, which is a good thing – back to the earth – but it was sad to see a pile of no-longer-wanted christmas trees, their value diminished by the passing of the day.

hiking the snowy trails, my memory bank filled with sweet stories i read aloud to my girl and my boy. “why christmas trees aren’t perfect” is a story about an imperfect tree named small pine and my ridiculously emotional heart remembers this sweet tree and its generosity, its commitment to the wildlife in the forest, its community. in this classic book, also a video, small pine was chosen for its connection to sweet animals and its warm and giving spirit. each time i read that little book, my heart celebrated the spirit of that tree. in that same thready heart, i wonder about what it feels like to be one of these trees, out in a cold pile, chosen, used and then quickly and unceremoniously discarded out in the snow. do they know why, i wonder, as i gaze at the pile, animating the inanimate.

ditch sits on our table in the sunroom. it is surrounded by twinkling white lights and we sit with it at that table every day. we will not dispose of him. his purpose is not just for christmas. instead, his role continues on – to remind us of time spent in the mountains, to remind us to see the little things, to appreciate the imperfect, to remind us of caring for something that may not otherwise have made it. it reminds us that being chosen and employed in good use deserves explanation in discard.

and so, i want to go sit in the snow and talk to these trees.

*****

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