reverse threading

the path back is the path forward


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ten thousand wishes. [two artists tuesday]

“it is a serious thing just to be alive on this fresh morning in this broken world.” (mary oliver)

really, truly exquisite. the last few mornings have been exquisite. we woke up early-early on saturday and sunday morning, nowhere to be, sat and sipped coffee and listened to the quiet world outside. our impulse was to be home, to read together, to write, to go slow, to exercise in the basement, to sit on the deck and watch the birds, the squirrels and the chipmunks, to cook good meals. we felt no need to go anywhere. instead, feeling the sun and breathing in a cool breeze, we reveled in the staying-here.

as headlines point out, the pandemic is heating up. again. the prediction that there will be 300,000 diagnosed daily in mid-august is stunning. so much sickness, so much loss. we feel fortunate to be vaccinated and we are dedicated to continued safe practices. we want at least ten thousand more exquisite mornings, at least ten thousand more days, ten thousand more sleeps. to sacrifice now, we feel, is to bestow upon ourselves a chance at those ten thousand wishes. it IS a serious thing just to be alive. and, even in moments of taking it for granted, we don’t take it for granted.

if i could find a four-leaf clover or blow the puffball off a dandelion or spot a shooting star or spy a haywagon from the back, i would issue a hope for each of us to recognize the gloriousness of this very day, each very-day. to stand in responsibility for each other and to seriously choose to mend the tiniest piece of this broken world for the rest. to stitch together the biggest quilt honoring the inhabitants of this good earth, each thread an acknowledgement of gratitude, each piece of fabric a choice to take care of each other, to live in community the best we can, to do everything possible to keep each other healthy.

just to be alive in this broken world takes some chutzpah. sacrificing for the whole takes some humility. bowing to safety guidelines in a pandemic takes some love.

*****

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intrepid. [two artists tuesday]

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

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

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

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

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

he’s right. keep driving it.

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

you go, littlebabyscion, you x-ceptional xb.

*****

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every sanctuary needs a crank. [two artists tuesday]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

we brought it outside to the deck.

and we started to open it up.

and. . .

there was no crank.

none.

not a handle to be found.

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

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

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

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

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

a crank is one of them.

*****

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go back and buy the towel. [two artists tuesday]

i should have bought the pencils.

i love #2 pencils – though, in an inane detail you are probably unconcerned about, i love mechanical pencils more – and it was a whole pack of ’em. plus each and every one was printed with the word “dissent”.

that’s why i should have bought them. i could have stashed reminders of RBG’s venerable spirit and dedication to equality and goodness and principle and ethics and probity in my purse, on the kitchen counter, at my piano, in our mélange-planning notebook, in my calendar.

they would have reminded me to stand courageously in dissent, to back it up with facts, to hold to integrity, to not waver in the face of any question or any fear or any threat. the thing about supreme court justice ruth bader ginsburg, though, is that she was intrepid – even without the pencils.

and so, with the sisu of ruth, the belief in “an opinion, philosophy or sentiment of non-agreement or opposition to a prevailing idea or policy enforced by a government, political party or other entity or individual in a capacity of contextual authority” (wikipedia), the steadfast commitment to the truth and transparency, we all batten down the hatches and ready ourselves for whatever things we care about for which we must fight.

at the very least, i should have bought the towel.

*****

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PS. “despite the fact that the justices routinely disagree with each other, they never let it get personal, and have good working relationships with one another.” (dhruti bhagat, librarian, boston public library blog – ruth bader ginsburg and dissents: what’s a dissent?)


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existing in a whisper. [two artists tuesday]

“perhaps we are here in order to say: house, bridge, fountain, gate, pitcher, fruit-tree, window . . . to say them more intensely than the Things themselves ever dreamed of existing.” (ninth duino elegy: rainer maria rilke)

every day i take a photograph. at least one. the photo-of-the-day was started by my all-grown-up children at the height of the pandemic and, for it, i am forever grateful. as a group text we’re not as singularly dedicated as when it started, but it still exists and i seriously cherish each and every picture and text on it.

but i know it must come as no surprise to you that i take a lot of pictures anyway. both my phone and what we call the island-phone have gigantic photo streams, backed up by the cloud’s extra coverage. it’s obvious that i stop often while hiking, but what might not be as obvious is that i stop often, period. there is always something interesting, something fleeting, something to record and there are times that i must steer myself away from the very thing begging my capture just to keep on keeping on.

today i write the 1013th post on my blog. we looked back at the mélange weekly screenshots, five days a week each week. i wanted to spend a few moments looking at the things i stopped at, the things i wanted to hold, the notes or quotes i jotted down, the things designed, our thoughts through the years.

i would like to think that each of these photographs have brought a bit more intensity to the ‘thing’ photographed, that which is featured. it makes me wonder. does the ladybug on this coneflower marvel about its photo being taken, does it hear me draw in my breath when i expand the photo on my iphone, not knowing it was there when i composed the picture. does it realize, when i quietly gasp, “look! there’s a ladybug!” that i am honoring its existence, tiny-in-a-vast-world?

and that makes me wonder. is the universe – whatever the divine you believe in – doing the same? are our names whispered intensely into the galaxy, weaving around stars and lit by the sun and the moon, honoring our existence, tiny-in-a-vast-world? i think it must be so.

*****

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hopscotch. [two artists tuesday]

susan and i played hopscotch for hours. we’d toss a bobby pin or a rock and hop to our heart’s content, nothing else pressing on us in the summer sun.

the summer sun seems a bit escalated now. temperatures are soaring across our country. it is astounding to open the accuweather app and see places i have saved having highs in the upper 90s or even topping 100 degrees. extreme weather. it’s only june. summer literally just officially opened its season. and yet, there is article after article about drought and rapidly dropping water levels and severe storms and the beginning of oppressive fires and people evacuating.

this morning i awoke to an alert on my phone. pitkin county in colorado sent out an emergency message about a wildfire. i didn’t remember having these alerts but, now that i think about it, i must have initiated something either during avalanches over the winter or maybe when the high mountain county was sending out news about covid. either way, my beloved girl is up there in those mountains so i will not be likely to take the alerts off now.

climate change in all its iterations is upon us. weather pattern changes and global warming are pressing in on us. it would seem that we should pay attention, especially if we want this world to continue into future generations.

yesterday i was forwarded and read an article in the new york times about the giant redwoods and sequoias, trees that have been individually standing for perhaps as long as 3000 years, as a forest for millions of years. the peril faced by these enormous and wise giants of the forest is imminent. old-growth forests are critical, yet there are now less than 10 percent remaining in this country. we are stewards of the future earth. we need pay attention.

summer stretches in front of us now. the stuff of outdoor adventures, barbecues in the backyard, camping in national and state parks, faraway roadtrips and lazy beach days. coming upon the hopscotch chalked on the sidewalk i couldn’t help but hop. the joy of remembering, the muscle memory of the 1-2-3-45-6-78-9-10 or 1-23-4-56-7-89-10, whatever the template, hopping, hopping.

for that same delight, that same closely-held set of childhood memories, it is my hope that concentrated effort and dedicated budgeting is placed upon incredibly important research, on the threat of climate change, on the sustaining of our environment. we must pass on – to our children and our children’s children and our children’s children’s children – a world that is healthy, an earth that can support the drinking water needs of its people, a country that takes responsibility for its ecological challenges.

in the old-growth forests, the trees have somehow survived “fire and clear-cutting, new growth…death, death and life again.” the author continues, “the power of the tree isn’t in forgetting, but remembering.” (nytimes, lauren sloss)

maybe we need grab a bobbypin, toss it into a chalked hopscotch and hop. maybe that will remind us to remember.

*****

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clover fluff. [two artists tuesday]

the tiny fluff of clover lives at the edge of the stone step. sweet one-half-inch beauties, they grant wishes to passing chipmunks and chickadees lingering at the birdfeeder. beauty at the edges, innocent, simple, unnoticed mostly.

the big picture often doesn’t validate the tiny edge fluff. it’s too big-picture-ish. lofty goals, high aspirations, gigantic expectations, unreasonable accomplishment demands – all take the focus off the soft sides, the padding between imposing idealism and reality. the shallow depth of field captures the up-close and blurs the rest, giving pause to some of what is overwhelming.

i suppose beauty is meant to be like that. the curl of your baby’s tendril of hair, the new leaf bud on the tree, the wisp of pink cloud in the sun-setting sky, the quiet birdcall at dawn – nothing enormous, just simple and life-giving.

so how is it that we get ourselves mixed up in so much measuring, so much set-up for disappointment. we live our minutes as if they are infinity itself. we compare and contrast and yearn and regret. we are striding, striding. even while the clover waits.

and then, sitting on the step of the deck, pondering for a few minutes, we look down and see this magical sight. the tiny world of the tiny clover beckons our attention. it will not be there forever, and, likely with the drought, will disappear before too long. but in the meanwhile it is there and verdant and growing and it counts.

once again, i am reminded, in a wondrous way, of my own tiny-ness. though i know the mark i make on the world is ephemeral, fleeting, and i sometimes, anyway, get lost in the demands and the challenges and the ups and downs of the accompanying emotional seesaw, i hope that there is something up-close about me that gives pause, that offers kindness, that is love.

my-big-picture is actually very tiny and at the edge of the step of the universe. hopefully it is like clover fluff.

*****

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these birds are home. [two artists tuesday]

the angle of the sun changes them. our two green-eyed birds become four birds, elongated or shortened, light shadows on the fence or intensely dark and clear, a party of four. the shadows of our backyard birds entertain us just as the metal birds beckoned to us the day we found them in a tiny river road town on the mississippi side of wisconsin. though we aren’t big spontaneous purchasers, these birds with their green glass eyes seemed to be waiting for us, waiting to be brought home with us as we drove the budget truck on its last leg from seattle to kenosha.

we’ve moved them around the back yard. they’ve watched over the pond, they’ve hung out by the giant pine next to the garage. now, they share the garden along the fence, watching over the peonies and grasses and daylilies.

their genus and species classification was not identified in the outdoor space at the little shop in stockholm, but they mostly remind me of shorebirds, maybe herons, but with their necks scrunched down, their heads tucked onto their bodies. if you look up heron symbolism, it seems fitting for us to have these silent guardians watching over us as we started sharing life. the heron symbolizes tranquility and stillness. it also “signifies determination because we are bound to wade through marshes and ponds through life’s journey, but we must never give up.” heaven knows, that’s been true. in native tradition, i’ve read that they represent “an ability to progress and evolve”. indeed!

or maybe they are black-tailed godwits. the godwit’s latin name translates to “muddy”, so that would also be fitting, as we added them to our lives in water paths that were not clear to us. how can they ever be clear at the beginning, i wonder. how are they ever clear, period? in old english godwit means “good creature”, quiet goodness standing tall with us.

or maybe they are sandpipers, with sensitive bills. there are a variety of meanings attached to the sandpiper but my favorite to lean on is that they are “a good symbol for problem-solving and going great distances to achieve your goals, either physically, or geographically”.

no matter.

they are sweet metal birds, one of our first home purchases together. they stand outside reminding us of the early days, the new pond, the puppy days with dogdog, the ups and downs of new relationship in the middle of middle age. tranquility, stillness, determination and problem-solving in muddy times, lots and lots of wading, surrounded by good persons and, hopefully, evolving.

yes. i’d say these simple green-eyed birds are definitely in the right place. they are home.

*****

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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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from a distance and up close. [two artists tuesday]

from a distance they stand tall, leaf-arms open to the sky, drinking in tree-dappled sun. they are stalky and strong and seem confident and independent, yet living in community with other woodland plants. at this moment in early spring they are positioned in mostly-monochromatic villages, begging my camera. it isn’t until i get closer that i see all the pointy hairs on the leaves, on the stalk, all over. from afar these were not obvious, but, apparently, this plant was not exactly what it seemed. the fuzzy hairs – trichomes – protect the plant from dehydration, from insects, to keep warm and keep cool, and upon close inspection, are everywhere, too numerous to count. they are an integral part of the plant and its ability to thrive in the woods.

the obvious comparison – the good outer protection our own epidermis provides us – is too blatant. instead, as i got closer to this plant and focused in on its outer shell, i couldn’t help but realize the running parallel, the only-seen-up-close-and-personal mechanisms of protection.

from afar we stand tall and strong and confident and independent, though living in and, indeed, dependent upon, community with others. but upon close inspection, upon threat, we are always protecting our own vulnerability. if needed, we rely on our spiky and resistant shell, closing off to invasion of hurtful infestation or blight, guarding against negativity. we survey change and transition, ready to rely on our armor. we puff out our thorns and avoid humility. we stand firm, stalky and unwavering in our opinions. we resist forceful wind, preferring to root in the known. we sway in shifting breezes, ever-hopeful for good. and the tiny hairs of our exterior stand on edge, spiky and ready, the mama-bears of our integrity, our fragile good natures, our open hearts.

there is no real difference. these lush green plants and us. we stand with our arms open to the sky, drinking in the sun, independent and dependent, living together. from a distance and up close.

*****

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