A Good Week Of Retirement, Or, Saturday Morning at 9:50am

Prepare to have the socks bored right off your feet. Lately I’ve been considering the idea of a Good Week.

As someone who is wired by goals and plans and achievement, as I’ve said before, retirement poses a conundrum. Very little of what I do is big enough to need my full machine. Revving up just to, say, take used hangers to the dry cleaners/return library books/get to a yoga class generates enough adrenaline to negate the yoga.

Seems dumb. Retirement is a privilege. I want to organize my time so that at the end of a week I can look back and say, “That was a Good Week.” I need that sense of pride in accomplishment. I mean, I work on the zen and all that but the neural paths of 61 years do not surrender overnight.

So here’s what constitutes a Good Week, for me. It’s too hard to cram my scale of need to accomplish into one day but a week I can do.

A Good Week Of Retirement

First I had to understand my priorities. Old habits just don’t die.

  1. Anything important that my kids need (note, requests for new skin cream or Danko clogs fun though they are qualify as recreation and therefore cannot be allowed to bump other stuff further down the list)
  2. Taking care of my husband – dinners, errands, driving, life
  3. Time-critical administrative stuff like our bills, house repairs, Mom’s bills, Mom’s income, etc.
  4. Saturday blog post
  5. Amusing myself with social media, television and books, staring out the windows  (I wish I needed this less but if I’m honest, and ranking things by the role they play in my life, this is the truth)
  6. My own health
    1. Weight management (decades of practice, ingrained)
    2. Saturated fat minimization (new, wow I miss carnitas)
    3. Sugar moderation (fine, fine, fine)
    4. Alcohol moderation (ongoing project, lifelong, I imagine)
    5. Vegetable and fruit maximization (all the crunching, so tiring!)
    6. Exercise/movement, yoga, walking, gardening, or very active house cleaning, 5-6 days/week (trying to increase this by putting a treadmill in the garage)
    7. Physical therapy for an old twisted hip, sustained while giving birth to my son (new effort, quite revealing, amazing what we store in our hips)
  7. Trying not to exit this world without having completed a substantive creative effort, AKA long form writing (crosses fingers, pleads with the evil eye to move on, promises to be good)
  8. Contributing to social welfare (school volunteering)
  9. Keeping house and home from falling through the cracks –  gardening, cleaning, clearing out closets, painting bookcases (yes, I finally finished the bookcase and will eventually tell the story which is a good one about laughing when things turn out kind of ugly and maybe also about creating, not sure yet)

You smart people will notice I am pretty far down on my own list. That is OK. To a point, I nurture myself by caring for others, I am not in the least selfless. I do have to watch I don’t take it too far.

To keep track of these earth-shattering thoughts, I use yellow lined pads – listing the week’s to-do candidates in categories at the top, a plan to implement day-by-day below. At the moment, categories are as follows. I will spare you my day-to-day – suffice it to say I crossed off  ‘get in touch with the roofer” last week.

  • Home (currently needing a new rubber thingie for the drain in the kitchen sink the name of which I do not know)
  • Mom
  • Treadmill (I find I hate neighborhood walks these days before I get so bored, if this is to happen I have to elevate a task to the level of a category, because, next I have to CLEAN BOXES OUT OF THE GARAGE AAAARGH)
  • Garden (currently coveting a coffeeberry for the back yard and scarlet penstemon for the front)
  • Blog (hello!, waves at you guys)
  • Long Form (oh man the outlining! The research!)
  • School (this is my volunteering, cut back to one day a week to try and make space for above Long Form)
  • Yoga (Ha! The only to-do is to remind myself to go twice a week. But I think the irony of yoga on a to-do list pretty much says it all)
  • Health (To-dos here have been doctor appointments, catching up on all I let slip while focused on Mom’s health, catching up to being 61. And yes, I am losing some hearing in my left ear. On the other hand, eating less meat does lower cholesterol. You lose some, you win some.)

So inelegant, but every time I aim for elegance I throw it out.

All well and good. And then, recently, I had two epiphanies. One must always number list one’s epiphanies, ain’t that right?

  1. From a phone call with my best friend who lives in New Jersey, I need to plan an entire day each week without a single to-do. Not to say I will in fact do nothing, but for my adrenaline levels, I need essentially to fake a weekend experience, to allow myself to absolutely as I please for 12 hours. I suppose I am faking a workweek the rest of the time.
  2. This, while making the bed, some days will be bad no matter how well I have conceptualized and implemented my week’s plan. The world is in a tough spot right now. I am not able to go about my privileged life without fear for those at risk. Also, being alive is vast and body chemistry is what it is.

When I cross off all the things on my list I get the Good Week thrill. I love it. Then I tear off that piece of paper and rewrite. Seems picayune, but we are who we are and best to just get on with it.


I am sorry for having bored you, I hope you can retrieve your socks from wherever they have flown to, fuzzy sock ears covered. Materfamilias has a much lovelier version of taking stock, here. I tend to use the feeling in my gut as my stock-taker, and right now it’s good.

Have a wonderful weekend everyone. Life is a gift. A sense of humor on the other hand, the secret weapon.



Piece By Piece, Or, Saturday Morning at 8:03am

You may remember a while back I started repurposing my kids’ spaces. My son’s room became my “workroom” (in quotation marks because in fact I just keep stuff there and cart it out to my sofa for actual working); my daughter’s room became the guest room.

However, that was 2015, and in January of 2016 we began the process of moving my mother to memory care. My time and intent disappeared into the subsequent chaos. Now, with chaos at bay and the end of 2017 approaching, I’m slowly, slowly finishing up. Guest room, meet your chaise longue. I don’t expect much lounging, but the long chair makes great clothing storage for those who don’t fully unpack.

Once I regained mental capacity for things like furniture, I kept imagining dark teal upholstery, to complement the red and gold bedding. So when I discovered Interior Define on Emily Henderson’s blog and looked over their selections, I ordered excitedly. The modern flat upholstery contrasts with the old-style turned legs in a way I just love. (BTW, Emily did a chaise roundup this week, you can find it here.)

That throw is a silk shaw that belonged to my father’s mother. You will also see the bedside table we found on eBay to pair with the one from my mother’s mother. Yes, both grandmothers represented.

However, all this progress has confirmed my suspicions. This room does not get enough light to allow the Merida rug to shine, literally or figuratively. The relative darkness draws me to rich colors and fabrics, which aren’t working perfectly with the Merida’s low white weave. I love a clean look in our master bedroom, with its private double height windows and southern light. Not here, so much.

So I’m going to keep layering for lushness. Maybe a sheared sheepskin to go next to the bed? Invest in curtains and shades, maybe long and white and linen-ish with red trim? Too much? Add more metals? I don’t know. I’m thinking and open to suggestion.

Most of all I need art. Those walls cry out.

Luckily, I know a lot of artists and am discovering more. I have Laura’s photo in the workroom, Lily’s painting in the living room, Gitta’s photograph in the master bedroom. I wanted to buy one of Cara’s paintings but it sold too fast. I’m loving Kathy’s new still lifes. And now I’d like to introduce you to Ian Gallagher. Ian is my son’s boyfriend, but even without connection I’d find his work brilliant. For example, these animations. And, the paintings.

That’s the post card invitation to a Brooklyn group show he’s in. Opened last night. I highly recommend you stop by if you can. I keep wondering, as I do with talented people, how they manage to accomplish two seemingly contradictory things at once. How is that family above both so celebratory and so horrifying? I can’t look away.

I probably wouldn’t hang it in my guest room – I think it’s meant to be surrounded by brave conversation, in a dining room. But Ian’s got other works. I’m waiting patiently to be allowed to buy one maybe.

So have a wonderful weekend everyone. Layered or full of art.

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Even California Decorates For The Seasons, Or, Saturday Morning at 9:22am

I woke up early this morning, as usual. Today was darker than yesterday. Not just the infinitesimal shortening of winter daylight – our rain has arrived.

The San Francisco Bay Area has a “summer dry” climate. Everything browns from June to October. Sometimes we have long, long droughts, but in a normal year, rain falls off and on from December through April. This is our winter, our green time.

So in California, we grow and cocoon at the same time. Huh. I think that’s something I will need to consider, now that I’ve said it. It’s like we run to ground in our houses, but the natural world flourishes on its own. Or something? Who knows?

In any case, my seasonal decor revolves around sofas. Come winter, I change out the throw blankets, from sky blue to tobacco. And I think about changing out the pillow covers, from Marimekko blue and green to something brown and smokey.

This morning, when I woke up in the dark, I remembered I hadn’t picked up yesterday’s mail. Our mail slot opens into our garage, no mailbox in the snow, just a tiptoe across an oil-stained cement floor, California rain splattering the shake roof.

There I found the Samuel Scheuer catalog. Do you remember, they sponsored a giveaway for us last year? The holiday hand towels? I’ll be bringing mine out in December, I imagine. For now,  look at those baby alpaca throw blankets up top. All the colors of all the seasons. For your winter, red? Must be what, six different shades? (I know, expensive. We can just look.)

Or these pillows, woven linen from Libeco? I’d have to see them in real life; it’s all about texture.

California’s version of holiday tartan, I suppose. If cold places wrap up in green and red, reminders of berries and dark leaves under the snow, maybe we do earth tones. Burn sweetgrass candles, remember sun on the hills, thank every spirit we can for the rain.

I like to think about furnishing my house for winter, about wrapping up in blankets and napkins and tablecloths, even if just imaginarily on a rainy morning. Imaginarily, is that a word?

Have a wonderful weekend.

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Big Chicken, Or, Saturday Morning at 10:41am

I cannot write long non-fiction to save my life. Like gluing beads on fabric, too many small but important things to track. My fingers get in the way.

Fortunately for the world, others pick up that slack. For example, Maryn McKenna has published a new book. Big Chicken. The title!

Maryn has commented here, she and I have met a couple of times. She’s elegant and smart and direct. Also the kind of writer who provokes an involuntary response, “Woman knows what she is doing.”

In any case, Big Chicken tells the story of how modern agriculture came to rely on antibiotics to supply us with animal protein. I am only on the second chapter and I’ve already been completely surprised. Did you think antibiotics were used to prevent animal disease? Me too. Were we right? Well, I’m going to do that annoying tease thing and not tell you. Because as you will have guessed, I want you to buy the book. It’s a engaging read. Now, or for upcoming gifts, either way.

I hope you buy it in part because Maryn is my friend and she writes so well. But also because I think the book matters, especially now. Maryn sheds light on how corporations and regulations work; she illuminates the role that science and scientists can and must play in our well-being; she reminds us about cruelty, health, and our diet.

Embarrassing personal confession to follow. We’re among friends. As one who not only can’t write long fiction, but also, I admit with some shame, rarely reads it, I’m surprised by how much of an impact a book like this can have on our worldview. A good non-fiction narrative isn’t just a way to consume a bunch of facts. You can inherit fully fledged insight from someone with expertise. Can you recommend a non-fiction book you’ve loved lately?

Finally, you intelligent and logical people might have wondered why I’m writing this post from the second chapter of the book. Good question! Maryn’s on a tour, and this Monday, October 30th, at 6pm, she will be at Book Passage in the Ferry Building. I am thinking someone out there might be able to attend.

I’ve got a bad cold, which sadly means I can go only if I’m better because a) I don’t feel well b) I’m coughing so much I would annoy the bejeezus out of anyone also attending. But Monday morning, if you’re thinking of going, email me at skyepeale at yahoo dot com, or say hi on Twitter, and if I’m suitable for the world let’s meet up. Or, go, and remain anonymous. I would never enforce friendship.

Have a good weekend everyone. Perhaps I mean, a good weekend narrative?

Comfort Or The Fight, Or, Saturday Morning at 9:06am

I have a weekend full of children to enjoy. A friend of mine in London just gave birth, and I am encouraging her to distribute lots of “baby spam.” Today I’m going to the 4th birthday of two cute twins I met in their first week of life and have celebrated ever since. It’s possible one of my own children might stop by later.

Motherhood works for me. Sometimes I’d like to mother an entire town. Or at least a neighborhood.

I wonder, what would it be like to live in a matriarchy? A society in which the skills of mothering – not the actual requirement to be a mother (of course) – were the most valued? Comforting, scaffolding, the whole gamut of Looking Out For. Do you ever think about that?

I suppose for now we largely believe as we did in early days – the fight matters most. Many societies still believe that if we don’t fight, we don’t live. And while that’s probably true, I don’t think it’s the most important truth today.

Ah well. Off to buy birthday presents. I’ve always been a last minuter – at least I’ve learned not to try and wrap presents in the trunk of my car. That was chaotic, a strategy for the young and relatively foolish.

Have a great weekend. Maybe today we celebrate the mothering skill of of patting someone on the back, held to our shoulder in a dark night room, or under our shoulder, standing at a field of play.

Invisible Smoke, Or, Saturday Morning at 9:29am

It’s a full 80 minutes drive from my house to the southernmost tip of fires now burning in the Wine Country.

And yet yesterday morning I woke up with a nose bleed. Today again. Our air smells of smoke, is full of tiny invisible particulate, and alternates between Unhealthy and Unhealthy for Select Groups on the Air Quality Index. We bought a new air filter and are staying inside but will want to buy masks if we go out.

I tell you these details of little consequence, in the scheme of things, simply to give you a small and maybe more vivid impression of the Wine Country fires in Napa, Sonoma, and Lake County. By the numbers, >5000 structures have burned, >30 people are dead and many more still missing. 340 acres of elegant houses, mobile home parks, agricultural and commercial buildings in ashes.

If we look out further, to Houston’s flooding, Puerto Rico’s hurricane or Mexico’s earthquake, we might feel a larger compassion but also maybe some overwhelm. Natural disasters aren’t new, but in the last century we humans have built more buildings, used up more space and needed more water. Social media and news technology means we now see and hear more details of suffering, we also see how important it is to be able to work as a community.

In 2017 we are both more dominant and more connected, and I don’t think we’ve yet figured out this stage of our civilization.

What’s a Sturdy Gal to do? Focus on that which is in her control and gives her hope.

  • First, she blows her nose and drinks more water.
  • Second, deprived of the Northern Californian’s usual access to the out-of-doors, she vows to dust, vacuum and mop her house. For exercise as well as cleanliness.
  • Third, she donates to Direct Relief, a Santa Barbara charity that passes >99% of donations on to end recipients, rather than paying much to staff. You can even specify the geography you want to support. (She also marvels at the work of firefighters on the front lines and officials managing evacuations. All the planning, the systems, the bravery, the experience.)
  • Fourth, she recommits to volunteering. At the Swing Left site, in the classroom next week. Those of you with different politics than mine must have your own activities in support of a just, effective and compassionate society, do those things.
  • Fifth, she thinks about driving to the coast tomorrow if the air is bad again. Looks like the ocean is still vast and alive enough to bring us clean breath at its edge.

I considered gratitude as an approach, but in times like this gratitude rubs against guilt. Sturdy Gals don’t do rose-colored glasses well, we are better off with a brisk, “Well, this isn’t good, but let’s get going.” I considered dreams of elsewhere too, an escape to Hawaii, but, well, you guys wouldn’t fly away either.

Have a good weekend. Do what you can. share what you’ve got, drink a lot of water. For water I do feel gratitude.


The Artsy Cousin Quilts, Or, Saturday Morning at 8:55am

We might say that this time of my particular life has been about befriending my inner Artsy Cousin. Born Sturdy, trained in Grande Dame where required, cozying up to Artsy takes time. Worth the wait, if it’s a dream of yours.

As you know, I didn’t make these High WASP archetypes up. The Grande Dame exists, the Sturdy Gal is real, and now I’d like to introduce one of my actual Artsy Cousins. This is Linda, my uncle Win’s oldest daughter. She made this quilt.

I think it’s startlingly beautiful. Look at the detail on one of the poppies.

And not to shock anyone’s system too badly, but Christmas does come for some of us every year. Look at this.

The Tree of Life. Those birdies.

Linda has, for the first time, put her work up on Etsy. She didn’t ask me to post about her shop, but she did say it was OK. I have more than one handmade quilt in my house, so does my father, I thought you guys might share our taste.

Now I must go and reply to your comments on last week’s post. Turns out when I gave up weekday posts my comment reply time disappeared. I will remedy that, I promise. Sturdy Gals persist, in courtesy and camaraderie as well as in Becoming Artsy.

Have a wonderful weekend everyone.


Copying Texts Like Monks Illuminating, Or, Saturday Morning at 9:17am

Today is my birthday, as it happens, I am 61.

I thought of something yesterday or the day before. The world likes to characterize aging simplistically – we’re either slumped in despair at our upper arms, or dancing as gray hair streams down our oh-so-supple backs. Neither true. Many of us who are this age have seen as many good changes as bad, and as many bad as good.

Also known as you win some you lose some.

My college professors taught me that the Renaissance happened in part because the monks discovered Greek and Latin history. The theory is that transcribing the texts of a rich past civilization gave the monks perspective on their own times, once they realized their experiences had been lived before. I guess they learned knowledge is relative? That history will look back?

In any case, here’s what I like best about 60. You know you’ll see you were young now if you get to be 80 some day. Because you’ve looked back before. You’ve turned 50 and thought, “Wow I was young at 30.” You’ve turned 60 and realized that even 40 is a baby.

So you, or at least, me, forgive yourself your jowls. I mean, not every day. Sometimes I scold them in the mirror. You shake your head and shrug a bit at your difficult characteristics. Again, not every day. I still suffer some nights worrying I’ve talked too much or too fast.

But on the whole, there’s equanimity in the layering of life. Peace in palimpset. Which I wish was called chiaroscuro, because it would sound better, but you can’t have everything.

Maybe wisdom isn’t a better blue, per se, it’s layers. For example, cobalt, marine, turquoise, french.

Have a wonderful weekend everyone. Feeling like I just have to sign this, xoxoxox.

I Am Not Linda Rodin, But, Or, Saturday Morning at 9:44am

(J. Crew shirt worn at the end of this post on New York Fashion Week, Madewell jeans and Ecco sneakers worn here, gold hoop earrings shown here, Bare Minerals GenNude lipstick reviewed here)

I am not Linda Rodin.

Isn’t she cool?

And yet, when I read this interview with her on Cup of Jo, I felt a little spark of recognition. Linda says,

Q: Was there a time in your life when you felt really beautiful?
A: Right now. Truly, more than ever. Getting old gives you freedom. You can be cranky; people just say, oh, well, you’re a doddering old lady. You don’t have to make excuses.


I love clumpy eyelashes; that’s how we wore it in the 60s. We even used to draw Twiggy-style eyelashes underneath our eyes — it looked absurd, but whatever beauty looks I’ve tried, I always thought they were right at the time.” (bold added)

Yes, in my 60s. I don’t feel radiant with youth and beauty, I am not impeccable, but I do get a kick out of being able to get dressed and feel good in my skin.

Many might deem the outfit atop this post “too young.” Ironically, when I was 50, or even 40. I might have felt sheepish or tentative. Now, ha.

I had always known how to dress “up,” thanks to my mother. I had figured out how to dress for different work environments, thanks to the High WASP obsession with “appropriate” and social contexts. But in casual clothing I never wanted to show I was trying. Too embarrassing, to care.

It wasn’t a conscious attitude, so little about how I dressed was conscious before I started writing this blog. But now I’m all, “Hey, this is comfortable, I feel jaunty, my feet don’t hurt, I’ll make a gesture towards style with some visible earrings, let’s go.” I might even add an exclamation point, something else I used to avoid.

So thank you all for biding with me as I sorted out family baggage. Beloved family, finely tooled, but a burden when carried without a break.

Which brings me to other news. Tracey Cleantis, she of the erstwhile blog, La Belette Rouge, she of the best-selling The Next Happy, is writing a new book about the psychology of our wardrobes. She and Sue of Une Femme talked a little about the upcoming book, Sue discusses here.

I suspect Linda will approve.

Have an absolutely excellent weekend everyone.

Fending Off Solutions, Or, Saturday Morning at 10:49am

I know I told you my tall old Chinese elm fell over this spring. Not that you needed to remember, of course. It kneeled down as I was looking out the window. No damage to our house, very little damage to anything, but we were suddenly treeless.

That tree had defined the yard, and to an extent, the house. I have so many windows that used to look out on leaves, through which the sun now streams and streams. My garden also depended on the shade. Hydrangeas, ferns, dogwood, phormium, dicentra, myosotis. Lots of plants have burned.

But I am not primarily sad.

At first, yes. The tree was alive, I felt I knew it, that it had a self. I mourned. But I’ve moved on to learning. I am not the Buddha, this is a cognitive practice of fallible humans. Learning what? How not to solve for beauty. How not to jump to conclusions. How to focus on the deepest problem.

By nature, I think visually and rapidly, inferring a whole from barely seen patterns. I let visual and barely processed cues guide me. No patience. I’ve had to sit with an unmet need, no blinking. It feels weird. I’ve made myself live through hot day after hot day. Not very happily. I water by hand so as to pay attention.

I hold up. I tell myself, “Wait. Do not assume you know how to screen the neighbor’s roof or where to move the purple iris. Focus on first understanding whether or not you will plant another tree.  Then save the plants you love. It’ll be beautiful again. Maybe next year.”

The elm fell about five months ago. Since then I’ve installed five olive trees in pots on the patio, to shade our windows. I’ve moved two hydrangeas and a fuchsia out of the direct sun. Fuchsia, meet daphne.

I’ve let another hydrangea die, I’ve weeded, I’ve planted succulents. And I’ve come to the conclusion that we have no choice but to plant another tree, exactly where the elm was. Well, we could put up a shade sail, strung from the house, but that’s not my style. I want to see green grow.

Meanwhile, butterflies, who don’t mind about the tree. A Gulf Fritillary in the side yard.

Where I also let thistles grow, then go to seed and down.

Turns out thistles are the larval food of Painted Lades. Yesterday I had four flapping around my big abelia hedge, at the same time. I suspect I also housed their caterpillars but too many prickers to be certain.

Here’s the new Cecile Brunner rose in my front yard. I put it in a year or so ago, when a large juniper died – the drought has been hard on us all around – it’s grown a lot in its first two years.

Even over the fence into the back. Above the thistle. The benefits of change don’t always announce themselves in advance.


Have a good weekend my friends. La vie est sometimes belle.



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