Pre MIL Sparkle

“Human beings fail the way all complex systems fail: randomly and gradually. As engineers have long recognized, simple devices typically do not age. They function reliably until a critical component fails, and the whole thing dies in and instant. A windup toy, for example, works smoothly until a gear rusts or a spring breaks, and then it doesn’t work at all.” 

In the end, what makes life worth living?

Being Mortal by Atul Gawande is about growing old, about facing terminal illness and death, you know, uplifting stuff like that. Death is not pretty but perhaps it is possible that there are priorities beyond simply prolonging life at any cost.  Gawande took the time to find out what his patient’s biggest fears and concerns were, what goals were important right now, what trade-offs the patient was willing to make, and he began to see that sometimes the imminent, the day after next, is the most important.  One woman simply wanted to be alive long enough and be well enough to attend a wedding in a few days. That meant not performing the invasive surgery; it meant instead doing the minimal to make  being at the wedding in two days a possibility.  Sometimes it is possible to make life more comfortable without necessarily doing the herculean thing.

For the elderly what kept coming up time and again was the desire for independence and freedom.  ”What level of being alive is tolerable for you?” One man answered, “If I’m able to eat chocolate ice-cream and watch football on TV, then I’m willing to stay alive. I’m willing to go through a lot of pain if I have a shot at that.”

The three plagues of nursing home existence  are: boredom, loneliness, and helplessness. Nursing homes that have discovered the  benefit of bringing in cats, dogs, birds, and live plants to stimulate and motivate the residents have found residents feel fulfilled, there were stimulating reasons to get up in the morning and patients did better.

 My mother-in-law is an outlier. She is the rare older person who doesn’t desire independence nor freedom. Her greatest desire is to be cared for and to sleep. Me being on call round-the-clock was taking its toll.

At the salon my stylist, told me things; she told me that my “sparkle” was gone. And she told me she saw it leave when my mother-in-law came to live with us and I began to care for her. She used the word “sparkle” and I was flattered that I  was once “sparkly,”  shocked to realize  the “sparkle” was gone. I wanted it back.  I was stunned. It was true; I was emotionally exhausted. I was burnt out. When I told Andrew that his mother was killing my sparkle, without hesitation, we knew that I needed to quit being primary caretaker. It took ten months but I was spent.

So now she is living a short drive away in assisted living. And I tried to feel guilty about the move but they have some fun stuff there like a 50′s style soda shop where residents can go to get a root beer float. And they have an in-house hair salon. And the dining hall is set up like a restaurant; the residents can order from about 7 choices on the menu each meal. And I keep her in-room fridge stocked with yogurts and fruit for between meals. And all of that, as it turns out, makes her feel like her life is worth living.

And now my life is my own again and figuring it out will take time.



The Old Becomes New


Paintings, paintings everywhere. I did a class recently and ended up with two of the same painting so I decided to paint over one of them. In the end, it was so much fun resurrecting old canvases into new paintings that I covered up the second one too.

lurking beneath this painting is the demo

And the painting progressed.

And soon I had transformed the canvas:

And ta da! A new painting to hide the old.

And ta da! A new painting to hide the old.

Both are currently for sale.

It was so much fun I did another!

Both are currently for sale. They measure 16″ X 20″ For Pinkpeppers readers they are $95/each. At Fine Art America they are $150/each.

Here is a little peak at my art in Moscow, Idaho; it’s still up if you’d like to go buy a piece; they are mostly small works,  at Bucer’s- 201 S Main St, Moscow, ID :


“Nothing Sacred”


Small flower on black


Grapes on cloth


Acrylic Painting- Summer Art #3



Mimosa and Masterpieces in the Morning

Perhaps you’ve heard of the classes that combine wine and a painting lesson. I was asked to teach such a class but the catch was that it began at 9:30 AM and unless you want to appear questionable in your drinking habits, wine seemed over the top. So we came up with “Mimosa and Masterpieces in the Morning.”  The ladies picked the flower painting and I walked them through it; each woman picked her own choices of color using just three colors- red, blue and yellow.


With red, blue and yellow (and white and black) they mixed every color under the sun.

With red, blue and yellow (and white and black) they mixed every color under the sun.

I supplied all the painting gear and the hostess supplied the mimosa and snacks.

This was the example I painted and they went from there.

This was the example I painted and they went from there.




Wassily Kandinsky- Week #2 Summer Art

Kandinsky- one of the first purely abstract artists has an intriguing style full of tension, interplay and color. He was our muse for art week #2 this summer. I’m sure you are familiar with his circles. They would be a ton of fun to paint on a larger canvas with acrylics:


 The circles were Fox’s inspiration. And the great thing about them is the less perfect they are, the better. I wanted the the other three to work on the ideas from the more complicated designs like this:



So with various found round objects- lids, tape rolls, etc and pencils, rulers and paper, they let their imaginations take over. When the objects in their design were looking a little too much like the real thing, I had them change it a bit and make it a little more abstract. Canon’s snake looked too much like a snake so we decided the head should be a triangle instead of oblong; Anwyn’s dragon should have trianble scales not perfectly formed rounded scales; Athan’s waves also needed more angles instead of roundedness.

They ended up spending a few hours on their designs (Excpet for Fox who, after penciling in the circles, opted for Legos and Picasso Tiles.


Gyotaku- First Art Class for the Summer

Gyotaku -Japanese 魚拓, from gyo “fish” + taku “rubbing”


Bascially the art of gyotaku involves a dead fish, ink and a sheet of paper or a piece of cloth. ” Credit is given to an emperor for having an image of a large red snapper made by first adding paint and then touching paper to it. He hung the art and ate the fish!” “Gyotaku came to America in the 1950s when a Japanese fish scientist (ichthyologist) Yoshio Hiyama,(also spelled with an “n”) shared his fish rubbings with American scientists. He presented them as scientific illustrations of Japanese fish species.” Link

We used acrylic paint because it is more vibrant than watercolor and cleans up with water. We used hand made Khadi 100% rag paper from India; because it is 100% rag, it gives and allowed us to mold it to the fish without tearing.  Simply paint the fish and then carefully, without moving the paper about, press every area firmly into the paper. When you are sure you’ve got it all, lift the paper and you have a monoprint of a fish. Ours is a blue gill.

But you don’t have to wait until you go fishing- and catch a fish- to do this; you can buy a rubbery fish that can be reused. Click on any of the photos to take you to a shopping source for your own Gyotaku fish.

Just click on the photo to purchase.

Just click on the photo to purchase a maleable fish.

Before the paint dries on the fish, you need to make the rubbing.

Before the paint dries on the fish, you need to make the rubbing.
















They all painted eye details and added grass and then used a wine cork for a stamping the fishes bubbles.


 And then the final touch was a fake Japanese signature that they painted on.

Uh, Do You Want to See Our Summer So Far? Oh, Wait, It’s Not Summer Yet

Our family is all over the map this summer. Allow me to share some links, photos and video.

Jarrett just got back from successful presentation at a glass research seminar where the finest glass engineers gathered. When he got home to Penn State he had a flying fox bat in his house.Click on this link:  This is 29 seconds of hilarity.  

Stunned by a pillow case.

Stunned by a pillow case.

Next up for him is Brazil. He was invited to attend conference with all expenses paid. The trick is getting the doggone visa. It’s like the DMV on steroids to maneuver that maze. In the end he’s required to #1. fly across the country from Pennsylvania to San Francisco for a scheduled appointment… or #2.  hire an expert, hand over all your original documents, pay a fee, and hope they come through for you.  He chose door #2.

This is Aileen’s photo:

First class to Hong Kong.

First class to Hong Kong.

Oh, Aileen is in Hong Kong presenting a paper to scientists from around the world on her PhD research. And then? Oh, off to Beijing for more heady stuff. And then what?? On to Puerto Rico for yet more enlightening of the colleagues.

Meghan? Meghan really thought it would be a fun thing to sell her perfectly appointed house and buy a mid-century modern untouched treasure that she could bring up to its former retro-glory. Eric is beginning to see the potential.

Erin? Just gutting and fixing about five places at once and running a B & B which was named one of the top 5 coolest in D.C. You can check it out here. (Hers is the Capitol Hill Rowhouse)

Taite? Landed a sweet internship at a laboratory. Following in her dad’s scientific nuclear steps.

Matthias? When a kid doesn’t need to study for finals because, well, you know,  then what that guy needs is some serious hands on hard work. He’s heading back to the miles and miles of beautiful ranch land to work sunrise to sunset. Here are some shots from his last year adventure.

Hell's Canyon

Hell’s Canyon

Hell's Canyon

Hell’s Canyon

Caitlin?? Oh, just creating a NEW LIFE!! Yes! (And continuing to renovate her massive Victorian house, and keep up with the cattle on the ranch). Hurrah for grandchild #11!!!!

Andrew? Every two years the nuclear plant shuts down for a total check-over and clean-up. That means suiting up in protective gear and heading straight into near range of the beast. He lives for this.

A yellow "poop suit" goes on over everything.

A yellow “poop suit” goes on over everything.

Me? I am so excited to be a part of the Moscow ArtWalk again this year! Come to Bucer’s and say, “hello” the evening of June 12.

Small enough to be affordable!

Small enough to be affordable!



A few landscapes

A few landscapes


The Receiving End of Help

Too often we really don’t care until it touches us, our own heart, our own life. In some God-thing circuitous way, I was talking to Diane at Seattle Children’s Hospital; I don’t even know how the telephone-transfer-train delivered me to her phone because the point of my call was all about appointment details, but there she was on the other end telling me that there is help available to defray the costs at the hospital.

“Well, not for us, though,” I said, “I mean, we’re fine.”  I then  booked a hotel and began to  scout out restaurants in Seattle, slightly pitifully, trying to pretend we were heading towards a bit of a vacation when reality was, we’d  rather be at home mundanely  living  life. It kicked me in the gut like this sort of thing  does- it is way easier to be on the giving end than the receiving end of help. Way easier. I humbled myself and called Diane back. Hardship makes a person realize she isn’t the island she wishes she were.

I was, still am, overwhelmed by the generosity of people who purpose to give and make a difference in the lives of people they may never know or meet just because they care, and they can. As parents, we would sacrifice everything to provide all we can for our children. And then an angel enters your life and relieves the burden.

Two books resonate with me for honesty and simplicity, Clay, Water, Brick by Jessica Jackley and A Small Cup of Light by Ben Palpant.

Clay Water Brick is uplifting, about how sometimes lives can be changed forever with a hundred bucks. Have you been there? Do you believe that? With just a few hundred dollars, Katherine the fishmonger depended upon just $500 to substantially increase her business, Eunice Alupo needed a mere $300 to grow her used clothing business, Betty Obote needed $500 to buy cows and open a butcher shop…

By way of story, Jackley tells you how she was moved to do something, how she managed to elbow into some of the best situations and places that could give her advice about helping, how she did do something. And in the telling, you come to realize it isn’t rocket science, that you too could be that help that someone else needs. You have to care enough to go do it.

Then you get to read of Shona the Sculptor (and yes, I researched her after reading of her to see the amazing success that her company has become-  shonaquip), how her love for her own child’s wellbeing turned into help for thousands, for both employment opportunities in South Africa and help for disabled who need a better fitting posture support device.

A Small Cup of Light  is pure honesty.

I always knew it was okay to be honest with God, to tell Him where I really stand with what He’s thought to be for my best. I always knew bargaining with God was a foolish game- if you heal me, if you heal her, if you clear up this awful mess, if you make things blissful, I will work harder to serve you better.

Ben Palpant’s writing is crystal clear and it rings true because he has suffered, and come out on the other side, not necessarily the brighter side but rather the side of knowing more fully who God is, who we are, who He wants us to be. “God did not give me suffering so that I might only look beyond it to some happy vale of future delight. He gave me suffering as a gift to be held in the present moment, just as he has given me happiness as a gift of the here and now.” Because let’s just be honest, sometimes things don’t hit downward for a time and then end ‘happily ever after’ and then what? Who is your God then?

God wants for us much much more than our happiness, “He is after a sustaining joy and he will give us that joy by giving us himself, whether through the small gifts that bring us gladness or through the dark night of suffering.”

“For nearly three weeks after my mind caught fire, the dilemma that kept barking at the back door of my mind was this: A good God is fine when life is tropically blissful, but what when the hurricane comes? Where is the safe haven then? What are we to do when chaos bangs against the windows and when the roof of reliability is ripped off?”

And the hardest lesson, I think, is to realize that God doesn’t need us to work harder, be stronger, look happy no matter; He gave us suffering so that we would find “true freedom and wholeness only in the lap of God.”



Modesty Police, Halt!

So… it’s getting to be summer and you know what that mean, swimsuits! And you know what that means, the summer modesty police! Yes, you know, those posts that go up right around this time of year to tell you for the sake of the men- your sons, your brothers, your neighbor’s husbands- cover up, mind the cleavage! But here’s the problem, you can’t really head to every last beach in the entire world and demand that women cover up “for the sake of the men;” now can you? No, you can not. So, embrace the summer, give women a break; heaven knows every last woman beats herself up enough for not having the perfect body and then she  finally finds a swimsuit.

I found a really sweet piece, well, yes, a swimsuit but also a piece  written by Sarah Condon on getting over the legalism of swimsuits. She did it in such a kind way and still lets you know that, no, it really isn’t your place to put her in her place about her swimwear- or any wear. (Click on quote to read the entire post.)

I’m ready to enjoy the summers I’ve been blessed with and just shut up about swimwear. If you’ve got some rules in your head then might I suggest yelling/praying them away in a Kohl’s department store. Run from the rules. Tell them to go sit on a tack. Better yet, lay them at the feet of Jesus. I promise he’ll give you something more interesting and life-giving to think about.

May we all be given the grace to pick out something that just makes us feel nice (for me, that means polka dots), and jump off the diving board. Happy Summer, everyone.


Imagine modesty policing every last person here!



Glamorous Camping?

Andrew was working 12 hour shifts all weekend and Matthias was sick; so Taite and I abandoned them for Mother’s Day weekend.

If you have not heard of “Glamping” it is “glamorous camping.” Oh, no, Taite and I didn’t do that but Caitlin’s in-laws have the most amazing glamping location you could ever dream up. Set on the edge of Hell’s Canyon you can rent a teepee and wake up to the awe. They also have 2 indoor places to rent, but now, that wouldn’t really be glamping now would it? We took a little trip from Caitlin and Zac’s up to see the set up going on for the upcoming season. Zac and his brother, Jordan were putting up the teepees.

After a little picnic, Caitlin, Taite, Jude and I headed back to town with frequent stops to hunt for morels. Success was small- just six. Jude promised to hold on to them and even when he fell asleep, he did not release his grip.



Caitlin inside the very roomy teepee. They come with futons so you can sleep in luxury.


Occasionally they have performances out here under the majesty. This day we used it for a picnic spot.

P1020730 P1020738 P1020739 P1020740 P1020747 P1020748 P1020749 P1020754 P1020759 P1020760

Branding at HiLo Ranch

So in between tearing out carpet and scraping wallpaper glue, we also have a ranch to run.

My husband and I started cattle ranching just over a year ago and it’s been an adventure of a lifetime. We run our 200 head in a very rough part of the country, Imnaha Canyon, and do it all the old fashioned way. Rarely do you hear the buzz of a four wheeler on our canyon walls- it’s all horse back riding and lasso roping, and dog chasing, when it’s time to move our heard. As I trailed behind the new mothers and their adorable offspring of wet-nosed black-hide babies, I can’t believe I am here. It’s always that way. How did I, never-even-own-anything-more-than-a-cat-afraid-of-horses Caitlin come to be sitting on the back of my own brown quarter horse (named “Merl”), yipping and yelling to a whole herd of bovine as we slowing move past the Imnaha tavern and turn the corner to the branding location. I still don’t know. But I love those moments. And I love that God saw fit to show me how one of my favorite things in the world would be moving cattle on horseback.

Branding is an event. It means neighbors, family and friends gather to generously give their time and talents for a day in exchange for a good meal and a day of fun, hard work. It means all those beautiful little calves are vaccinated, protected against worms and pests, and branded and ear tagged as part of the heard. It means home made chili- lime and cilantro and cheese on top,  corn bread and Danny’s biscuits, laughing kids, and playful dogs, and inevitably a few bruises and soar muscles. And so, take a look a our first branding at HiLo Ranch:















IMG_1333 IMG_1336


IMG_1390 IMG_1391



We got rained out on Saturday, so everyone showed extra dedication in showing up for a second day of calf tossing. Thankfully, I had tripled my Aunt Doris’s chili recipe, my brother-in-law’s father’s famous biscuits were gone so I and whipped up a double batch of my favorite cornbread the next day, and had enough to feed the crew again. Everyone ‘s compliments confirmed my opinion: Best chili recipe ever, just don’t go easy on the bacon. Go ahead and double it if you want.







After two days of being camp cook, giving vaccines, making sure children don’t get kicked by an animal or just ride off into the sunset on one (Freyja would!), setting up, cleaning up, washing up, and then being photographer in the minutes in between, I was tired. I haven’t been that tired in a while. But what a beautiful sight, when it was just  Zac, my father in law, and I at the very end of the day, watching that last little cow-calf pair climb the hill to fresh grass. Sun setting,  our work done, animals cared for and happy, we could rest well that night.

A Good Wife Always Knows Her Place

Available June 30th

Available June 30th

“When you live overseas, it becomes easy to mythologize your native life: all the things you imagine you’d be doing if you weren’t an expat in a foreign land, all the ways you could be thriving.” Tracy Slater, although not exactly qualified, agreed to travel to Kobe to teach Korean and Japanese executives English and the intricacies of American business. After a few days of being these men’s teacher she is asked, “Could you… talk more… quietly? Perhaps? Show less confidence? You know. Be more shy. Like women are supposed to. Like the students are used to.”

She falls in love with Toru, though he can barely speak English and she speaks no Japanese, and she has to decide if she can live in Japan, become, as her marriage certificate labels her, a shufu- a housewife.

The Good Shufu, is Tracy Slater’s real life story. It is very well written, the nuances of the cultures are clear in her eyes because as she travels back and forth between Boston and Osaka, she sees over and over again with new eyes the differing cultures. She has left her teaching job as a college professor; she has left her teaching job to inmates; she has left her newly formed group; Four Stories, she has left her home of forever, Boston. And she wonders if it is worth the sacrifice to become a good shufu.

And then a rabbit trail led me to this little gem of an article from Housekeeping Monthly May 13, 1955.  60 years ago, this is the advice you could read for wives in the USA. (Actually I could refer you to a current day book that offers this same advice but, well)  If you can’t read the fine print, allow me:


*Have dinner ready. Plan ahead, even the night before to have a delicious meal ready, on time for his return. This is a way of letting him know that you have been thinking about him and are concerned about his needs. Most men are hungry when they come home and the prospect of a good meal (especially his favorite dish) is part of the warm welcome needed.

*Prepare yourself. Take 15 minutes to rest so you’ll be refreshed when he arrives. Touch up your make-up, put a ribbon in your hair and be fresh looking. He has just been with a lot of work-weary people.

*Be a little gay and a little more interesting for him. His boring day may need a lift and one of your duties is to provide it.

*Clear away the clutter. Make one last trip through the main part of the house just before your husband arrives.

*Gather up schoolbooks, toys, paper etc and then run a dust cloth over the tables.

*Over the cooler months of the year you should prepare and light a fire for him to unwind by. Your husband will feel he has reached a haven of rest and order, and it will give you a lift too. After all, catering for his comfort will provide you with immense personal satisfaction.

*Prepare the children. take a few minutes to wash the children’s hands and faces (if they are small), comb their hair and if necessary, change their clothes. They are little treasures and he would like to see them playing the part. Minimise all noise. At the time of his arrival eliminate all noise of the washer, dryer or vacuum. Try to encourage the children to be quiet.

*Be happy to see him.

*Greet him with a warm smile and show sincerity in your desire to please him.

*Listen to him. You may have a dozen important things to tell him but the moment of his arrival is not the time. Let him talk first- remember, his topics of conversation are more important than yours.

*Make the evening his. Never complain if he comes home late or goes out to dinner, or other places of entertainment without you. Instead try to understand his world of strain and pressure and his very real need to be at home and relax.

*Your goal: Try to make sure your home is a place of peace, order and tranquility where your husband can renew himself in body and spirit.

*Don’t greet him with complaints and problems.

*Don’t complain if he’s late home for dinner or even if he stays out all night. Count this as minor compared to what he might have gone through that day.

*Make him comfortable. Have him lean back in a comfortable chair or have him lie down in the bedroom. Have a cool or warm drink ready for him.

*Arrange his pillow and offer to take off his shoes. Speak in a low, soothing, pleasant voice.

*Don’t ask him questions about his actions or question his judgment or integrity. Remember, he is the master of the house and as such will always exercise his will with fairness and truthfulness. You have no right to question him.

*A good wife always knows her place.

My Secret Life with Emu Oil

Don't you be extracting my oils!

Don’t you be extracting my oils!

Emus give off oil?! And where? I wondered. I mean, do they secrete it from some awful and obscure gland? Emu Oil, for dry skin?  I had to do a little research. And then I discovered that, “Unadulterated emu oil can vary widely in color and viscosity anywhere from an off-white creamy texture to a thin yellow liquid, depending on the diet of the emu.”  And, “Emu oil is oil derived from adipose tissue harvested from certain subspecies of the emu.” Add to that,  my sample was a little on the cringe-like yellow end of the spectrum. Be sure to shake well before use and then slather all over your body!

Some might not know that I have a secret on-line life of reviewing stuff for Amazon, gobs of stuff, so much stuff that I haul some of it to Goodwill. The most often asked question is,  ”How do you get people to send you gobs of free stuff?”

I don’t; they kindly request me. About a year ago I quit ingesting stuff for review; those requests get deleted now because seriously, how many fish oil pills, Coq10, muscle milk, organic all natural vitamins, protein powder would you be willing to consume? Okay, I take that back, I just forced bacon/cheese spaghetti sauce on my family. Oh, and freeze dried apple slices (they were surprisingly good.) And chocolate biscuit sticks (very tasty.) So, okay, just nothing overtly healthy. The other thing I simply delete are the countless self-published books with awful cartoonish cover art. I am certain that you can judge a book by its cover.

The other question I am asked is, “What is the best item you’ve ever been sent?” I don’t think I have a best, well, maybe it has been the little two seat mustard yellow Mustang, but besides that I am glad to have been introduced to quite a few things that I would never have thought to buy on my own.

For starters, here are the  best toiletries:

If you are in the market for make-up brushes, these are a great deal. Twenty at a great price. Okay, I may have taken them up to my painting studio and used them for painting too.

You want just one big monster brush? This is it. Check out the review.

Perfume. My all time favorites are Chanel #5, First, and Opium and I figured three signatures was enough, but I’ve added Obsession to the line-up. It is a sophisticated powdery with a touch of vanilla,  mandarin and  bergamot.

Dry skin and want to feel really pampered? Well for heaven’s sake, don’t make it Emu oil. Try L’Occitane Shea Ultra Rich Comforting Cream

And good old organic coconut oil, which seriously, when it’s 100% organic coconut oil, why does the jar say, “Do not ingest?” Oh, and, “Do not use on chickens or animals.”

For the face, I have liked this Vitamin C serum. I am especially happy that it is made in the USA because things we ingest and things we smear on our skin should be extra safe; I don’t trust China for that.

But my ultimate top-of-the-line favorite is L’Occitane Immortelle Divine Cream. I liked it so well that I was reluctant to throw out the empty jar hoping to get one more little dab from it.

Jouer makes a nice moisture tint. I am really happy that it is SPF 20 especially be very light-skinned and coming late to the idea that I should protect it.

A suspicious sort of product that I’ve tested a few times is Micellar Water.  A little research on this makes me think it’s the new snake oil elixir- buy it and believe!

Most amazing mouth wash in the world? This stuff is it, it’s not the minty covering your sins sort of stuff this actually works so well that you wake up without “morning breath.” True.

And while you’re at it, if you want a toothbrush that doesn’t cost a hundred bucks and sits boldly all over your bathroom counter, if you want a cleaner, sleek look in your bathroom AND a toothbrush that works, this one will do the trick. Also made by Sonicare, this one takes AA batteries.

If you have not yet discovered Moroccan Argan Oil for hair, you should. It is made of Moroccan argan oil, macadamia oil, shea oil, jojoba oil.  A little dab’ll do ya so it will last a long time and make your hair feel softer, less dried out.

My favorite shampoo and conditioner for testing has been Fekkai. It is formulated to be kind to color treated hair.


Before and After: Boys’ Bedroom


















 Wall color is “Moon Shot” by Valspar,

Bedding from Target

Elephant pillows, Spoon Flower fabric,

Beds bought at a yard sale for $3.50 each (!) and painted Valspar “Cadet Song”

 Original artwork in gold frames by my three year old, Rhys. He’ll be showing at the Met in about 20 years.


Before and After: Hallway and Stairs

We just knew we’d need somewhere to sleep, away from chaos and clutter. So we started with the top floor. Besides that, we really had no choice since it smelled like dog urine up there. (Original Kilz primer to the rescue! I even painted myself with it after a I began to take on the odor of the house.) The upstairs was a sea of green shag carpet, dusty lace curtains, and poky popcorn textured ceilings.  As soon as we signed at the title company I ran inside and started tearing down the filthy curtains, happily choking on dust and becoming more and more convinced of my vision for each room.

Oh, and I forgot to say- that perfect warm, not too dark, with hints of yellow instead of blue GREY has been found. And it’s name is “Haven of Coziness” by Clark and Kensington. Honestly, I’m bonkers about this color, though the photos don’t do it justice.






















Wherein “chicken coop” and “swank” meshed

And there was even a hand-written card from our daughter waiting at the table for us.

And there was even a hand-written card from our daughter waiting at the table for us.

We do not go away alone together so amazingly, there we were heading to a “posh, we’re so country in a very pampered way” inn. We were staying in the Chicken Coop; in my mind “chicken coop” and “swank” do not mesh but they did right there. We poked around our cottage a bit and then left for our reservation at a fine restaurant. Stepping through the door, behold,  the host is a beloved friend.

“Whaaat!?” I said and ran up to give him a hug.

He’d perused the reservation list the week before and when he spotted our name decided to be there that evening to greet us. I told him it felt like a little taste of heaven, in a strange land,  a delightful surprise, a friend I love stands there to greet me.

We were early and planned to sit at the bar to wait for our table. “No problem; in fact, Caitlin and Zac got word of your reservation and bought you a bottle of champagne.”


Of course the best thing with champagne is fois gras with a bit of quince jelly on the most divinely light toast, so there we perched chatting with the bartender until our table was ready, by which point I felt we knew our bartender well enought to invite him for dinner.  And then we (really I, because Andrew is always standing by like, “there she goes again”… in a loving way, mind you) invited the host to come too, bring a group. Alone at our table I asked Andrew what we (in all honesty, really he) planned to make for these guests.

The next morning I bashed my toe, the toe whose toenail had almost grown out from the last time I bashed it against a brick, that same toe totally ended my little dream of death marching Andrew around a cute town to shop for things we did not need to drag into our house. I was hobbled.

Headng home, we were keeping track of our nephew’s progress from Montana; we were meeting him and his friend for lunch. Fascinatingly this friend has a master’s in creative writing- poetry in particular- and I scribbled furiously on the back of a Wal-Mart receipt while he cited the names of books and authors of poetry that he admired. Then he asked to borrow my pen because I actually had mentioned something he wanted to note. He stopped and held up my pen mid-word to exclaim how well it wrote, which made me wax lyrical about the search and final triumph of finding the perfect pen, a pen so perfect that when it was once left at Aileen and Jason’s I emailed, texted and finally called them to make sure they kept it safe for me. Aileen texted back that they were keeping it safe and had in fact separated it from the other pens in their house so it would not run wild. It finally returned home unscathed.

The next morning Taite and Matthias drove off to Caitlin and Zac’s ranch in Hell’s Canyon to help brand cattle and ride into the sunset on horses.

Andrew and I jumped in our truck to pick up some wine we’d ordered. The great thing about buying 16 cases of wine all at once from a single winery is that the owner/winemaker will come out to your rickety old truck to see who in the world is carting this stuff off. And then Andrew will get to stand there and talk about the chemistry of wine, the best longitude and latitude for growing wine grapes, the best rocky arid soil for growing wine grapes, and the subtelties of each particular variety of grape. And I will stand there too and be like, “Yup, what he said.”

We carted all those down to our, ahem, cellar and Andrew kept wishing Matthias were home and not branding cattle so the carting of it all would be easier. But he got my help instead.

Then, yes, we jumped in our car and headed the opposite direction to be at our sister-in-law’s suprprise birthday dinner that Gretchen and Matt managed to pull off- Doris was surprised.  And I was totally thrilled to sit across the table from two great artists whose work I have hanging in my house and ask them all sorts of beginner questions about painting.

The next day we were at Aileen and Jason’s church as they became members and the kind greeter at the door, Patch, once again told us what a pleasure it was to have us there again. I did say, ” You are so kind, do you not know I have quite a reputation?”  He replied, “I know nothing of that.”

A final hurrah for the week at  Matt and Doris’s for a barbecue and then the whole wonderfully frenzied week would come to an end. But lo,  a message on my phone from our pastor’s wife inviting us over when we got back to town. YES!  The perfect end, the four of us around their table, relaxed and unwinding.

There is even still so much more to that week, there is the night before getting our cases of wine, sitting and sharing a bottle of very fine wine at a cozy little bar with very long-standing fast friends, followed by a dessert event where I was able to meet the ravioli party Kelly’s parents and hang out with Meghan and Eric and see snuffly little Aoife. There was me stopping in a frame shop and there in the back was Wolfgang, his first day on that job, and still he came out, we hugged, and then talked for half an hour about life. And earlier that day, Hannah making me her last stop before heading off for her summer job bringing coffees to sip and to chat. And the most encouraging email from a woman who is thankful for what I sometimes write on this little blog.

I was totally blown away by God’s gracious hand in my life. Food, wine, friends, the whole week has seemed like a foretaste of heaven.


Ravioli Party

Kelly said she knew how to make ravioli, I said I liked a party and thus was born a ravioli making party. In a huge way it was really easy; dinner did not need to be ready for the crowd because they were making the meal. Beforehand, I bought the ingredients and then just before the party made sure to have everything out and on hand. (Recipes are at the end of the post.)

And once again all the amazing photos are pilfered from Meghan’s site: Bluefilter



Butter, butter, butter, cream cheese, heavy whipping cream…

Everyone slicing , dicing and chopping requires multiple cutting boards.

Everyone slicing , dicing and chopping requires multiple cutting boards.


So, I've had a pizzelle maker forever. and never used it. Ever. An Italian meal is the perfect time to use it or toss it. Forever. So I made pizzelles for dessert topped with whipped cream and sliced strawberries.

So, I’ve had a pizzelle maker forever. and never used it. Ever. An Italian meal is the perfect time to use it or toss it. Forever. So I made pizzelles for dessert topped with whipped cream and sliced strawberries.

Super photo! Now get back in the kitchen and get to work!

Super photo! Now get back in the kitchen and get to work!


A little Aoife moment.

A little Aoife moment.


Renée has her granddaughter too!

Renée has her granddaughter too!

Turns out Austin can cook! He and Andrew made all the filling.

Turns out Austin can cook! He and Andrew made all the filling.


Two stunning gals in black.

Two stunning gals in black.

Thanks to Kelly we had a super fun dinner party.

Thanks to Kelly we had a super fun dinner party.


Andrew and Dave take care of the perfect wine pairing.

Andrew and Dave take care of the perfect wine pairing.

This momma can make an alfredo sauce like you wouldn't believe. She had to make more because before ravioli were even ready, people were sneaking over to use it as a bread dip.

This momma can make an alfredo sauce like you wouldn’t believe. She had to make more because before ravioli were even ready, people were sneaking over to use it as a bread dip.


Yes. Yes, this will be perfect with the alfredo sauce.

Yes. Yes, this will be perfect with the alfredo sauce.


This is my 75 year old flour tin from my grandma.

This is my 75 year old flour tin from my grandma.

Renée mostly rolled the dough in the right direction. And at the right setting:)

Renée mostly rolled the dough in the right direction. And at the right setting:)


Four times through at different setting and it is ready to be made into raviolis

Four times through at different setting and it is ready to be made into raviolis






Ya know, picking out the perfect wine is a lot of work. Dave at rest.

Ya know, picking out the perfect wine is a lot of work. Dave at rest.

Just some great peeps.

Just some great peeps. (Dave still at rest.)


Amazing weather, yay!

Amazing weather, yay!

My recommendation, should you want to throw a ravioli party are:

1. Definitely have the dough ready to roll.

2. Possibly make the filling ahead of time too or at least get started on that first off.

3. Have copies of the recipes to hand out to the cooks. Depending on the group size, you may have to double or triple the recipes.

Here are the tried and true recipes:

Ravioli Filling (8-10 servings)

1 lb. bulk hot Italian sausage     1 large onion, chopped

3 cloves garlic, minced       1 pkg (8oz) cream cheese, softened

1 pkg. (10 oz) frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained (press through strainer to remove as much excess liquid as possible)  We used fresh spinach.

2 C. shredded mozzarella       1/4 C. Grated Parmesan cheese

1/4 tsp. each, salt and pepper

In a large skillet, brown sausage with onion and garlic. Drain and cool. Pulse in a food processor with spinach. Pour into a large bowl; mix together with cheeses, salt and pepper.

Alfredo Sauce (8-10 servings )


4 cloves garlic, pressed

1 pkg. (8 oz) cream cheese, softened and cut into cubes

2/3 C. Fresh grated Parmesan cheese (more if desired)

1/2 C. Butter

1/2 C. Whipping cream or half n half (I find the latter is plenty rich!) 1/8+ C. Milk (optional, for thinning)

In a large sauce pan, heat the EVOO over low heat; cook the garlic lightly (DO NOT BROWN!!). Add the cheeses, butter, cream and milk, whisking constantly until smooth. If the sauce is too thick, you may want to add a little milk.

Marinara Sauce (8-10 servings)

1 can (29oz) tomato sauce or crushed tomatoes

1 T. Dried minced onion    2 1/2 tsp. Italian seasoning

1 1/2 tsp. parsley flakes        2 cloves garlic, pressed

1 tsp. sugar   1/2 tsp. salt 1/4 tsp. pepper

Mix together in a bowl. If you want, you can simmer it for a while to get the flavors going, but that can wait until the pasta party.


6 eggs            1 1/2 cups sugar

2 Tablespoons  vanilla extract             1 cup butter, melted

3 1/2 cups flour                            4 teaspoons baking powder

Beat eggs and sugar until thick. Stir in vanilla and melted butter. Stir in flour and baking powder just until blended and smooth.

Depending on your pizzelle iron place about 1 Tablespoon of the batter into the center of the iron, close and lock. Bake for about 3o seconds.

I made and froze these the week before.

I served these flat on a plate with large amounts of whipped cream and sliced strawberries (slicing of the berries were one more assigned task at the party.)



Honey, we’re looking at a house on Saturday


We needed more room. Our adorable little yellow bungalow was becoming too crowded during our long Wallowa County winters. I dreamed of smilingly shouting over the din of the pillow-trampoline obstacle course constructed at my feet while I cooked dinner, “Kids! Go do that in the basement!” Yes, I definitely wanted a basement.

I dreamed of more than one toilet so that toddlers and adults alike would no longer dance in a line outside the bathroom, waiting, waiting waiting. . .  and then  give up and run to the next door neighbors’ house. (True fact. Thank you McDonalds for being so accommodating during the many full-house weekends.)

Walking through our neighborhood one fall day, I noticed an orange “For Sale” sign. Yes, like the kind you put in your car. Only it wasn’t in a car, it was in the window of what appeared to be a small mansion.  This house had always intrigued me, but the yard was so overgrown I could never get a very good look at it. It was a Victorian style, built in 1898, previously  run as a bed and breakfast. Though before that, it was a single family residence and then a doctor’s clinic. Beyond that I knew nothing about it. So I called the number on the orange “For Sale” sign and said I was very interested in buying the house. Of course I had no idea if my husband would be even remotely interested, but no matter, I can usually convince him of my ideas. I did.

And so, we are living in a former bed and breakfast, built in the year Theodore Roosevelt was fighting the battle of San Juan Hill (thank you Classical Conversations! ), there are little gold plaques reading “private” or “Cottage Room”, here and there, so that’s pretty weird, and there are times I’m pretty sure it’s haunted. Like when I have to go the basement all by my lonesome to throw laundry in the dryer at 9:30 at night. It is a fixer-upper to say the least and it is roller coaster of “Oh my gosh, this house is amazing and better than anything we could ever think of!” and “Oh my gosh, I want to light this place on fire!” It smelled of animal urine, and because it was redone in the fabulous 1980′s there is floral wallpaper IN EVERY ROOM, and an absolutely astounding amount of forest green.  Forest green deck furniture, forest green hot tub, forest green tile, forest green stripes in the entry way, forest green flowers in the hallway, forest green shag carpet cascading down the stairs. The revamp was done painstakingly, taking down original wood trim, piece by piece, staining it and putting it back. They put in lots of great features like geothermal heat, and good windows. For all that, I am eternally thankful, since the house looks old but feels much newer than 116 years old.

All that to say, I need a place to ramble and reflect. A place to be thankful for progress (large and small) and for life in a place that truly is far far better than I deserve. And if you, by any chance, know how to get rid of cat urine odor, feel free to share. Stay tuned for before and afters. . .


Just had Sinclair Brothers limb up all the trees- you can see the house now! Yay!



A carriage house. . . still trying to come up with the coolest use of this space



You’re Only as Sick as Your Secrets


Andrew is having pinkpepper withdrawals and wanted me to write something again here. We just celebrated 35 years together. It’s a long story but if you meet some girl with her little baby and they look like a hot mess beyond hope, pray for her, invite her in and trust God for her future; it might be brighter than anything she’d ever dared dream of.

In 1980, the year Planned Parenthood began, I walked into a doctor’s office unmarried, pregnant, and hoping this doctor could make this, this situation all go away. He did not. Thank God.

I was in college interested in a BSN; I had been accepted to Boston University pre-med program; my parents were thrilled.

“The call” to my parents is forever etched in my mind. Shattering the dreams of your parents is a heavy burden. I told them I was pregnant and that the father of the child and I were planning to get married; I would be dropping out of school. I was 1500 miles from home, my parents did not even know what this guy looked like (this was prehistoric to the internet, before fast photos); I could come home and live with them, have the baby at home, they told me. But I was determined maybe madly stubborn; especially since bets at college were against longevity of the union. I am not even kidding; there were bets. We got married.

My new husband graduated; we put all our worldly possessions in our ancient Vega and drove from Kansas to Massachusetts to be at my sister’s wedding (the only family wedding that was supposed to happen that year.) We were out of money after making the trip; by default we stayed, and settled into my parents’ basement- an unfinished cement-floored, bare-walled basement with a full-size bed in the corner.

Right before our daughter was born, we got a one-bedroom apartment in a filthy building downtown. Andrew worked his day job, came home ate dinner, and I left for the night shift at a nursing home- including weekends. Even hustling with two jobs, we lived well below poverty level.

Walking downtown, an advertisement on a storefront window  offered “energy assistance,” I walked in; they took one look at the teen-aged mom and her thrift-store clad baby in a makeshift stroller that I had resurrected from someone’s trash by hand sewing a sort of sling onto the frame for the “seat” and I was deemed eligible to receive government assistance. Weirdly they just knew. Money was so tight that a big night out was walking to Dunkin’ Donuts to each buy a single doughnut maybe every two weeks.  It is true; there are people who do not even have spare change as a buffer against poverty.

We knew we should attend church, so we went. The church, mercifully, offered us the custodial job; we cleaned the church for our weekend fun and then turned around and tithed that money right back the next day. Our Vega, by this point, was guzzling oil so that when we’d get to the church the next town over, we’d have to pour a bottle of oil back in to get home again. But a bottle of oil was cheaper than a new car or repairs, so we always had a bottle of oil in the back.

Nine months later, I walked (I walked everywhere back then) into a Planned Parenthood clinic with my nine-month old daughter to wait in the hard plastic chair in an unfortunately full waiting room hoping for salvation from Planned Parenthood. I received their information and left. (Do you see how these people are always there waiting and wanting to “help?” Evil has a way of being there for you.) I did not heed the advice and our second daughter was born eight months later. Right then I would have slapped you down if you’d have told me we would go on to have five more children for a total of five daughters and two sons. That would have been crazy talking right there.

So here we still are celebrating 35 years  today. We are blessed beyond anything those two pitiful kids could have even dreamt up had they dared to dream. And the bet? I won.

Sterling, Kansas right before the trek across the country. (not our motorcycle)

Sterling, Kansas right before the trek across the country. (not our motorcycle)

"So… this kid's gonna be raising me!?"

“So… this kid’s gonna be raising me!?”

photos (5)-6

This guy rocks!

This guy rocks!

Being in the Zone

Like the witch in the Wizard of Oz it began melting, melting, we stared as the biodegradable cup began to do just that right before our eyes. Andrew grabbed it just in the nick of time and salvaged the coffee back into the original vessel- Starbucks paper cup, Americano, Venti. We’d have to share from a single cup afterall as we waited for our pager to alert us that the wait was over and we could find out about Taite in recovery.

On the trip home Andrew wondered aloud to me what I might write about our last few day, I mean, if I did write about it. I told him I’d probably write about how I totally understand how a couple facing serious illness or worse of one of their children gets through it. And then gets a divorce.

I know, doesn’t that sound just awful?

Remember Baby Jessica, the 18 month old who fell down a 22 foot dry well and was trapped there for 58 hours back in 1987? I was pregnant with our fourth daughter at the time and everyday I was glued to the news, praying for that little girl to be rescued from that deep well. Her parents divorced a few years later. I remember being totally shocked; their little baby girl had been brought back up from the pit of darkness to the light; she was alive and safe in their arms; how could they so pettily divorce after all that? Wouldn’t it seem to the casual observer that the absolute relief would pull the whole family together forever, and ever, amen? I get it now. And the answer is, “No.” Hard stuff that parents go through with a child does not necessarily make the bond stronger. Sometimes it severs what you thought was strong.

We, Andrew and I, have discovered that we deal with stress differently.

My way is that in the car, in the hotel, in the restaurant, everywhere I need, need to have control because I cannot control the outcome in the hospital but I sure as heck can control whether we should be turning right. Or left, damn it. And I can control the coffee in my life, for Pete sake, right!??  Finding out there will be no coffee maker in the hotel room or the lobby sends me ballistic.  Andrew doesn’t do stuff like that.

We also discovered that I (and it turns out Taite as well) deal with the really hard things by “being in the zone.” We treat hard stuff, like illness and hospitals, like a sport- mentally focusing on the one event. Everything else gets shut out. So no, I do not want to discuss social nor political issues of the day right there in that blessed sterile curtain drawn cubicle. I want to be left totally alone and I do not want to talk to anyone about anything. Or be touched.

Perhaps we are attracted to our spouse initially because opposites attract. It can be a happy little humorous thing when life is happy and humorous. It can get on your nerves when things get sad and messy.

It’s easy to think, “We went through hard things, and now we are so eternally thankful for the things left intact that we will always be grateful and life will always be perfect. We promise.” And it can and should be like that, but it takes understanding, compassion, love, respect. And a lot of prayer. Lots of prayer. Lots of give and take. Lots of living with understanding.

So, if you are there; I understand.