My Dad was a minimalist before it was cool, before there was a movement and a name for it. (There was one exemption from his campaign of what we’d now dub “de-cluttering.” He had so many books they would end up in rows two or three deep on every bookcase, and stacked in teetering towers around his chair and bed. But I digress.)

I remember him ranting about the stupidity of any and all single-purpose kitchen appliances: mixers, cookers, choppers. Who needs a special vegetable slicer or a garlic press or a nut chopper when you have a decent knife and a bit of finesse? Who needs a toaster when you can make whole batches of toast in the oven? For years, Mom hinted at getting a rice cooker: with eight kids and a tight budget, we went through a lot of rice. But Dad pointed out that we had perfectly good pan and a stove.

A few years ago, just before Dad arrived for a visit, I picked up my first electric tea kettle. I remember thinking I should hide it, because I was afraid Dad would point out how unnecessary it was given that a pan on the stove did pretty much the same thing. But I forgot to hide it, and to my surprise, he didn’t scoff. In fact, to my surprise, he confessed to giving one to a brother for Christmas, and admitted to loving his own.

There’s a level of minimalism I don’t care to achieve, even if it might mean clear counters and a kitchen I could fit in a box. I love my kettle. And my rice cooker means I never have to deal with cooked-on rice or carefully watching a timer. I wouldn’t care to go without my marvelously hands-off Instant Pot pressure cooker.

I’m also not going to pare down to six inter-matchable outfits and two pairs of shoes, or a single pen and pencil. Minimalism at that point is a hobby, and I prefer my cluttered writing/drawing/music making hobbies, in spite of the stuff that comes with them.

I don’t have enough enthusiasm about having little to get down to what I could fit in a suitcase, though I have a certain admiration for those who do. I’ve reached a point where I like certain things around to make life more comfortable, even if it means my kitchen will never be perfectly Instagram-able and my desk will remain a bit cluttered.

But–and I know this has been a morbid theme of mine all year, so bear with me–I again and still feel it would behoove me to reach a point where at least what I have, bountiful though it may be, makes sense. If I was to get hit by a bus tomorrow, would my family have to wade through meaningless flotsam just to find the key to the garage? Would they know where to find the cats’ medical records? How much time would they have to spend going through the odds and ends in the garage I was planning to deal with “eventually?”

Or would they at least find my too-many inks and pencils and notebooks in one place, my important papers and keys in a logical spot, and maybe even a list of bills and contact numbers?

I guess that’s one of my goals for winter, provided I don’t get by a bus first. I did do a certain amount of paring down this spring, but there’s still some excess, and things are still out of order. My goal is more “turnkey” than “minimalism.” Stuff doesn’t bring happiness, but some stuff is still pretty fun, and I’m OK with that.

Finding Fine

20150510_122014(Just by way of background: about a month ago, I was running a routine errand on a quiet Friday evening, and while I was at a red light waiting for it to change, an inattentive driver plowed into the back of my little Corolla. I was sore, but OK, but the car had extensive frame damage and is gone.)

The other day I was going through a bag of stuff that we took out of the little blue car before it went to the body shop, and the stuff I pulled from the glove compartment before it went off to the salvage yard when it was declared totaled. Among the stuff: a spiffy, shiny maintenance record. Barely used. I’d also saved the all the receipts from oil changes, and the nice tires I got not too terribly long ago.

None of which matters now. It doesn’t matter that the tires had a good warranty. It doesn’t matter that the engine and transmission and brakes were all in great shape.

Likewise, it doesn’t matter that I never got around to cleaning up those few drops of dried coffee in the cup holder, or wiping the dust off the dashboard.

In his homily on Sunday, Father said that “all analogies limp.” And I’m not sure there’s really one I can draw from this anyway.

I’m just thrown off balance still, I guess. It makes you realize that doing the right things is no guarantee of anything, whether it’s a car’s existence or your pet’s well-being or a person’s life. You can do everything right, you can be the sort of person who (like my little Toyota) generally enjoys perfect health, and you can still die in a freak accident or end up with a sudden catastrophic illness or cancer. Being careful is no guarantee. Being “successful” is no guarantee. We’re all still totally vulnerable. There’s no magic bullet.

This past week was also the anniversary of Mom’s passing, so those emotions are in the mix, too. I remember that after she died, it took me a long time to get over a frightening, paralyzing awareness of the fragility of life. We take for granted that each day we’ll get up, go to work or school or church or the grocery, come home, go to bed. Day after day, year after year. Mostly, we do. And yet, at any given moment, that could come to an end. When Mom died, it was the first time I was really struck by how easily and quickly someone could go from being here to not being here.

At the moment, I’m back to that awareness, and I know it is partly an opportunity to find trust and to think about what truly matters in this life and the next, but mostly it feels like living on the edge of a precipice, and it’s taking a long while to fade.

Hold Fast

Mushrooms from a nature walk with my brother and sister-in-law, nieces and nephews–a memory worth holding!

If there is one bit of worldly wisdom I wish I could convey to my younger self, it is this: don’t be afraid to spend your time and money on experiences.

It’s something it has taken me far too long to learn. It just seemed almost wrong to spend money on trips or concerts or other intangibles that left you with nothing–nothing, that is, except memories.

There is a paradox there, however: it may seem that experiences are fleeting while objects endure, but in our memories, it’s just the opposite.

On top of that, things can weigh heavily on our homes and minds, especially as the years go on and despite our best efforts, they accumulate.

I’m at a point now where I’m concentrating on letting go. Part of this is yet another attempt to work on my poor organizing skills. But another part is realizing there’s a certain peace, a certain freedom in only having what you need, only buying and using things you really want.

I’m not really a materialistic person, I swear. Yes, I like beautiful instruments and other objects. I appreciate good tools. There are things worth having.

But as I pass into another phase of life, I want to pare down, concentrate on what matters, spend more time and money on making memories, not on gathering things.

Unfortunately I can’t go back in time to straighten myself out:

I can’t tell myself to buy fewer instruments/guitars (except that one, because man…) and spend more time and money on camps and festivals and lessons.

Take the younger siblings camping.

Take more road trips, just to explore and appreciate.

Take a cooking class, just for the fun of it.

Take lots of classes just for fun of it.

Find ways to take trips, even if I have to go alone.

Try that restaurant, even if I have to go alone.

Buy flowers once in awhile, even if they’ll fade away.

Pay attention.

I’m a little late to the ball game. But I’m trying to embrace experiences a bit more. Don’t let week after week after week slip by unlived in. Call people more. Spend more time with family and friends. Observe the seasons. Check out nearby places. Do things. Learn, even if what I’m learning isn’t “useful.” Stay curious.

And remember.

Kids are Scary

Kids are so awesome and so scary. Everything is new and everything is meaningful, and *that* is awesome and scary.

I mean, you and I can’t remember what we had for breakfast last Sunday, but kids…kids, you never know if that bagel you buy them, the bagel you only buy them because you’re in a hurry and don’t have time to sit down for breakfast at the house, that bagel could become The Bagel, the one bagel to which all future bagels will be compared, the bagel they will remember to their dying day as The Bagel of All Bagels.

Or, alternatively, you don’t know if you’re going to blurt something impatiently and, likewise, they’ll remember those words for the rest of their lives, in all their darkest moments.

I love my nieces and nephews, and I hope some of the experiences we have together are good memories they carry forever. At the same time, I feel like any time spent with kids is such a huge responsibility. I love it, and I’m awed by it, and I am slightly terrified, too.

Maybe that’s a teeny slice of what parents experience. I can hardly imagine. Whew.

Pirkka Rinkeli


For a brief time when I was about 13, I had a contact lens.

Yes, that’s singular. As in one lens.

I have very poor vision in my left eye–unaugmented, I see a matter of inches. As it turns out, I’m actually nearsighted in my right eye as well, and eventually I got glasses. I still don’t see with both eyes together, but whatever.

But at the time, the doctor just wanted to see whether it was possible for me to use my eyes together and actually have depth perception. So they just corrected the left to bring it up to the same strength as the right.

It didn’t work. I saw double, or saw things shifted to one side so I’d go to touch something or pick something up and find it had disconcertingly dodged me. I ended up closing one eye or the other a lot of the time just so I could function. The whole thing rather put me off contacts.

BUT! There was one really cool thing. And I’m never sure why this isn’t talked about more. Am I the only one who experienced this? Is it supposed to be a secret kept by contact lens users? Do I risk being hunted down and silenced? I don’t know.

But here’s what I found: soft contact lenses protect your eyes from onion vapors. Usually I turn into a teary, snotty, miserable mess when cutting onions. I love them, but oh, they hurt. However, I could close my non-contacted eye and slice away.

For a few short months, whenever Mom needed help in the kitchen, I was an invincible onion-chopping cyclops. And that was SO VERY COOL.

Mind the Gaps


No, not that kind of gap.

English is a pretty cool language, all told.

We have words like “swashbuckle,” “flibbertigibbet,” “quark,” “onomatopoeia.”

We have adjective upon subtly nuanced adjective: wet, damp, moist, dank, humid, sodden, foggy, dripping, misty, muggy, steamy, soggy. Beautiful, gorgeous, lovely, pretty, handsome, darling, charming, comely, cute.

We’ve stolen–err…borrowed words from all the best languages around the planet: ghoul (Arabic), tycoon (Japanese), bagel (Yiddish), coleslaw (Dutch), to name a few.

And yet…we have weird holes in our language.

The other day I was reflecting on a day spent in the company of my nieces and nephews and found myself once again irritated that there is no collective, non-gender-specific term for nieces and nephews. Every time I want to talk about them, I have to spell it out: nieces and nephews. Three words, five syllables. It’s all very clunky.

I whined about it on Twitter, and struck a chord. Someone also pointed out that there is no word that means aunts and uncles. We have words to use for both mother and father (parents), grandmother and grandfather (grandparents), brothers and sisters (siblings), husband and wife (spouses). Why the weird gaps? (As a side note, there also aren’t specific words for a female cousin vs. a male cousin.)

Someone on Twitter mentioned that Norwegian has a word–søskenbarn–that, directly translated, basically means “sibling child.” I love that. I’m not sure it quite works in English (siblingbairn, maybe?), but…there should be a word!

Back in 1951, the linguist Samuel E. Martin coined the word “nibling” to mean “a child of a sibling,” but the word never really caught on. Maybe it didn’t make it to the right people. Maybe he was an awkward word nerd who wasn’t great at parties. (If so, I feel ya, Sam!)

But he also didn’t have the advantage of social media.

In a time and place where “cray” and “adorbs” and “on fleek” can sweep the nation to become common in a matter of years, at least among the youf who are our future, surely we can create and spread some new words to fill these holes in our great language.

Let’s get together on this, people. Let’s make it happen.

Missing morphological forms. Personally, I’m rooting for stupible.14591649_1386829998013492_5520201211032846952_n

I Am Not Where I Thought I Would Be

Baltic Sea clouds

It is my last day of being in my 30s.

Last night I dreamed I held a sleeping newborn baby in my arms. I don’t remember anything else about the dream: only the sleepy warmth of that baby, and that she was not mine, and the pleasure and pain of looking into her face, and the love on her mother’s face as I gently returned her and walked away.

I am not where I thought I would be.

Life rarely turns out how we expect it to. No one has the life they imagined at 20. Lives are far more complicated than we can possibly dream, good and bad.

And I realize there is a lot of good in my life. I have a home. I have a job, if not my dream job. I have a good parish, and at least some connections there–people to pray for, people who pray for me. I have some pretty amazing pets who are great little companions. I have objects and instruments–musical instruments, pens and pencils and paper, cooking and baking tools, bicycles–that bring me enjoyment. I have friends and family, even if I’m separated from them a lot of the time.

But I am not where I thought I would be.

Up until recently, some part of me still half expected to be dealt an abbreviated version of just about every little girl’s dream life: meeting someone, falling in love, building a home, having children. The usual path, with variations.

Now I feel like I’m passing a point of no return, into uncharted waters.

As always this time of year, I want to call Mom so much, and yet, it occurs to me that even if I could, she couldn’t really have Big Life advice for me anymore. By the time she was my age, she’d been married for what, sixteen years? She had a big family. She was a homemaker. She had plenty of concerns and challenges, but totally different. I have sailed beyond her reckoning.

Likewise, many of my siblings have families of their own, very different circumstances. They have entered a world I can’t completely understand.

I don’t know of anyone quite like me.

I guess what I worry about above all is that I’m not where I’m supposed to be. What if I took a wrong turn at Albuquerque? What if I got lost in the fog for awhile and then headed toward the wrong star?

What if I’m outside of God’s will somehow, and have been for years?

I know that’s not how it works. But I also don’t think there’s an actual vocation to the single life. So where does that leave me? What am I?  Where am I going? How do I keep going without the graces that come with an actual state, like marriage or holy orders? And, on a more practical level, what’s going to become of me as I age, alone?

At some points in our lives, we can’t really ask “what does God want me to do with my life?” We have to be content with “what does God want me to do in this moment?” But a) it’s really hard not to look up sometimes, and b) the first question still matters, and sometimes, it crushes me.

In any case, 40 is coming at me like a storm across the waters. I can’t avoid it, and I don’t think any sort of Pollyanna grin can prevent it from tossing me around for a period. It’s going to hurt. I’m going to feel regrets and anger and confusion. I’m going to feel doubt and loneliness.

But it won’t last forever. There will be rough days, I’m sure, but this isn’t the end of the story.

I’m not where I thought I’d be. I’m not really sure where I’m going. I feel like I’m forging my own path, now more than ever, and there’s no map for where I’m headed. I’m not very good at accepting that unknowing. But who knows, maybe at 60 I’ll look back at 40 and laugh.

Rant of the Week: Party People

What is up with “party” companies selling at craft fairs and bazaars? I never saw this until I moved out west (Washington State, from Vermont), but maybe they’re everywhere now, and it bugs me greatly.

I get that people gotta make a living somehow, but when I go to a bazaar, I expect it to be pretty much all local handmade crafts and foods (good, bad, and ugly) and maybe a section for donated “white elephant” junk.

We went to a fall bazaar yesterday, and while there were *some* local craftspeople (best: cool reusable bags made out of feed bags, pumpkins made out of welded horseshoes), I’d say close to half the space was dedicated to Tupperware, Pampered Chef, Tastefully Simple, one of those essential oil thingamabobs, etc. And if you ask many questions, they start trying to bring you into the cult by scheduling a party.

It just makes me sad. I go to bazaars to, you know, buy weirdly colored hats and lumpy mittens from some crazy old aunt (could be me someday!). The way life should be. No party people peer pressure.

But I guess a part of this is just me being all nostalgic this week. Would love to be able to go to the Christmas bazaar put on by good old St. John the Evangelist in St. Johnsbury, VT to buy some peculiar potholders and such and get a styrofoam cup of middling coffee and maybe a crumbled brownie wrapped in saran wrap by a kid all excited to be helping out.

I guess I’m just a party pooper.

I did get this cool bag!


Which the kittens are very interested in.


Hard, Soft, or Sparkly?


I have a tendency to watch TV series after they’re long over–everyone else has moved on to new and shiny, and I’m over here SO EXCITED about something that was on “real” TV a decade or two ago. One case in point: Stargate SG-1. I finally got around to watching the first season of that in…hm, maybe 2013? It launched in 1997, so…yeah, I was a bit behind. It was kind of a shock to notice how styles had changed. Hey, wait, I had glasses a lot like Daniel Jackson’s back in 1997! Were they really that gargantuan and dorky? Holy cow.

Anyway, I enjoyed SG-1, for the most part, but I got kind of burned out on it. Didn’t finish the last few seasons. It just got to be more and more of the same things over and over, and the characters I’d first fallen for dropped out, and I just couldn’t bring myself to care anymore. I never got around to the spinoffs.

But Friday evening, I was bored, and I stumbled across Stargate SGU in the Prime free options on Amazon, and I started watching it.

So far, I like it. It’s very different in feel from the original series. That series, to me, always had a sense of being larger-than-life, like a comic book, everything just a bit skewed and exaggerated and not to be taken seriously.

SGU, on the other hand, is almost Stargate-meets-Battlestar Gallactica. It’s darker, for one. Oh, there’s a fair amount of humor. Eli’s primary role is comic relief (plus, perhaps, a that-could-be-me for all of us nerds), and there are light moments. But overall, the stakes are higher, the realism is greater.

And the threat is on-going. There is no cyclical “we go out, we face danger, we arrive home safely and triumphantly and all is well.”

But–and this is where my point finally gets thrown into this mishmash!–there is still a fair amount of what’s essentially magic.

One thing which, as a writer, I’ve always sort of envied about the Stargate universe is that you can pretty much dream up whatever sort of object with whatever sort of purpose or function you can imagine, dub it Ancient, and you don’t have to explain it. Little round stone looking things with no visible power source which somehow let you speak to someone on the other side of the universe with no time lag or distortion? Sure! How does it work? We don’t know–it’s Ancient technology, and they’re so far advanced our puny brains can’t even contain that knowledge.

It’s brilliant. You totally get to sidestep any pseudo-scientific rationalization. And you get total creative freedom.

When it comes right down to it, Stargate–like Star Wars, if you ignore (as you should) the prequels, which try to get all sciencey–is really just fantasy set in space. Oh, there’s a little bit of sci-fi, but mostly it’s jamming myths and magic into a space setting. And…I admit, I rather like that.

I do like pure sci-fi. But I admit, I tend to like the softer stuff, where technology isn’t practically a protagonist all by itself, and where aliens don’t have to have a clear evolutionary path and space travel doesn’t have to jibe with real physics. A lot of my favorites wander into this blurred territory where sci-fi and fantasy kiss. It’s kind of fun when the explanations can go by the wayside and anything goes. C.S. Lewis’s space trilogy has a lot of fantastical elements. Some Andre Norton could go here, too. I’m sure there are others that will occur to me once I’ve had a bit of time to think about it.

This year’s NaNoWriMo story may just be a sparkly sci-fi-ish fantasy-ish something. Let me let that rattle around a bit.

My Perfect Coffee Shop

Actually my desk at home, but it was my only coffee picture…

This may be just about the most first world of first world musing, but I got to thinking about what I’d want in My Perfect Coffee Shop, and I wrote a thing. Here you go. Here are the things I want:


Have you ever seen that episode of the X-Files where there’s a guy whose shadow kills people, so he spends all his time skulking around places like train stations, where there is soft, shadow-less lighting? That’s the kind of lighting I want in my hypothetical coffee shop. Shadows are evil menaces when it comes to writing by hand.

Once upon a time, “my” coffee shop had this sort of lighting. It was a little more clinical/industrial, maybe, but I COULD SEE. And I could write without weird crisscrossing shadows making me want to punch things.

Then the place got hipsterized and they added trendy drop lighting: half a dozen single bulbs suspended throughout the room, depositing little pools of random light, and making weird shadows of any objects passing in front of them–objects like, say, my head, my hand, anyone walking by.

The lights may look kind of cool when you first walk in, but they are miserable instruments of torture. I hates them. I make do, shuffling around from seat to seat until I find the least obnoxious angle, but I hates them.


This is where I’m likely to sound like the Knights Who Say “Ni” and their shrubbery request. “Music that sounds nice…but not too much. And not the wrong sort.”

Background music is necessary, in my opinion, to sort of fill the empty spaces in the room, softly pad things out. Usually there is some sort of Pandora mix playing in the background at “my” coffee shop, and that’s good. If the playback stops, I feel exposed, like curtains have unceremoniously been yanked aside, leaving me out on a stage with no backup, no costume, and no prepared lines.

On the other hand, I don’t like to listen with headphones in a public place like that, because it makes me feel like I’m wearing aural blinders, and I feel vulnerable.

So I like places that play music. This place is nice in that most of what it plays is sort of angsty folk rock–easy on the ears, interesting but not so much that it’s distracting. Sometimes they also play older swing vocals, like Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong, or very elderly pop.

All of that works. Once in awhile someone decides to switch it to something peppier or turns it up too loud, and it’s as if you’re sitting in an uncomfortable chair–there’s just no way to ignore it, and it becomes more and more unbearable as time goes on, until I flee to work early to get away.


Let’s face it: one of my primary reasons to go to coffee shops is because I want to be not-alone, but still pretty much left alone. Coffee shops are like bars for introverted morning people.

It’s nice when the baristas make some effort to say good morning and make conversation. Yes, I will mumble and blush and not know what to say, but still, a tip of the mug to the people who have to be cheerful and coherent with people who have not yet had their own coffee!

I don’t like to be the only one there besides the baristas. It’s the wrong ratio. It’s like being the only kid at a grown-up party, where everyone sort of awkwardly bends over backwards to make you comfortable and only accomplishes the exact opposite.

Ideal is if there are a handful of other people sitting having quiet conversations around me, but not crowds, and not constant turnover. Crowds are claustrophobic, and every time someone walks behind me, I feel like I should cover my work.

Regulars are cool. Even regulars who just get their coffee and go. It’s like watching a show or book in slow motion, day by day, learning names and stories.

  • The super bubbly gal who just moved here from Montana and who has a new hiking tale every Monday.
  • The retired professor who is still finishing what will be just about the only book on his favorite esoteric subject.
  • The overly enthusiastic young car salesman who is all too obviously using his pitch techniques on the newly married young barista whose ancient car barely lives day to day–he is amused but no more, and those of us who live for the Adventures of Rusty Lemon are secretly relieved.
  • The three women who stop in every Wednesday, seemingly just to talk about the exciting times of a mysterious fourth friend, who is never present.

A few of them know my name. Most don’t. I wonder sometimes just who *I* am in their table of regulars.


Oh, yeah, almost forgot about this, didn’t I? Good coffee is…well, good. I’ve been through some pretty extreme coffee snob phases in my day, and I’ve owned pretty much every cheap-ish coffee brewing mechanism known to man: French press, Aeropress, Melita cone, moka pot, Clever Coffee Dripper (my current main squeeze). That said, at this stage of my life, I’m less demanding. Also, I’m cheap. Hence, I usually get drip. I like it strong and tasting like coffee and not half-drowned cigarettes and sorrow. You’ve all had *that* sort of gas station coffee, right? A splash of real cream or half-and-half, please.

And for those times when I splurge on a latte or mocha, a teensy bit of latte art will make you my favorite forever. Maybe it’s shallow, but I love it when food is pretty. Along the same sort of lines, real ceramic cups > serving even “for here” orders in paper cups.


I don’t usually buy food at a coffee shop, but the option is important. Sometimes, especially *after* writing a gazillion words, you need a cookie. Or a chocolate croissant. Or a breakfast burrito. My favorite places either bake their own treats from scratch, or else get them fresh every morning from local bakeries. Hard work deserves a fresh, warm chocolate chip cookie, not a nasty road-weary cookie.

So…there you have it! What did I miss?