Writing a book is like making sausage.

In this case, very pretty sausage, but the process is still the same. It’s a glorious, tasty, messy, nasty mess. And I revel in it.

Going over my notes and ideas for the book I’m working on, I keep stumbling on more connections than I ever thought possible to have. Despite the overwhelming number of people, places, books, studies, etc. I have to work with, it never feels like enough. There are always more, so many more, that I wish I had.

libraryWhen I started researching Japanese textiles in 2004 I didn’t know where to begin, but Amazon.com and my local library provided answers. I think most of my library was funded by the US Government for a while, as tax refund checks were the only discretionary income I had for several years. Dog-eared library copies of out of print books, hard to find magazines (Kimono Hime volumes 1-10 so far), museum books that accompanied exhibits I had seen or had wished to see, Japanese guide books, language books, history books, and so on, all crowd my shelves.

These days I browse Amazon’s Japanese site and write down titles of books I’ll look for the next time I’m in Japan. On my last trip, in May 2013, I carried home over a dozen books and magazines in my carry-on bag to avoid paying to ship them home in my already-too-heavy suitcases. I listed Several of those books in my shop soon after I unpacked them, and they sold within days. Some I set aside for myself, and knuckled down on my kanji lessons to better understand what I was reading. I’ve still got a long way to go.

In the meantime, I’m writing an abstract for a paper I’m submitting to a textile conference, and preparing for my next trip to Japan. Connections are piling up like snowflakes, quietly and steadily, and I’m becoming aware that the book that I’ve always wanted to write has already been written, just not on paper. That’s my job; to put it into print. The material exists, all I have to do is find it, record it, distill it down to a palatable, digestible essence, and get it published.

One of the challenges I face now is finding a publisher. I could easily self-publish, but I’m not confident that would be the best route for this project. Do I approach an academic publisher, craft-focused publisher, or special interest publisher? Kodansha USA, University of California Press, PIE? And then there’s the search for an agent…

It’s a bit odd standing where I am in time, straddling the past with traditional crafts and traditional publishing and the future with modern technology and digital self-publishing. Two worlds are colliding and I can tell my grandchildren I was part of it. Kind of amazing when you think about it.

One search leads me to another, and down the rabbit hole I go. Thomas peeks in to see what I’m up to and asks if I’m getting any work done. Work? I suppose it depends on how you define it. Looking at publishers online leads me to looking at books, then a browse through my library to see what I have and what I still need. In the process I’m tripping over sleeping dogs, antique sewing machines, a stack of 19th and 20th century indigo katazome fabrics and stencils used to dye them. More books, bolts of fabric, orders to ship out, a slippery pile of silk kimono, invoices, receipts, and scraps of paper litter the floor, cover my fabric cutting table, and spill from work desk.

Yes, I’m working. Can’t you tell? My brain is on fire.


Today I got a gold star for not swearing. Much.

So this showed up in my inbox the other day… And all hell broke loose.

——– Original Message ——–
Subject: Scripted Lifestyle & Travel Survey
From: [removed]
Date: Fri, August 16, 2013
To: undisclosed-recipients:;

Hello Lifestyle & Travel Writers,

As you may have seen in the recent newsletter, we have a lot of projects kicking off right now related to Lifestyle and Travel!  If you’d like to get involved in the projects please let us know by filling out [form removed].

In addition, here are some project specs:

Project 1: Neighborhood Guides for U.S. Cities

These pieces will explain how to move to various cities in the US, and what neighborhoods one might consider. The tone is witty and sarcastic, but must remain positive about the city.

Articles will pay between $13 and $42, for word ranges from 300 to 1500.

Project 2: Travel Guides for U.S. Cities

These pieces explain what it’s like to live in different US cities (focusing on arts and events, traveling, etc.). The tone is calm and informative.

Articles will pay between $16 and $29, for word ranges from 400 to 1000.

Project 3: Travel Guides for U.S. Cities

These pieces explain top reasons to live in different US steas. Each have a bulleted list between 8 and 20 bullets determined by the length of the piece. The tone is calm and informative.

Articles will pay between $16 and $29, for word ranges from 400 to 1000.

Please fill out the survey [removed] to provide us with information on which pieces you’d like to work on, and we’ll make sure you can get started on these posts right away.

Thank you,



I took a deep breath, put on my best Restrained Rage face, and replied.

Hello Xxxx,

You don’t know me. I’m just another email address on your list. But here’s the thing: I am a writer, and I find your rates offensive.

I’ll just be blunt and put it out there. Your rates suck. They are unrealistic and an insult to professional writers. Your rock bottom rates are being dangled in front of people who would like to get paid to do something they enjoy, but it’s like waving Monopoly money around. It’s worthless.

Sure, we live in the Wild West of the Interwebs and people should be happy to get whatever they can for an hour of their time, right? No one is telling them they have to take those rates, they could go somewhere else. Except that the places where journalism and writing are valued are shutting their doors because online publications are cutting them off at the knees, and not because the writing online is any better. In fact, it’s worse. Who needs a copy editor when you’ve got Spellcheck? We all do, because Spellcheck doesn’t know good writing from a hole in the wall.

I got into this industry late and missed the deadline for decent paying gigs. I’ve been somewhat content with fifty cents a word on many occasions, even though other writers I know used to expect a dollar a word or more from a reputable publication. In the ad below you’re offering what, almost $.03? Seriously?

Don’t tell me it’s so young writers can get publicity. It isn’t, because they won’t. It won’t even look good on a résumé, so let’s not even go there. The sort of travel guide you’ll produce with penny-a-word authors is not something I’d trust, and neither should anyone else. You could ask some panhandlers to write for you, but I think they might expect a little more than what you’re offering. At least they would probably have a better grasp of city life than some of your hopeful authors.

Please ban me from your crappy survey.

Sincerely, if perhaps a little more jaded and disappointed in humanity,

Carol Ziogas

p.s. You didn’t proofread your posting, did you? Missed a bit.

Passport time again

I’m dealing with the usual pre-flight jitters. My stomach doesn’t handle travel very well, so the anxiety about getting motion sickness only compounds all the other stuff roiling around in my mind these days.

Last year was London, this time it’s Tokyo. I’ve been cracking down on my long-neglected Japanese language studies, checking weather reports for the area (pleasantly warm, chance of rain), doing laundry, and generally wishing all the responsible paperwork-related stuff I need to do would just go away. The quilt I started last week is sitting in a colorful pile on my work table until I can get back to it. The dogs are upset; they know something is up. I’m living off tea and toast for the most part, and studiously avoiding the gym.

As for writing, the words are all in my head, but most days I can’t seem to find the focus to put them into print. The past few weeks have been bursting with stories and observations, and I haven’t done a thing about it. I sit in the garden, watching all sorts of bees, butterflies, and other insects cavorting about, dusting themselves with pollen and drinking up nectar while I nibble a flower and contemplate all the thoughts in my head. The garden is where I am most lyrically creative, and least likely to do anything about it.

The next two weeks will be filled with study and opportunities to indulge my natural inclination to hoard antiques. I’ll be meeting dyers, weavers, creators of beautiful textiles, and learning more about the field I’ve been studying for much of my life. I feel thrilled, humbled, excited, trepidatious, and strangely self-assured, all at the same time. It’s a jumble in my heart and in my head right now.

The tomato plants will be taller when I get back. The dogs will think I smell strange, but will be happy to see me. Life will return to normal… and I will start to think about my next trip.

There is a wandering pilgrim inside of me, even if my stomach doesn’t agree.


Dispatches from the Garden, Ides of March Edition

The snails are getting busy out there; snacking on my onion shoots, sampling the bok choy, hiding in the calla lilies, learning to fly. That last one I’ve been helping them with. So far a few have made it into the middle of our busy street, but none have made it back. I count it as a success.

Tomato sprouts are coming up over every square inch of space occupied by the tomato plants we grew last year. That means about a bazillion hopeful little Sweet 100 and San Francisco Fog plants are out there competing for space, shoulder to shoulder with their brethren. This should be exciting. I’ve gone to the effort of starting seed in a more conventional manner with heirloom varieties in sterile potting mix in old egg cartons. The cartons look like a kindergarten project, and I’m somewhat disappointed by the lack of action I’m seeing there. Lettuce seeds have sprouted both in my egg cartons and in the field (shaded by a single matronly standout of red speckled lettuce that overwintered in the backyard beds), but so far nothing else has made the effort.

Observing these tiny tomato sprouts, I find it difficult to believe the tasty monsters they will become in the next six months.

Little cup of tea by the tomato sprouts. Little black dog in the shadows.

I spend my late mornings rambling about with dogs at my feet, sipping tea and pulling weeds, moving perennials from one place to another, and setting out more seeds in interesting places. I’ve waited months for this. Stressed out as I am with work and taxes, the garden gives me solace enough to get through the day without doing myself too much damage.

Thomas and I ventured into the local Home Despot over the weekend for garden tools and equipment, and I wandered out to the garden section. It was overwhelmingly paved and sterile. Even the live plants felt dead to me. The outdoor area reeked of chemicals. There was no sense of growth, only forced circumstances. It was sad. Thomas asked if I wanted to pick out any plants to take home, but I couldn’t bear to. He paid for the tools and we left, simple as that.

Strawberries and sage. And oxalis. Bloody oxalis.

The strawberries I planted last year–three different varieties–are spreading like a virus. A few spent the winter in my kitchen, keeping their roots wet in a casserole dish on the counter. I finally potted them up at Thomas’ insistence. He is awfully patient with my messy habit of having plants, seeds, roots, and weeds all scattered about. Plans are in motion to build new garden beds in the front and back yards, which will ultimately yield even more vegetables and herbs for us to consume.

Neighbors walk by and chat about weeding, their dogs pee on things, the local cats come by at night and leave little fecal gifts in the night. It’s busy here in the city.

Seeds and Sprouts

There’s a trepidation about springtime in the Bay Area. Cold becomes not quite so cold, then it suddenly gets warm, which brings the fog, and it’s damp and dreary again. There’s no real “frost-free” date as we don’t get much frost, so knowing when to start seeds is a bit of a guessing game. Is it spring yet? Do we move forward now? Should we wait a little longer? What season is it anyway?

The raised beds Thomas built before we met have been falling apart, and we’ve been planning to restructure the garden with new beds, new wood, new designs, new plants, new soil, new seeds. Where one of us is resistant to change the other will push, and in this case Thomas is pushing me to change my perspective, move out of my comfort zone of dealing with the broken and held-together-with-baling-wire-and-duct-tape garden beds and make something new and better. It shakes me up in a way I find hard to explain, other than to say I like the broken, the old, the falling apart, the decaying. Just look at my first husband.

Relationships are fraught with challenges. Here I have a man who lives in an old house with peeling paint and a desperate need for a new roof. A man who waits to see if I’ll find a way to leave him for someone else, someone “better”. He’s had his heart stomped on. So have I. We both resist moving on, even when faced with a situation that is obviously not functioning. Yet when we met we both made drastic changes to our hearts and our homes. We restructured, rebuilt, renewed our faith in life and love. We pulled weeds and planted a garden together. Now we’re making it better. How difficult is it really to take a look at a situation, assess what it needs to make improvements, then go about implementing them? Why do we struggle with these decisions, when we know they are in our best interest?

Yesterday Thomas gave me the money for his half of my wedding ring. We didn’t bother with an engagement ring since I was the one who made the official proposal. When he asked who should pay for the rings I said “You, me, both of us… I don’t care, it doesn’t matter.” We’re not exactly traditionalists. My ring everything and nothing like I thought it would be. I always wanted leaves, and it has them, hand carved into the metal. There are two tiny flowers with five petals each, and tiny diamonds in each flower. I never imagined I’d wear diamonds. Or even flowers, for that matter. Green things, yes, but not pretty things. I always felt pretty things were for other women. I was not meant to be pretty, just plain. I grow herbs and vegetables, not flowers.

Thomas and I discussed about a woman’s need to feel pretty recently. I was trying to convey to him how it bothered me how complete strangers might say I was pretty, but he seldom did. I wanted to know he found me pretty, too. “But you’re not pretty dear,” he said. “You’re sexy.” I can live with being sexy. Calla lilies are sexy. Jasmine is sexy. Red Japanese maple trees are sexy. He has planted all of these in the garden, and I love them.

The fog is lifting and the soil warms as it accepts the sun. Snails duck behind green leaves and stow away inside the calla lilies, where I pluck them out and toss them away. Seeds are sprouting. I am there to water them, encouraging them to keep growing, even though we have yet to build the beds they will be tucked into for the summer.

For a man who claims to hate change, he has made so many changes to have me in his life. For a woman who had a difficult time staying in one place for more than a year at a time, I have made changes of my own. I’ve set down roots, experienced the sensation of being truly stable for a while, and I like it. When I go to bed at night, I know his arms will be around me. The thought of falling asleep with him gets me through my worst days, and makes me smile during my best days.

More changes keep coming, and we learn to cope with them. Some changes are good, while others are challenging. Knowing he’s there for me whether I have a good day or not makes me more certain about my decision to marry him. I never thought I’d say that about anyone. I even hesitated to write it at all. I am resistant to accepting even benevolent changes in my life. And yet in the past I sought out the toughest changes at every turn. I still do sometimes, although I am softening a bit.

Change is good for the soul, it is said. I am caught between the seasons of change and stability, and seeing the best of them both after years of experiencing the worst either had to offer. I hardly know how to feel now that I’ve found someone who loves me the way Thomas does. It’s like that rush of happiness I feel when new sprouts break forth from seed and soil and reach up to the sun, or when blossoms burst from a cloud of green in the herb beds. I know something good is about to happen, and has been happening all along, even if I didn’t notice it during the cold season. He’s here, he loves me, and everything is about to change in weird and wonderful ways. I’m not sure I can handle it, but I’m going to. I’m a gardener, after all, and a gardener always knows spring follows winter, sure as the sun burns off the fog.

I don’t have to be cold anymore. And that’s a glorious thing.

Life changed. And it is wonderful.

If I’ve been silent lately, it’s only because things have been happening too fast for me to sit down and write.

I got engaged two weeks ago. Thomas and I are both divorced, both have children from previous marriages, and both carry our fair share of emotional baggage because of those marriages. When we’d been dating for about a week, he asked me how I felt about marriage. I was both happy and scared. Happy because he was even considering it. Scared because the last time hadn’t worked out so well. My ex-husband was a manipulative bastard and more than likely undiagnosed schizophrenic. My parents stayed married until they died (11 months apart after 43 years together), but they weren’t all that happy from what I’d seen. Marriage? Lifelong commitment? Shared responsibilities?

That’s scary stuff.

Even though we both knew at the get-go that we had found something amazing in each other, I was terrified. He’d bring it up in conversation now and then, usually starting with, “When we’re married…” and ending with something humdrum and domestic, like changing insurance policies or such. I never said anything in reply. I still couldn’t believe anyone would want to stay married to me. Ever. Not after having dated so many other guys who lost interest over time. That kind of rejection wears away at your psyche, especially when you’ve grown up thinking your own father didn’t love you.

So I waited. I had my massive PTSD meltdown which threw things into turmoil for several months, and I thought for sure we were over in January of last year. Done. Move out and don’t look back. He stuck with me through all that, even though I tried my hardest to push him away. I couldn’t speak to him for two weeks while I sorted out my anger and sadness, then got back on my feet and realized the one thing holding me together was being with him.

Once we were back on track, I waited. We listened to a summer’s worth of baseball games on the radio, bombarded by ads for jewelry stores and engagement rings. Then came the holiday shopping ads for MORE rings, syrupy commercials featuring stereotypically handsome young men down on one knee proposing to lovely ladies. By my derisive snorts and snarky comments he knew I didn’t care much for that. Still, no proposal. I thought, if he wants to marry me, why doesn’t he say something? He’s a traditional kind of guy, why no proposal?

Is there something wrong with the relationship? Is it me? Has he changed his mind like all the others did? Am I doomed to call my over-40 partner my “boyfriend” forever?

At Christmastime I decided to take matters into my own hands and do the proposing. We’d planned to attend the Dickens Christmas Fair in San Francisco, and I’d spent quite a bit of time putting costumes together. My intention was to find a nice jewelers booth and ask him which ring he’d like, but we spent that weekend at the emergency room instead. I’d come down with an infection that was threatening to ruin our holidays. He was there for me the whole time, never once saying, “I told you so” after I’d been insisting I was getting better when in fact I was getting worse. I spent the rest of the week on antibiotics, but at least we had time with our families, and it was the best Christmas I’d had in years.

New Years came and went. January was filled with busy work. February rolled around, and the weather brightened up a bit. One day I got a bee in my bonnet that it was time, and I set out to find myself a ring. I chose a jeweler, headed out to the shop one morning, and 20 minutes later had found the very ring I wanted to wear for the rest of my life. It was the only one of its kind in the shop, and it fit perfectly. I asked the shop owner to hold it for a few days until I could bring Thomas in to show it to him. She said she could hold it until Sunday afternoon. It was Wednesday morning. I would wait.

When he’d asked me what I wanted for my birthday last year, I told him, “something shiny.” He bought me a Tiffany necklace. Shiny indeed. I told Thomas I’d found a shiny that I wanted to show him, and would he mind coming to see it?

That Saturday two weeks ago he took time off from his yard work on a sunny afternoon to drive out to the jewelry store with me. Once inside I found the owner and reminded her of the ring I’d put on hold. She looked at the both of us, smiled, and sent her husband to get it from the back. We sat down at the low counter all jewelers seem to have for couples trying on rings. Two chairs, with the full attention of a jeweler to talk you through the decision. I slipped on the band. “What do you think?” I asked. He said he liked it. Then I asked him, “Which one do you want?”

I knew he wanted something simple, plain, and comfortable. The jeweler brought out a set of simple bands, and I smiled as I watched him try them on. He kept his cool, but I could detect he was a bit flustered. To me it made sense to just go ahead with getting married. He’d talked about it, I was finally in a place where I was okay accepting it, so let’s do this already. I put a down payment on my band and we got ready to go. “Is that how it is, you’re paying for the rings?” he asked. “I don’t care how they get paid for, either you, me, or both. It doesn’t matter,” I told him as we walked back to the car.

On our drive home he said, “Is this your way of asking me to marry you?” I didn’t even think before replying, “Oh honey, I’m not asking you, I’m telling you. We’re getting married.” He laughed.

Later that day I gave him a card that actually said “So… Marry Me?” I’d felt bad that there hadn’t been a proposal before the rings, so I filled in the gaps the best I could.

Over the next few days I waited while he told his family. First his daughter, who is away at college, which took a few days to get a hold of. Then his mother, best friend, and brother. I texted my sister Ann after I got out of a dental appointment, my face still half numb. She called me immediately, saying, “You can’t just text me that! You have to call!” She’d been getting ready to go to work, and laughed as she told me I’d made her cry and now her makeup was running. I called my aunt Dee to tell her. She was shopping at Costco and I had to repeat what I’d said because it was too loud there for her to hear me the first time. We hadn’t talked in months, and spent some time catching up.

One day last week Thomas came home from work and told me he had a better idea of the sort of ring he wanted. Something black, maybe titanium or tungsten. “You? Mister Traditional?” I asked, honestly surprised. We spent the next hour pouring over websites, looking for the right ring. We haven’t found it yet, but the fact he was so enthusiastic about looking for it really warmed my heart.

We haven’t chosen a date yet. It could be this year, could be next year. It all depends on schedules and such. He’s a school teacher so I assumed summer would be best, but this summer might be too soon to have all our legal ducks in a row, and there are many, many legal ducks to sort out.

I’m still overwhelmed by how fast this is going. I waited a long time to say I was ready, and I almost wish I’d done it differently by being more romantic or something. Instead I did my usual flying-by-the-seat-of-my-pants schtick, but it worked. I found a partner who supports me emotionally, cares for me in ways I’d never imagined possible, is exactly my kind of handsome, and I have no intention of losing him. He’s nerdy, silly, stubborn, creative, and warms my extremities at night when I climb into bed feeling like an ice cube. I’d be crazy to give all that up, and I know it.

Now he knows I know it, too.

Sweeping away the old year, greeting the new

I’ve noticed my computer running more slowly this week. Hardly surprising considering I have close to twenty pages open on Chrome and more like fifty images in Photoshop waiting to be edited. I closed most of the images from my UK trip and will get to them another time. This one grabbed me, though. For those not in the UK or otherwise not familiar with this building, I wonder if you can guess what it is? For those who know, shhhhh. I know it would have stumped me.


The entryway makes me think of entering into something monumental, complex, and cold. That’s a summation of 2013 as well. Cold is not bad, so long as there is something warm within, and those of us in the Northern Hemisphere get there in due time.

Between the budding catering business, reopening my old Etsy shop, an upcoming writers’ conference, and sending off some proposals to a variety of editors, it looks like I’ll be busy.


Take a deep breath. Hit the “pay now” button. Exhale. Hope Thomas doesn’t see the invoice. Not that it’s a problem that he knows how much I’m spending, but it is a bit embarrassing.

I’ve reopened my Etsy shop recently, and now I’m busy restocking it. The catering business is moving along and getting better, but I missed working with fabric so very much. I’m a tactile person, and my eyes crave the jewel tones, the soft light on silk, the sparkle of new sewing needles, and the dull black sheen of a vintage Singer sewing machine. My Old Girl, a mid-century table top Singer, has a new sister. While the new one is being repaired (she’s missing a piece or two, the electrical cords are worn, and her belt is frayed), the Old Girl has been put to use sewing a Victorian gown for me to wear to an event in January. I have a distinct sound memory of my mother’s Singer; the slow, then rapid stitch, then the waiting hum as her foot rested on the pedal without letting the machine get ahead of her.

Mom’s voice, her sewing machines, the sound of her playing the century-old Steinway in the living room on quiet Saturday mornings, are all startling memories for me. Her voice will fade from memory in time (although I am aware how much my sister and I sound like her at times) and the Steinway is gone, but I have that sewing machine. She gave it to me years and years ago when I moved to Oregon and needed a machine. She’d moved on to more upscale and complex machines and no longer needed her old Singer from the 1950s. It’s a workhorse, and I first learned to machine sew on it in the 1980s. But oh, the black ones are so much prettier to me. I go weak in the knees for those graceful curves and gold ornamentation.

As long as I pay my bills on time and have money in the bank to spend on my own follies, Thomas bears with my peculiar expenditures, especially when I can turn a profit from them. I’ve always felt that if I couldn’t make enough money from my hobbies to justify how much I spend on them, then they’re not hobbies worth having. It’s a bit backwards, I know. Hobbies aren’t meant to be profitable, but I’m the girl who can’t seem to bear working a “normal” job and ceaselessly hunts down that which amuses me and teaches me interesting new things, so hobbies are either profitable or they aren’t worth my time. Vacations are much the same. If I’m not working in some creative fashion, I can’t enjoy myself.

I gamble with my time, money, assets, and the good will of those who live with me. My children spent their early years stepping around Mommy’s latest business venture, usually strewn across the living room floor. When my Victorian gown project migrated from the office to the living room, my son complained. “You have a room to do this in,” he chided. “The rest of us shouldn’t have to feel like we’re in your way anymore.” He was right.

I don’t know if I can make the shop profitable again as it was a few years ago, but I’ve come to realize it’s too deeply ingrained in me to let go of completely. I enjoy the catering business because it has its highs and lows and it’s far more exciting to me than working in a cubicle. But even that doesn’t feed the need for rich velvets, yards of Pendleton wool from my mother’s stash (thank you, Mom!!!!), remnants of Liberty of London cotton prints, Japanese brocades and delicately painted silks, and the satisfaction of discovering something made by hand over a hundred years ago that is still beautiful and useful today.

Yes, it’s a financial gamble, but I’m sticking with textiles. I can’t imagine who I what be without them in my life (besides naked and cold, and that’s no fun in the winter).

Dogs and Dirt

I’m giving the UK trip a rest for now. Back to the dirt at hand.

Cindy dog is getting old. She toddles around well enough, but her arthritis and other age-related issues are slowing her down. She stands at the top of the front porch steps and takes in the sun while it is shining. Her black fur is like a million tiny solar panels soaking up the heat, and she seems to enjoy it. Meanwhile Daisy, the dog in sheep’s clothing, will prance around the lawn, sniffing and peeing, greeting people walking by on the sidewalk.

In the back garden I used to count on tripping over both dogs, but now it’s typically only one. Either it’s too cold for Daisy and only Cindy will join me, or the stairs are too much of a bother for Cindy’s old knees and Daisy will rush past her to bark at anything that moves or makes a noise.

Last winter while I sat on the sofa and shivered through the day I could count on two doggie butts to keep me warm. Cindy can’t make it up on the sofa anymore and warms the floor or her bed instead. Daisy sits near me, but only gets cuddly when Thomas is around. Then she competes for attention, climbing over our laps and licking our hands and faces to remind us that WE LOVE HER, DON’T WE? over and over again. Cindy just sighs and pretends we’re not there.

The garden is looking a bit wan and unruly now. The tomatoes went a little crazy while I was in the UK and I came home to tomato carnage everywhere. I can guarantee there will be dozens of volunteer tomato starts (Sweet 100 and SF Fog) come spring, and I intend to set up a table in the front yard and sell them off. Several will go to Thomas’ school, as they are building up a decent school garden this year. Right now they have a few herbs and some winter vegetables, and I’ve been told I can bring in more plants if I’m feeling so inclined. Which I am, of course.

I’ve been reading Novella Carpenter’s Farm City this week and laughing through it. I spent a few years living near her Oakland neighborhood, so I get a lot of what she has to say about it. We even had a large garden then, but no livestock. These days I hanker for a few bees and chickens, but they will have to wait until we have more space, even though the neighbors have already approved the potential additions. I suspect they crave the honey and fresh eggs.

The snails, slugs, and oxalis are all back with a vengeance. We pull and smoosh and crush and toss into traffic those tiny ones who cause us offense, but we can never quite be rid of them. Still, we persevere. And so do they.


On Vacation, the Update, part 2

I had intended to write more about my trip while I was still on it, but was distracted by my camera. Instead of pages of commentary, I’ve got scores of images, but this makes me happy. I’m a visual learner, which makes the images far more valuable to me as a memory aid than the notes I managed to take on my iPhone.

The notes I did take were often on the move, either walking through London or riding on a train. I walked several miles a day, sometimes in random circles, stopping now and again when I noticed an interesting piece of architecture or passageway I was curious to enter.

Sunday, near Liberty and Oxford Street.

Brickwork and plaster. Red and deep iron oxide. Bull’s blood. Rust. Warm to the eye, cool to touch now that we’re leaning into winter. Stark white and muted cream.

Smells: cigarettes and heavy perfume, everywhere.

So many languages I don’t recognize. Tourists ask me for directions. Wandering aimlessly. Drifting.

I’m spending “too much”. Everyone says I deserve a holiday, but it aches to be frivolous sometimes.

I should make a tea cozy for Thomas. He keeps staining the towels.

That must have been the Strand, where I found the original Twining’s teashop. I converted from tea bags to loose leaf tea years ago and find Twining’s ubiquitous little packets to be an abomination, but the shop was nice. A few days later I found my way to Harrods and stocked up on loose leaf tea and a new fancy silver tea infuser.

I kept change in my pockets to give to buskers in Underground stations or to buy roasted nuts along the waterfront. One and two pound coins are marvelously convenient. I didn’t bother to spend out my cash or get it exchanged before returning home. I’m keeping it for “next time”, whenever that may be. It’s always difficult to leave a place that feels like home, especially when it feels homier than my own home ever did.

Home now is wherever Thomas is, but it’s less of an exact location and more of a place of feeling safe and loved. England feels safe and loving to me, too. I can’t really explain why. The only reason I left the first time was that I had finally grown up enough to realize that when you’re married to someone who abuses you, they really don’t deserve you and it’s time to move on. I had to leave a country I loved in order to get away from a man I didn’t. Fortunately there were more people here in the US who loved me and didn’t abuse me, so it was the best place for me to be.

I’ve backpacked a bit around western Ireland. It was captivating and bewitching, but it wasn’t home. I’ve been to Hong Kong, Canada, Mexico, Hawai’i and across most of the 50 United States; but beautiful, engaging, entertaining, wondrous, exciting, peaceful, or picturesque those places are, they do not feel like home. California is home because it’s what I know best. Central Oregon felt like home for several years, and might still if I ever return there, I’m not sure. I do miss the high desert and mountains.

A few friends of mine are expats, and I assume they understand what I’m talking about. They’ve left ancestral home countries to expand their horizons, married people from countries other than their own, and settled into lives that—I sincerely hope—bring them great satisfaction along with great challenges. On the other side of the spectrum are those like Thomas, who has lived his life on one tiny island is perfectly satisfied with that. For him, “getting away from it all” doesn’t mean travelling to a far-off location, but rather settling in on the old tatty sofa downstairs watching TV for a while, with no place to go and no hurry to get there. I can respect that, although after a while my passport starts to get twitchy.