“Hold the Pickle, Hold the Lettuce…”

I hate condiments...Unless…whipped cream, is whipped cream a condiment? (Not on a burger, of course!)

I had a great marathon chat with a dear friend this week.  I love holiday time for many reasons…it’s great to catch up with friends and family who are near, but it also provides time to connect with dear ones who live far, far away. 

My friend Caroline (not her real name…she’s okay with me sharing this sweet story in my blog but prefers a bit of anonymity) and I had the best long, languishing phone call this week.  I wish we were closer, but distance doesn’t diminish affection and connection.  She’s been a soul sister for decades…and I think we bonded over our mutual quirkiness.  Oh, that and wicked humor. 😉

Thanksgiving put Caroline and her family on the road this year…a ten-hour trip by car with three children under ten, a dog, a cat and lizard. I still don’t understand why the pets (especially the lizard) needed to make the trip but asking about that was too much of a detour in our convo, so I’ll need to inquire another time.  She had ‘an incident to share’ that she described as annoying…but to me?  It was hilarious…prompting a reply of “And…so…what’s the problem?” Here’s the story…

Caroline learned a life-changing lesson about her middle child this week.  Turns out, as of a few days ago, he will not eat burgers with condiments of any sort.  No mustard, ketchup, pickles, and heaven forbid – no sneaky ‘secret sauce’.  Her other kids?  Happy as clams to eat what’s in front of them…not a picky bone in their bodies.  Given the pandemic and the fact that her wild and crazy troupe hadn’t ‘road tripped’ in a long time…and because kids morph and change…she and her hubs had no idea their middle dude (who’s five) would refuse to eat a Hamburger Happy Meal if it was standard issue.  Meaning? No condiments. 

How did they discover the change in his palate? With a car full of cranky humans (not just the kids – she and the hubs were battling about navigation) and too many pit stops…logged exclusively for the dog who kept throwing up…she decided they’d do drive-thru food so they could log more miles. No stopping unless it was absolutely necessary (meaning – a human needed a rest stop, not the dog, so he could barf, sniff and meander). She was mad, her hubs was mad…trading snide comments about wayfinding and her sarcastic reminders to him that an overnight drive could’ve prevented some of the daytime madness.

Anywho…. back to the Happy Meal.  Middle dude…the five-year-old…had a full-on freak-a-thon when he discovered his burger had all the saucey stuff on it that he now hates.  Caroline tried to smooth things over as she removed the culprits…pickles are easy, but she knew that wouldn’t be enough so she wiped off the visible clods of ketchup and mustard and figured that would do the trick. No, no, no. Middle Dude was watching and wailed further when she handed back the ‘take two’ version because the bun still smelled like ketchup.  He wanted a plain burger…no extra stuff…and wiping down the bun didn’t render it edible.

As Caroline continued the story (TL;DR – they turned around and drove back to McDonald’s to get a factory-issued plain burger for Middle Dude) she expected me to say she was a pushover or a mommy failure for giving in to her son.  First?  Who am I to judge? I laughed and told Caroline that parenting – especially on the road – is a survival-of-the-fittest endeavor.  Do what works for you, I said, as long as someone’s driving safely.  Second?  I don’t think Caroline knew…remembered…or cared to remember…that I, too, despise condiments.  Especially sloppy ketchup and mustard. (While we’re at it, I think salad dressing and mayo are abominations.)  Yuck.  I have no affinity for slightly tart and sour accoutrements to food.  Unless, as I said, you count tangy whipped cream as a condiment. 😉

The best thing about catching up with friends is sharing our quirks.  Our fears about possible parenting and relationship mistakes?  Sure thing.  Admitting to odd food preferences and picky-eater qualities?  Again – sure thing.  And occasionally, a sweet chat with an old friend conjures a memory worth sharing. 

Caroline wondered if her Middle Dude would grow out of his pickiness about condiments. “No clue“, I said, adding that I never changed. I’ve hated condiments for decades and despite many miles of road trips in my vagabond upbringing, my sweet papa always knew a regular trip through a drive-thru was a no-go because it was easier to get “little Vic’s special order” if he went in, stretched his legs (his cover story) to be sure I’d get my plain, plain, plain burger. 

Despite mom’s hateful looks in my direction, irritated that my dislike of condiments slowed us down, dad never needed to ask what I wanted from McDonald’s. He just accommodated me. I hadn’t thought about that for years until I talked with Caroline, and it was fun to share it with her…along with a reminder that the next time we spoke, I wanted a moment to talk to Middle Dude. He and I have a lot in common…you know, condiment-wise.

Saturday smiles…from me to you!

Vicki 😊

He Wore Pink…

Yep, he wore pink, before it was fashionable…for men of his generation.  My dad grew up at a time when, at least here in the U.S., men tended to wear more muted tones.  Shades of brown, navy, beige and variations, sure, and his closet was a neutral palette.

When life took him to California in the 80’s, he found his vibe…and it was pink.  Rosey tones, corals, blush hues and yep, an occasional floral (gasp!).  Paired with his beloved Birkenstocks, my previously buttoned-up papa (learn more about him – his helping heart AND his fashion sense in this silly post) renewed his soul with color

My mom? She was shocked and referred to him as a ‘show pony’…to which, he’d just smile and say – with a wink: “If you’ve got it, you’ve got it.” 😉

That’s my Sunday morning rewind smile – from my Miami Vice wannabe papa, smirking and smiling from behind those shades, just for you.

-Vicki 😊

If Houses Could Speak…

I love stories that are ‘unexplainable’.  You?  I’ve never been much for facts, figures, and rational thinking, which explains why any science or math teacher – bless their souls – who encountered me along the way should’ve received combat pay.  It’s not that I don’t accept data and singular answers.  I can, I do.  I just don’t like finite things.  No room for the welcoming cushion of doubt. 

Before your brain wanders, launching a lecture about laws of physics, matter, and the universe itself, let me just ask for your indulgence, for the sake of the story I want to share.  And lest you think of me as a total crackpot, I’ll admit that while I DO appreciate measurement and precision, I prefer to live my life with softer edges, more mystery, less reason. 

With that out of the way, let’s talk about the house that hubster and I bought several years ago.  I’ve shared it’s our ‘fixer upper’ and remodeling is afoot.  Yes, I’ve been a whiner and yes, I’ll survive.  Being privileged enough to own a home and undertake improvements? A blessing and I’m grateful.  Ever grateful. 

Every now and then, a well-meaning friend will ask why we bought a house that, while I touted its ‘great bones’ needed so much work.  Windows?  Yes.  New flooring – everywhere?  Yes.  A new roof?  Yes – and soon (patching only takes you so far).  Yes, there are decorating conundrums, too – things I don’t like that I’d love to focus on first, but functionality always wins in the war between “lovely” and “livable”. 

We didn’t want to buy the house.  We tried to ignore “her” after making her acquaintance on a summer Saturday when an open house sign beckoned.  “Let’s peek”, we said.  So, we did. On a quiet, tree-lined street, we found a brick beauty.  Constructed from something unusual – a type of brick referred to as “reclaimed” or “seconds”, her exterior was nubby with texture, unlike any masonry house I’d ever seen.  Hubster knew the materials.  “These are unusual” he said.  “Can’t find these anymore – look at all the gradations in color, light and dark.” The uneven-ness was captivating.  Some bricks were bumpy and bulging, others smooth and straight.  The overall façade? Georgian-like, I suppose, with the symmetrical window placement.  Windows that cried “Save us…we might look pretty but we don’t open and the house needs to breathe!”

We met the real estate agent, who became a friend.  Oddly, other than one other couple who breezed through, we were the only lookey-loos that day…at the open house that nearly became a sleep over. 

We arrived at 1pm and at 4 o’clock, we were still loitering and wandering – chatting with the realtor, learning about the house, discovering interesting quirks and details…but not everything (as we’d learn much later).  Those three hours felt like, I don’t know, maybe 45 minutes?  We were entranced, yes, but the magnitude of the work loomed large. This stately lady needed deep pockets and our affection alone wouldn’t make her shine. 

Flash-forward just a bit…as a week went by and the agent called, curious if we would put in an offer.  We wanted to, but the push-pull…loving the house, yet forecasting homeowner horror gave us pause. The only prudent path was pitching a low-ball offer…not so low as to offend but informed enough to account for the urgent repairs needed.

Despite our agent’s efforts, the homeowner wouldn’t budge on price.  Okay then – it wasn’t meant to be.  Sad?  Yes.  But the hubs and I felt we made an excellent ‘head over heart’ decision, despite the affection we had for this odd, brick beauty. 

And thenafter six months passed, our realtor friend called again.  “Have you noticed”, she asked “that the price came down – on the house you love?”  Of course, we noticed.  We’d driven by a few times, still processing our decision, noticing the ‘for sale’ sign, still in place.  We noticed the price drops, too.  Not once but twice.  Walking a fine line, our realtor let us know that the owners needed to sell – and soon.  They were carrying two mortgages and regretted not taking our offer from six months prior. 

Now we’re talking, we thoughtThe TLDR version? (Yes, yes, I should’ve offered that option earlier, I get it.) We negotiated our way back to our starting offer, rejected out-of-hand months prior and whittled a few thousand off for good measure.  In the end, a better deal for us.  Not so great for the overextended sellers, but at least they lightened up – one mortgage is plenty. 

Are we happy?  Yes.  We love the house, despite how needy she is.  So, you might be thinking, “Okay then, that’s the story?  You bought your quirky money pit?”  Yes, we did (she said proudly, if not stupidly) but the story – the magical, mystical, “unexplainable”?  Coming up.

We have lovely, charming neighbors.  One couple in particular – let’s call them Art and Caroline – were original owners in the area and knew the family that built our house, about 40 years ago.  Invited to our first neighborhood New Year’s Eve party, we met Art and Caroline (considering that waving from the mailbox doesn’t count as ‘meeting’).  This was actual conversation time, holiday festivities and all. 

The hubster and Art began chatting about how unusual our house is.  Yes, funky brick and all.  “No, no – not just that”, Art said.  “What about all the odd electronics and wiring in the house – especially the basement.  Didn’t you wonder about it, why it was there?”  The hubs was excited now!  His electrical engineering and patent-holder brain kicked into nerdy-nirvana.  “Yes!”  he told Art.  “I worked in engineering – for an electronics company for years and I noticed the wiring in the basement, yes, but it’s throughout the house!  Like I’d done it by myself, for myself, you know, for all of my equipment and the shop in the basement.” 

Art nodded, enjoying hubster’s enthusiasm, and as he leaned forward from his perch on the sofa he added, “Oh, I can see that.  The original owners, Pete and Glenda – they built the house. He was a nutty professor type – maybe like you – and he worked for a big company nearby, also as an engineer.”  Then Art casually mentioned the name of the company.  The same company the hubs worked for as a newbie engineering tech – right out of college. I watched as hubby’s mouth gaped open, finally asking “Wait – the Pete you’re talking about, the first owner, was it Pete Granger? He built our house?”

“Yep” Art said.  “But how did you know Pete?”  As I stood by watching, I added nothing other than my astonished look.  What is happening, I thought?  Just then the hubs grabbed my sleeve and said “Oh my God, oh my God…the first VP of Engineering I ever worked for – it was Pete – Pete Granger.  Vicki – a man I admired so much – he built our house!”

It explained a lot.  All the wacky wiring, for sure, but I’d like to think the house was waiting for new owners who would appreciate, not only her unusual exterior but her purposeful, if not, uncommon wiring.  Hubs and Art continued to chat, swapping stories about Pete.  Hubby knew Pete retired, maybe 25 years earlier.  Art lowered his head a bit and said “Yes, Pete and Glenda moved to Florida, and it nearly killed him to sell the house. We stayed in touch for a few years, but they both died in the early 90’s.  They were great people and I think Pete would love knowing someone who worked for him, back in his hey-day, owns the house now.

We shared the story with our realtor who wasn’t surprised one bit. “Mmm…makes sense”, she said “The house was waiting for you.  Just you.”  Whether true or not, we’re inclined to feel the same and seven years later, we’re still sprucing her up and regret nothing.  Home is home.  And no, Pete and Glenda don’t haunt the house.  Not that we know of anyhow.  Still, their love of the home?  We can feel it, wacky wiring, and all. 

Vicki ❤

Mom Was in a Mood…

Growing up was choppy, as we moved ten times in twelve years.  I was ever the new girl with the family circus in tow – especially my eccentric, unwell mother intent on masking truth and recreating our family story every time we moved.  Exhausting.  The sparkly highlights, though?  Delightful and insightful comments from sister Lisa – ever ready with spot-on commentary, cutting through the madness.

Me?  I never knew what whoppers Sue/mom would tell as she tried to make fast friends and establish herself in a new town.  Sometimes she’d spin new, fantastic tales in the moment, without warning.  I’d nod and try to play along but it was maddening – this need to do improv with my mom.  Can I see a script in advance, please?

One such whopper came when we house hunted in St. Louis.  Dad was busy at work, but Lisa and I were stuck with Sue and her daily shenanigans as she took the reins house-hunting.  We stayed at a Holiday Inn for a month which seemed luxe, at first.  Then it became hotel hell.

I was 13 and yearned for private time.  As much as I loved Lisa, she was my ever-present shadow and right next to her?  Yep.  Sue.  All day, every day, treating disabled Lisa like a delicate china doll…assuming I might break her. 

The worst accommodations would’ve been if all four of us were piled in one room. Thankfully THAT didn’t happen, but adjoining rooms weren’t as great as they seemed.  Sure, we could close the door in between, but the walls were tissue paper thin, forcing me to unwittingly tune into every phone call Sue made.  Nowhere to hide.

But back to the whopper.  Not the burger – the lie. 😉 In one of her insecurity-driven tirades, Sue harassed the realtor assigned to show us houses. Mercilessly. Dad’s employer suggested a particular agency, but no one realized (except me…I saw this coming…promise I did) that the agent better be a guy.  Or — If the realtor was a woman, she’d better be old and unattractive.  At least more so than Sue. And… heaven help us all, if the designated victim (agent) dared to be a really pretty woman?  Buckle up. Bad moon rising.  Ever insecure, Sue needed to feel a sense of superiority any way she could, lest her paranoia would run amok…resulting in high drama, Sue-style.

Unsurprisingly, Sue sized up the lady agent based on looks alone, even before they met.  The realtor/victim’s name?  Let’s call her Patty.  She left a massive binder at the hotel front desk for Sue to peruse over the weekend and contacted her on Monday to discuss showings. 

Patty should’ve met with Sue face-to-face first, to establish her credibility and catch Sue off guard. But how did she know?  Sue didn’t come with a warning label.  Until first contact, don’t we all assume sanity?  I could see the unfolding…Sue barely flipped through the chubby listing binder because Patty’s 8×10 glossy, glam shot on the cover provoked her, prompting Sue’s insecurities which summoned, ‘You might be prettier, but I’m better in other ways’ nonsense. 

When Sue took on airs, she conjured a strange accent and an awkward, staccato rhythm in her speech.  I heard it from the adjoining room that day, suspecting that fresh-meat-Patty would be in trouble with Sue, one way or another.  How did I know? I saw Patty’s photo, too.  Defenseless Patty was too blonde, too thin, too pretty.  It was just a matter of time.

Despite years of ringside seats for the “Sue show” I always hoped my intuition was wrong.  That day, I listened as Sue spoke in a condescending way to Patty, complaining that ALL of the homes were ‘unsuitable’.  (Maybe she stayed up all night taking a look, but far as I knew, the binder hadn’t been cracked open.  Not even a smidge.) 

Sue continued, complaining that Patty clearly misunderstood the price points, too.  “We’re not looking for shacks…we’re arriving from New Orleans” (but she said it like this:  NEWWW-ORRRR-LEEE-ANNNS adding an extra syllable with her drawn out pronunciation).  Arrogant and loud.  To which, Lisa – ever the savant – just turned the volume up on the TV, saying, “Mom’s in a mood again” as she resumed watching one of her daytime soap operas.  Why couldn’t I be smart like Lisa, I wondered.  Mom’s in a mood.  Move on. 

Anyway…hearing only Sue’s side of the embarrassing conversation, I walked into the adjoining room, doing my best to pantomime my frustration, mouthing “Oh My God” to Sue and throwing the slash the throat signal, hoping she’d knock off the stupid.  It was always a calculated risk, any approach of Sue in a spin-out, but I was mortified and motivated.  Instead of slowing down her rant, I became part of the circus as she brought me into the conversation with Patty, hoping I’d back her up and join the tirade.  Would she never learn? 

Instead, I took the phone from Sue and began an apology to the realtor we’d never meet, this blondie named Patty.  At first, she continued her apology, which is what she tried to express as Sue blustered.  Patty finally stopped and listened as I introduced myself, adding, “No apology necessary.  I’m sorry about my mom.  We’ll get back to you.  It’s been a lot, this whole moving business.”  Patty stammered with relief, “Oh, thank you.  No problem.”

Sue?  I expected a thrashing about taking the phone from her, and/or for apologizing to Patty but instead, she had a phone book in her lap, trying to identify other realtors to work with.  And just like that. End scene.  On to the next…and no, we never met Patty.

When dad was looped in, he said he’d heard about a ‘dust up’ between mom and the realtor.  “Yup, I said.  Too pretty” and he just nodded.  The replacement?  His name was Fred and he must’ve drawn the short straw, but he managed to survive showings with Sue and she gave him glowing reviews.  “Fred the Fantastic” was her nickname for him.  Poor Fred got the job done, and I always wondered if his winks in my direction conveyed more.  I’m betting so.

-Vicki 😉

Aunt Bea’s Wit and Wisdom

black and white drawing of a farm

I’m a pondering parent this morning.  I know I’m not the first, last, or wisest person to conjure the notion that parenting is akin to farming but it’s on my mind just the same.

The most maddening thing for me, the woman who likes results and task completion, was the delayed and slow simmer of parenting payoffs.  Like tending crops?  Maybe.  Planting those seeds, hoping for a good yield, and praying for a hearty root system to sustain the burgeoning growth, especially in harsh and unpredictable conditions.  Pushing myself to believe in growth that I couldn’t yet see, much less celebrate?  A challenge. One that required all the scaffolding of trust and faith I could muster, often in the form of commiseration with equally stressed-out parenting friends, tending to their own ‘fields’, day in and day out.

My gratitude moment this morning took me to this reflective place because I remember.  I remember feeling the shaky sense of parenting doom. I’ve done it wrong…I’ve messed her up…followed by fear. Fear that my missteps, oversights, overreactions, or indifference – all of the things that parents-as-humans struggle with daily – would render dear daughter as less than in some way.   

I still have an occasional stress dream about a slice of parenting life where I wish I’d done better.  Those persistent what-ifs. (Maybe I should surrender and submit now – to some convoluted research study about women with errant, overrun, obsessive minds? 😉)

Seeking slumber, last night I received a ricochet recollection instead. About farming.  It came in hazy-like at first, appearing in the form of a slideshow…scenes from a trip to reclusive Aunt Bea’s farm when I was a kid.

Aunt Bea was a hellion for rebellion, one of the outcasts in the family.  I suspect she was ostracized because she was one of the few elders in mom’s life who put up with zero bullshit.  No guff from this rough-around-the-edges tough gal, Aunt Bea. 

I remember being mesmerized by her plain-spoken shutdowns, pointedly directed at Sue – my mom.  The recall episode last night was a moment – just a moment – when Aunt Bea pulled mom aside in a bean field.  I think Aunt Bea knew we were coming, but it didn’t deter her from sticking to her routine as she moved with purpose, tending to farming chores before breaking for ‘supper’ (lunch).  Mom was haughty and bossy toward Aunt Bea, frustrated that she wasn’t ready to receive us, lamenting that ‘poor Lisa’ (my disabled sister) needed to eat, stick to her schedule.

Wiping her brow with a dirty rag, Aunt Bea said something along the lines of, “Sue, you better toughen up and knock off the attitude.  Parenting is hard, it’s like tilling crops and pulling weeds – it’s not for the drama queens and the faint-hearted.  Right now, you’re both.  If you think Lisa is hungry, go make her a snack or shut up and get to work, right here” as she motioned toward a garden bed, overrun with weeds.

This time traveling stuff when I should be sleeping stinks, but the memory of Aunt Bea shutting down Sue? It was a memory with a message, and it prompted delight.  A highlight reel that woke me up, but I didn’t mind.

Aunt Bea’s been dead for years and I hadn’t thought about her…forever…but the memory of her showdown with mom was a good one.  And her message, “parenting is hard, it’s not for drama queens” wasn’t exactly the comfort I sought, but I took it anyhow, with a grin and gratitude.  Thank you, Aunt Bea.

Despite misgivings about my performance as a parent, I’m amazed by the talented human our dear daughter has become. She is fundamentally kind but more than that – I see her as someone who either innately, or through learned experience, knows to receive people as they are.  An openness about differences which I see her utilizing in every aspect of her life. She is, as my dad would say, ‘good people’.  Right-o.  Very little else matters, including my obsessive rewinds about my parenting performance and guest appearances from crochety, but wise, old Aunt Bea.

And so…parenting = farming?  Maybe so. The growing season is long and while the cloudy days may preoccupy my mind, it’s good to remember they’re mixed with sunny days of delight and love.  Today is one of those days.

-Vicki ❤

It’s Raggedy Anne’s Fault

raggedy anne

This is a pic of a handmade doll – one that my mom-in-law made for our DD (dear daughter) on a lark – as a weekend project – many years ago.  You read that right.  A weekend project.  Hand stitched EVERYTHING.

My photography skills aren’t the best,  but I hope you can see the loving details in Raggedy Anne’s face, dress, hair. She’s a treasure.  My mom-in-law was probably last in the line-up of skilled knitters, seamstresses in the family.  I’ve broken the chain.

How do I know? Mom-in-law tried (once and only once) to teach me how to use her sewing machine.  Truly – just to hem a pair of pants – and I think I drove her to an early afternoon martini that day.  Extra dirty, double olives.  I’m not equipped for anything involving knitting needles, sewing needles, crochet hooks, embroidery doo-dahs. Am I alone?  Anyone else out there lacking the dexterity for crafts and sewing?  Sigh.

It doesn’t take much to trip over an article about fast fashion these days and tendencies to ‘buy new’ when a shirt needs a button.  Mercifully I can do THAT but not much else.  The older I get, the more aspirational I am to buy less and work with what I have.  (I can hear a couple of good friends cackling right now, chortling, ‘I’ll believe it when I see it.’  Okay, fine.  Shoes are another story, okay? Particularly my love of boots. Shove off!)

Feeling it was time with winter approaching, I spent a few daredevilish days winnowing my wardrobe and it involved a treacherous dive into three closets.  I’m not a pack rat, but some clothes hold memories and that’s where things get sticky for me.

I’m a whiz at whipping other people’s closets into shape but my own?  Pokey, pokey, pokey.  But I get there.  As I sorted through a few items never worn and established the piles for Goodwill, the women’s shelter, and a secondhand thrift store, I felt a cloud of melancholy trudging along with me.  I can do better – make more conscious and conscientious choices.  I don’t want to do this privileged purging routine – ever again. 

Meanwhile, I might – no promises – pick up knitting needles again this winter.  My dear friend Kathleen is a talented textile artist and two of her handmade scarves are among my all-time favorite accessories.  Maybe she’ll give me a pointer or two?  I’ll noodle on it because I’m a terrible student (as mom-in-law knew) and I’d hate to drive Kathleen toward any bad habits.  Especially any “coping mechanisms” I might provoke. 😉

All of this pondering? Blame it on Raggedy Anne.

Vicki 😊

Be the One

I had one of those quintessential, odd Vicki experiences yesterday.  It’s been a while since a wave caught me off guard and I’m not sure I want to write about it, but I’ll get the story rolling, take a look back and assess how it might sound to those of you reading and then decide if it’s fit for sharing.  You’ll understand when I explain. 

On one hand I don’t want to freak anyone out or contribute further to growing notions that ‘this Vicki chick is a major oddball’.  But…on the other hand, speaking my truth is one of my core beliefs.  Still, I don’t like laying down the ‘deets’ unless I’m fairly sure I can do so without stressing anyone out.  I’ve learned.  Sometimes it’s better to button up.   So…let’s see what happens as I rewind and share.

We have a tradition for hubby’s birthday – a major pizza feast at his favorite deep dish Italian place.  He and sweet sister Lisa share the same pick and years ago, it became the ‘birthday place’ – their restaurant of choice – and we’re hot dog happy that we can celebrate by EATING IN at long last.  Two years plus of take-out only for birthdays was tough on darling, disabled Lisa.  She understood why, but still.  It’s not the same. (And as an aside, but an important one, love and support to all who work – not just in health care – but in restaurants and service industries, generally, so ravaged by Covid.  Sending love, just because.)

Back to hubster and Lisa…oh my goodness…those two can chow on fried calamari like it’s candy.  Me?  Not a chance.  The aroma alone is a stomach swirler.  Yuck.  But I get it – they love it and dig in happily and heavily, enjoying their greasy, circular swirls of fishy-ness as I slurp my soup.  What’s better than a well-crafted bowl of minestrone, I say.  Especially when the second act, the entrée, is a pizza that requires weight-lifting skills.  Cast iron skillet and all, it’s a heavy hitter and we love it. 

But the food’s not the story.  Anastasia is.  She was our server and I don’t know how to explain it, but I knew her – and she knew me.  When she approached our table, we locked eyes and she stammered as she greeted us and introduced herself.  She gave hubs and Lisa a quick look in her greeting, but her gaze rested on me and I have to admit, I was doing the same. 

That ‘wave’ I mentioned?  It’s an overwhelming feeling I get when I’m picking up SOMETHING I can’t compute.  It’s a rush of input with nowhere to go.  When Anastasia shared her name, I thought, “Of course you’re Anastasia and you go by Stace.  Hello there” and I swear she replied affirmatively, with her smile. Unspokens.  And it freaked both of us out. She started rapid blinking, futzing with her pen and then a nervous grin – a smile so broad, it conveyed familiarity, warmth, and recognition.  But of what? 

I guessed she was an early 30-something.  Maybe she was a former client?  Former student? Daughter of a colleague?  The entire time she stood by, taking our order, I racked my brain to sift through connections. I knew her and I could feel her thinking the same. 

As a result, the whole ordering business was awkward as we sized each other up.  Stace, by drumming her pen on her chin with her head cocked to the side. Thinking. As she listened to hubster’s rundown of our gluttonous order, she made notes but punctuated the process with eyes back and forth to me, and then an apology for being slow to get our drinks.  Why?  I think it was because her brain/head/heart – and mine – were preoccupied – doing the same thing.  I know YOU and it’s a good connection – but what is it? 

It wasn’t fear – or the geez, I want to run and hide from you vibe.  I know that – like the time I was at the mall buying underwear and the 17-year-old ringing up my purchase was a young man I’d counseled.  I knew far too much about him to reduce the embarrassment – for both of us.  Not the person I wanted checking out my choice of skivvies, ya know?  His red cheeks conveyed the same.

No, Stace’s ‘wave’ was something else and we both knew it but the extra quirkiness was this:  Under any other circumstance, I’d just call the question.  “Hey – you look sooo familiar.  I feel like I know you!”.  But not this time.  Something held me back and I could see relief in her face when she returned with the smelly calamari and my soup.  She still smiled, but it was different.  It was relief. 

When the time came to settle up, she apologized again and thanked us for our kindness and patience. Hmmm….it didn’t register as weird or overly familiar to hubs or Lisa but I got the message as she focused on me.  Stace continued and said she’d been away from her job for months due to an illness but was grateful that her first table back…on her first shift back…was full of nice folks. Us.

At this point I’m thinking, good enough.  We’ll let this rest and I smiled back.  With hubs and Lisa nodding, I said “Our pleasure – lunch was terrific – and all the best as you get back into the swing of things at work.”  It seemed like the right thing to do, given what she shared.  No probing.  Let it rest.  And then this:  She had tears in her eyes.  Just like I do – right now as I type this.  “That means a lot”, Stace said, “You have no idea.”

As we packed up our leftovers to go, Lisa needed a pit stop before heading to the car.  I walked her to the ladies’ room, passing Stace on the way.  You know that moment when you feel compelled to offer a hug, but you’re not sure about reciprocation, welcomeness?  There was none of that with Stace.  She leaned forward just as I did and with a quick embrace and a reminder from me to her to take care, the wave was over.  Whatever it was.

In the car, ever-perceptive Lisa said this: “Vicki, isn’t it fun sometimes how you meet people and they’re like friends?”  Yes”, I replied.  “It’s funny and magical and a good reminder of how important it is to take care of one another with kindness.”  The hubster?  Long ago he became accustomed to the randomness of life with Vicki – ‘in the wild’.  “People find you”, he says.  “They just do.” 

From me to you – happy Monday – as I send universal goodness your way.  Maybe you’ll be the one someone needs to find today.  Maybe you’re the one who needs to be found.  Either way, I’m sending love.

Vicki ❤

Photo by Kevin Malik on Pexels.com

Hat Head

man with a hat one
The Hubster…in a Hat

Do you have a face for a hat? 😉 I don’t think I do, but as it gets colder here in the Midwest, I think I need to put a little effort into chapeau-seeking. The last time I comfortably wore a hat it was a bucket style (hello, 90’s!) worn while walking a picket line with faculty colleagues.  Hats were not optional gear…it was cold and blustery! Beyond my complaining, though, I developed mad respect for protesters and picketers everywhere who face unpredictable weather in order to stand up, to be seen – in solidarity – for their chosen cause.

Me? I know I’m a cream puff and the combo of cold AND wet whilst protesting? Bring me a hat.  I didn’t give a rat’s patootie whether I looked good or not.  Survival, people!  (Okay – I know I’m being dramatic, but I don’t have an iota of outdoorsy in me.  Don’t get me started about rustic life and camping.  Gawd.)

But this pic? It’s the DH (dear hubster) nonchalantly rocking a little knit beanie like his head was made for it.  When hubby and I were dating…precisely one million years ago…he and my dad rustled through the coat closet, right around October if memory serves. Why? They were intent on golfing ‘one last time’ before the greens and fairways were snow-covered…and they needed more than golf gloves for the adventure.

Hubster retrieved this particular knit hat from the mound of woe begotten and mismatched mittens and gloves.  The little beanie was mine, but I could never figure out how to wear it.  Over the bangs or bangs tucked in?  Ears partially covered or fully concealed? Long hair down – or pulled on top in my signature Pebbles Flintstone poof? (Don’t judge.)

That blasted hat stressed me out. It looked so good on the DH, but I hated it on my head.  It matched a suede jacket PERFECTLY and would’ve been a great accessory and that’s where I made my mistake.  For me, hats need a purpose, like my 90’s bucket baby.  Maybe I need to rustle through the coat closet, just like my dad and hubs did decades ago.  Maybe I’ll find a beloved beret for a look-see and a tryout?  Maybe.  No promises. If nothing else, maybe my bucket baby is still around for a ‘take two’.

What’s your HATtitude? Please share and thank you for allowing me to whine.

Xo,

Vicki 😉

Very Verbal Vicki

Yep, that’s me!  I come from a long line of women who are tipped toward ‘external processing’.  Especially my mama.  Full of the gift of gab and gaffes uniquely her own, she was a complex lady with a penchant for chit-chat.  With or without jet fuel, err…her ultra-dark roast black coffee. 

Once when he was beyond exasperated with her non-stop commentary, my dad simply asked in a low, gravely growl: “Sue…Do you EVER have an unexpressed thought?”. 

We were on a cross country road trip and dad was diligently trying to tune the old AM radio so he could catch the Cincinnati Reds game.  Mom?  She had other things on her mind.  Questions about the destination, where we’d stop for the night, what sort of road food we’d indulge in, how many miles to the next pit stop/potty stop.

I think dad was okay for the first few hours, but I began to notice, from my backseat perch, that his jaw was tight – yet not as tight as his clenched fists on the steering wheel.  His grip was so firm that his otherwise suntanned hands looked more mottled and pinky-white, due to, you know, cutting off his own circulation with his steering wheel vice grip.

Eventually mom slept and I saw the color return to dad’s hands – he even stuck his left arm out the window for a while, casual-like, to catch a breeze as we sped along.  With mom slumbering, he found the sports radio station and turned the volume up.  I saw him look back in the rear-view mirror, noticing that while mom and sister Lisa slept, I was still awake.

What followed was one of the best ‘car talks’ dad and I ever had.  As a devoted fan to his favorite team, I knew he relived his own hey days as a ball player himself whenever he caught a game.  Johnny Bench was a favorite and Pete Rose, too, and dad educated me about the “Big Red Machine” roster, so I knew every player.  The baseball lesson lasted only an hour or so, but it felt like so much more. ❤❤❤

There are moments when I fall into chatter mode, like mom, and I recall dad’s road trip commentary about her motor mouth. Hmmm…applies to me, too. Given my self-awareness about being Very Verbal Vicki I’m reminded that I won’t explode if I fail to express everything I think, feel, wonder, lament, dislike, enjoy…you get the idea. 

Given that the DH (no, not the designated hitter – the dear hubby) shares some traits with my long-gone papa, I suspect his ears relish a break every now and then.  When it matters, DH is a great listener, but a running diatribe of drivel?  It’s asking too much, and I know it. 

From me to you…with a friendly, self-mocking ‘blah, blah, blah’…I’ll say goodbye for now.

Happy Friday!

Very Verbal Vicki 😉

CSI: Lisa

girl in McDonald's uniform
Lisa: Her first job at McDonald’s

Sweet sister Lisa had terrific news this week!  Intellectually disabled Lisa is a marvel, despite her developmental delays and challenges.  (Read about her here to learn more.)

The pandemic thinned out vocational opportunities for lovelies like Lisa.  Despite the excellent work of her team of job coaches and social workers, it’s not easy to support disabled adults with a variety of intellectual and physical obstacles.

Lisa had a job, prior to the pandemic, doing piece work for a family-owned manufacturing company.  She loved it – they loved her – and although packing boxes of screws, weighing them and sorting them wasn’t an aspiration of hers, the point was productivity and providing Lisa with an opportunity to work in the community. (No job would ever compare with her FIRST job, however, when she worked at McDonald’s as a teenager. 😉 Free fries for the win, right?)

When the screw-sorting job ended, Lisa was bereft.  So sad and yet she understood it wasn’t her fault.  The company needed to trim their workforce and Lisa, along with two of her similarly disabled friends lost their jobs in the process. 

But this week?  Great news!  One of Lisa’s job coaches found a new gig for her – at a recycling company willing to do the good work of hiring Lisa, and her friend Albert.  This makes my heart sing.  Companies can easily dismiss hiring the disabled – view Lisa and Albert as ‘less than’ or unemployable.   

The company’s trusting heart and their willingness to listen to the job coaches who are angels AND champions made all of it come together.  Except for one, slightly funny Lisa-centric thing that everyone missed.  A smile is coming.  I promise.

Lisa LOVES all of the murder shows on TV. You know – CSI and NCIS whatever, whatever.  Law and Order this and that. I’ve never understood the appeal of “entertainment” that begins with dead bodies, and I’ve made my opinion clear.  Hubby, however?  He and Lisa share a bond here.  They DO on occasion, discuss other topics, but their conversations are typically peppered with ‘shop talk’ about the whodunits, etc. etc.  While they chat, I nod off or leave the room. 

What’s a common denominator in these shows – other than the aforementioned, requisite bloody corpse in every opening montage?  Yep.  Fingerprinting the ‘perp’, once captured.  In the old, old days, some of us geezers would throw the phrase, “Book ‘em, Danno” but for the youngsters reading, I’ll just apologize for the outdated reference.  Look it up, though, okay? 😉

As Lisa’s team prepped her for the transition to her new job – orientation, taking a tour, etc. – a passing reference was made to other milestones:  getting an official photo ID/badge and FINGERPRINTING

Alert! Alert! Alert!  Lisa’s savvy enough, sometimes, to catch herself before becoming volcanic.  This is a good thing – progress for Lisa who was plagued for decades by seizures triggered by emotional stress.   Afraid to clarify with her job coach, she said she needed to go to the bathroom – urgently – and called me in a full-on panic.  “I’ve done something wrong. I’m getting FINGERPRINTED.  I thought I had the job.  But maybe I messed up and I’m going to jail?”  Ah – hello, crime shows. 

For the love of Lisa.  Despite the kindness and care from her job coach and team, only someone with years of experience in Lisa-land would know what a passing reference to ‘fingerprinting’ might conjure up for her.  I’m glad I took Lisa’s call when it came.  Once I understood the problem, I simply said, “Oh – no.  This isn’t a CSI-Lisa thing.  It’s just part of hiring you.  You’re not in trouble.  Promise.”  Not missing a beat, Lisa said, “That’s good.  Thanks, Vicki.  I wondered if you’d bail me out.”

See me smiling? 😊 I love Lisa.

-Vicki ❤

She Was a Pretty House…

I don’t know if my love of Queen Anne architecture is a nod to nostalgia or something else.  Like many things in my life, design-wise, I don’t question it.  It just IS.

Back a few generations, this stately home was built by my husband’s family, right around the turn of the century…I mean the last century…1900:

queen anne style home

My mother-in-law grew up there and on occasion, she would share sweet stories about secret rooms, hidden stairwells.  Not in a spooky way, more of an old houses have history and reflect their owners/builders way.

She’s still standing, this queenly residence, and is often featured, especially this time of year, in seasonal newspaper and magazine stories about autumn.  She was a pretty house. 

Yet I never knew she was technically a ‘tower’ Queen Anne style.  Interesting.  Learning about that helps to bring the memory of my mom-in-law close.  Little nuggets do that for me. 😊

Now?   She’s been subdivided into apartments.  We’re not sure what that’s like but we’re not altogether angry about it.  The house fell out of family hands in the 60’s so it hasn’t been “ours” for a very long time.  Still, we wonder if the developer kept as much of the interior as possible and wonder, if the secret staircases and tucked-away attic rooms, upon discovery, were kept or swept away.  I imagine the latter, for practicality’s sake.

Could we knock on the door and say, Oh hey there…may we come in…this place was special once, to the family who built it and we’re what’s left’.  Sure.  But we haven’t…and probably won’t.  Hubby and I both agree that monkeying with good memories might be a mistake. 

So, we’ll admire her from afar…once in a great while driving by but not lingering.  The family pics and memorabilia hold the sweet stuff now – including old photos like this one of the family that lived there first – mom-in-law, her siblings and parents, circa 1926:

black and white vintage family photo, 1920's
Mom-in-law Maxine is the littlest one…peeking out from behind her big sis…posing in front of their house.

All of this reminds me of an anonymous quote that I adore:

“Be the things you loved most about the people who are gone.”

Yes, and yes. Generational love for a house…a way of staying connected.

Cheers to you — and thanks for reading.

xo,

Vicki ❤

Stay Safe

red heart on black background
Sending love…

I had something else in mind for a post this morning but I’m not feeling it. 

Friends and family who are staring down Hurricane Ian are on my mind…much like the folks who’ve suffered already as it careened through the Caribbean, leaving devastation behind.  Sending heartfelt wishes for safety.

Vicki ❤

Send Out the Search Party

brown cowboy hat with sheriff badge
Everything is Somewhere

When dear daughter was small, one of the most mind-numbing tasks was the constant fetching of errant ‘stuff’.  She was an only, so as a party-of-one, parent-wise, I felt terrible when I complained.  I don’t know NOW – nor did I THEN – how to magically locate stuff.

I am not blessed with GPS-like tracking skills.  Socks? Shoes? Lost Bunnies? Dolls? Trucks? Pokemon whatevers? Nope.  Unless I tripped over them and hurt the bottom of my bare foot, I generally had no clue. 

A parent’s favorite reply to ‘where’s (fill in the blank)?’

I dunno – wherever YOU left it.

To be honest, though, this is bigger than an overdue parenting rant.  Our girl is way grown at this point, so why the sharing now?  It seems the Hubster has the same trust in me…that I can close my eyes, put a finger to my temple, thoughtfully, and mull….and I’ll know wherever said-missing-in-action item might be holing up.  Nope.  Still don’t know.

I think pandemic togetherness pushed me over the edge.  He’s relaxed and easy going.  Me?  Wound. Too. Tight.  Don’t bug me with a question about where your favorite screwdriver is.  Don’t you have 99 of them?  😊

And yet, I get why both dear daughter and Hubster have faith in me.  I am the Patron Saint of Lost Stuff.  I did it to myself.  See, I’m the one who’s in perpetual pick up mode in these parts.  Yessiree.  That’s me.

If I’m a-pickin’ it up, I might as well be a-puttin’ it down — where it belongs.  (I don’t know where the Western twang and sheriff swagger is coming from.  Sorry about that.  My mind is wandering and I’m having an out of body moment as I see myself roaming through the tumbleweeds, err, piles in the house like I’m leading a search party, complete with a badge and ten-gallon hat.  I think I need sleep.)   

So what?  I do have a point here.  Getting to it! 😉 Even when I’ve lost track of something and I’m in search mode, there’s a tidbit of wisdom from my papa that rolls in.  It’s a surefire (wink!) way of calming me down when I’m rootin-tootin’ mad. 

I have learnedI am unlikely to locate anything when I’m steamed.  The more Zen, the better and this phrase helps, self-talk style:

I don’t know where (fill in the blank) is but what I DO know is everything is somewhere.’

And with that bit of wisdom, I plop down and sit-a-spell 😉 until inspiration strikes and I pick up the trail.  I don’t want to say it works every time…but it kinda does. 

And that’s that.  A Tuesday rant, and a tip of the hat, from me to you, partner.

-Vicki 😉

Go Great Granny, Go!

1900 woman in hat
Great Grandma…Get It, Girl

The photo of the distinguished lady is hubby’s great grandma, circa 1900.  She married into a family of haberdashers:

Three things are remarkable to me about this photo, unearthed in the family trunk of long-forgotten stories: 

First – LOOK – just LOOK at the hat.  I’ve discovered, after a bit of vintage sleuthing, that over-the-top ornamentation using fake fruit and flowers was au courant and high fashion at the turn of the last century.  In addition to the hat looking uncomfortable, I’m fairly certain great granny could’ve been airborne, should a strong breeze arrive. You know – Mary Poppins style.

Second – While the tailoring on the jacket and handiwork looks like the refined work of a master, the whole ensemble – jacket, gloves and high-necked blouse scream discomfort.  Great grandma’s visage, though?  She looks proud and proper.  Not a hint of “I can’t wait to get out of this to hop into something comfy” (which in truth, was probably an equally uncomfortable lumpy cotton, full-skirted ‘day dress’.)

Third and last – and most important.  As I rummaged through the trunk, I learned this hat pic was part of an ad campaign for the local newspaper – promoting the small-town millinery and haberdashery store, which her newlywed husband owned.  Excavating the tidbits uncovered more fun and fab family history.  Despite great granny’s time and place, she pushed her new husband to go beyond the traditional ‘furnishings’ for men only and branch out to offer equally well-made goods for women.  And she was the first model and spokesperson. 😊

What’s not to love?  Go, Great Granny, Go!

-Vicki ❤

MMM: Monday Morning Muffins

basket of apple muffins
Apple Walnut Muffins

Caution I’m no master baker, food blogger or photographer. I just like to eat and bake and if I can do it in a semi-healthy way, I’m all in. 😊

It’s that time of year for many of us – time to get creative with apples in abundance.  I have a tried-and-true recipe for apple walnut bread – dating back to my foray into 4-H as a kid – and I figured it would work just as well if I made muffins, so I decided to bake a big batch and ‘health it up’ just a bit. 

How?  I used whole wheat flour and rather than PEEL and chop the apples, I just chopped them.  What’s wrong with the extra fiber and a little ‘tooth’?  Seems to complement the overall chewiness of these dense delights, along with the walnuts.  But hey – you do YOU and change it up as you like.  The recipe itself is pretty fool proof (yep, even for me).

  • 3 cups flour (choose what you like – I used whole wheat, but I’ve made this recipe with almond flour with pretty good results – same for basic all-purpose and gluten free flour.  I recall I needed to lighten up on the oil a little when I used almond flour, but other than that, it worked fine)
  • 2 cups sugar (or – go ½ and ½ – 1 cup sugar and your choice of monk fruit, stevia and/or brown sugar)
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • ½ tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp cinnamon (pumpkin pie spice is awesome, too)
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 4 eggs
  • I cup vegetable oil (or go ½ and ½ and use ½ cup of applesauce to replace ½ of the oil – yum!)
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 cups finely chopped apples (peeled if you must – use Granny Smith if you’ve got ‘em)
  • 1 cup chopped nuts (walnuts, sure, or pecans — or no nuts)

Mix the dry stuff in a big bowl.  Separately whisk together the eggs, oil and vanilla and combine with the dry stuff.  Add the apples and nuts.  This will be a thick batter – don’t worry if you need to thin it just a bit with some water.

Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes or so for muffins; more like 55 minutes if you’re doing loaves. Makes 2 dozen muffins, or two small loaves. 

The batch in the photo is from earlier this morning.  I love when I can load up my favorite vintage breadbasket with something fresh and wholesome.  That sweet wicker serving piece has been in the family for at least 80 years – passed down from hubby’s granny to his mom…and happily, to me. 

So – here’s to Monday and the magic of muffins.  If I could, I’d send you a few.  Let’s figure out how to share via the blogosphere.  If not the actual muffins, maybe the aroma, at least? Not gonna lie; our house smells pretty good right now. 😉

xo,

-Vicki ❤

Shake, Rattle & Roll

antique china cabinet
The ‘chatty’ cabinet

I’ve tried to put this out of my mind for the past two weeks, and I’m struggling.  See the cabinet?  I don’t know how to explain this, but the dumb piece of furniture is talking back. 

Have I lost you already?  Sorry.  See? This is why I’ve been trying to shoo this story away.  Well, there are really two reasons:

  1. I don’t want to scare you.
  2. I’d rather you not think of me as entirely crazy (a little crazy is good, I think).

If we rewind to seven years ago, right about now, we were tending to my mom, Sue’s passing.  It was rough in every way, especially for lovely Lisa, my disabled sister, but she was comforted when we brought mom’s urn home – to nestle it next to dad’s.

Our pops died many years prior, and Lisa became accustomed to seeing his urn in our house – sometimes chatting and shooting the breeze with him.  Not creepy – sweet and endearing.

Eventually our parents want their urns buried together in a plot already picked out in their hometown, but for now, Lisa enjoys her periodic visits and communing with them.  All good because it gives her peace. 

When mom died, we brought her urn home and placed it next to dad’s and that’s when the shaky stuff started.  The two cabinets in that room hold old china, glassware, and crystal and twice after Sue “came home” we had early morning issues with unexplained broken glass on the floor – with the cabinet doors flung open.

I’m a pretty meticulous person about order and neatness (more so than spotlessly clean – don’t come over and expect to eat off the floors) and I know I didn’t leave the doors open, nor did I place crystal or crockery in tipsy positions.  No ma’am

Okay, you might be thinking, it was an oversized truck rumbling down the street – you know, creating vibrations resulting in the shaky, shaky.  No – we live on a dead-end street.  No one goes by unless they’re stopping for supper, which is always nice.  I make too much food anyhow. 

Fine – not a chubby truck.  Okay – it was a tremor – you know, those tectonic plates are a-shifting.  Earthquakes happen everywhere – even in the Midwest.  No.  No seismic shift.  I checked.  Scratch that off the list. 

How about a prankster?  No.  Unless hubby is the most colossal liar on the planet, with ninja-like magician skills.  He can’t be in two places at once, no matter how cool he is. 

This nonsense continued until I separated the urns.  Mom went in one room, dad in another and the shaky stuff stopped.  Just stopped.  Since then, we have the occasional odd door slamming episodes (which we attribute to breezes…um…even when the windows are closed) but it’s been quiet in the crockery department for several years.  Until Labor Day.

The cabinet in the picture is the culprit – the one that wanted to chat a couple of weeks ago.  We had friends and family over for a BBQ and at the end of the evening, I washed and dried the serving pieces – cheese trays, platters – that were used for our feast and had the two middle doors open, returning items to their spots. Awesome.  Task completion. 

EXCEPT this:  As I turned to walk away, the loudest possible rumble of broken glass and smashing crockery blew out of the cabinet.  LOUDLY.  I’d stepped back – maybe a foot – and when I turned, I expected to see everything in the cabinet in a heap on the floor. But what did I find?  Nothing.  None of the vases on the left (all sitting on glass shelves) or the serving pieces on the right and in the middle had moved one inch. Not a single thing was broken.

Sister Lisa was nearby and hustled over to help me and we just stood there – looking at each other, then the cabinet, sharing “I heard it too” while looking again and again to see what was broken.  Hubby was upstairs and came flying in thinking the whole cabinet had toppled over.  Now three of us stood in front of it with our mouths hanging open. 

For Lisa’s benefit, I finally saidoh, it must’ve been something outside, or something that fell upstairs but I knew better.  I just did.  Why?  Right before the crash Lisa was around the corner – saying goodbye, one last time – to mom’s urn before we drove Lisa home.  Which leads me to conclude mom “replied” shake, rattle and roll style.  If it was a nudge to remember her, I think we got the message.  Loud and clear. 

But still, I’m pondering; seeking other explanations.  Nothing’s come yet – and maybe that’s okay.

Xo,

Vicki ❤

Verbal Guard Rail: Thanks, Dad!

black and white photo of young man
My dad – silly and wise

My dad was no philosopher.  His exterior and public persona were die-hard business dude.  Crisp, tidy and in control defined his personality (oh – and an obsessive fondness for white shirts – learn about that here). 

Appearances aside, he had a very squishy marshmallow cream center and from that warm and caring core, he offered endless witticisms.  Some were altogether goofy and clearly made up – in the moment – by this man who was rarely at a loss for words.  I’m sure he “borrowed” from other great thinkers – never knowing exactly who he was quoting or the context.  Didn’t slow him down, not even a beat. 

The common denominator?  He was wired to help and encourage and on occasion, his advice came in the form of a verbal guard rail – a gentle warning that I might want to steer clear, move along – lest I’ll suffer the impact, the outcome, the collision.   His years of married life with mom surely helped him craft this gift.  Battle scars and strategy can do that.

None of these meaningful morsels are written down – anywhere.  If asked to recall and catalogue them – I just can’t.  They appear, oddly when I need them the most, and that too is a reminder to my often-wayward spiritual self to RECEIVE without overthinking.

Here’s an example.  As a kid, whenever I found myself noodling on issues outside my sphere of influence (daily dramas and annoyances – the things that are oh-so easy to crab about) he’d see the look on my face or hear the venomous tone and offer a low, monotone message, in a wonky, put-on Southern drawl:

Mm hmm…best to keep your eyes on your own paper, missy” and that was it.

Just like that!  He conveyed that he heard me (win #1) and offered advice to move on – quit the twisting and fussing (win #2). 

Eyes on my own paper, indeed.  Advice that still works, years later. If I embroidered, I’d consider putting that on a pillow.

xo,

Vicki ❤

Finding My Way to Forgiveness

forgive sign
I’m a work in progress…

I know I’m partly molded from my mom’s madness.  Aging creates inevitabilities and as much as I’d like to deny it, my mom’s penchant for critical, caustic commentary often simmers just beneath the surface, within me. Especially when I’m stressed.

My mom, Sue, could be unrelenting in her expectations of those around her.  Every now and again when I’m zooming around the house doing too much at once, my dad’s voice surfaces – one of his periodic tirades directed at the hurricane that was Sue.  He’d say – ‘Slow down, Sue, just SLOW down’.  

Her frenzied, nearly out-of-body movements prompted him to utter, more quietly and with resignation ‘She needs to stay in her body when her head moves too fast’.  Yup.  Getting ahead of herself.  Driven.  Compelled.

Later in life she’d receive a diagnosis of depression and then the more defining manic depression. Eventually, heavy layers of additional issues (anxiety, alcoholism and more) were catalogued but it was her urgent, tempest in a teapot cleaning binges and spur-the-moment, 911 household projects that stick with me today.  Sometimes, I do the same.  Take on too much at once, putting a premium on “busy” for the sake of busy?  For the sake of task completion?

Sue would wrangle all onlookers into the fray and then make everyone around her feel guilty for taking a break.  Sometimes she was fun loving in her ability to manifest a near party-like atmosphere because of her charisma but invariably, she pushed too hard.  Drama time would arrive.  Predictably with tears and flying crockery (plates, lamps – whatever was within reach). 

As an adult, I recognize that her maladaptive behavior was borne from her demons and insecurities…constantly evaluating and critiquing those around her – benefitting from the short-term lift in her own self-esteem but at what cost?  Long term anguish, most assuredly, along with fractured relationships within the family.  One daughter especially.

There are days when forgetting is liberating.  I can still love and admire aspects of her.  If nothing else, I can marvel at her ability to morph from wildly funny to destructive – in a blink.  She was a sight to behold.  You know, in the I paused to look at the car accident kind of way.  You couldn’t help yourself.

I learned I could step back, remove as much emotion as possible and observe her more objectively, adjusting my regard and expectations for her.  It made it easier to be empathetic and less angry. Occasionally the heat is still there, though, and I work my way through it. 

This week I learned that my near year-long effort of unwinding my mom’s story – painful as it’s been – will come into the light in 2023.  I have a publisher willing to showcase the twisty-tale of my mom’s life and I’m grateful.  Over the next two months I’ll be doing a bit more editing to polish up the near 300 pages and then I think I can finally say goodbye to her – despite the fact that she passed seven years ago.

Every bit of this journey was insurmountable in my eyes…without my best friend Linda encouraging me.  “You can do this.  You should do this”, she would say, as she read one chunk after another, offering the gentlest of nudges, motivation, and love. I wish I could bottle Linda’s patience to sprinkle around. I was a lot to handle 😊 – especially when I retreated into the painful globs of life with mom.

What else?  These two thoughts guided me as I struggled to keep writing:

One day you will tell your story of how you overcame what you went through and it will be someone else’s survival guide.”

-Brene Brown

“The farther backward you can look, the farther forward you can see.”

-Sir Winston Churchill

And my dad…who loved her no matter how hard she made it — and helped me find my way, too. Writing about mom’s madness helped me open a window to see her with forgiveness first.

Xo,

Vicki ❤

Desert Island Food: Pepperoni Pizza!

pizza sign
Photo by Rodolfo Clix on Pexels.com

You know that desert island question?  The one where you mull over which food item you’d enjoy if you’re permitted one edible delight ONLY  – and that’s it for the rest of your natural born days?

What’s your answer? Me?  Pizza. Pizza. Pizza. Although I worry – if I ask for pizza and that wish is granted, will my lifetime supply come along with proper refrigeration and an oven?  Just thinking ahead about food safety.  If I’m stranded on an island I don’t need food poisoning on top of everything else. Can you tell I’m not the outdoorsy, camping type?  😊

If I CAN have anything I want, let me be more specific.  Ordering! Pepperoni pizza, please, which presents a number of issues.  I know it’s not good for me and don’t bother trying to sell me on turkey pepperoni swaps.  Don’t mean to offend anyone, but ick.  Just ick.

My love of pepperoni pizza is ancestral, genetic.  My dad knew I hated eggs so he’d sneak a little side dish of pepperoni my way so I could mix it into the scramble.  You know, to zhuzh up those bland (invariably runny) huevos.  Even so, I know my favorite cured meat is a guilty pleasure – despite the conjuring of pleasant ‘pepperoni with pops’ memories.

My discovery?  My lifelong love of pepperoni is really about the spice and seasonings and I can recreate that yummy taste without the nasty health implications (nitrites, fat, salt, preservatives) and the whole “how the sausage is made” imagery that I struggle with. 

This pic from my kitchen this morning shows simple veggies – almost a fridge clean out – of yellow onions, garlic, tomatoes, and spinach.  Mixed in – a little salt, Italian seasoning, red pepper flakes and olive oil. 

 

frying pan with colorful veggies
Pepperoni swap!

Et Voila!  I bring you pepperoni flavoring in a veggie sauté that makes a delicioso pizza topping.  Or bruschetta topping…or flatbread topping…or a pasta mix-in. Heck, I ate it on some leftover crackers just a bit ago.  Don’t judge.

This blend has become my new favorite utility player in the kitchen because it’s the best-ever fresh topping to a boring frozen cheese pizza.  It’ll take whatever you’ve got —  a few mushrooms if you have those on hand.  Peppers?  Sure.  I’ve even done this with finely shredded carrots and while I know that sounds ridiculous, you don’t notice them from a taste point of view but they do add a little crunch and color.  What’s wrong with that?

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. I still want pizza as my desert island food, but if that’s not possible (with or without pepperoni) I’ll run through my other favorite foods in the “P” category:  potatoes, peanut butter, pineapple.  What about you?

xo,

Vicki 😉

One Precious Painting

city scape black and white painting
It’s “the Jud”

In the late 60’s my sister-in-law Patty worked in downtown Chicago as a journalist.  Fresh from her graduation at Marquette, she became a REAL city girl, with a big-time job at a news station nestled in one of the skyscrapers. 

Patty described it as a bustling, creative time for writers and artists of all sorts and she made a friend in Jud, who, despite his day job in graphic design, longed to JUST be an artist, a painter.  And he was! Photo evidence above. 

I believe this is the only piece he ever let go of.  Admonishing his own skill, faulting his technique, he scoffed at Patty’s praise. Still, she wrestled it from him, insisting on preserving and framing this bold, black and white depiction of the Chicago financial district, circa 1968. 

Since then, it’s logged more miles than some humans 😉.  It’s a shared treasure. Residing first in Patty’s closet-sized apartment in Chicago, then migrating to the suburbs, eventually to Alaska and then back to the Midwest. 

It’s a beloved piece, in part because of Jud’s humility.  There’s been fake-family-fighting for years about who takes possession and for how long.  We just referred to it as ‘the Jud’.

Today when I passed “the Jud”, nestled nicely in a picture-perfect spot in our entry way, I smiled.  Patty jokingly said, maybe two years ago, “It’s time – I want MY Jud back” and we did the fake fighting and verbal tussling about it, telling her if she wanted it, she’d need to fly in from Alaska to fetch it.  All in good fun.

I wrote about the importance of family mementos a few weeks ago, right after Patty passed away unexpectedly.  Take a look at that post if you have a moment. The loss of her still stings; seems unreal.

My point?  Remember those who’ve passed – however you can.  Even if it’s just a city scene, painted by a dear man who will forever be an artist. Thanks to Patty.

-Vicki ❤

Brownie Batter Insights 😊

Carl Jung
Carl Jung

My all-time favorite quote about introspection comes from Carl Jung:

“Solitude is for me a fount of healing which makes my life worth living.  Talking is often a torment for me, and I need many days of silence to recover from the futility of words.”

This is how I feel as an extroverted introvert – otherwise known as an ‘ambivert’ the personality type that rides the middle lane.

I think my personality is a by-product of moving ten times in twelve years as I grew up.  Forever the ‘new girl’ I needed to survey the social nuances – quickly – in order to make friends and connect.  That’s a tall order at any point in life, but when you’re an unsure, lanky, awkward young dork?  Tricky – so I built the skill of fast-friend making.  How?  Ask questions and be prepared to pivot, as needed.  Morph, baby.  And listen, listen, listen.

I suspect those skills framed my future career nicely – both in higher education as a professor and Dean and as a counselor/therapist in my own practice.  I could be extraordinarily extraverted, when needed.  No problem.  Got it.  BUT – I learned quickly that a recovery period after a long day of leading, listening, supporting – even when I loved doing it – was essential.

What else did I learn in the process?  Despite rampant and easily-applied labels, understanding personality types is complicated.  Nuanced.  Personality is not binary. We’re fluid, malleable and flexible and can present aspects of our true selves across the continuum of ‘extraversion vs. introversion’.

How did I manage as a card-carrying introvert in a mostly extraverted work world?  Just fine.  My only issue was remembering to tune into the need to refuel.  I often joked (then and now) that I need to ‘reload my words’ when I’m tapped out.  Give me five or ten, family, friends and I’ll be right back with you.  Right now, I’m fresh out of words.

There are a gazillion different tests – some shady, some reliable – if you want to delve into whether you’re more extraverted or introverted.  I think it’s helpful info, but it probably won’t tell you much that you don’t already know.  Is one type better than another?  No, of course not, despite this cheeky article lauding the merits of introversion. 

I still see myself as an ambivert because of my people-pleasing tendencies and high empathy. Consistently, my thought process is this:  What do YOU need me to be?  Let’s go with that.  And that’s how I live my life, unapologetically, but with awareness of the self-imposed fatigue.

Nasty fatigue.  It’s my nemesis more than anything else.  This past weekend provided a pointed reminder.  Sweet sister Lisa tested me during her visit over the weekend (check out this post from a few weeks back for more detail about my lovable, disabled sister).

Lisa lives in a terrific, well-staffed group home with lady friends with similar disabilities.  Whenever possible, we love having Lisa with us over a weekend, especially if family festivities like a barbeque are on deck.  Such was the case over Labor Day.

In addition to packing too much for a short stay (a genetic problem in the family) Lisa delights in bringing juicy tidbits and gossipy fun facts about her housemates, along with whispered shade about staff, programs, services.  She’s disabled but she’s more emotionally intelligent and verbal than most folks of normal IQ.  😉 AND she loves recounting all of it to me. 

See where I’m going?  I love Lisa but after non-stop listening – and not the half-listening that involves just a nod of recognition – she’s looking to chat – I begin to lose steam.  Not wanting to be short tempered with her, I find things for us to do and that works for a while as a distraction. 

This past weekend as I was teetering toward snapping at her, I remembered how funny she can be if lighten up and play along.  She wasn’t the problem, I realized – it was me.  I had too much **other** on my mind and Lisa sensed it, thinking I was upset with her.  My introverted self needed refueling for the heavy (but fun) impending BBQ socialization and that, coupled with my preoccupation with cooking and prepping, ramped up Lisa’s non-stop storytelling. I made her nervous.

Oh golly.  It just took a few minutes of slowing down over a bowl of brownie batter (with two spoons) to prompt silly reminiscing about childhood cooking disasters.  There were plenty, typically swirled together with outrageous things our mom did.  The laugh track that was our childhood. 

As I ruminated about Lisa last night, my summation thought yielded just this:  Extraversion, introversion, ambivert – whatever.  I needed to send out a search party to find my funny and laughter brought the pieces back together.  It usually does. 

Thanks for reading.  Thanks for letting me share.

Xo,

Vicki ❤

Brats for Blooms!

roses
Beautiful blooms

Labor Day Weekend is the big, splashy end-of-summer hurrah where we live.  The farmer’s markets are slowing down, pools are closing and, if last night’s temps were any indicator, the heralding that fall IS here was unmistakable.  I don’t mind.  My favorite September outfit is a pair of well-worn jean shorts with a comfy hoodie.  Nothing’s better.

So – yesterday we hosted a bbq and it was great fun.  It’s mostly about the company we keep, right?  Food-wise, though, a barbeque is a little tricky for me because I rely on the substantial sides – baked beans, corn bread (yes, all the carbs) because I’m an almost vegetarian. 😉

I know for some that’s against the rules; you’re either in or your out but I confess that an occasional well-done burger or piece (or two) of bacon still tastes good.  If I can shut down my brain.  Yesterday was not one of those days. I could not self-talk my way through eating a bratwurst.  No amount of ‘eat, enjoy and do better next time’ was going to work.

Everyone else in our family/friend group?  Meat eaters – all of them.  Fine, I say.  Just know that I won’t be enjoying those overstuffed, homemade brats from the local German meat market.  Hard pass.

And you know what?  Yesterday I was reminded that delight comes in other forms.  Yes, I enjoyed other items on the menu, but it wasn’t my best eating day (aforementioned carbs followed by double chocolate brownies).   

The non-edible delight?  A friend arrived with the most spectacular bundle of lettuce-edged roses – pink at the curly outer edges – and it made my day.  Given the option, I’d trade brats for blooms any day!

Whatever you’re doing today, I hope it’s restorative and peaceful – however you get there.  Me?  I’ll be admiring the roses.  Grateful for friendship, home and hearth.

Xo,

-Vicki ❤

Family Traditions: Trees, Please

Family history – three trees!

My husband descends from a pioneering family that settled in the small village near our current home.  Immigrating from the Alsace region of France and Germany in the early 1800’s they were part of a small pack of persevering souls who established the quaint town that’s now more tourist destination than residential.  A haven for those who relish the opportunity to travel back in time, shop, nosh and recall simpler days.

We knew snippets of family history from my mother-in-law, Maxine, but believe the surface-level storytelling and limited sharing was the result of embedded, gender norms  –  favoring the retelling of patriarchal tidbits of family history much more than the matriarchal.  Sigh.  It was his mother’s family – not his father’s – who literally blazed a pioneering trail but her legacy and history were sidelined as less important.  How irksome; but that’s not the point – at least not at the moment.

Maxine’s great grandparents arrived on the plains and brought traditions from their wooded homeland.  Evergreen trees were plentiful in heavily forested Alsace and one of most endearing stories was the tale of the painstaking transport of three small evergreen saplings across the Atlantic. I can imagine some arguments about this – a sentimentality vs. practicality tussle – but how lovely that sentiment won, I say.

We often wondered if all the human travelers in the family made it to America safely, because the ‘tree tale’ was more vibrantly recounted.  Records are spotty, at best, even with the dynamic search engine tools like Ancestry.com.  At least three family members – the husband and wife and one child – arrived safely and a few cousins, it seems. 

Piecing together facts from decaying photo albums and journals, along with the family Bible yielded one fantastic find.  A simple red frame home that still stands in our tiny community was the homestead.  Built by the grandparents, three times over, and identifiable for years as theirs because of the three stalwart and regal trees that stood in their modest front yard. Evergreens.

Maxine, before she passed, acknowledged the ‘little red house’ built by her distant elders but she never mentioned the story behind the trees.  A local historian helped to fill those gaps using records long forgotten about the family.  The sweet crimson structure still stands – now converted into retail space.  Sadly, only two of the three trees remain.  One wonders what happened to the third. 

Discoveries about family history can come in large lumps or in tiny waves.  Learning about the house and the trees was like the latter – ancestral echoes that, once summoned together, created a spectacular story.   If only we’d drilled down more with Maxine to better understand the oral history, to supplement the archival tidbits stitched together. 

Time was not on our side; she passed AND years passed and it wasn’t until we bought a nearby home that the a-ha moments arrived.  Of all the remarkable aspects, one especially stands out and it’s about the three trees.

Across many years of married life, we’ve lived in several homes  – fixing them up and moving on – but with heavy hearts each time.  As much as we knew we’d miss certain features of each home, the greatest lament always involved saying goodbye to beloved trees. 

Without knowing it (at least in any conscious way) every home we’ve ever lived in was improved upon, landscape-wise, with the addition of three or more trees. 

Every home. 

Most received a cluster of three evergreen trees for decorative screening, shade, or wind control.  Often we planted more than three but always three together, somewhere on each lot. 

There’s more.  When our daughter was born, we wanted to instill a love of nature and conservation and decided an annual tradition of planting a ‘birthday tree’ (yes, an evergreen) would do the trick.  And we did.  As she grew, we finagled and fretted every spring…where will the next tree go?  An homage to family, in ways we never suspected. Three trees, please.

-Vicki ❤

Chip Face

Baby girl enjoying potato chips
Get Your Own Bag!

This photo amuses me so.  It’s a blast from the past that I felt compelled to share.

Birthday celebrations for one-year olds are typically memorialized with a frosting face – capturing the enjoyment and glee of a first-ever birthday cake. Not so with our “DD” (dear daughter).

She commemorated her first birthday by sampling another delicacy – potato chips. Ruffles, to be precise. Instantly territorial over her find, she made it clear she found the simple bag of chips to be far superior to the cake and candles routine. Oh, and the singing? Hands over her ears with an imploring look – why, oh why?!

If you look closely at the pic you’ll see the bag of Ruffles in the background, which included the tag-line “Get Your Own Bag”.  In DD’s first foray into chip-dom, I’m not sure she needed the encouragement.  Her face did all the talking.  Agree?

Happy weekend – with or without chips!

-Vicki 😊

Bumps & Blessings in Parenting

frustrated mom face
Photo by Monstera on Pexels.com

Right now, it might be hard to fathom, but I’ll share a truth with you.  The one that kept me (more or less) sane during the roller coaster ride that is parenting:  The highs and lows will suck air from your soul.  This is not a drill.  Despite the resplendent, breathtakingly shiny moments  – those that are gloriously joyful – you can’t linger there because the valley is waiting, too. 

The valley is where you’ll question everything – especially yourself.  In those moments you might fret that you’re incapable, ill-suited, or too impatient for the rigors of parenting.  I don’t care how old your children are – whether newbies in onesies, toddlers, or teens – they will rock you with the unexpected as they morph and grow.  Developmentally pre-destined, this push-pull of parenting.

When your babies return after the miracle miles of maturity, you’ll see them, still, as your squishy newborns, but they’ll be disguised in grown up packaging. Even as full-fledged adults, their needs for attachment are still there – but in new wrappers. 

Parenting is maddeningly unscripted, unpredictable (and, I found, in constant conflict with my plan-ahead personality) but you move through it, relishing the sunny days and smooth roads when they arrive.  They come and you remember:  I am nothing if not resilient.

Take care of yourself, my parenting compadre.  One day you might look up and see a little being who once ate crayons (“Just to try them, mom”) as a near-peer, standing before you.  Still needing you, same as ever, just taller, and less sticky.

Vicki ❤

Hot Pipes & Guacamole

dog with sunglasses
Whoa! Spicy guacamole, humans!

My dad was a master of oddball phrases.  He passed many years ago, but he still pops up in wacky, wonderful ways when one of his quirky ‘bon mots’ surfaces in my brain.  I smile when that happens. 

Scratch that – it’s more of a full-teeth grin.  Cheshire cat like.  The spontaneity of these witticisms catches me off guard and more than once, I’ve imagined an onlooker (driver in another car, man in front of me at the post office) assuming I had ear buds in – maybe talking to someone who made me laugh.  Sort of.  Yes – let’s go with that.  Talking to my dad; the low, low-tech way.  😉 

Here’s an example.  This one occurred in the privacy of our kitchen, where I found myself talking to the dog again.  Sweet Sadie.  She puts up with a lot.  DH (dear hubby) made a massive batch of his signature guacamole.  It’s delicious but it’s a use every bowl and utensil and all the counter space production.  Inspiration strikes when he fishes out the best bag of ripe avocados at Costco and that’s all the warning we get.  Look out.  Fresh guac coming soon!

One way or another, a healthy dollop of freshly made guacamole ended up on the floor.  It was chunky enough that it surely made a ‘splat’ sound but the humans didn’t hear it.  I turned around and Sadie was having a best day ever – gobbling the guac and licking the floor clean. 

Did I mention that DH puts extra jalapenos in his concoction?  Yep.  We like heat and a sweaty brow with our chips and guac.  Sadie, however?  This was her first ever fire-roasted tongue experience.  And this is where my dad popped to mind. 

Anytime someone complained of overly-spicy food – demanding a glass of water – he’d laugh and ask, “So you’ve got hot pipes?”  And as water was guzzled, he’d continue: “Holy Toledo – were you ‘down a quart’ or what?”

While tending to Sadie and offering her yogurt and water to cool her hot tamale mouth, those silly, heckling-like phrases from my dad kept swirling. So much so that I started asking her those questions.  Ya got hot pipes, Sadie?  Wow – look at you drinking all that water – good girl – were you down a quart?  OMG.  Hello, papa.  Thanks for joining us.  I have now taken over the color commentary role when it comes to overly spicy food…and I love it.

xo!

Vicki ❤

Dads and Daughters

Dad and daughter on sofa relaxing
This is how you take a break!

I love this pic of my favorite “Dad and daughter”.  There are days when I’m flummoxed by my good fortune.  How did I get so lucky?  I found a partner who’s put up with me for decades while reserving just enough patience to be a doting, loving papa.

What I enjoy most is the connection these two have around tools and knowing how to fix stuff.  Me?  In the face of full-on armageddon, I won’t survive because I have zero skills.  No hands-on capacity whatsoever unless it involves cooking or baking.  When the apocalypse comes, I’ll be whipping up a batch of brownies, just so you know.

Fixing something?  Home repairs?  Understanding anything about mechanicals, engineering?  Nope, nope and nope.  These two, however?  The gene pool richly rewarded our “DD” (dear daughter) with all of the how-to skills the world could offer – in the form of do-it-yourselfer DNA from her papa.

I suppose I contributed to some of her other talents (she’s the best negotiator I know 😉) but this photo speaks to me – especially now.  She’s old enough to demonstrate that she has the blessed combo of people skills and smarts about ‘things’. 

DD” is a strong young woman with a caretaker heart and while I feel a sense of pride in her academic abilities and accomplishments, the fact that she knows her way around a toolbox means just as much.  Maybe more? She’s my independent, step back and let me do it girl – no matter the task. 

After a job well done, she also knows how to kick back and relax.  Her papa showed her how to do that, too. 

-Vicki ❤

Power of Play

four pairs of sneakers for adults and kids
Lace up and go!

I’m thinking about the power of play today.  The importance of connecting with the child that’s still tucked within us.  

Tucked – where, exactly, you ask?  I know what you’re thinking!  I’m an overburdened, card-carrying ADULT with all the, um, rights and privileges….and mountain of never-ending duties to prove it.  Time to play?  Stop, please.

Yeah, yeah.  Heard.  But still.  Take a minute, will you?  Close your eyes and trust me.  I know there’s a memory, a family memento or a long-forgotten photo that’s so powerful, it’s capable of triggering a rush of I remember; guiding you back to a moment when you felt lighter, invincible, capable, GOLDEN.

Childlike wonder can be reclaimed, but you might need to coax it into the light. Wonder is everywhere.  If not in our comforting memories, perhaps right in front of you – at this very moment.  Be encouraged to look for it as Madeleine L’Engle suggests.  Be open:

“I am still in the process of growing up, but I will make no progress if I lose any of myself along the way.”

women and children, games and play
Advice from Madeleine and Maxine

My mom-in-law Maxine understood that play was a priority. The photo of her with two of her granddaughters on a sunny summer day conveys that. She relished time with ‘her girls’ and would cancel everything on her busy-lady agenda just to spend open ended days with her granddaughters.  No one knew she would be gone just a few years after.  No one ever knows.

What to do, what to do?  She’d ask in her sing-song, joyful refrain. Pool?  Sure!  Baking? Absolutely!  But most of all, the girls loved fetching the musty old box of board games.  Relics from other generations – hidden like treasure – disguised in a faded brown file box.  Simply marked “GAMES” in Maxine’s signature block printing.

Where’s the box now?  In our basement – unopened for a decade, at least. I haven’t had the courage to peek into it since Maxine’s passing but I might one day soon.  Wonder sits within.  I know it.

-Vicki ❤

Well Worn and Loved

women's brown vintage sandals
Vicki’s vintage sandals

These shoes.  Oh…these shoes.  They saved me one summer when I was ‘studying’ abroad in France (and I should probably confess that the “studying” part is open to interpretation).

Packing light – backpack only – I foolishly wore my favorite Frye boots and took no other footwear.  None at all.  Now – know this.  I come from a long line of boot-wearing, Texas-loving, cowboy-wannabee lineage.  Boots are (and were) the shoe of choice in my family.  Especially the first pair gifted to me from my dad – right before my first trip to France. 

I don’t think actual cowboys believe Frye boots count as ‘western wear’ but I wore those babies proudly for two months.  Were they hot when my travels sent me to the coast – to Nice and Marseilles that summer?  Indeed. 

Which is where this pretty pair of ultra-soft leather sandals surfaced.  I needed relief. I spent my last bit of fun money on these wedges which meant I ate baguettes and not much else as my travels winded down.  At first touch I loved these shoes; handmade AND they truly DID feel like ‘buttah’.  As much as I adored my boots, I switched over and marveled at how happy my feet were.  Is this what custom footwear feels like, I wondered?

That trip was decades ago, so I figure I can share that my well worn and loved ‘south of France’ sandals are a treasured keepsake.  Yep – I’m old enough to have my very own ‘vintage’ and antique apparel!

In my closet, shoes come and go but these will forever hold a place of privilege because of the memories they hold – no matter how bedraggled they look. 

The boots?  They were resoled several times but my sweet papa kept buying new ‘shit kickers’ for me anytime I asked.  I wish I’d never let that first pair go.  They were discarded in a frenzied closet clean-up. Silly girl.  Why did I do that? Consolation?  Yep.  These shoes.  😊

-Vicki

Rolling with the Unexpected

red wooden heart

I’m a glass half-full kind of girl. I try to think positively, even in the face of super squirrely circumstances – the shaky ground that’s typical daily living for most of us.

What’s the culprit? You name it. Despite good intentions to look for the bright side, even the most stalwart smilers😊amongst us can lose the resolve to remain positive. We’re tested. I’ve been tested. I know you have, too.

Not long ago, as I merrily moved through the routine cadence of my life, a loved one suffered a traumatic twist in the form of a health crisis. Is it better to see it coming? Worse when it smacks you in the face versus tinkering with your stomach over time – creating what-if anxiety? I don’t know – we don’t get a choice, do we?

The good news is that my cherished loved one will recover. Circling the depths of hell was both jarring and liberating for both of us. What matters most? I’m still mulling that over. Certainly not the same tiddly-widdly-this-and-that that preoccupied my head and heart before.

I’m grateful to friends and family for the periodic distractions, thoughtful and insightful sharing, and for the opportunity to embrace collective wisdom, advocacy, and humor. It’s made all the difference and it’s filled my bucket so I can be ready to help others roll with the unexpected.

If you’re reading this and your world has also taken a turn, know that I’m sending cosmic support your way.  Just because. 

-Vicki❤

Fisherman Joe

Sometimes you ‘catch the big one’ (or two) and sometimes you come up short. 

Check out the grin on Joe’s face – my father-in-law and lucky fisherman:

Man holding two large fish at water's edge.
Fisherman Joe

Joe was a man of modesty. Low key and direct. He said he recalled the day vividly – he WAS happy (big grin as evidence) but his reaction was more shock and surprise. Stunned, even. 

Why?  He didn’t expect much of anything that day.  Joe figured it would be another fab fishing outing with friends – whether he caught anything or not.  That’s how Joe lived his life. 

Joe’s motto?  Be near friends and family as much as possible – ideally with loads of laughter – and allow yourself to be utterly delighted when life surprises you. 

Pretty good advice, I say.

-Vicki

Little Treasures

My love of family history is like an undertow, pulling me further and further into discoveries.

The deeper I go, the more consuming the journey.  Fascinations with lost (or forgotten) objects.  Photos – some framed but most neglected; yellowed and ragged.

Recently I found several small silhouettes of distant relatives and a few delicately framed family photos.  I wasn’t sure why, but they belonged together so I rustled up a small tray and gave them a place to cluster and be seen:

black and white photo of round tray with small framed photos
Little treasures

Maybe I’ll rotate other discoveries through.  Maybe not.  For today, I’m happy they’re in the light, nestled together. 

Which reminds me of a favorite Churchill quote:

The farther backward you can look, the farther forward you can see. 

-Sir Winston Churchill

Honoring family treasures by displaying them does that for me – provides clarity for the road ahead by acknowledging those who lovingly came first.

-Vicki

Sadie & Bunny

Chihuahua with head resting on stuffed animal
Sadie & Bunny

Sweet Sadie says hello – and good morning!  She is one ultra-happy pup gazing into the backyard with her stuffed Easter bunny. 

Sadie is a very maternal 13-year-old who never had pups of her own but treats this raggedy rabbit (see pic above) as her most prized possession and best buddy.  She sleeps with bunny, grooms bunny (which is gross – bunny needs a good toss in the washer) and worries when bunny is out of sight.

This morning as I zoomed around the kitchen I tripped over Sadie several times.  Underfoot.  Too much!  Annoyed with her, I shooed her away only to realize I was at fault.  Sadie’s too old and arthritic to jump into her favorite chair WITH her bunny and I’d forgotten to scoop Bunny up to place her there. 

Am I the only one who apologizes to the pooch?  I felt terrible, awful, neglectful when I realized I skipped one of the essential early morning tasks involving bunny.  A few kisses and snuggles later and all was right with the world but I’m fairly certain Sadie was annoyed by the fuss.  I imagined her thinking ‘Knock it off already – I’m ready to sit with my bunny – don’t you have something to do?

And so – good morning to you – from sweet Sadie and her absent-minded human.  Moi.

-Vicki

Maxine’s Gingersnaps

black and white photo of a cookie recipe
Maxine’s Gingersnaps

My mom-in-law, Maxine, passed away in 2009 but her trademark gingersnap cookies live on – satisfying rumbling tummies of all types. 

The recipe is modest – see above – jotted down in her trusty notebook in her schoolteacher’s tidy cursive.  Not too many ingredients and the steps are straightforward. 

Were Maxine’s gingersnaps delicious?  Yes, indeed!  But it’s taken my husband and I years of tweaking to figure out why our efforts were never as good as hers – despite our diligence in following the instructions exactly.  Maybe too much so…

It’s great to have this connection to her.  The heavenly smell in the house brings her close every time – the comforting mix of cloves and cinnamon summon her.   BUT — we were flummoxed and frustrated by our creations:  stiff little bricks masquerading as gingersnaps.  No fluffy, spicey treats.

Accusations flew…we must’ve left out a key ingredient.  Oven temp too high?  Too low?  Didn’t ‘cream’ the shortening and sugar enough? We drove ourselves batty.  So much so that we almost gave up. 

Until…I realized Maxine methodically planted herself on her yellow kitchen stool to watch the cookies.  Every time.  She didn’t multi-task by doing a few dishes or throwing a load of laundry into the washer.  Nope.  She watched those little buggers and knew they needed to depart the oven – speedy quick – just at the point of puffiness.  Was that 9 or 10 minutes?  I suspect it was often at the 8-minute mark which explains our gingersnaps-disguised-as-hockey-puck efforts. 

The good news?  A little edit – striking out “9 or 10 minutes” and noting “check at 8 minutes” made all the difference.  I imagine Maxine chuckling in the great beyond.  “Yes of course.  Don’t you remember?  I told you they’re still baking a bit after they’re pulled from the oven!” 

Here’s the recipe. Perhaps easier on the eyes than Maxine’s handwriting from the photo:

3/4 cup shortening (softened)

1 cup sugar

1/4 cup light molasses

1 beaten egg

2 cups flour

1/4 tsp. salt

2 tsps. soda (baking)

1 tsp. cinnamon

1 tsp. cloves

1 tsp ginger

Cream shortening and sugar. Add molasses and egg; beat well. Add sifted dry ingredients; mix well. Roll small ball, dip balls into sugar, place 2″ apart on greased cookie sheet. Bake in modest oven (375 degrees) about 9 or 10 minutes. Makes 4 dozen.

If you’re a fan of gingersnaps, bake a batch!

Big smiles,

-Vicki

Loving Lisa

I didn’t understand my big sister Lisa’s magic when we were little. She just confused me. Here’s photo evidence. It was Lisa’s fifth birthday celebration, and I was three – not quite four years old:

black and white photo of two young girls with birthday cake
Vicki and Lisa

How would you describe the look I’m giving Lisa? Cold stare? Quizzical? Curious? I think it was all of those. I didn’t know enough to censor my gaze. Lisa was taller, older and I expected her to embody show me the ropes, please, traits. I expected her to be my guide and trailblazer. Maybe she could teach me a thing or two about managing my toddler tantrums and avoiding mom’s wrath? I expected Lisa to show me how to finagle more candy or cake or negotiate a later bedtime. Lisa did none of those things and that year when her birthday rolled around, I began discovering secrets. Sweet Lisa’s secrets.

Although older, Lisa couldn’t run with me or play on the swings for very long. She stumbled and apologized a lot and was afraid of falling. I didn’t know she was blind in one eye. I didn’t know her left leg was shorter than her right. I didn’t know she was a miracle – born at six months old – severely brain damaged and oxygen deprived – but she survived. I expected her to be my playmate. Ready, willing AND able.

That summer my curiosity escalated when I demanded to know “What’s wrong with Lisa!” as our mom stood at the kitchen sink. Lisa and I were at the table, pawing through our treasure – a stash of donated books from a soon-to-be-closing one room schoolhouse down the road. I was an almost-reader and I expected Lisa would be an absolute reader – maybe reading to me?

When I looked at her across the yellow tabletop, sticky with grape Kool-Aid residue, Lisa was holding her books upside down. UPSIDE DOWN. If there were pictures, she knew to flip things around, but as I crept behind her, I didn’t understand why she was “reading” up-ended books.

As our mom turned from a sink full of suds, she answered my question, angrily:Lisa’s different and special. You need to be nice.” It took me two more years to fully understand the trauma of Lisa’s birth – pieced together, one nugget of hushed and whispered intel at a time as I eavesdropped and snooped on grown up conversations.

Growing up with Lisa taught me how to care. To look at differences with a so what attitude. For all of the things Lisa couldn’t do well, she had big sister magic of her own. Lisa – still – has the most accurate, savant memory of anyone I know. Her recall is amazing – details from decades ago about specific celebrations, events, classic tv programs or everyday dinners.

Most conversations with Lisa start with, “Vicki, do you remember the day we….” and she’ll summarize, in exquisite detail, a meal or a moment. A conversation long forgotten. I love that about her.

More importantly, Lisa, despite her disabilities and the mounting reality of aging, is thoughtful, kind, and gracious. Always asking what she can do for someone else.

Caring for and learning from one another is everything. Notions of “ability” and “disability”? Lisa taught me to see how fluid and beautiful life without labels can be. She still isn’t much of a reader but her knack for seeing the good is her superpower.

Life lessons from Lisa.

-Vicki

Beautiful Betty

I wish I understood dreams better.  They can be simultaneously maddening and obscure…yet comforting.  I had one of those experiences last night.  My father’s sister – my Aunt Betty – came through loud and clear with a message.  The imagery was hazy – just my subconscious recalling this photo, I suppose, taken in her prime when she was 20, I think. 

Black and white photo of blonde women in 1950's.
Aunt Betty

This was her message – coming through on the eve of the 51st anniversary of her death.  I jotted the nuggets down hurriedly in my trusty teensy bedside notebook, while still rousing myself awake:

You were so young when I died.  It was 51 years ago today.  Incredible.  July 22, 1971.  I know it’s hard to understand.  I changed that day, but I’m always close.  Just remember me.  Close your eyes and I’m near.

  • I know you wonder about your dad.  He’s here.  He knows you see him in the clouds and stars.  You’re right – he IS the whisper you feel when a breeze kisses your face. 
  • We’re okay.  It’s not what you think – we’re energy in free form.  We float and gravitate away from and toward one another. 
  • Your mom is here, too, but she’s childlike.  Your Dad acknowledges her but keeps his distance.  What happened to her?

And that was it!  I woke up and had the feeling of jet lag.  Restless sleep and not enough of it.  Foggy.  Headachy. 

Do I think about my long-departed father A LOT?  Yes.  Every day and I do sense him when I look up – toward cloud formations, especially, and I imagine he’s near in the soft breezes.   

And – the message about my mom:  She’s here, too, but she’s childlike was poignant and painful.  Mom suffered from Alzheimer’s and became increasingly incapacitated on her quick descent toward death.  Aunt Betty’s query – ‘What happened to her?’ was hard to hear, yet so loud in my early morning recall of the dream. I understood.  Aunt Betty didn’t recognize her, and we scarcely did – especially toward the end.

Gratitude this morning for messages.  Whether it’s a channeling of dear Aunt Betty on the anniversary of her death or my active dream state working out conundrums and emotions, I’m in a mood to receive.

-Vicki

Inspiration Nooks

This is going to be a little bit of a ‘Where’s Waldo’ experience – and I know it.

workshop and tools, family mementos

With permission, I’m sharing a snap of husband Paul’s workbench. It’s his homebase and the launching pad for projects and his ‘thinking space’. Let me give you a tour – you just need to zoom in and I’ll walk you through the memento map of Paul’s hangout. Possibly his favorite roosting spot in the house.

Top left – Family Mementos:

  • The clock his dad made from scratch. Chimes and all. A treasured keepsake and memory of his father who could fix ANYTHING.
  • Delaney puzzle. A sweet reminder that our very grown-up daughter was once a tot who loved nothing more than ‘tool time’ with her dad.
  • Flashback Ale Sign:  Fun times touring breweries in Boulder during Delaney’s college years. 

Just underneath the “Delaney” puzzle – mementos that keep his parents nearby in spirit. A favorite from his dad’s workshop – words he lived by – with a wink and a smile:

  • ‘When in charge, ponder; When in trouble, delegate; When in doubt, mumble.

Next to it? His mom’s favorite little sign – reflecting her love of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan:

  • I’d rather be UP NORTH’ Yep. Declaring her truth. Hung over the sink in her kitchen for at least thirty years.

In the Middle – Wanna-Be Cleaning Tools:

Two varieties of small, yet mighty, DeWalt power tools for clean-up and vacuuming and an old school dustpan and hand broom. Accompanied by spray bottles and gloves. Note how spic-and-span these tools are. Good cleaning intentions but (I say) not used much! Thankfully the fire extinguisher hasn’t been used either.

Paul and Vicki – the Early Years. Standing proudly in front of shelves he made, a framed pic of us circa 1985. Yep – we’ve been married a LONG time and I love that this pic earned a place on Paul’s pegboard wall.

Remembering My Dad: Paul was close to my father and the salvaged license plate with his nickname on it, “Solatio” reflects it. I love that Paul’s kept it as a reminder of my papa who’s been gone for years. This keeps him close, I think.

The Workbench Itself:

  • You don’t need to zoom in much to see the interesting mélange of small tools, notes, wires, and cables. There’s a little room to work and the combo of the I-pad and camo Bluetooth speaker help to keep Paul’s “thinking time” upbeat.
  • What you can’t see in the pic is a substantial whiteboard to the right where he doodles and designs. You also don’t see his comfy shop stool. A little cushiony, too. You know, none of us are getting any younger.

Why does any of this matter?

I think places speak to us – reflected in how we create our nooks and alcoves. Me? I have a compelling need for neat and Paul’s workbench and pegboard, while quintessentially HIM would never work for me. I like tidy piles and feel drawers were made to be used, but hey, that’s just me.

Our spaces should reflect who we are and it’s where my love of design comes from.

Your nooks should be yours. Take the time to clear the clutter but do a little curating. Mull over and sort through meaningful mementos and be sure some are nearby. Especially in our thinking spaces. Inspiration is near – sometimes in everyday objects and keepsakes.

Not sure where to start? It’s easier than you think. Trending at Atkinson Group is this very need – rethinking spaces to create nooks and inspiration alcoves. It’s the latest wellness revelation – craving and creating comfort in a corner of the world we can call our very own. If you don’t have it now, make it so. And…most importantly…

Be well!

-Vicki

Memories Matter

portraits of boy and girl

What do you do when an unexpected loss rocks your world? The urge to retreat is palpable. I think it’s a survival instinct for some of us. We all handle grief differently. Some are soothed by community and connection immediately, softening the hard edges of loss. Others of us? We need solitude and time to listen to the quieter voices – often within us – to help guide our heads and hearts – gingerly and softly, through the pain and permanence of a loved one’s passing.  It’s not a long-term shutdown. Just an interlude. 

These sketches of Paul and Patty surfaced during such an interlude. The two depicted are siblings. My husband, Paul, sketched at 12 years old, sitting side-by-side with his big sister, Patty, the summer before she headed off to college. With a substantial gap of eight years between them, they were independent spirits growing up – often remarking that each felt more like an ‘only’ than part of a sibling pair because of their age gap. And yet – they were terrific friends who became good adults. Marrying and establishing their own families but still attentive and loving to their parents and each other.

Their mother, Maxine, commissioned the drawings from a close family friend who was an artist. Immediately these 18 x 20 portraits became Maxine’s prized possessions – always displayed in her home. She often remarked that Paul and Patty could be separated by years and great distances, but she could summon both close to her as she relaxed in her living room, admiring their sketched images over a cup of tea or her evening martini (two olives, please). 

When Maxine passed away thirteen years ago, Paul and Patty’s portraits were a conundrum. Each asked the other – “Do you want mine?” “Do we keep them together?”  Unable to decide, the portraits sat for over a decade in our basement. Not forgotten, exactly. The sketches were chock-full of melancholy reminders of their mother and how much she loved both of her children. Easy to leave the portraits parked for a while.

Until a few weeks ago. Unexpectedly, Patty passed away. It was shocking and sad and oh-so swift. Processing pain? There’s no formula. No timeline. Friends and family are a blessing but in the quiet, uninterrupted interludes, clarity waits. This time it came in the form of a memory. The sweet recollection of the “Paul and Patty” portraits. Dusting them off in the basement and hanging them – this time in our living room – helped Paul and I both with our grief.

Paul and Patty – together again.  Keeping loved ones close through memories and family mementos means everything. 

Wishing you peace and comfort,

-Vicki