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We got up early Sunday morning, before the sun, but not because we were pressed for time. Despite walking for more than four hours on Saturday, and going to sleep late, we’d had enough rest. A luxury. To be away from the million and one needful things that mire us at home to a million and one possibilities, what to do next? As is often the case, we chose art and nature.

This is Griffis Sculpture Park, more than 250 sculptures tucked away on 450 acres of parkland. It is art, in large part, that has to be earned, via curving backroads, pathways snarled with tree roots and rocks and twigs, up grassy slopes and under tree branches, a glimpse across a pond or a massive field of goldenrod, positively alive and singing with bees, crickets, cicadas, too.

It was a fine end to the weekend, and it got me thinking, about luxury and choices and how we arrive where we are. Our airbnb was beautifully utilitarian, with chipped edges, cracked tops, and strategically placed objects hiding all the worn out places. And yet, it was perfect and ever so lovely, not only for the inventiveness of our host’s decorating choices, we need not toss the imperfect aside, but for the fact that every comfort was considered. A fan next to the bed, nicely scented toiletries, a fantastic cast iron frying pan, a sweet kettle, boxes of tea, tins of coffee, a fine coffee pot, beautiful pottery from which to sip. Then there was the thoughtfully curated collection of books and art (many painted by our host), ever so much lining the walls. We don’t need new and shiny to feel luxury. We need love and care.

When we lived in Portland and had owned our Subaru wagon for more than a decade, friends kept asking us when we were going to replace it. It’s so old! Scratched! Dinged! But, we argued, it was a great color, long paid for, ran beautifully, and got great gas mileage. And, without a car payment, we had more money to spend on what matters to us, like travel.

The hubster and I are often gently reprimanded or told “it must be nice” to travel so frequently, and, to be quite honest, it really, really is. That being said, we’ve earned it! We save like the dickens and forgo a lot of expenses that many people deem necessary. We don’t have cable (but do have Netflix); own one car; don’t get manicures, pedicures, or color our hair (never have, and it’s getting very grey up there!); have a pay for what we use phone plan; don’t eat out a lot; don’t drink a lot (but it’s still plenty); and the biggest of all, chose not to have children. None of this feels burdensome or sacrificial, either. It feels right and good and perfect, actually. But if you start tallying expenses, say just for cable, even a cheap plan can run about $600 a year. That’s two weekends of travel for us, one if were splurging. It adds up!

Maybe it’s the fact that though I grew up poor, I rarely felt it. I never had a lot, but I always had enough. I kept clean (a bath every three days, whether I needed it or not!), had dolls and stuffed animals and a near-infinite collection of library books to keep me company, a tidy room, great food, a park to play in, and friends nearby. Yet there were people in my same position and even some who were better off who were perennially sullen and angry characters, cheated by their lot. They were constantly embarrassed, by their parents, their cars, the houses they lived in, their clothes, their shoes, all they did not possess. It was a terrible poverty of mind.

It never made sense to me, and it still doesn’t because I am of the mind that I’ve got the whole world, and if I don’t embrace it, I will never have more.


Baby Tess, with my Great Aunt Mary in 1923

June 1946

She and my Grandpa will marry the following year.

They will have one miscarriage, one still birth, and raise four fine children.

That’s me!


50th Wedding Anniversary


Our final photo together

My Grandma Tess died the day after Christmas, a blessedly quick death, free of complications and suffering, save the ravages of old age. I have yet to conjure a world without her. Her voice, our final, “I love you,” still rings clear. My heart has yet to fully fathom the weight of the inability to pick up the phone for a leisurely conversation; to hear the litany of her ailments; the news of neighbors and relatives; the comings and goings of the skies; her booming at my Grandpa to pick up the phone, to hurry, to perform some task; to make her erupt with laughter; to hear her utter my name.

I am grateful to have had so much time; the parties, the towering stack of buffet plates, everything perfectly laid out: the ice cream loaf with holiday patterns, the relish plate and cheese bell. There I am, running, jumping, screaming around the yard and the house, having the time of my life. Sleepovers as a child, I cuddled on the sofa in the rosy pink nightgown she made, opened the linen closet to inhale the scent of starched linen and cotton, lounged on the back porch to hear the world pass by.  The sleepovers as an adult, visiting from Oregon; there we are at the kitchen table: playing games, chatting of everything and nothing at all, her youth, my youth, clothes, what to make for dinner, you paid how much?! There I am, digging through photographs, closets, and drawers, asking so many questions, where and when and how?

Forty-three years, it is all in the past now, nearly two whole days, and, should I have the privilege of living as long as she, it will be fifty years. Fifty years without my beloved grandmother. Oh life, you are strange.

 Post script, some of what I want to remember:

Her eye for detail: setting a table, decorating the house, folding the clothes.

Her love of ironing, in particular, my Grandpa’s handkerchiefs.

How she, when nearly a septuagenarian, became an avid Colorado Rockies and Denver Broncos fan, watching every televised game and listening to the others on the radio, reading the sports section to pore over stats, memorizing the names of every player and coach. Her reasoning, she told me, “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em!”

The way she would go out of her way to right a wrong. Barely twenty-four hours into our honeymoon, the straps on the backpacks the hubster and I bought tore. We were in London and thousands of miles from the Eddie Bauer where we purchased them. Without much choice, we ditched them and spent a precious lot of our savings on new packs. Grandma caught wind of it and decided something needed to be done. I can picture her long fingers, nails filed to a point, scanning the yellow pages for the phone number. I can hear her fiery voice discussing quality customer service and two disappointed kids thousands of miles away on their honeymoon until she got what she wanted – a full refund upon our return, some two months later, without so much as a receipt. A force to be reckoned with. I got that from her.

How she taught me to sew and gave me my first sewing machine. The hubster and I, fresh from our honeymoon and eager to decorate our bare apartment, had little money to spare. She helped me make tab topped curtains like the ones in the Pottery Barn catalog for the dining room. They looked terrific at a fraction of the price!


There is a sacredness in tears. They are not the mark of weakness, but of power. They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues. They are messengers of overwhelming grief. . . and unspeakable love.

Washington Irving

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We met her nineteen years ago, the runt of the litter, with giant ears and ever so much fluff. Smitten, we were, and instantly. Loving and cuddly one moment, wild and willful the next, she brought us much joy and many surprises. Like the time she caught a tiny mouse and held it in her mouth, without so much as a scratch of harm.

Her fur was silky and I could never get enough of its sweet scent, while constantly marveling at the wild riot of curls on her belly and the shock of fur protruding from between her toes. She meowed often, kindly and fiercely, depending on her mood, and purred even more.

She was our Paris, Birdie, Buttercup, Princess, Sassafras, Fluff and Stuff, our Favorite Girl.

She had gotten old, and it was more obvious with every passing day, the usual ailments of frailty, faulty vision, intermittent hearing (or maybe not, she was crafty like that), and others, too, more painful and not worthy of describing. So we decided it was time. Yesterday would be her final hurrah.

She ate well, with treats and tuna and an extra helping of dinner. She wandered the yard, purring, always purring, eyes closed to the sun and catching a multitude of scents on the breeze, before gazing at the birds and squirrels as they flitted and hopped. She dozed in her favorite spots and cuddled on my lap while I read. When the hubster came home, she curled up in her favorite basket and dozed some more before resting on each of our laps.

And then, this morning, my last picture with her. She smelled so good and meowed and chirped like no other kitty I’ve known. A quick needle prick by the deft hands of Deborah Rotman, a most compassionate and caring vet, and she fell quickly to sleep. I kissed her and held her again before the final dose was delivered. I cried.

I am crying now.

Bye, bye Birdie. I will always love you.


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