non-soccer mom

bayside parkThe sky was soft grey and blue, framing the shapes of the spring leaves above me. I could hear each deep breath, soothing, like a heart-beat in the womb. The ground felt alive beneath my shoulders, my arms spread wide, palms open to the sun. The leaves danced in the slight breeze. Grass blades—still mostly winter brown—tried bravely to stab but failed and settled for a prickly itch. The ebb and flow of excited voices floated like tendrils up from the soccer field below. My six-year-old daughter’s voice was among them. Number 11, defensive midfielder.

I wasn’t your typical soccer mom. I didn’t quite fit in. I didn’t really want to. Most of the other moms lived stay-at-home lives, not altogether common in this day and age but pretty much the norm in that neighborhood in Queens—almost Long Island—for families with grade-school children. It never occurred to me to aim for a provider-husband. I always worked, since I was 13. I went to college and I worked through college, and I got a job in NYC after I graduated and I moved half-way across the country to find and build a life, and—fast-forward—I ended up in Queens as a single mom of a vibrant girl who played soccer for a few years.

Our home field was under the Throgs Neck bridge, which spans the Long Island sound in its reach from Queens to the Bronx. It was a quick five-minute walk from our house to the park. We had to walk under the actual bridge to get to the main part of the park, traversing a path at the feet of monolithic concrete pillars that reached skyward to the noise and swoosh of more than 100,000 vehicles every day. The bridge was so immense it sheltered another world beneath that was perennially in shadow, cooler even in summer. We’d blink at the sunshine on the other side, at the wide fields and expanse of grass, at the shape of a former amphitheater still marked with bones of a dead wooden light-pole or two, at the grand curved approach of the bridge arching across the water. And at two soccer fields.

It was always at least 10 degrees colder down by the water on the other side of the bridge, a lesson I learned over and over again as I shivered on the sidelines watching that week’s match.

Part of the appeal of laying on my back on the hillside looking up at the sky, instead of joining the cheering crowd down on the sidelines, was that it was warmer near the ground where the wind couldn’t quite blow the sun’s warmth away. Plus I had mixed feelings about the pressure some parents shouted at their kids, so it was easier to keep my distance. But mostly I just loved the feel of the ground beneath me. It was solid. I thought about the rotation of the planet, and I imagined I could feel the soaring sense of that motion. I stilled. And I sensed the expanse of the earth as it stretched out about me in all directions. I felt connected. Grounded and unfettered. Natural. Free.

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the miller mausoleum

miller mausoleum plus

The Miller Mausoleum, built by Joseph M. Miller in the early 1900’s, off Hwy 131 in Holden, MO

I wrote a poem recently for a memorial service for those Millers who were originally buried in the above-pictured mausoleum. They were re-interred this past summer as part of efforts to reconstruct and save the building. I publish the poem now in remembrance of my father’s youngest sister who passed away this month.

I can’t imagine ever losing my sister…

May my aunt be at peace.


A warm summer afternoon maybe 40 years ago
Sounds of cicadas, and the occasional car on a surprisingly close road
Deep silence nearest the looming fortress,
. . . vibrant ivy embracing, strangling steel-gray cement
Thick-walled windows led to ink-black shade inside, cool, seashell hush
. . . Intrigued
. . . Wide-eyed
Yes, scared, and careful not to let my sister and cousins see it!


An historical marker of an era and a family
Built in a time when the Missouri sky was even bigger,
. . . and the men who lived under it were severely larger than life,
. . . when pioneers and settlers were the recent past
Intended as a home for Civil War relics and religious images on display
Those are all gone, but the mausoleum remains,
. . . still a reminder to travelers along 131
of depth and age and mortal immortality.


A generational milestone for Millers and Cranfills and more
Manmade by an ancestor’s hand,
. . . a true labour of love for Joseph,
. . . a measure and lasting symbol of his faith and fortitude
Sourced from a heart filled with obedience to his God,
. . . and love for Miller descendants unborn.


Reverence for the margin between life and death
A solemn place of rest to honor what was,
. . . what’s gone,
. . . and what may come after
Offering both mourning and solace,
Eerie quiet at midnight, soft magic in the morning light.


Initially a haven from the waters of the earth
A decades-long project with a mission to protect
Now an anchor that has threaded a familial connection,
. . . from a great-great-great-grandfather,
. . . through to today’s youngest generation
And, thanks to Cousin Carl, that promises anew to connect Millers yet to come.

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Who says old dogs can’t learn new tricks? Two seemingly small—and yet significant—changes have found their way into my life.


I recently started typing only one space after each period, instead of two.


I’ve lived almost a half-century now (yup, the big 5-0 is coming up in a few months), which means I learned to type almost 40 years ago. I didn’t walk barefoot to school, in the snow, uphill both ways, but I really did type college papers on an old manual typewriter. And the first analysis paper I did at my post-college job was—I know, horrors—hand-written!

One of my next work projects had lots of charts as well as text, and I did the whole thing in Excel. Which meant that any edit to the language—additional words, deleted phrases—all had to be manually carried through, line by line. That burden didn’t dissuade me from tuning (and fine-tuning, and over-fine-tuning) the language, complete with double spaces after each period. I’m kind of embarrassed to admit that the drawn-out labor of editing in Excel didn’t tempt me to learn a word processing software. I didn’t try my hand at such until I had to scramble to finish a project someone else had already started in WordStar—so I was under duress and under the gun and I had no choice.

I never went back. I went forward of course, to WordPerfect, and then Word. And oh, I still love Excel, but rarely for text!

(Note: I do think that the trial-by-fire way I learned my first word processing software is, in some ways, the best way to learn a new tool. I suppose that a less panicked way to frame that is this: a concrete task is the best motivator. That maxim still holds for me today. I recently took on the job of managing the new twitter account for my office. I learned more about twitter in one week than I had in all the four years since I’d created my own personal twitter account and on which I’d tweeted a grand total of nine times!)

At any rate, my point is that my typing goes “way” back, to the days before word processors. The standard then was two spaces after each period, because the typewriter didn’t letter-space (or kern) like all word processing software does today. The single- vs. double-spacing debate is somewhat generational and surprisingly vehement. I recently read an article extolling the virtues of solo spaces, and while it wasn’t the first such voice I’d heard in that debate, for some reason it stuck, and I’ve been single-spacing it ever since.

(Note: faithful readers might be moved to point out that all my posts have been styled singly. You are right! It’s because WordPress converts double spaces to single space. That correction didn’t go unnoticed by me either. It’s probably been working on me these last few years, finally culminating in my own conversion.)


I now take my socks off inside out, and leave them that way in the wash!


This one is likely to infuriate my daughter and my partner, both of whom have heard me complain—more than once!—about having to turn their socks right side out while doing laundry.

For some reason, I started taking off my socks like they do—peeling them off inside out instead of pulling them out from the toes so that they stay properly right side out. (I blame it on some special socks I recently acquired, that form tightly to my foot for support and that are subsequently not so easy to remove right side out.)

For some reason I even washed them like that, inside out. And then (!) it occurred to me that unless I’m walking around in my sock feet in dirt or on dirty floors, the inside of the sock is perhaps more in need of the mild scrubbing the washing machine offers to fabric surfaces than is the outside of the sock!

So. I’m converted.


Silly examples? Maybe. Sure. But as revisions to firmly held life-long habits, they seem significant to me. The fact that I’m clearly in the midst of some other big life change (think 5-0) isn’t lost on me.

What’s my point?

Well, here’s a picture of the 2012 winner of the world’s ugliest dog contest to illustrate my point. (Actual pictures of old dogs were sad… this little fella, while only 8 years young, just oozes old-age whiskers and curmudgeonly-ness!)


Mugly. Age: 8 years. Translates roughly to 56 human years. Yes, I know: not too far off from my own age. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ (© AFP/Getty images)


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door # .... ?

door # …. ?

I’m skipping a student film screening to write this post, and I don’t want to regret that. So I’m choosing not to.


I decided to go to a big family reunion recently, putting aside several trepidations to do so. I definitely don’t regret that. I’d very much like to choose to go to the next one too, assuming another one happens. I suspect that those of my parents’ generation are waiting for all of us cousins—and there are a lot of us!—to pick up some of the heavy lifting of the planning. It gets harder for them every time, I think. I’m so grateful that they’ve given us all a structured reason to try to get together every few years.


My new glasses are not bifocals. I didn’t think I was ready for bifocals, that it wasn’t time. Surely I’m not old enough! That was a mistake. The eye doctor  knew it too. She said she’d put the info in my file just in case I needed it down the road. I’ll choose differently next year.


A few years ago I decided to try a bloody mary. And then a beer. I spent a long time afterwards feeling both regret and gratitude that I had spent all those years (17!) not drinking. Regret that I had inadvertently created distance from some amazing people, with actual or emotional (or both) barriers. Regret for any self-righteousness I wielded. Gratitude for all the wisdom I learned in those years, and for all the good people I met. Today, it’s simple. I accept that it was my choice to abstain for a season (or three!), and I embrace my later choice to embark on a new chapter.


I’ve been told that sometimes it seems I make choices by default, waiting until the passing of time has closed off all forks in the road but one. I do tend to do some of my heavy thinking in the background—bubbling on the back burner, as they say—and I prefer to wait until I have all the facts. That’s a fine choosing process; it just isn’t ideal for all situations. So recently I’ve been practicing other ways of making choices, to add to—not replace—my preferred way. My journal is my almost-constant companion these days. I’m in therapy. Again. I read a novel by the pool this summer. I turn off npr sometimes and listen to silence in my car. I’ve been talking with my brother and my parents more often. (My sister and I have ebbed and flowed some over the years, but we always talk. Always. Love you, Sees.) I’ve been noticing all the opportunities around me to try new things. And they do abound, both in my work environment and in my cool town. Like taking a cheese-making class. Like tonite’s film screening, that is just about ending now, without me there in the audience. (Choices don’t have to be rigid!) Like: I’m finally learning twitter. (Just for work so far. But watch out!)


That’s just a (partial) list of simple choices. (Well, therapy isn’t exactly a simple choice…) But they each somehow build and influence the others. And I don’t quite know how it works, but I sense that they do help inform other, less simple, choices that come my way.

~     ~     ~     ~


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as above so below

I went with my parents last week to visit their parents’ gravesites. My mom’s dad was in the army, so her parents are buried in a military cemetery.

The sky that day was strangely beautiful.


I’ve not seen a sky — shapes and curves in the sky — quite like that before. You could almost see skeletal bones. Ribs, spine, pelvis…


It was a monumentally striking image. Fleeting, tenuous, out of reach.

And then I turned my gaze back down to the rows of white stone, resting places.

As above, so below?

rest copy

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tuffet learning

I learned how to make cheese the other day. Or rather, I learned some things about how cheese is made. It’s yet to be seen if I can actually make it happen myself.

Seems fairly easy on paper:

Step 1. milk a cow
Step 2. heat the milk
Step 3. add culture and rennet…

What’s rennet? I’ll get to that. But first: I learned what “whey” is. I learned what Little Miss Muffet was eating while sitting on her tuffet! When you add acid/culture/heat to milk, it separates. The curds are what form into cheese. And the whey is simply the liquid that’s left. Whey tastes kind of like the most amazing macaroni & cheese on the planet. A real comfort flavor. Who knew?


curds (slicing them)


whey (delicious!)

Back to rennet.

I learned that rennet comes from rennen, an enzyme found in the stomach of a young animal that hasn’t been weaned and so still digests its mother’s milk. There’s a vegan version too, but I don’t know how that happens. Rennet—the enzyme—does something to help the curds form bonds and thus become CHEESY (not the term used in class, but it works for me!).

For as many different cheese flavors and colors and consistencies that are out there, it’s a rather amazing fact that they pretty much all have the same ingredients, with only minor tweaking. Yes, it’s an art. And a science.

We made two kinds of cheese in class: a batch of ricotta and a hard cheese. Ricotta isn’t actually a cheese, as it doesn’t require rennet, just heat and acid. (Citric acid that is, not one of the scary kinds.) The curds are delicate, and they form all of a sudden as one gently stirs the pot of heated milk and drizzles the acid in. One minute you’re stirring warm milk, and the next thing you know, you’ve birthed curds! If you blink, you just might miss the magic moment. But whether you saw it happen or not, once it does you simply strain the curds, ice it all, and voilá: lasagna innards!


lasagna innards

The hard cheese is a little trickier than the ricotta. It involves carefully managed step stages of heat and stirring: 10 degrees over minutes, stir off the heat, then more heat over 10 minutes, all the while stirring… Our teacher that day was distracted—by our questions, by the new calf being born(!) in the barn right across the path from our classroom window, by our whining about the heat in the small room filled with bodies and warm milk with windows closed to the flies, by yet another pass-around of the next cheese sample—and so she kept missing the time marker, and the pre-cheese mixture kept overshooting the ideal next temperature stage. But in the end, a decent ball, then “wheel” started to form in the cheesecloth, pressed between two buckets. The ricotta was immediately done, but the hard cheese takes some ripening. I didn’t get a picture of the hard cheese, but we all go back for a reunion in two months to see how it turned out, so I’ll try then.

In the end, no spiders came alongside us to surprise us. But one on-looker did:

non-spider onlooker

non-spider onlooker

And yes, you read that right earlier: a new calf was born while we were there:

new calf, less than one hour old

new calf, less than one hour old

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synchronicityI’m feeling inspired to practice my rusty voice here. The source of that inspiration: an old friend has reached out. If it weren’t for facebook connecting me with grade school classmates, I think she would be my oldest friend! I do love life’s timing.

This week has been brim-full.

Thursday’s calendar held a huge event that my office has been coordinating. We’ve been tracking towards it for months. A 5-hour varied program with lots of moving parts and hundreds of people flowing through the various pieces. It was a big success, good turnout, no unresolvable last-minute hitches. But that’s not the real story. The real story is about synchronicity, full circle. Almost ten years ago, one of the last things I was tasked with in my job at the hospital before I walked away was a big event. That event was one of the reasons I couldn’t breathe, could no longer function, couldn’t even resign properly. I just walked away. I’m very glad the world moved on and that I’m no longer so vulnerable to such panic.

That surely would have been enough for one week. But as so often happens in those moments when I am sure there is no room for anything else, other momentousness shows up. A couple of logjams in family plans started to break free and move downstream again. One such movement: we’ll be heading north for a long-delayed visit with my ex next month. He hasn’t been in my daughter’s life for too many years. And it will be Sandy’s first time meeting him. He is finding his way to living as long as he can with a tumor in his lungs. Time bends interestingly there, both forward and back. For all of us I think. The other big news is that my daughter’s leave from college has found an end-date. It’s been a tough year and I’m proud of her. I sense that we are all feeling the ground calm beneath our collective feet.

With another echo of synchronicity: my old friend and I first met in our shared dorm-room as new college students. Random assignment had put us together. We often laughed to think how others saw us. Back then I sported a punk haircut and wore ripped army surplus pants. She loved southern rock, drove a faded blue 2-door landyacht and was always generous with her belly laugh. We hit it off immediately, becoming inseparable and lifelong friends. Over the decades since, we have reconnected every few years or so… this last gap has been perhaps the longest.

If I remember right, I think it was my dad who nicknamed her “Morelee.”

Morelee, it’s so good to hear from you! 🙂

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what happened was…

Sunlogo_narrow_73pxWhat happened was, I went to the mountains.  I went to a Sun weekend retreat, something I’ve wanted to do for as many years, I think, as I’ve been a reader of the magazine.

What happened was that I got to see the founding editor of The Sun in person, in the flesh (so to speak), to be in the same room as him and to simply smile good morning, leaving him perhaps to wonder if I knew who he was.  Or maybe hopefully to leave him with the impression that I was too cool to be starstruck.

What happened was, I received the gifts of some truly helpful tools and insights for writing.  I went to three different session leaders, all of whom were completely different, and all of which felt right.

What happened was that I wrote.  I shared some of it.  Two different pieces, two different sessions.  I felt removed from the other participants both times.  I shared about being pregnant and about having an affair.  Unrelated stories, by the way.  What happened was I felt shame.  I felt judged.  I know enough to know that such feelings resided in me alone, or at least mostly, and were not necessarily felt by anyone else in the room.

What happened was it rained.  Just lightly the first day.  Not enough to stop us from a short hike around the grounds.  Umbrellas were needed only to save us from being damp and cold and shivering in the next session.  It rained harder, and harder still, the last morning, enough to pool several inches deep across the stone path and to seep through my tennis shoes to my socks.  Enough to be legitimately nervous about driving down the mountain home.  Legitimate as opposed to being wimpy scared.

What happened was that two days were not enough.  We had only just begun to unwind, to decompress, to soften and slow.  And it was already time to start summarizing our time together.

What happened was, the air was thin and I huffed and puffed while on a short hike, and while walking from the truck, and every time walking up the stairs to our room.

With any luck, what happened was that I was leaving some of the weight of shame behind.

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another’s shoes


A friend of mine, who describes herself as progressive christian, a minister, and queer (among other things), recently entered into relationship with another woman.  This other woman was a pastor who was rejected by her christian denomination when she came out honestly to them about her sexual orientation being other-than-heterosexual.

My partner and I spent time with them one recent Sunday.  Their intent had been to attend a church service before arriving to meet us for brunch.  They were on a quest to find a community that aligned with their spiritual journey and that also accepted them as a couple.  They seemed bruised and disappointed with the fruits — so far — of that search.

They are both somewhat seasoned members of various christian communities.  And they both had long been aware of their own respective sexualities and of the largely polarized rulings in christian communities on other-than-one-man-one woman-heterosexuality.  Yet, they were surprised, almost a little shell-shocked, at the difficulty they were experiencing in finding a community in which they didn’t feel like they were in fishbowl.

It was heartbreaking.

It also gave me something to think about.  I’d had countless conversations with one of the women in particular about my partner’s and my story of rejection from our former church and friends, and our journey since.  I’m pretty sure she knew of other stories like ours.  But the experience she was having now still surprised her, gave her insights she perhaps didn’t even realize she didn’t have.

It’s not until we truly stand in another’s shoes that we understand fully.

I would like to say that this gives me understanding and compassion for those who don’t understand the damage that christian rules can inflict.  But in the interest of honesty, I will instead say that I wish all those who have rejected my partner and me, or refused to understand the intensity of our pain and anger, could walk for real in our shoes.

photo credit: F.Porkka

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bbq 2Yesterday was our first BBQ day of the season.

We’ve been gradually spending more time out back on the deck, under fewer layers each week.  No blankets at all yesterday, and warm enough to break out Sandy’s Weber!

Today I’m at work, indoors.  I just finished my lunch of left-over BBQ chicken.  I don’t even need to close my eyes to hear the birds and feel the sway of the pines and the warmth of the sun.

Summer is coming!

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