Life one bite at a time…….

Category: Uncategorized

Unchained Melody

In the past ten years, I’ve done a little wiring (more like re-wiring), some plumbing, a little drywall, hung gutters and cabinets, etc etc. In some ways I was blessed in having a partner who was handy, so I was an attuned audience member.

I get asked a lot, especially by women, how I learned to do these things. My answer is always this: the best way to learn to do, is undo.

Sitting this morning with my coffee, in the unseasonable 60 degree morning, I’m listening to the wind chastise the trees, the house, the chimes. I have been stuck. There are things I want to do, creative areas I want to explore but I am having trouble with the “do”. I’ve been a little lost, more do-less, than doing.

My psyche, soul, energy seems wrapped up, tied up, tightened in on me. This morning, I remember my own advice. The best way to “do” is “undo”. Visualize the loosing of the bonds, unweaving of the shreds of plastic, unknotting the little golden chains that have been inhibiting movement. This will take time, but I like the optics and the idea of being the one loosening my own bonds.

Rhea, unchained.

Chasing Art II!

By the end of the 90s, we had finally started to have some “expendable” income, whatever that really means. For us it meant almost no debt and we could begin to save some money. It also meant we could entertain moving up from our small starter home to something more adequately fulfilling our hobby needs.

So in 1999, we moved to a larger house built in 1960. Lots and lots of bare walls. I stretched what art we had to make do, but we needed some much larger pieces for things to look “right”. However, everything we bumped into seemed far more expensive than we were willing to extend ourselves for and it was also doing this period that I started noticing my husband was becoming more risk averse. Balance would need to be achieved.

At this time we lived in the south Dayton suburbs. Our folks lived in Kentucky, but not in reasonable proximity. Many, many weekends, we would head south to visit one household or the other, via the much more soothing backroads between our places.

One of these scenic byways took us through a little burg call Washington Courthouse. South of Columbus, it was a picturesque town like we liked them. Lots of historic buildings, a little shabby, but real. Those are the places we loved to stop and poke around. But since we were always mid flight when we went through the town, we really didn’t take the time to stop and poke.

Enter art.

On the bypass through town were these billboards. They were the most lovely things we had ever seen. There was one on each boundary of the bypass, depicting gorgeous rural scenes one with amazing pumpkins. There was no advertising, no attribution. Just these jumbo-tron sized works of art. It made the trip a little magical to see them.

At some time during this period, as is wont to happen, someone had the bright idea to build a McDonald’s on the bypass. I hate McDonald’s. To me the only thing redeeming this as a business is their bathrooms, and on one trip, we had to avail ourselves of their facilities.

Entering the establishment, it was much like any other McDonald’s. Except for the art. There were small 8 x 10 paintings of pumpkins and rural scenes. I knew immediately it was the same artist as the billboards. Cue the hook. In line to make our obligatory “paying for the bathroom usage” purchase, I asked to see the manager.

No, this was not a Karen moment. No one knew about Karen then. I asked him about the art. Was it for sale, who was the artist, what gives? He didn’t know, but the owner might. Here we go.

The next business day, I find out who the franchise owner is of the McDonald’s in Washington Courhouse. Locating that information, I called and left a message. The return call was speedy but brief. The owner didn’t know much, but thought if I called the Chamber of Commerce, they would be able to help me. Ring, ring!

The Chamber of Commerce person was very helpful. In fact, he knew the artist. Harry Ahysen. Why Harry and his wife lived there in town. He was sure they would be delighted for him to share their phone number with me. Ring, ring!

Calling the number, I spoke with Mrs. Ahysen. A little more mature this time, I didn’t go completely fan girl but was able to articulate my quest just a tad more gracefully than I had in the past. Just as graciously, she invited us to see what pieces were available for sale, and we made arrangements to meet on a Saturday.

We pulled up in our little Honda Accord, to a beautiful four square Craftsman two story near downtown Washington Courthouse. We were already in love with the house. The door was answered by the Ahysen’s daughter, who was an artist in her own right. And then we met Mr. and Mrs. Ahysen. They were lovely.

The paintings were in the cellar. And oh, there were so many lovely pieces. As we peeled through canvases we talked. Harry Ahysen was the state artist of Texas. He was also the official artist of the United States Coast Guard. He was a teacher. And he had played trumpet with Harry James, his wife was the bassist. My husband had played with Tommy Dorsey. Mutual friends were found.

What started out to be a simple afternoon of picking out a few canvases, became hours of talking about art and music and lives lived. We didn’t want to leave. And yet, their daughter told us Harry had been recently diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and we could tell his energy was flagging. Leave we must. It was painful.

Harry Ahysen passed in 2006. But his beautiful legacy and the memory of a beautiful afternoon spent cradled in the warmth of art and music will never fade.

Perhaps art is chasing me?

Chasing Art!

Even though I was no longer producing art, I always knew I wanted the real thing in my home. Once we had achieved a level of economic stability, sometime in the mid nineties, we made our first purchases. Three paintings found at an art show in Fairborn, Ohio, all local artists. One of which was and is the first thing I see every morning. The hook was set.

A few years later, as a gift from my husband, I received a coffee table book about Native Americans. I read it from cover to cover. Part of the illustrations included were several paintings by a Chickasaw artist, Mike Larsen. One of them was a gorgeous triptych centerfold like in the book. Prior to his paintings, I did not want people in my art. But there was something in how he portrayed people as if he had arrested them in mid movement. I couldn’t get enough.

Suddenly, I was like Pepe Le Pew pulled along in mid air after a scent I couldn’t deny. I had to have some of his art work. I knew without doubt if he was in that book I couldn’t afford him, but I could probably find a print.

The internet was pretty new then for this kind of search, so I could find nothing about him that way. So, I turned to the book’s bibliography. I figured if I could find out who represented him, I could find out how to get a print of one of his pieces. The bibliography was silent. Not to be deterred, I located the book’s publisher. New York of course. Thank goodness for business pages. I called the publisher.

To the publisher, I explained my quest. I wanted to find an outlet where I could purchase one of Mr. Larsen’s prints. Did they have any information about his representation? The lady was kind, but the publisher had no information other than Mr. Larsen resided in Oklahoma City. All righty then.

I sat with this information for a few days, but the hook kept tugging. It was a “what the hell” moment. So I dialed 411 for Oklahoma City and asked for the phone number of Mike Larsen. There were five. Now, some folks may remember when information was called, it was a live operator who literally was standing by to fulfill your next request. Mentally, I flipped the coin, what was the worst thing that could happen? I would pick one and it would be wrong. None of them would be the guy I was looking for. If I connected to the right one, he wouldn’t speak with me, or not return my call, or get a restraining order. What did I know about it?

I picked the first one on the list. I could hear the number going through and the phone rang. I had not rehearsed anything to say. I literally just held my breath. The call was answered. A very soft spoken male voice. My business sense kicked in a little, and I told him who I was and that I was attempting to find the artist named Mike Larsen. Speaking. SPEAKING! Dammit I was talking to MIKE LARSEN. My entire system went fan girl. I gushed, I bumbled, I stammered. And he was kind and gracious and unassuming the whole time.

When I finally came to, I asked about his prints. At that point, he wasn’t producing any, but he offered to send me a portfolio. Now, I had never dealt with an artist “face to face” like this. I didn’t know what he was saying. I didn’t know what a portfolio meant, but I had been raised to to be polite so I agreed. On his part, he was happy to hear someone enjoyed his art so much. Gracious to the bone. We rang off.

I was a happy camper and went to bed blissfully. The next day was a work day, and had no more on my mind than getting through it and coming home to be with my husband. Unusually, I was the first one home that night. On the door step was a thick overnight package from Fedex. I had never received an overnight package at home. It had to be bad news.

Opening it, revealed a white business envelope with Mike Larsen’s return address. I could hardly breathe. Inside the envelope was a stack of polaroids of his available work. Polaroids. He had taken the time to send me Polaroids! I just kept shuffling through them. Nothing in my past experience had prepared me for this. On the back of each print, was the price for the piece. I was right, way out of my league. But oh Lord how I wanted to.

In my cloud of euphoria, I didn’t know what the next move should be. What was appropriate in this type of exchange? A thank you note? Return the prints? A phone call? I literally couldn’t think, couldn’t come to a decision on how to respond. So I didn’t.

I still feel that inadequacy today. Those photographs are some of my prized possessions. I still don’t own a Mike Larsen, his asking prices have gone up, as they should have. I still don’t have a print, though he does produce some from time to time. Mr. Larsen has a gallery in OKC now, he’s a highly regarded and much awarded artist. His gallery is on my bucket list. Someday I will return his photographs in person. Until then, I dream.

This is your life

I am eating dinner alone, listening to NPR. This is a pretty regular occurrence; Don’t Cry for Me East Dayton, cue the music from my favorite musical.

It’s been a journey. I am surrounded by art, by dogs, by plants, by the detritus of a newly cooked dinner. I am in a reflective mood. Been a lot of that lately. Or possibly always.

Reflecting on my childhood/early adulthood. Lonely, singular I had ricocheted between episodes of wanting to run away from home, suicide, and hoping I could escape. That escape might be the theatrical production I might be currently be involved in, or it might be the recognition life will be better, someday. The day I could be on my own. Maybe this is where the hopeful gardener was born?

The plan I developed at 15 was simple: graduate college, go to New York or Chicago, 7 Tonies by the time I’m 30. What could go wrong?

College was a revelation, all I had hoped and waited for. In my usual pragmatic self talk, by the time I was hitting senior year at college, I figured I would either make a go of it, or die of Aids, which was just starting to populate the radar of theatre folks everywhere. And then it went wrong.

Wrong in marrying a talented, brilliant, pragmatic guy was never on my windscreen. So it happened. A conjoined life, repurposed. The plan derailed, but happily so. Until it wasn’t.

Suddenly the life I had visioned all those decades ago, making a go of it. Singlely, but with a richness I could not have then dreamed, out here on my own. This is my life.

May your button jar always have room

I’m trying to be a better citizen. Not talking about voting, or donating or being good to my neighbors, although those are always in play. No, I’m trying to be a better household citizen. I’m a bit of a packrat. As far as that goes, I was married to one, and so we both squirreled away (to continue the rodent metaphor) cool stuff to be used “some day”. Wire ties, pieces of wood, jars. Eventually, they all do get put to good use, but in the meantime, I’ve been moving them from place to place, box to box, cupboard to cupboard. It’s time to do a little clearing.

The spark was my decision to try to live more fully into my creative genes. I accepted a local artists challenge to produce art, the only parameter being it had to fit 3′ by 3′. I even went and bought new paint and brushes, but then the anxiety set in. Days passed.

After a while, one of my favorite sayings “Do One Thing Every Day that Scares You” reared it’s ugly head. So, time to unpackage the canvases (I’m using multiple 4″ x 4″ canvas) and prep a work area. But out of nowhere, came the thought, “you have paint, you have brushes, where are they?” Perhaps a procrastination technique to get me out of painting. But it put energy into my process and I started going through boxes, finding a bonanza of supplies from various periods of times past.

Now it might be thought to be triggering to go through all these boxes of history and lives lived. It was. Found were the boxes of art supplies, woodworking, miniatures, and jewelry making to name some. What a treasure trove! Gee, it seems I’ve been at this creative thing for a very long time! I began jonesing on all the ways these boxes of goodies could be used in my new repurposing life.

Then I started going through the sewing stuff. I’ve sewn since I was child, taught by my gifted Mom. Equally due to being poor and having a unique sense of style, for years I made a lot of my clothes. There was the pins and needles, the tailoring hams, the chalk and hooks and eyes and zippers. The most delightful trigger came from finding my button jar. If you sew, you have a button jar. It’s a requirement. I also foundd piles and piles of all those “extra buttons” usually tacked into new clothes. Most of them were still in the little dime bag zip locks and needed liberation.

So, I sat in the floor and starting cutting them open and adding them to the jar. This is kind of a Zen process, requiring no active thought. It allowed me to think of my Mom’s button jar, the one I grew up with; there were some lovely memories there of my playing with the buttons, sorting through them because of need, and of the little girl I baby sat who adored my Mom’s button jar.

I started babysitting when I was about 13. I had a real knack for it, did some great things with the kids I sat for. But the first one was Candace. When her family moved in next door, she wasn’t much more than a toddler. Cute as a button, bright red strawberry blond hair. She was a doll, though a spoiled one. Despite having every toy under sun, what she really asked to play with was my Mom’s button jar. When she was at our house, she would bee line for it, but knew to ask permission first. For some reason, she always called my Mom by her first name, but my Dad was always Mr. Spicer. It was just so cool to watch her shake the jar and look at all the myriad of buttons, all shapes, sizes, colors and materials.

My button jar is not as big as Mom’s. But its contents are just as interesting. As I liberated each button, it was a memory train of suits I’d owned and outfits I’d loved. Some were really unusual, interesting, cute, unique. One by one they added to the pastiche in the jar.

Such beautiful, happy reminisces. Golden with retrospect. How blessed I have been, how blessed I am now to be a packrat, a creator, to have access to both and all, to connect that to today. To my lovely blessed friends and family, I think of you and wish your button jar to always have room for one more.

Happy Thanksgiving!


Recently, I’ve experienced a lot of firsts. First historic home, first greenhouse, and now first time pond person. Not a “real” pond by any stretch, but certainly eye opening and educational.

The spot I chose for the pond is in the far south east corner of “dog patch”, behind the privacy fence. This area dovetailed into the new planting bed, but was a DMZ between us and them, the terrible terriers. Having been fortified and stockpiled against incursion, it seemed a likely place to dig a pond. Didn’t it?

Inspired by a pond liner and pump “found” in the attic of the church. It had been there 20 – 25 years, since its previous iteration had flooded the historic sanctuary. Exuant all. Enter me, the scavenging gardener……

Seriously hard work, digging, calculating trying to get it to work. I SWEAR, the bigger and deeper I dug, that liner expanded to exceed. But about two weeks ago, I realized I was digging in the leach field of the prior home on this lot. My home having always occupied two lots, at some point had expanded to incorporate a third lot that had previously held a home. Someone’s home; someone’s dream, from the late 1800s.

Now I was in its leach field. For those not aware, before sanitary sewers, homes and even outhouses ran tile into their “yards” to pass human waste underground to be absorbed, a leach field. On a tenth of an acre no less.

I had done quite a bit of digging before I realized my gloves had been compromised. Fingertips, generally of the dominant hand, my right now had holes in them. Now, there was sediment ingrained underneath my fingernails and in my skin. As I pondered this, I thought of the passing of ages where cholera, Spanish flu and tuberculosis had been rampant. And its passing through into this leach field. This spot would have absorbed all the sedimentary DNA of its time, as its occupants passed it through, to now.

Gave me pause. Yes, most definitely there was an exposure risk. But more importantly started the wheels turning. What other ways are the particles of the environment absorbed? As a cook, there were quick answers: mushrooms, eggplant, rice all take on the milieu in with they are cooked, most deliciously.

Gardener answers: there are plants whose output are dictated by relatives nearby, irises , columbines and hibiscus, whose blooms change to be all of an accord.

Painters, sculptors, poets all exist in an influential environment.

Leading me to here. Now. What is the flavor of the sauce in which I simmer? In which YOU simmer? Are you absorbing a caustic chemistry of other ages or are there different flavor profiles tantalizing its host to explore. As for me, though I love antiques, give me a new flavor profile any day!

Me, incarnate

The best intentions are sometimes scuttled — I have had in my mind since the inception of my musings to turn these writings into a gardening experience. And yet, there are times where the need to write invades my synapses and pushes against the inside of my skin until there is no choice; and in this, there is no choice about the subject matter. After all, the muse always wins.

I am lonely. Not in the “I’m going to act out in dangerous ways” kind of lonely, but in the my “overly analytical mind needs to examine again and again” kind of lonely. I’ve been alone for over a decade, and this analytical presence has its place in the front of the vanguard of my psyche all the time. It has shared my bed, my thoughts, my energies. Indeed there are many dead soldiers in this process, as they pass through and beyond the need for further analysis. But the part of me that is designed to “serve and to protect” has been running interference, possibly for my whole life, against loneliness.

I was a singular child; not lonely, but alone in ways not seen by the naked eye. Trying to navigate a space where I didn’t feel I was lovable or deserved love. Where I felt connected, where it couldn’t get to me, was in that place of creation: performing, singing, dancing, writing, building and later in life, gardening.

In those spaces, I am one with the incarnational spirit that is me. Recently, I read Richard Rohr’s The Universal Christ; I am captivated by the idea of the creator spirit being inside of me and outside of me, in every pixelated atom that makes up everything. Not only have I been created, but I am constantly being recreated, renewed, incarnated. If the universe cares enough about the pixelated me to join me into this tangible, incarnational being, who am I to question?

The most beautiful things in the world, the Joshua Tree, mountain crags, beaches, you name it, are also incarnational. What makes them iconic, majestic, compelling is the very sculpting of the ravages of time, the survival against odds, the ongoing microscopic incarnation.

So here I am, broken not fixed, incarnational, leaning into loneliness. My psyche has permission to stop blocking and tackling. Loneliness is a perspective that makes me comfortable where others are not. To embrace the universe in my interstitial spaces and realize it is not a fault, it is not terminal, it is a gift. The blocking and tackling, the devising of imaginary companionship has been more damaging than loving all that is me, including my loneliness. Loneliness does not define me, it defines how I see. What I see is I would rather be lonely than give up the pixelated God that is all around me or be that which is not part of my incarnational being.

I am afraid I am saying this very poorly; but saying it at all is perhaps a few more steps towards walking another soldier to its grave. Living with loneliness isn’t easy, but there are much worse things.

Hello from the other side

Yes, I blatantly stole that from Adele, but as a fellow gardener, she just might give me a pass.

It’s been a while.  Ten years, plus.  A decade.  This thread started as a way to express and cauterize a wound; now realizing the wound will most likely never fully heal.  But, I always wanted to turn this into a gardening focused expression.  I guess there was too much compost in the early days.

In the meantime, I made the move of a lifetime.  After nine years of on and off looking and several near misses, I bought my dream house.  A vernacular Victorian farmhouse sited in a downtown urban site.  Three lots; two were original to the build, the third added after the existing house was leveled and pushed into its foundation.  Most of my house has the original (unpainted) old growth woodwork, four fireplaces (none working) with gorgeous original mantels, original windows, original amounts of work to be done.

The three lots in total aggregate about a third of an acre;  a downsize.  One lot for the most part occupied with the house, the 1960s garage and the shed I built shortly after taking ownership.  The lot is divided east and west, the front/public area (east), bounded by the house, a wrought iron fence (not original but harkening to that), and on the back side a privacy fence separating my soon to be garden from Dog Patch — this is the area 115 pounds of dog now calls home.

I left a garden twenty years in the making.  Mostly flat, on all sides surrounding by beds filled with habitat of all sorts.  Fully its own, made by me.  Heavy clay with a stripe of moraine on one side.  Lessons learned and garnered.  Processes honed and specific.  A burgeoning of blooms and plants and wildlife, managed organically.  What was I thinking??

I am assessing the debris field that is my new garden scape.  The beauty of the public garden space is seven (now six) mature river birches creating beautiful shimmering and musical ambiance in the planting area.  There has been a lot of history since 1880, families, lives lived and lost, the 1913 flood, the downed houses, the time of neighborhood and urban decline and decay.  These have left tattoos in a soil perhaps once an ancient river bed?

The first order of business was the airlift of plants (via truck?) ten miles from old garden to new.  Not sure how many truckloads, 4, 5?  With only the very front formal space a glimmer in my eye in terms of planting, all the rest had to be manhandled into turf areas hastily turned in order to beat the coming winter.  By the time this was accomplished, tags were lost, broken, erased.  As they were lifted from the pot to the soil, root balls broke up.  While allowing for the propagation of new plants, it also meant that come spring, I would have no idea what was where, or even what would survive.

Every shovelful is a voyage of discovery.  This area was heavily glaciated in the way back, so rocks are common. I harvest those for drainage projects. The soil has other ghosts: pieces of sheet glass and bottles, metal bottle caps, pieces of iron fencing, bits and bobs hard to determine. I don’t like to wear gloves when I garden, but it has become a necessity.

Sited in an urban historic district, all “major” exterior changes to appearance have to be approved in advance by the local hysterical, that is historical, commission.  Since the plan was to recreate the front turfed area into a pleasure garden, I had to submit a plan for approval. The process was not as bad as it has been advertised.  I hand drew a plan, wrote a brief narrative of what the scope and process would be and included example pictures from the garden I left behind.  It didn’t take long for me to receive the seal of approval.

I had named the old garden The Artburetum.  What to call this new space, my new heart.  With a shout out to the old, but adorned with the beautiful birches of the new, the new garden is The Artburetum at Varekeno.  Varekeno was the home place in Dr. Zhivago, a place of refuge where the protagonists would go for safety, surrounded by birches.


Sitting in my kitchen on Christmas Day. I have made my first ever attempt at homemade biscuits and have enjoyed a decadent late breakfast, contemplating the clean up in progress.

But over the last few days what has really been on my mind is birth. Now I have never had the maternal gene, and I guess luckily for me, my soul mate didn’t desire parenthood either. So I don’t know about the physical demands of birth, other than what I’ve heard and read.

I am experiencing a birth of sorts. The journey of the last few years has had the constrictions and pulsing of childbirth. The pangs have been horrendous. In the early days not even sure I would survive the process but in my new awake mode, I look back at the heartbreak, the loneliness and the grief and realize from that womb will be born a new life. A life that if I just get out of the way, will let me live into the gifts with which I was born.

Leaving the womb is frightening and shocking. All things are new. Sloughing away like afterbirth those things that do not nourish, lift up, propel.

Realizing from here on out, I write my own story, make my own traditions, live or die by the dreams I have for so long held back. As I sit here in my abundance contemplating the birth of the world’s greatest revolutionary and refugee, I look forward to 2018, the year of my rebirth.

August? AuGUST!

First week of August. Temps have dropped into the 60s and 70s, night time 50s. August? AuGUST! I love this. We may yet be hit with high temps and humidity, but I prefer to think not.

As I walk around my acre, it is incredible to me 98% of this came from inside my head. 17 years of trial and error. Planning, scuttling of plans, chaos and nature whittling away at planning. Loving the happy accidents, learning to bend and not break. Giving the thugs and the interlopers their day and then moving in for the kill.

Feeling the ebb of the seven years of riptide. Finally, it seems the flailing and treading of water are bringing me within sight of land. Two of three musical goals in the bag. Number three in the crosshairs? Finding my gardening stride, trying to move it forward, professionally.

Feeling this dome of peace and me-ness. So attuned to this space had I been proffered the apple, my response, ‘sorry bro, on a high protein diet.’ Don’t want this hearts bubble to burst.

So I look ahead to the future….here is the dreaded street side bed at two years.  Populated on the cheap, refugees from the other parts of the garden.  I relish the wildlife, wild LIFE, that moves through its AUGUST situation. Bees, wasps, butterflies, beetles, hummingbirds, farm cats, birds. Me. Neighbors noticing and I get to preach on sustainability, organics, let live, don’t stress, join the party.

AUGUST. Loving it….Living it…….preaching the word.  Eden….live… August.

Blank slate


So it begins, the first autumn


Now, two years later