Creatures of Comfort

“I don’t like change,” a friend said to me this week.  I laughed. Who does? No one. Anyone who tells you they do is lying. That’s a dramatic statement and I could be wrong but hear me out.

Firstly, I’ve never heard anyone say, “Oh, I LOVE change!” Never. But if someone was to say that, I’m pretty sure they’d mean they love certain change. Like the change of seasons. Or new technology, or the thrill of moving into a new home. But a change in their relationships or a change in their health or a change in their financial situation—unless these changes are good—no, no one likes that kind of change.

Saying you like change is like saying, “I love food” when what you really mean is you like to eat. You like certain foods. Or you like the idea of food because, after all, without it, you would die.

Which brings me to: secondly, the only time you hear people say that change is good is when they’re trying to help us get through our discomfort and disappointment. And this is valid because the undeniable truth is that change happens. All the time. In fact, the only thing constant is change.

Humans are creatures of comfort. Humans hate change.

George Carlin has a funny bit about this. On the surface, it’s about material things. How we like our things and are always buying more things. But look a little deeper and it’s about change. We don’t let go of stuff because we don’t like change. Even on vacations, we bring familiar things with us because these things help us feel comfortable in the midst of change – change of scenery, change of bed, change of climate, change of foods, change of people… Even if we like visiting new places and meeting new people, we remain creatures of comfort. We carry familiar things with us to minimize our discomfort.

Change challenges every illusion we have about being in control. The very nature of change is uncertainty. A period when everything we know is in question. Change is a momentary freefall.

But, my friend said, some folks are better at it than others.  Maybe, but that doesn’t mean they like it.  “But you’ve done it so many times!” he insists. Ah yes, people always assume this. Experience presumably should increase skill. But it doesn’t necessarily increase affinity.

I have moved many times. I am a master mover. Every box is labeled and recorded into an Excel spreadsheet. I know exactly where to find almost anything once I arrive at my new destination. This only means that I’m organized and I’m a planner. This does not mean that I like moving. Not at all.

In fact, having moved so many times is an argument for why I never want to do it again. I want to stay still, to be grounded in place, comfortable, and content. I want to wake up and say this is enough, this is good, and believe this is the last place I’ll live. I want to feel that I love this place above all others.

I have felt this. Repeatedly. And, much to my dismay, there has always come a time when departure was imminent. When change was already happening. The clues were in my dreams or in everyday things but I reasoned them away. I rolled with it, I adjusted. Which is what change requires of us. A daily adjustment. So when big changes happen, we are often surprised. We say we didn’t see it coming. We were adapting in a million mini ways, hoping to keep the big change at bay. But deep in our gut or in the recesses of our psyche, we knew.

I suppose it’s a bit like riding a skateboard. Innumerable adjustments are continuously made in microseconds to stay upright. And if you’re a seasoned skateboarder, you maneuver turns and jumps pretty easily. And then the crash happens.

Change can feel like that. Real change always feels like that at some point. Leaving home—whatever home may be to you (a place, a person, a job, even how you know yourself to be)—will always be painful. A momentary darkness. A crash. A freefall. The complete unknown. There’s no way around it. And no way through it but through.

The key, I think, is accepting the discomfort. Resign yourself to it. This is just how it’s going to be for a while so stop resisting, stop struggling, stop trying to make it better. Let go. Lean into the pain, if you can. At the very least, float. Be a leaf on a stream instead of a salmon trying to spawn. Let go of the idea of control.

Change can be terrifying, which is exactly how I’ve felt over the last few months. I’m not ready to tell you yet what change is triggering this, only that it is the first time in my life –in my entire fifty-some years – that I’ve felt this way. Absolutely terrified. In all the location moves I’ve made, all the career changes, the heartbreaks, and life shifts, I’ve felt extreme discomfort, pain, and even depression, but I’ve never been terrified. A friend reminds me that terror is the same sensation in the body as excitement. She may be right, but the feeling doesn’t go away. Only when I accepted that the change was already happening, the train had left the station so to speak, have I been able to let go or lean in, I’m not sure which. But the terror has largely dissipated. There are still moments of panic. The change is still happening and various emotions will inevitably return, but for the moment, I’m good.

This reminds me of an auto accident a few years back. Driving in wet snow on the highway, with a car trying to pass me going way too fast for the conditions. I eased off the gas to change lanes, only, I was in a rut of snow and when I attempted to move over, I lost control of the car. Careening across four lanes and spinning, time slowed down. Did I have my seatbelt on? Yes. And as soon as I realized that, I also realized there was nothing more I could do but give into the inevitable, whatever that was to be. As a former massage therapist, I knew that relaxing was the only thing I could do that might minimize potential harm. So I let go of control – while still keeping my hands loosely on the wheel – and waited for the car to come to a stop, which it did, in a ditch lodged between the hillside and a pole. And wouldn’t you know it – I was okay. My car was nearly totaled but I didn’t even have whiplash. I simply opened the door and walked away.

Maybe I was lucky. But I was also experienced. Not that I’ve ever had that happen before, but I did know from twenty-plus years of bodywork that if I stayed tense trying to brace myself, I’d be pretty banged up. Knowing what to do actually helped me. But that doesn’t mean I enjoyed it.

The same is true for major life moves and the changes you don’t want or you’re not sure about and are happening regardless. It helps to know not to resist. And yes, it does progressively get a bit easier to accept the discomfort, the pain, the loss, and the heartbreak. But that doesn’t mean you’ll like it. You don’t have to. Just grab some token comfort from your huge variety of stuff and settle in. Ride it out. Let go. Float.

This too shall pass. Take comfort in that.

If this post resonates with you, I hope you will like it and comment. Thank you!

Purchasing Property in Italy – Part 4

After striking out in Sambuca, it was time to regroup and really consider what I wanted in a home. And how that might differ from what I needed.

I love a view of the rolling green landscape. That’s the view that makes me feel at home in Sicily, the view that combines the farmland of my childhood summers and the rolling hills of the Bay Area, where I became an adult. But alas, that kind of view typically only happens inside towns, because the towns are built high up. Only, I’m not thrilled about sharing walls with neighbors and I don’t like noise. I don’t like to hear what’s happening in the unit next to me and I don’t like commotion coming from the street. (What can I say? My days of city living are long over. Ok, I currently live in a city, but Tulsa is pretty quiet.)

As I thought back on my stay in Sambuca two years prior, I remembered my first night as I was trying to fall asleep. Teenagers were in the walkways somewhere below my balcony, laughing and talking and revving their motorbikes. By 11pm, I had enough and finally yelled out the window “Silenzia!!” like an old ill-tempered woman. Everything stopped for a second and then they mimicked “Silenzia! Sienzia!” with rounds of laughter. Thank goodness they couldn’t see me. I suddenly worried about retribution. But within ten minutes or so, they moved on. 

So, while I would love that view, I will sacrifice it to have a place that stands alone, if need be. And the only thing that stands alone is a villa.

A villa seems like a pretty grand idea. More importantly, villas are expensive. Remember, in Under a Tuscan Sun, Diane Lane’s character was a successful writer. She may have had a marriage that recently fell apart but she still had money. I don’t.

The first step was to formally engage a realtor. In the next installment, I’ll show you photos of an apartment in Alcamo and a villa above the fishing village of Trappeto. But today, I’m going to jump ahead to a property that got us excited. It stood alone, but not completely alone, and it had a great view of the countryside without being in town. Even more interesting, it was part of a baglio.

The baglio is considered an architectural emblem of Sicilian feudalism, located in the countryside. It is a fortified farm building with a large internal courtyard. In American terms, think “fort.” Popularized between 1500 and 1700, it was the heartbeat of farm living. The lower floors were filled with equipment and harvests, as well as by the peasants who worked on the farm. The owner (and family) lived on the top floors. Because it acted as a defense against raiders and enemy assaults, there is only one large entrance – a passage that allowed wagons, horses, and carriages to enter. Since these were essentially small communities, there was typically a chapel within the baglio as well. And, while they weren’t as high up as the towns, they were built on higher points in the countryside, providing a view of the crops and farmland.

These structures have been largely abandoned across the island, but many are being restored as agritourism farms, wineries, upscale lodging, and some even as estate homes.

This is Baglio Coriolano. Built in the early 1900s near the train station. Part of this baglio has been renovated into a restaurant which was, unfortunately, closed when we were there because it looks amazing.

Also renovated is the home for sale with a listing price of EUR 100,000.  That felt a bit steep, particularly back before the euro fell to equal the dollar.  It consists of 5 rooms (but Italians include the 2 bathrooms in that count) for a total of 108 meters (345 square feet-pretty small), in excellent condition and entirely renovated in 2020, with a view of the unobstructed countryside.

Hmmm… turns out that was only partially true.  For being “entirely renovated,” the two bathrooms had no toilets or sinks or showers. The ground floor bedroom was actually still fitted for beer kegs in the center of the room. Ah yes, it seems this “home” was a pet project of the owners, who intended to turn it into a pub. Yes, a pub. Which, honestly, isn’t such a bad idea considering there is a restaurant next door.

See those pipes in the middle of the floor? That’s where a bed would go. The door to the right leads to the unfinished bathroom and closet.

Okay, but I’ve gotten ahead of myself. In theory, this place is lovely. The ruins are pretty cool, it’s close to the train, there’s a great view, and a restaurant on the premises would mean I didn’t have to cook every night, right?

The first bad sign was when the realtor couldn’t get the door open. It was a chilly and gray day and all we could do was wait for the owner to arrive. Meanwhile, we walked around the perimeter.

You’ve already seen the ground floor. The stairs to the first floor were nice – wood, as we could tell. But the door at the top of the stairs cracks me up. The apartment is actually to the left at the top of the stairs. This door is to…?? On the other side of it is nothing but sky. So of course, it doesn’t open, but there it is – a door to a house or a room that no longer exists.

The upstairs space is a bit odd. The first room is divided by a wall that doesn’t make sense. Then another room that opens to the balcony. Despite the odd configuration, I was imagining where I would put my desk and a dining table. Downstairs would be my living and sleeping space, with upstairs for writing and eating.

The most striking feature of this space is the mural. It might be a cool feature in a pub or coffee house. But in my home? No, not for me. What do you think?

I was trying to warm to the mural since the view from the balcony was so fantastic. You can even see the ruins of the chapel that stood next door.

But the space was small. And renovations still needed to be done (bathrooms, kitchen) at an already hefty purchase price. More than that, there was another problem:

Yes, moisture. Mold. The owner insisted it hadn’t been there at Christmas, which was even more unnerving since it was now only February 21st.  So there you go.  By now, we knew that a mold problem could be impossible to remedy. It would have to be tackled from the other side of the building, which legally is still a home even though it is completely in ruin and rubble. Interesting that we could “fix” the problem without needing permission from the owners of the rubble but we could not—under any circumstances—put in a window on these walls because that would be modifying someone else’s property. Crazy. Which brings me back to: I really don’t want to share any walls with other homeowners.

Alas, another property scratched off our list. Would we ever find a property that didn’t have moisture problems?? Stay with me. There are still two more installments in this series that you don’t want to miss.

In the meantime, leave me a comment. I’d love to know what you think of this place.

Anyone want to renovate a baglio with me?


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Chosen Family and 9 Words for Love

I was thinking about chosen families as I was preparing breakfast for Mazie and Rupert this morning. Mazie is my 3 ½-year-old rescue dog and Rupert is one of her five pups. They are the best of buds and they are, well, family. At some point, I basically said the same thing to Rupert’s folks. “We’re family. You never have to thank me for watching him. This is what we do. Let’s just always assume that we will take care of each other’s when needed.”

Because that’s what families do, right?

Except that’s not always true.  Even if you live near family, some families aren’t close. Or even if they are, individual lives may take precedence. We all know what we want family to be, but that doesn’t mean our family is that.  And even if you do have an emotionally close family, they’re probably not your whole world.

Family, I think, is not the definition we find in dictionaries. It has less to do with relationships than it does with feelings. Ultimately, family is the feeling of belonging, family is the feeling of home.

Best friends, old friends, ride-or-die friends, recovery friends, BFFs… all = family.

About two weeks ago, a friend sent me this brief post from The New York Times.  This friend, by the way, is someone who exclaims “separated at birth” every time we discover yet another way in which are similar, revealing another hard-core preference that is not common. It makes me laugh each time. It also makes me relieved that I don’t have to explain myself.

For my friend Claudia’s birthday this year, I sent her a card that says, “There are two kinds of families: biological and logical.” And inside, “You make sense to me.”

There are the families we are born with and the families we create through marriage and offspring. And then there are the families we choose.

I married a woman before that was legal but we did have a wedding. The officiant was a gay Episcopalian priest, the dear friend with whom we would have a baby, we said. I remember his mother, whom I had not previously met, asking me that day, “So when can I expect a grandchild?” I beamed. We were family.

The baby never happened and after seven years (for other reasons), I left our marriage. That was one of the hardest things I’ve ever gone through. But our bond remains. When we had a gathering for my mother’s 75th birthday, when aunts and uncles and cousins all converged in one place, the only folks who weren’t connected by blood or marriage were PJ and her new wife. Of course they were there. We’re still family.

Patty wasn’t my best friend in high school, but she was always my friend. I confided in her the biggest secret of my life when I was eighteen. And through all the years since, we have consistently stayed in touch and visited when we can. Her daughters call me Aunt Jan and I like to believe I’m their favorite aunt. So yeah, we’re family.

I love my family of origin and I know they love me. That has never not been true. They want and do their best to support me, as I do for them. We know each other so well. And, there is nothing we’ve ever encountered together where we shared a similar response or felt the same way. When my father died, and twenty years later, our mother – we each experienced these deaths differently. And those are the big things. We have good memories, yes, great memories of laughing and enjoying each other’s company. And, what has consistently bound us together is circumstance – being from the same family – more than anything else. And that, in itself, is of great value. But that doesn’t guarantee comfort or intimacy or a sense of belonging.      

Nat was my Latin teacher in high school. Now, he’s… I’m never sure how to describe him. A friend, yes, but more than that. We share so much history. Our lives intersect beyond the two of us. Every week I visit and we eat, lament on politics, share poetry, explore religion, listen to music, sometimes watch a movie, and sometimes just play with Mazie.

Two weeks ago, I canceled. I wasn’t in a good mood. When I called and said, “I prefer to be my best with you” he replied, “Well it wouldn’t be the first time.” And I laughed, spontaneously and with relief. He knows me. No judgment. We are both authentically ourselves. That’s family.

Traditional families often expect us to conform to the family’s norms, if not also to the culture’s. These families aren’t always the places where we’re seen and celebrated for our unique individuality. But with chosen families, it’s different. Our chosen families accept us just as we are.

The critically acclaimed drama, POSE, (now streaming on Hulu) illustrates one way – perhaps the most significant way – that chosen families came into being. Focusing on New York City’s LGBTQ drag scene popular in the African-American and Latin communities during the 1980s and ‘90s, it highlights how “family houses” were born out of marginalized people with a designated “mother” who provided for her “children.” The backdrop to this, of course, is the advent of AIDS.

In the third and final season, I can’t get through an episode without a pile of snotty wet tissues piling up beside me. It hits so close to home. I was there – not in New York but in Chicago, not in drag balls but definitely in the community. I lost more friends than I can count. The people who worked beside me – the founders, directors, and volunteers – are still my family. We will always be bonded through the shared experience of tragedy and loss, tenacity and time, and love.

Which is probably why the idea of chosen families seems to get a good amount of print since 2020 and Covid-19. Bonds are naturally formed between people who share life-changing experiences. Soldiers. Caregivers. Survivors. Covid pods.  

A few years ago, I fell into a deep depression. I hated my job and was crying every day. I missed my dogs in Idaho. I kept thinking that I wanted to be in a committed, romantic relationship again, perhaps even married. I spent many months in anguish before finally realizing I was under the spell of a cultural myth. A spouse doesn’t guarantee that you won’t be alone, or that you’ll be understood, or that you’ll be fulfilled emotionally, or financially stable. Spouses die. Marriages end. People drift apart.

What I wanted was someone who loves me just as I am. Who appreciates me, celebrates me, and still expects me to strive for my best and holds me accountable. Someone who shares my pain when I hurt and who “gets it” without a detailed explanation. A person who understands the bravado that covers my vulnerability and celebrates my persistence and achievements, regardless of my insecurities. Someone I can confide in and turn to in emergencies. Someone who will grow with me and continue to expand. Someone who will always be there. I wanted someone who chooses me, for all the same reasons, knowing I will provide this for them too.

And then, one day, it suddenly occurred to me: I already have this. I have this – times ten. Not just in one person but in many. I have my friends. These friends are my family. And since that day, I’ve been deeply content. I am grateful. I’m secure.

Most of my family lives far away. With some, I talk regularly. Others, a year could go by. Time and distance don’t matter. More than friends or lovers or comrades, more than peeps or tribe or community – these people are my world.

The Ancient Greeks had 8 words for love: Mania – obsessive; Eros – romantic, passionate, and sexual;  Ludus – playful, young, flirtatious, and euphoric; Storge – familial, affectionate, and platonic; Pragma – longstanding and enduring, deepened with time; Philia – deep friendship; Philautia – love of the self; and Agape – unconditional and all-encompassing, Divine.

To these I would add: Maternal – a mother’s love, though not restricted to women. A love that protects creation – their own and others.

What then, is the love of chosen families? Nine words are not enough.

In a world where we now embrace the spectrum of sexuality and question gender norms, it seems appropriate that our definition of family would expand. It needs to be larger. More inclusive. Not defined by blood, sanctioned by law, or qualified with words such as “like” or “chosen.”

I’m done comparing my friends to family. My friends are my family. My family is large.

If you like this post, please click the like button, that would mean a lot to me. And if it resonates, please leave a comment.

Do you have family beyond blood, marriage, and adoption? What makes them family?


We can probably all agree that home has a lot to do with family and friends and *if you’re lucky* your home includes both. But then there are neighbors. And neighbors can make or break a good home.

A few years back, Maran and David bought a home they absolutely loved. They were excited. They moved in. And quickly, very quickly, in just a few months, they moved out.

The neighborhood was great. It had everything they wanted. But the neighbors were a problem. There was no way they could live with them. I won’t even bother to tell you why because it doesn’t matter. They knew if they stayed, they’d be miserable.

When I was a kid, the only neighbors I knew were the Puffers. I’m pretty sure they lived above the grocery store but I can’t be positive because I only visited them once, when I was selling Christmas cards as a fundraiser for my school. Mrs. Puffer was very nice and flipped through the catalog as I stared around their living room. I was maybe seven or eight years old and there by myself. In the 1970s, kids were often without parental supervision. Even on the south side of Chicago. No adult accompanied us Trick-or-Treating or to collect money for the local paper we delivered or when we sold candy bars, cookies, or Christmas cards. It was a time when folks still knew and trusted their neighbors.

Except that I really didn’t know anybody.

I remember the summer afternoon on our front porch when my mom squatted in front of me and said, “Go make friends.” Motioning to my sister on the porch, she continued, “Your sister has friends. You can too!” But where? I said. How? “Just walk down the sidewalk. Go all the way around the block. You’re bound to run into some kids and when you do, introduce yourself.”

I didn’t want to go. But my mother and sister were adamant, so I went. Down the concrete stairs, across the alley, and down the street. I was a whopping five years old. And this, dear reader, explains a lot about me to this day.

That outing didn’t yield the success my mother had hoped for. By the time I got home, the only neighbors I knew were still the Puffers.

At age eleven, I moved to the other side of the city with my mom and siblings. Instead of three-story brownstone flats, this neighborhood had row upon row of single-family brick bungalows with grass patches in front and sidewalks. In the back were larger grass squares and single-car garages. Chain link fences separated the yards so you could see other families clear down the street.

Considering how close we all lived to each other, you’d think we would know our neighbors. But we didn’t. Except for the old man to the west of us. I only met him once, when he stopped by to tell my mom that he had painful hemorrhoids and would be going to the hospital soon to have them removed. Too much information? Yes. Especially for the first time you meet.

My home from age 11 to 18. On the right is the house of our neighbor with hemorrhoids. Seriously.

The way we build homes today is partially to blame for not knowing our neighbors. Newer neighborhoods often have garages out front that are attached to the house. This allows us to drive in and out without ever encountering another person. In these homes, the front door is often obscured – set back and rarely used. Long gone are the days of big front porches where one would sit and watch the street, greeting passers-by.

My father lived in a Chicago neighborhood where folks sat on their porches. His home was broken into twice but each time it was the neighbors who called the police. This reminds me of the old boozers who lived in their cars on the corner by my apartment in San Francisco back in 1986. One night, a friend tried to wake me by jumping on the garage roof next door and throwing rocks at my window. The guys who lived in their cars chased her away. Honestly, I appreciated that. I bought them a bottle of wine as a thank you. It was good to know they were looking out for me.

Part of my moving to Idaho was a romantic idea of what small-town living might mean – in particular, knowing your neighbors. Sure enough, it was small enough that you were likely to run into someone you knew at the grocery store and almost always when you were in a hurry or looking your worst. But as for knowing my neighbors, not really. I knew a lot of folks, but not those that lived on my street.

Then I moved to Picabo, with a population of 150 or 65, depending on if you believe the U.S. Census or the ranchers who gathered every morning for coffee at the gas station/convenience store/post office/fly shop/diner off the two-lane highway that runs through town. Picabo is so small that everyone knows everyone. So yeah, I knew my neighbors. But as a single woman, Democrat, and conservationist, I never quite fit in.

There are only six streets in Picabo. To the left and right of my home were empty lots. The empty lot to the south of me was the end of the street. On the other side was ranchland where cows grazed in the springtime with their calves.

Across the street was the neighbor who built and sold me my house. She didn’t like me. After eight years of living across from her, she started leaving her three black labs outside when she went to work, and those dogs barked incessantly. I called her and left concerned messages. I wrote her nice notes. She ignored me. Finally, I called animal control. She stopped leaving the dogs out and continued to not speak to me. That sucked but it could have been worse.

Now I live in Tulsa, Oklahoma. I’ve been in the same rental for three and a half years. And for the first time, I know my neighbors. Like, a LOT of my neighbors. More than a dozen that I know by name, know their dogs’ names, and willingly stand around and talk to, catch up.

We look out for each other. We send each other funny texts. Two of my neighbors will drop in on Mazie if I’m gone all day. Another family will sometimes bring their dog over to stay. A few of us get together for burgers once in a while. Another has young children that sometimes visit to show me treasures they’ve found or sell me something they’ve created. (Young entrepreneurs)

I live in a town of 400,000 people and, for the first time in my life, I finally have neighbors that make me feel at home.

What about you? Do you know your neighbors? Do you know them by name and have their phone numbers in case of emergency? Do you know one? Maybe Two? Four or more?

Are you an introvert who prefers to stay anonymous, an extrovert who says hello to everyone, or somewhere between? Do you have neighbors you’d like to avoid?

I would love to hear your stories and hope you will leave a comment. Your responses actually help with my research. Thank you!

4th of July & Blueberry Pie

Baseball, the 4th of July, and warm apple pie. Quintessentially American. The essence of home. Except that I’m not very fond of apples. And, while fireworks are pretty for a few seconds, twenty minutes max, they are also insanely loud and terrible for the environment.

You stopped reading, didn’t you? Seriously, I’m not a scrooge.

I propose a different kind of holiday: Barbeques, baseball, and fireflies. And blueberry pie.

Fourth of July Blueberry Pie, click here for recipe by Kate McDermott

I went blueberry picking this week. I went last year as well but before that, it had been maybe fifteen years since I stood in the sun and my fingers took on a cobalt hue as I filled up buckets of plump blue pearls. I can’t believe it had been that long. Now, more than ever, I remember what I was missing.

Picking blueberries feels like home. Which, on the surface, is odd because I never picked blueberries as a kid. Instead, I picked raspberries.

In Michigan, where we would often spend the 4th of July, Grama had raspberries. One year she even gave me a bush – the scraggly one out beside the old corn crib. At least she said it was mine, which I suppose only meant that I could eat as much as I liked from that bush. All the other raspberries were used for a few summer desserts (featuring Cool Whip, of course) and then for jam. Grama made the best raspberry jam.

As for blueberries though, I have no memories. Not until I was married and we honeymooned in Saugatuck, Michigan. Next door, in Douglas, we discovered the Plummer Farm. Chuck and Lucy were a sweet old couple. They were alone, their kids were grown and had moved away. We liked them so much that they invited us back to play cards in the evening. And we did, right there at the kitchen table, drinking coffee and eating blueberry pie as night fell and moths buzzed around the overhead light.

They insisted we come back and stay on the farm. There was a one-room shack with full-size bunk beds on the back of the property. They took us to see it, driving out there on Chuck’s golf cart, and it looked okay. Sure, we said, we’ll stay here. With hundreds of mice scurrying out of our beds and across the ceiling overhead. Traumatizing and hysterically funny, it’s still a great memory.

For a few years then, we came back every summer to pick. They got older and Chuck’s health failed. My marriage ended and I moved away.

I can’t find a photo of blueberry picking but this was taken on the Plummer Farm while harvesting asparagus (1996?)

When I purchased my home in Idaho and created a garden, I wanted so very much to grow blueberries. My mother-in-love, native to Idaho, told me I was crazy. It was the only time she ever scoffed at me, twisting her face when I told her my idea. Her raspberry bushes were huge and prolific. Her raspberry jam was the only one I’ve ever tasted that was just as good as Grama’s.

Still, I tried. I purchased two bushes and packed the soil with coffee grounds. I measured the acidity regularly. And, I failed. The bushes never produced. Heck, they never even grew. As much as I imagined my Picabo home as my own private Michigan, the blueberries wouldn’t cooperate. But at least my raspberry bushes thrived.

So why do blueberries feel like home?

Home isn’t just our favorite childhood experiences, it’s the best times we create as adults.  

Watching the countryside whiz by from the passenger window reminds me of the annual drive so many years ago. Standing alone in an aisle of bushes picking and plucking is comforting and calming. A meditation of sorts. I whisper to the plants and thank them for their abundance. Sorting the harvest into small bags in my kitchen and delivering them to friends makes me happy. All these things together are reminiscent of a particularly pleasant time in my life, when my home was what I had created, not what I had inherited. My memories are good. Every time I pick blueberries, those feelings return. Life is simple again.

Blueberries bring me home.

Did you know that the U.S. produces about 40% of the world’s supply of blueberries? Only Canada produces more than the United States. Oregon leads in the U.S. cultivation, with Washington, Georgia, Michigan, New Jersey, California, and North Carolina making up most of the rest.

Hammonton, New Jersey, calls itself the “Blueberry Capital of the World,” which is, of course, hyperbole, but it does produce over 80% of all cultivated blueberries in New Jersey.

Maine is known for its wild blueberries, which are lowbrush berries, different from the highbush berries that are larger and those I mention in the statistics above.

Blueberries are also good for you. They have one of the highest antioxidant levels of all common fruits and vegetables and are among the most nutrient-dense berries. A 1-cup (148-gram) serving of blueberries contains:

  • Fiber: 4 grams
  • Vitamin C: 24% of the RDI
  • Vitamin K: 36% of the RDI
  • Manganese: 25% of the RDI
  • Small amounts of various other nutrients

Studies suggest blueberries may lower blood pressure and prevent heart disease as well as improve brain function and memory. They may also help heal urinary tract infections and reduce muscle soreness after exercise. All that goodness packed into one cup equals only 84 calories and just 15 grams of carbohydrates.

If you get a chance to pick blueberries this summer, do it. Each berry is a gift. But if you’re nowhere near a blueberry farm, pick up some organic ones at your local store. (Conventional blueberries have a high level of pesticides.) Make a blueberry pie, like Kate’s above. A blueberry cherry like the one below. Or, if you’re lazy like me, make muffins or scones. 🙂

Purchasing Property in Italy – Part 3

In my last post about 1-Euro homes in Italy, I shared how I found a place I absolutely loved but knew I couldn’t purchase. And you agreed with me. The moisture problem was too great and I needed to listen to my friend, Giuseppe, who is not only an architect and deputy mayor of Sambuca di Sicilia but he started the 1-euro home auction there and knows those homes better than anyone.  Okay. Bummer, but that house is off the table.

But there are other properties in Sambuca. My friends showed me two that had previously been occupied by their mothers. Fully furnished. In both cases, you would think the mothers had only just stepped out – the homes were filled with photos and personal items. They were both standard homes, nice in their own way, but not really what I want.

The same guys who showed us the first place showed us two others. Both were larger than the first one that I loved. The first of the two was listed at 100,000 euros. One Hundred Thousand? Whoa! That’s a huge jump from thirty thousand! But okay, let’s see what a 100,000-euro house looks like.

It’s the upstairs property. The ground level is a different home. So far, this looks okay. Pretty typical.

 This is the first floor. Pretty cool, good light, and lots of room! I’m not so sure about the split-level steps and this kind of tile but again, so far, so good.

Up the steps and this is the next room:

Nice tile! It always amazes me though how random things are left. Whatever the owners don’t want, they leave for the next owners to discard. Again, so far this looks good.

Not my ideal bathroom, but I’ve seen a lot worse. I could work with this. But then, on the top floor, this is what we saw:

Really? For 100,000 euros? The entire top floor needs major renovations. But wait, there is still the rooftop.

Ok, now we’re talking! This view is great. And with a little work, the rooftop deck could be amazing. But again, for 100,000 euros, we would still need to spend a lot of money to make the home livable. Not just cosmetic renovations and installing a kitchen. As you can see from the photos, the ceiling needs major repairs.

The third and final place we saw was only 30,000 euros but a whole lot bigger than the first place I had fallen in love with and in far better condition. In fact, it looked a lot like the second place, but for 70,000 euros less. Hmmm….

It’s a corner house, which is good, and it has a garage, which is great. Street parking can be a challenge!

Lots of small rooms like this, with the furniture included.
Ok, the bathroom needs work. Why would you have the bidet by the door and the toilet at the other end, past the sink??

Uh-oh. What is that black stuff on the hallway walls? Oh damn, it’s in the kitchen too.

But then there is the rooftop deck and here are the views!

Aww, man! For the view and the garage alone, it’s worth 30,000 euros! But, the mold. The moisture. The same problem as in the house I love. The house I really love (still) and know I cannot buy.  I can’t do it. It’s tempting as heck but I refuse to take on the problem of mold.

So, we saw five houses in Sambuca in one day and none of them fit the bill. Disappointing.

But the experience did clarify two things:

  1. I’m not up for a huge restoration project. A 1-euro home is out of the question. And so are 30,000-euro homes that have moisture problems.
  2. Finding a livable place for 40,000 euros or less is probably not realistic. Yes, there are a few out there. Lorraine Bracco found one next to her 1-euro home but for someone like me, it’s probably a pipe dream.

Time to regroup and rethink my budget. Which we did, and the house hunt continued. Stay tuned.

Meanwhile, what do you think? Do you think either of these places is worth the price of 100,000 or 30,000 euros? Do you think I can still find an inhabitable place for 40,000 euros or less? And, of course, the obvious: do you think I’m crazy for even considering a home purchase in Italy?

Be honest and leave a comment below!

The same guys who showed us the first place showed us two others. Both were larger than the first one that I loved. The first of the two was listed at 100,000 euros. One Hundred Thousand? Whoa! That’s a huge jump from thirty thousand! But okay, let’s see what a 100,000-euro house looks like.

Be Gentle, Be Honest, Be Kind

This newsletter is a certain kind of home for me. It is a safe place for us to communicate, to feel, to share ideas. It is more than I ever expected; a place where I am comfortable, and even encouraged, to be my authentic self. Thanks to you, my readers and friends.

Never has this been more true than this last week. Thank you to everyone who responded to my last post, I Am Not Okay. Some of you entered comments, others emailed me, a few texted or called. That post was shared more than anything else I’ve written to date. You confirmed on every level that I am not alone; we are each carrying this pain and doing our best to work through it and keep moving towards a better future.

You are my hope.

With some trepidation, I also posted this piece on LinkedIn. Doing so meant my pain would be visible to others outside of this Finding Home community. But there are many people that read my work there and maybe my words would help them know they’re not alone either. It was desperation that made me share with you. It was courage that made me share on LinkedIn.

A few responses made me question my courage.

Now, to be clear, I am incredibly fortunate that I have not yet experienced trolling. Nonetheless, two comments were unsettling.

The first was a woman in Amsterdam who said she wanted to kill herself. How does one respond to such a statement from someone they don’t know who is half the world away? As best as I could. Simply, as best as I could.

The second was from someone I know in London. I don’t really know her, we have only connected on LinkedIn over a shared love for nature. I’ve responded to some of her posts and she has responded to some of mine. Only this time, the response wasn’t positive.

I’m pretty sure she read only to the first real paragraph and then stopped. This is the paragraph where I say (a bit abruptly) that I’m okay with bows for hunting. That bows require strength and skill and bow hunters are not hunting for sport but for meat, meat they will eat.

Perhaps I didn’t adequately connect these comments to how easy it is to purchase a rifle, leading to a lot of lazy unskilled fools who hunt and wound animals. A bow hunter would never shoot from their car or a four-wheeler. None of this is to say I’m a fan of hunting but just that I understand it better from knowing those who do.

And I didn’t say that I was a vegetarian before I moved to Idaho. A real vegetarian. For twelve years I ate nothing that was a sentient being (and yes, that includes no seafood and no poultry). I wasn’t a vegan – I’m not sure I could ever give up eggs and cheese – but I was most certainly a vegetarian.

But none of this matters. It doesn’t matter that in our response and replies I became confused about the real issue she was objecting to. Was it hunting? Bows in particular? Animal cruelty? Eating animals? It didn’t matter that she most certainly hadn’t read my entire piece or that, as a Londoner, she may not have any context for what was happening in the U.S.

In the end, all that mattered was that she had been triggered, and her response was due to her caring. So the best reply I could offer was to recognize this. I told her I respected her, her feelings, and her commitment to a better world. And, finally, I repeated that I was hurting. I told her I was fragile at the moment and hoped she would understand that I couldn’t rationally continue the conversation. 

She neither liked my reply nor responded to it. Only silence. And that’s okay.

I wish I could have stepped outside of my own pain to better understand hers. But at least I recognized that I couldn’t. At least I could see that she wasn’t intentionally trying to hurt me; what she cares about is essentially the same thing I care about, even if we are, at the moment, approaching it from different entries. We both want the world to be kinder. We both want less suffering and less violence for people, for animals, for the earth.

I wish I could say I always respond this way but of course, I don’t.

I work with someone who is very upfront about her mental health. She will tell you even if you don’t ask. Her struggle is intense: hearing voices, severe depression, changing medications, and trying to stay out of the hospital. I admit that sometimes her honesty feels like emotional hijacking since it can affect work decisions and our workplace dynamic. A therapist friend has even coached me on how to respond.

And – I also admire this coworker. Most notably because she continues to fight. On most days, she gets herself to work and does the work. She is pleasant and kind and sweet. And that’s admirable AF because if I were in her shoes, I might just surrender and not get out of bed.

Equally important is that she is honest about her condition. It takes courage to admit your mental state and even more courage to share it with others. Quite possibly it is this honesty that makes it possible for her to continue fighting. After all, when I shared with you, you heard me and that gave me hope.

The world would be a much better place if we were all more honest about our emotional and mental states.

If only we could just stop pretending that we’re okay. Stop ignoring our pain, our confusion, our anxiety, our fears, our doubts. Stop keeping up appearances. If we could just be more honest about our fragility… perhaps then we would become more compassionate – towards ourselves first, and then towards others.

This is still a difficult lesson for me. I hide behind the façade that I am capable and strong – which, for the most part, I am. Except that when I’m not, I hesitate to admit it. I’m afraid other’s opinion of me will change. The problem with this is that then I’m irritated when folks don’t acknowledge when I’m hurting or understand when I’m struggling.  Hah! That’s entirely on me. How can others know if I don’t tell them?

The interesting thing is that when I do admit my true mental and emotional state, folks typically respond in positive ways.

Maybe someday we’ll evolve enough to always be gentle and kind, without having to know the particular struggle another person is enduring. But it’s also possible we’ll never get there unless we begin by being honest with ourselves first.  Then we can be honest with each other.

Honesty is the highest form of intimacy. Intimacy is necessary to truly connect. And connection is the most essential element of home.

Thank you for being part of home for me.

The world would be a better place if we were kinder, gentler, and more honest with ourselves, as well as with each other.

This is my own photo. The one above is not and regrettably, I do not know the source.

I am Not Okay

Fair warning: I swear in the text below. (Photo by Lucas Metz)

My phone has been blowing up for 24 hours. Everyone asking the same thing: Are you okay?

No, I am not okay.

I am not okay with people shot in hospitals.

I am not okay with children shot in schools.

I am not okay with people shot in grocery stores.

I am not okay with people shot in places of worship. Or with people shot in clubs or people shot in movie theatres. I am not okay with people shot in their cars, in their homes, or on the street.

This is not a Dr. Seuss book. This is life and death.

I am not okay with guns. Period. There, I said it.

In Idaho, I know folks who hunt elk and deer with bows. I’m okay with bows. Those things take a lot of practice and strength. Hunting with a bow is hard work. And it’s honorable. Anyone who hunts with a bow is definitely using that meat to eat. If you want to hunt, use a bow.

I am not okay with open carry laws. I am not okay with politicians paid off by the NRA. I am not okay with a handful of citizens declaring the right to defend themselves with firearms and using the 2nd Amendment as justification for this. I am not okay with men – primarily men and particularly white men – brandishing guns because they feel threatened. I am not okay with Kyle Rittenhouse being acquitted.  

I am not okay with things as they are. I am not okay with politically expedient thoughts and prayers and no policy changes.

I am not okay with arming teachers or with children, as young as three years old, having to endure active shooter drills. I am not okay with assault rifles and certainly not okay with assault rifles being sold basically anywhere and to anyone age eighteen or older.

I am not okay with guns being the number one cause of death for children in the United States. This is not okay. THIS IS NOT OKAY.

Today all of this is the cause of my anguish, heaped onto so much more.

I am not okay with elected representatives continuing to spread lies of election fraud. Or with a stalemate Senate.

I am not okay with child marriage, still legal in 44 states. Or with male Christian leaders sexually abusing women and children or with religious governing bodies covering up the abuse.

I am not okay with childcare not being valued.

I’m not okay with a failed medical system that is owned by corporations. Or with health insurance not including dental.

I am not okay with public schools that lack funding and teachers who have to pay for their own classroom supplies.

I am not okay with for-profit prisons.

I am not okay with unprecedented heat, fires, and natural disasters, all placed under the sterilized label of climate change. I am not okay with corporate greed.

I am not okay with Putin’s war on Ukraine.

Sweet Jesus, Gracious Goddess, Heavenly Father and Mother Mary, I am not okay with any of this and there’s so much more that I’m too exhausted to list.

I am one word, one image, even one breath away from tears. I blink and they come. I blink again to try and hold them back.

I am miraculously dressed and fed. And I am one step away from peeling off these clothes and going back to bed.

The weirdest, most surreal, and infinitely frustrating thing is how the world carries on. We have all agreed (passively and yet agreed nonetheless) to a cultural dictate to act like we’re okay, that everything is okay, that things are normal. We are frogs in a pot of boiling water adjusting to the heat.

But the truth is we are fried. We are boiled. We are burnt. We are over-dosed.

We are not okay.

We talk about the rise of mental illness. We blame mass shootings on mental illness. We blame crime on mental illness. I call bullshit.

We are not mentally ill. We are mentally, emotionally, and spiritually spent. We are hurting. The illness is in our society, not in our minds. You have to be mentally ill to not care. It’s our caring that hurts and our hurts not being heard that takes us over the edge. Anyone who picks up a gun and kills someone doesn’t do it out of indifference. Killing comes from emotion and our emotions are haywire because we are constantly told everything is okay when clearly it is not. Or we’re told things can’t change when they certainly can.

We are not okay.

I disavow the expectation to be okay. I will function, I will go through the motions, but I am not okay. I will force myself to publish this. I will go to work today and interact with people like a sane person. I will respond to your texts, your calls, your emails as best as I can.

But be very clear: I am not okay. I do not accept this normal. I will cry, I will swear, I will raise my voice, and I will go down fighting. Despair may have me in a headlock, my skin bruised, and my heart hacked but I will undoubtedly be back on my feet again doing whatever I can to make this world a better place. In time.

First, I need a moment to mourn. To nurse the pain, to bandage the wounds. To catch my breath.

None of this is okay, my friends. Can we please stop acting like it is?

When You Lose Your Father

My friend’s father died on Tuesday morning, just past midnight. His siblings had been sitting vigil for a week, trading places to not leave him alone. And then, he was gone.

It’s the oddest feeling when someone you love dies. When life carries on. It seems like the world should stop, if only for a moment. Everything is upside down and yet somehow the earth keeps spinning. People carry on while you feel temporarily frozen, suspended in time.

And then people call. The messages start coming. Work needs you. Nothing stops.

Losing our father is a particularly unsettling event.

When our mother dies, a sense of home is lost forever. When our father dies, a sense of world order shifts.

Our fathers are our connection to the world. They are the chieftains, the bridge to something greater. They lead the way, inspiring us to leave home. Sometimes even pushing us out of the nest, demanding that we fly, calling for our independence, believing we can be more than a child. Our fathers require us to become adults.

It’s a tough role to play. And even harder for us to accept. Especially when we are young. As children, we want to assert our independence while still relying fully on our parents to meet our every need. Mothers are more prone to play along with this while Fathers eventually say, enough.

A good Father teaches us the skills necessary to survive. He speaks the language of the world and reveals the secrets of how to navigate in it. Mother, on the other hand, speaks the language of home.

When our Mothers age and become frail, our hearts soften. It seems somehow right that we would take care of her, just as she took care of us. When our Fathers age, we are often bewildered. To see these larger-than-life beings shrink, stumble, and shake is unsettling. Our Fathers were gods. And then, suddenly, they aren’t. They no longer leave the house, they wander from room to room, mumbling under their breath, and watch too much TV. Their world has shrunk and with it, so has ours. We discover our fathers as people we never knew. There is perhaps a newfound passion for something that once escaped them, a passion that was once reserved for work. If we’re lucky, there is humor and a new lightness, a falling away of formality and seriousness. If we’re not lucky, they become rigid, mean, and more distant.

A Mother’s death can leave us inconsolable, while Father’s death is sobering. Now, who is in charge? Who will lead the way? We are, we will, and we must. It’s all up to us now. We are the new chieftains. We carry on.

My father’s motorcycle jacket, even though he never rode a motorcycle.

Maybe this sounds nothing like your experience. Maybe your relationship with Father was painful and there are wounds that never healed.

One week after my father died, I attended a New Year’s Eve party and a woman I did not know told me she had heard the news. “Were you close to your dad?” she asked. Yes. Very. “You’re lucky,” she said. “My dad was an asshole who abused me.” I flinched. And then I walked away.

I never considered my father a god or infallible. From a very young age, I was indelibly aware of how human he was. And still, I saw him through the eyes of a child, a child who loved him dearly. I stood by him, elevated him, and judged him as only a child can do. It was many, many, years before I could look at him honestly, through mature eyes, as one who has lived, loved, struggled, and hurt. The more I accepted his flaws, the more I recognized his goodness and his yearning. The man he was. Not perfect, but still my dad. My father who loved me. I am, undeniably, who I am today, in large part, because of him. Losing him, when I was just shy of twenty-five, was unbelievably hard. The grief consumed me for years and it was decades before it stopped visiting me regularly on holidays like an unwelcomed friend.

I wonder what it would have been like to see him grow old. His world shrunk so much in his last months, when he was only fifty-six. Would it have been better or worse if he had lived until age eighty? And who would I be if he had? His dying was the catalyst for so much of what I’ve done. In his death, as in his life, he was my teacher. He was my bridge to a world beyond home. Having walked that bridge, I discovered more than I could have possibly imagined. My only sadness now is wishing he could have been around to see it.

With my father at Schloss Linderhof (German), 1988, two years before he died

What has your relationship with your father been like? If he’s gone, has your understanding of him changed?

Leave a comment below. I’d love to hear from you.

1-Euro Homes: The House I Love But Can’t Buy

In my last post about 1-euro homes, I mentioned how Lorraine Bracco purchased a home for 1-euro and, after starting with a renovation budget of $145,000, the project ended up costing her more like $250,000. That’s a huge difference from budget to reality. Even if I had the money, I wouldn’t want to risk that kind of increase in expense. And, let’s face it, I don’t have that money.

But, in Bracco’s three-part series, My Big Italian Adventure, she casually mentions (almost in passing) that she wanted more space than the 1-euro home and was able to purchase the home next door for only 40,000 euros. Homes in Italy are built with adjoining walls, so this allowed her to expand quite easily by simply knocking through the wall. What intrigued me most about this, however, is that you can (theoretically) buy a habitable home at a very affordable price and update it while you live there. Now that is more in line with my budget and stamina!

THIS was an idea I could work with! One of the problems with 1-euro homes is that they are completely uninhabitable. This means you have to find another lodging – and pay for that other lodging – while you are renovating. That’s an additional cost that you need to factor into your budget. It also means that all the renovation basically needs to be done at the same time.

Whereas, if you purchase a home that is habitable, you can do renovations bit by bit. Maybe even do some of the work yourself. At least the house is already connected to city services (plumbing, sewer, electricity) and there is a working kitchen and a full bathroom.

With this idea lodged in my brain, I abandoned the dream of a 1-euro home and began searching for habitable Sicilian houses on the market for 20,000 to 50,000. Obviously, the cheaper the property, the more work that needs to be done. Meanwhile, I reached out to a dear friend and asked if he might be interested in investing in a property with me.

A year later, when he agreed to visit Italy with me, one goal of the trip was to see some potential properties for purchase. Because I had already visited Sambuca di Sicilia a few times in 2020, made some friends, and connected with the deputy mayor who started the 1-euro auction in that town, it was a given that Sambuca would be the first place to look.

The town of Sambuca di Sicilia wasn’t familiar to me in 2020. I hadn’t paid any attention to any of the 1-euro towns in Sicily. I was only looking at 1-euro homes on the mainland. Sicily was so remote, so far away. I wanted to visit, I wanted to spend time there, but I had no intention would live there. But that was before I spent three months in Sicily! Now things have changed. Sicily is where I want to live.

So, on February 19, 2022, we arrived in Sambuca and immediately stopped to visit with some friends, the owners of Bar Caruso.

After a round of pastries and coffee, we went for a walk. It was interesting to see how much had changed since 2020, how many buildings had been rehabbed., including the 1-euro home next to the belvedere steps which was purchased and renovated by Airbnb.

We stopped by my favorite home in Sambuca, owned by Giuseppe. The inside still needs to be renovated but I love the outside just as it is!

Another stop was at the home where I stayed for six nights in 2020. While admiring it from the outside, we noticed that the property next door had a “For Sale” sign.

Two men standing outside asked if we wanted to see it. Sure enough, they had the keys and we readily agreed! The immediate appeal, before even stepping inside, is that I know the neighbor to the left because I had stayed in her home in 2020. As I’ve mentioned before, houses in Italy typically share one or two walls with other homes. So it helps to know who your neighbors are. Especially if, like me, you have an aversion to noise!  The other bonus is the location in town – just off upper main street, close to the belvedere and downtown, in the old Arab Quarter.

The house has only four rooms, two on the ground floor and two on the first floor. Historically, the kitchen is always on the ground floor, along with a sleeping area for Nonna (grandmother), who rules the kitchen. 

So here’s what we saw when we entered: you walk down a few steps and this is the ground floor consisting of two rooms and a bathroom. Honestly, I didn’t even look in the bathroom – not sure why. The first room is what I would make into a living room.

The second room is the kitchen. Or, what would be the kitchen, once you installed it.

Looks great, right? It looks like mostly only cosmetic changes would need to be made. Like painting and removing the tile from the kitchen walls. I’m also not a fan of the floor tile but I’m told it is historical, though maybe dating back only sixty to seventy years.

Then you climb back up those few stairs, turn the corner and climb to the 1st floor.

This is where I was gobsmacked. Upstairs stole my heart! Look at the gorgeous historical tile in each room! Look at the pocket envelope ceilings!

There is a sweet door between the two rooms.  Obviously, the second room would be a bedroom. The first room perhaps my study / library / writing room.  Did I mention how much I love the ceilings? You can’t really see them in these photos but they’re lovely. Okay, the lights would have to go, but that’s not a big deal.

Our guides were a realtor and an architect from Palermo.  Neither spoke any English so we communicated through Google translate. The realtor emphasized that while the house was small, we could put a terrace on the roof. This is always a wonderful feature of Italian homes. Except when we opened the door to the stairway, there was the toilet and a small sink! Very funny! After the realtor saw that, he didn’t take us up.

Obviously, the toilet and sink would have to be moved. Not a problem. It would be easy to install a bathroom in the bedroom, just above the kitchen.

I love this little house! It’s a perfect size for just me. Of course, this means I would have to give up my dream of living with others, at least temporarily. With a place this adorable, I could get myself to Sicily first and then figure out how to get friends to move there as well.

Did I mention how much I loved the ceilings and the floor tiles? And the asking price? 30,000 euros. I couldn’t believe it! Fantastic! We had found my home!

But there was a catch.

Moisture. The most fantastic display of moss on the walls. Artistically, I admired them. Yet admittedly, they also freaked me out. I couldn’t bring myself to take a picture of them straight on – but you can see some of it in the photos I did take.

The realtor said, yes, the moisture was coming from the abandoned house on the other side. Yes, it could be fixed but it would have to be fixed from the other side. Okay. I mean, for 30,000 euros there was bound to be a problem, right?

Except that the mold problem is worse than the realtor admitted. When I mentioned the home to Giuseppe, he shook his head. “Stay away from that house,” he said. Why? “The moisture. Too much moisture.” But surely it can be fixed, yes? He shook his head.

The abandoned house, which the realtor claimed was the source of the moisture problem, is owned by eight people. Inheritance laws in Italy are partially to blame for the inventory of abandoned homes. Family automatically inherits property when the owner dies. Which can mean a home that hasn’t been occupied in fifty or more years can be owned by siblings and cousins of the second and third generation, with possibly none of them living in the area or even in Sicily.

On top of that, Giuseppe said 30,000 euros was too much. That home should sell for maybe 15,000. Even better! (I thought.) No, he said. “You do not want that house.”

Except that I do. I don’t want the mold but I do love this house. I can’t get it out of my mind.

We looked at two other homes in Sambuca after this one, both much larger, one for the same price and one for quite a bit more.  I’ll show you those in my next installment of 1-Euro Homes or (probably better named) Purchasing Property in Italy.

What do you think? Would you accept the wisdom and advice of Giuseppe who is an architect and the founder of the 1-Euro home auction in Sambuca or would you forge ahead and buy it anyway?

I’d love to hear your thoughts. Leave me a comment below!

Rethinking Mother’s Day

For all the mothers who will be celebrating on Sunday, I see you. I appreciate you. I applaud you. You deserve recognition.     

And, I know that you’re more than a mom. You’re an amazing, incredible person. For that, you deserve for recognition. For surviving and thriving in a world where you are continually seen as less than men, paid less than men, promoted less than men, protected less than men, quantified as less than men, harassed, abused, belittled, and projected upon with the needs, desires, and insecurities of men, well, you deserve recognition for that too.

Mother’s Day is a celebration of ALL women, regardless of whether or not someone calls you mom.

You’re not sure of that? You think today is just for women who birthed babies and raised kids? Let’s take a look.

The first celebrations of mothers go way back. Way, way, back.

Ancient Egyptians celebrated Isis, the ideal mother and wife. When her husband Osiris was murdered and hacked into pieces (gruesome, yes), she gathered all the pieces that had been scattered and put them back together. Except one crucial piece was missing, so she fashioned it out of wax. And then, for one brief moment, her husband came back to life, they coupled, and she became pregnant. (I don’t really need to explain the symbolism here, do I? How the vitalizing force—the missing part—of Osiris only comes alive with the manual attention of Isis? You caught that, yes?)

It’s hard to deny that Isis was a dedicated wife, an extremely clever female, and possessive of magical powers. This unusual coupling produced a son whom she cunningly managed to get on the throne, making him the king of the gods. Isis went the extra mile for both her husband and her child. In a greater sense, she did this all for humanity. For without her efforts, humankind would not exist. It’s no wonder that she is worshiped as Queen of Heaven, the Great Mother of all. She is one of the greatest deities in the ancient Egyptian religion. While there may have been a festival at the end of each year that celebrated Isis, far more important is how she was worshiped daily.


Similarly, the ancient Greeks celebrated Rhea as the goddess of motherhood and fertility. It’s interesting that they didn’t worship Gaia the same way since Gaia was the first mother, Mother Earth, and therefore Rhea’s mother. But Gaia does have an important role to play as Grandmother, and we’ll get to that in a second.

It is said that Rhea loved her children unconditionally, as her mother Gaia did. Which, let’s be honest, is what we expect of mothers. But Rhea didn’t really have any time to spend with her children because her husband, Cronus, would swallow each child as soon as they were born. Cronos was afraid one of his kids might become more powerful than he and would usurp his position (as he had with his father), so he determined it was best to be rid of them straight away.  

But Rhea, with the help of her mother Gaia, tricked Cronos and when her last child, Zeus, was born, she gave him a large stone in swaddling to swallow instead. I think you’d have to be pretty dim-witted to mistake a stone for a baby, but that’s how these myths go. Anyway, Grandmother Gaia smuggled Zeus away and, with the help of some nymphs and giants, she kept him safe. When Zeus was fully grown, he disguised himself as a cupbearer and brought Cronos a drink that made him vomit up the other children, who each came flapping out like fish on a deck, fully grown.

So this is how Rhea came to be celebrated as the goddess of fertility and motherhood. Her children were the first Olympians, with Zeus as the king. Naturally, they wouldn’t elevate the mother of the Titans who had been defeated. Instead, they revered the gods and goddesses of Mt. Olympus, and Rhea was honored as the mother of these gods.


In Roman times, Cybele was celebrated as the Magna Mater– the Great Goddess. Cybele was a healer and protector and was responsible for every aspect of life from birth to death. She was the “resurrector” and a festival was held in her honor each spring. (The myth around her “resurrection” power, like Isis, has to do with a man and that’s all I’ll say about that.)

It’s worth noting, that Isis, Rhea, and Cybele were more than mothers. They were clever. They were industrious. They were creative. Their efforts benefitted not themselves alone or their husbands but all of creation.

Mother’s Day, as celebrated in the United States, was concocted by Anna Jarvis in 1908. Ms. Jarvis grew up in a blatantly patriarchal culture that refused to recognize the value of women. But she experienced first-hand how powerful women could be.

Ms. Jarvis’ mother, Anna Reeves Jarvis, gave birth to thirteen children, of which only four survived to adulthood. She was the wife of a minister, a community organizer, and an activist. Anna Reeves Jarvis first conceived of Mother’s Day as clubs that educated women on how to properly care for their children. She then fashioned these clubs to become the force behind Mothers’ Friendship Day, a peace movement that sought to heal the divisions in our country after the Civil War.

Around the same time, Julia Ward Howe, an abolitionist and suffragette, wrote the “Mother’s Day Proclamation” which called on all mothers to promote world peace. Meanwhile, Juliet Calhoun Blakely organized a Mother’s Day in Michigan, seemingly to encourage mothers to support the temperance movement.

This was an era of tremendous social change and Anna Jarvis saw women all around her making significant contributions that reached beyond their families.

So on the first anniversary of her mother’s death, Ms. Jarvis, who never married and never had children of her own, organized the first Mother’s Day. The intention was to recognize the sacrifices her mother had made, as well as the sacrifices made by so many other women who worked to create a better world.

Her idea was simple: Honor women with their own national holiday (since all holidays were then, and still are,* in celebration of men). People were to spend the day with their mothers, attend church services, and wear a white carnation (or red carnation if their mother was deceased).

Anna Reeves Jarvis and her daughter, Anna Jarvis

But when the holiday quickly became commercialized, Anna Jarvis was incensed. She spoke out against candy companies and florists who hawked sales. She even funded several lawsuits against organizations that used the name “Mother’s Day.” Remember, all companies were owned by men. So the folks commercializing the holiday were men. Men who were trying to make a profit, once more, on the backs of women. No wonder Ms. Jarvis was outraged. These same men were refusing women the right to vote. By commercializing Mother’s Day, they were missing the point and attempting to keep women in very narrow roles. The day wasn’t a saccharine nod to women who nursed children, cooked meals, and kept house.  Mother’s Day was intended as a recognition of how much women do and how much they sacrifice – all for the benefit of others.

Until recently, most women could not escape having children. Women have always been viewed as property, defined according to their relationship to men. Women had to marry, except in very unusual circumstances when they had their own wealth or when they were expected to take care of their aging parents. Marriage naturally resulted in children, regardless of whether this was the woman’s wish. Only in the 20th Century did this begin to change. Yet still today we are struggling against a culturally indentured view of women: women as baby-makers and house keepers.

We’ve forgotten what ancient civilizations knew and what Anne Jarvis intended as the purpose of this day. Women are powerful. Women are magical. Women are smart and industrious, persistent and determined. Women sacrifice, women fight, women bleed, women create, and the world could not exist without them.

The real women who worked for NASA: Mary Jackson, Katherine G. Johnson, and Dorothy Vaughn

What if Katherine Johnson had never pursued math and successfully calculated the trajectory for the first moon landing?  If Eleanor Roosevelt hadn’t championed human rights? If Golda Meir hadn’t been the Prime Minister of Israel or Angela Merkel the chancellor of Germany?

What if Yvonne Brill had not invented the propulsion system that keeps communication satellites from falling out of orbit? If Ada Lovelace had not written the first computer program?

If Harriet Williams Russell Strong had never invented the modern dam and designed water irrigation systems? Or if Patricia Bath had not invented the tool and procedure for removing cataracts?

What if the Bronte sisters, Mary Shelly, Virginia Woolf, Mary Oliver, Maya Angelou, Alice Walker and so, so, SO MANY other women hadn’t written their stories and poems?

Aw heck, what if Ruth Graves Wakefield hadn’t invented the original Toll House chocolate chip cookie and Caresse Crosby hadn’t invented the bra? The point is, the list goes on and on. Women have made huge contributions to society, and continue to each day.

All of these women sacrificed things in order to make the world a better place. Women today still sacrifice for the sake of others. We sacrifice our dignity, our safety, our self-care, our time. We sacrifice financial security, we sacrifice our dreams. Women are the number one caregivers of the elderly and sick. Women constitute 75% of all teachers. Women are the dominant force of child care both in and outside the home.

Mother’s Day is a recognition of women. All women. Clever women. Hard-working women. Creative women. Loving women. Women, who just by virtue of their sex, are powerful and magical creatures. Mother’s Day is a celebration of all the ways in which women sacrifice themselves for creation.

So, to every woman out there, Happy Mother’s Day! I see you, I appreciate you, I applaud you. You are a magical, wonderful, loving, creative creature and today we celebrate YOU.

An amazing group of women at Parliament of World Religions in Toronto, 2018, after a water ceremony

Post Script: This was a long read, so I understand if you’re done. But I want to share a few personal examples for this day.

  • My mom had her first child in 1959, when she was twenty-five years old, and her second child three years later. I’m not sure my mother really wanted to have kids, which is, in part, why she waited. Then her husband left her when the second child was born. After she married her second husband, I was born, either by accident or by divine intervention. My mother sacrificed a lot for us three kids and was proud of each of us. And – I think what my mom wanted most was to be known for was her intelligence, her talent, and her accomplishments. She had a Mensa IQ and was an accomplished organist and poet. She was an author, not only of two books that sold well but also of a Sunday School series that became standard in the Missouri Lutheran Church. She could be extraordinarily compassionate and I know of many who found her love, wisdom, and words to have a profound impact on their lives. In this way, just as much as her relationship with me and my siblings, she was a wonderful mother. On Mother’s Day and every day, I hold her in my heart.
  • My friend Karen-Lee has been a volunteer reading tutor for two years with Reading Partners. This year, just like last, her third-grade student became very attached to her. Since all tutoring has been online, she went out of her way to meet him in person twice. Both times, he wanted a hug. He wanted to stay in touch and wanted her as his tutor again next year. She made an impact. A real impact beyond helping him read. Does it matter that she, herself, has three children or none? No. What matters is that she gave of her time and her energy and her talent to help a child. Every child is our future. When we help children, we help the world. This Sunday, I’m celebrating Karen-Lee.
  • My stepmom, Judy, worked for HUD (Housing and Urban Development) for most of her career, along with serving as a liturgist and choir member at church. After retiring, she worked for Lutheran Child and Family Services. Was she on the front lines? No. But her work was incredibly important. Did she help raise me? No, not really. But her presence made a difference in my life in so many wonderful ways. She has loved, embraced, and encouraged me for four decades. She is a source of delight and I am grateful for her and to her. On Sunday and every day, I celebrate Judy.

There are many ways to be a mom and many ways to mother.

My stepmom, Judy, and I over the years

Yes, we now also have International Women’s Day on March 8. But this is not a nationally recognized holiday in the United States. President’s Day is a public holiday (which honors specifically two dead men) as is Columbus Day (which thankfully is slowly becoming Indigenous Peoples Day). Memorial Day and Veterans Day are also public holidays that were originally designed in celebration of men. Hey, I’m not knocking any of these holidays, I’m just saying that even if International Women’s Day did become a national holiday, having two celebrations of the female sex is not exactly going overboard.


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For the Love of Trees

My backyard has one large tree in the center of it. I look at it every day, first from my bedroom windows and then when I let Mazie out in the yard. Every day I sit in a chair while she romps on the grass and I stare with admiration and gratefulness at this big beautiful tree.

She is regal and strong. In all the years that I’ve been lucky enough to share space with her, she has repeatedly tried to shed what she doesn’t need. She routinely solicits the wind in this effort and when the wind obliges, weak and dead limbs fall to the ground and clutter the grass. Only last fall did my landlord finally have her pruned. The tree is grateful. She stands taller now, her healthy limbs reaching for the sky. And her leaves seem a brighter shade of green.

Am I anthropomorphizing this tree? Of course.

Trees have much to teach us.

When I think of the wisdom of trees, I think of the Bodhi tree under which Siddhartha Gautama sat and achieve enlightenment, becoming Buddha.

I think of Treebeard, from Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, the leader of the ancient guardians of the forest, shepherds of trees. He and his kind are tree-like beings with conscious thought. They are Ents and keep to themselves. Treebeard says,

I do not like worrying about the future. I am not altogether on anybody’s side, because nobody is altogether on my side, if you understand me: nobody cares for the woods as I care for them, not even Elves nowadays.

And so he and the other Ents stay out of the battle for Middle Earth, until he learns that the wizard Saruman is decimating the forest to support his domination. Then he calls together all the other Ents and they march on Saruman’s land, providing the crucial help needed to defeat this evil foe.

When I think of the nature of trees, I think of the great Buddhist monk, teacher, and peace activist, Thich Nhat Hanh who wrote:

I know that in our previous life we were trees, and even in this life we continue to be trees. Without trees, we cannot have people, therefore trees and people inter-are. We are trees, and air, bushes and clouds. If trees cannot survive, humankind is not going to survive either. We get sick because we have damaged our own environment, and we are in mental anguish because we are so far away from our true mother, Mother Nature.

“The Last Tree,” Dharma Gaia, p 218, 1990

When I think of the love of trees, I think of The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein. This tree loves a little boy so much that she gives him everything she has: apples, play, and shade. Eventually, she gives her branches and even her trunk, until she is nothing but a stump. Even then, she continues to serve. This story makes me sad. The boy is all of us: a culture consumed with taking, cutting, using. Perhaps only considering the effect of our actions until it is too late, until there is nothing more the tree can give or no more trees to give.

When I think  of the holiness of trees, I think of Black Elk from the Oglala Sioux and his sacred vision as a child of nine:

Then I was standing on the highest mountain of them all, and round about beneath me was the whole hoop of the world. And while I stood there, I saw more than I can tell and I understood more than I saw; for I was seeing in a sacred manner the shapes of all things in the spirit, and the shape of all shapes as they must live together like one being. And I saw that the sacred hoop of my people was one of many hoops that made one circle, wide as daylight and as starlight, and in the center grew one mighty flowering tree to shelter all the children of one mother and one father. And I saw that it was holy.

Black Elk Speaks, p 33, 2008

When I think of the life of trees, I remember how the Amazon breathes. Backpacking in Venezuela, looking out over the Brazilian forest, the wind coming from behind me as the earth inhaled and macaws flew overhead beneath a full moon on Beltane. And in the morning, looking down on her again, the trees exhaled and their breath blew up into my face.

At my home in Idaho, I planted every tree in my backyard, creating a garden where there had only been dirt and weeds. First in the ground were Aspens, meant to be a wind block. I didn’t even think of naming them. They stood there, always present and in the background, much like the chorus in a Greek play.

Then came Scarlet, the first to be named, just a tiny bareroot sapling. We nearly lost her that first winter to the cold, poor thing. In subsequent years, I would encircle her with chicken wire stuffed with fallen Aspen leaves to protect her. Nine summers later, she had grown into a beautiful Scarlet Red Maple bound to outlast the Aspens behind her.

Then came Lucious Lucy and Summercrisp Sam. Purchased as a pair of pears to pollinate, Lucy grew wide and Sam grew tall. When only Lucy bore fruit, you had to admit they lived up to their gendered names.

Next was Royal, the miniature plum tree who provided a tiny bit of shade and lots of small oval dark purple plums, depending on the year. Rachel and Rebecca were pink-flowering non-fruit-bearing crab apple trees. Like paternal twins, I had a hard time telling them apart and was never sure which was named Rachel and which was Rebecca.

A Cherry tree, appropriately named Cherry, and a Hawthorne named Nathanial didn’t make it. Did I plant them incorrectly or were they too fragile for the zone? I never did know.

But the crowning joy of the yard was Grama. Set in the center, she was the matriarch around which all activities happened. She was the guardian. She was inspiration and comfort. I loved her best of all.

When she got sick, I nursed her vigilantly for two years. Antibiotic shots, vitamin drinks, and deep pruning. When the tree doctor diagnosed that nothing more could be done, I knew it was time to leave. This was one death I couldn’t bear to watch.

It’s appropriate that Arbor Day is celebrated so close to May Day. May Day is often marked with gifts of flowers and a maypole. The maypole is a symbol of fertility, with ribbons braided in a dance around a vertical wooden pole.

Behind this activity, however, is the ancient understanding that every tree is an axis mundi: the place where heaven and earth meet. Trees are a ladder by which we ascend from one realm into another.

The origins of May Day go back to Beltane, the first of only two festivals celebrated by the Celtic  Druids. Beltane is a fire festival, honoring the return of the sun after a long and gloomy winter. Beltane is also a fertility festival, where, in ancient times, the people jumped over a bonfire, then coupled in the forest. This spreading of seed was meant to reach the earth and the fruits of the ritual would be harvested in August.

The Wanika of Eastern Africa, who believe that every tree has a spirit, say that to destroy a coconut tree is the equivalent of matricide, because the coconut tree gives life and nourishment, just as a mother does for her child.

Legends say the Banyan tree has roots that never stop growing, reaching all the way down to the center of the earth. If the tree is harmed or cut, it will always heal and grow again, like a phoenix. The Banyan, it is said, is an eternal tree that cannot die.

Since the beginning of time, people have revered and worshipped trees. Every culture and every faith has its own mythology around these sacred sentient beings. Until perhaps today. Today we are destroying trees at an alarmingly rapid pace. Is it too late?

Trees by Joyce Kilmer

I think that I shall never see
A poem as lovely as a tree.

A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the earth’s sweet flowing breast;

A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;

A tree that may in Summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;

Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.

Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.

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