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Monday, November 10, 2014

Please Come Visit Me at Potager Cottage!

HEY! I've started a new blog designed to follow my life at Potager Cottage. If I'm not here, I'm probably doodling around over there. Please, come visit! You can click the Potager Cottage link at the top of this page, or just click

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Milton, Myrthful, and Potager Cottage

My grandpa, Milton, was a watermelon farmer. 

He grew other melons too, but watermelons were his big crop.  I remember loading up his truck to drive the melons into town to sell, just like they're doing in the photo below.

Grandpa Milton, Grandma Myrthful, and helper.

 When we were young, my brother and I would spend summers with my grandparents on their Arizona farm, and later, on their Idaho farm (pictured to the left).  My grandparents (the Mundalls) were extremely conservative, hard-working folks. No TV; not a lot of toys; no shopping days or restaurants; no parties; no air conditioning; just farm.

On Saturdays they took us to a tiny church that smelled like old hymnals and dentures.  And, during the week, if we worked enough rows of melons, grandpa would take us into the Weiser town pool to go swimming.

I remember missing my mom immensely during these long summer visits.  But, I also remember all the smells sounds and feels of the farm.  It was always hot, even at night.  We left the windows open, turned on the loud square fans and stood in the cold shower with our pjs on just before bed in hopes that the wet clothes would keep us cool enough to fall asleep before they dried.  Mornings came early and were cool enough to be comfortable for a millisecond.

The house smelled like comfort, like fresh-baked wheat sticks.  I don't ever remember going to a grocery store.  Grandma, Myrthful, made everything we ate from scratch, mostly from ingredients grown in her gardens.  She had a large deep freezer in the garage, the kind you had to use an ice-pick to dig the food out of, where she froze fruits and veggies for the winter; and a large canning pantry filled with jars of peaches, applesauce, apricots, green beans, and any other garden treasure you might imagine.  She grew everything.  And I had the privilege (not that I appreciated it) of working right along side her from dawn to dusk.

Myrthful in her garden.  Notice the stick-made bean poles.

We took scraps to the hens and cleared the boxes of the fresh eggs. We milked the cows and carried the buckets to the mud room, where they sat to be skimmed (seems like there was always a bucket or two of milk in there).  We climbed the ladders to collect fruit from her many fruit trees.  She would send me into the towering tomato plants with a metal-handled bucket and a mission to pluck off every last pudgy green tomato worm.  We sat on the porch and snapped beans, shucked peas, and husked corn (which I liked to make dolls out of).  In the kitchen I had a stool in front of the sink where I would wash and halve apricots, carefully removing the worms form the center.  I set the table, cleared the table, washed the dishes, and collapsed into a cozy chair when the day came to a close.

I don't ever remember hearing a radio, just the crickets, toads, mosquitos, train whistles, chicken clucks, cow moans, tires rolling on rugged dirt paths, and the whispery whistles my grandma would compose while sewing or crocheting in the evening.

Grandpa was a smallish man, I think about 5 foot 7 inches tall, but he was huge in my eyes.  He always donned a woven cowboy hat the smelled of straw, sweat, and shampooed hair.  When he came in for the night he scrubbed his hands with irish spring (or a soap that smelt of that).  He laughed in bellows and told "true" stories of his many adventures with bears and lions and caves, that only seemed possible in the world of fiction.  He worked his fields with fierce determination.  If I was lucky, I got to ride in his tractor, or beside him in his farm trucks (known to be missing doors) over the dirt roads when he took his melons into town.  He called milk "cow juice" and soy sauce "bug juice".  And he was my favorite.  I would begrudge my brother who got to run off to do chores with grandpa while grandma made me stay in and learn to sew.

We got to play sometimes too.  My brother and I would sit at the irrigation ditch and use the mud to make bricks for houses.  We would spend hours there.  To this day I love the smell of the irrigation ditches when I drive on old farm roads.  I roll the windows down and inhale the cool air and childhood memories.  We would climb the hay bales in the barn and jump from great heights to piles of hay below.  We would put milk bowls out for the random farm kitties that were always skittering about.  We would catch grasshoppers and toads.  And, we always enjoyed spinning around in the tire swing hanging from the tree out front.

Those years were a gift.  They rooted a love within me for playing in the dirt and living a simple, organic, sustainable life.  I feel my heritage when I'm digging in our cottage garden now.  I sense their  love for the farm and nature, a love that they passed on to their five daughters and beyond.  This little corner house surrounded in untamed dirt and weeds feeds that love in me.

It has been 4 months since we moved into this cottage in Benicia.  These have not been easy months. Our home has demanded patience, creative organization, and hard labor from us, nearly breaking us.  I have always named my homes, a practice I picked up from a short time at school in England.  I love how English homes are named.  Home is so personal to me that a name seems more appropriate than a sterile number.  We have debated names for this home since before we moved in, but have struggled to settle on anything.  We decided to just sit with it.  Live in the house and wait for her name to present itself.  At last, it has!  As I was wandering through the land of Pinterest the other day I came across the name for a vegetable garden that sits just outside your door; it's called a potager.  Perfect!  We have vegetable gardens just outside our front and back doors.  So we have dubbed our sweet little home 'Potager Cottage'.  She's not a farm but she has revived my sweet memories from those summer days and the two beautiful souls who instilled this home-grown love in me.

Potager Cottage

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Crossing the Bridge

Roughly six weeks ago our family moved from a lovely 2000 square foot home in the trees of Castro Valley, California, to a tiny 1940's cottage in the small water-side town of Benicia, California. It was a daring move.  While both towns are technically within the "Bay Area", or greater San Francisco metropolis, Benicia requires the crossing of a toll-bridge, which, to many Bay Areans, means it doesn't exist.  This explains how I managed to overlook this quaint town for the first 6 years of my Bay Area residence.

It's not the bridge-crossing alone that makes this move a daring one, however.  The house we signed up for is a cottage that was built in the 1940's; giving it ample time for a speckled history of being loved and nurtured, as well as abused and neglected, as evidenced by uniquely executed additions, mismatched fencing, questionable plumbing and wiring, a variety of flooring types, and a well-earned, 70-year-old-house scent.

In general, I welcome this type of "character" in a home.  I prefer it to the modern comforts found in many tract homes, actually.  But, it can be a challenge to take on as a renter. Particularly if the contractor in charge of renovating the well-aged home fails to complete the renovations prior to the move-in date.  When we arrived on moving day, with two truck-loads of way too much stuff, our new little cottage was missing a few necessities (any appliances, useable closets, finished floors, functioning gas, electricity, plumbing, sinks and showers).


Well, for the first month of living with strange hammer-weilding men traipsing through our personal space, drilling holes in our walls, holding cock-fights on our roof (or so we suspect), and shoveling shit (yes literally) in our backyard, we weren't sure we had a good answer to that question.  But, there was an answer.  We came here on purpose.  We were following our soul-fire.  That unquenchable inner light that haunts you with visions of the life you're meant to be living.  I have always felt it - since I was a child drawing pictures of my dream home.

We saw the potential for that life in this old home, in this small town.  And, while the initial weeks were flooded with the dread that maybe we had made a horrible mistake, Benicia gently whispered to us that we were home.  She whispered in the distant lullaby of the train whistle and passing boat horns.  She presented us with gifts of sea glass and beach wood.  And she embraced us with the warm smiles and genuine "hello's" of her community.

Slowly, this cottage is accepting our many treasures (and helping us to identify the less keep-worthy items).  Goodwill and Craigslist have been well supplied by our loosening grip of 'stuff'.  It feels good to trim back again.  I have always felt at home in a cottage.  It makes sense in my entropic mind to live in a smaller space with less to manage.

Not everything is smaller though.  We have a lot of dirt to play with here, and I'm giddy about it.  This weekend, Klee and I tore down the old picket fence surrounding our large front yard.  We have been carefully pulling out old rusted screws and sifting out the rotted lumbar (not a small task) in order to reclaim the old wood to build a new fence.  We are building a "hog-fence" (also called a welded wire, or no-climbe fence).  We have already re-set all of the posts in cement and are almost ready to start assembling.  I can't wait!  Once we have it up we can start our garden.  We are planning to plant a large vegetable garden in our front yard and another in our backyard.

This is it!  The beginning of the answer.  A small piece of the WHY that moved us here.  We are living in a 1940's cottage (at substantially less rent than before) surrounded by the promise of vegetables and flowers (and chickens?), on a quiet street with friendly, and perfectly quirky neighbors. We are just a short bike-ride away from the beach and a fabulous downtown community that embraces art and music.  This is the vision.  We are here and my heart feels at home.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Finding My Words

Last night I sat in a room, surrounded by other damaged people; a support group of sorts.  The moderator posed a question for us to consider.  Where is your healing place? While my comrades seemed to ponder their answers with a twinge of uncertainty, I knew my answer without hesitation.  Writing.  Writing is where I bleed and where I heal.  I have other healing places, such as the beach, rain, trees, creative projects and solitude, but writing is where my real medicine is. 

I think this may be the reason for my long bouts of literary silence.  Sometimes I can’t find words.  Other times, I don’t want to.  I don’t want to spill my soul out.  It’s a mess that I rarely feel I have the time or the fortitude to deal with.  Reliving my thoughts, penning (or typing) them down, means I have to think them.  I have to give them life.  

It’s foolish for me to think they don’t have a life already, regardless of my acknowledgement.  Those wounds exist with or without my permission.  But, what if I can’t contain the emotional deluge that inevitably accompanies their exposure?  If I start; if I unlock those gates, I might just fall to pieces.  Truly.  So, I leave the space.  The void.  The blinking cursor on the empty screen. 

Time passes, and the blankness remains, and I function.  I do the stuff of life.  Kids to school.  Dinner.  Bath-time, diapers, dogs, toilets, mail.  I write my nutrition papers – the ones that pay the bills.  I watch my shows, and laugh, and cry.  But, when you’re a writer, you’re always writing.  It’s there in your head.  ALWAYS. Words float around and bump about, occasionally forming clarity, but usually they tease.  It’s an internal conversation that persists regardless of the stuff.

A good portion of the time, writers are introverts.  We live in our heads.  We relish our solitude, despite a very clear need for social interaction, support, and friendship.  We prefer to present ourselves from a distance; from behind our pens.  Those who know me well, know that I struggle with social interaction, even talking on the phone.  I’d much rather text, email, or write snail-mail.  It’s a quirk, and I’m aware that it alienates me more than I want it to.   It’s a social anxiety, I’m sure.  It just is. 

So, when a writer doesn’t write, the words can become overwhelming.  And that’s when the fear of writing them down becomes real.  And their release, necessary.  Like letting the steam out of a pressure cooker.  In her song, 'Breathe', Anna Nalick has a line that describes this experience well:
“2 AM and I’m still awake, writing a song
If I get it all down on paper, it’s no longer
Inside of me threatening the life it belongs to”

It is a torturous and honest… and beautiful necessity.  It is medicine.  When I let them out, my words, my closest companions; the pain seeps out with them.  I am suddenly aware of my heart pulsing; my cheeks are wet with tears; my soul exposed.  It is the truth inside of me, and it is rarely pretty; but it is my truth.  And as the pain filters out, the space that remains begins to expand.  And, in that space, I heal.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Trust the Process

Our plane touched down in San Jose last night.  It is my practice to only fly if heavily inebriated, so my recollection is a tad foggy, but I'm pretty sure I sacrificed a fatted calf, did 500 Hail Mary's, and vowed a life of chastity to the divine powers that be.  We had landed.  We were still alive.  Somehow, the near-death experience of flying in the belly of a large clumsy metal beast (which, I have under good authority, is the work of VOODOO), made the whole foreboding 'end of vacation' thing a little less tragic.

It always happens.  Vacations end.  I'm aware of it from the very start.  It looms over me, getting heavier as the days, hours... moments, of vacation slip away.  I dread it.  Inevitably it takes three quarters of the vacation to adjust to the new agenda of having fun.  Then, just as I've found my groove, it's done.  Time to go home.  Back to the stuff; the busy, stressful, messy stuff that made the vacation necessary in the first place.  I start making deals with father time, "if you just give me one more week, I'll be ready to go.... I promise."

After years of being me, and working with myself, I've learned that I have a process.  And, when working on a design project, or writing a paper, I've learned to trust that process.  I'm confident that if I just see it through, the end result will be inspiring.

As a designer, it can be very frustrating to have a delay half way through a project installation because it leaves the client hanging with only a piece of the final result.  This can make them anxious and cause them to second guess the decisions made. And, when I'm up there on the ledge with them, I frequently find myself saying, "trust the process;  allow the details to fill in before you panic; if you don't love it, we'll fix it."  They always love it.

I have the same pep talks with myself when I'm writing.  Staring at the mess of words on the screen (or worse, no words at all), doubt and creative paralysis set in.  I close my eyes, breath deep and slow, calm the anxiety, and remind myself to trust the process.

Slowly... very... s.l.o.w.l.y...  I am learning to trust this same process as I wait impatiently for the details of my life to fill in.  For instance, when I move to a new home, I can expect it to take me about a year to start feeling settled.  No matter how fabulous the move is, I will get depressed and feel homesick during the packing/unpacking phase.  I will feel the OCD bugs crawling all over me in the initial weeks in my new house.  But, as pictures get hung, I begin to connect with my surroundings.  I've moved many times.  It happens every time.  It is my process.  And knowing this about myself allows me to be patient with the pain of transition.  I'm able to trust that I will find peace on the other side.

We stumbled through the door with a disoriented toddler dangling from my arms and mountains of luggage hanging haphazardly from Klee.  It was late.  The house felt... cold.  On autopilot, we drug the bags up the stairs, changed the baby and got him to bed, rummaged for our toothbrushes, and collapsed into bed.  Our bed, with the worn-in body-shaped trenches and the bleach-spotted pillow cases... and the soft billowy down comforter that keeps us warm in the cold Northern California nights.  It felt good.  We were home.

Home.  In Hawaii, people would ask us where we were from.  We'd answer, "the Bay area, San Francisco," and I would feel a twinge of pride.  I woke up this morning, loaded up the coffee machine (the coffee machine that doesn't know when to stop dripping, so it spills all over the counter when you go to pour a cup of coffee, even though it pretended to be done brewing), and walked out back to check on the garden.  The tomatoes are starting to produce.  The loquats are turning yellow.  I pulled a few new weeds and picked three red strawberries. My heart felt full.  Happy.  Home.

It's just my process.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

She's How Old??

My 40th birthday is dangerously close.  Despite my attempts at evasion, it appears that I will indeed be 40 years old one week from today.  So far, I'm only reluctantly OK with this.  I've resigned to the reality that bad things happen to good people.

But I don't want this to be a bad thing.  I want to embrace this milestone.  I want to be 40 and Fabulous!

It isn't really that I'm sad to say goodbye to my thirties.  I remember how excited I was to turn 30.  It was going to be my best decade ever!  Life was good.  I was on the right track.  I was a mother to three gorgeous children and the wife to a very talented pastor.  But my thirties began to bitch-slap me no more than a month after my 30th birthday, and (with a few years of happy reprieve) continued the beat-down for the better portion of that decade.  So, in many ways, I am happy to turn this page.

The fact that my father died at the age of 43 looms over me a lot.  It makes the forties a scary decade for my superstitious mind.  I am not superstitious by choice; it just nags at me on a subconscious level, causing regular conversations between my rational self and my other self.  Don't look at me like that... I know you do it too.

After some persistent contemplation, I've concluded that, outside of the obvious link between aging and death, my angst about getting older is due to my inability to reconcile where I thought I would be in my life by this age, and where I actually am.  At 20, I dreamed of marrying the love of my life and raising babies together in the home we would buy to grow old in. Clearly, I have made valiant attempts at realizing this dream. What is it they say? "Try, try again?"  "Never, Ever give up?"  Yet, three husbands, four babies, and too many homes later, it seems my progress has taken the two steps forward, four steps back approach.  I somehow feel like I'm still just trying to get started; only, not with a virginesque blank slate, clean credit, or youth.  Where I am isn't bad, it is just vastly different from the picture of success that I spent years training my brain to believe in.  And, my current reality is quite different from what society has taught me it should be by now.

** Ok.  Stop right there.  I know you already have half your speech prepared on why I shouldn't care what society says; why I need to be true to myself; how life is a journey of experiences and learning...  Of course, I know all of this is true.  Again, what I know to be true and what my other self interjects are frequently at odds with each other.**

This is why I write; to spill out the clutter of thoughts that paralyze me from forward motion.  And, as I'm writing this, bits of happiness and hope are seeping in.  I'm realizing that, with the surreal losses of my thirties, I have gained priceless perspectives about life and humanity, and have found beautiful pieces of myself.  And, I know this is not unique to me.  Many of you are reading my words and nodding your heads in understanding.  This is the gift age brings.  Wealth provided by experiences of both joy and pain.

So, I guess I'm not starting again empty-handed.  Of course I'm not! I have four spectacular human beings that call me mother, a rugged and poetic man that calls me wife, and the wisdom that these first 40 years have afforded me.  (Just, maybe, can we slow down a little bit on the wisdom-imparted-through-pain part??)

I have sort of been looking at this birthday as an opportunity for resolutions.  So, phrases such as, "five year plan," and "bucket list," have been uttered.  My imagination has been swimming with visions of physical fitness, moving closer to the ocean, sustainable gardening, owning a home again, developing community, growing our shop, medical insurance...

But, first things first... I'm turning 40... LET'S PARTY!

Sunday, December 9, 2012

I Hit the Motherlode!

Elli and I set out for an Ikea outing yesterday when we happened upon a local estate sale.  I have almost no ability to resist garage/yard/estate sale signs, so we detoured.  Fortunately, my Mr. shares in my sickness, so the only reprimand I receive from these detours is for going without him.

Anyway, I found FABULOUS! I can not wait to post these treasures in our shop! Hats! Scarves!  Bohemian Beads! Polka dots! Ruby depression glass! Linen!

I'm beyond giddy. 

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