Monday, September 4, 2017


Every August we pack up our lives and head East. Destination: our annual beach vacation. Four families jammed into one house of controlled chaos. Well, at least it was when our children were smaller. Nowadays, the only small fries are our niece’s children we watch with amusement. We know what it was like to get sand out of diapers and run them until they have to go to bed. Even more entertaining is seeing teenagers eat. Where do they put all that food?!

Packing for the beach is a feat like no other. The house we stay in overlooks the ocean and has 7 beds, a beautiful kitchen, dining room and living room furniture, a washer and dryer, televisions... and little else.  This means we must pack to live a full life in this sparsely appointed abode.  

We take our favorite egg pan, spatula and a good knife. We are fairly certain they must fear someone attempting suicide as the knives they provide cannot cut a juicy, fat, gorgeously red tomato the size of a small child’s head, let alone the butter from the fridge (which we had to bring, too).

We bring towels, bed linens - usually the right size for the beds we stay in (though we’ve had some snafus), laundry detergent, softener sheets, paper towels, napkins, peanut butter and jelly, favorite cereals, cleaning products....the list goes on and on. Good Lord, don’t forget the boogie boards! They actually run you a little bit of pocket change and the whining that ensues if they cannot have one is simply NOT worth it.

Before leaving we make our annual tour of the fabulous Big Box for the basics. We bring paper plates, paper towels, toilet paper, Mema’s favorite sodas, mayo AND Miracle Whip (because, well, because), mustard, ketchup, relish, tissues, candy, crackers, bread, baked beans, pasta, salt, pepper, olive oil...oy vey. We are buying for LIFE, people!

The van actually groans as it sees us coming with this cartload. It sits low when we pull out of our driveway. Low enough, in fact, that we cannot back in at the beach house because our tow hitch will drag until we unload. The neighbors got quite a show this year.

Personal care items are an island unto themselves. When I was younger, I packed lip gloss and mascara. Now it takes a small army of products to keep my skin smooth, three products to gloss my unruly hair, brushes, retainers, oils, potions, is a bag full of wishes. Wishes that my hair was not frizzy.  Wishes that my skin sparkled when I wake, as it used to. Wishes that I could see without contacts.

Never a wish to go back in time, though. I’ve learned too many important things and I know for sure, Mr. Shaw was right.  Youth is wasted on the young.

We have a pattern that works well, as we don’t want to forget that one thing. Our motto? If we forget it we don’t need it. On the other hand, we also subscribe to, “If we forget it we can buy it.”  We just pride ourselves in not needing the latter.  It is easier to have a huge checklist in the kitchen the two weeks preceding the trip to write things down as a light bulb goes on. Our ten-year-old fills in the list with her fresh memory, too. Thank God! I don’t have to remember everything anymore.

Three of the last twelve summers, someone ended up at the emergency room. The record is held by our nephew who blew out his knee within thirty minutes of arriving, while skim boarding the edge of the tide. One year my mother-in-law was simply getting in the car and her finger met the sharp-ish edge of the side view mirror. My husband cut his foot bolting after our (then) two-year-old as she ran for the beach house - and didn’t stop. She could not hear us and was headed for the road. He bounded up the steps and gashed his foot on a jutting splinter of ancient wood. That was a lot of blood and tears...hers, not his. She felt bad Daddy got a boo-boo chasing her.

He almost went one year after slashing his foot on the rocks at the jetty. Lucky for him, his sister and I had hydrogen peroxide and a toothbrush to examine the depth of the wound in a Nurse Ratchett-like fashion. Hey, to our credit, we also brought him a beer before excavating. My daughter said he looked like a wolf when he bared his teeth like that. Oops.

We still hear about that one.

We also bring a very large plastic bin with first aid items stuffed to the hilt. Yes, including a toothbrush.

When the (mostly) blissful week of adventures is over, we pack up twenty-five percent of what we brought and travel home. This is when I think the term beachification came into being.

I wondered, as we brought three outfits apiece, food and the basic necessities (yes, my lotions and potions DO count), what exactly was it we need that we left back at the house. I mean, it is full of serving dishes, more clothes, toiletries, tchotchkes, frozen foods, more toys and just more than we could ever really need. This is aside from the fact that the house is a bit too big for our family of three. We love it when we have company come and I bemoan it every time I clean.

We worked diligently to pare down over the last few years. Beachification. This paring down to the basics has a very cleansing effect on the mind. We shop the house market for something smaller. I know, this directly conflicts with the “bigger, badder, better” mindset today. Yet, we have a fabulous life when not catering to an albatross that beckons us to clean and clean and clean. We know that living experiences are what make life grand. Especially experiences with people we love.

Beachification...a beautiful thing I seek every day.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Poetry in Pictures


Photo by Carol Ann Thomas

Frozen in time are the memories,
Laughter, sharing of thoughts, conversation,
Solutions to the wonders and trials of life.

Sweet friend, how I long for this communion,
Sharing time seated side by side,
The twinning of our minds over tea.

To bask in the summer sun - a memory,
Cherished pictures of grace-filled moments,
Together, united, co-conspirators.

Today, all is frozen over, no thaw in sight.
I shall let you rest awhile,
Under the blanket, restore yourself.

Until Spring comes anew - like hope.

Friday, February 5, 2016

The Peppermint Test

I hope that by writing this, perhaps someone can avoid a toxic journey in their own life or the life of someone they love. I am writing this as my family and I begin a journey back down a mountain. It is a path strewn with misdiagnosis, anxiety, stress, feelings of hopelessness and nightmares.

One. Big. Nightmare.

Specifically, our new house was the nightmare and one simple test could have prevented this. Here is our story.

When we moved two years ago we were absolutely fried. We left another beloved home just two years before that. Two moves in two years? We really don’t recommend this to anyone with or without a five-year-old in tow. Life and family can change your goals pretty quickly, though, as I’m sure many of you already know.  

Paul’s new job was not what they purported it would be. His hiring Vice President was fired only months after he hired Paul. In one year he was forced to fire most of his staff. The writing appeared to be on the wall, written in bold red Sharpie. How stressful!

When the opportunity to move closer to family presented itself, we thought, “Maybe this is our sign that it is time to move back home.”  Perhaps we were pried out of our comfortable life we’d lived for eight years so that we were open to this transition toward home.  We wanted our daughter to have the chance to know our families better. Also, my Dad was very ill and we wanted to help out. Three to four hours away from them sure beat 16 hours or a plane ride while keeping a little one entertained.

As Willie wrote, we were, “On the road again!”  

I am exhausted just thinking about this period in our lives. Making friends, leaving friends, starting school, leaving school...poor Ella.  However, we felt strongly that a firm family base would be a good support network and she would enjoy seeing her cousins and Grandparents more often. We were fortunate to sell our house in one unbelievable day and start the journey toward home.

We found a house we liked, but another couple bid on it first. We were so upset - we really wanted a door to door move. We’d spent eight months apart during our last transition and really did not want a repeat performance.  We were so grateful when that sale fell through.  (Looking back, how we wish we’d stayed in the temporary housing Paul was in for one month.) Unfortunately, we were emotionally and physically tapped from our previous time apart and packing our house yet again. All of this was happening after doing a full gut and renovation on the home we were in. Did I mention we were exhausted? A door to door move sounded very appealing, indeed.

So, we bought the house.

Not long after we moved in I began to have a persistent back ache. I chalked it up to moving, of course. Then came the nightmares, foggy memory and headaches. We blamed the chimney and traditional fireplace so we had a woodstove insert installed, sealed with a new chimney liner. Then we thought possibly we had toxic mold. We began digging at the house, removing carpet, tapping on walls, looking for moisture.

Then, one day our carbon monoxide detector went off. Surely we couldn’t have carbon monoxide-we don’t have any gas in our home?! Someone Paul worked with suggested that the detectors were faulty after being jostled around and with moving, we thought that must be the case. Still, we went and bought a new one just to be sure.

The new detector went off - in our master bedroom! We’d already vacated that room due to the fact that my nightmares did not occur if we were not sleeping in that room. We moved into a guest room thinking we would do some more investigating.

Did I mention I thought I’d completely lost it? I thought, “Wow! Stress from moving and mold must really be doing a number on me!” I think it compounded the issue, but we still didn’t realize what was really causing our lethargy and ailments.

Ella was full of anxiety at bedtime, routinely coming back downstairs in tears for an extra hug. This was so unlike our positive, sunny girl! Paul was having trouble feeling energetic in the morning.  At this point, I could no longer feel my emotional responses physiologically. I was seeing a neurologist and felt my creativity and songwriting slipping away from me.  I was dealing with things intellectually, without my gut instincts. Life felt very flat.  I felt no zings of hope, no tingling of the skin, no raised hair or goosebumps and no adrenaline even when a car almost hit us.  Just. Nothing.  Worst of all, I could not even “feel” it when my wonderful Dad passed away eleven months after we’d moved here.

I was heartbroken and felt nearly hopeless.  Still, I felt something was wrong somewhere, as the symptoms eased a bit when we traveled.

Then, I started Googling “gasses in houses” and read about The Peppermint Test.

It sounded too hokey to be true. You hire someone to go up on your roof and pour peppermint extract down your vent stack. You should not smell this anywhere in your home, as your p-traps and toilet bowls should have water to block any sewer vent smells. We didn’t smell first. Then, Paul came out to the garage to get me saying, “You are NEVER going to believe this.”

Our downstairs bathroom (below our master bedroom) smelled like Santa’s workshop - peppermint!

We discovered an improper pipe repair in the wall of that bathroom. The leak only caused condensation, not enough to give evidence on the wall to see.  This was next to a room we sat in every night watching TV!  It’s where we enjoy our new woodstove insert we’d put in because we thought the fireplace might be toxic. Little did we know we’d been inhaling sewer gas, which apparently dulls the olfactory senses, for almost two years!  Two years of doctor visits, wrong diagnosis and prescriptions, weight gain, headaches, nausea and anxiety. A living nightmare.

We are heartbroken that our daughter was exposed to this level of toxicity. We feel foolish we couldn’t figure it out sooner in our addled state.  We are thankful for the moments of clarity and moderate wellness when we traveled.  They allowed us to persevere and figure this out.  While we are not yet back to full health, I know we can get there.  We are healing our house and detoxing our bodies. I even hear a new melodies and lyrics pop into my head, thank God!

I truly hope you will take a moment to share our story. We did this test ourselves but for safety, we recommend hiring someone to go on your roof. You can read about it here:

I believe The Peppermint Test should be done by everyone buying a home...or everyone who owns a home already. I believe every home inspector should be required to do this.  I believe we underestimate the toxins we are exposed to each and every day that can cause a cumulative effect and take a toll on our health.

I also believe we will always be our own best advocate to fight for our health. Never give up if you know you just don’t feel like yourself!

Wishing you all good health and safe, healthy homes...

Monday, March 30, 2015

The Mice of Life

It is 5:17AM on a bitter February morning and I should be sleeping. But, like too many nights, I am awake and hungry for a little pre-dawn breakfast. I set up my little work space with the comforting process I know so well. Small glass bowl, whisk, spoon, preheat the pan.  I make the usual - Pamela's pancakes soaked in some of the last drops of maple syrup Dad always bought for me. In fact, when I lived in Tennessee he would bring me a gallon once a year or so, as he knew that I love the dark amber sweetness.  This, he could do for me, and know I would love it all the way to turning the bottle upside down.  So, so good. I used to eat these little beauties and talk with Dad about life, as we so often did in the wee small hours. Tonight, I am alone with my thoughts.

I stoke the wood stove and gently puff the coals back to life enough to create a flame again.  It goes out. Rats!  Again, I patiently puff it back to life. It goes out again. *sigh* Okay, this is turning into a process, so I might as well sit up for a while with the damper wide open. 

It is one of my favorite times of the day - rather, night - to sit and contemplate, well, nothing. I just sit and look at my home, co-existing peacefully with the furniture. I turn on one dim light, waiting for the fire to provide a warmer glow.  Wait - what was THAT??!!  A tiny tail disappears under my couch. Uh-oh.  I have an unexpected guest, I see.  I become the hunter.

Well, not really the hunter, though I'd like to claim that.  Nope. Not me. I just sit and watch the poor little fellow, amused at what must surely be his horrified panic.  By now, in my mind, he is already dressed like the little mouse in The Aristocats and speaks with a delightful rasp, crying,  "Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear!" as he scampers about. In and out of our bathroom, under the couch, to the fireplace, behind the TV...ah hah! I see him no more.

I think I am smarter than he is and grab something to place over him, should I get close enough.  I am too nervous and step slowly. As if he would attack me, right? I laugh to myself,  "He really is cute."  It seems he found an escape, to be investigated further in the light of day, behind the bricks.  How clever.  How small yet insidious, that he could sneak into a place I could not see and wreak possible havoc in my toasty warm home.

This leaves me to ponder...what other "mice" lurk about in my life unseen, until stillness and peace have a moment to breathe?  It's not like I have many of those moments these days working full-time while being a wife and Mom.  I silently vow to make more of them, as I suspect they will prove fruitful. These mice, left untended, can do far too much damage.  

Songs need room to breathe before they show themselves. Poems need a bit of, what is it my friend Marla calls it? Margin. She says we all need a little margin in our life to be comfortable. So true.  A clean border to see the beauty in a space - of time, of life, within a room - margin. I promise myself, in that moment of peace, to make more of that.  

Maybe then, I can evict some not-so-cute mice to see the beauty all around me, and perhaps even within me, more clearly.      

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Our Stars

There once was a kind hearted old gentleman, a King, with his bustling partner in crime - the Queen - helping him move about the world from chair to chair to chair.  One for recline and sleep, one for the torture of needles and pills, one to drive him about to the various doctor's chairs. Thankfully, one chair was to sit and eat the scrumptious meals prepared for him by his Queen with the silvery crown.  That was possibly his favorite, though his meals grew smaller and smaller, and harder to move from palate to stomach. 

My Dad, King of the house, was fighting the good fight.

His second favorite chair was quite likely his "Cadillac of deer stands" built for him by my brother.  How he loved the thrill of bagging and tagging - especially when accompanied by his sons or daughter.  In their hunt for the Christmas venison roast, he lay in patient wait as my brothers drove the deer to him in later years. This was after driving him to the stand on a Four Wheeler - his concession in order to continue this noble quest.  How he loved "deer camp" with the boys at my sister's home on the ancient family farm.  The beautiful stillness of this rolling countryside is a haven for the weary heart.

During deer season this past year, we had a beautiful Thanksgiving, a gorgeous turkey and all the trimmings, with duties shared to help Mom.  No longer do we all pile in to mooch a large, gourmet meal she spent three days making.  Home baked bread for sage stuffing scenting the whole house, announcing the festive occasion. A turkey fit for a king, and we the kingdom children, all gathered to celebrate. Creamy white mashed potatoes dripping with gravy. Butternut squash slowly simmered, full of the molasses goodness of brown sugar. Perfecting the table were the crudites and cranberry jelly, in the ubiquitous shape of a can, and black olives - one for every finger of those who love them. Yes, this was a complement of diversity, now considered the new traditions. Sweet potato-cranberry bake, the scalloped corn we cannot live without, as well as the green bean and fried onion casserole, dearly loved. The pies, oh the pies...what heaven in each bite! But....

One thing outshone it all.  The golden spirit no longer seated with us.  The King we all sought to hold court with, in the past year more than ever. We knew time with him was dwindling like a fading sunset over those treasured hills.  How we longed to have him stay just a few more earthly seconds! But, the glorious golden time turned to the red, then purpling dusk. So, we are left to behold the beautiful stars in the night sky.  They, our memories, shine in the sometimes moonless night, as we walk without seeing the ground beneath our feet, still awaiting the sunrise to clear our path once again.

Then, someone pulls down a star to light our way. It is in their tears, their hugs and cards, the laughing memories, the newly learned treasures others hold close, that bring us a fresh view of this gentle man.  These stars light our path until we see him again, some distant day.

He looked each of us in the eye on his last day of this wonderful life, reminding us, "Your time will come...and your time...and your time...and your time." We know he will be there smiling, free of pain, with welcoming arms of thanksgiving.

Our stars.
Our memories.
Our future.
Our Dad.