I See the Moon

Early on, when B and I lived across the country from one another, when neither of us knew what was ahead,  before iPhones and texts and emails--

Yes, before.

--the state of the moon was this connection, this link, that seemed significant at that time.

We talked on the phone most every night. Our phones had cords and were connected to the wall.  We'd converse for hours. My listening ear would get hot and sweaty, our necks would ache, fingers would cramp from clutching. Hold on, I have to switch ears. 


"Did you see the moon?"

"Ya,  I can see it from here."

"Me, too." Laughs. "From here."

Whenever I see the moon for the rest of my life, I shall think of those long calls and that falling in love.  I wonder how many billion people we share that in common with?

That's the thing about the moon.

There when you were born, there when your grandma died at 94 in the middle of the night and there all the nights of her life too, and there when you were a teenager crying, driving to nowhere in Dads car, wondering how to find yourself and get out of this damn town and there on the drive to Spring Break with your four college besties snoozing when it was your turn behind the wheel in Indiana and there watching over while you walked home alone at 4 am and there connecting back to this man who you'd marry and stargaze with from mountaintops and there on the drive to the hospital the night your water broke, and there in broad daylight fading away when your keen five year old spots it hiding.

Still there when you just need some fresh air at midnight amongst heated words over nothing, there to to be seen and watched, to help you pause and remind yourself of the love, not a to do not done or an opinion not appreciated.

Have you seen the moon tonight?  It isn't quite full, but it's beautiful.

Isn't it?


And goodnight to you, Moon.

I Saw a Unicorn

I'd had a day. It wasn't perfect.  I took the deepest breath at the stoplight, saw my chest rise to the sky and then I exhaled all that bad energy out. ONE. I had done my best TWO with what the day THREE dealt me, solved problems, FOUR eased concerns from coast to coast. FIVE  What more can I do? SIX It's all good, just exhausting some days SEVEN. That day is done. Goodbye.

Deep breathe in. I didn't feel capable of a sentence when I walked in the door.

We gathered our trio and went for pizza. A glass of wine. Everyone cooperated.  I settled back in, resetting. We went for a walk to the park. The clouds were big and tall like they've been for weeks. It made me think of living near mountains.

The girls bathed and went to sleep so easy. I cleaned up the days messes. I felt content but maybe still in a haze.

On the art table, this. A happy unicorn who flies and is also a race horse and who likes to eat hot dogs and loves unequivocally.

Thank you, my oldest. I needed a unicorn.

The Poetry of the Earth

Laying in bed, last night.

No lights, windows open.  Just the fingernail clip of a yellow moon keeping an eye on things.

And a serenade by the end-of-summer choir of crickets.

"How many crickets do you think we are hearing? Like 100? Or 14? Or like a million?"

"I don't know."

"I wonder."

I send a thought out of my 2nd story window, down and into the night, the dark, through the old oak tree branches, slipping to the dewy grass, into the crevices of the tiger lilies.

Goodnight, sweet crickets, constant in this night, rocking me to sleep. Your song nearly makes me weep, carries me softly back thirty years of summer eves.

THE POETRY of earth is never dead:
  When all the birds are faint with the hot sun,
  And hide in cooling trees, a voice will run
From hedge to hedge about the new-mown mead;
That is the Grasshopper’s—he takes the lead        
  In summer luxury,—he has never done
  With his delights; for when tired out with fun
He rests at ease beneath some pleasant weed.
The poetry of earth is ceasing never:
  On a lone winter evening, when the frost      
    Has wrought a silence, from the stove there shrills
The Cricket’s song, in warmth increasing ever,
  And seems to one in drowsiness half lost,
    The Grasshopper’s among some grassy hills.

John Keats, December 30, 1816.

The Good of Down

Today. Me and the girls slept in until 7:28 and that is early but it felt late.

Today. I caught a glimpse out of the cottage window of Elizabeth, a smile on her face, 
her head bent back, eyes squinting, watching the bubbles she blew through the wand fly up
and up
and up
And away.  
And then I was watching too and leaning out the window 
looking up and wondering…
To where…

Today. We spent a hazy August day at the beach and three hours wasn’t enough time for my five year old to catch waves and my three old slithered in the muddy wet sand like a snake and my one year old waded into Lake Michigan like she had been on this earth far longer than a year.

At days end, after an afternoon thunderstorm that had ushered most of Ellison Bay into slowing down, suddenly whoots! And whooshes….and a handful of kids from up the hill were biking down the road full speed and shouting joy and carefree, the happy giggles of being say 9 and 11 and 13 and riding matching white cruisers down the Lakeview hill road after a rain. 

I sat on the porch, wanting to join them, to feel the mist and grit on my legs from the wet road and the thrill and tickle of downhill fast, and then to speak it and shout it out.

Oh man, the good of down!

Back up again and again and again
for the good of down. 

Image here.


August 1st and the clouds were big today, so tall, commanding your attention away from the Queen Anne's Lace and tonight, the insects are singing so lovely and the air is so thick and sweet and the breeze feels like a loved one is blowing air in your face in a good way, you smirk.

In the distance, the gods are playing with the light switch, a little storm to close the day.

Take your time, August, don't be in a rush.

Tuesday Best

You know what's the best?

Sharing a laugh with your kids. 

Today, baby Vivie discovered her tongue. 
How long it was, how she could stick it outside her mouth and curl it up at the tip.
 Most of the day, if you looked at Vivie, she had her tongue fully extended. 
It was the silliest of sights, the sweetest of discoveries.

And me and Elizabeth and Maren couldn't quit giggling. 
I had a moment where I rose above myself, the room, and I could see all four of us laughing together, and it was... 

Rainbows, Ponies, Keanu, Virgin Mary

The latest story is brewing in my brain, consuming all my energy for words. I've been a royal crabapple to everyone but the kiddos. It was all I could muster to share a few strands that tied our weekend's adventure together. Ah, (hand to forehead) to be a struggling, wanna be, I'm nobody, writer.

I took the girls last Thursday night and we drove to home to Wisconsin.  Under a rain cloud that travelled nearly every single mile with us, actually.  (Downpours, traffic jams, snow storms: read I miss my husband The Driver. ) Thankfully, rainbows kept popping up in front of us, good distractions when traveling with little girls and no DVD player. The silly fantasy that I might really be headed to a pot of gold, which is currently trading at $1622 a share on the stock market, was diminished when just LaCrosse was at the end of the rainbow.

The next day, my girls played with horses.
I was left with a few hours to myself. 
What's a girl to do?
Right out of the gate, I found some scenery parked a few feet away 
from one of my favorite haunt's front door. 

Sadly, Keanu was not inside getting his antique fix on.

I did spot this.
If it weren't for the Coca Cola all over her face,
 she'd be striking on some big white beach house wall. Maybe?

This would be good for rocking your babies in the beach house...
with the white glossy floors and potted fig leaf tree.

I love me some bark cloth. 
But it always looks a bit too loved by its previous occupants.

If it weren't for the fact that I completely get squimish about the sport of boxing and didn't think Winona, Minnesota was sort of a creepy town, this would be cool. 

The gal who wore this dress was friends with Laverne and Shirley? For reals?

POC: Pop of Color. Storage too, which would make it POCS!
Before Keanu, there was Carlos Imperato. And he was at the antique store, go figure! 
Yes, get outta here, that's him below the "F", arms crossed.
I showed this picture to my mom, good Catholic. 
"Isn't this strange? Why is there a woman under Mary's robe?!"
"Lifting her up, Jen."

Let's take another gander at Keanu, shall we? 
Happy Monday.

My Own Personal Jesus

My sister Sarah and I, November 1998. Arizona.

Someone I knew in college is in hospice, nearing the end of his life.  We were friendly, in the same, unusually tight knit major in a smaller Midwestern university.  Many of us had our sights set on gracing the airwaves of television or radio or of making movies. It was a special kind of place and time and even then I recognized that our group, traveling together toward adulthood and careers, was unique, our experience so entirely different from that of my psychology, business and PE major roommates. I knew each and every single fellow student in my major, we all did, from sophomores to seniors. We would see other in class in the morning, later in the master control room or television studio, renting equipment, in the edit bays in the evening and then at the bars at midnight. 

Tom was athletic and tall, kind, he had a great smile that always seemed to have a chuckle dangling from the end of it, he had a swagger.

From the pictures, I see that he has a beautiful wife and three little boys. And he's losing a battle to brain tumors and cancer that he has been fighting since 2003. 

My sister Sarah died in 2001 at the age of 24. Because she was my baby sister, I will always see her in pig tails, and she stayed pretty, she modeled,  she had the most wonderful smile that always connected to a sparkle in her eyes. She fought the demon epilepsy from first grade on, when an ambulance came to our elementary school and rushed her away. Seizures interuppted everything she ever tried to do from that day forward.

Six months before she died she told me she wouldn't live to see age 30. I feel asleep with her in her bed that night in the big city apartment in the big city life she was determined to live all by herself.  I didn't want to leave, I told her she was wrong.  

She wasn't. Now, eleven years later, I can't remember the sound of her voice.

I grew up kneeling next to my mom in church every Sunday. I can recite "Our Father" and "The Creed" - We Believe in One God - prayers, the words spill out of my lips in unison with a church full of people almost subconsciously. Since adulthood though, for reasons so many or not so much, I only attend church on Christmas Eve or when I feel the pull to the Place or the symbolism of the candles in times of need.

Any God I ever found in church, I brought in myself -- Alice Walker

When I need clarity, I pray to my Grandma Zora, she who may have subtly taught me that Alice Walker philosophy on religion,  sitting on her front porch or in her corner rocking chair overlooking the backyard, making priorities all seem so simple, You don't need much Jenny, you really don't, hardly much t'all.  Her presence tells me to relax, to laugh, to snap the dead tips off the petunias. 

When I seek direction, when I need to lead, when I need confidence, I pray to my Grandma Charlotte, beside me at the wheel of a blue Plymouth Duster, with a wand of mascara and a tube of red lipstick and a party platter of sandwiches. 

Sarah, with Weaver's Needle in the distance. 
When I need a friend, when I'm feeling weak, when I'm lost and when everything is okay too, I pray to my sister Sarah, playing beside me as child, walking beside me as an adult, on an Arizona trail.

No, I can't hear her voice, the sound of it. But I can feel her,  she's always right here with me, every second of every day.

My own personal Jesus.

So, Tom, old friend from the past, I am praying for you, for a miracle, I am praying to my Gods like Sarah, Zora and Charlotte, I am praying for those who know you still and love you,  that you be well, so you don't have to leave so soon.
Miss you, Sare

That's So You

(Ping Pong table, Chateau Marmont. Photo by David Swanson)

I was pinning. He saw me pin this image. He said, "That's so you."

This is one for my Scenery department, a visual prop that I will weave into some story, plop a handful of people into...or just a couple...

Their eyes met, and he gestured at the table, had a ball in mid air aiming at her before she could take her position.

"Ah! Hey!" Her drink sloshed, held up in defense. She giggled. "Hold on, hold on..." Another sip. "Hydration. Okay," she set the drink down, picked up a paddle, nodded, got serious. 

"That was a foul ball, according to international table tennis rules."

He laughed. "Just warming up."

She thought about that, knotted her hair with itself into a bun at the nape of her neck.

"I believe talking is also a violation of the rules." She squinted, struck a dramatic pose, laughed again.
Under her breath, "Not that I'm one to play by the rules. Ready?"

Summer Vacation

The hydrangea blossoms are bobbing softly in the breeze.  The cedar trees swaying like a day dreaming 6 year old, content, thoughts dancing around in their head, to a far away tune.  Damp, sweet and musky perfume rises from the forest floor. The maples, the birches, the oaks clap lightly every now and then, their response to the most perfect breeze coming up off the lake.

The fields are alternately the color of gold or green, strong corn pushing through, and bursts of red punctuate the cherry trees.

The sky isn’t quite blue, not quite grey or white, but that hazy July 6th color that comes with this heat.

And the heat, it isn’t a pest, because the Great Lake beacons, always just off in the distance, shiny and sparkly and blue, calming everyone. Its okay, you’re at the Lake. Good thing we’re at the Lake, hate to be in the City I heard it was 105 downtown. Just jump in. Oh... there’s the breeze.

My clan and I have sun kissed cheeks, nose tips, shoulders, and an ease that comes with frequent dips in the water and ice cream and lemonade and bonfires. At days end, their little toes and knees and fingers are brown and sand castles with seagull feather spires at the empty beach waste away.  Pockets of sand unfurl from damp bathing suits into the car, onto the bathroom floor, the tub, into our sheets at night.  Oh my goodness girls, look like how much sand is in the tub.

When I drive, I can’t help but roll my car windows down, my left arm and hand stuck out, greeting the road ahead, a mast and sail, pushing foward, protecting the past.

Hey this day, this life, my world,  my family, Summer, I love you.

I want to live forever, I’m going to do nothing but work on that.  

But when I die, I hope it is Summer Vacation in my Heaven.  All the time. 

A Vehicle

B saw his old truck today. In a blur past the bank. He didn't want to lose sight of her, the truck.

It's a she in my head, a maroon red 1995 Toyota Forerunner LTD, SHE.

A blur from the past, he felt a ping and a panic, described feeling like he'd seen a ghost.  He chased after and found her.  Resting in the parking lot at the burger place, waiting for her owner who isn't us to come back out.

Yup. The same truck. The odd little identifiers like that back bumper cord thing and the roof rack essentially the equivalents of tattoos or birthmarks that meant, ya, ya, I'm your old truck, I'm the one. The "Before Kids" Sports Utility Vehicle.

He took a picture of her sitting there. I imagine they had a conversation.

"Hey, hey, I'm didn't desert you! I had to!" "You see, the kids...we have kids now...and you kept needing work and it didn't make sense. No air bags..."

I remember the afternoon we picked up her up from the car lot together in Phoenix.  It was the good kind of a warm day for Arizona, a Saturday afternoon and we were giggly about the beige leather seats and the sun roof. And the stereo which made U2 and DMB and Sting sound really good when cranked loud, his right hand and my left always squeezed tight, as we put on the miles and headed out on different adventure each Saturday. A different destination every Sunday. And so many Happy Hours in between.

And so there it was, a 4W Drive time capsule of another place and another time and different lives in a parking lot at the burger place a mile-and-a-half away.

I wish I could track her back down. I wish I could pull a miracle and get the keys and bring her back to him and to us.  Really, I rarely drove her so she might be skeptical. But I get it. She wasn't just an automobile like the Blazer, the Tercel, the Saab, the Highlander, the Matrix or the eight passenger mini-van sitting in the garage. She wasn't just transporting us to the grocery store or work or T ball games. She literally took us to the tops of mountains, to the ocean, to the hub of a monsoon thunderstorm in the desert.  She will be forever be associated with the young us, the best of us, of him and me. US. Everyone has those times, those memories. Wouldn't it be nice to take them for a drive once a week?

Close your eyes, okay? (I'm pretending.)
Here, here, I got her back.
Happy Anniversary. Happy Father's Day. Let's go for a ride. Let's go catch a thunderstorm.

Our Summer List

Catch fireflies.
Tally rainbows.
Make ice cream.
Ride a horse, whenever possible.
Pick strawberries.
Ride our bikes.
Playdates with school friends.
Playdates with mommy and daddy's friends.
Camp in the backyard at the cottage. For practice. 
Sand dunes.
Sand castles.
Make time for dates. Cheap ones.
Free ones.
Sit under the moon. 
Ride a boat.
Fall asleep in the sun.
With sunscreen on.
Put the cell phones away.
Walk through a cornfield.
Don't go too far.
Go to the Zoo.
A lot.
Hike new trails.
Make new trails.
And a fort.
Catch a frog or a turtle.
Visit for a short while.
Three! Birthday cakes!
Friday night family walks to the playground.
Star gaze.
Saturday morning Farmer's Market breakfasts.
Learn to swim. Once and for all.
That means you.
Backyard bonfire in the City, once a month.
Bonfire at the cottage, every night.
Homemade pizza with our own basil and tomatoes.
Host a Lemonade Stand.
Star gaze.
Visit The Farm.
Pretend we live there. 
Cheeseburgers at PC Junction afterwards.*
(*Paid for by the Lemonade Stand.)
Hunt for driftwood. 
Craft Projects twice monthly. 
Get messy.
Star gaze. Some more.
Go to the State Fair.
Send Zoe off to sea.
Promise to throw her a stick any time we find ourselves at the water's edge.
Star gaze again.
Remind ourselves that summer won't last forever.
Find more heart shaped rocks. 

The Hop Scotch Artist

On Saturday morning, I went running. No planning goes into my runs. If get my eyesight in and my running shoes on and my body out the door my darlings,  that is significant.

So, at the bottom of the driveway, I went right that morning instead of the habit of left.

The on-the-fly decisions came up at the end of every block. Okay, up here and then I'll hang a right down there and  then left up the hill, internal point of my finger down to Glenwood Avenue. And then, I'll circle back home.

I was running up that here. I crested the hill and smiled. A little hop scotch floor plan drawn on the very edge of this quiet, seldom car driven stretch of road. Yellow chalk.

Ten feet, twenty, it kept going. And going. Half a mile later, still that hop scotch trail mixed in with the sweet smell of the first early summer clover and the perfect breeze. Nearing the intersection, numbers made an appearance in each square: 175. 148. 103. 71. 64. 32. 29. 14 counting me to 1.

Thank you, nameless Hop Scotch Artists.  You made me smile during a run and that is almost nearly impossible and very, very rare.  I can hear you in my head, showing your parents, "It's so long, you wanna see it?" Giggling. That night, I bet your little backs were achy, muscles stretched and tight, the tips of your fingers scraped, yellow chalk underneath your nails.

I want to go back quite badly before some rain shower takes your masterpiece away. Under the moon, tonight, with a rock to toss.  

Reset Button.

Some people talk about what kind of car they'd buy if they won the lottery.

I am more likely to talk up what kind of bathtub I might get. 

I Have My Hands Full.

People always smile at me when I am with all three girls.  A baby on my right hip and the two older girls both holding part of my left hand. They say nice things. They say, in a kind way, "You have your hands full." I smile back. I look into their eyes and I feel like I can see them thinking... of Back When or of Some Day. I feel blessed and I feel like I never want this time to pass.

I let the girls play outside in the mud and the wet grass and puddles, between rain showers Saturday afternoon. I opened the kitchen window to converse with them while I was making dinner. Elizabeth, my five year old,  showed me it was raining again, her tongue stuck out to catch the drops. Maren, my toddler, ate sliced cheese from an ice cream bowl and then left it by the birdbath, her jacket out front, by the wilted petunias.

Tonight, with the older two mostly in bed, I sat in the rocking chair with baby Vivie. She fell asleep in my arms. I had been up since 6:22 am. I had cleaned numerous potty training tinkle puddles, run last minute errands, managed a timely birthday party drop off and pick up with all three, coordinated most of 3 meals for 4 or 5 mouths, searched for unicorns and unicorn crowns and horse reins and American Girl hairbrushes, soothed tears and even discussed, a bit, where lightening comes from.

We sat in the rocking chair, baby Vivie and I, in that green grey light of 8:42 pm on May 26th and the birds were chirping still, a bit too loud, as if their mother would be shaking her head, "Girls, girls, it's quiet time, let's slow down, no flying, no singing...."  I decided not to get down on myself for that basket of clean laundry still sitting in the corner. Instead, I focused on her breathing, the rhythm of her little baby sweaty chest against mine. The thumb in her mouth made that sweet sucking noise and her other fingers stroked the ridge of my collarbone from time to time, little reflex nudges checking to make sure I was there.

Fifteen minutes later I got up, put the baby in her crib. I grabbed the five pairs of "da da da da Dora" underpants the toddler had worked through from the hamper, hand washed them in the bathroom sink. From her bedroom, Maren screamed, "I have an orange thing on my arm!" It was the skinned elbow from the other day in the park, on the play date, on which she wore a dress and her big sister's rain boots on the wrong feet and she fell on the paved path, running with half a peanut butter sandwich, which, when I went to rescue her, had asphalt rocks mixed into it. The scab looked dark orange in the almost dark room. I fetched a Band Aid and after I put it on her, she clutched my hand so hard, loving, like she was holding a baby bunny, and in her wonderful, trademark, scratchy voice, "Mom, your hands cold, you okay?" She didn't let go, concern. "Oh Bug, it's just from the water, Mommy washed your underpants. It's okay." And then I felt tears welling up,  the happy sad. "It's okay, Mommy." Oh my wise one.  "Thank you, Bug. I love you." "I love you, too, Mommy." The sweetest sleepy smile, her Great Grandma Zora's gap front teeth peeping through.

Yes, I have my hands full. Heart, too.

Starting Over

I have so many words lost in me, swirling all around day in and day out, in my dreams when I'm asleep, in the back of my head when you're talking to me, over top of me when I'm holding a sweet baby girl or dancing with another two or driving or cleaning dishes or....they are everywhere. These words and thoughts, they need to come out and play more often.

So maybe vintage living isn't always about decor or all things fine and dandy. In honesty, a lot of the times, I'm pretending things are fine and dandy, even when things like overdue bills and the broken garbage disposal say they aren't.

We had? have? this crazy dream that it took us forever to say out loud and then we finally did it was too late. We realized that having tears in our eyes and heavy hearts when we left the Great Lake and the cedar groves and the cherry orchards...well it wasn't normal. Aching and hurting when we drove back to the city.  Our kids perk up to the smell of the lake. They can hike a trail with those tiny legs like nobody's business. Did you know, that there are stars there? At night? Millions of them. And our children never see them here, aside from one or two or three.

Maybe, we thought, it doesn't have to be this way, we can change our lives, we can do this, we can live our dream. We could pack up and leave this city and these people who seem so different than us  and we could lead a simpler life in a part of the world that Is. Us. People do that! You read about it every now and then and they are so much happier, ya, let's be like that!

And then...2009 happened. My husband's career veered this way and that with the economy. And continues to do so. Our This Old House that we'd thought would become more and more valuable became less and less so.  And, continues to do so.

Now. We feel sort of stuck and trapped and scared and damn it all, when will our luck change? What are we doing wrong? This is what you get for being dreamers, we think.

If it weren't for my three girls, I don't know how I'd deal.  They keep me happy and distracted and I don't need or want for anything but them and My Man and all I wish is for these four loves of my life to be happy and healthy and me too and for all of us to live until we are 112 or so.  Rich or poor.

Hello, dark empty room. Cover your ears or walk away if you are bored. This blog will have some fine, like the new blue and white dishes I found and that great Ina coffee cake I keep making. And some dandy, like how Maren wiggled her rear dancing today in the silliest most wonderful wayand some vintage mixed in for the character we all should have and the patina of time and history and the joy in simplicity, but really what it should all be about is LIVING.

Laird Residence by Designer Bilhuber in February Architectural Digest

You can just tell. This is one for the "record books" for those of us that get excited about these things. It's right up there with Kate and Andy Spade's place. 

Amazing colors and layers, artwork and personality!

I'm kinda giddy.