23 May 2010


In the image below, notice the tall white book just off center. The title of this book is Celebrating Ciara. I wrote this book. 300 pages. My youngest child and only daughter, Ciara, turned eighteen February 2009 and was scheduled to graduate June 2009. Aaron, who had written and constructed by hand three wonderful, personal books for his parents and his best friend, suggested that if I wrote my daughter a book for this momentous year, that he would generously assemble and construct it for me.

This (in red) is the table of contents. And below (in purple) is the introductory chapter.


Bon Appétit 2

1991 B.C. (Before Ciara) 8

Would You Like Fries With That? 20

Fine Print 34

Scarlett 38

Shopping: the Thrillogy 58
I Say No to Crack 60
II Westport 68
III Yours, Mine & Ours 74
IV Store That Must Not Be Named 78
V To Infinity & the Mall 80
VI Shopping: the Sequel 88

Pinned His Man 92

Play House 98

Mishy 110

School 118

Two Holes for Sister Ciara 144

Snowball Fight 148

The Three Bears 156

The Ciara Difference 160

Sleep Tight 180

The Gift & the Giver 186

Stop the Car! There’s a Yard Sale 198

Uncommon Sense 218

Hand, Heart, Hands & Health 226

Me Too, Mom! 234

She’s Got Electric Boots, a Mohair Suit 244

Cameron Who? 254

Mom’s Pride & Prejudice 258

On Your Way to Where the Air is Sweet 270

Fly Me to the Moon 288

Inside the Ciara Studio 294

Perfect Timing 298


Chapter One


Bon Appétit!

You know, I love you so much I’m gonna let you take the first bite.
~ Julie and Julia

Sometime in February 2009, a few months before Ciara’s graduation I started thinking of whether I should do this project. Whether I would and then whether I could.

Cooking is one of the best analogies I know for the process of writing. At least for my writing. An idea will come into my head from one source or another. It may be an idea for fiction or non-fiction. The start of a short story or the beginning of something epic and grand. The idea then simmers in my mind. It congeals and thickens. The different characters and settings blend and mingle like ingredients until I’m ready to commit to paper, actual or virtual.

In a collection such as these Ciara stories, the cooking analogy holds up well. I’ll dish up one or two completed stories and set them aside until every plate is done and it’s time to stand back and say with a flourish, “Dinner is served.”

When I started this project, so many stories came to mind. Sweet, funny, spicy, touching, personal stories. So many, that I knew there would probably be some I would decide not to use.

Now as I see the light at the end of this tunnel, I look back and notice something interesting. The stories? They are almost all about a young Ciara. Understandable, since it is not possible to go wrong with such a sweet, funny and charming young daughter. Understandable also, because the Ciara life stories from recent years may be too recent to step back from and write about in a fair and relatively objective manner. You know me; I’m nothing if not running in the opposite direction of relative objectivity.

In the end, there are many Ciara stories that aren’t in this collection. For reasons unknown to me or anyone else, the table of contents reads exactly as it does. I trust that the stories that need to be here for the purpose of this book are indeed here.

To be fair, the impetus for this collection of stories was Ciara’s approaching graduation. The intent: a unique commencement day gift. But a few times in the months leading up to June 11, 2009 I was concerned if she would even be able to graduate.

I wish I had a dollar for every time I explained to people what a tough Spring it was for her. How much time she missed because of mononucleosis and then pneumonia. How determined she had to be in order to graduate. How much pressure she was under.

After graduation was over, I reminded her of how she had missed an entire month of school and she still graduated. That there were plenty of students who attended most every day of their senior year and sadly, still didn’t get to walk with their classmates.

But it wasn’t only Ciara who felt the pressure of the once in a lifetime, high school graduation dead line. Taking care of Ciara when she was home sick, or in the hospital sick. Helping her when she struggled with school nurses, counselors, teachers, advisers. Trying not to miss too much work myself. And typing away on her story collection with commencement drawing near was tough on me as well. My writing momentum suffers under the best of circumstances and these were nothing like the best of circumstances.

I found it very easy to decide that I could still call it a graduation gift as long as I delivered this book to her anytime in 2009. It was her official graduation year, after all. Then when I hit another brick wall of writing energy in late July and it took me until November to find my way to the other side, I thought “You know, as long as I give it to her before she turns thirty, I’m all good.”

Well she’s still eighteen at this writing, so I am calling it a success and bona fide graduation gift. Yippee for me, the gift giver. And Whoo Hoo for Ciara, the diploma holder.

Nice job, Ciara. 2009. A most memorable year. I feel like singing.

“Did you ever know that you’re my heroooooooo….?”

Dinner is served.



Aaron constructed four copies of this book for me. He took this picture of Ciara's book after he slid it for a quick moment on the shelf of a local book store. A real book, all grown up and standing proud next to its equals.

15 May 2010

Who's Driving that Bulldozer?

I've said this before at the beginning of a few previous posts, but it feels fair to tell you: I've got an edge on.

This will probably end up being a good thing, considering the direction I foresee this blog post going.

There's a gulf between my heart and my head. An Aaron-shaped gulf.

If you haven't read the post just previous to this one, go read it now. Seriously. (You would never watch Ghostbusters II without first seeing Ghostbusters, would you?) I'll see you back here when you've finished. Take your time but do not underestimate said ‘edge.’

Okay, all that (the previous post) being said, here's the other thing: I don't like it.

I get it. I follow it.

I admire it. I explain it to others.

I read about it. I advocate for it.

I serve as Danger Jim news reporter for it.

I got to know the REI staff so well that I think I may now be Godparent to one of their children.

I Google Map for it. (You don't think so? I can Google Map your ass with one hand tied behind my back!)

I fully support it (with the possible exception of what you're about to read if you stick around here long enough and my occasionally referring to it as the Bullshit Expedition, I fully support it).

Even so.... I Don't LIKE It. I don’t, I don’t. (You can’t see this, but my feet are taking turns stamping the floor.)

Intellectually, I get Aaron’s trip. I am the leader of the cult for it!
In fact, truth be told, I probably started this line of thinking. The 'follow your heart' thing, the concept of us all being here for divine purpose, magical dreams and passions was probably first taken seriously by Aaron only after I spoke of it a few dozen times on our first date. You can ask him if this is an accurate statement or not.
It may take him a couple of years to get back to you; he's a little tied up right now.

Can you sense the edge from the aforementioned verse?

Until the past week or two, this blog space, My Scarlet Letters has been somewhat vague regarding the personal details of my private life. I have referred to previous relationships (good and/or bad) in a general manner. I have spoken of my work place in a relatively broad-spectrum way. I've mentioned my children briefly and in a peripheral fashion.

That probably won't be the case any longer. Things are about to get more specific.

The man in my life has made a major life change that is having dramatic effects on my own.

Aaron has decided to walk across America. He plans to hit all 50 states. At one point, it was his estimate that this could take two years or more.

Isn't this crazy? Outlandish? Kind of exciting to contemplate the adventure involved?
I love that the man I love thinks like this.
That he believes in the possibility of such things.
That one day it occurs to him that it would be amazing to take a walking trip across the country, so he starts figuring out the best way to make it happen. How cool is that?

Haven't we all had those over the rainbow fantasies for a few seconds? "Wouldn't it be cool to motorcycle across Europe?” "Swim the English Channel?” "Ride every roller coaster in North America?” "Start my own restaurant?” "Kayak up the Canadian coast to Alaska?” "Make balloon animals at the circus?"

Yes, I love that he thinks this way, but I do not like him actually doing it. This dichotomy pisses me off. I hate this intersecting energy. What does it mean when the dream of one half of a couple is at direct cross purposes with the couple itself? At least it seems like cross purposes to this half of the couple. The one left behind, in my self-pitying state. So attractive, self pity. Now, I’m pissed and unattractive. Win-win.

Aaron claims to believe that this trip will make us better, stronger. Better and stronger, I’ve always felt such improvements overrated. Like upgrading to the fully loaded car. Who needs all that extra chrome to polish and buttons to memorize? Does this imply that we are currently or were a couple of weeks ago, an ordinary or mediocre pair? The basic package, stocked with only the factory’s minimal features. Beige with manual windows. Yes, yes, I’m being whiny and melodramatic, totally allowed when sporting an edge.

I don’t like it.

The problem is, I get his point. About us. That there’s opportunity as a couple to support each other, me supporting Aaron on his endeavor and Aaron supporting me remaining here. It has to be a two-way street. Don’t think we haven’t had this discussion dozens of times. Just know that in my mind this two-way street is four lanes across, with three of these being Express lanes headed back in my direction. That feels fair, no?

Can you feel my struggle? I’m torn. I don't like it.

Can we pick our dreams? Our destiny? Or does it come with our DNA, like the dictating of our shoe size or our preference for dark as opposed to milk chocolate?

I feel like a bully. I preach for the support and understanding of following one’s bliss until I find this one inconvenient or annoying? Like John Horseface Elway portraying his dream to play in the National Football League, but then throwing a spoiled baby fit because he was drafted by the Colts. Oh, John, the indignity of it all. “No, I won’t do it. You’re not the boss of me. I don’t like it! You can’t make me play for the Colts.”

I suspect, but I'm not sure, that if I looked him straight in the eye and said, "Aaron, this, for me, is a deal breaker. I can't do it. I won't support you in this. If you decided to leave for this trip, we are all done," he might decide to come back. I think so, maybe. Probably? I don't know for sure. But can you imagine the strain that would put on our relationship? My having unconditionally declaring my refusal to participate in his dream? (Reminds me of another unilateral decision I know....hmmm.) Even if he stayed here with me 'willingly' after such a declaration, I don't think we'd ever be the same. Or that he'd ever be the same. He would, from then on, always think of himself as a man who let someone else call his shots. How would he not resent me? Or worse, himself? How could he not feel controlled and manipulated by the will of another?

So I didn't say it. I didn't say “Don’t go.” “DON’T GO!” I never really wanted to say such a thing. Honestly. Plus there's the little matter of the fact that I so believe in what he's doing. I just don't like it.

Some one speculated that this will be really hard for me waiting but that Aaron would be here with me in spirit. To that I say, "Well, then let Aaron take the trip in spirit and the rest of him can just stay here with me."

The 'rock' I mentioned in the previous post is my belief. It’s a boulder. My belief in the magic of following that inner voice. Honoring your bliss. Your deepest desires. (I believe we come to this planet with our desires because we are MEANT to fulfill them!) This feels solid, organic and unmoving.

The 'blade of the oncoming bulldozer' is the side of me who wants to pitch a fucking fit. The smaller, isolated, narrow-thinking, selfish bitch side that wants Aaron here with me. She hasn't really seen the full light of day in a couple of years but I suspect she'll be just a strong as in years past, if I let her get her steel toed boots in the door. She’s a bulldozer driving bitch under the influence of Bellatore.

My head knows that "Life is too short to put off your dream."
My heart retorts that "Life is also too short to be apart for such a long period of time."

This is the most amazing romantic relationship I've ever known and now half of it is walking along the Columbia River for the unforeseeable future.

"I don't like it," she cried.

I'm really good at all the other stuff. The stuff above: supporting, admiring, following, news reporting, Google mapping. Really good. Ask Aaron, he'll tell you.

What I'm not so good at is the 'not liking it' part. I feel good when I rally for Aaron. It feels right and good and healthy for us. For Aaron. For me.
But the 'not liking it' feels terrible. It feels small and sad. I feel small and sad. I feel alone and broken.
Unsure of my ability to weather this adventure.

When I started this post I was mad. Now I'm just sad.

Oh well, I have to go no. I get to go see ‘Annabel’s’ latest post and read all of the comments. If I can elbow my way between all of my fellow followers. Oops, right back to mad, I guess.

11 May 2010

I do! I do! I do!

I find myself between a rock and the proverbial blade of an oncoming bulldozer. (This is called foreshadowing.)

Here's the deal:
I believe in magic. I do. Period.

I believe in following your bliss, tapping into your destiny, unleashing your purpose. I do. I believe.

I've spoken of it here before. "Could the court reporter, please read back the transcripts?"
I'll even go so far as to say that I believe with all my heart that we are all here for a reason. I mean a specific, custom-made, unique and individualized purpose. Each and every one of us. And I'm not talking about being here to shove someone out of the way of an oncoming bus one day on the way to work. I mean the way we are to spend our life's energy during our time on the planet. What we are to do with the life we are given. 'Given,' as in gift.

THE thing we would do endlessly even if no one ever paid us to do it.

Painting, dancing, teaching, cooking, photography, supporting, writing, singing, martial arts, acting, skating, nursing, sculpting, walking, cartoon drawing. The possibilities are without end. I believe this is so.

I know that I know that I know. . . . that there is something for which each one of us is here. What would you do with all of your spare time if money weren't an issue and you knew you could not fail? If nothing were too crazy or outlandish?

I don't care if it's kite building, mushroom hunting, pinball repair, bowling pin painting, chimney designing, restaurant reviewing, cave exploring, travel writing, professional book reader, classic movie critic, gourd painter, clam digger, french fry taster, glass blower, furniture re-arranger, thrift store shopper, ice cream flavor inventor, hat knitter, room service mystery shopper, truffle chef, Ghostbuster quote memorizer. Underwater basket weaving, which is a class I actually took in high school.

There's something that revives your spirit. Something that stirs your blood. I believe there is something that each one of us could do endlessly because it would never rob us of energy but instead refill our tanks.

I took a class at PLU many years ago; it was for adults returning to school. The objective was writing a portfolio of 'learning essays' to make a case for college credit we believed we should earn for our life experience.
The evening of the third class, we were to narrow our desired field of study within which the academic panel would later 'judge' our portfolio. So if you felt most of your life experience that might be deemed worthy of college credit had been in the field of computers (laid off Microsoft employee) or aero-dynamics (Boeing), this is what you would declare.
During a class break that night, I was walking down the stairs with one of the instructors as we were talking about my indecision.
The practical, responsible, left brain side of me knew I should aim for a major in business. I have always had a clear sense of systems. Like organizational systems for offices. Layout design, work flow, filing, furniture arrangement, processing. What works and what doesn't. What helps and what doesn't. It comes quite naturally to me even though I've really had no desire to work in or run any type of office.
The dreamy, giggly, happy-feet, right brain side of me dared to hope that maybe, possibly, pretty please, I could be a writer someday. To tell stories that people would love to read. Pay to read. That people would ask for more of.
I knew the stable, secure decision was a business degree of some type. This was the grown up, smart, pragmatic choice. Sensible, prudent, judicious. (Try saying such words as these with a big fat grin on your face.)
As we descended the stairs to the vending machines, juggling the possibilities of business or potential bestseller-hood, Marie stopped at the landing between floors and looked at me. "Which one would you LOVE to do?" she asked.
"Writing." Without hesitation and with a little chill up my spine. "Writing." Like this was the stupidest question ever asked. Writing, what else? WRITING. This was a moment for me. I haven't for one second considered a career in business since that moment. (Thank you Marie! God bless you.)

Somehow, somewhere along the line we got sucked into the 'collective dream' concept. The collective American dream. Was this some Ozzie and Harriet episode that ran away with our senses? Was there a subliminal message fed to us via Gilligan's Island or The Wonderful World of Disney? Who on earth decided that the ultimate dream is universal in practical terms: family, home, college education, money, 401K, nice car. Like there is something inherently wrong with us if we opt out of one or all parts of this dream. Is there something sinister in the drinking water?

It may be that your heart longs for children. Something you've always known. Your soul's desire. A deep knowing that you were meant to have children. Great! I celebrate your dream, your passion, your calling. But to suggest that this should be the dream for one and all, is ludicrous. I want to know, "Says who?" Our ancestors? Our neighbors? The fucking television? Because writing is my dream, I should assume and push it on those around me? How arrogant would that be of me?

It feels crazy to me that we are all so much alike that success would be defined for us all by one set of standards. This seems like a recipe for misery. And I think if we look around us in this society we can easily spot a good deal of misery. Or the alcohol in attempt to numb the misery.

For how many of us is a healthy retirement account, the ultimate dream? That if you could do anything with your time, and you'd do it for no pay, it would be to build a retirement fund?

I don't think so. What are you building the retirement fund for? What will you be so happy and relieved to do with your spare time when and if you get to retirement? Travel? Garden? Chainsaw wood carvings?
So your dream isn't really the retirement account, it's the wood carving. Why wait? What if you don't get to that arbitrary age of retirement or independent wealth? Start something today, right now. Even if it's just five minutes of classic car restoration a day to begin. Even if it just starts with some research online. Start. Period.
We are all going to spend, use up twenty four hours today. This does not seem negotiable. By this time tomorrow, twenty four hours will have passed whether you've spent it trudging through another day of a job you can barely stand or begin to indulge your soul in some dream fulfillment.
Isn't this why we need to zone out at the end of the day? In front of the TV, the computer, the video game or the bar? To unwind and get over the fact that we spent another day doing something we hate? Or at least that we certainly do not LOVE? Aren't these activities poor substitutes for finding and pursuing our passion?
You know the truth. You've heard it before. No one ever gets to their death bed and utters 'I wish I'd spent more time at the office, on the job, at work.' (Unless of course you are one of the fortunate few who discovered and HONORED their passion for a living.)
I know what your responsible, adult, left brain is yelling at me right now:
"But you have to make a living. You need money to buy that chainsaw."
"Top of the line clown shoes do not just grow on trees, there Missy!"

But I really believe and I do not think you can prove me wrong, when I say that if you let go,let go with both hands, magic will happen. It cannot help but happen. Like the irrefutable math formula. It just is.
Follow your bliss and the magic will happen. The money will follow. The universe will rise up and support you somehow. Probably in a way your left brain could never have imagined. It's when we try to keep a fist in both worlds that it falls apart.
Do you think the man who runs his own hot air balloon service in Juneau Alaska went for the practical choice? I think it's safe to say Bill Gates, Oprah Winfrey, Dale Chihuly, JK Rowling, Charles Schulz all let go of the responsible, prudent path at one time or another. And maybe again and again.
Excerpt from an interview:
BILL MOYERS: Do you ever have the sense of... being helped by hidden hands?

JOSEPH CAMPBELL: All the time. It is miraculous. I even have a superstition that has grown on me as a result of invisible hands coming all the time - namely, that if you do follow your bliss you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while, waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living. When you can see that, you begin to meet people who are in your field of bliss, and they open doors to you. I say, follow your bliss and don't be afraid, and doors will open where you didn't know they were going to be.
For more on Joseph Campbell and Follow Your Bliss: http://www.jcf.org/new/index.php?categoryid=31

I do not believe any force in the universe would put us here with a profound desire unless we were meant to fulfill it. Unless it was prepared to support us in this dream.

I believe. I do, I do, I do.

If you truly honor and follow your heart's dream, how can you possibly be a failure?

What activity in your life lifts you up? What gives you more energy the more you do it? What do you hate having to stop doing?

What something have you secretly dreamed about, what are you afraid to utter aloud? Would it be ballroom dancing? To tour all the great roller coasters of the world? To live in a cottage by the shore? To travel the globe in search of the best cannoli? Be a professional cribbage player? Caretaker in a National Park? A race car mechanic? Driver? Deep sea diver?

We are raised to believe that we are responsible for our lives.
But I believe we are responsible to our lives. To exist is a gift. How can we best show our gratitude for such a priceless opportunity? In fact, isn't it the only way to truly express our thanks. If we waste the time in life working our ass off for the reasonable, rational 'goals' that others tell us we should pursue, shame on us. Shame on you. Shame on me!

It's very late at night and this post will have to be continued soon. Don't forget where we left off.... I need to get back to that bulldozer thing.

Can I tell you that this blog post is nothing like I'd planned?

Well, I just did and it's true. I came here to vent and sort out my difficulties and mixed emotions about Aaron leaving for his walking trip across America. Or what we've affectionately come to call his "Bullshit Expedition." (Unconditional affection at work.) But look at the post that happened instead. Funny how these things work out, huh?

04 May 2010

Afraid to start

I keep putting this post off. Off. OFF.
I am not sure I can do it.
When ever I start to write here, or even think of how to start,
my chest gets tight and I can't get good air.
I need to write about Aaron.
Not in the 'oh mom, do I have to do the dishes' kind of 'need to.'
But in the "I'll go crazy if I don't do this" need to.
I can't not.
The thing is, there is so much to say and I feel so very strongly about every single bit of it,
I just can't.
My throat is tight just typing about it.
There is so much.
I keep dancing around it but never look at it head on.
Without all the details I should be giving you here first, I'll say this much...
Today was my first day back at work since he left.
And it was FAR harder than I would have guessed.
When someone comes up to me and asks, "Barbie, how's Aaron doing?"
I am fine. I can talk and smile and function fairly well.
When someone comes up to me and asks, "Barbie, how are you doing since Aaron left?"
I can't speak. I can't breathe. I can't even look into their face.
Excuse me, I need to go find a tissue and a drink.