Wednesday, February 27, 2008

My Silly Son

Walking into my folk's house, Evan took a deep sniff, looked around the corner to the kitchen and asked,

"Yummmmm. What's cooking? I smell scratch."

Tuesday, February 26, 2008


Bought Photoshop Elements on Saturday evening. Been teaching myself how to use it.

Lord, that stuff just sucks your brain. I can hardly make myself work or do anything else, cause all I want is to mess around with photoshop. I've been creating pages for a cookbook/scrapbook thingy for Katie's birthday.

But mostly, I want photoshop tools for real life. Want to be able to sharpen or soften things at will. Want to lighten and brighten my life with the click of a mouse. Want a magic extractor. And resize? We won't even talk about the things I'd like to magically resize.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Things o' Beauty

Is there anything more beautiful than a man doing dishes?

Dad did a lot of dishes this weekend so Mom and I could work on our projects, including our new blog. Yes, Mom and I are blogging together.

Consider this your official invitation to come visit Mama 'N Me. We're planning to show you what we're working on in the kitchen, sewing room and maybe even the garden. We'll include recipes and other instructions as often as we can. Our plan is to post on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.

Please stop by. And leave comments, if you have time. Mom just lights up when we get comments.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Cold as....

Long, gray couple of days here in MO. Sleet and snow fell off and on all day yesterday. For the second night in a row, I stayed up until after 1:00am reading archives over at The Pioneer Woman. Honestly--just can not read fast enough. The woman chooses happiness, over and over. And beauty. That girl's got a lock on appreciating beauty.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Total Eclipse of the Heart

Did you see the eclipse of the moon last night?


OK, on to today's Bit O' Beauty.

Frosted glass door at my favorite tea house

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Bit O' Beauty

Yesterday was a kind of crappy day. Had to reprimand an employee. Pay bills. Run 4011 errands. But through it all, I searched for beauty. Saw some ice melting in the sun and yanked Paula to the side of the road to take its picture. Trotted across the street to get a close look at the grass in my neighbor's yard. Stared at the rime of ice on the pond.

Beauty sure is a day brightener.

Pampas grass at sunset.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Egged On

Prema over at River's Grace has been encouraging me to post projects. This might make an interesting start. We'll have to do it in stages, though. It takes a long-term outlook, as they say on Wall Street.

In February and March, I save egg shells when I cook. By the time Easter rolls around, I've got a stash of shells to make little pastel, egg-shaped candles for the dinner table. (Stop rolling your eyes back there. They're really cute!) I also dye some of them to hang from branches in a big vase. Maybe later I'll show you how to use silk fabric to marble eggs.

Oh, dear, Prema. See what you've started?

Back to the shells. Maybe you've blown eggs before. (You in the back. Pipe down.) Well, blowing eggs...blows. It's much easier to cut holes and shake out the contents. For most projects, a bigger hole doesn't matter.

Use kitchen shears to snip a hole in the top (small end) of the egg.

Gently push in the point of the shears to poke the hole. If you have trouble, use something smaller—maybe an ice pick or one of those turkey clips. Once you've got it started, snip the edges until the hole is about the diameter of a pencil. Shake out the contents for your recipe and set the shell aside.

While whatever you're making cooks, wash out the shells. First, rinse them with warm water. Make sure you get rid of all the egg slime. Most years, I soak the shells in bleach water, but I'm trying to use fewer chemicals around the house. Last night I poured boiling water in each shell and let them all sit in the carton until the water cooled down. I think it will work fine. The point is, you've got to kill any salmonella germs lurking inside and you've got to get the shells clean so they don't smell later.

Get to baking! We're gonna need lots of shells pretty soon.

Today's Bit O' Beauty: Antique crystal in my china cabinet.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Powers of Observation

Wandering the blogosphere, one sees so many gorgeous photos. The skill of the photographers often impresses me, but even more than their skill, I am intrigued by their powers of observation. Even commonplace things become extraordinary when you pay attention.

All too often, I zoom through life without noticing the glory that surrounds me. And so I've decided to carry my camera with me over the next month and try to find one bit of beauty every day. And no fair photographing the pond. I've already got a lock on appreciation when it comes to the pond.

I'm not a skilled photographer, but that's not the point. Like making a list of the things for which I'm grateful every night, I expect this project to open my heart as well as my eyes.

An angel wing begonia in the sunlight.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Hearts Afire

My daughter sent me a valentine.

My daughter. Sent me. A valentine.

Years ago, when we went through the Home Studies, we were asked why we wanted children. Even then, long before Rafiki lifted Simba to the skies, before Elton wrote the song, before I fully understood what it meant, I wanted to be part of the Circle of Life.

I wanted to nurture an infant, see the world through the eyes of a toddler, and learn to read with a young child. God help me, I even wanted to ride the roller coaster of adolescence. I imagined myself in middle age with young adults coming home for holidays, bringing the ones they loved. I stepped into the comfy shoes of an old lady baking cookies with grandchildren. I didn't just want babies, I wanted to share my life with the people those babies would become.

The reality is much more complicated than I realized. The challenges greater, the dark moments scarier. But the rewards. Ah...the rewards are sweet.

My daughter sent me a valentine.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Believing Is Seeing

We see things not as they are, but as we are.

I've loved that quote for a long time. First saw it attributed to Anais Nin, but based on something I read recently, I'm pretty sure Anais got it from the Torah. Either way, It's spot on.

We've had drama at the salon lately, new episodes playing daily. And every single person sees themselves as blameless and others as the entire problem. (When I say every single person, I mean except for me, of course. [snort! choke! laugh!])

The thing is, few people see what's playing out in front of them. They see the story they believe. occur. When two or more people later recount those events, the stories are entirely...entirely...different. And each person is telling the truth as they see it.

New information rarely changes people's minds. They see what they believe. I'm pretty sure that's how Americans elected George Bush. Twice.

That's what I believe. That's what I see. And it scares me.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Only Love

And Happy Birthday, Carrie. I heart you, Girl.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Me in the Middle

Yesterday was a glimpse into the future: fetching, carrying, providing three meals, being Dad's crutch as he slowly made his way from the car to his bed.

From the moment I opened my eyes before dawn until I fell into an exhausted heap last night, I was engaged in meeting the needs of either my children or my parents.

I am one of millions being called the "sandwich generation." It takes children much longer to become independent these days. Our parents lose independence as they age. We turn into the meat in the middle of a generational sandwich.

Like parenting, caring for elderly parents is a privilege, a responsibility, and a joy. It is also damn hard. Learning to do it with grace, learning to support others without losing ourselves, is quickly becoming the central issue of millions of personal dramas. Including mine.

Fasten your seatbelts. It's gonna be a bumpy ride.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008


Dad's out of surgery. Came through with flying colors, and the doctor expects this repair to be permanent.

Thank you all for your prayers and loving thoughts. They helped. Don't *you* worry. They helped.



A Guide to the Personal Patois of
Charles (Chuck) Campbell Farris

I cahn do dat.
Used in response to any question that begins with "Daddy, will you. . . ." or "Daddy, can you. . . ." (Always spoken like an electronic robot).

Let me study on that a spell. I can probally figure that out.
Reply to the most complicated electrical, plumbing, or engineering questions under the sun.

Quittin' time at Tara. Quittin' time at Tara.
Call and response. Hollered down the stairs when he wants us to come up from the sewing room.

You don't need to fuss with that. You've got Charles in Charge.
Standard comment upon noticing one of us doing something he intends to handle.

Don't YOU worry. I'll take care of it. Don't YOU worry.
Used to shoo us out of the kitchen after a meal so we can get back to whatever fun we're having. Always spoken in a sing-song, with particular emphasis on the Yous and the I'll.

Why, you're just as welcome as the flowers in spring!
Reply to any thank you. Includes a slight pause after the word Why.

Hey. Where's my kiss?
Uttered when hapless family members neglect to kiss him immediately upon arrival or prior to departure.

I love you.
Spoken or assumed with every hello, every good-bye, every good morning and every good night.

Take care of your mother.
Whispered as he's wheeled away for surgery. Every. Time.

Daddy's going in for yet another surgery today, a 4th attempt at hernia repair. He's 76, has COPD, high blood pressure and glaucoma. He's missing his appendix, prostate, one lung, several large sections of intestine, and big chunks of his forehead and back. He's also, to hear him tell it, a "tough old bird."

He'll go into surgery about 10:30 am, CST. I'd sure appreciate it if you'd call him to God's attention about that time.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Pink Boot Dreams

Opened my eyes from a dream so real I expected to see Pink Boots Guy standing in front of me.

(Dream) PBG called out of the blue. Asked a question about something he could only know by reading the blog.

"So you
do read my blog," I said. "Sitemeter shows someone from Minnesota over and over, and I wondered."

"Wondered? You knew, Jerri. You knew it was me. Of course it was me." His voice, kind and loving, was still ringing in my ears when I opened my eyes.

I do wonder. And, mostly, I hope not. I hope he has closed that door and gone on to great happiness in other ways, with other people. He deserves that.

Crazy Quilt Life

Finished a quilt yesterday, the first official product of Mom's new machine. Happy. Happy.

Quilts are so much more than blankets to me. They're threads of connection to the past and to the indomitable spirit of women everywhere. In pioneer times, most women didn't have the resources (time OR money) for anything extra, anything frivolous. But they had this spirit this drive for beauty and community and expression.

And so they quilted. They used out-grown, worn-out clothing. They traded scraps with one another. They shared patterns and ideas and worked together. And what they had together was greater and more beautiful than any one of them could have managed on her own. By sharing, they created practical objects of great beauty as well as opportunities for community.

I quilt to honor those women, to continue the tradition, and to share with women I love. Plus, I adore playing with fabric and color.

Saturday morning, something on Yahoo's front page got me thinking. E-mailed the curriculum publisher. He called later and we talked for an hour, each so excited about one another's ideas that we had trouble getting words out at times.

One of my ideas felt so right, so on track and in tune, that it had to come from beyond my little brain. I was thinking about the project, and suddenly there it was--a box in the middle of the hallway. All I had to do was open it. Really, when I recognized what I'd stumbled across, I felt like a puppy that the Universe had just handed a stick of Pupperoni.

When things work that easily, slip into place like well-made keys into well-oiled locks, I take it as a sign that I'm on the right path. For reasons that escape me, I feel that this particular journey might be quite a ride.


In answer to your comment, Carrie: Yes, Mom has an iPod. AND a Mac G5, a sewing machine driven by a PC, a digital camera, and a camcorder. Knows how to use them, too! She downloads music, makes movies and burns DVDs. Even Photoshops images like a pro. 74 and learning new tricks all the time. Gotta love her.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

They're All Our Song

Quilting yesterday afternoon with my mom. Dad sitting in a nearby chair, reading. Mom's iPod playing Nat King Cole. "Too Young" comes on.

Dad: There's our song, Honey. (singing) They try to tell us we're too young....

Mom: You say that for every song. According to you, they're all our songs.

Dad: Guess it takes a lot of music to say how much I love you.


Here's a shot of Mom waiting in line at the Clinton event a week or so ago.

And Dad. (We took a camp chair so he could sit while we waited.)

And another of Mom inside. She shook Clinton's hand. Now refers to that as her "affair with Bill." Says she's relieved to know she's not going to die the only woman in America he has not flirted with.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Backwards and Forwards

Carrie e-mailed yesterday to ask about Mom's big Christmas surprise--the quilting machine. It was wonderful. Here's Mom with Mike, the guy who delivered the machine. Doesn't Mom's face just say it all?

Mom was on the sofa in her jammies, drinking coffee when the doorbell rang. She sent Dad to the door. I slipped into their closet to get her a robe. When Mike asked for her, Dad called her to the door. There he was, in a red jacket and a fuzzy Santa hat, giant truck in the driveway. He explained he was from the Gammill Company and that he had something for her. When she realized what it was, she burst into tears.

It took Mike about almost two hours to set up the machine and several more to show her how to run it. Her eyes never stopped leaking. At one point, she had to go lie down because she was shaking all over, just so excited. My favorite moment came after everything was put together and Mike was gone. Standing beside the machine, Mom ran her hand down the work table and said, "I never in my life imagined I'd have such a thing. Never in my life."

Mike used a plain piece of cotton to show us how to pin the quilt to the machine. We all sewed our names and quilted hearts and flowers and squiggly lines all over it, just experimenting. The next day, Mom turned that piece of fabric into a small quilt she could keep forever, a reminder of the morning Daddy surprised her with a dream. Here they are, moments after Mike arrived.

Next: Jess asked for a picture of the geese. Can't show you how they look right now, because Assholes with Air Horns seem to have won this round. Hasn't been a single goose on the pond for days. But here's a shot of the flock before the boys let loose with their toys.

That's the backwards. Now the forwards.

Had a long conversation yesterday with the guy I've been writing curriculum for lately. He asked me to become Editor-in-Chief for the project. I am ridiculously excited about this. We'll have to see how it plays out, but here's the flat truth of it: from the first e-mail last July through our 90-minute conversation yesterday, I've had the strong feeling he plays a major role in my future somehow. Don't exactly think this, just feel it, and I'm willing for it to be true. Or not. Either way, it's an interesting adventure and I love writing curriculum again. LOVE it.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Embracing Life

In a comment on yesterday's post, the marvelous Nancy from Easy Bake Mom used the phrase "life embracing things," which shined a little light into the corners of my mind. (Thanks, Nancy.)

The thing I've been missing isn't really doing stuff like driving a dog sled through the woods of Northern Minnesota on a cold February afternoon or even drinking champagne in a hot air balloon floating down the St. Croix Valley on a crisp autumn evening. It's feeling so engaged. It's embracing life.

I have been so lucky, so blessed. I really have lived not just a novel, but a whole series of Harlequin romances. Everything from making love on a little point while the sunset splashed glorious color over the Florida Keys to lying naked in the morning sun on the parapet around a fire watch tower in western Montana. From crawling through a sea cave in New Brunswick to hiking the highest trail in the Canadian Rockies. 15 marriage proposals. Three official engagements. Two actual marriages.

Ups and downs a plenty. And through it all, I've embraced life...clung to it, in fact. But now I feel like a spectator, someone in the foothills, watching all the fun through binoculars. Not good ones, either--the kind you get in a box of CrackerJacks.

Changing this is up to me. And today, that feels possible.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Wild Gone Girl

Yesterday's post got me thinking about some of the crazy stuff I've done. My life has been kind of backwards. I clung to the straight and narrow when I was young, then discovered my wild side in my 40s.

A guy I was dating went out of town on business. He asked me to pick him up at the airport when he got back and I said I'd
"be there with bells on." That night, I met him at the gate covered in dozens of little jingle bells safety-pinned to a trench coat. (And a completely decent outfit. I hadn't gone over the to Dark Side. Yet.)

4th of July. The Counselor and I had been dating for about 4 months. We packed an elaborate picnic and hauled my canoe to the St. Croix River, one of the most popular and well-traveled rivers in Minnesota. An hour or so down river, it began pouring rain. We pulled over onto a sandbar and sat under some trees. After a bit, I told him we could let the situation ruin our day or turn it into an adventure. We voted for adventure. I'd never skinny dipped in my life and had not taken off so much as my scarf in front of The Counselor or any man other than my (former) husband for 17 years. We ditched our soaking clothes, swam to the far end of the sandbar, and drifted downstream to the other end. We did that over and over in the pouring rain, laughing and splashing like little kids. Then the rain let up and we heard someone shouting, "stroke, stroke, stroke." We scrambled up the sandbar and behind the trees, where we clutched our clothes and tried not to draw attention to ourselves as a rowing crew glided past.

Hiked and biked my way across Alaska for 10 days or so. Made it to Valdez and then kayaked around Shoop Bay and the glacier there. The glacier calves 13 million ton of ice a day. Every once in a while we heard sounds like gun shots and saw spectacular explosions of ice and water. In the morning, the bay contained hundreds of icebergs. By evening, we were surrounded by thousands and thousands, from the size of dinner plates to the size of houses. The tide was beginning to carry them out and we had to run rapids to get out of the bay. A water taxi met our group to ferry us back to Valdez. We loaded the kayaks and hauled our tired butts onto the boat. As we were getting ready to leave, I suddenly could not stand it that I'd spent the entire day trying not to find out how cold that water was. I talked to the captain and he agreed. They lowered a plywood platform over the side of the boat, I shimmied out of my layers down to my long underwear and leaped--LEAPED--into that water. Coldest thing I ever felt. Heart-stopping, mind-numbing cold. I bobbed to the surface and threw myself onto the platform, which they hauled back up to the boat. The guides and a couple other intrepid souls decided they had to do it, too. When we were all back in the boat, the dry folks stood in a circle around the wet folks to "break wind" for us. No one there will ever forget a moment of that afternoon.

Pink Boots Guy invited me to a "Gala Red Tie Affair" and sent a package containing "appropriate attire for the evening," which turned out to be a red scarf and a bottle of perfume. On the appointed night, I drove to his neighborhood, slugged down some chardonnay, and slithered out of the sweats I was wearing. More chardonnay. Changed from tennies to killer heels. More chardonnay. Drove the remaining 100 yards to his house and presented myself at his door, wearing a full-length faux fur coat over the "outfit" he sent. Found out much later that I was parked in front of his mother's house while swilling wine straight from the bottle and contorting myself to pull my bra through my coatsleeve.

Good times. And not that long ago. How and why have I let go of that part of myself? ahhhh. Mysteries.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Going Big

Occasionally I shed my disguise as a polite mid-western woman and show my true colors. And they are bright colors, girl. Yes they are.

Big gestures. Dramatic ideas. Over the top romance. I'm a sucker for people who take delight in all things, great and small. When I'm around them, I feel free to be my truest self, and she's a wild one, I tell you.

Even people who know me well are sometimes surprised to discover I have a wicked, somewhat raunchy sense of humor. In polite company, I rarely say aloud the awful things I think, but get me around the right (or maybe wrong) people and I turn into a fountain of silliness, each thought more outrageous than the last.

Stepping out of my polite, well-mannered self into the wild woman I am inside feels like taking off a girdle, or to be more au courant, a pair of Spankx. I love to crank up the music and "shimmy like my sister Kate." (Except that my sister's name isn't Kate and she has probably never shimmied in her life. If she knew half the things I've done, she'd disown me.)

Lately I've been longing for the chance to go big with my bad self. It's been far too long since I've done anything that would shock my mom....or my daughter...or myself.


Tuesday, February 05, 2008

The Allure of Books

Tripped over the trail of a new memoir last night, and nothing would do until I popped over to the bookstore to pick up a copy.

I tried to resist. Really I did. But I couldn't settle down to write anything, couldn't make myself clean the house or even work on the quilt I'm making for Katie's 21st birthday (which is coming up all too soon). Robert Leleux called to me from the pages of The Memoirs of a Beautiful Boy, whispering so loudly I couldn't hear or think of anything else.

You know what happened next, don't you? Yes. Another memoir added itself to the pile. Kelly Corrigan's The Middle Place simply insisted on coming home with me, too.

From the moment in 1964 when I turned the first page of a biography of Madame Curie until today, real people preserved in books like specimens in jars have completely captivated me. Amelia Earhart. Booker T. Washington. Sojourner Truth. Clara Barton. Eleanor Roosevelt. These people (and others) illuminated a path out of the woods for me. Not just the woods where I lived, but the isolation of feeling so other from the people around me. I read every single biography and autobiography in the elementary school library, then the junior high library, and finally the high school library.

One of elementary school librarians was assigned to take me to the bigger libraries once a week. We walked together down the sidewalk behind the football field, loping during cold weather, doing a slow waltz in warm. It was a voyage to unknown territories, this trek from the safety of our one-story building with its child-sized chairs and water fountains to the land of giants, where the staircases were huge and the hallways twisted in inexplicable circles. Books were the spices I brought back from this New World. No one cared. No one but me, and I knew that books were the things that would lead me home.

Read about half of each new book before calling it a night. More about that later. For now--if you're in a state that participates in Super (Duper) Tuesday--don't forget to vote!

Sunday, February 03, 2008


Anyone out there remember the seagulls in Finding Nemo? The ones who squawked "Mine. Mine. Mine." They still make me laugh.

Most of you know that the books I write are done as "work for hire." Among other things, this means the text becomes the property of the publisher and they hold the copyright to it. The author's name may or may not be on the cover (at the publisher's discretion), but most include a credits page, listing the folks whose work brought the book into being.

Proofs for my latest book arrived from England on Friday.

The book's credits do not include me, the writer of it. The publisher for the packaging company that commissioned me? Yes. The Production person? Yes. Hell, even the person who created the index is listed. But neither my name nor the name of the man who designed the book and chased down the (literally) 1001 photographs is included. (Although I think he owns the company that's credited for "Design and editorial.")

The package that brought the proofs also contained a really nice letter from the project editor. She mentioned they were "very pleased" with the book and that much of its success is due to my "considerable writing skills."

Isn't that nice? But how about including my damn name so I can use the book in my portfolio?

Strange. I'm feeling hungry for fish. Maybe salmon for dinner.

Monday, 5:58 am. Edited to add:

Just received confirmation that my name now appears on the cover. It was not on the only mock-up I'd seen, but it's there now.

I'm still amazed at how gull-ish I felt about the whole thing. Gotta go pick the sand out of my gullet....errrr....brush my teeth...and get on with my day now.


Saturday, February 02, 2008

Turf Wars

The neighbors are trying to fight Mother Nature again.

Two hundred miserable geese are huddled on the ice in the center of the pond. Most stand on one leg with the other tucked up under a wing. Periodically, they switch. Their long, graceful necks are curled and foreshortened. They walk like timid old men.

The neighborhood goose haters have added weapons to their arsenal. Every few minutes, someone shatters the quiet of this frosty morning with the blast of an air horn.

The geese scurry and scatter across the ice, each time, but so far I haven't seen a single one leave. They do, however, sqwak for several minutes after each blast.

Boys, boys. boys. Isn't one unwinnable war enough?