Funny Duchess

Blog of artist and poet, Michelle Seaman

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I was biking on the trail that curves around Tarrytown Lakes when I saw a little girl in the distance.

She was on a pink bike with training wheels, tassels wispy in the breeze. Her mom stood next to her, steadying the bike, encouraging her to go. As I passed, the little girl looked up at me, nodded, and extended her arm with her palm open.

Let me rephrase that.

She nodded with confidence, a knowing code, an expression that said, “Hey, Bike Sister. I got this,” and her open palm was a clear invitation for me to tag her as I passed.

Yes, this really happened.

The little girl’s mom giggled, delighted and surprised that her daughter had engaged a stranger so playfully.

Years ago, when I lived in Tampa, I had a similar, joyful biking exchange with a little boy.

I was riding on the right, hugging the sea wall on Bayshore Boulevard, and he was about to pass me on the left, or I thought he wanted to pass. Instead, he biked parallel and threw me a mischievous grin. Simultaneously, we shouted, “One, two, three…GO!” And we raced along Bayshore, laughing the entire time, yelling things like, “Never say die!” and “Winner takes all!”

I don’t know exactly what makes little kids feel comfortable with me, what makes them know I’m goofy and willing to play, but my guess is it’s my braids.

In the 1970’s, when I was a little girl, I idolized Melissa Gilbert as Laura Ingalls Wilder on “Little House on the Prairie.” If she wore her hair in this style, then so would I. Later, it was Farrah Faucet on “Charlie’s Angels,” and I spent hours with the blow dryer and curling iron aspiring to achieve her feathered look.  By the 1980’s, during my high school and early college years, my hair was down my back, I knew all the lyrics to every song from the musical “Hair,” and I dated guys who loved their hair too.

As I’ve aged with my long hair, more children have reacted…

One of the brightest muses of my life, my niece, Hannah, looked at me when she was about 3 or 4 and asked, “Are you old or new?”

I grinned and asked her back, “Which one do you think I am?”

She tilted her head, twisted her cute little lips, and said,“Well, you’re big, so you could be old, but you’re funny, so you could be new.”

I told her she was right, I was both.

Another time I was with my friend, Melissa. We were walking home from our favorite, neighborhood diner when I saw a boy kicking around a soccer ball. Playfully, I ran up to him and yelled, “Hey! Toss it here!”

He looked at me horrified, clutched his soccer ball to his chest, and ran back into his house. I felt deflated, but Melissa explained, “Michelle, you look like a giant girl who wants to take away his toy. What did you think he would do?”

Adults have reacted to my hair too. My ESL students have consistently loved my trenzas. Perhaps because long hair is part of many of cultures, and braids are a popular style, my plaits comfort them, giving them something they can relate to and talk about in English.

Hair is a personal thing, obviously. The love of my life had long hair, but he shaved his head in his early twenties for his own reasons. I’ve only had the urge to cut my hair two times in my life-once when I was 10, I wore it short and feathered, and once when I was 25, when I had a loose, layered bob. Both styles were fine, but neither really felt totally like me.

I still have moments when I think I need to look more tailored, that shorter hair might be more appropriate for my age, but lately, I’ve noticed a lot more older women flaunting their long, gray hair, and Emmylou Harris rocks it best. She’s my current hair idol, so maybe I’ll layer my locks like hers. Maybe. Or maybe I’ll just keep my braids, stay the gentle witch that I am, and hope for more fairy tale encounters on the trail.

Faster Mo(n)sters

“Hey Shelley, watch this!” exclaimed my Aunt Margie as she twisted her hips all the way down to the floor and up again.

“Impressive!” I cheered back.

Margie and I were on the dance floor at my niece’s wedding, trading moves, showing off.

I love my Aunt Margie. She has always been a joyful, generous person, an entertaining storyteller, and someone deeply interested in our family history. She is the daughter of Martha, my Great Grandmother, and younger sister to my Grandmother, Sylvia.

I never knew Martha, because she passed away before I was born, but from all the stories, she was a woman I would have liked. She kept a fifth of “medicine” in the drawer of her dresser, grew herbs, and practiced cupping, a controversial and alternative healing practice. I have always been drawn to both the controversial and alternative, especially when it comes to health matters, so I believe I inherited these attractions from Martha.

I did know Sylvia, and I miss her. She loved to giggle, discuss politics, play the organ, and gather everyone around a table for coffee and cookies. She taught me to play “Greensleeves” and “Heart and Soul.” She encouraged me to keep my complexion clean with Noxema or Ivory soap. My grandma wore the most adorable pill box hats and cute little pumps. I know I inherited my love of coffee, political talk, music, vintage hats, and Mary Jane’s from Sylvia.

Throughout my life, my Aunt Margie has encouraged me to be to make healthy choices, be brave and giving, and laugh my way through life.

I had a special opportunity to visit her when I was thirteen. I flew from Wisconsin to her home in Florida. Back then, I was brave on planes but terrified of water. Margie encouraged me to get into her pool and try swimming, and I did it! I still remember how scary and thrilling it felt to let go, trust my body, and let the water hold me. Getting over this fear and embracing the weightlessness of water has proven to be a saving grace for me. When I’m swimming, my arthritis is less painful. I owe this to my Aunt.

She encouraged me not to chew gum. As a 13-year-old who attended Catholic school, where gum was strictly forbidden, I was hesitant to surrender my new freedom. Margie told me I needed to quit by the time I was eighteen, because it wasn’t good for my teeth and jaw, and I didn’t look lady like. I naturally resisted at first, but on my 18th birthday, I did think about it, and I cut down. I still chewed a bit of Big Red in my early 30s, (it was a party time for me and the flavor complemented the drinks), but by my mid 30s, I had quit completely. I owe this smart decision to Margie’s direct deadline. My teeth and jaw thank her.

On that same visit, true to her generous nature, Margie took me shopping. Among other things, she bought me two shirts- a red one and a multi-color striped one. I loved that both shirts had 3/4 length sleeves (still my favorite sleeve length) and boat neck collars (still one of my favorite necklines) and of course, I absolutely loved the little barefoot logo, on the left, just below my collarbone. Hang Ten! I was cool in those shirts, thanks to Margie.

I’m a storyteller thanks to her too. At a recent family dinner, of the most delicious Cuban food ever (yes, she’s a great cook), Margie shared a story from her mother. Martha was trying to warn her about sex.

“So she turns to me, looks me in the eyes, and says, ‘Margie, whatever you do, don’t thread the needle.’”

We all started laughing, and I asked my Aunt, “What do you think she meant?”

Margie laughed and shrugged, “To this day, I have no idea. I mean, was I supposed to be the needle or the thread?”

And we all laughed again. Martha is my personal Mary Magdalen, a strong woman with many mysteries attached to her story. I love that I get to learn more about her through my Aunt.

Margie has always been an active person, a golfer, a walker-along-the-beach, a-walker-for-charity, and a dancer. On many occasions, she’s inspired me to shake it, so when the music started at Hannah’s wedding, I knew we would have a good time. Margie’s skill at The Twist prompted a younger groomsman to slide over and dance with her. My mom was shaking it, along with her good friend, Mary, and my cousin, Susan. We were a circle of dancing fools! Susan was adorable as she danced too. Right before Whitney Houston was about to belt the chorus to her infamous song, my cousin yelled, “Get ready, Ladies!” and we all belted out “I wanna dance with somebody! I wanna feel the heat with somebody!” This love of dancing has also proven to be helpful with arthritis, so I keep my dancing shoes close. When I move, I feel better. Curtsy and a bow to you, Aunt Margie.

All of my aunts have played special roles in my life and each of them deserves their own post or poem. I intend to write these individualized pieces, but for now, I’ll include a quick thank you list:

Aunt Barbie, thank you for turning me on to the joys of rummage sales, inspiring me to drink English breakfast tea. Thank you for your children, my beautiful cousins, and for keeping me aware of the antics of your little grandchildren, my second cousins. Most of all, thank you for your letters that still come to my mailbox. Honoring this art form of handwritten thoughts on paper is very important to me…thank you.

Aunt Mary (Nighbor), thank you for teaching me how make homemade donuts and at the same time encouraging me to brush my teeth. Thank you for your children, my beautiful cousins, and for telling me secrets about my mom and her car named Bowser. Most of all, thank you for sharing your research on our extended family. Hearing these stories and understanding our connections to Europe means everything to me…thank you.

Aunt Darlene, thank you for teaching me about strength and patience through all the love you’ve quietly and selflessly given to my Poet Uncle and all of my beautiful cousins. Thank you for being an example of a woman who can fish (and possibly “out fish” all the boys). Most of all, thank you for also being at the bottom of the stairs smiling when I jumped…you were there too, I remember…thank you.

Aunt Sue, thank you for taking me out for good ol’ Wisconsin fried fish and soft serve ice cream, offering me wine coolers on a hot, summer day, and most of all, for loving my Uncle David as deeply as you do…thank you.

Aunt Linda, thank you for sharing our country home, loving my beautiful cousins, especially in times of scary illnesses, and most of all, thank you loving my harmonica-playing, fish-story-telling Uncle Paul…thank you.

Aunt Deb, thank you for your sense of humor and honesty. I don’t know if you’ll remember this or not, but years ago, you and I had a conversation at your kitchen table about family, and your thoughts were a bit controversial. I immediately respected you at that moment. Thank you for my beautiful cousins, and most of all, for loving my guitar-strumming, made- mud pies- with- me-while-I-was-in-my-cast, Uncle Chuck…thank you.

Aunt Mary (Seaman), thank you for sharing your intelligence and political views with Benjamin and me over meals in D.C. and for caring about international students as deeply as I do. Thank you for having the focus to get your Masters and Doctorate degrees, and inspiring me to reach for higher goals. Thank you for my beautiful cousin, Luke, and most of all, for loving my crazy, show-me-how-to-shake-my-tail feather Uncle Godfather Chuck…thank you.

And to my Aunts who have passed away:

Aunt Beatsie, thank you for your generosity, your home, where playing with all of my beautiful cousins was like being in a fun house. There were so many toys and games, volleyball in the backyard, always something fun to do! Your house was filled with music and joy, and most of all, kittens, kittens, kittens! Thank you for the love you showed Uncle Marty and your entire family. You always made me feel welcome… thank you.

Aunt Jude, thank you for supporting me when I said I wanted to be a horticulturalist by giving me my first potted plant. Thank you for giving me the book Heidi, so I could dream of the Swiss Alps and what it would be like to have a goat. Most of all, thank you for encouraging me to play the organ in church. Even though I was terrified of messing up, and the organ wasn’t as fun as the piano, I learned about musical performance, and now I know that those nervous jitters are normal…thank you.

Aunt Ruth, thank you for checking out my apartment for me before I moved to Chicago, especially for taking pictures of the tree outside my window. Thank you for the time we spent in Chicago together, the visits to meet you students were precious and being at the convent was funny, mostly because I was in heels and one of your fellow sisters said I was a skyscraper. Thank you for sneaking my friend Dan into the convent and not making a big deal about it. Most of all, thank you for the gorgeous Lady of Czestochowa palm leaf collage. You understood my love of Polish art, my need to connect to it as part of my heritage…thank you.

I looked up the word aunt. Along with the traditional definition, I discovered some funny associations. Apparently, we are gossips, (ok, I’ll accept this because everybody is a gossip) procuresses, (neither my aunts nor I have ever run a brothel, so I reject this one) and benevolent women (this one I accept as 100% true).

I’ve been an Aunty for 23 years, and I think I’ve been a pretty good one, at least I hope this is how my niece and nephew think of me. When I think about Hannah and Blake, I tear up joyfully, because they’ve changed my life for the better.

Being an Aunt is an honor. It’s mystical.

The Swedes have two words for Aunt- Moster (for the mother’s side) and Faster (for the father’s side). These words make me think of a witchy woman running through the woods, playing hide-and-seek or tag with her nieces and nephews. In a way, all aunts are a faster mo(n)sters, running after kids, helping mothers and fathers with the job of raising children.

So pat yourselves on the back, witches! Well done! Oh, and Aunt Matriarch Margie, don’t tell anyone, but you’re my favorite monster.


Love Letter to Benjamin

I can’t say it enough.

Thank you, Benjamin.

Thank you for giving me these years of writing, these years of working peacefully at my own pace, this long opportunity of staying inside my head, listening to my voice.

Thank you for freeing me from the cacophony of student chatter. As lovely as teaching often was, it wasn’t writing, and you understood. You knew I needed quiet, alone time. I needed to be with my art.

Before you, I was tired, tired of giving my creative energy to others. Whether it was for my job or for a partner, I had allowed myself to be the more supportive one. I’m not saying that lovers didn’t give back, or that it wasn’t rewarding to see the lights of learning flicker over my students’ heads. Of course they did, and of course it was, but I felt this need to give like a strange addiction, and in this habit, I forgot myself.

Thankfully, my desire to write started pushing teaching out of the way, and I paid attention. I made a huge change, leaving my job, family, and friends to move to Chicago and focus on getting my Master’s in Interdisciplinary Art.

At that time, I also thought that I needed to push relationships out of my way. I didn’t like the idea of being alone, but I couldn’t see how it would work. How could I be with someone and have my space and time? How could I be with someone and say, “Please don’t talk to me in the mornings, because this is when I hear poetry. Oh, and don’t speak to me from about 3pm through sundown, because I also use the falling of the light for poetry.”

I thought it would be impossible to ask this of anyone.

I thought I couldn’t have both love and art.

And then I met you.

I was at the washing machine in the laundry room of our brownstone when you came down the steps. I saw your eyes, and I was startled, in a good way, a very good way. You had the sexiest, most playful eyes I’d ever seen.

I wanted to trust your eyes, believe that you were honest, because you had those sweet, long lashes like my nephew’s. Oh, I saw all of this right away, and I was startled. I wanted to trust you, but my claws were up. I was a defensive, fed up kitty cat.

But we struck up a conversation. I asked you a typical, American question. “So, what do you do?”

“I’m a musician,” you answered, beaming.

“Oh,” I replied with sarcasm, “everyone’s a musician in Chicago.”

You jolted back a little. “I’m sorry. Do you have a problem with musicians?”

“No, not really, it’s just that, well, do you have a real job?” At this point, I couldn’t believe how snotty I was behaving, but like I said, I was tired. I had been with musicians, and I had had it with them.

You were unfazed, even amused. “As a matter of fact,” you said, “I work for the City of Chicago Cultural Center. Here’s my card. Why don’t you call me when you’re a little less bitter?”

That’s how we started. You scolded me and asked me out at the same time. Smoothest, sexiest move ever.

And I fell hard.

Early on, we put cards on the table.

You said you’d never want kids. Never, ever. I said my poems were my children, and I would never, ever want human ones. You wanted to believe me, but your previous girlfriend had made the same promise, only to feel the tick of her biological clock and change her mind. I assured you that I had smashed my clock long ago. Well, I didn’t say those words, but you understood.

We’ve kept this promise. Our art, our songs have been the only children we’ve birthed, the only compass we’ve ever followed. We’ve even jumped the pond in the name of following artistic dreams, and you made this possible.

You said, “Do you want to move to Europe, take a break from teaching, and focus on writing your novel?”

And I said, “Hell yes, I do!”

So we moved, and the experience changed me forever, like I knew it would. Berlin was the perfect place to start my novel, the perfect city to work as a writer. I wrote every day in the cafes. I was part of an amazing writer’s group. I felt at home.

Unforeseen circumstances made us return to the States. While it may be some time before we can return to Europe, I want you to know, (again) that I am grateful for the time we did spend abroad. I became a writer, and you made this happen.

I can’t say it enough.

Thank you, Benjamin.

It’s five or six relocations later, and my book is almost finished. You’ve continued to support me, even though in the States, it’s been more challenging. You’ve reassured, encouraged, and inspired. Essentially, you’ve made me feel that it’s ok to be a stay-at-home poet. Ha ha

And sometimes, when I need to get out of my head and give the creative process a breath, you’ve taken me out on some incredible dates. Thank you, Benjamin, for sharing these recent, Romantic experiences:

eating tapas in the city

taking the train to Cold Spring for fried catfish tacos

shopping for an antique box to hold our love letters

perusing record stores

seeing films at Jacob Burns

bike riding by the lakes, looking for our snapping turtle

eating grilled cod tacos, chips and guacamole

discovering local BBQ

wandering among cedar trees while bells sounded/appreciating the gorgeous sound installation by Taylor Dupree

going to see live music/appreciating singer-songwriter Gabriel Kahane and the yMusic blends of violin, viola, cello, clarinet, flute, and trumpet ( Here I send a special thank you to our friend, Loretta, for gifting us with the amazing tickets!)

passionately defending the rights of frogs


continuously making music with me, your Dwindler partner

Benjamin, I didn’t think it was possible to continuously fall in love in someone, but you’ve proven to me that it is. Thank you. I promise, I will work hard to get this baby published,  and make a little money, so you can focus more on your music. I promise, my P.Y.T, I promise.




A shadow passed over the Rose of Sharon and disappeared.

I waited.

I knew how to daydream out my studio window. I’ve waited for bees in the morning and bats at twilight. The only thing different now was that this was the middle of the day, high noon, or as I like to think of it, prime viewing time for butterflies.

So I waited.

And the Cloudless Sulfur fluttered back into view.

I held my breath, admiring the yellow wings tipped in black. I watched it dip into the blossoms, take a quick sip, and teeter, drunk on pollen into the neighbors’ yard and out of view.

It was a good moment, seeing my papery friend.

I wish I could recall every single butterfly I have ever seen. I do remember:

Monarchs on milkweed by the side the road in Wisconsin

Southern Hairstreaks along the Withalacoochie in Florida

Tiger Swallowtails in my backyard in North Carolina

Buckeyes along the C&O in Maryland

I wish butterflies had the power to quiet all human noise.

For a moment, I imagine a butterfly heroine. Her wings have super strength. She can lift all the leaf blowers and the guns and send them back into the guts of the earth, back into fire, where they are melted, burned down to ash. Then she flies back up, and all we hear is the flutter of wings.

I know how to daydream out my studio window.

I can fill my brain with butterflies.


Diane and Bill and Nick and Nora

My Mom and Dad are generous people.

It would take a full novel to describe everything they’ve done for me, but during the week of their 51st anniversary, I wanted to take a moment to highlight some of the most important gifts. Because of Diane and William, my parents, I am grateful for the following:

  1. My ability to walk…I was their first child, and they were young when I came into their lives with the birth defect of a dislocated hip. While they were in their 20’s, an age where my biggest concerns were college and my social life, they had to make the decision to put their baby girl through two major surgeries, so I could have a normal life. The surgeries were successful. I flourished into an active person, who could not only walk, but also run, bike, play volleyball, and dance. If not for the courage of my Mom and Dad, I would have never been able to do these things. I am grateful for the risk they took.
  2. My freedom and fearlessness in nature…I am afraid of a lot of things, but being alone in the woods isn’t one of them. My brothers and I were raised with the freedom to take our dog into the woods and stay out in the trees, playing there for hours. I return to nature whenever I need peace of mind, whenever I need to feel a certain freedom in my head. I owe this to my parents, who again had the courage to take a risk and trust us on our own. Side note: I know they trusted Duke too. Golden Labs are very protective babysitters.
  3. My education…From kindergarten at the lovely Cottage School, to St. Mary’s Catholic, through two high schools, and then both undergrad and grad school, my parents have always supported my education. They’ve literally paid for some of it, and they’ve always encouraged my nerdy nature.

They didn’t laugh when I lied and said I had “homework” on my first day of kindergarten. I wanted time to practice my letters. I remember sitting at the kitchen table, feeling serious as I drew those shapes between the lines, careful to observe the dotted line in the middle. I can still smell that paper. I knew I was doing something important, and my Mom treated this act with the same respect. She didn’t disturb me as I “studied,” and when my Dad came home from his day of teaching, I showed them both my finished work. They were proud and hung my writing on the fridge.

Throughout grammar school and high school, I continued to focus as a serious student. I knew what I was good at (English and Art) and I accepted that certain subjects would be a struggle (Gym and Math). As I grew into a critical thinker, I challenged my teachers, namely certain nuns. I got kicked out of Religion Class for lots of things, mostly for my obsessive questions about Mary Magdalen, my insisting she was not “bad girl” (I knew this then and defend it still). Thought they’ve never explicitly said so, I think Mom and Dad were pretty rebellious too. My aunts and uncles have ratted them out a few times, so they weren’t particularly hard on me for the Religion Class shenanigans. They accepted my “failures” and celebrated my successes. I think they just knew that if they let me be myself, a kid who really liked school, I’d turn out ok.

So, although they probably hoped I’d major in something that would make a little more money, my parents weren’t surprised when I chose education for my Bachelor’s. They were supportive. And while they may have secretly wrung their hands when I said I would study art for my Master’s, they outwardly understood. They helped me pack my car as I left sunny Florida for wintery Chicago to pursue my crazy dream.

  1. My sense of wanderlust…They have actually always encouraged any kind of travel or move, accepting that I am a restless soul. Whenever I told them I was moving again, they told me to have a fun adventure. I was especially grateful for their support when Benjamin and I moved to Europe. They let us store our stuff at their house, and they threw us a bon voyage party, toasting us with expressions like, “We gave you roots and wings. Fly and have a good time. You can always come home” and hugging us with a “Vaya con Dios!” Most Mama and Papa birds want to keep their chicks close, and I know they’d like us in Florida more often, but I deeply appreciate how they have let us go.
  2. Most of all, my parents’ acceptance of my husband… They have embraced Benjamin as their fun, smart son-in-law. They like his sense of humor and playfulness. They try to understand his work as a Digital Product Designer, doing their best, as I often do, to understand the rapidly shifting field of technology. They like how close he is with Hannah and Blake and how easily he can talk with my brothers, my sister-in-law, and my extended family members. They trust Benjamin, and I am grateful for how generous they’ve been with him too.

During our recent visit to Florida, we had some great moments with my parents.

They hosted a little dinner party for us where my brother Matthew made the best kebabs with shrimp, scallops, and pineapples. He went all out with grilled salmon and deviled crabs as well. The crabs were a collaborative effort. My brother Michael had made them from scratch, and Matthew deep-fried them for us. It was a fish feast! At the party, we got to know two of their dear friends, Joe and Mary, and their daughter, Sarah, and we chatted and laughed and had a really nice time!

My Mom also offered her shopping magic, and we went on our usual spree. We scored big time-blouses, skirts, and capris-all at consignment prices! Even in the bigger department stores, we found bargains, most notably the dress I needed for my niece’s wedding. I swear if there were a patron saint of thrift stores and sales (you never know), she would be perched on my Mom’s shoulder. My Mom is the luckiest woman when it comes to treasure hunting for quality clothes. Her generous spirit summons that saint to make sure anyone she shops with is lucky.

My Dad and I shared many moments on the back porch by the pool, talking about our favorite thing… language. We enjoy this topic in many forms—challenging each other with crossword clues (He usually wins), discussing regional idioms, pronunciations, and personal, vocal fillers (He likes that I use the word, “indeed,” and I like his youthful use of the word “whatever”), talking about Spanish, German, French, Italian, and Latin, and strategizing lessons for my English as a Second Language job. He hunted and found Dr. Seuss books for me to use for phonics, and now he’s on the search for songbooks I can use for fluency.

Last but not least, my parents gifted us with some very cool glasses. Diane and Bill were once avid cocktail party hosts. Without incriminating them too much, I will just say that I have great memories of sneaking in my PJ’s with my brothers to “steal” appetizers from the coffee table as the adults sipped in the kitchen, and waking up to adults who were, for some reason, “sleeping” on top of record albums. Yes, I remember those soirees! Now that Benjamin and I host our own parties, we are delighted by this gift. We’ve even named them ‘Nick and Nora’ after the characters from “The Thin Man” movies.

So I raise my glass to my parents in gratitude for all they’ve given me. Thank you, Mom, y Gracias Papa! You two are the best!

Brendan and Julie Plus One!

I am in love.

My latest crush has a quick smile, sweet brown eyes, and the best, expressive eyebrows in the world. He sings, loves the sound of buzzing bees, and when he wiggles his toes, well, I can’t get enough. I melt.

Don’t worry. Benjamin is not jealous. He’s in love with him too. Our little love is eleven months old, and he’s the newest member of the Brendan and Julie family.

I’ve written about our dear friends before. We met Brendan and Julie in Berlin. They were our Fruhstuck, dinner, and cocktail partners. They made us laugh and think. They were touchstones in our expat world.

As fate would have it, we all ended up back in New York. As love would make it, they had their sweet baby boy last year, and we met him a few weekends ago.*

The family trio strolled into the cafe, and we exchanged quiet hugs as little one was napping. It’s always good to see Brendan and Julie, and this time, I swear, they looked radiant. Yeah, yeah, I’m biased when it comes to my friends. I do think all of them are beautiful, but there was an extra glow to J&B. Because they are humble, they would most likely say that the glow is actually well-earned sweat for what it takes to be a good parent, but regardless, parenthood looked good on them. And their son looked so sweet! Yeah, yeah, all babies look sweet when they sleep, but again, I’m bragging specifically about my friends here.

Baby boy woke up calmly, which later prompted Benjamin to say, “He was so cute! He woke up like a human!”

It’s true that we don’t have a lot of contact with babies, so I did have to remind Benjamin that our friends’ baby was indeed human. He retorted, “You know what I mean. He woke up in a new place, with new people, new sights and sounds, and he was chill about it. I thought all babies woke up crying.”

“Well,” I said, “consider the sources. He does have two of the nicest people we know as parents, so it’s in his genes.”

Truthfully, I was amazed too, not only by how happy he woke up, but by how happy he stayed, even though he was teething, and even when the fire horn from next door jolted everyone else in the cafe. At the sound the horn, little one raised his eyebrows in wonder, looked at his Dad, who looked back at him and shrugged, and deciding that this cue meant it was no big deal, went back to smiling and hanging out. Most adaptable kid ever.

It was a pleasure to meet Baby BrendanJulie. It was beautiful to see Julie touch his head while he sipped his drink and ate his Cheerios. It was endearing to see Brendan read Dr. Suess to him and watch his little face respond to different sounds. And I loved it when he giggled at me and mimicked my tongue as we sang “la la la” to each other.

Oh, I will miss my little boyfriend! But speaking as an auntie who has witnessed her niece and nephew grow into pretty cool young adults, I know I will enjoy his changes too. Until we see each other again!


*I am withholding baby’s name out of privacy. Someday this kid will be famous, and I’ll be able to say I knew him when he gripped my fingers with his little toes and giggled.


Japanese Pancakes

Okonomiyaki is one of the cutest words I’ve ever heard.

Japanese has a lot of beautiful words, but this is my new favorite, because it means something delicious! An okonomiyaki is a Japanese, savory pancake. Benjamin and I were lucky enough to taste these when our friend, Yusuke, prepared them for us.

What a perfect night!

We stepped out of our car, and we could hear classical music coming from Miko and Yusuke’s apartment. Our friend was playing his piano to welcome us. How nice!

Miko greeted us at the door and escorted us to our seats where our glasses were filled with Asahi, a lovely, bright Japanese beer. Along with our first sips, we were treated to an appetizer of egg-tofu and crunchy vegetables. Miko, Benjamin, and I chatted, while chef Yusuke was busy heating up the grill. When it was piping hot, he spread the batter into two giant cakes.

The batter had the consistency of German kugel or potato pancakes, but the main ingredients here were cabbage and pork.
We watched and licked our lips as the cakes began to turn golden brown. Yusuke sprinkled some fish flakes on them and then ‘decorated’ them with two sauces, first a darker, soy based sauce, and then a creamy layer of Japanese mayonnaise.

They looked beautiful and everything smelled so good!

Our chef gathered our plates and evenly distributed the pancakes. Oh my god, they were delicious! According to Japanese tradition, our glasses had to remain full, so this was extra fun! AND the beer was a perfect compliment to the okonomiyaki.

Satisfied, content, and delightfully buzzy, we moved to the living room. Once again, I felt grateful to be with our dear friends sharing conversation and laughing.

Miko showed me some of her favorite books. I opened them like precious artifacts. She showed me how they would be read in Japanese, vertically, from the left side of the page inward towards the right. Whenever I hear a language I don’t understand, it sounds like music, and whenever I look at a language I can’t read, it looks like art. Beautiful, beautiful art!

Yusuke was so sweet too. He helped Miko and me with one of our Calyx and Parlance projects. I was having trouble making our Cricut cut a poem correctly, and I showed this half finished piece to Yuskue. With infinite patience, he used some of his leather tools to successfully cut out the delicate poem. I felt grateful, happy, and inspired!

The whole evening was happy and inspiring. I love my friends, and I can’t wait for our next adventure! Thank you, Yusuke and Miko. Here’s to more dinners and drinks to come!

Hannah and Colby’s Wedding Weekend

Hannah and Colby’s wedding was lovely. It was the perfect combination of an elegant, loving ceremony, a delicious dinner, and a rockin’ good time of a reception!

My niece was a beautiful bride as she walked down the aisle to “Falling Slowly.” Before this moment, I was holding it together, but that song did it. I cried. I saw my niece in all her grace, her charming, contagious positivity, and her strength. I saw her smiling at Colby, so in love. She was perfect. She was floating.

My new nephew-in-law looked handsome and so in love. He lit up when he saw Hannah, and he was smiling and teary the whole time she walked toward him. A perfect groom.  AND Colby totally scored points with me by promising to support Hannah’s creativity. I already knew he was cool, but his vows sealed it!

I love it when couples write their own vows. It’s such a nice touch. Hannah and Colby also did a sand ceremony. I wasn’t familiar with this, so I looked it up. According to

“The ‘Blending of the Sands’ ceremony can be a beautiful and meaningful alternative to the “Unity Candle” ceremony…the pouring of two different colored sands together is used to symbolize the joining of the bride and groom or the joining of their families.”

Nice! Because Colby and Hannah were married at The Rusty Pelican, with a view of the Gulf as their backdrop, the sand ceremony was not only pretty but thematic too.

After they were announced as husband and wife, the wedding party stayed in the main ballroom for pictures, as the guests made their way to the lounge for cocktails. Yay!

I know weddings are meant to bring people together. Hannah and Colby succeeded in this aspect too. Throughout the weekend, I talked and laughed with my parents, my brothers, my nephew and his girlfriend, my aunt and uncle, my cousins, and my Mom and Dad’s friends. AND I danced like crazy with my Mom, my Aunt Margie, my cousin Susan, and my Mom’s friend, Mary. So much fun!

Thank you, Hannah and Colby, for giving Benjamin and me an opportunity to connect with people and a chance to have such a memorable weekend in Florida. Thank you for sharing yourselves and your day with us. We love you! Many, many happy years to both of you! XOXOXO


Fringes of Beauty

The notion of the infinite variety of detail and the multiplicity of forms is a pleasing one; in complexity are the fringes of beauty, and in variety are generosity and exuberance.
-Annie Dillard

The details, that’s what the world is made of.
-Wes Anderson

I just scurried down an internet rabbit hole, searching for quotes from artists I respect on the subject of the importance of details. I did this, because while I was in Florida, I observed something about a lovely woman in my family.

My sister-in-law, Charleen, pays attention to details.

Of course, I’ve always known this about her, but having spent a longer amount of time in Florida for this last visit, I was able to appreciate this attribute even more.

Charleen has been a part of my life since she and my brother were married in 1987. Thirty years. It goes without saying that she is an awesome partner for my brother and an amazing mom, but I’d like to focus on another aspect of my sister-in-law for a moment.

Charleen knows how to throw a party.

Two of my favorite memories include her party for Pampered Chef products and her scrapbooking fiesta.

Admittedly, I was hesitant to go to the Pampered Chef gathering at first. At the time, in the early 90’s, I wasn’t into cooking. I didn’t find it creative. I thought of it more as a chore, something I had to do. Also, while I like parties, I am much more of an observer, or I prefer to be passive in most social situations, so I wasn’t sure how much I’d have to actively participate. I’d never been to a product party. It turned out to be a lot of fun! I was impressed by the products, and I bought stuff, stuff that has lasted to this day. Without my Pampered Chef garlic press, measuring spoons, and especially my baking stones, I would not enjoy being in the kitchen as much as I do. I owe this joy to my sister-in-law and being invited to her party. It was about the right tools. It was about the details. It was about Charleen.

It did not take any convincing at all for me to say yes to the scrapbook party. I still have a scrapbook from when I was little. I saved things like greeting cards, movie tickets, and brochures from my sixth grade field trip to D.C. Every now and then, I open it. I get a little teary when I see the newspaper photo that inspired our family to get our first dog. Seeing Duke as a puppy makes me remember what it felt like to scoop him up and take him home. Whenever I want to, I can look at his eyes. I can also laugh at myself and my obsession with Erik Estrada. An entire page is devoted to him. So when Charleen invited me to the scrapbook party, I was excited. I love the collage aspect of the craft itself, and getting together with people to do a creative activity is always a good time. Her party had wine, so it was definitely a good time! I was impressed and inspired by how elaborate scrapbooking had become. We used glitter and stickers, and we bedazzled many pages with shiny beads. Totally girly. Totally fun. Totally my sister-in-law.

Planning for Hannah’s wedding was also a job totally perfect for Charleen. Obviously, my niece had a lot to do with the details of her wedding, but I am highlighting my sister-in-law’s efforts in this post. Planning this event was particularly emotional for Charleen. She and Hannah are very close. They have a relationship I admire, and any time a relationship changes, even a little bit, it’s hard. All the hours and stress of planning were coupled with the fact that her little girl was about to experience a rite of passage, a ceremony that would mean Hannah would be moving out and starting a marriage of her own. Not a small deal.

So, sister-in-law, this page is for you. I want you to know that I appreciated the details… like Hannah and Colby’s portraits on the M&M’s, the photos of Cooper and Penny, the embossed, glittered, and handwritten place cards, and most of all, the scrapbook pages. Thank you, Charleen, for giving Benjamin and me (and many other loved ones in Hannah’s life) the opportunity to write to her and to collage photos of her. Not only was this heartfelt and inclusive, it was creative and fun and totally YOU!

Thank you for your consistent love and generosity, for caring about the details, the beauty you make, and for once again, hosting a lovely, memorable gathering. Go to the beach now and relax! You deserve it!



Stalking the Elusive Rhubarb

It’s no secret.

I love pie.

Some people may love the fluffy, creamy varieties of coconut cream or lemon meringue, but for me, it’s the combination of buttery crust and fruit that I find most addictive. I love apple pie in autumn and any kind of berry pie in summer, especially strawberry rhubarb.

Our family had rhubarb in our garden in Wisconsin. I loved how the giant leaves. My brothers and I used to stand under them and pretend they were fans. I loved how tongue-numbingly sour those stalks were when I bit into them, and I loved how the sweetness of strawberries and sugar countered that sour, balanced it perfectly.

Benjamin also remembers rhubarb from his family garden in Colorado, and he loves this summer pie too. Both of us thought that rhubarb grew all summer long. We’ve since learned, however, that here in the Northeast, rhubarb is a short-lived crop that’s picked in late spring. For the past three summers, our timing has been off, and we’ve always missed the harvest. Not this year. We spotted the stalks at the Farmer’s Market and brought our bundle home.

I was determined to bake something. Like I’ve written in earlier posts, my mom always made the most delicious fruit pies with perfect crusts, and no matter how confident I try to be in my baking, I really don’t have the same touch. I have made one successful pie, but this was only because my sweet friend Nicholas was by my side in the kitchen helping me. He and my Mom have the baking gift. I do not.

A gift I do have is thinking of creative ways to use things I already have stocked. I didn’t want to try to make pie crust. I was out of eggs and felt too lazy to go to the store, so a strawberry rhubarb bread was crossed off the list, but I did have an entire box of Trefoils, those buttery shortbread cookies from the Girl Scouts. Ding! There was my idea. I could make something with the fruit and pour it over the cookies like a short cake. Brilliant!

I went online and found this recipe:

I didn’t have a vanilla bean pod handy (who does?), but I knew I could substitute a drop of liquid vanilla, and I had everything else for the roasting. My house smelled so good! Thanks to the Scouts, I didn’t need to make the rye cakes, and when we poured the gingery, citrusy, honeyed fruit over those cookies, it was delicious! It wasn’t pie, but it was close, and I found a use for one of my favorite garden plants. Yay!

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