Wednesday, February 3, 2016

January, What I Learned

On our library website, if the book I want isn't on their book list, I can request a purchase! My library savvy daughter suggested this - she works in a library, and one of her tasks is book purchaser. Of course, the books are reviewed, but so far, the three I requested have been purchased - and that puts me as number one on the hold list for when it arrives. Habitat: A Field Guide to Decorating, is a new book recommended on several of the blogs I read. As a design book, it is full of photos, heavy duty paper, and gorgeous design, which all come with a big price tag. Perfect for my first request through the library. It came through this month, and I am delighted. Lauren Liess is a designer, and she does a beautiful job of suggesting and guiding and directing without making me feel like a less-than-smart-homemaker. With four young children herself, she knows a bit about messes and practical solutions.

She writes it as a field guide, with definitions, based on her favorite book and pastime as she grew up - a nature field guide she carried around with her everywhere, making notes, learning about plants and developing a growing love of nature. This love of nature is incorporated into every room; bringing the outside in is her favorite theme.

Now, if I had just known this little library trick back when Marie Kondo's book, The Magic of Tidying Up, came out, I wouldn't have been #80 (or whatever number I was,don't remember exactly), when I finally got around to putting a hold on it. I'm down to #7 now, looking forward to reading it soon.

My method: How To Organize, 101. Empty out the drawer or shelf or surface. Don't leave the things you know you will put back anyway, or the plant on the island, or the favorite shirt. Empty it all out. All of it. Empty. I am not repeating this because I think you didn't hear me, but because I have to repeat it to myself when I am attempting to organize. Pull it all out. Move it to a different place. On the bed, where it has to be cleared off before bedtime. On the table, where it will have to be cleared before dinner. Somewhere where you have to take steps, to see the stuff in a completely different context. Then, put back only what you really, really want to keep and will use.

I suppose I did know all this already, but this month, I re-learned it. Mostly, with our kitchen island, but I did several drawers this way, too. Since before Thanksgiving, I've had a few plants on the end of the island, and for some reason I cannot explain, since then, there have been piles of stuff. Random stuff, piled on the island. This month, I moved the plants, found places for everything else, and the island is again, empty. If I'm cooking, yes, there is a cookbook and measuring spoons and bowls and splatters. But when I'm done, it is amazingly easy to wipe it all down, and have it all cleared off again. Love it that way. I have space. Even if the rest of the counters are, let's say, busy with stuff, I have the relief of the island space. For me, it has to be extreme to make it work.

Now, if I could just do this consistently, through the whole house...

A new cast iron fry pan gives me new recipes and techniques to learn. For the most part, successful. One recipe was yummy, but the cooking time given was way too long. I burned a section along the side. You're not supposed to soak cast iron, it could rust, so I was afraid to try my usual technique of soaking damp baking soda on the spot overnight. I scrubbed and rubbed. Still stuck-on spots. I put a big blob of coconut oil on the spots, and let it sit overnight. In the morning, the mess wiped right off. Yay!


A book I received for Christmas inspired my reading list for 2016. A Writer's Garden, How gardens inspired our best loved authors, by Jackie Bennett, has a chapter for twenty different authors, like Beatrix Potter, Agatha Christie, Charles Dickens, Winston Churchill, Roald Dahl, Virginia Woolf, Jane Austen. They are described in their gardens, with anecdotes from the time they lived there, gorgeous photos, lists of the books they wrote while living at that location, and how those books were influenced by where they lived and gardened. Photos of their studios, or sometimes garden sheds are inspiring. The paths they walked daily, their favorite plants, or the guests they entertained there, give you a glimpse into their private inspirations.

I have already read some of their classic books, but my plan is to read at least one book from each of the authors. Next up, Pygmalion, by George Bernard Shaw, the play that became My Fair Lady. Then, something by Agatha Christie. I just finished The Lake House, by Kate Morton. I'm generally not a mystery fan, but have really enjoyed Kate Morton's mysteries. Have not ever read Agatha Christie, but it seemed a good choice since I'm on a mystery theme. Any recommendations for one of her mysteries?

A book about writers, their books, and their gardens, a perfect topic for me.

One of our daughters sent me this:
"Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit.
Wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.
Philosophy is wondering if that means ketchup is a smoothie."
I am already ready for spring. Put in a large order for seeds: flowers and vegetables.  This month, I want to build a cold frame and set up my grow lights in the basement to start some seedlings come March. Or maybe in February, if I can't wait, maybe on February's extra day. My hoop cover is keeping chard, spinach, kale, carrots and beets snug, even though it was 12 degrees last night and snow is piled around.

My inside blooms - eight buds on one amaryllis bulb. Winter consolation.

Audrey Hepburn said, "To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow."
One more thing I learned this month:
Bill Keane, the Family Circus author and illustrator said,
"If you are afraid to make a mistake, you won't make anything."
In two areas, I am applying this. My writing for here, on this blog, and my garden writing, for the local newspaper and the Master Gardener newsletters. It is too easy for me to do nothing, to be afraid of a mistake, to not want to put anything "out there," because I am afraid. So, here's to making things, (create, my one-word for 2016), even if what I make is a mistake.

This list linked with Emily Freeman, Chatting at the Sky. There you can read what other writers learned in January.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Code Your Goals

The last week of January. Already. How are your goals coming along? Did you just roll your eyes at me? Crazy, isn't it? The way the hands on the clock keep going around and around and around. Those weekly calendar pages check off, one by one by one.

I purposely made my goals a bit vague this year. Rule number one about making goals: make them specific, actionable, measurable, and time sensitive. I thought, maybe, if I kept the goals in general terms, I wouldn't roll my eyes at myself as time slips by, unproductive, ineffective, goals undone.

Well, I'm not so sure about my vague goals. Perhaps there is wisdom in having a clear, focused idea of where I am headed each day. The journey is important, yes. But a destination is critical, too.

This photo, cropped from the first one, focuses in on the details of the snowflakes. At least as well as my camera and my photography skills can do. Amazing, this morning, seeing the light snowfall we had last night, the flakes, each crisp and ornate and beautiful. Beautiful as a whole, but even more impressive as unique and individual.

An idea I read: when Gretchen Rubin worked through her Happiness Project, writing it, developing her monthly goals and plans, she blogged her process. Her chapters contain some of the comments she received along the way. One of them really stuck with me. The gal suggested to use your passwords as goal reminders. How many times a day do you plug in certain passwords? Use those effectively. Say, you want to exercise five times a week. Set up a password like, RnwlkX5#.

I am not advising you on your password safety. There are general suggested structures for a secure password, and various sites have different guidelines. In general, at least eight characters are recommended, that it does not contain a complete word, and it includes four types of characters: uppercase letters, lowercase letters, numbers, and special symbols. And, I would add, something easy for you to remember.

Take a goal you want to be reminded of, often. Turn it into a personalized, coded password, and remember it often as you type it on your keyboard, multiple times a day.

In my head, spring is not far away. I know, for a fact, that reality is a bit different than that. Our last frost date is May 12th, and we have seen snow on the last three Mother's Days. That is three and a half months away. What will I have accomplished by then? Will my vague, general goals still be vague and general by then? Yes, unless I change my way of thinking about them.

The last weeks of December, I jotted down a list of things I wanted to do in 2016; a random list, as things came to mind. Now, looking at the list again, I see a need to quantify them. What, how, and when will I do these? How can I make them specific, actionable, measurable, and timed? I made a note in my planner, on May 15th, to reevaluate the list. And, I made up a new password to remind me of a key, priority goal.

What do you think of making a new password, unique to your goals?

Tuesday, January 12, 2016


Have you thought about a one-word theme for this year?

Years before, I picked words. Last year was, "Wonder."

This year, it seemed the word picked me.


At first, I wondered, why that word? It sounded too focused on doing something, productivity, or making something, sewing or painting or something like that. But it wouldn't go away.

So, I started a list of thoughts, to catch my wandering ideas.

What can I create?

Order. As I organize and de-clutter and thin out the stuff, I create order.

Clean. As I clean and maintain things around our home, I create a clean, comfortable place to live.

Peace. The work of order and cleaning creates a sense of peace, a peaceful attitude.

And, please understand, these are goals to work towards, not statements of accomplishment.

Calm. As with peace, steps taken bring a sense of calm.

Beauty. In the garden, in the home, order and clean create beauty.

Energy. Goals accomplished, or even steps toward them, create energy toward more steps.

Contentment. Knowing there is progress, knowing the intention is understood, brings content.

Joy. A sense of joy in my work, creating not things, but joy through what I do.

Love. Love, expressed in creative ways.

And other ways, I'm sure I'll learn as the year goes by.

It is encouraging to me to see what I do in all the mundane details as creating something. Even washing the dishes is creating. Seems simple, really. The perspective of, "Create," applies to everything I do. Teaching, learning with our son -- creating opportunities for him. More than doing a task I will be doing again tomorrow, I can enjoy the cleaning, or whatever,  because there is a bigger perspective of creating while I do that whatever.

This is not an original idea by any means. To create, to make a home, to enjoy and thrive in it, is why they call it homemaking. It helps me to focus on a perspective bigger than that pile of dog hair waiting to be vacuumed.

All of it, everything I do, is a tool to be used creatively.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Silly Puppy

I wrote the following clip years ago as part of a novel that now sits in a box in the closet. Yes, I should polish it up and send it out, but that's another story. Anyway, in this clip, Libby is dealing with grief and family conflicts. She begins working with a neighbor, an older woman named Oliver (her last name, but she said her friends call her Oliver, so that's what she wants Libby to call her). Libby helps her around the house and with her home business, after Oliver has an accident.

At that time, I had not experienced a dog with separation anxiety. I made up what I thought a silly, confused dog would do when it was alone and worried. Well, since then, we adopted a dog with these struggles, my parents adopted a dog with challenges, and recently our son and a friend of mine both adopted dogs with these issues. Being left alone is traumatic for them. I guess it is common in shelter, rescue dogs, who have been abandoned for whatever reasons.

Have you dealt with these problem dogs? I asked our vet, and he said, "Give them time and security." Well, that isn't easy if you have to go somewhere and leave them alone. Even for a quick trip out, a short time alone, they panic and do crazy things. One solution I have heard is go for daily walks. The exercise is beneficial on many levels (for the person, too), and they return to the familiar security of their new home. Afraid I am not consistent on this one - this is one of my goals for 2016. Do you know of other, successful ways to deal with separation anxiety?


Oliver, seeing Libby struggle to keep back the tears, asked if she could tell her a little story.

"Of course," said Libby.

"Once upon a time," Oliver chuckled, and Libby had to smile at the silly beginning. "A young dog came to live with a young family. He worked hard at learning what was expected of him, and found that it was really quite easy to do what he was told. Except for one thing. When they left him alone, he became very unhappy, and very forgetful. He forgot that he wasn't supposed to drink out of the toilet, and he wasn't supposed to chew up the towels (they were so much fun to pull off the rods and rip to shreds), and he wasn't supposed to drag the newspaper all over the house. When his people got home, he tried to show them how glad and relieved he was that they were back, but all they did was scold and punish him. So, he became more afraid of times they would leave him. Not the best doggie logic," Oliver said in digression, "But a dog can't be expected to understand everything."

"Back to the story. One day they left him and didn't come back. Not at his dinner time, not when it got dark, and not when it was bedtime. He ripped up two towels and pulled the rest off the wall. He spread newspaper all the way down the hall. Which came in handy when he needed to do his business. He drank half the toilet water and drooled all the way onto the hall rug. But the newspaper absorbed some of it. He was so bored he took a nap." Libby laughed, picturing the dog's antics through the house.

"He became more afraid, the longer his people were gone. He became more forgetful, and forgot he wasn't supposed to howl in the house. The howling made him feel better. At least it wasn't so quiet anymore. When he stopped howling, it was fearfully quiet, so he howled some more."

Oliver paused, while the sound of the fearful quiet settled around them. "Now, dogs don't think in words, I guess, but they seem to sometimes. He wondered where his people were, and why they didn't come home to him. Maybe they were afraid of the mess they'd find when they got here? No, that couldn't be it. Maybe they got lost? Maybe they needed directions to get back? He howled louder so they could hear him and find their way home."

Libby laughed out loud. The silly dog filled her with a vivid picture of intensity and confusion and loneliness. "Oh, Oliver, what does he do? What does he figure out?"

"Well, using typical doggie logic," Oliver grinned back at her, "He decided to try to get out of the house. Not to escape or leave, of course, but to go and find his people and help them get home. Get home to him, to his house."

"He jumped at the front door, which was locked and secure. He scratched and dug at the back door, and pushed at the little door he usually used to get to the yard, but the flap was tightly shut and wouldn't budge. He wandered around the house, wondering what to do next. A cool breeze rustled across his ears. A window must be open, but where? He ran upstairs to the little girls' room. The window. It was open."

"He jumped onto the bed, and found he could reach the windowsill with his paws and look out. Hmmm. A long way down."

Libby laughed again the the dog's thoughts anticking at the window.

Oliver continued, "This story is fun. It keeps growing, but I'd better get to the point."

"You've made me laugh and cry because it is so funny. It feels good to have tears, and not because I'm so unhappy. Thanks. I needed that," said Libby.

"Then, mission accomplished. I'll stop now."

"No, no! You have to tell me what that crazy dog does next. You have to."

"As he is looking down the street, lights come around the corner. Of course, they attract his attention, and he watches them. They get closer to his house, and slow down, and then the lights stop in front of his house. He can't see the car from his window, but he hears a familiar voice, then several familiar voices, and realizes it is his people."

"Does he think to run out of the room, down the hall, and to the front door? No. He tries and tries to get out the window, to jump out and go see them. He begins barking and howling, desperate to get to his people. But he can't do it."

"Since he is so busy barking, he doesn't hear the children come down the hall. Suddenly their voices are right behind him, telling him to stop the ruckus and get off the bed. Another rule he'd forgotten."

"He leaps at them, knocking them over and expressing his enthusiasm and joy with all the wiggles and waggles he can muster. The children laugh and tumble with him. When the parents come to the room, it is to remind them it is late and to get ready for bed. He tries to greet them in the same manner, but it isn't received as eagerly."

"The mom lets him out the back door, but now he doesn't want to go. He wants to stay with them, inside. She boots him out, though, he takes care of business and runs back in through the doggie door to greet them all with fresh enthusiasm."

"In his doggie understanding, he just hadn't been able to see that with patience, they would have come home, that it wasn't all his antics that brought them back. All he knew was, that now they were home and he was happy again."

Oliver stopped the story with a flourish of her hand, like closing the pages of a book. Libby smiled, her mind absorbed in the story and mercifully distracted for awhile from her own panic and frustration at life's frightening twists and turns.

our silly puppy

Friday, December 4, 2015

What I Learned in November

Our son and I read through Unwrapping the Greatest Gift, by Ann Voskamp, in November. I wanted the reading to be slow and comfortable and lacking the guilt of previous years. "Oh no, we are three days behind, we have to hustle." We used a different Jesse Tree book for many years. Last year, I bought The Greatest Gift, also by Ann Voskamp, to read, myself, and this year, we bought Unwrapping the Greatest Gift. Highly recommended (both of them!). Beautiful drawings. Unwrapping has a large print format, kid-friendly, colorful, and full of thought-provoking insights and stretch-your-thinking challenges. The ornaments can be purchased or printed off her website. I tried to pick a favorite quote. No such thing. Here is a thought, from page 106:

"When we love in little ways, the big things unexpectedly begin to happen (they won't be expecting that!). In little places, through unexpected people, the story is unfolding and unwrapping all around you and in you, the light overtaking the dark. And it's like you can see the new Kingdom bursting in right now - how all the lit up trees and all the trees of the field will clap their hands.
The story that is happening is better than the greatest fairy tale ever told - because it's all true."

In November, I read Walking on Water, by Madeleine L'Engle, as a devotional book. As a Christian, she writes about the dilemma of creating Christian art. What defines art as Christian? Does it matter? Her conclusion, as she weaves her powerful words about faith and work (for her, writing, but it applies to any creative pursuit), is that whatever we do, our faith will show through, will influence what we do. She compares work and prayer, that both require discipline, listening, and a willingness to be vulnerable. Again, attempting to pick a favorite quote - not happening.

"Once the child has learned to read alone, and can pick up a book without illustrations, he must become a creator, imagining the setting of the story, visualizing the characters, seeing facial expressions, hearing the inflection of voices. The author and the reader 'know' each other; they meet on the bridge of words."

Seth Godin writes a blog about business and creativity. This month, he wrote,

"The most important lesson is this: If you spend too much time looking for your next big break, you'll be stealing your opportunity to do your best work. Which is the most important break of all."

We had a white Thanksgiving. The snow fell, quiet and calm. I love the quiet of a snowfall - the stillness, the gentle hush that covers and changes the landscape with a cozy uniform of white.

One of our girls made Texas Roadhouse Loaded Sweet Potatoes. Oh my. They say on their website, "...we have trouble deciding whether or not to categorize it as a side item or a dessert." Yes!

Bake sweet potato in oven at 425 for 35 to 45 minutes until tender. (Obviously, make more than one)
Remove at once and prick with fork to let steam out - be careful, steam will be very hot.
Cut a 1 1/2 inch cross in the center of each potato.
Using oven mitts open the potato by pushing the ends toward the center until filling starts to push through the cut.
Place 1/2 the marshmallows into the sweet potato (a small handful)
Pour 2 oz of your favorite store brand caramel sauce over the marshmallows (or use recipe below)
Place the rest of the marshmallows over the caramel sauce (another small handful)
Put the potato back in the oven on an oven safe pan. Broil.
Let cook another minute or two, keeping careful watch.
Remove from oven when marshmallows start to brown.
Serve as soon as possible.

Honey Caramel Sauce
4 tbsp butter
1/4 c light brown sugar
1/4 c honey
In a saucepan add butter and whisk in brown sugar; do not boil. Add honey and continue stirring fro approximately 4 to 5 minutes.
Thanksgiving sunflowers, now wilted. Very van Gogh.

After Thanksgiving, we decorated for Christmas, the snow falling, our favorite Christmas music playing - delightful!

 Emily Freeman (this post is linked with hers) quotes Dallas Willard,
"Relentlessly eliminate hurry from [your] life."
I allowed these words to filter through my days in November, and they are a prominent goal for December, also.  A process, not always an achievement, but words worthy of attention and focus as we move into these next weeks of Christmas and on into the New Year. Whatever you do, hurry is not necessary.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Very Little

To write a short story, is, for me, a lesson in traveling light. Condense. Refine. Edit. Simplify. Clarify my thinking. Ask - what exactly am I trying to say? Limit the words. Especially for short shorts, a short story limited to five hundred words: how to incorporate protagonist, conflict, climax, and a satisfying resolution in few words.

Working within a framework, within a given, limited space provides form and structure, like an architect designing a tiny house, including all the necessary elements, excluding anything unnecessary.

Process. Practice. Patience - to write, refine, edit, and do it again, over and over.

Every word matters.

Here is my next five hundred word short story. Not perfection, for the learning process, for practice.

Very Little

Interesting things happen in grocery stores. Anywhere, actually, where people are, interesting things happen.

Brandy and I went to the store for two loaves of bread, chunky peanut butter and bananas. We giggled and talked about something silly - I don't remember what.

An older man walked past us. I thought he looked grumpy. Even that made me giggle. Some days everything is funny. This was one of those days.

Brandy said, "A loaf of bread. Mom didn't say what kind, and I have no idea. Shelves, thirty feet long, five shelves tall, six feet high. We could feed two whole schools with all this bread. Shandia, what do I get?"

"What looks familiar?" I asked Brandy. "What does she usually buy?

"Whole-wheat, I guess. This looks familiar. Yeah, this looks good."

Three little girls ran around us. One grabbed Brandy's jeans, to hide behind her. We giggled, they giggled.

Their mom scolded, "Really, girls, can't you behave? Leave her alone. Isn't it enough you smacked into that man?"

"It's okay," said Brandy. "She's just having fun."

"All day long she's just having fun. Nothing serious, ever, for her," the mom complained.

We couldn't help giggling. Brandy squatted down to be eye level with the girl, who gave her a sheepish grin. "You are mischievous, aren't you?" Brandy said. "I think you have a pretty smile, and, I think you should listen to your mom."

The girl glanced up at her mom. The other girls drew closer, drawn by Brandy's friendliness.

"Do you know what my mom tells me?" Brandy asked them.

The three shook their heads.

"'It's good to laugh,' in fact, she quotes some famous guy, 'The most wasted of all days is one without laughter.' And she quotes another famous guy: 'Very little is needed to make a happy life; it is all within yourself, in your way of thinking.' So, listen to your mom. She knows what she is talking about. Okay?"

Brandy held up her hand, and high-fived them.

"Not bad," I told Brandy. "You quoted a poet and a Roman Emperor to three cute little girls who probably didn't understand a word you said."

"Nonsense," said Brandy. "They understood perfectly. It will give them something to think about while they look at bread and pickles and bags of apples."

The older man turned toward us, a loaf of bread in his hand. "Please, excuse me. I overheard you. My grandmother had that plaque on her wall, 'Very little is needed to make a happy life.' She loved that, she always had it to remind her. Sometimes she didn't have much, but she was happy." He smiled, "Thank you for reminding me of her."

Brandy and I thanked him, then went to find the peanut butter.  I told her, "Even a very little encounter with someone is interesting. Because people are interesting, and they do interesting things."

"And every day has a reason to smile," said Brandy. We giggled.

(In case you are wondering, the quotes are from e.e. cummings and Marcus Aurelius)

Monday, November 16, 2015

A Messy Thanksgiving

This short story is a re-post from three years ago


Sandy finished the Thanksgiving grocery shopping in the pet department, piling two ten pound bags of peanuts on the already overloaded grocery cart. She smiled. No one would be able to guess what I am going to do with these, she thought.

At home, she organized the food, checked off her lists. This Thanksgiving dinner for eighteen would appear effortless. But, of course, it wasn’t. The work happened now, before. She had separate lists, all organized and thought out, what preparations needed to be made in what order. Some of the family would be arriving late Wednesday night and she wanted to be ready, then.

With the wood floors swept, the furniture moved back against the walls, she turned her dining room table at an angle, assembled the two folding tables and pushed them end to end at an angle across her dining room and living room.

At three o’clock the stake bed truck pulled up out front. She met the two delivery guys at the door.

“Where do you want these bales, ma’am?”

“In here, by these tables.”

“Inside the house, ma’am?” His eyebrows disappeared under the hair hanging over his forehead.

“Yes, they will be the seats for our Thanksgiving dinner.”

“Inside. Really? You know these straw bales are dusty, dirty, messy, right?”

Sandy laughed. “Of course. Yes, bring them in here, please, four on this side, four on the other side. Thank you.”

“Okay, whatever you say. It’s your house.” The tough delivery guys looked at each other and shrugged.

As the bales were moved, wisps of straw floated around.
“Sorry, ma’am.”

“No problem, that’s exactly what I want. Messy.”

“My wife would have a fit.”

Sandy laughed again. She wanted an unusual, a casual atmosphere. Unique. A memory. And they didn’t know about the peanut shells, broken open, scattered around. She felt like a giddy girl planning a surprise party for a special friend. A party where everyone has a good time and laughter echoes off the walls accompanied by the music of happy talk. Okay, she thought, maybe I am dreaming and being unrealistic. We haven’t had a peaceful family get together in quite awhile. Someone takes offense, someone irritates someone else, criticism flares. But, it is worth a try. I will do my part, and hope.

Everything would be white or canvas or gold. Enough color, just in the food. And the people.  The gold colored straw looked pretty scattered across the wood floor.  She pulled more pieces off the bales and scattered them around. Then, she covered the bales with canvas drop cloths, their edges tucked in underneath. They would be heavy enough to prevent straw poking seated bottoms. Another couple of longer drop cloths covered the tables, hanging down the sides. Gold spray painted gourds were placed randomly on the table.

 Oh, napkins. She forgot to buy white cloth napkins. Well, on Wednesday, when she picked up the flowers, she could go to the store and get the nicer, heavy, white paper ones. They would do. She added them to the list.


When Sandy walked down the hall into the living room Tuesday morning, she wondered what her husband, Jim would think of their house. He was away on a business trip until Wednesday afternoon. By then, she would have it all set up and messy beautiful. Her email invitations said, “Boots and jeans.” But would they imagine just how casual she meant it to be?  The floor needed more peanut shells, just like at their favorite pizza restaurant. In fact, she thought, that is where they should go for dinner Wednesday night. She would take Jim out to dinner. Get a few more ideas. Her son and his wife and the grandkiddos wouldn’t get in until late. She and Jim would have plenty of time to relax over dinner, talk about his trip, and enjoy some time together before the long weekend.

After her coffee and oatmeal, she spread the three lists out on the island, leaned on her elbows, her shirt sleeves rolled up, chin cupped in her hands. One list for what would bake in the oven. One for food that would be prepared and stored in the refrigerator.  One for menus, with added ideas for meals the rest of the weekend using leftovers. The tasks were already in order, prioritized by length of prep time and use of the oven. Normally she wasn’t quite so OCD, but she wanted this Thanksgiving to be easy breezy.  Certain people conflicts in the family had lightened up over the past year and she wanted, desperately, to be sure they stayed that way. But, not to worry. For now, start the pie crusts and mix the pumpkin bread. Turn on the oven.

Between tasks, waiting for the timer to ding, Sandy worked on the table. At each place setting she set out white plates. For place cards, she marked peanuts with a dark brown Sharpie, the letters of each person’s name. If the letters didn’t come out quite right, she smashed the shells and threw them on the floor. It wasn’t easy. She tried to make them fancy, ornate with swirly lines and flourishes. The bumpy shells were not a good writing surface, but she wanted to keep the theme. She decided that messy looked just as good, and it was better to fit each name on one peanut if she could. She experimented. Greg. Kendra. David. The longest name was Jessica. That took two peanuts. As she practiced and improved, the crunched, empty peanut shells deepened on the floor.

All day, the dishes rotated from island to sink full of soapy water and back again. Pie crusts baked. Pumpkin and cranberry breads ready to go in next. Sweet potatoes cooked, mixed, plopped into the baking pan, refrigerated until Thursday. Broccoli steamed, cheese sauce mixed, refrigerated in its glass baking pan. Water boiled, jello mixed with fruit, half of it chilled, then the other layer added and chilled. One by one, the items checked off her list. She wiped up flour and spills and splatters, then made more as she worked.

For a late lunch, she made a sandwich and sat in the big chair tucked into the corner to admire her decorations, absorb the yummy smells. Bake the pies, almost done. She relaxed, imagined the room full of happy, comfortable people. To her, this work, this weekend, was about reaching across the distance that was measured in more than miles.

As she was sliding the last pie shell full of liquid pumpkin on to the rack, her hand slipped, the pie tilted and spilled on the hot oven floor. It sizzled and smoked. Quickly, she set the pie on the counter and reached over to shut off the oven. That would have to cool before she could clean it out, then reheat it. She didn’t want the smell of burned pie overpowering the other wonderful aromas and interfere with baking the turkey Thanksgiving morning. She left the oven door open to cool faster. Well, it won’t take that long, she thought. She checked over her lists again. Almost done.  Not too bad, only one major mess to repair, then finish cleaning up the kitchen.

The cat came down the hall and stepped into the living room. She stopped and sat, looking around at the changes, unsure. She decided it was safe, took a few steps into the room. A peanut shell crunched under her foot. With the foot held in mid-air, she froze, like a dog at point, then turned and ran back to the bedroom. Sandy laughed at her. We won’t have to worry about her coming out here, she thought.


By noon, she felt ready. Almost. A few more tasks on her list, but everything was under control. She had cleaned the bathrooms, made up the guest beds, and swept off the porch, trimming some of the chrysanthemums that still bloomed. The day was cold and cloudy. At least I don’t have to sweep and wash the floors, she thought. She wiped down the front of the refrigerator and the stove and ran a dust cloth over the glass table top next to the couch. She looked forward to seeing the six grandkiddos all together. They hadn’t seen Greg’s twins since June. David, Becky and their two boys lived ten minutes away and they visited often. Jack and Kendra, with their two, Jessica and Ken, lived an hour away, not too far. Greg would be arriving tonight, the others in the morning. A houseful of noisy fun. She liked that.

Three o’clock. One last check of the lists. All crossed off. One trip out. She would stop at the florist to pick up the white osteospermum spoon daisies she ordered. And run into the grocery store to pick up the large white napkins she forgot to buy on Monday. She would tie them into a roll with a piece of twine. Easy and simple.

Later, as she stepped in the door, out of the pouring rain, arms full of flowers and a grocery bag, the phone rang. She set the things down on the table. Dropped her wet coat on a chair.



“Hi Greg. I thought you would be on the road by now.”

“Mom. I am sorry. We are not coming.”

Silence. “You are kidding, right?”

“No, Mom, we are not coming.”

Silence. “Do I get an explanation?”

Greg answered in short, nervous, quick bursts. “Janet decided she wanted to have her own Thanksgiving. You know, in her own home, now that we have moved to this house, she changed her mind, said she wouldn’t come, wanted to stay home, keep the kids here, with her, on her time off from work, for the holiday.”

“Well, that is reasonable, except last minute. What can I say? Is this about not getting along with Kendra?”

“No, I don’t think so. Maybe, you know how they are together. She just said she wanted her own Thanksgiving. Mom, try to understand. I know you will understand. Please don’t be upset at me, or her.”

“I will really miss seeing the twins. I’m sure they have grown since we saw them last.” Sandy sighed. She tried to smile, at least with her words, but it was hard. Seemed these conflicts, lately, made family gatherings like walking on egg shells, afraid to offend, afraid to say the wrong thing, afraid, just afraid. She had wanted this to be different. And she thought it would be. Filled with laughter and fun and relaxed. Oh well, what could she do? Holidays could be messy. “Greg,” she said, “Say hello to the twins from me, and Janet, too, and have a wonderful holiday.” She didn’t mean it to sound sarcastic, but it came out that way, a little bit.
“You, too, Mom. Say hi to Dad for me.”

Sandy hung up the phone. She sat in the chair at the head of the table, looked down the length at the plates, already set, the golden gourds, the pile of flowers she had dumped at the other end. Four empty places. Should she rearrange? Wallow in disappointment? No, she thought, I’ll get the flowers in vases and water. No point in letting this ruin it for me, or for anyone else.

Outside, the rain pelted the windows and the wind whipped the tree limbs. Darkness fell early, the storm clouds wrapping a dark thick blanket over the sky. Again, the phone rang. Sandy looked at it, not wanting to answer. She heard her own voice, the cheerful message on the machine. Then, Jim’s voice.

“Sandy. Guess you are out shopping or something last minute. Our flight has been delayed…”

She grabbed the phone, interrupting his message. “Jim, I am here, sorry.”

“Oh, good, glad you are home. This storm is interfering with flights. I hope Greg will be fine on the road.”

“They are not coming. I’ll tell you later. When do you think you will get in?”

“They said about a two hour delay. I will call you when we board.”

“Okay. I want to take you out to dinner, to the pizza restaurant. I will meet you there, after you land.”

“Sounds good. I’ll call you, soon, I hope.”

“Be careful.”

Someone knocked on the front door. Oh, now who could that be, thought Sandy. She opened the door and saw her neighbor, an older woman she rarely talked to. “Evelyn, come in.” She helped her take off her wet coat.

“I am so sorry to bother you. I know you are very busy.” Evelyn looked at the table. “That is, ah, interesting. Straw bales and peanuts?  Rustic. But the table is pretty. I am so sorry to bother you,” she said again.

“That’s okay. My husband just called to say he would be late. Come sit down.”

“Well, we just had a big tree branch fall on the back of our house. Broke through the patio cover, broke two windows on the back side.”

“Oh, I am sorry. Where is Fred, is he okay?”

“Yes, we were in the living room. I wondered if you have some tarp or something we can put up over the windows. Not too much rain is coming in, but the wind is bad. And the cold.”

“I think so, I will go look in the garage.” She stood up. “Evelyn. I just had a great idea. Our son and his family called to say they are not coming. We have extra beds, all made up, and room at the table, ready. Will you and Fred stay here tonight, and join us for Thanksgiving tomorrow?”

“We couldn’t impose on you like that, don’t be silly.”

“It is not silly at all. Like I said, I have the beds all made, the places for you at the table. It will be much warmer here until you can get the windows fixed. Jim can help you, but with the holiday weekend, it may be a few days before they get fixed. Please, stay with us. That is, if you don’t mind a casual meal. And our kids and grandchildren. I thought the straw bales and peanuts would be fun, for a change. Comfortable.”

“I noticed. Wondered why you were doing that. Most people get all fancy.”

“I will get the tarp, then we’ll go over and ask Fred to come. Please, I want you to come. I know Jim won’t mind. He will be glad to help you fix the tarp when he gets home. Oh.”

“What is it?” asked Evelyn.

“Well, we were going to go out to dinner. I was going to meet him after his plane landed.”

“I have a chili in the crock pot at home. Fred and I could still eat that, and come here after you and Jim get home. I would appreciate it, being able to stay here. It will be cold at our house with that wind and the damp. You are very kind.”

“Actually, it helps me not feel so disappointed that our son isn’t coming. I am glad you can stay with us. Very glad. You can see we have plenty of room for you.” Sandy pointed at the table.

“We will be honored. I wasn’t going to fix anything this year. Too much work for just us. Our kids are all busy, or too far away. We will enjoy being with you, being with your family. Much better than sitting by ourselves. Thank you.”

The scattered straw and peanut shells are evidence of my messy life, but even the messes are worth celebrating and sharing, Sandy thought.  I will accept this. An opportunity to help a neighbor, maybe gain a friend. I can enjoy what we have, use what we have, and share Thanksgiving, thankfully, with family and friends.