Where are you, Orange Pear Apple Bear?

Orange Pear Apple Bear book cover for a child

“We have ‘Orange Pear Apple Bear’!” a child shouted from behind the green easy chair where the books pile up at the foot of the little bookcase overflowing with picture books. By accident, it was not returned in the last batch of library books, despite child-driven reports to the contrary. Excitedly, I called my son over to sit and read. We sounded the words out. I explained a little, I nudged a little, I urged a little.

So, technically, he read it.

But I tried to force the moment. I grew so excited about how this was a momentous occasion with all my children that I was determined it would be so for him.

Ever been there before?

All in their own good time. Fruit, children, wildflowers. They all bloom in their own good time. And we have to wait. With bitter, gnawing patience, we have to wait.

As a mother, as a homeschooling mother, it’s so easy to fall into the trap of forgetting to give them space, to let their little personalities and brains develop according to their particular path and timeline. We want to have control. We want to make a plan. The beauty of these opportunities comes in the perennial reminder that we have less control than we imagine and oftentimes, that’s okay.

To move our bodies during this latest blistering heatwave, we made a mid-morning swim outing. That event was not the perfect success I imagined. If we finished a handful of subjects, left at 10 a.m. swam for an hour, returned at 11 a.m., ate lunch, showered, had a break, then resumed school at 1 p.m., that would work so well. But as you can see that plan with four children was doomed from the start, if only for the reason that it did not account for seat-belt buckling and transportation times.

We returned at the time when they usually sit down for their lunches and the toddler usually naps. Hungry and tired, I trudged in, while those little ones came bounding behind me, delighted with the event. It was outside my control

So then what?

I can let it rattle my bones, bug me to no end, and seethe in irritation because I came back hungry, and tired, and we still had more school work today.

Or I can let it go. Do what I need to do, in this case, eat and hydrate myself, and move on. I know to stop myself from talking too much when I’m hungry or tired, although I am not always successful.

It is amazing how the little things can irk us.

Can you identify those things that make you particularly more irritable? That is my project for the week. Tiredness, hunger, and being altogether too focused on what I want to get done later that I am impatient with what I must do now. I started to wonder if social media scrolling might be affecting me as well. Studies show, yadda yadda yadda.

I identified a lack of focus in myself, usually due to scrolling. So it’s time to work on that.

This is the project. We fall back into bad habits, realize we’ve fallen back, consider what went wrong, identify what we need, and take steps to make it better. If we are alert enough to engage in this project of growing, we circle upward along those stages of change, each time growing a little more. Little things or big things. Growth in the little things trains for will for the big things.

So onward!

After the gushing reflections on educational glories, I’m back to my humble position of knowing it is more for me to help usher the child forward than make the victory happen. I can and I will marvel at what he does, but only if I cool it enough to pay attention. Another lesson for the books.

Photo by Estée Janssens on Unsplash

The things that make us Human

I felt the pain creep into my hips and back. In the afternoon, finding a quiet moment, I lay down on the wall-to-wall beige carpet in our living room prepared to pull this leg and that against my chest, so many seconds at a time, following the instructions from a physical therapist.

Right leg. Left leg. I hear a squeal behind me.

A light-weight stomping of hand after knee pitter-patters its way across the room. Before I know it, the infant has come for me. I brace myself, pull my hair into protective position and prepare to engage.

She goes first for the hair, as I anticipated. I win that round. But then, the little heathen strikes for my face. My forearms shield me. Opening my eyes, I see her press her face between my arms, seeking to worm her way through my fortress where she can lick or bite my nose or do whatever it is a ten-month-old wants to do to her mother in this vulnerable and reduced position.

She shrieks with glee.

I shriek with fright knowing I am done for.

I call for help to those idle witnesses who think, “maybe someone else will help that lady,” and watch from across the room, pretending to do their school work.

“Help me! Help me!” I cry. Now, the baby is on top of me, pressing that chubby face down into my personal bubble.

They rush to my side, finally, but it is too late. She weasels through. She slimes me.

Her droplets smear across my cheek. It is finished.

I crawl out from under her power to wipe away the aftermath of the spit-sport. Even I have my limits.

Face to face. Droplets. Close proximity. Physical contact.

We do not just miss the old way of living because we are anxious for the crisis to end, impatient to the waiting to be over, exhausted by the grip of fear, or frustrated by the yo-yo of moving tier to tier.

We want to return to normal because, in the effort to be safe, we have sacrificed good, normal things that are part of being human. Seeing each other face to face, standing in close proximity, eating together. Those uniquely human things are the building blocks of relationships. Those relationships form families and friendships. The proximity of these little societies builds community. All this is part of the core of our being human.

And we put it on hold while experts searched for answers.

But I am afraid for the future. I fear for those already struggling with depression, loneliness and isolation as Thanksgiving passes and an already chilly winter sets deeper in when we know those already prone to it are likely to experience a rougher time around “the holidays.”

I am afraid of what will happen if we do not find creative ways to reach out to each other, those we know and those we do not know, the neighbor who is my friend or the neighbor I would never know because of our differences if it weren’t for the fact that we are neighbors.

I fear we are going to lose something better than our physical health, something that was built, not just by my effort or the effort of those I am in relationship with, but built by the many persons and many relationships that collaborate to form this community.

Therefore, I want to make an extra effort to find those ways, ways that are not illegal or prohibited right now, to attempt to hold community together, to hold onto what was built before me and what I pray will come after me.

They did it with the Hughson Community Thanksgiving Dinner, feeding 570 bodies with turkey and stuffing.

They are doing it again with Christmas baskets. I cannot be one of the 12 volunteers in their reduced-size group, but I can make a flyer to promote the Toy Drive on December 5 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Hughson United Methodist Church.

I can say to you that turning outward through service is a protective factor against depression. I can tell you that working together towards a common goal helps to heal division. I can ask you to please, even amid sheltering-in-place, following whatever protocols come out this week and next, that there are still things we can do, not just to feel normal, but to feel human again.

Stories of a Good Boss

A good boss. One might miss not notice it when you have one but without one, the difference is keenly felt. With the exception of one, I think I have been uncommonly lucky.

The Stories

Being in and out of the workforce raising my children I, perhaps, have had fewer bosses than others my age. There was my first job as a sales associate for San Joaquin Religious Goods, a Catholic bookstore now owned by Cotter Church Supplies. The manger was professional, consistent, took confidence with her employees but only about business, never her personal life. I was trained by a woman who refused to show me how to use the cash register to show the change due. Instead, I must learn to count back money. I left upon my high school graduation.

In college locally, I worked evenings at St. Stanislaus Catholic Church, the after-hours shift when much of the staff has gone home but receptionists remain to usher in meeting and appointment attendees and answer phone calls. Like many church jobs, one dives right in and learns as you go, including in my case, Spanish. Supervision was hands-off and the job was low-key, low-ambition.

Transferring to the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota I worked for the university catering company. There my boss was ambitious, and often frustrated by the university system. He vented his frustrations. It was a full-time coworker who trained the new hires, made the hours pleasant and built camaraderie among employees.

Another state, another job, another boss

Another boss made example of his employees and said he would be like a coach, which I think, to him meant cussing at us when he was angry and had himself to blame overbooked events.

Another state, another job, another boss, we went shopping at Williams-Sonoma and Old Town Alexandria, Virginia to welcome committees to the school and plan events. I set tables, built menus, arranged gift baskets and assembled many a cheese platter in those days.

Another state, another job, another boss and I received the best training in my life, the greatest encouragement of an employee’s rights, family balance and self-respect. Though I stopped working for the Center for Human Services four years ago, it remains part of who I am in my perception of what a business and non-profit could and should be like, how employees should be treated, what place a job has in the big scheme of things, and how good it all can be.

And now

That experience continued when I began freelancing for MidValley Publications under Wendy Krier, editor of many papers including this one. It was my first steady writing gig. Granted, I am a freelancer, but beginning this job when our family’s life was still chaotic, Wendy made allowances, making it clear that it was good that I should put family first when guilt might have tempted me otherwise. She corrected me as needed and passed on the praise when it came from people happy to see their story shared in the paper.

For a time, we met weekly to review upcoming stories, for me to ask questions, for her to share more about the newspaper business. She watched me go from rookie to published author, finding my voice and my place in the Hughson community. I watched her navigate the work of many newspapers, and ultimately find a way to pursue her dream of living somewhere green, with seasons, in Minnesota.

A Fond Farewell

So it is with bitter sweetness that I say goodbye to another great boss as Wendy moves on to her next venture to edit a small-town newspaper in the Land of 10,000 Lakes.

The newspaper world is layered with its roles. From stringer (me, a freelancers) to editors to sales to the man on top, the publisher. Given the nature of my work, it was to the editor I reported.

And Wendy taught me the ropes. Those individuals who initiate us into new fields, show us the way, train us to do our best in that line of work, become a part of our story in a way all those following can not. I will be holding onto those memories of Wednesday meetings filled with calendars, emails, events, laughter and (a little) gossip.

By working for this publication I learned what the town of Hughson is, the stuff its people are made of, and I learned to share their stories and celebrate their successes. Here’s to you, Wendy, my editor and friend: to your next venture and ours!

Two people with toasting with beer bottles.

Hall Bathroom Remodel Under $1500

Our bathroom was a standard, builder grade bathroom. Immediately upon moving in, we removed the enormous mirror that spanned the wall over the sink and toilet. Should a mirror really be behind a toilet? I think not.

I quickly painted one of my go-to colors, a chameleon gray-green-blue called Urban Loft (color by Valspar mixed with Clark and Kensington Paint). We replaced the mirror with World Market’s Natural Segovia Mirror.




The cultured marble countertops stayed.




The honey oak cavernous cabinet stayed. It did get a facelift in Annie Sloan Chalk Paint, Florence. Amber glass knobs added panache. For the life of me, I cannot find photos of that.

Anyway, the floor was gross, the toilet was gross…it was time for a change.




From Bedrosians Showroom in Modesto, I ordered the Lido tile in Camel and Traditions Ice White subway tile with a matte finish won my heart.

An Ikea trip brought a Godmorgan two drawer vanity cabinet in dark gray, old-style Rattvican sink and Runskar faucet. We saved so much money going this route! I think the cabinet, sink and faucet came between $400 and $500 dollars. The biggest investment was the tile installation, worth it to get it right ($850, contractors vary in cost). Tile materials cost around $220. And we replaced the toilet.

My husband carefully ripped out the existing vanity and countertop without destroying the wall.




Our friend, master tile installer came and installed the tile.




Indulgently, we took the tile up the wall. I wanted a floating cabinet both for the modern sleek look and to be able to clean under with ease. A high gloss finish allows to easily clean off the toothpaste. White tile hides soap splatters.




We decided on gray grout which adds to the warmth of a generally cold environment.






I added a macrame wall hanging. We’ll frame that medicine cabinet hole interior with wood for a shelf.




A stainless steel bar finishes the Subway tile, offset in thirds to increase visual interest.




The light fixture is one we chose way back from Wayfair. I like it but not like the amber glow from the glass. I hope to switch them out. Nothing in our house is really centered. So the light if offset but with the mirror centered on the sink it is an improvement.




I have a book titled Tile Makes the Room and I absolutely believe it. There are so many layers of texture in this room. I love it. Everyone else seems to, too.





until a glass tumbler cracked the sink. To rip out, return or repair. We choose repair.


Discloser of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products or services that I have mentioned. 

How to use Holiday decorations to teach religious traditions that matter

Photos of the week…

Easter Edition

Like Christmas, Easter has its octave because a big celebration requires more than just one day of celebrating. After the octave, the Easter season lasts until Pentecost.


Last year, I planned my Easter decorations while I sat beside Peter’s hospital crib. The fulfillment was more than just some decor decisions. It was the sign of the promise that “a time would come when God would fill what he had emptied.”


Easter felt quieter this year. The emptiness of a child gone held its own against the joys of togetherness and our salvation. I felt at home in the cross. Still, I decorated. Regardless of how I feel in grief, the importance of the day remains and it is my duty to show it to my children.

I show it through bunting.


Our traditions emerge. With Dollar Tree flowers, ribbon and colored elastic from Rainbow Fabrics the children decorate their own baskets. We’ve learned tricks here and there to not destroy the baskets in the process.


Last year, the idea came to me to give them each a color to search for. The miraculous thing is these greedy little imps help each other. The fun is in finding.


Peter in his two-year-old glory is a hospital baby no more. He is part of a tribe, hunting for eggs, even if he will not eat their contents.


His two-year-old willfulness shows the strength of his health…and my patience.

God, it’s good.


Those who grieve know the grief grows quieter but does not disappear. I thought I would feel a rousing joy at Easter like I once did, but the season of life has changed. And that’s okay.

Good things run deeper than emotion. God’s grace, his faithfulness, the gift of his Son, Christ’s self-emptying for our sake to show us the way…even at the Resurrection, the scars remained.

Christ showed us the way, perfectly.

For that, I am grateful.


are you ready for spring cleaning?

Some lighter fare today while California is drenched in the pineapple express…my lawn overfloweth…

Previously published in the Hughson Chronicle & Denair Dispatch

I do not know if I can look at spring-cleaning the same after reading “Farmer Boy” by Laura Ingalls Wilder.

 “Well, now that’s off our hands, we’ll start house-cleaning tomorrow, bright and early.”…

Everything in the house was moved, everything was scrubbed and scoured and polished. All the curtains were down, all the feather-beds were outdoors, airing, all the blankets and quilts were washed. From dawn to dark Almanzo was running, pumping water, fetching wood, spreading clean straw on the scrubbed floors and then helping to stretch the carpets over it, and then tacking all those edges down again.

Days and days he spent in the cellar. He helped Royal empty the vegetable-bins. They sorted out every spoiled apple and carrot and turnip, and put back the good ones into a few bins that Mother had scrubbed. They took down the other bins and stored them in the woodshed. They carried out crocks and jars and jugs, till the cellar was almost empty. Then Mother scrubbed the walls and floor. Royal poured water into pails of lime, and Almanzo stirred the lime till it stopped boiling and was whitewash. Then they whitewashed the whole cellar. That was fun…

The whole cellar was fresh and clean and snow-white when it dried…”

With the advent of warm air and sunshine, especially after a wet and oddly-chilly March, our bodies pick up on a renewed out-of-doors energy. We have been cooped up too long. The windows must be open.

With the gusts of April breeze blowing the curtains, it is time to breathe new life into a stuffy home.

We accomplish this, by moving the furniture.

Is spring cleaning your goal or just something you hear about on television and in ancient children’s books about farm life? Perhaps it is something you intend to do, but never quite get to. Perhaps you learned long ago cleaning was not your forte so you outsource the process.

Whatever your ability and time, I recommend an examination of some areas. In Hughson, April is the perfect time.

Closets: go through your closets. Do you wear everything in there? Are there pieces you hate but cannot get rid of? Put it in a bag and do not look back. Same goes for every other storage space you have. It is amazing how unnecessary or unwanted things accumulate because of limited garbage-can space. Plan to donate, mend, or sell during the City-Wide Yard Sale.


Photo by sahar kanyas on Unsplash

vacuum, shampoo, mop, whatever it takes to get those mites out. Work based on the time you have. Start from the ceiling then work your way down to the floor.


Photo by Allen Taylor on Unsplash

change up the décor, shop your storage closets for new ideas. First, take everything down, then put it up in a new way. Switch objects from one room to another. Don’t love it? Never use it? Donate or sell at your yard sale…of give to your neighbor to sell at hers.


Photo by jesse orrico on Unsplash

Before binging on bins at Target, start with cardboard boxes as drawer dividers and cabinet organizers. Find out what you need, how the space will work best. When you’re done, recycle your boxes at the City Wide Clean-Up day or, if they are still in good shape, post on Nextdoor.com as free moving boxes.


Photo by Kathryn Anne Casey for the Hughson Chronicle

it intimated me for so long. I cannot say I love it, but the delight in seeing something grow is restorative. If you do not love dirt, bribe an old-enough child to weed, hire a neighbor kid or a professional gardener to get you on the right track. The pleasure of walking outside and noticing a flower here or a tomato plant there helps us refocus from our busy lives to the smallness of the moment.



Make a shopping list and list of projects as you work.

You do not have to accomplish everything in one day. Make a list of what your house and family needs this spring and break it into bite-size chunks big enough to accomplish and small enough not to overwhelm.



What good is all the work if we do not take a moment to savor the goodness of life, of home, of community and the beauty of spring.

Three ways to savor the goodness of the moment

Feature photos of the week (ix)

My inclination is to workaholicism. On Thursday, March 15, I finished the final edit of my book and book proposal and sent it off to four lucky publishers. Despite appearances, send it off shook me quite a bit. The act of submitting one’s work for evaluation…is it worth it…is it good enough…

I have months to wait to find out.

In the meantime, I am enjoying not working (as much). My goal was to submit by summer. Goal met.

Now I reflect on life, more than usual, more than just for the sake of writing and producing something to publish, but because I see my patience worn thin. The kids are tired of me working so much, as is the spouse, as am I.

This week is all about savoring the small moments.

Take accidents with a dose of laughter.

A few items were delivered by mistake in Peter’s medical shipment. We know how to make the most of these errors.


Watch when they don’t think you’re watching.

“Rest time” is a joke. Two children chose to rest out of doors before the rainy season began again.

It fills my heart to hear them talk together, play together, build their world together. We cannot give them everything. I am so glad we gave them each other.

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Love your bed.

I am on the hunt for the perfect set of sheets. Pima or Supima cotton percale, long-staple, pure white sheets that will not drive us into debt. Is it so much to ask? Apparently, because for the second time since this intentional search, the fitted sheet has worn thin and torn.

Time to invest. Enter Brooklinen, previously given loving looks of longing but avoided because of the high sticker shock.


Then I read the website.

“We take great pride in the craftsmanship of our sheets and expertise of our manufacturing team. As such, we provide a lifetime warranty on all of our sheets. If your sheets ever pill, rip, or fray, simply give us a shout and we’ll repair it. If a repair is impossible, we will replace the item free of charge.”

  1. Lifetime guarantee…I started a live chat, they really mean it, even though they recommended replacing the sheets every two years, they will still guarantee them.
  2. They will try to repair first. The EPA estimates about 21 billion pounds of textiles go into our landfills each year. I am so pleased to see a company making the effort.

I have not made the bed yet with the new sheets. I want to wash the sheets on a sunny day to dry on the clothesline. Crisp white sheets, the fragrance that comes with fresh air and not another additive, that moment when I quote my three-year-old, “my feet are fighting” because I cannot stop moving them around the bed, feeling the goodness of the moments, the goodness of sheets, the goodness of home.

Note: I wish this were a sponsored post and contained affiliate links, but it is not. 


Photos of the week (vi)

So much good this week. In small-town news…


I interviewed a sandwich shop owner committed to continuing the legacy of a man who owned an iconic sandwich shop in Hughson, Kozi Korner. Kozi Korner was my first taste of freedom, riding my bike “to town” to buy whatever I wanted.

In the same parking lot, a Mexican restaurant hosts a paint and sip night with Relax & Paint. With all the heartache in the world, I’m glad this is the newsworthy stuff we write about. Sharing a legacy, teaching the beauty of art.


Greatest spot for the week came with interviewing a group of firefighter raising money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society by participating in the Scott Firefighter Stairclimb in Seattle on March 11. Donate to their cause here.


At home:

I watched the lilies fade day-by-day cherishing my husband’s thoughtfulness. Their perfume filled the air for ten days before it was time to say good-bye.


It is Lent but I’ve left up some Valentine’s Day visuals on the fireplace mantle. They’re bringing me joy this winter.


Among them is a memento of my little love, Celeste, whose birthday and the anniversary of her death we will observe March 2. She was painting by Lotus of Whymsical Lotus.




Photos of the Week (iv)

For small-town news, we attended a comedy date night at Connecting Point Church of the Nazarene. While the featured comedian was a little rough on Catholic sensibilities the night was overall enjoyable. Best moments: when the improv group interviewed a couple who had been married for 55 years, then acted out their story.


There is beauty in pruning. We clear away the unwanted or out-of-control, and then we see the sky.

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It is spring in California and the blossoms are blooming. Anyone with a bit of land can grow their own fruit. It really is amazing.

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Our adventures this year include planting annuals. They look bright against the wasted foliage that died away during winter, much like our blessings. When seen in this light, the blessings look all the more beautiful.

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Little joys this February consist of lattes and bowls of citrus whether they’ll be used for martinis or pie, it makes everyday feel like a celebration.

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This week daffodils sprung up all around my mother’s property. The very first batch went to sweet Celeste at the cemetery. The rest come to us.


The things that give me joy now remind me ever so much of how they carried me last spring as we anticipated the birth and passing of our daughter. I feel gratitude for these things. It is as though the daffodils are among the friends who supported me along the way. It is good to see them again.

Messy Looking Flowers

Previously published in the Hughson Chronicle-Denair Dispatch.

Coming home from the funeral, a wild mass of sweet peas invited me home.

That statement is not factually correct but it betrays a truth beyond bare facts. The sweet peas bloomed in May. With my Easter decorations, the sweet peas came. Twice a week I drove to my mother’s house and collected armfuls of sweet peas from her free-flowing garden of the fragrant flower.

Sweet peas. “Messy looking flowers,” my grandmother might say. They are the rose’s arch nemesis. With proper training and tying, the gardener is rewarded with a straight stem, but the petals lack a cohesive form. To its glory, its fragrance rivals the rose.

Last year I sought the consolation of flowers. Tulips and ranunculus at the funeral.


Then the irises bloom. Mine grew five feet this year. We saw pedestrians pause and point them out. They also came from my mother’s garden to my grandmother’s chagrin.


Remembering her dislike for their temporary bloom and the long-lasting, plain greens they leave behind, I planted them intentionally, using the greens as a border around our patio.

After the irises come the David Austin roses and those beautiful sweet peas.


Dahlias and sunflowers wait until summer.

Spring is a strange thing here in California. We have no bluebells or cockle flowers breaking through the snow-covered yard marking the hope that winter will soon end.

Instead, my mother shows me the sweet peas she started to be transplanted to my yard (in sandy, almond-tree loving soil from her home). It is January now, the beginning of the new year. The irises have little-pointed heads popping up from the ground. I know their roots are spreading underneath making them difficult to transplant now.

The ranunculus planted after the funeral are springing up, alongside weeds. My mother’s home was a paradise of flowers in a dry valley. Last year was my first experience investing myself in gardening. The irises we planted when we moved because they are easy. My husband did the digging.

This is so much like life. I grow up and see the witnesses around us of how to invest, how to remain patient, how to adjust expectations and how to make the most of our harvest. I was cheered and consoled by the work of others. Meanwhile, the roots grew.

There were a small number of people in my life I could trust. I relied on them to guide me through my first investment, console me when the impatience to make life work becomes overwhelming, propose solutions when things do not turn out the way I expected and give me flowers.

Then one day, after many years of dreaming, I finally put on the gardening gloves and dug into the dirt. After planning and planting, I did it myself. Beaming up at my husband, whose large green thumb is ever so obvious and said, “aren’t you proud of me?” I bring my mother over and show her lumps of transplanted bulbs and declare, “I gardened!”

The fruit has yet to be seen, though spring is coming. Some may look at the investments and scoff at its messiness, but others know. Others know how badly we need all types of flowers, the showy rose, humble daisy and disorganized sweet pea. St. Thérèse of Lisieux, herself called “The Little Flower,” wrote “The splendor of the rose and the whiteness of the lily do not rob the little violet of its scent nor the daisy of its simple charm. If every tiny flower wanted to be a rose, spring would lose its loveliness. And so it is in the world of souls, Our Lord’s living garden.”

We may feel like life is governed by chaotic chance, but in truth, there are seeds we can plant, water and protect from the weeds. There are steps to take. Whether we rely on the examples of others or we must go it alone, discovering for ourselves what works and what does not work, each person’s life becomes a work of art unto itself and contributes to the overall beauty of the world they inhabit.

So water, weed, endure the fertilizer that smells awful but gives the nutrients we need to grow and wait in patience for the first sign of spring.