Grandma Jean & I

grandma Jean & a flannel jacket

Grandma Jean & I

My maternal grandmother passed in 2004, and I was fortunate enough to be with her at that time. She met my daughter, then just four months old. As my children grew, I began to wish very much my grandmother was still with me. I remember she asked me, after I had my daughter – the first great-grandchild – “Are you nursing?” What a wonderful woman.

I now carry two things of my grandmother’s: a platinum ring, and her 1950 Singer 15-91

Well and, arguably, an irascible nature.

Grandma Jean & A Flannel Car Coat

Grandma Jean & A Flannel Car Coat
This coat is perfect. This happens sometimes. There are darts and pockets and bias-sections in this puppy and yet you have to work to find them all. 🙂

So yeah, it’s full of pockets. Five, all hidden. My grandma would approve. She was a li’l shady. There’d be a pack of cigarettes in one of these pockets, too. I smoked for seventeen years before quitting, so now I keep my phone there instead.

The waist patch pockets are lined and affixed by fell stitch. Even with a super-closeup, they are hard to see!

Grandma Jean & A Flannel Car Coat

The coat features a 2″ padded hem, with an interlining and full satin lining:

Grandma Jean & A Flannel Car Coat

The padded hem gives a wonderful weight to the coat.
Grandma Jean & A Flannel Car Coat

The lining is semi-quilted – quilted in chevrons in the upper back, for stability and ease of wear:

Grandma Jean & A Flannel Car Coat

Clean-finish sleeve hems:Grandma Jean & A Flannel Car Coat

Black buttons ala bakelite! No nonsense. I also liked the idea of a tidy collar, so I put some teeny tiny 3/8″ buttonholes in the collar:

Grandma Jean & A Flannel Car Coat
The sleeves have a lovely bias-cut inset. It would be easy enough to reverse-engineer the full sleeve for the lining – in this case, the lining is similarly pieced.

Grandma Jean & A Flannel Car Coat

More about those hidden pockets! Side seam pockets as well – also lined in satin:
Grandma Jean & A Flannel Car Coat

And for the fifth pocket – a welt pocket in the right-side lining. Ala menswear!Grandma Jean & A Flannel Car Coat

My grandmother’s hair was waist long; she never wore it down, ever. In her later years she spent lots of money keeping it platinum. I can’t do platinum today, but I am doing my best, and thinking of her fondly.

Grandma Jean & A Flannel Car Coat


Halloween 2016

ooky & a bit spooky

Halloween 2016

Halloween 2016
The night before Halloween, my husband and a friend traveled south, went to a concert, and upon heading back north the car broke down in the middle of nowhere. Six hours and a $600 tow later (middle of the night Sunday), they were home safely and I was entirely wrung out like a flannel.

Worse than the hardship was my anger. The car hasn’t been right; it’s not reliable. That morning I’d asked, “Do you think it’s a good idea to go down there tonight?” He did. He was wrong.

It sucks. It doesn’t bear dwelling on. My mortgage payment is gone. For now. I’ll figure something out. Or something will come. I have come to rely on this.

Halloween itself, then, commenced a little off-kilter. Ralph slept during the day a bit. In the later part of the day I was up and roasting tomatoes and de-hulling chickpeas for a small gathering at our house. Despite a tightness in my chest, and a headache in my temples, the day soon began to ease for me. My son’s friend A. came in, intrigued by my cooking, by my costume. I asked for him to put out our luminaries, a series of jars festooned in colored tissue paper decoupage. More willing than my own children to help, his eager-to-please sweetness gave me something to focus on. His presence soothed my spirit.

Ralph came back home as I finished the bisque, and set out little pickles and olives and the like. We grabbed a few photos in the gloaming, a misty rain baptizing us. Autumn has always been a very special time of year for me, and no less so this year. There is an intimacy between the children and I that I have come to find so incredibly comforting.

As darkness fell Ralph and our friends, and all the children, went off through the neighborhood and as is my custom, I manned the door. Children knocked and I greeted them, a huge bowl of candy in my arms. “A queen!” a young boy beamed, delighted by my golden crown.

Next year we’ll need a well-lit walkway; I fear it was too dark for some of the Trick or Treat’ers to brave.

This year, I am happy to have spent it in festivities with my loved ones.

Halloween 2016


the whole wide world

My son and I sit in the car. Ralph is off visiting a friend; our daughter is inside the house.

Nels is upset. Today three people in the neighborhood were rude to him; uncharacteristic, a bit rough today. The first: the parent of a neighborhood bully. This parent yelled at my son not to pet their dog; retaliation for Nels’ boundary-setting with this child, the latter having defaced our property. The second: two kids in the neighborhood, taunting Nels for being vegan – caprice and cowardice, as these young people mind their p’s and q’s when an adult is around. “I’m in the dead pig club. I love to eat dead pigs!” they shout at one another, smirking his way.

My son takes this stuff to heart. He doesn’t know what to do. I feel him on this. It’s the confusion and hurt when someone is cruel, vindictive. Even knowing why people are like this – it can hurt.

So we talk about those incidents, but briefly. In both cases, my son did not respond in kind. I am quite impressed with him for that. And I tell him. It’s character that matters here. You can have all the feelings you want. I get it. But character is important. You can’t retaliate in kind. If something has to be done, we have to be thoughtful about it. We can’t lash out, just because someone was rude. Cruel. Spiteful.

But then – we talk about other things. A catch-up, on how he’s been this week. He’s feeling the influence of the pack of boys he plays with. They cuss (when not around adults, that is), and this last week he’s cussed a few times. He is teary-eyed. “I feel like I let you down,” he tells me now, his voice breaking. I remind him that although I love it that Nels doesn’t curse; his sister does (like a sailor!). “You don’t think I judge her, do you?” I ask. He calms in a moment, then says, No. I hold him close in the front seat, smelling his straw-sweet hair.

We talk about harder times, and what he learned from those times. And what he’s learned to leave behind.

When we’ve talked it all through he is much more cheerful.

I remember when my children were very small, and I felt overwhelmed and exhausted. Their physical needs seemed constant; I had so little help, and my resources were less than they are today. And I remember thinking that older kids, kids who could clean up after themselves and shower and dress and do housework and feed themselves, how surely that must be easier.

But I think it never gets easier to have a child. It is incredible though, to watch them become strong, to navigate emotional maturity. These teenage years, there is so much treachery! Their father and I are good influences, but we aren’t their only influences.

Sometimes I feel as if I’ve folded a sweet little paper boat, and set it on a windy lake. It sails off but totters and with it, my heart in my throat.


“This isn’t even a scary bug,” my son says cheerfully, as he carefully pushes into the bathroom. I’m scrubbing my face, getting ready for bed. He comes alongside me and proudly displays the specimen on one of his long, beautiful hands. It is a hideously large, creepy-crawly moth with burly legs and massive febrile antennae. And my son is brandishing it about four inches from my face.

“Oh wow,” I say, neutrally. I am waiting for it to flutter it’s deathly dusty wings in my face. Any moment. Incredibly, it is quite at home crawling about sluggishly on my son, who is pleased as punch.

“… Can I put it on you?” he asks me politely, after a moment.

“Oh, no thank you. Hey – I am getting ready for bed. I’ll be out in a minute,” I tel him, now. We are both so polite. So civil. I am wearing a top hat and monocle.

“He’s looking at me with those big black eyes,” Nels says fondly, as he leaves.

I shudder. Look in the mirror.

I’ve been raising my kids to be gentle, to be kind. So, there it is.

& why was it lifted and taken from there

It has been many years since my daughter asked me to paint her nails. The children and I treated ourselves to professional mani-pedis just before last year’s Christmas vacation. Last December she chose a soft black, and calmly let it grow out over the period of months, her special little hands and feet.

Today: a soft black, again, in a little bottle she brought home.

First: the toes. they are each perfect, little beans. Some day they will be held and treasured by the familiarity of a lover.

Tonight, just me.

We’re in the kitchen and it’s very late and it’s very quiet. 

Her toes only take a touch of the brush.

Then: time for her fingers. Her hands are delicate and beautiful. They are always warm, her hands. She holds my hand still; she held my hand in the drugstore today. I hold each finger gently and carefully brush each nail, all my concentration. Nail lacquer is a great mindfulness practice.

“‘No Light’ Gel,” my daughter tells me. “I don’t know much about manicures, but…” [sharp intake of breath] – “the idea doesn’t seem sound.”

I am quiet, thinking of her mind. She started her second year of college today. At fourteen. Her mind is as sharp as any I’ve ever seen. I forget she still needs my help, my nurture and guidance. Adult as she sounds.

Yes but – but in her voice I can hear the same sweetness I heard when she was an infant. I remember when she was only two years old, she could “read” the large Dr. Seuss book The Lorax. She couldn’t really read, understand, but she’d memorized the words and tone of the words when we read to her, and she has always been the most delightful mimic. She would calmly turn the pages and recite the story aloud: “What was the Lorax? And why was it there?” I’d hear her musical but sharpish lisp from her bedrroom while I breastfed her brother.

She says, now, about the nail laquer – which she bought herself while on errands with her grandmother, a thoughtful purchase, “But it was one of the more moderately-priced products on the market.”

I die. I die a hundred times inside my heart.

Flu Shot

into the early hours

Flu shots today. One stoic, one pensive and needing a hand-hold.

Flu Shot

Flu Shot, Part 2

We struggled so much financially, when the kids were small. Thinking about it now, this might have been the best time for that sort of thing. Children don’t need social status, and they don’t worry about the future (until we show them how). They need food, warmth, play and rest, love and attention, and opportunities to explore with their beloved carer at their side.

Ralph and I managed all that, amidst varieties of hardship and calamity that brings to mind the adage: “Comedy is tragedy plus time.”

I’m thinking of this past, now that my cupboard is full and we have pretty reliable hot water and I don’t worry as much. It seemed like things got better pretty easily, but of course I’ve worked hard, and of course we’ve had good fortune besides.

We are in our final weekend before Phee’s second year at college. The children are both very engrossed in their exploits: Nels has been alternating between gaming online – and playing outside with the neighborhood gang. His schedule has gracefully morphed to perfection: he is up only a few hours before the rest of the boys get home from school, and in that time he cleans up, breakfasts, and does his morning chores. He plays with the boys until they go home, and then he’s online until I get him away, after I’ve done my own daily work.

Crawling into bed in the wee early hours of the morning, my son and I are watching Scooby Doo on Zombie Island. “Do you think that’s a real ghost?” I ask my son, during the rousing beginning caper in the film. “No,” he replies, sounding like the teenage boy he’s growing into. He knows how Scooby Doo works – come on, mom!

But I turn and look at him in the light from the screen, and I can see he’s smiling.

the most amazing business in the world

Driving home I’m sad. It’s gorgeous out. And I’d like to feel better. I get tired of all the hate in the world, all the people who are unhappy and willing to splash it around at leisure. Today I got hit with some splatter, let’s just say. Someone hurting I suppose, who elected to be nasty.

My mind touches on happy memories form the last 24. A stripey kitty with white socks, running across the street. I’ve never lived with a stripey kitty with white socks (although I hosted one briefly, this summer). Maybe that can happen someday. 

The other day, at breakfast – Nels exclaims happily, and points out the window. “Mom, come look! You will like it!”

I come look. It’s an inchworm, a little yellow guy about an inch and a half. He’s racing along the railing of our deck. Yes, I do like it. I step out to take a picture.

Nels has been bringing me inchworms because he knows they make me happy. A recent specimen was only about three millimeters long. They are always so busy and earnest and they move so quickly. We only examine them moments before my son takes the back, always back to where they came from.


Yesterday my son comes alongside me as I am fooling with some noodles, straining them in the sink. Making a lunch.

“Did dad tell you I tripped on some glass?” he asks, by way of conversation.
“No. Are you okay?”
“Yeah. Just a really deep cut,” he says nonchalantly, showing me a shiny new bandaid in the flesh of his palm.

A really deep cut!

“I keep wondering if they’re glass in my hand. I keep pressing on it.”
My children are teenagers – well, almost, in Nels’ case – but they retain that childlike nature, a positivity and helpfulness, that makes them a heck of a lot better company than lots of grownups. My daughter rescues a small spider that falls in the washing machine. She draws a sketch for a dear friend. She cooks for herself – tater tots, half of her repetoire!
She asks me to make her some menswear-style clothing – she wants to dress “butch” this fall. Ask and ye shall receive!
Working in the studio until late. Time to take a hot shower and get to bed. Meeting with a new client tomorrow: altering a bridesmaid’s dress. Grocery money for my little ones. Not so little now. But still my little chicks, under the wing.

sharing space

When I wake, I pull up my phone and read for a bit. The room is cool and dark but I can tell it will be warm out today. Another day I will take care of dinner, so when Ralph comes home he can work on refinishing the deck.

But this is for later. I am still in bed. My son wakes and pulls himself close to me. After a bit he turns over and nestles up against me, the little spoon. His skin is smooth and brown, cream in coffee. I stroke his back a bit and pull him close, put my face in his hair. “I love you so much,” he whispers.

I make up a lunch, later, before I retire to my studio to sew. I soak rice noodles and whisk together a sauce; minced ginger, shoyu, tahini, peanut butter, and sesame oil. Carrots, green peas. A hot pan and seared tofu in sesame oil.

My daughter is in the shower; Nels and I sit down with our bowls of noodles, and garlic chili sauce. He is exclaiming in wonder how delicious the food is, and how quickly I cooked it. I think about how I cooked for the family for the first ten years of family life; my husband has been doing most of the cooking the last four years. Funny though, you don’t really forget, when you have that much experience.

The sun streams through the windows; the kitties are more or less content. Herbert Pocket sleeps curled up around the hibiscus trunk, her body fitting perfectly in the earthenware pot. The children take the dog for a walk; Phoenix hangs towels and puts away laundry, before padding off upstairs to draw, as she is wont to do.

Downstairs where I work, little spiders come to visit, and I carefully move them aside. The garage door is open and I ask after the young neighbor next door. He comes inside and sits with me and we talk: school (he’s at high school this year), siblings, Halloween. 

The companionship of kitties, of children, of little baby spiders. It’s no wonder I have been feeling rather well lately.

outside with the willow trees

I wonder at this, but as fun as summer is, there is a specialness to the school year for us. The kids’ friends disappear for the weekdays, and are locked down in the evenings and even weekends. The children and I move into a slower tempo. We have the time to do the things we like. Contemplative, unhurried. Lots of good sleep and even better food. Walks together, little errands. Swim dates and adventures to the beach in the rain; hot coffee in a cafe alone.

Today I wake the children and ask them to do their chores quickly, so we can get Phoenix to the doctor. She is having the last installment in a series of painful injections. She’s so damn stoic that the slight bit of friendly agitation she evidences – moving to sit by me in the waiting room, putting her arms around me, talking to me a bit more than usual – lets me know she’s a bit apprehensive. We sit in the exam room and discuss vaccinations, and her latest art projects. She asks me to sit by her; she reaches for my hand. I hold it in mindfulness as I watch the nurse thrust a very large needle in her arm.

After, the kids and I are out to split a small pizza and salad. We play on my phone and giggle together; my son politely samples the vegan salad dressing options and elects to eat his salad plain – lettuce and olives. Besides a table of burly-looking jocks, we’re the only customers there. Perhaps that’s the joy I feel with the kids, during the school year. The town is emptied: just us, no hurries, our errands.

I have the honor of visiting a woman’s house this evening, and listening to her talk about her alcoholism. She is much older than I, has lived a longer life. But I can offer her help. After we talk an hour, she takes me on a tour around the path she walks. It is festooned with all sorts of little statues and baubles; nestled against the lush grass. I say, “M____, were you raised Catholic?” She tells me she was. We both smile, that I intuited this – although there is no Catholic imagery in the masonry and stones and painted rocks and homemade mosaics, I could still feel the influence. We spend a moment in the soft beating heart of this bit of recognition, then we move forward.

It’s 80 degrees; a summer warmth, some of the last this season. I climb in my car and music plays. I am heading back home to the children, and to the rest of the day’s work.

Road House (1989)

take the train

“I don’t know why people don’t realize that I like Road House unironically.

“It’s a perfect film. It’s paced well. It doesn’t have any extra fluff. It doesn’t get bigger than the story. It doesn’t try to be something it’s not.”


“I mean yeah, it’s ridiculous. OK. But it’s also got a noir element.”

He’s still listening, so I go on.

“You know, you have this kind of bleak wasteland. You have an anti-hero. A loner. He’s used to just taking care of himself. He’s good at it.”

“He’s a philosopher,” Ralph interjects.

Right! But then he finds himself in a circumstance where he has to protect some innocents. And he can’t help himself. He has to get involved, even if it’s hopeless.”

I pause, and then say, “Well… I guess it’s not really that noir, I mean besides that. I mean, usually a noir has -“

“- a femme fatale,” my husband nods knowingly.

Instantly, I’m peevish. “Road House has a femme fatale!” I’m pissed. He’s sat through this movie with me many times. Come on!

“…She just doesn’t have a big part,” I allow, begrudgingly. 

Road House (1989)