from Flickr Mike Mozart

It’s day four for me, and so far, so good. April is the month I give up all added sugar. It’s a funny thing, this self-imposed restraint, but it’s not new. I watched a TED Talk, one of the short ones, that I happened across when I was looking for ways to make morning “advisory” meetings more interesting to my eighth graders.

Matt Cutts posits that if you are willing to do something for 30 days, you may just form a new, desirable habit—and prove that you CAN do something for 30 days. I’ve written about this abstinence from sugar before; that’s not at the heart of this post. I am galvanized by a challenge, especially one that is good for me.

I had just come off of 31 straight days of blogging during the Two Writing Teachers annual Slice of Life Challenge when April 1st arrived. Some of my fellow bloggers were continuing the streak, but with a focus on daily poetry writing. I am a poetry reader, get daily poems throughout the year, but a poetry writer? Not so much.

Saturday, April 1st, arrived. I had the straddling-the-fence feeling about committing to a no-added-sugar month, nothing definite. I am not a breakfast person. Gone are those days of English muffins and peanut butter, so turning away from that first meal—even if it’s pancakes or french toast—I can do that. Fruit will do it for me in a pinch.

When lunch came after my morning swim, I was ravenous, and we went to eat with friends. I surveyed the table: dolma, healthy; hummus, healthy; olives. healthy; roasted vegetables, healthy—all of it awesome—none of it out-of-compliance. But still, I wasn’t 100% in…yet. It was no big challenge to pass on the sugar cookies. My homemade caramels, spicy chocolate and sea salt vanilla bean, spiked my interest, but I refrained, still wavering.

That night we went to hear music and enjoy dinner out, and I stayed away from sauces, breads, those places where sugar often hides. So far, so good. Then came the fateful words, “Would you like to see the dessert menu?” We are a dessert eating bunch, and this place boasted on-the-premises fresh-baked cakes, homemade ice cream, assorted treats. After orders of German Chocolate cake a la mode and spumoni with gummy bears (my daughter-in-law, gotta love her), the waitress asked, “Anything for you?”

… I said, “No, thanks,” to a chorus of, “We’ll share. You can have some of mine,” generously sweet offers from one and all. In that moment I announced, “This is my month without added sugar.” The moment I said those words aloud to my extended family, the die was cast.

I am glad April is National Poetry Month—poetry poses no threat, only treats of the best kind—but most of all, I’m glad April has only 30 days!

In the Cards

How do you feel about greeting cards? I keep my eyes open for cards whenever I am in a store that features them—even though I am all too aware of how infrequently I send them anymore.

Knowing that my good friend is celebrating her birthday on April 7th had me on high alert. I was primarily searching for an unbreakable container to house the caramels I plan to make; the discovery of an awesome array of cards was a bonus!

In a world of vibrant, saturated options, these cards grabbed my attention with their subdued color palate, the sepia tones of old photographs, the brown shades of envelopes and fonts. Then I began reading them. The first one featured a couple from maybe the fifties (hats a giveaway). The text, all in caps but an understated brown read:



I burst out laughing, and immediately picked it up. (This same friend will be getting married in September, so…)

I proceeded to read almost every card there, the slowly revolving rack revealing surprise after clever surprise. I remembered my newly-minted independent-ride-the-downtown-bus-with-my-sister adventures when she and I were in high school. We’d visit the local drugstore, and read greeting cards together—aloud—the funny ones. We would laugh so hard, unabashedly, and blissfully oblivious to anyone else who might have been around. We were in our happy place, sharing those cards.

Were they funny, or was it just part of being together on our own that made us giddy? Who can recall, but the contagion of face-and-belly busting chuckles gone wild, our sister-synergy? Yesterday’s card search took me back there, my joy doubled.

I found the perfect card, too, a satisfied smile lingering as I paid.

(The back of the card says, “Thanks to my family and friends for allowing me to share old memories.” As I said—the perfect card.)

Do You Hear What I Hear?

art from ReSound

Hearing aids. He’s going to get them. The decision has been years in the making. And with the cost of these sophisticated devices that will actually improve his quality of life, his lengthy consideration is warranted.

I am going to the appointment at the hearing center with him. I want to understand the benefits and limitations. I am curious and know so little. People who eschew hearing help cite the amplification of ambient noise in crowds, in restaurants, say that they expected more and are disappointed, the purchase was a bust.

He has had the necessary testing from his ENT and the doctor recommended this particular office, so we travel the distance, spend the time, because hearing is worth it, isn’t it? The representative inspires confidence; he is not in the business of selling high expectations that won’t be met.

My husband listens attentively as his questions are answered. No, this will probably not be useful to you when you are playing a music gig. Yes, there is fine tuning you can do. You need to commit to between three and four hours a day wearing the devices; you are retraining your brain. It may take up to six months to maximize the device’s effectiveness.Everyone’s experience is different. We work together to make them work expressly for you—that means monthly appointments.

These are personal communication enablers.

And at the heart of it, that is what he wants: to be a part of social, personal, important interactions, with our son and daughter-in-law, particularly. He does not want a miracle. He wants to be fully included.

Then the technician turns to me, handing me a piece of paper, “Communication with People with Hearing Loss,” and says, “Here’s what you need to know.” Among the list of seven strategies “most recommended to succeed in the communication process” are these three:

  • Face the hearing impaired person directly.
  • Avoid talking from another room.
  • Get the person’s attention first before speaking.

I read, then reread them. They are basic, aren’t they, to any conversation?! All seven of reiterate caveats provided when working with students and underscore why pandemic teaching with masks compounded instructional difficulty.

The second one snaps my husband to attention. He says, “I was worried that I was supposed to be hearing that!” The explanation that follows humbles me, reassures my husband, and ends with, “That’s often why people return them. They want the hearing aids to do what they aren’t meant to do.” And he looks at me (or do I just feel his stare?).

Those annoying “What”s in response to my comments from another room, my frustration? That’s on me. It’s the science of sound; it’s not about my husband’s hearing loss.

I will do better; I get the message loud and clear.

No Knife Required

Buying the Yedi bread machine was a decision not taken lightly. Anymore, as weird as this may be, I consider household purchases, from furniture to appliances, in light of whether of not my son and daughter-in-law will get some use out of them after I’m gone. (I grant my husband the right of first refusal—that’s a given.)

“The kids,” Alex and Sam, are minimalists, and I dearly love that about them. They do not want to mindlessly accumulate. They spend money on a few high-quality items: sports gear that embraces their passion for the outdoors from mountains to seas, home renovation—not with stuff, mind you, but with walls dismantled, floors replaced, and places and people—experiences rather than things.

So when Oprah’s Christmas List 2021 hit my inbox, and the Yedi was featured (on a Oprah-promo sale!), I was intrigued. I debated, weighed, researched, discussed it with my husband, let the thought rest, then purchased. It was my gift to myself with the back-of-my-mind consolation that, after my demise if the thing lived up to its reputation, Alex and Sam could easily make use of it.

To my credit, I have used the machine enough to justify its purchase in loaves of bread. And when I take it out, despite my love of Mark Bittman’s no-knead 18-hour dough and fascination with his sourdough recipes, I know we’ll have a tasty, crusty, fresh-baked option in a few hours. When the kids are here, they cavil not.

We never know what’s up ahead, plan as we may, but if I’m lucky, in about two hours, a loaf of cinnamon raisin bread, warm and sweetly redolent, will emerge. I’ll be able to share it with my family. And for now, I have a Slice of Life—#SOL23—to offer my fellow bloggers!

Seeds of a Dream

Are you familiar with the salal plant? It made an appearance in the journals of Merriwether Lewis and William Clark with its waxy, leathery oval leaves as food for elk and beaver and its purple berries as both food and dye used by Natives. In the spring, white and pink delicate bells adorn its branches. The hearty stems are used widely in floral arrangements. It is a plant native to Oregon, resilient and proliferate, but it has a natural enemy here: English ivy.


English ivy is a proper, uniformly growing import to the Oregon Coast, an opportunist.

When I was growing up, the bank where our beach house stands was topped with a wide, wild border of salal. Spring blossoms would give way to dripping purple clusters, perfect for muffin-making. In the early mornings when I was the only one up, rabbits would cautiously emerge from the warren of its underbrush and skitter across the grass, leaving paw prints in the dew. I’d see entire families.

At some point in the decades since then, years when I only returned for brief summer visits, English ivy an invasive species took over, its fast-growing-in-whatever-season cloak of green choking out the salal of my childhood and wrapping its thick, twisted, woody stems around the once vibrant indigenous plant, one more conquest. (There’s a metaphor here.)

During his summer vacation weeks at our family house, my unpredictable youngest brother took a hedge trimmer and ax to the thick ivy in front —and I sympathized with his desire to eradicate it—but lacked the necessary plan to remediate, leaving in his wake a mess of exposed roots, a tangle of remaining ivy, and a bed of frustration.

Enter my son, a professional landscaper/designer. I asked that he do something, anything, to bring the salal back to this butchered space. It’s what belongs there; it, like me, deserved a happy homecoming. He is a knowledgeable, intelligent, sensitive man and wanted to please his mom. He also supports me in wanting what belongs—where it belongs— to be there: salal!

For the last two weekends, he has dug and sawed and pulled out and hauled yards and yards—no exaggeration—of the offending ivy, pretty but pernicious, an outlier, away. Yesterday, with fingers crossed, he planted a wealth of salal starts in the spaces he had cleared. He was not satisfied with the outcome because the scope of the project exceeded what he’d anticipated.

“How did it go?” I asked when he’d quit for the day.

“Well, I planted a lot of salal in the areas that I’d cleared. And I’m hoping they root and grow. I’ll take the extras home to repot in bigger containers, and whatever doesn’t make it, I’ll replace later this spring if I need to, but, mom, the job is a lot bigger than I’d realized.”

A part of me is sorry that I enlisted him in this quixotic adventure based on nostalgia. In my heart, though, I am happy at the thought of salal’s possible triumph and my son’s attempt to make his mother’s wish come true.

Today spring begins; gentle rain falls on those babies, newly planted. Here’s to some natural wonder.

Holiday Comfort

St. Patrick’s Day is a sort of ersatz holiday for me although I am plenty glad for all that green, its variations filling the elementary school hallways when the smallest sprites tell goofy jokes, believe that green milk is leprechaun shenanigans, and maybe gold could be found at the end of a rainbow. St. Patrick’s Day is a happy harbinger of spring. Truth is, I have a lot of Irish ancestry to claim, my mother’s family named Patrick, and a researched genealogy that verifies the ties, but it’s food that makes it special.

On St. Patrick’s Day my mom would cook corned beef and cabbage. I don’t recall any other time of the long year filled with meal preparation for six kids and a husband that this fare appeared. I can see—and almost smell—the strands of limp green cabbage, like streamers that have lost their pluck, lifted out of the water, shiny with beef juice and dripping, as mom served them alongside the thready pieces of unusually dark pink meat. Occasionally one of the many peppercorns she used to season the water would hide in the folds of the pale, seaweed-like cabbage, and if I wasn’t careful, I would get a very peppery mouthful.

Yesterday after a full day with leprechaun charmed elementary students, a Friday that seemed endless, I headed home with food prep on my mind. I am often an Oscar-times-ten Grouch after teaching; I love it, but it exhausts me, and the thought of fixing a meal? Forget it. (So lucky that there’s pizza), but yesterday I was undertaking a cabbage dish in homage.

The New York Times Cooking site had featured a recipe for haluski, buttery cabbage and noodles, economical and simple to prepare, compliments of Ali Slagle, and I was determined to give it a try. Not to be deterred, I didn’t change into comfort clothes right after I got home (pjs), nor did I pour myself a glass of wine. I began thinly slicing onions—doubling them because…onions— and treating the cabbage the same.

My husband, who usually cooks when I teach, knew that I was committed to this gastronomic venture and wisely stayed out of the way. His experience with childhood cabbage was a way-too-frequent overcooked mush, so my promise of haluski was more a threat than an invitation. Undaunted, I forged ahead.

In the end, the dish was exactly as Slagle had vouched, “The strands of caramelized cabbage become happily tangled in the noodle’s twirls. This version includes a final step of tossing the cooked cabbage and pasta with some pasta water and a final pat of butter, so each bite is as comforting as can be.”

Comfort on a fork, comfort both my husband and I slurped happily—feeling lucky on March 17, 2023!

Ready, Set, Go…

Morning moments:

I had a teaching job scheduled for today from a week ago. At about 4:30 yesterday afternoon, I received a text from the school secretary letting me know that she’d gotten the date wrong, that it was on May 15th, not March. (Oh, those pesky “M” months—and her job finding substitutes? don’t envy that one bit.) I text her back, “No problem. May 15 fine.” Cross the appointment off my calendar. Awake to a free day, until… I receive a notification that one of the other two schools where I’ve narrowed my subbing boundaries needs someone. Take it.(Love the school, the people, to be useful, and—I had planned to work, after all.) Remind myself: the ability to pivot matters.

Before work, I check out the website on a postcard we’ve received sent to “POSTAL CUSTOMER” asking community members to respond with opinions, “…on housing issues impacting the community and steps it can take to address them.” I am a “stakeholder;” I know the problem is a thorny one and that this community is not alone, but the factors that complicate housing in our rural, coastal, tourist-heavy area need to be addressed. There is no silver bullet. I add my input. This is what democracy looks like.

On my way to shower and get ready to go, I check my phone, realize I missed a text before bed and find this:

Beer-Can Chicken Success!

My daughter in law has executed her first beer-can chicken (doesn’t it look like a headless monarch?) after getting my recipe. Note that she is still in her jacket, so maybe my son put the bird in the over before she got home. Or did the heat go out?! I’m thinking the potatoes are a nice touch, and despite it having been more than a decade since I’ve eaten meat, red or white, I’m wearing a big smile.

Good Morning, World! It’s a new day.

Gut Reaction

When a message from the community manager alerts us to excessive water usage in our over-55 residential neighborhood, we jump through all the recommended hoops. We have had a few such events, and thanks to equipment that utility companies have, this detection/warning capability is fairly standard. For many reasons, this monitoring is a great improvement.

Last Thursday my brother and sister-in-law received a similar notification about their unoccupied second residence. Due to a dramatic increase in consumption, the company had sent out an inspector who saw water pouring from beneath the garage door, and shut the water off. They notified Kathy, my sister-in-law. She asked if they went inside, representatives don’t do that when no one is home.

Their neighbors—close friends—went inside to discover extensive damage, ceiling, walls, floors, and dangling electric lines. No water—no power, so the dance with insurance and repair people was a given.

I learned this when my son told me. He and his wife had planned to spend the weekend at my brother and sister-in-law’s house located in prime skiing territory. Kathy had texted him to let him know that it wouldn’t be possible—the damage exceeded the ability to “camp out,” to make the best of a bad situation. It was unsafe.

When I talked with Kathy yesterday, she confirmed everything I’d heard with flourishes and photos. Yikes! Then she said, ” I let Sam know as soon as I saw the situation, told him I was sorry but…”

“Of course. He totally understood.”

“You know the first thing he texted back?” She paused. “‘Is there anything we can do? Do you want us to go out there to help clean up?’ He is such a good kid; that was his go-to response.”

National Son’s Day, March 4, comes and goes. But yesterday, and right now, I think about how grateful I am to have a raised a person whose first reaction is, “How can I help?” A person whose goodness is a gift to those who know him.

Thanks, Sam.

Unexpected Benefits

I awake to this text, one I missed the night before, from my brother—and smile. Our communication now that I have come home to Oregon has changed. Texts like these, casual drop-bys when he’s made his way to the coast for a break from Portland, have become an additional perk to my return.

For the thirty-some years before 2017, my closest family was my husband’s—his sister, her husband and children, his mother Judy who lived with us in her last years. We were a family that celebrated holidays together, enjoyed summer days at the beach, special occasions, as well as the ups and downs of daily life. Everyone loved our son and helped him grow, as a nephew, grandchild, and cousin. I was so lucky to have my East Coast family.

How would relationships play out between me and my five siblings once I was near(er)? I had no idea. We love each other and share a long and complex history, six strong individuals with six strong perspectives, but we have each other’s backs. It has been wonderful, in short, and I regret nothing about my homecoming.

In fact, its most wonderful—and unexpected—dimension has been the relationship that has blossomed between my siblings and my son. When Sam made the decision to move to Oregon from New Orleans, he and his wife made every effort to spend time with the whole lot of us, both individually and en masse (think Thanksgiving!). They embraced the large and rowdy family dynamic, have given and gained insight and the embrace has been mutual.

In my text response, I thank my brother, a builder, for the advice he gave Sam in a home remodeling project, save the surprise they’re planning—tickets to a Trailblazer game.

Today after work they are heading to central Oregon to stay at my older brother’s house for some winter sports. This brother and his wife, when I thank them for their generosity, say it’s a joy to have them.

My son has texted my younger sister to come over to the new house for dinner; I’ll drive to join them.

They’re hoping to travel to Hawaii to stay with my older sister later this year.

Of all the things I imagined happening when we moved here, this is the sweetest.

Nothing But the Truth

Today I’ll have to confess. When I check the telltale ping on Sunday evening and read the message from my son, I am a bowl of mixed emotions: happy, because he loved the cookies and let me know; embarrassed, because I know he thinks I made them from scratch; and sheepish, because I know I’ll have to tell the truth.

For whatever reason, I have begun baking. It was a new hobby that came to a boil during the pandemic. Baking, while a cousin to cooking, is far different. Those little tweaks and flourishes that come so easily, and with little real risk, to cooking a pot of soup or a casserole or quiche, can easily tank a cookie, cake or clafoutis, an unhappy discovery I’ve made.

I have some tried-and-true winner cookie recipes on rotation: Ina Garten’s Chocolate Chunk; World Peace Cookies from Cooking at the Times; Paul Hollywood’s Shortbread; oatmeal, raisin, cranberry cookies from the Food Network. A buffet of choices. (You should know that a good friend of ours has called our house the “cookie castle.”)

Lately, though, I’ve been buying more, baking less. Working more, playing less. Needing sugar more, ignoring that magnetic pull less. The thing is, the baked cookies from our local grocery stores, the self-indulgent ones I prefer, come in plastic clamshell containers, and our local recycling operation has stopped accepting them:

I do love freshly baked anything, so I searched for alternatives. I’ve got nothing against a Chips Ahoy; Nabisco, Keebler and I are well-acquainted, but I went to the refrigerator case, remembering my mom—not a baker—buying those rolls of cookie dough. Less waste, I reasoned, and fresh-baked to boot.

Today I must tell my son, as I remove a package of Chocolate Chunk, caramel, sea salt cookie dough from the freezer, that I’m making his new favorite cookies. They’ll be ready in 20 minutes. Busted.