The Zen of Sanding Chairs

Summer has finally arrived in the Pacific Northwest, and summer for this teacher means time to tackle those nagging projects. Last week was a productive week, leaving my house in disarray. A not-so-simple picture rearrangement in the dining room became a much needed wall paint touch up. That led the way to finally painting naked, primed trim a rich melted vanilla ice cream shade of white. You can’t paint trim and leave the doors grimy and grungy, so off came the door handles and on went the paint. (Mouse and your cookie, you have nothing on me!)

I have a list, and things are getting checked off. When the heat wave drove me out of my non-air-conditioned house yesterday, I sat in the shade in my front yard and painstakingly sanded down a couple of chairs from a 1930s dining set that once belonged to my grandparents. The set was an antiqued-white addition to my mom’s red 70s kitchen when I was growing up. It then adorned our little 1940-era starter home when my own kids were young. It has mostly been stored for years now, with the exception of a single chair that moves from the computer desk to the piano and back again, over and over.

Being the oblivious person that I am, I have for years overlooked the yellowing polyurethane and the ripped tomato-soup colored vinyl seat. The chair is handy, lightweight, easy to move around in its ossified, porous, dry-wood way. It’s a ninja to the knights of my current cumbersome dining set, its portability helping me to reach those top shelves of my kitchen cabinets or to hang a curtain rod, which is what I was doing recently when my foot got caught in the rip and I went down on my rear end, jarring my neck and rattling some unused portion of my brain that tends to overlook things like ripped seats on vintage chairs.

I added it to my list.

The chairs and I were about to get on intimate terms. I had already painted the one that was in my house, trying a chalk paint formula from memory, circuits of which must have been jarred as well in the fall because the 1:1 ratio I thought I remembered was actually 2:1. So off came the thick, gloppy paint job. Then, so as not to leave its siblings out, because one must always be fair, even to chairs, I pulled the others out of storage and sanded them, too.

This is not a simple, straightforward set. It has a routed scroll pattern on the backs and turned legs with depressions that are either full of antiquing stain or nearly 50 years of the dirt and dust of life. As the sandpaper did its job on the polyurethane, the white my mother had painted over the wood became apparent. I remembered her dismay when she learned that because she had painted bare wood, the set could not be stripped back down to the mahogany. I sanded over the legs and noted the distressing that came from years of feet resting on the stabilizing bar at the bottom. Those feet were our feet as children, and later my own children’s feet. With a quiet meditation I sanded. The legs of the chairs were squeaky, begging for attention, and at the corners they had been mistreated and now had jagged edges. I started thinking how like life this whole process was.20170624_124105

This connecting disconnected things could be a result of the stage I’m in, a kind of grasping-at-straws reflective process. My kids are leaving home and are busy with their own lives. I’ve been thinking a lot about my own life (though my family might choose the phrase dwelling on). I was always happy with my choices, but now as I find myself alone more and more, I am not so sure I’d make the same ones if given another chance. Having my kids? Yes. But the choice to stay at home with them in their early years is exacting a heavy toll on me right now.

With each drag of the sandpaper I pondered this life that has been given to me, all of the small moments woven together to bring me to the shade of the front yard on this miserably hot day, and how my choices and the choices of the people I love that have truly impacted it. Like the chair that had sat, unnoticed in its decline, I thought how much tending my new life really needed, how much stripping away of the old might get to the somewhat ossified, but very useful core, how much sanding down the rough edges was needed to avoid breakage and the  possibility of hurting someone, and how much a new paint job in the form of a renewed focus might bring some life to an otherwise old and tired existence.

I will return to sanding down my old chairs today, and with it my old life, my old thought patterns and expectations. I will clothe my chairs in a beautiful French inspired fabric and paint them with a new and accurate formulation of chalk paint. I will revisit the points of wear that really matter and distress accordingly. Then, when I finally rub the wax into the finished product and buff it to a smooth shine, I hope to come away with an poignant reminder of all that has been and a beautiful testament to all that remains.

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Leave No Trace

Leave nothing but footprints.
Take nothing but pictures.
Kill nothing but time.

Love Locks in Bryce-300

As I crested the hill to Inspiration Point at Bryce Canyon NP, no small feat at 8,000 ft. elevation, a red trinket attached to the safety fence drew my attention away from the beauty below. It was a love lock, a small token of affection of a couple who came and left, but who were not content with the Instagram snapshot and the Facebook post. Instead, they wanted all those who came after to know they existed, that they mattered, that they found each other, and that they had made their way with a cheap, etched, made-in-China lock to this spot on earth that looks down on the million-years process of destruction, erosion, and weathering that is Bryce Canyon.

Another visitor watched me take this photo.

“They must think it’s Paris,” he said with the wry disdain of one who treasures our natural spaces. A kindred spirit. I nodded in agreement.

In the two days my husband and I spent exploring the park, we noted people climbing over barriers, sidling up to fragile canyon edges, and losing hats to the wind. (Thankfully retrieved, due to the ingenious use of two trekking poles.) We saw plastic water bottles down ravines, and even a disposable diaper that was wound tight and had somehow found its way over the edge and down a hill, yet not out of view of passing visitors. I was left to wonder how the park rangers deal with the detritus of a population who relishes the easy access to once remote places and who can’t seem to stay attached to their belongings. Keeping the place clean can’t be an easy job.

Visits to our national parks are up. It’s a great feeling to share in a common wonder and appreciation of earth’s processes or marvel at the way the sunlight glows between the spires and hoodoos of the canyon, yet it’s been said that our national parks are being loved to death. We can slow the impact of being one of thousands of visitors each year if we each start by having a little respect and by committing to leave no trace. Hold onto your hats, stash water bottles in a backpack or leave them in the car, and for goodness sake, save your love locks for Paris. Our children and grandchildren will thank you.

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Marching Forward

What a year! What an election! My recent posts make no secret of where I stand on Donald Trump’s presidency. If you voted for him, I hope you can reconcile the damage he is going to do to this country. If you voted for him and have buyer’s remorse, join us. It’s not too late. (Hey, it happens. My vote for GWB was followed by immediate regret.) If you didn’t vote for anyone, shame on you. If you voted for Hillary… or Gary…or even Jill, we have a lot of work ahead of us. Our marching orders have arrived, and they are pink.

I’m sad to say, I didn’t get a hat. I know I can still knit one. It may come in handy in the future. I’m relatively sure there wasn’t a run on pink yarn in my conservative town. Fortunately the color of my rain jacket happens to be the color of the resistance.

My original plan was to march in Portland with a friend, but her plans changed. Her husband would be joining her, and they were making a weekend of it. Figuring out the logistics of parking and meet-ups was too daunting. Then the Portland inauguration day protests took a violent turn (damn anarchists), which made me reluctant to head into the masses solo. I would go to Eugene instead.

After spending all of Friday cooped up and feeling powerless, binging on chocolate and watching news shows, I woke up Saturday refreshed and with a clear focus. I turned on a live stream of the DC march and was immediately infused with hope. I made one last plea for companions to join me and got no takers. My male support system doesn’t do pink. (I’m still working on that.) No biggie. I might go alone, but I sure wouldn’t be alone.

I was early and went directly to the parking garage suggested on the Facebook page. I found myself in a line of cars circling in vain up and around the structure. I finally found a parking spot blocks away from downtown, pitying the people who arrived later.

The meet-up area in front of the courthouse was packed. The crowd had overflowed into the still-active road by the time I got there. People of all ages, ethnicities, and genders were packed like sardines. I normally avoid crowds at all costs, but sometimes you have to make a sacrifice for the cause. I couldn’t hear any speakers, so at that point it was a matter of waiting, of lending my presence to a movement, of giving substance to my voice.

Marching orders were slow in coming. People around me were getting impatient. We didn’t know if it was a lack of organization/communication or if there were that many people who had filled in behind us. A drone hovered overhead and all eyes looked up and pointed signs. Finally a group to the side of me decided to peel away and walk down the next street, and slowly but surely, we began to move, a long, slow parade of people with hand-made signs touting different agendas who all came together as a statement that differing ideas were okay, but dividing us was not.

There were chants of not my president. I couldn’t lend my voice to that one. For better or worse, he is my president, but that doesn’t give him license to do whatever he wants. As America Fererra said, the president isn’t America; we are America. Lest anyone forget that, there were chants of this is what democracy looks like. That one I can get behind, and that one I will defend with everything at my disposal.

And so I marched. I marched with young and old. I marched with gay people and straight. I marched with mothers and children, fathers and sons. I marched for the future, for inclusion, for justice. I marched for the world I want my children to live in.

There is strength in numbers. We’ve shown we are strong. We must resist. Failure is not an option.

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Yes!
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Did I mention I don’t do crowds?

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Echo Chamber

This empty nest thing is for the birds. (Pun intended.) I feel like I should enjoy this silence after years of rambunctious kids and their singing and shouting, TV blaring cartoons through the house, dancing, laughter and fighting. Now  the house is just so quiet.

On a good note, I’m getting more proficient at self-talk. I can almost carry on a whole conversation with myself while walking through the grocery store. I’m not the only one afflicted. I saw a friend in the chip aisle the other day. We were both stocking up for graduation parties. I saw her before she saw me, and didn’t recognize anyone around us she might have been talking to. I approached her and laughingly asked if she was talking to herself. She nodded semi-sheepishly. I think we’ve both come to terms with a certain amount of crazy.

They say you should live long enough to embarrass your kids. I have, but they’re not around enough to be embarrassed.

I get it. Kids need their space. My head knows this. I’ve been an independent young person aching to stretch my wings. I lived through the days of no cell phones and probably didn’t call my mom as much as I should have. (Mom, I’m sorry I put you through this.) My head is on board. My heart, however, feels like it’s being ripped out of my chest and trampled on the ground in front of me. (Okay, only slightly dramatic.)

The thing is, I saw my mom starting to teeter with empty nest syndrome, but I was the eldest and didn’t take much time to look back over my shoulder. She coped by adopting a whole new family’s worth of kids, thereby extending her motherhood years by another eighteen. I was not willing to go that route. I looked forward to the day Mr. A and I could spend some quality time together sans kids. The appeal of a $30 dinner bill loomed in the near future. We could go out to eat 3 or 4 times for what it cost to take the family, all of whom are lovers of strawberry lemonade (at $4.00 a pop). We could go to the beach on a whim and not hear anyone complain about the cold or try to figure out an activity that everyone wanted to do. We could watch documentaries without eye rolls. Yet here I am, longing for those days, for the structure of the family web and the love and support we provide each other.

Determined not to be that parent frantically trying to hold onto my kids as they perched precariously at the edge of adulthood, I went back to school and finished up my teaching degree. I wanted a life, something to fall back on after motherhood, an airbag to fill the space left by my fledglings. The thing is, motherhood doesn’t end. Those babies whose first steps you worry about become preschoolers who learn to ride bikes and teenagers who start to drive and develop relationships and head off to college, and you never stop worrying about them. It’s a mentally exhausting job. My life is inextricably intertwined with those of my kids, bonds I’m sure they’re only too eager to hack at with the machete of youth.

I know they’re busy. I was too, at their age. The days go by and my phone doesn’t ring. Texts go unanswered, and then all of a sudden they are there, cheery and wanting to talk, and for a moment, life goes back to the way it used to be. Too soon the conversation ends, and I’m surrounded by silence once more. I’ll be glad to one day reach a state of equilibrium.

In the meantime, won’t you join me in crying over this clip from Toy Story? I’m certain the song was written by an empty-nester.

Shut Up and Listen


Photo credit: Kitt O’Malley via Foter.com / CC BY

I’m walking through life with a heavy heart these days. If it’s not one thing, it’s another. Terrorism. Brutality. Hate. Division. It’s hard not to think that this is the end – of tolerance, of brotherhood, of America, of humanity. The assassination of police officers in Dallas, Texas last night had me mourning from my rural Oregon hometown, but even before that, the video of the latest police shooting of Philando Castile yesterday left me heartbroken. Still, to watch officers hustle protesters to safety while they ran toward danger was something we needed to see. Most police officers are not bad cops.

White America, what they say is true. We cannot comprehend the extent of what is called white privilege. I grew up in this privilege. I lived in a relatively safe area. My dad grew up poor, but that didn’t stop him from entering the military or going to college. It didn’t dictate where he eventually lived or how accepted he would be by his neighbors. He was able to give us all of the things this experience offers. Safety. Accessibility to jobs and education. The ability to walk most areas without being questioned.

I married into a Mexican family and was shocked at the treatment of my relatives and continue to be shocked at the racism and xenophobia even some of my acquaintances thoughtlessly throw out on social media. Don’t they understand that when they spout racist comments, they land on my children, who incidentally are friends of their children, where they burn like acid rain?

My husband also grew up poor. He came to the US and got permanent residency. He worked his way up, and I mean worked. He learned the language. He learned business skills. He never took government assistance and always gives to those in need. He coached soccer for our son’s team and was loved by the other parents for his kind heart and egalitarian spirit. Yet he is still discriminated against because he’s Mexican. One time we called the sheriff because someone had thrown a rock through our car window, and the sheriff asked him for his social security number. Really? I can honestly say that’s not happened to me before.

To be white in America gives us an instant in. We don’t have to prove ourselves, at least not with other whites.

Part of my life experience was going to college in Portland. I went to a mostly white school, but I was friends with a couple of African-American students there, one of whom became one of my best friends. (Cliche, but true in my case.) We had countless late night conversations about our experiences and worldviews. I was welcomed into their homes and their neighborhoods. I was respected as a friend and not looked at with suspicion, yet if you’ve ever been the standout white person in a non-white world, it’s an otherworldly experience. I gained insight into how my friends might have felt, the inability to blend in or fly under the radar in the group. What if that group didn’t respect you? What if you were looked at with suspicion? My mind began to be opened because I was willing to listen.

I saw, through my friend, many instances of discrimination and the reaction of white people, the dismissal of the feelings of inadequacy that accompanied it. Oh, people aren’t really racist anymore. You’re just imagining it. Yet the fact that she and I could go places together and have very different experiences was telling. It opened my eyes. Yes, racism still exists in America. Yes, we still need to fight together to combat it.

My husband continues to plow forward with his stellar attitude, treating people with kindness and winning some over in the process, but I see him when he comes home. It’s exhausting. It’s like being a missionary to the masses. He’s selling his heritage, his culture, to people who want to send it all back and build a wall to keep it out. He’s the person who makes white Americans think that maybe Mexicans aren’t so bad after all. Ask yourself why he has to convert them in the first place.

Are there people who genuinely accept my husband or anyone in his family as part of the human race without labeling them as part of the Mexican race? Sure, but they are few and far between. It’s a sad reality, but it’s our reality, and so we soldier on. What else can we do?

I think it’s really important for white America to be quiet for a moment and listen. Mothers are telling us that they have to teach their sons to walk on eggshells or they might be killed by police. Killed. By the people who are charged with protecting us from one another. I cannot even imagine having to go there with my three boys.

But I hear them.

When my eldest moved out on his own, he was a darker skinned (Latino genes) young American man driving a beat up old van. He was stopped by the police a number of times, but because we live in a relatively quiet place that’s all it was, a routine stop. However, because he had these experiences, it’s not a stretch for me to extrapolate and imagine how it might go down for an African American male in a beat-up car, or on the street, or walking in the dark, to be stopped and questioned, and when you stop and question someone, doesn’t that imply that the suspicion is already there? And when you are suspicious, doesn’t that heighten your state of alert?

Police are human. They have a dangerous job. They never know what they might encounter when they walk up to that car door, whether it will be a gun-toting, anti-authority sovereign citizen, a drug dealer, a meth-impaired driver, or a law-abiding citizen like you or me. I wouldn’t want their job, never knowing what I was up against. I don’t think holding them all accountable for the quick trigger finger of a few is the answer. Assassinating them certainly isn’t. Police are human beings, and as such are like anyone else in any other job. There are some really good, dedicated public servants, and there are some jerks, who unfortunately are reflecting on the whole system at this moment.

So, let’s all take a moment to really listen to one another. Only then can we come up with solutions.

Don’t let darkness win.


My heart goes out to all of the victims and their families on both sides. Thank you to the many, many LEOs who truly make a positive difference in our world.

I Am a Rock

I’m  a huge Paul Simon fan. I grew up listening to my mom’s Simon and Garfunkel albums and still, to my kids’ dismay, play Graceland at top volume when I’m cleaning the house. His songs are poetry set to music, and speak to life, love, angst, and the social ills that plague humanity. Of all of his songs, I Am a Rock is one of my favorites (though it’s not one of his). It encapsulates the loneliness of looking for safety in isolation.

The squeezing, imploding feeling of heartache is the worst type of pain. Once bitten, twice shy is a cliche truth. We are prone to pulling back and walling ourselves off in the interest of self preservation, but in protecting ourselves, we cause further damage.

One aspect of getting older is having perspective and accepting heartache as a part of life. Accept it. Embrace it. It means you’re alive. If you don’t become like the singer, it will pass, and you will come out the other side a stronger person. You won’t be a rock. You will be a tree clinging to the side of the cliff, unwilling to be blown over.

The song, to me, is a cautionary tale. Pride in independence and invulnerability becomes anger at the presence of emotion, and finally ends on a hint of regret. Laughter and loving are not to be disdained after all. They are what make life worthwhile.

Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art… It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things that give value to survival. C.S. Lewis


In response to The Daily Post’s daily prompt: Island.

Best Day At The Beach, Ever

Like so many days on the Oregon Coast, the day was cold and foggy. We had just gone out to eat, and were doing the requisite walk on the beach. Goose was 5 and Maverick was 4, and they were not just brothers, but best friends. I had just squatted down to take a picture when a sneaker wave came in and bowled Maverick over, rolling him over and over in the surf. I moved fast, but the water resisted my rescue attempts. Finally, I caught the back of his shirt and scooped him out of the wave. He was soaked, and sand was everywhere! In his nose. In his ears. Down his pants. He was scared and miserable.

Goose’s response?

“This is the best day at the beach, ever!”

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Retrospectively Funny.” Tell us about a situation that was not funny at all while it was happening, but that you now laugh about whenever you remember it.