i know it won’t mean much to you, but it’s been hard on me.

It’s almost as if I’ve achieved a well-orchestrated balancing act and despite my veteran status it doesn’t take much to knock me off kilter. Yesterday a specialist in Seattle changed the assessment of my father’s lifespan from “months to years” to “weeks to months”. Hearing this today, sitting in the living room with him as he lies on the couch suffering, the worst thing is that sometimes it seems he’s dead already, that the cancer or Death is larger and bigger than the moment we have. I feel double-robbed, robbed now, robbed in the future and soon.

Moments like this are the worst because they take away the most powerful truth we can live in, the moment, something we can agree on regardless of spiritual beliefs or lack thereof – something I tell myself daily and am starting to tell others:

Breathe, you are alive.

in our best previously-loved finery

I love to shop. I love to buy things. Being a one-income family of four I’ve had to adjust a bit. Mostly, I focus this pleasure of mine on the acquisition of groceries and food. I enjoy immensely learning to cook something new; to find something different to pursue, to go on a hunt for a rare item, to try a new restaurant (although mostly I limit my restaurants to our favorite deli and our local Latino fare). I enjoy buying a big or little thing for the house (last week it was two $1 prisms and fishing line to hang in our small living room windows), to clean or meagerly furnish my “nest”. I’ve always been this way.

Our local garage sales are excellent for spending frugally, and ’tis the season indeed. Some of my best Fridays and Saturdays lately have been spent biking around Hoquiam and Aberdeen with kids in tow, hopping off at various yard sales and going though piles of clothes in hunt for our wardrobe (my children especially do not benefit from newly-purchased clothes). This weekend’s garage sale expedition was largely funded by my lettuce sales at our local Public Market (oddly, while visiting my family before I left, my dad first made fun of how little money my lettuce raised, then insisted I wasted it all by driving to the Market. But in reality I haven’t driven to that Farmer’s Market once in my produce-selling escapades and in fact had just disembarked from my bike to share my excitement).

This Saturday for $11 I purchased the following: an evening scarf (Kelly), 2 t-shirts (Kelly), 2 t-shirts and a dress shirt (Ralph), dress pants (Nels), a pair of herringbone cotton pants (to refashion for kids), denim jacket (Kelly), hoodie (Nels), ls tee shirt (Sophie), and 2 vinyl albums (“South Pacific” for me, “If I Could Only Remember My Name”, hippie David Crosby for my parents).

P.S., if it was you Ms. Pop Tart, you don’t have much to educate me on nutrition for children!

Today was an odd, ephemeral and lovely day for the most part, consisting of an enjoyable afternoon out first on the bike, then to lunch and grocery shopping with my parents and my children. I can usually only hope to steal my mother away for daily errands in between the events in her busy schedule (said “busyness” sometimes consisting of just being around the house for my dad – it’s very sweet, they like hanging out with each other and almost no one else). And of the four members of my FOO I’m the only one who likes going out to eat (not strictly true: my brother likes eating out but is so tight-fisted with cash he simultaneously judges others or feels guilty himself upon indulging), so it’s rare I have enthusiastic partners in this endeavor.

I may sound like I’m poking fun of my family but the truth is I enjoy spending time with them near as much as my own wee foursome. One of the chief good trappings of this day was that my father came along with us. He has been feeling better, despite new tumor growths in his lungs and bones. His good spirits seem largely due to the fact he’s had more than two months off chemo (his choice). It’s sad to see him off chemo because chemo keeps him alive (albeit tortured and sick). It’s almost, in its way, even sadder to see his hair thicken and his skintone liven and his skinny 6′ 3″ frame gain a few pounds. He starts to look startlingly good. I look at him and think to myself, imagine how healthy and hale he would be now without cancer treatment these last eight years. This is almost the worst kind of thought to think because it takes me back to What Could Have Been, a place I for the most part abandoned and don’t often glance at.

I feel oddly exhausted to recount a strange episode from this morning that almost ruined my day: we were visited by a gentleman from DSHS on an issue of child welfare – in fact my child, Nels. On Saturday afternoon my son had ventured out (in the nintey-plus degree heat making him restless, I suppose) two blocks afield and was asking neighbors for food and drink. A neighbor brought him back straight away (after feeding him bottled water and Pop Tart) and spoke to Ralph, who apologized for the trouble and thanked the neighbor for bringing our son home. My husband was pissed – cranky from the heat, angry at Nels for wandering off, irritated at me for – I’m not sure what. Because I know Nels and know there’s little we can do except to talk to him about what he shouldn’t do and why. But anyone suggesting we “make” him forgo venturing off on his own on some too-grown, precocious endeavor (harmless or otherwise)? Bitch, you don’t know my son!

So imagine my mild surprise, then shock, then bemusement, offense, and small dark cloud of rage forming between my eyes when a stranger showed up and wanted to look at the state of my housekeeping, the food in my fridge, and the nurturing conditions and mental stimulus afforded my children (all of which were running smoothly, of course). Here’s the weird thing: of course I support these programs and am glad to see what I saw operating in Grays Harbor County this morning. And in theory I tell myself I wouldn’t judge nor place myself above the parent who would benefit from these services. But I found out today it’s another thing entirely to have them at my own doorstep.

The gentleman interrupted the kids and I as we were studying world atlases and preparing dough for chocolate croissants (the food tying into the geography lessons: croissants from France, as pointed out on the map, and chocolate from – usually – South America). The social worker – who was completely professional, matter-of-fact, and friendly, none of which made the incident less unpleasant – told me the call was from someone (maybe the neighbors who’d returned Nels, maybe not – who knows?) who had reported this was a “drug-addled” neighborhood (WTF?). The sole purpose of his visit seemed to be – besides “checking us out”, which had included a call to law enforcement – informing us of services we could take advantage of. In fact at no point did I hear an admonishment or feel chastised in any way; rather, I’d seen a window into institutional procedure based around helping people help themselves. This was an odd relief and in accordance with what I would want from social work at large. Still, I couldn’t help wonder: what if my fridge had been empty? What if my house was a pit, or I had a sick kid, or what if Nels runs off again?

Before the social worker left I sat my son on my lap and explained briefly that it’s a lot of trouble (for me), drama (for me), and paperwork (for Mr. DSHS) brought down on us for a four-year old to venture off like that, even once. I don’t think we made it too heavy-handed.

I know Nels couldn’t have known that for me the incident sparked this terrifying, irrational, yet nevertheless thoroughly soul-sickening feeling of the loss of one’s child, a fear that lives in the bottom third of my heart no matter waking or sleeping and pumps a noxious cold blood-substitute whenever circumstances hint toward anything of the kind.

it’s just been that kind of assy, tired-out day

Today is my father’s sixty-fifth birthday. I remember last year wondering if we’d reached his terminal age. Today he tells me his own father died at sixty-six (also cancer) and he thinks it will be a “challenge” to outlast.

Unfortunately I just couldn’t bring myself to have dinner with them tonight. Instead I had breakfast with my parents and catered out a lemon meringue pie – a pie I’d attempted to make myself this morning with disastrous results, disastrous as in my entire kitchen covered in various sugar and cornstarch cements. Bleh.

Today had its good points: I’m still alive, I still have my family, and we’re all healthy. A friend took Nels to school today, thereby freeing me from an across-town errand. I met with three other individuals committed to this year’s Community Garden – what a bright spot in the day! And in boiling tonight’s bagels (all of which turned out perfectly) I looked out the window to see my husband and son gleefully having a flower fight, probably the only thing I smiled about today right down to my heart.

it makes perfect sense

I’ve taught a few sewing classes (to smatterings of attendance) over the last few years and I recently remembered a rather funny moment. My four students and I were about twenty minutes into our first class and introducing ourselves in that sort of nervous way when another woman joined us, flustered at being late. Somehow in her hurried apologies to the class she gestured at her crocheted hat and told us, “I just had brain surgery” by way of explanation for something or other. And in her hands she carried a toy – not a miniature, but an actual toy, machine.

Everyone kind of paused in that “dangerous” moment (in reality, there is no danger) where we are assessing if this person is playing on the same field we are. But it turned out this woman was a sweet, intelligent, mother of grown children who worked in the area. Later that summer I counseled her on a machine to buy (a Singer 15-91), found her a manual, and helped her learn to thread her machine while she fed my children homemade applesauce in her sunny, homey kitchen.

This is no segue, but I just had a rather unfunny but startling moment about five minutes ago when I called my mother (to tell her to cover the truckload of fill dirt we hauled yesterday) and found out she and my father had been at the hospital all night because of his skyrocketing blood pressure (a new ailment). It’s like – I know my father is dying, but I still get so scared when I hear his life is in danger – and this is the silly part – I briefly and passionately react as if I can do something to rescue him from this eventuality.

I finished three pair of pants for Nels the other day. My kids’ growth and play-use of clothing outstrips my ability to sew for them. I may have to – gasp! – actually buy them a thing or two soon.

He Puts These In My Mouth

while you were out

Time slows down on the bike. Today I started the day with sewing machine loaded up in the trailer and lengths of fabric, heading off to my mom’s to sew on a quilt (for my son’s school’s yearly auction). She and I set up in the kitchen and talked and hummed along on our two machines, taking breaks for coffee and to steam-press newly-sewn seams before sitting back down for another round of stitching. Nels joined us after preschool and happily retired to the living room to help Grandpa with a puzzle until it was time for us to hit a diner for lunch.

After eating and chatting with the waitresses it was off in the sunshine to pick up my daughter; we’re early so once Nels and I get off the bike and unpack helmets and walk in to the school for Suse, why not let the kids stay and play on the playground for a few minutes? Not something I feel inclined to do when I’m in the pickup line, dutifully driving through the roundabout and pausing to have my child inserted in the car (I’ve seen other parents stay uninterrupted on cell phone calls during this operation). On the swings I permit myself a foray into Andrew Bird (must… stop… listening to incessantly!) on my new [late] birthday present from Ralph (variety: purple).

Time slows down enough that, say, you suddenly realize you had a date ten minutes ago in Aberdeen and can’t possibly make it (shit!). Or enough that you don’t jet home for the day and therefore miss a phone message canceling tonight’s hosted dinner at friends’ house, due to friends’ illnesses. Therefore my joke in arriving at our friends’ house (smoking a cigarette while biking, observed more often than you might think in GH) is completely lost on the hosts, afflicted with equal parts plague and guilt. Home for a quick plan and make-up of evening repast.


I find when I invite gratitude into my life, richness pours in. Today I felt so fortunate to be sitting in the hospital with my mother and son while my father sat pre-surgery awaiting another medical procedure – this time, a port installed into his body so we could pump chemo into his heart. The nurse commented on my father’s eyelashes. Since his latest respite from chemo his hair not only grew back thicker and kinkier, his eyelashes are long and curly like a cupid’s, a rare physical beauty blooming from a ravaged body. Another strange-yet-true part of our journey with cancer. Nels’ behavior is complemented by many nurses and staff and in turn I get to hear the (rare) out-loud testimonies from my parents, who are proud of the care their grandchildren receive.

This morning my husband printed out fifty copies of the zine (click to download: [here] ) and after getting home from the hospital I painstakingly stamp them all. They’re off to my East County distributor, whose efforts I appreciate so much in spreading the zine out a bit. Perfectionist I am, I cringe that my website still needs an update; oh well. “Done is better than perfect,” I remind myself.

In just a few minutes Nels and I travel to Suse’s kindergarten class for a Valentine’s Day party. My mother made lovely meringue sugar cookies and I am supplying soaked almonds and dried fruit. Let me tell you, my time with those children is unadulterated joy. Now if I can just pace myself, I’ll still have energy to sew on my brother’s coat this evening before we’re off to an Open Mike at the deli (Ralph is performing).

like settlers heading into "town"

I tasted my first fresh Krispy Kreme today (what can I say, I’m the OG Country Mouse). It was a struggle, but I got it down eventually (actually, the remainder I picked up are calling to me now). More surprising than the donut hype around the legendary junk food was the coffee – hot, fresh and tasty – and the fact the retro 50s squeaky-kleen donut factory ambience actually worked on me. I felt pleased and comforted and totally forgot I was sitting in the middle of a square mile of strip-mall concrete in Puyallup.

My fabric trip with my mom (and Nels) was bookended by watching my parents fight about their severely damaged roof, a post-storm saga that does not seem to be winding down to a close (yesterday they had another contractor quit on them). The fighting was kind of surprising because growing up my parents “rarely” fought and somehow the legacy was they “didn’t” fight. Today there was yelling and cussing and later a cell-phone apology (delivered by my mother who, distracted and sad she’d yelled at my dad, pulled over on our way out of Aberdeen in order to call) and then when we got back, a wind-up, more yelling, tears, and stomping. “It’s not my fault,” my father reminds my mother as he angrily saddles up to drive to the roofer’s offices. She doesn’t quite apologize again, still angry about the stream of contractors she’s alienated, anxious to stop the deterioration of her home (the tarping fix fell apart and water damage has started to hurt the insides of the house), and mad that my father isn’t taking care of it in the way she feels he should.

My son and I witness these words. I feel badly for my parents. I am sad they are struggling and fighting over these things while my dad is so sick. I am sad that my parents, who used to enjoy household projects together in their mutual interest and good health, now have a total pain-in-the-ass problem that’s costing money, taking time, and making my mom crazy which results in her picking on my dad. My dad is so thin he has those crazy old man legs they can cross at the upper thigh. Yet despite this, despite a near-skeletal frame (he’s lost an inch to his height, did I tell you that?) and his tests and poisons he still remains my father, the same. I am not all that sorry for him in the sense I think he can still handle life’s complexities. But I am sorry that my mom has this household burden at the same time she’s facing the poor health of her mate. Oddly, or perhaps you understand, it’s exactly experiences like today that make me glad I moved here to be witness, to help if I can, and to participate in their lives through good or ill.

The fabric store itself was great. Mom and I stuck to our small lists (I did not select an underlining for my brother’s coat yet; the addition of my four year old to the shopping experience caused us to cut things a bit short) and found things in short order. I felt joy at the fabrics I saw, more types that I could have pictured, and I did not find myself longing for fabrics I can’t have. This is a good thing. I saw dual-colored zippers and plush fake fur and lovely wools and found four color combinations of the rare-ish bonded sherpa / minkee fleece I’d sought for my baby slipper project. I also was cheered to discover their minimum yardage cut is 1″. It just seemed so sweet and accommodating on their part.

It’s funny to visit “the city” and suddenly realize I could find socks for Sophie, or face wash, or exactly the restaurant food I crave, or the perfect color of sheets, or a tiny teapot from an Asian grocer or whatever. I get so used to being in a small town where your spontaneous creativity is hampered by what you can lay hands on (which does make the occasional inspired find all the more exciting). In cases like today, a list is the way to go. Otherwise I just feel an envious sense of overwhelm.

And now, I have a bootleg copy of Sweeney Todd to finish. I think I’m going to get on that.

a good saturday

When I get inspired it’s a glorious thing. I’m liable to tear a whole room apart, clean, and reassemble. Or run off to a craft store and purchase a handful of 55 cent vellum sheets for homemade cards; rummage through the hardware store spending way too much time on something silly and mundane; change needles on my machine, surf Etsy or Flickr and think of what I want to sew or draw or write on. I got extra screw-off time this morning as Ralph took the kids swimming and then to freinds’ for lunch.

My father came over at two PM – barely able to get through a work session after his Thursday chemo – to help Ralph build Sophie’s loft bed. Before they start my husband asks, “So any changes to the plans?” and my dad replies, “No… I mean not unless you’ve changed something.” To which Ralph says, “Look, I just want to know we can work in [awkward] silence the whole time.” They vanish into the next room with drill and two by fours and saws and (I hope) a level.

After my father leaves in the early evening – very sick, in fact – the family reconvenes. Sophie so loves the promise of the new bed that she perches up there – on the unpainted plywood plank – with a few books to read, bright with happiness. Nels scuttles off post-dinner and Ralph and I finish out our conversation about our current activities. I wander into the living room while sipping coffee and rice milk and my eye wanders into the dark bathroom where Nels sits, perched on the toilet, shirt lifted to show his newly-fed frog belly as he takes care of toilet business. “It’s me,” he grins at me when I turn his way. The little hobgoblin.

Tonight: endless zine work, proofreading. Homemade Valentine’s Day cards. Loud music and the sounds of kids splashing in the bath. Everyone stays up late and we watch MST3K together. Family life really works for me, sometimes.

a lovely man in so many ways

I recently found an anti-Walmart piece by an author I respect, for publication in my zine. In fairness, ideally, I’d like to put in a pro-Walmart or rebuttal piece (Walmart is a big deal here on the Harbor). So yesterday I’m telling my parents about my desire to find someone to write an article I could put side-by-side in the publication.

“You know…” I say, “Someone who can tell me some positives or a piece by a Walmart supporter.”

“Problem is, they don’t know how to read or write,” my dad snorts.*

“Oh come on,” I roll my eyes, annoyed with the put-down and wanting real conversation.

“Gap-toothed hicks…” he’s continuing on, mostly to himself.**

“Um,” I say, “As opposed to your gaps, and all the metal, and the pieces coming out like a messed-up drawer of silverware?”

He draws himself up with dignity: “A missing tooth isn’t a gap,” he imparts, offended. ***

* I hope the fact he’s currently dying from cancer alleviates some of my readers’ annoyance at his asinine, snide nature.

** No really. I am so sorry. He’s terrible.

*** My father did indeed stop being a jerk and come up with the idea to publish a call for a rebuttal or feedback, in case I don’t find someone to pen the pro-W piece this time around.