Ice Cream and Oven Mitts

Mom and her oven mitts

Two clean but tattered oven mitts follow my mother wherever she goes. She was using them to keep her hands warm in her apartment and took them along to the hospital and then into the nursing home. Fortunately, the nursing staff graciously accepts Mom’s worn oven mitts as part of the package. They take the time to explain the mitts to their shift replacements, and use them whenever possible as pillows and props. They laugh and say, “Whatever keeps her happy,” and “We’ve seen worse!”

Ice cream is my mother’s other obsession. When she was at home, my brother John ground up her vitamins so she could stir them into a bowl of ice cream at the end of the day. I’d call her in the evening, and ask what she was doing. “I’m eating my ice cream,” she would say.

Thursday, February 22nd was a tumultuous day. My mother’s doctor sent the order for her to go to the hospital. My brother, John, scrambled to arrange transport and finesse Mom out of her apartment. Calls, texts, and emails flew between the brothers, and sisters-in-laws, and Mom’s sixth son, Bob. We were all relieved she was finally getting professional care after seeing a drastic decline in her condition over the winter. We worried it might be too late until John’s wife, Darla, let us know Mom was asking for ice cream.

I think we all have something we need in our life, something that gives us comfort. For me, it’s lip balm and a pocket knife that I can open with one hand. I never leave the house without a tube of lip balm in my left pocket and my tiny Spyderco lock-back in the right. I don’t use lip balm when I’m in the tropics but this far above the equator it is a necessity. I tell Bob I carry the knife because I might have to cut a horse loose, but I mostly use it to open boxes and clean my nails.

For my 91-year-old father, it’s cookies and tissues. I was in Mom’s apartment a couple of weeks ago when my brother, John, told Dad he was going shopping. “I need tissues,” Dad said from his perch on the sofa. John stepped back and reached down beside an arm chair. “We’ve got plenty of tissues,” he said, bringing a dozen shrink-wrapped boxes into Dad’s field of vision. John pulled out a box and set it carefully on the table next to a bag of cookies.

Tate’s Chocolate Chip Cookies, my mother tells me one night on the phone, are nearly as good as Nana’s legendary chocolate chips. My father’s mother only baked one cookie, a crispy, buttery, disk. I go out the next day, scouting the area stores for Tate’s and I find them. She’s right! They are as close to Nana’s as anything I’ve ever tasted. I order six bags online and have them sent to Shippensburg.

Nana with a tissue in her hand

Like Dad, I’ve got the tissue thing going on, too. His mother, my Nana, nearly always had a tissue in her hand. She’d stow them up her sleeve and fish them out of her pockets. It was finally warm enough for shorts today, and after I pulled them on, I found a half-used tissue in the left pocket from when it was warm last month. Here’s the thing: my nose runs a little a lot of the time. I’ve got a dog’s nose, Bob likes to say. A wet nose like a dog. It runs in cold weather or when I eat something hot, or just in general. But not enough to blow, just enough to wipe at it and put the tissue in a pocket for another wipe on down the line. It looks like Dad inherited Nana’s dog nose, too.

I think Dad’s fixation on tissues and cookies are more than a sweet tooth and a wet nose. I think tissues and cookies are how he keeps his mother’s memory alive. I think my lip balm and pocket knife represent my preoccupation with horses and the tropics. And I think my mother’s ice cream cravings have more to do with growing up without milk than simply liking ice cream. This realization comes to me when I’m in the final editing phase of her memoir, Honey Sandwiches. Ice Cream figures so prominently that it earned its own section heading. While there is nothing about oven mitts in the book, my mother does talk about how cold her hands got when walking to school with her friend, Ann:

“The Howes were a little better off than we were financially. They didn’t have much to spare, but they were able to get Ann a pair of sheepskin mittens. Ann [Howe] would swap mittens with me until her hands got cold and she would say, “My hands are getting cold now.” “Oh, just a minute longer,” I would plead before trading mittens.”

We cling to things from childhood that we hold dear or didn’t get enough of. The Great Depression deprived my mother of warm winter clothes, milk, and ice cream. She suffered from early childhood malnutrition and struggled with health issues all her life. Unlike my mother, I was lucky to receive enough good nutrition to form strong, healthy bones. And if my luck holds out, no one will need to explain my pocket knife to the nursing home staff.

Camille in Nicaragua with a horse named Fat Bunky

The Getaway

Camille and James 16 years ago on Maui

It’s 8:30 p.m. on a chilly Monday evening and I’ve joined James and Mom on a little road trip. Mom is riding shotgun and I’m between them, or maybe all around them, floating on bluetooth air waves while speaking into my cell phone 400 miles away.

Mom and James had waited an hour and a half for the ambulance before taking matters into their own hands. Apparently, general transport takes a back seat to emergencies. The nurses didn’t think it was a good idea to remove Mom from the hospital before the ambulance arrived, but luckily an angel of a nurse’s aide named Mary stepped up and liberated Mom. Mary, a woman of German descent, rounded up a doctor who gave James permission to use his car as transport. “I tell you, sometimes the lowest on the totem pole are the best,” James observes.

We have a 30 minute drive from the hospital to Mom’s new bed at the rehab facility. John is at the other end, getting things set up for her arrival. Bob and I are just finishing up the dinner dishes when James calls. “I’m taking route 11 instead of 81 because I think its smoother,” he says, “Is it smooth, Mom?” Mom chirps a couple of syllables. James translates, “She says it’s real smooth.”

He tells me about the aide who helped engineer the getaway and how he was surprised to find out she was two years younger than him. James usually assumes the people he meets are older than he, a leftover from being the youngest of six. “It’s funny,” he says, “I was surprised when I realized that Christina (James’ step-daughter) is younger than Brandon (John’s youngest son). In my mind, Brandon is always the youngest.”

I’ve taken the call to the back bedroom, and when I hear that they are on a dark stretch of road, I switch off the light so I can sit in the dark, too. I look out the window for the moon, but it hasn’t come up yet. I picture James zipping down the yellow line with Mom at his side and say, “You’re having a Thelma and Louise moment.” Then, wondering why that popped into my mind, I recall that Mom and I share the same middle name: Louise. I picture James and Mom as clearly as if I really were in the car and not just a voice over a speaker.

“Did Bob come?” Mom asks, and James explains that I’m still in North Carolina, that I’m only a voice on the phone. “Bob and I are coming on Thursday”, I say. Mom’s answer is muffled but cheery, like music from a radio wrapped in cotton bunting.

Poor Mom. James tells me she’s been sitting up since dinner hours ago, and went for two long walks today. “You must be exhausted,” I say, and she chirps back. The three of us barrel down the smooth old highway in the dark, talking about Shippensburg things I can’t recall, about the grandkids and the nieces and the nephews.

We talk about what we had for dinner, I stir-fried onions and cabbage over noodles with fake chicken breasts, and James, the better half of a stale bagel and some apple cobbler with whipped cream; all he could round up in the hospital cafeteria before they closed for the evening. The salad, he says, was already getting crusty, on the verge of being put away or thrown out. And besides, he’d already eaten an expired salad for lunch and was regretting it. “Best by 3/2, it said, and it wasn’t good.”

And then there are lights. James names them all, the lights of the hotel that sits behind the little house where that guy (remember?) sold fish. When you walked in the door it would trip an alarm and he’d come downstairs to sell you whatever you wanted. Now it’s dwarfed by a giant building. We turn on to Conestoga drive and there are the lights of Lowe’s and then the Walmart. We’re almost there.

When James stops the car in front of the nursing home, I sense both of them leaning forward, peering over the dashboard. “I don’t see John,” he says, “Maybe he’s inside, getting things ready,” I say. “I think that’s his van,” he says, “Isn’t that his van, Mom?” and Mom chirps. She must be more than ready to be done with this day.

Camille and Mom in their red dresses, circa 2002

“I’m going to leave you and Mom in the car,” James says and goes into the building. I tell Mom about my chat with our friend Carolyn Lemon, and she responds with pleasure. “I mailed her a copy of Honey Sandwiches,” I say, and I can feel Mom’s smile in the dark.

Now there’s another voice, a woman’s. I can’t believe I’m still on the line. I feel like part of the car, I’m in the air, in the moment. It’s magic. I think about the times I’d be on the phone with Nana and she’d get up to let one of the dogs in or out and forget I was on the line, and how I’d be perfectly content to stay on the phone for another thirty minutes, listening to the rhythms of her house, the patter of the dogs, her muffled, motherly tones.

I’m flattered to tears that James brought me along for the ride, me the big sister who moved out when he was only seven. I hear the woman instructing Mom to swing her legs to the side. “Now give me a big hug,” she says, in a voice as calm and patient, as strong and capable as any voice I’ve ever heard. “Let’s stand up on three,” she says, “One, two, three…” and I practically stand up myself.

The voices drift away and I sit in the dark car for a few minutes, straining to follow their footsteps. I feel included and forgotten, loved and abandoned. This is how it will feel when we take Mom to her final home, I think. And I start to cry.

Super Bowl Sunday

The Trooper and our staff, los tres amigos

It took us half the day to get there. We waited in line for the ferry, trying to ignore the malodorous canine carcass a few feet from our Trooper. The Belize River was high that day, making the process of getting our vehicle aboard the barge even more challenging than usual. When it was our turn, we drove across the partially submerged ramp to the deck. The distributor got wet and we had to push the wagon into its place in line. Panting, we settled in to watch the driver hand-crank the ferry up the cable that stretched across the turbulent water.

Our friends in Banana Bank had invited us to watch Super Bowl 32 and stay the night. We hadn’t listened to a radio or seen a TV since moving to Belize 8 months before, and we were looking forward to a taste of the 20th century.

It was a good game, lots of back and forth, and our team, the Denver Broncos, won. The ads were ingeniously witty as per usual, and the snacks gloriously indulgent. We had brought a big pan of Bob’s famous teriyaki chicken wings. I drank too many beers.

Our hosts were a good ten years older than me and Bob. I don’t know how the conversation got started, but at one point, they snorted and remarked that, after fifty, things don’t work like they used to. Of course we laughed, and shook our heads in appreciation of this sage comment, thinking to ourselves that it wouldn’t happen to us, that our plumbing would never go awry, and none of the things one associates with bad plumbing would ever happen to us.

And yet, here we are, in the same post-fifty boat, sitting on the other side of the river with bad plumbing.

Super Bowl 52 airs this Sunday and we’ve been invited to a party. We’re bringing a big pan of teriyaki tofu and plan on watching the game with a group of people who are mostly younger than us. This is my opportunity to snort and make snide comments about the ravages of time, saying, “You don’t know the half of it,” and “You’ll see.”

Camille’s mother 2012

More likely, I’ll keep it to myself, because I realize I’m not old compared to my parents who were as old as I am now back when I was watching the Broncos eviscerate the Green Bay Packers. My mother’s plumbing fell apart ages ago, so long ago I was practically in diapers myself. And now it’s her heart and lungs.

Yesterday my mother, who has relied on her doctors for every birth and tooth extraction, infection, ache, and pain, said no to further testing after a visit to a heart specialist. Struggling to breathe, pulse surging well above 100 beats per minute, she told my brother she just wants peace in her old age. I never would have predicted this, despite the absolute predictability of it. She’ll be turning 86 this year and has struggled with health issues all her life. Everyone calls it a day at some point.

A couple of weeks ago, I called my Mom and listened to her pant like a dog for a few seconds before she disconnected. She called back shortly to say she was getting her hair washed and couldn’t talk on the phone. A few nights later, she told me about how she sits in her chair all day watching the people outside her window. They are all walking with their eyes on their cell phones, she said, oblivious to everything else. She noticed there weren’t any cell phones on her wall of Christmas cards, only old timey things like horses and carts. Then she had a coughing fit, and after she recovered, she told me the story again, in the pretty much same words.

After Bob’s mother died, on Valentine’s Day of all things, he carried on stoically. But when his father died a few years later he told me, “I’m an orphan, now.” I casually considered how I would feel when my parents orphaned me. Reality was still outside my grasp.
I had my existential moment while I was at work yesterday, a bit of pre-game grief. I had been talking with one of my brothers after his conversation with what may be Mom’s last doctor. He wished my mother’s boiler-plate living will had concrete directives. For the first time, the terms palliative care and hospice entered our sphere of reality.

After speaking with my brother, I watered the kitchen plants, had a conversation with Malcolm, and called Bob to say I was done with my day at The Plant. He said he hadn’t gotten over to the farmer’s market and suggested I stop on my way home. I was reluctant. All of a sudden, I didn’t feel fit to talk to anyone. I wanted to just stop everything, sit down, and stare at the sun sinking behind the trees.

I felt heavier than usual and was reminded of Tami’s terrible grief after her son died. I went over to her house every day for weeks after that unimaginable and unforeseen event, and one day as I came to her door, Tami got up slowly from her sofa and said, “…heavy…”

But, I did keep on moving. I did stop by the farmer’s market and talked with four bright-faced people I’ve spoken with many times before. I did come home and embrace my husband, make dinner, call my brothers, shower and go to bed. Just like normal. And I will go to that Super Bowl party, and laugh and joke and eat with my friends. It remains to be seen whether I mention plumbing, or hospice, or end of life directives.

The Gift That Keeps on Giving

My friend Linda of Cook for Good fame drove down from Raleigh last week to give me some 150-year-old sourdough starter. Linda is a food activist, cooking instructor, author, and a cherished friend, so this wasn’t going to be any old starter; this is going to be “The One.” I fed my new starter three times, and baked all but 50 grams into a loaf of bread. This morning, Bob and I got the big pay-off: (fake) bacon, lettuce, and tomato sandwiches!

I’ve heard Bob say that BLTs are the perfect food so often, that I’ve come to believe it. The health benefits of lettuce and tomatoes are obvious, but news stories about mayonnaise are a pleasant surprise. I remember one about a plane wreck survivor who stayed alive by eating mayonnaise snow cones, and another about Creme Puff, a cat who lived to be 38 on a diet of broccoli, asparagus, bacon, and mayonnaise.

BLTs on sourdough bread bump Bob’s theory into sacred territory. This morning Bob made himself two sandwiches, one on sourdough, and one on the last two slices of ordinary bread. The toasted sourdough made the better sandwich, he said, because it was “more interesting; tangy!”

Bob’s history with the ultimate sandwich goes back to his childhood years in Ghana, when the family cook pampered him with BLTs. We celebrated our first three or four years together with frequent servings of his perfect food. I remember the can of bacon grease beside the stove. I kept it because I’d heard that bacon grease would heal any equine wound, but I don’t recall ever using it on our horses. We’ve since replaced the bacon with tofu, tempeh, and Morningstar Farm bacon strips.

Bread is so fundamental to our diet that we’ve been baking our own since forever. Bob has such a preference for sandwiches, that I’ve nicknamed him “Sandwich Man”. He will find a way to turn nearly any meal into a sandwich. When faced with a bowl of beans and tortillas, he makes burritos. Tofu scramble and toast become “egg” sandwiches. I love the ease of a sandwich, and so we have them for dinner two or three times a week: Cheezsteaks, Sloppy Joes, Grilled Cheez, Cheezburgers, and Rubenz.

We’re especially attracted to sourdough because it tastes so darned good. As an added bonus, its leavening we don’t have to buy. I love the idea that such an essential ingredient makes itself. Sourdough tastes like independence.

More than a flavorful way to rise bread, starters are heirlooms, cherished pets that won’t die until you stop feeding them. Many bakers name their starters. I love that idea, and I’m leaning towards Stinky, or Homer (as in Homer Simpson, “D’oh!”).

It had been at least six years since I baked a loaf of sourdough bread, and I was a little nervous about test driving Linda’s starter. But, with the rich flavor of that BLT lingering in my mouth, I’m happy I plunged in. If we keep eating the perfect food, I may be feeding our new pet for another thirty years. And after that? Well, don’t be surprised if I leave Homer to you in my will!


Here’s my sourdough bread recipe:

Day 1 morning: Feed 50 grams of starter 50 grams each of water and flour.
Day 1 evening: Feed what is now 150 grams of starter with 150 grams each of water and flour. Split off 50 grams and refrigerate until time to feed again in a week. Add 1 tablespoon salt and 1 1/2 cups of water to the remaining starter. Mix well, and add about three cups of flour, enough to make a very wet dough. Let the dough rise in a covered bowl on the counter overnight. Note: you can rise it in the refrigerator for another day or two if you don’t have time to bake the next day, but it will take longer for it to warm up and start rising.

Day 2 morning: Knead another cup or two of flour into the risen dough and let rise until double.
Day 2 afternoon: Knead briefly and put into a proofing bowl until nearly doubled in size
Day 2 evening: Bake at 410 degrees Fahrenheit in a covered Dutch oven for 25 minutes, uncover and bake another 15. Note: make sure the Dutch oven has been heating in the oven since you turned it on. Cool the loaf on a rack. After the bread has cooled, wrap it in plastic to make the crust easier to slice. If you prefer crusty bread, leave it unwrapped.

Day 3 morning: Slice and eat!

Tunnel Vision, Cookies, and Snitch Pads

My chosen theme for self-improvement this year is “Focus”. Like a photographer narrowing their depth of field, I’m going to highlight three important things: writing, friendship, and cookies.

I got a taste of tunnel vision in the last quarter of 2017. Up against a self-imposed Christmas deadline, I was able to ignore distractions and finish editing my mother’s memoir. Now that I know it can be done, I’d like to keep that momentum.

To support my writing habit, I plan on submitting two essays for publication a month, double last year’s goal and I’m off to a good start. I’ve submitted two essays already this month, and gotten my guest blog about a Mayan wedding published on Pink Pangea.

A good writer reads, so I’ve doubled the number of books on my reading list. This month I finished reading “The Hidden Life of Trees” and have begun reading Howard Zinn’s “A People’s History of the United States.” For fun, I’m reading Martha Conway’s “The Underground River.” Martha is Maggie’s sister, and Maggie is married to my cousin Brian. I highly recommend this book, especially if you like the notion of a floating theater, are curious about how slaves found their way to freedom in the 1830’s, or are handy with a sewing machine.

I’ve also started a “Snitch Pad,” a notebook I carry with me for jotting down thoughts and observations. I got this idea from “Steal Like an Artist”, a nifty little book that Shelley lent me. If you are looking for ways to boost your creativity, this book is a must.

As for friends, well, I’m fortunate to have a lot of great friends and oodles of opportunities for fun. But, if I’m going to do more reading and writing, I need to get choosy about what makes it to my calendar. This year, I’m focusing on quality over quantity.

Last, but not least: cookies. My Nana’s pet name for me was Cookie, and she baked the most incredible chocolate chip cookies. Ask any one of my brothers or cousins. To honor both my nickname, and Nana’s legacy, Cookies will be my new go-to potluck and party dish in 2018. No more fretting over what to bring, or how to keep it warm, or cold, or whatever. Cookies are easy, and everyone likes them.

Tunnel vision gets a bad rap, but I see it as a way to achieve my goals. If I can stay on track, my life will be productive, nourishing, and fun, and hopefully distract me from the political shit storm we all seek to weather this year. So happy tunneling, or whatever strategy you’ve chosen to make your new year shine!

My Experience at a Mayan Wedding (or, Why I Travel)

The Underground River

Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative

My Dirty Secret

Before I luxuriate in the clean slate of a brand new year, I must take a moment to acknowledge one bad habit that will surely follow me into 2018.

I have a dirty secret. I’m guilty of the ultimate substance abuse. Intimate knowledge of its destructive properties doesn’t stop me from acting as if my life depended on it. Although I whisper in horror about the Great Pacific Gyre – although I belong to a clan that considers itself green – I’ve surrounded myself with the substance I advocate against. I play with it. Eat off it. Brush my teeth with it. I love the way it feels in my hands, sturdy yet pliable. Reliable and cheap, it’s easy to ignore the long-term costs of my worst habit.

I remember refrigerators before Tupperware. Back then we rotted leftovers in Alcoa foil covered glass bowls. Now I add Gladware to my shopping cart, glancing furtively up the aisle to see if anyone’s looking. I smuggle it out in a reusable grocery bag underneath apples and kale.

Automobiles used to be made of plate steel. Not so much these days. I backed my ’95 Escort into a bollard the other day, got out and stared dolefully at the shattered plastic. “Who drives around in plastic cars?” I asked myself. “I do.”

Most of my childhood toys were made of natural materials. We played with Lincoln logs and rubber balls, and moved tiny metal pieces around the Monopoly board. My prized possessions were a slate chalkboard framed in wood and a cardboard palomino I wore around the neighborhood. But, the perfectly molded zebra, elephant, bear, horses and cows were made of plastic, and I loved them as much or more as everything else.

In adulthood I learned the truth: that plastic was made in a laboratory from a non-renewable resource and never completely broke down. How minute indigestible particles work their way up the sea food chain. I dampened my guilt by working for a recycling processor. We submerged ourselves in truckloads of the stuff, sorted out the contaminated pieces, the kitchen knives, and the occasional dead dog. We chipped it, melted it, and extruded it into planks. Deep inside I knew that turning laundry jugs into picnic tables wasn’t going to save the world.

These days I flaunt my aluminum water bottle. My eyebrows arch disapprovingly toward sippers of store-bought water. I look aside when tossing evidence of my addiction into the dumpster and recycling bin. I cannot conceal nor reconcile my hypocrisy. I’m a reef gawker in plastic fins, a farm market shopper in a plastic car. I’m a woman of the woods in plastic shoes.

Five Ways to Beat the Holiday Blues

I’m not going to lie; this is a difficult time of year for me. Life this far above the equator feels like death. I thrive on sunshine, and wither in the cold. My nose drips, and because of the dry, forced-air heat, when I blow it, it bleeds. My eyes drip and my skin chaps. My fingertips snag on fabric, especially silk and micro-fiber. The day goes dark before dinner, and I find myself staring at a cold screen, hoping to find something worth clicking on. I wear wrist warmers at my desk, and to bed. I’m in hibernation mode.

It helps that Bob dislikes winter as much as I do, and that he loves me unreservedly even when I’m stuck in the shadows. It helps that I have a job which forces me outside, and that my desk faces south. It helps that I have walking buddies. Shelley and I share our best and worst stories every week over a long walk. Lately, we’ve been shaking off holiday stress by bursting into song with: “It’s the most wonderful time, of the year!” It makes us laugh, and clears our lungs. Of course, we’re kidding.

To make things worse, there’s pressure to make the holiday season bright. And while I love the holiday lights, I find myself attracted to the blue bulbs. There are ample opportunities for making merry, but I’m not in the mood. I end up hugging the food table and stuffing myself with sweets. I keep my car radio tuned to holiday tunes, but the phrase that sticks in my head is Elvis’s “I’ll have a blue Christmas…”

Every winter is harder on my Mom and Dad, hanging in there at eighty-five and ninety-one. I’m concerned that one or both might not make it through another winter, and wish I could make things easier for my brothers who are taking an active part in their care. I regret that my childhood memories aren’t sunnier, even though I know very few people can say their images of Christmases past match the Normal Rockwell archetypes.

And so I’ve developed strategies for coping. Here are five of my favorites:

Go for a walk outside, preferably with a friend
Take a long, hot shower
Sit down and write about the challenges of the holiday season
Put on some music and sing along
Bake some cookies and give them away

Last week, I surprised my neighbor, Noah, on his twelfth birthday by bringing a plate of chocolate chip cookies to him at school. On Sunday, Judy and I went for a walk, and decided to go off-trail. When we reached Stinking Creek, we immersed ourselves in the business of dragging logs to make a crossing. “I feel like I’m 9 years old,” she laughed, and I agreed. I’m sixty-three, and Judy is ten years older.

In addition to my favorite tricks, I’m drinking a lot of water, getting plenty of sleep, and enjoying my friends one at a time. I am not forcing myself to be sociable, or indulging my afternoon cravings for caffeine. In this way, I walk the line between withdrawal and engagement. I assure myself the days are already getting longer – a whole two seconds longer today, the first day after winter solstice. And I know from experience, that I’ll make it back into the light.

Dear Santa

Dear Santa

I’d like a pony this year, and world peace for Bob, please. Again, I know. It seems silly to ask for the same things every year, but old habits are hard to break.

Both Bob and I were very well behaved this year. We didn’t fight much, we kept the house clean, and we played nice with our neighbors. We both concentrated on giving more than we took, and I feel we did a pretty good job of supporting our family and friends. We managed to stay true to our values by not buying too many frivolous things, by growing some of our own food, and by eating in most every night.

I understand why you haven’t been able to give me a pony. I imagine you get quite a few pony requests, and there are only so many to go around. But I won’t lie and say I want something else, because I know how important it is to be clear about my desires.

As for world peace, I am not having as easy a time understanding why you can’t make this happen. I truly believe this is within your power, and with all due respect, it seems like a no-brainer. I can only imagine how wonderful life on earth would be if humans stopped fighting. For one thing, hunger would be a thing of the past the instant we stopped plowing resources into war toys.

Seems to me that if everyone decided to share and treat each other fairly, (isn’t that what world peace would look like?), people would stop wanting other stuff to distract them from the daily news. Your job would probably get a lot easier. If you put an end to war, I’d be so happy, chances are I’d stop wishing for a pony.

But maybe, because it’s a habit now, I’d keep sending you the annual letter, only instead of asking for stuff, I’d be thanking you for such a great life. Okay, I know you have another seven billion letters to read, so I’m going to wrap this up. Thanks for listening. Talk to you again next year!

Love, Cookie

Post Publication Depression

“It’s probably just winter”, I think, slogging through sleet and slush from the car to our back door. I’m suffering from malaise, and looking for something to blame. Lately, I find myself just going through the motions. I don’t feel like starting anything, and I really don’t want to finish anything, either. My brother Michael suggests I take a few days off. Celebrate my achievement; give myself time to re-balance after leaning into the gale for so long. “Eventually you’ll get bored and pick up another project,” he says.

Bob wants to know what I’ll do with all my free time, now that Honey Sandwiches is published. I tell him I don’t know, and he looks a little startled. I sense him thinking, “Who are you, and what have you done with my wife?”

We’ve been a little edgy with each other lately. I’ll add that to the blame list. Neither of us thrives in the short, cold days of waning daylight. Thank god Helen turned us on to The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. Coffee gives me a reason to get out of bed, and dinner with Midge, the will to limp through the day.

I don’t remember feeling this way after Steph and I published Two Brauds Abroad. We had a lot of help from her mother, Andrea, so the editing process wasn’t nearly as onerous as this time around. Two Brauds wasn’t Andrea’s first rodeo; she’d worked in publishing and published half a dozen books of her own. “I love helping birthing baby books!” she exclaimed. She didn’t mention the risk of addiction to birthing books, or post publication depression, and neither kicked in until this, my second child.

I should be making veggie burgers. Or backing up my files, or deep cleaning the kitchen cupboards. Instead, I spend twenty minutes crafting a witty response to someone’s Facebook post, and resume staring out the window at another short day.

At the height of my push to finish the book by mid-December, I confided to Shelley that I had jettisoned “shoulds” from my life. She’d been super busy, too, and was also operating in prime-objective-only mode. “It feels good,” we agree, vowing to avoid shoulds after my editing flurry and her holiday imperatives pass.

Honey Sandwiches – From Riches to Rags went live on yesterday morning. I placed more than a dozen orders for books to be shipped to family across the U.S. before driving in to work. I high-fived Hannah and Jenn, my writing buddies at Abundance NC. I ran errands, and mopped up a water leak, and hauled a load of wet towels to the laundromat. The flat sky began spitting ice. Eventually, I made my way home to Bob and Mrs. Maisel.

Today, my accomplishment seems anticlimactic. The project is done, the unrivaled call for my attention, gone. I’m adrift, and it isn’t even a nice day for a long walk. But, I’ll rally with a few imperatives; I’ll make tortilla roll-ups for the Janeri Merry Chilimas party, finish off the Christmas cards, and wash my hair. Maybe I’ll write a blog post. And, if I get desperate, I can dip into my “shoulds” and make a batch of veggie burgers.

Manifesto To My Peeps

I love this place, and all of you.
I love lazy mornings in bed with Bob, and I love my job keeping an eye on things at The Plant.
I love walking in Tami and Lyle’s woods, and over to your houses for meetings and parties.
I love potluck, when we all bring something to the table, and laugh, and hug, and tell stories.

I love that we share so many of the same values.
I love how you acknowledge my strengths, and accept my shortcomings.
I love how we pull together when tragedy strikes.
I love how strong we look from the outside, and how tender we are on the inside.

I love when snow and ice have us all walking, often ending up at the same house for tea and cocoa.
I love looking at our footprints in the snow the next day.

I love the call of barred owl and coyote, the hawks, the jays, and the crows.
I love our collective voice in song.

I believe that heaven and hell are what we make of our lives, or are born into.
I’m incredibly lucky to have been born a white American woman in the age of birth control and internal combustion engines.
I’ve had the freedom to craft whatever the hell I wanted out of my existence on earth.
I can go where I want, eat as much as I like, work as little as I choose, and have the freedom to read whatever I like, and to write, and speak freely.

I believe honest work is the surest path to general well-being.
I believe that getting up each morning with a sense of purpose makes me shine with positive energy and good health.

I believe drama comes with the human package, and that, sometimes, gossip helps define problems and promote solutions.
I believe gossip can do a lot of damage.
I believe actions speak louder than words, but there are times when we have an obligation to speak our minds.

I believe we are all working on being the best we can be, and doing the best with what we have.
I believe in live and let live; in paddling my own canoe.
I believe in stepping aside to let others find their way because free advice is worth what you pay for it, and often ignored.

I believe in greeting everyone with as open a heart as possible, even strangers, and in the magic words, “please”, and “thank you”.
I believe I never know when I’m about to meet my next best friend.
I believe in following my heart, and I believe my heart led me to be here with all of you.
I believe in honoring time-tested relationships with loyalty.

I believe everything comes with a price, that every path chosen is a path not taken; that it’s never too late to turn back; and that “re-dos” are a first-world luxury.

I believe in grassroots movements, in bottom’s up change, and I’m indebted to the honest people working on legislation to make things better for the 99%.

I believe complex organisms, like our village here, rarely look as good on the inside as they do from the outside, and that we owe it to ourselves to see, through the eyes of our beholders, the beautiful safety net we’ve woven from our individual strengths and skills.

I believe we have nothing to fear, but fear itself.

I believe commitment is the glue that keeps us together, that communication is essential for keeping us on track, and that fun is the fuel that keeps us moving forward.

I commit to love over fear, to slow over fast, to mindfulness, and to savoring every bite of this rich life.
I commit to finding the happy medium between affluence and poverty.
I strive to live by my values, knowing full well that I leave a bigger-than-average ecological footprint because I was lucky enough to be born in the post-industrialized United States of America.

I’ve heard it called voluntary simplicity. To me that means; do a little less, spend less, eat less, sleep more, cook most of my meals, grow some of my food, leave the car at home for a day here and there, shut down my browser, and wander around the neighborhood, taking time to stop and chat.

I commit to being less judgmental; and more accepting, respectful, and supportive.

Our community, born of privilege, intention, and hard work is a priceless gem – polished on the outside, a work in progress on the inside, an enviable privilege, and a sacred responsibility.

We live in the perfect time and place to enjoy the fruits of a simple life.

We each contribute to the perfect whole of this community.

We need each other to be strong, whole, and complete.

Note: Once a month, Bob and I meet the neighbors in a clearing in the woods to share joys and concerns, sing, and read inspirational material. I prepared this manifesto for this purpose, and read it on October 29, 2017.