Something You Made

dressI found the perfect fabric: a creamy off-white printed with green leaves.  It wasn’t exactly wedding dress fabric, but I am one of those people who wants to wear the dress again so I just … made a dress, not a wedding dress.  I found a nice bland dress pattern, your basic A-line dress with three different backs.  I picked the simplest back and got to work laying out and cutting out the pattern. A weekend ought to be enough time.

I had forgotten that most dress patterns run a little small, so when the bodice was finished and I went to slide it over my head, it didn’t quite make it.  Good thing I started a month ahead of time!

Right.  Except now I had to go buy the same pattern again because as those of you who sew know, once you cut out a pattern, the larger size has been cut away.

And then I was going to need more fabric.

Only they didn’t have any more of that fabric.

So now I had to start completely over, with a new pattern and new fabric.

By the time I was done with this dress, I had run into so many little set- backs and re-starts that I also had to end up making a little jacket and a very wide sash to cover up all the patches, gussets, hidden pleats and extensions.

Oh, and the sash?  I decided to buy a little quarter yard of this very pretty creamy gauzy fabric that had a wee sprinkling of glitter on it.

“You will regret this decision,” said the fabric store clerk in a flat monotone.

“Oh, I’m sure it will be fine,” I told her.  It’s just for a sash.”

“I used this fabric on a Halloween costume two years ago and I’m still finding glitter in my cat’s litter box,” she warned.

“It’s just a sash, I will be able to sew it in 20 minutes, and I’m only wearing it for like two hours.  It will be okay.”

“Just don’t come back here crying to me,” she said, and unrolled the bolt, thunk thunk thunk.

She was right.  All of the wedding guests went home with glitter on their eyelids and in their ears.  My husband found glitter in his golf bag two years later.  There was glitter in the floorboards, the dog’s food dish, the mail box, pretty much everywhere.  Just last Wednesday (five years later), I found some of that glitter when I opened a drawer to find a tape measure.

I really did only wear that dress for about two hours because we had our reception the next day and it was informal.  After I took it off, I hung it way in the back of the closet and have not worn it since. I think I might just go have a look at it today, just to have a nice chuckle.


Today, write about something you made, recently or long ago, successful or unsuccessful, good work, or not so much.

wedding dress




Hiding a Wet Dog


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We filled the laundry tub with warm water, and hoisted the dog, Lucky, up into tub, then squirted shampoo onto her back. She was a liver and white springer spaniel, all wiggles and wags, and she stunk pretty bad, because she lived in a 10 by 8 kennel most of the time.  Her owner, my friend Ricky’s brother, only brought her out to go hunting a couple of times a year.  Ricky and I were confirmed dog lovers, and we took it upon ourselves to walk Lucky and play with her and – on this day – bathe her in the laundry tub in my family’s basement.  Without my mom knowing.  She was off grocery shopping, so we took advantage of her absence and dragged Lucky, her stumpy tail spinning like a propeller, down into the basement on this bright summer day.

We were just drying her off when we heard my mom’s car  in the driveway.  My mom did not like Ricky, and certainly would not want me to be bathing a smelly hunting dog in her laundry sink. Ricky and I turned to each other in panic and shock like two characters in a slapstick routine.

I yanked the rubber stopper out of the sink, grabbed the shampoo bottle, and we carried the dog, still in the towel, to the other basement room, where there was a window that opened out onto our back yard,  just over a chest freezer.  The comedy routine bumbled on, with me scrambling up on top of the freezer, dragging the soaking dog with me. Ricky yanked at the window until it came open, I tossed the shampoo bottle out the window,  shoved the dog out the window, and crawled after her, just in time to see her roll in the dirt and ruin her nice clean coat.

The leash and collar!  We left them near the tub!  Agh! I  left my friend holding onto the wriggling dog and I scrambled back through the window, crawled off the chest freezer, and slunk back in to retrieve the leash and collar, then back to the chest freezer.  As I was crawling back out the window, I heard the basement door open and heard my mom clump down the stairs,  to change the washer, I suppose. Which is what all women do the INSTANT they come home with the groceries I guess!  Really?  She couldn’t wait five minutes?

I got back out the window in time, put Lucky’s collar and leash back on, and took the back way, through the cemetery,  to Ricky’s house, Lucky shaking and spraying us the whole way, wagging her little tail with glee to be out of her kennel on such a beautiful day.  I carried the towel so I could rinse it out at Ricky’s house and dry it on his line and return it without her ever knowing.  The shampoo bottle was still on the grass in the back yard.  I made a mental note to pick it up when I got back.

There are a few episodes from childhood like this, where we had to think fast to escape my mom’s temper and wrath.  I think of how I developed the ability to hide, slink, deceive, and find alternate paths because of it.

Today, write about a time you had to hide something, or someone,  from your mom.

What do you need more of?




We all think we need more money, and if that’s true for you, write about that.  But what about the other things we never seem to have enough of?

Time, room, love, fun.  Shelves, closets. Dogs. Friends. Exercise. Medicine.  Therapy. Peace. Courage. Happiness.  Privacy. Health. Time with nature. Time with our children.

For me, it would definitely be time and space.  Exercise wouldn’t be a bad idea either.

Today, write about what you need more of.

The Cars of Your Lifetime




Today, start by listing all of the cars you have owned, or if you are too young or have never owned a car, list the cars your parents had, or the cars of people you have known.

After you have made your list, pick one of the cars and write about your adventures in that car, or how you acquired that car, or the accident you had in that car, or the terrible thing that happened in that car, or how you learned to drive or drive stick in that car.

Did you have names for your car??  How much did it cost?  How long did it last?  Write about the good times and bad times.


I woke to what I thought was the smell of a wooden spoon that had been singed by the flames of the gas burner.  You know that smell: just a little singe.   I rolled out of bed and shuffled to the kitchen to see about the errant spoon, probably left by my husband when he was making his oatmeal before he left for work.

No spoon.  Hmm.    I went back to bed.

And awoke 20 minutes later to the same smell, but stronger.  I went to the kitchen again.  No spoon on the stove.  Nothing burning.  So I headed back to the bedroom again, this time to get dressed and start my day, get the kids up for school.

And then I looked up.  Ceiling was on fire.

We had only been in our new house four months, and my husband had built the first fire in the wood stove that morning, not knowing that the chimney was leaning against a joist in the attic.  Funny how that was missed in the inspection, but no matter.  I had never had a house fire or even a small kitchen fire before.  It’s funny what happens to your mind in a situation like this.  Logic goes out the window, panic, you lose the ability to put one foot in front of the other and make good decisions.  I woke the kids up, called 911, paced back and forth, called my husband’s work, and got all of us out of the house by the time the first fire truck arrived about four minutes later.  I remember my daughter crying and saying she couldn’t find any matching socks.

It was easily extinguished, nobody hurt, and luckily, I had just removed about 200 cardboard boxes from the attic the day before.  Apparently the family who owned the house before us saved every single box from every single toy and small appliance they had purchased over the previous 13 years and stored them in the attic … in case they needed them someday.  Sometimes I wonder what that fire would have been like had I not thrown all those boxes down the stairs to flatten and recycle the day before.  I’m sure the house would have gone up in flames in a matter of minutes.

I remember sitting in Cozy Kitchen later that morning with my kids, all of us smelling like smoke, having breakfast and shaking off the trauma of scrambling to get out of our house on a cold October morning before 7 am.

Today, write about fire.  Have you ever had a fire in your house, apartment, car, barn, garage, school. workplace, or other place?  It could be something as small as your Pop Tart combusting in the toaster, or something as devastating as losing your home.

My Submarine Explosion Letter

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In October 2000, an explosion, and then another explosion,  crippled a Russian submarine called the Kursk.  Twenty-three men survived the two blasts and lived for some time afterwards.  Some of the men used the last minutes of their lives to write letters in  the dark as their oxygen was running low.


If you had been aboard that submarine, and had two hours to live, and something to write with and on, what would you write?  You are saying goodbye but you also have the chance to clear some things up, and to give advice to the people you love.

Start writing.

The First Thing You Bought With Your Own Money



For me, it was a flannel shirt with a tag that read “Paula Lee Sportswear”  in rushed italics that looked like they were brushed by a calligraphist. I bought it from Kohl’s Department Store when I was 15.  It was in beautiful shades of brown and soft gold, and suited me perfectly.  I held onto that shirt for most of my life, never forgetting how that felt to take the money I had made from babysitting and my paper route and go to a store and buy something for myself.  It was in late fall, when the skies were the color of charcoal, brittle leaves skittering on sidewalks, frost on the windows, a time of year I have always loved, and I carried it out to the car in a white paper bag stamped with the Kohl’s logo.

The following spring, I remember buying a new bike from a hardware store, my first new bike, and a pair of desert boots that cost $11.00, and that summer, I worked in my grandma’s gift shop and bought all sorts of things I didn’t need at all.  For some reason, the memory of buying that first flannel shirt, that bike, and those boots, is still strong.

Do you remember the first purchase you made with the money you made?

Injustice in Third Grade



Again.  I couldn’t believe it.  She did it again.  My face flushed with rage as I stood there in the hall outside my third grade classroom, glaring at my dingy blue winter coat lying on the linoleum. Cheryl Watry had knocked my coat off the first hanger in the line of coats outside Mrs. Halloran’s classroom, as she had done every single time I managed to beat her to the number one spot, and replaced it with her long faux sheepskin parka with the fur-lined hood and cuffs.  We’d be outside, freezing in our winter coats in the cold sunshine with bare legs and knee socks; then, the bell would ring and we would all race, cheeks flushed, eyes watering,  to line up.  I wanted to be first as often as possible because that was the only way to get access to the first coat hanger.  It was a status thing. First in line gets the first coat hanger.

     I’ll get her next time, I thought, then picked my coat up by its dingy hood, slipped it on, and went outside for recess.  I couldn’t even get into the game of kickball, I was so hurt by what Cheryl did to me every day.  She was tall, lanky, with shoulder-length blond hair, and she didn’t seem to be afraid of anything.  If she wanted something, she would get it any way she could.  She would elbow, shove, stomp on your foot, holler, spit, whatever it took.  This was new to me.  I’d never seen a child, let alone a girl, with so much courage, power, and guts.  In contrast, I was small, mousy, fearful, and accepted whatever was given to me without question.

Until that day.  That was the last time Cheryl would knock my coat off the first hanger. I had a plan.  When we came in from recess, I hung in the back of the line, my hands shoved into my pockets, head down, and just let Miss Bossy have her first hanger.  She muscled her way to the front of the line, then charged for the first coat hanger as soon as the doors opened.  I sauntered in, waited until everyone had hung up their coats and went into the classroom, chattering and shoving each other.

Then I made my move.  I marched up to that first hanger and yanked her stupid faux sheepskin parka down to the linoleum and gave it a kick once it hit the ground — just as Mrs. Halloran popped her head out of the classroom to see what was taking me so long.  I stood there frozen, my coat limp in one hand, reaching for the Number One Hanger with the other hand. My mouth dropped open.  And the lecture began.

Mrs. Halloran, an Irish widow with a reddish nose, dragged me by the arm over to the corner at the end of the line of coats, away from the window so the other kids couldn’t see, and brought her veined face up to mine.  Stray fronds of gray and white hair sprung from her tightly coiled bun as she barked “Do you think you have the right to damage other people’s property? Do you think you are better than other people?  What gives you the right to knock Cheryl’s coat to the ground and put yours in its place?  Do you think you own that coat hanger? Maybe you should bring your own coat hanger from home from now on.”  On and on she went while a few kids got up and peeked through the narrow window in the classroom door.

I was ashamed and furious. I spent the rest of the day in a cloud of dark anger which carried me pretty much through the week.  At home, I looked through our coat closets for any kind of hanger that resembled the hangers at school, which were attached to the pole so they couldn’t be removed.  I had a new strategy.  I would bring my own coat hanger, as Mrs. Halloran had suggested, in a paper bag every day and hang my coat up in front of Cheryl’s.  That way I wouldn’t have to knock her coat down, and I could still beat her.

But my mom foiled that plan, seeing me with the hanger in a paper bag.  She told me to put it back and stop being ridiculous. I came up with my own way to exact revenge on Cheryl Watry.  For the rest of that year, and fourth grade as well, whenever we were in a cluster or group or squiggling line, I would kick, trip, or elbow her as hard as I could, always making sure there were enough people nearby that she wouldn’t know where the blow came from.

I learned something that year, as one of the kids who were bused from a different town.  Teachers back then treated us differently because we were not from that town, not one of the elite.  I remember Doug Bauman, the butcher’s boy, one of those kids who always had that raw chapped ring around his lips, a boy from a family with some status in that town.  He wasn’t a bad kid at all, good student, polite and all, but Mrs. Halloran knew who his family was.  We were presenting our math homework for correction one day, and Doug didn’t have his with him.  My eyes widened, waiting to see what his punishment would be.

“What do you mean, you don’t have it with you?”  Mrs. Halloran asked him, her hands on her hips.

“I did it at home on my chalkboard, and my dad checked my work,” he answered, shakily.

Mrs. Halloran paused, thought, then said “I accept that, Douglas; just make sure next time your write it down and bring it with you the next day.”

What?  I thought.  WHAT?  He “did it at home on the chalkboard?”  I stared in disbelief.  In what universe did that COUNT as doing your homework? Why don’t we all just “do our math homework on a chalkboard at home?”  Doug licked his chapped  lips and Mrs. Halloran moved to the next desk, holding her hand out for homework.  The injustice!  Unbelievable.

Did you have a year like this, where you became aware of injustice?


A Gift You Received


first communion

My mom thought it was inappropriate as a gift for a first communion:  A stuffed dog, a long-haired blond Yorkshire type terrier with button eyes, a soft velveteen tummy, a gold chain, and a green plastic brush attached to the end of it.  My aunt gave it to me, and I wonder if that might have had something to do with it, since she was from the side of the family that was Lutheran and not Catholic.  I wasn’t aware of the undercurrent of disagreement between my mom’s and dad’s side of the family, and I suppose that is a good thing.

My aunt Andrea was from England; she married my dad’s brother when I was five, and I was the flower girl in their wedding.  I don’t remember much from the wedding aside from how uncomfortable the dress and the shoes were, but I do know that the gifts I received from “Andy” were precious and memorable to me.  She was class act, something clean and pretty and stylish in our world of German farmers. I remember a little brown purse she gave me for my birthday when I was six.  It had an all-day sucker in it, and six shiny  new pennies.  I was enchanted that someone would think of something so special to give to me, but I think my mom scoffed at her gifts as being cheap.

I was still in the phase of my tender young life where a real dog was something I wanted with all my heart.  How Andy knew that I don’t know, but I know she was a dog lover too.  She had stuffed dogs in her apartment, including a giant black poodle in the corner of her bedroom that was as tall as me.  Its head sagged to one side a little and it wore a bow around its neck.  But the gift of this little dog out-shadowed anything else that happened the day of my first communion.  The white dress, the cake, the cards, the money — none of it mattered because now I had a dog!  My cousin Judy told me I should name him “Buttons,” but the name Toby came to me from out of nowhere and that is what I named him.

I slept with Toby every night for the rest of my childhood, even after I got a real dog,  and he sat on my bed the rest of my young life.  I might have even taken him to college with me, his fur long gone from brushing, the chain broken, the little green brush lost.  Eventually he lost one eye as stuffed toys will do, and his front paws lost their integrity so he always canted forward and fell on his nose, since his head was disproportionately large. I still have him today.  He is in a Rubbermaid bin in the attic with the rest of the important relics of my childhood and my children’s childhoods. If I ever move into a larger house, maybe there will be room to display some of those friends from long ago, but I am happy he has stuck with me for the past 50 years, a precious gift from someone who knew enough about me to pick out just the right thing.

Today, write about a gift you received at some time in your life.  Who gave it to you, why, and why is it precious to you?