Porch Sit [on KS Friday]

Quinn used to say that two things ruined western civilization: salad bars (serve yourself) and attached garages. “It all went south when we started inviting our cars into our homes,” he mused. To his list I might add air conditioners. Porch-sitting and the neighborhood evening promenade, with accompanying neighbor conversations, went away with the invention of cool indoor air. Imagine what we might be able to solve if we actually talked to each other on a regular basis. Imagine what nonsense might dissipate if we pulled our heads out of the television and, instead, strolled the neighborhood to see what was going on.

We look for porches. And, when we don’t have one, we create it. I knew I would be with Kerri forever because (among other things) she had two Adirondack chairs sitting in the grass outside the front door of her house. Early in out time together, we sat out front, sipped wine, and waved and chatted with people walking by. She’s dedicated to greater things than cold-air comfort.

When we travel, our airbnb’s almost always have porches. A porch is on the list of requirements. It never fails. The porches in our travels are always sources of good stories, special moments, new friendships. They are not magic. They were invented for peace and polite conversation. They are liminal spaces, both public and private. People wave and greet each other. People stop and chat – even for a moment. You can learn a lot about a new place by sitting on the porch and asking a local carrying a pizza where the good food is to be found (a true story). People like to share what they know.

As Skip reminded us yesterday, people write things on Facebook or other social media that they’d never say otherwise. I think there’s a lot of that going around these days. Forums for ugliness. I’m certain it’s nothing that a good porch and an evening constitutional couldn’t cure.

time together/this part of the journey is available on iTunes or streaming on Pandora

read Kerri’s blog post about PORCHES

time together/this part of the journey © 1997 kerri sherwood

Keep The Embers Glowing [on Two Artists Tuesday]

If you encourage us to talk about porches of our past, we’ll tell a tale of sitting in the rocking chairs at our airbnb in the mountains of Colorado, one evening, watching the traffic go by, accidentally drinking the whole bottle of wine (at 10,000 feet), “walking” down the street to get a burger, and instead, finding ourselves at the center of what the locals called “experimental drink night.” I’m sure, to this day, they laugh at the two black-clad tourists who were too polite to turn down what came out of the bartender’s blender. We dialed 20 at 1am and too loudly told him the tale. Good friends will listen to anything that comes out of your mouth at anytime, day or night, and 20 is the best.

Last night, sitting on our airbnb porch in this North Carolina mountain town, sipping a glass of wine, watching the traffic go by, I “remembered” that night. This is our first venture out – just for us – since COVID washed over our lives. It’s become habit to plan our travel path – through an ordinary day or, in this case, miles from home – with minimal human contact as a top criteria. Watching the traffic go by, I thought about that, too. Now, we’d never stumble down the street to get a burger. We’d sit tight – as we did last night – and make ourselves a meal.

As part of our meal, we lit a few luminaria. We brought a few sacks and candles with us. I realized that we’re keeping a tradition going, however small, so that one day we’ll tell the tale of how we kept our holiday traditions alive – traditions that were once about gathering together, traditions that were meant to bring people into proximity to each other rather than carefully maintaining distance. Our tradition always includes candles. Luminaria. Fire and light. One day – someday – the light we place on the porch will include other people. For now, we keep a small flame to keep the tradition intact.

We’ve started a new tradition that I adore: pop-up dinners. We carry with us a small bistro table and two folding stools. They are lightweight and, in a moment, can appear anywhere. Last night – our last night here – they popped up on our porch. We made a special dinner, surrounded ourselves with luminaria, and watched the world go by. We greeted the people who walked by. We shouted greetings over the traffic across the street to the old guy who’s so beautifully decorated his house for the holidays. He loved our lights. We loved his. At a distance.

We keep the flame alive. We keep the embers of tradition glowing. We’ve established new variations on our adventure theme. Experimental drink night was a one-off affair. Pop-up dinners are here to stay. Be careful what tales you inspire us to tell. Someday, when we’re all together on the porch, we’ll give you an ear-full.

read Kerri’s blog post about LIGHT

Catch The Glimmer [on KS Friday]

Barney, the piano that lives in our backyard, nearly had a chandelier suspended above his lid. We thought it would be funny to look out back at night and see Barney all-gussied-up.

We’re not really chandelier people but you’d be amazed at how many pieces of chandelier, separate crystal ornaments, live around our house. It’s as if a chandelier came to visit, had an unfortunate explosion, and the falling pieces conveniently landed near windows or light sources so they might catch and reflect the light. We like the glimmer yet are more subtle than a chandelier.

We finally decided on this year’s christmas tree. In our time together we’ve only had one traditional-looking-tree. Craig forced it on us. He was driving the day we went to the farm to cut a tree and threatened to leave us in the snow if we brought home our first choice. It was…unique. He had his heart set on a scotch pine so we brought it home and named it Satan. That tree had seriously sharp needles and a very bad attitude. On the 26th of December we lassoed Satan, drug him out of the house and down the street, through the snow, to the tree drop-off spot. For months afterward, his needles would jump out of hiding and stick our toes.

This year, our tree is large branch whacked from the aging maple tree by the heavy machinery that dug the moat in our front yard. Kerri saved it from the mulcher. I’m not sure how we got it in the house but we did. DogDog hid in the bedroom during the transition. His courage failed him, as it does when we vacuum or drop a cooking pot, when he saw the monster-branch entering through the front door.

We love our tree. It is, like us, simple and proud in its history. It carries stories. Long ago our children sat on this branch. It shaded Kerri and me the weekend we met and laughed tossing a frisbee in the street. It waved the evening we danced in the front yard. Now, it stands in the house, near the window, wearing a strand of white lights and holding a single ornament. A tin star.

We think it looks happy to be here. We’re certainly happy that it’s here. A different kind of tree. A glimmer, reflecting the many, many years of memories, the symbol of our year of water, and destruction transformed into beauty. What, for us, in this year and this season, could be more appropriate?

read Kerri’s blog post about GLIMMER

kerri’s albums are available on iTunes or streaming on Pandora

the lights/the lights: a christmas album © 1996 kerri sherwood

Roll With Every Punch [on DR Thursday]

And on the fourth night, just before retiring, I stepped onto the stoop and unplugged the colored lights. Forever. The ancient plug had had enough. It was weary and left behind one of its prongs. “No worries,” Kerri said, “I wouldn’t trust those wires to replace the plug. And, I loved them while they lasted.”

Yes. Just enough. A satisfying gesture. I believe that is our theme for the season. Just enough. Satisfying gesture.

Lately, I’ve made it a practice to ask friends and family, with all the water problems that Kerri and I have had this year, what’s the metaphor they see? What’s the universe trying to tell us? The responses have been great fun: build an ark. The slate is washed clean. Put on your waders. I’ve decided it is none of the above (or all of the above). I’m going with the Lao Tzu paradox:

“Water is fluid, soft, and yielding. But water will wear away rock, which is rigid and cannot yield. As a rule, whatever is fluid, soft, and yielding will overcome whatever is rigid and hard. This is another paradox: what is soft is strong.”

Fluid, soft, and yielding. We are rolling with every punch. Soft is strong. Not much gets us riled up these days. There have been so many punches; rigid wasn’t working. Yielding seemed the better path. We are, as Kerri so aptly articulated, ” Leading with surprise.” Not that a waterline break is to be desired but, ours, although intensely disruptive, brought good stories and good people into our sphere. “I want to be like Kevin,” I said. He’s the engineer at the water utility. Kind, funny, easy in his life. His dedication was to make easier our path through disruption. He and Kerri are sharing holiday recipes.

We are, out of necessity or intention, either way, walking the middle path and being careful not to wander into oppositions. Just enough. Satisfying gestures. Love them while they last. Lighten up. Let go. Fluid, soft and yielding.

No worries.

read Kerri’s blog post about LIGHTS

nap with dogdog & babycat © 2020 david robinson

Share The Sketchbook [on Two Artists Tuesday]

Bruce came through town with his son Ben. Ben is a budding Renaissance man, an artist and philosopher. A quiet deep thinker. We marveled at the drawings in his sketchbook. Faces and hands. Figures in motion. A bold sense of color. I remember the terror of sharing my sketchbook and was moved by how eager and easily Ben shared his. A sketchbook, like a diary, is vulnerable, a place to work out ideas, make mistakes, record pain and joy and confusion. We were touched that he was so generous in opening his diary to us.

Big changes are coming Kirsten’s way. Kerri and I laughed at her news, at the ease and enthusiasm she brings to her step off the edge of the known. “I suppose it’s easier to make big changes,” Kerri said, “when you have the bulk of your life still ahead of of you.” I suppose. Or, perhaps, after so many big changes, you come to realize that the real transformations are not in location moves or new jobs. They happen on the inside and don’t seem to be changes at all. More, it’s layers falling off. Discovery of what was there all along.

Bruce and I have known each other for a very long time and have not seen each other in a very long time. Sitting on the deck, a humid hot day, we sipped cold wine and talked about the people we once were. We talked about some of the layers that have fallen off. We laughed at our foibles. There were too many stories to pack into a single visit. There were too many questions to ask and notes to share. I hope we will have more time to sit and share our life-sketchbooks.

Each morning, opening the house, I enjoy the small fountain in our sunroom. The water runs. As a Buddhist would say, “You can never step into the same river twice.” Our fountain reminds me that time runs. Each day is a new sketch. That is true especially if I think I know what will happen that day. I am always surprised by day’s end. Life takes some surprising turns. Some big. Most less noticeable. And, time runs.

I watched Bruce’s face as Ben showed us his drawings. A proud father. Ben looked to his dad, still anchored to some degree in his dad, just as it should be. I remember looking to my dad in just that way. This trip across the country, father and son, will be a good story for them. It is already. It will be told many years from now. A son rolls his eyes. A dad laughs. An old friend and his new wife delight in being part of the day’s sketch.

There is no higher art.

read Kerri’s blog post about THE FOUNTAIN

Go Beyond The Moon [on Two Artists Tuesday]

On a beautiful Sunday afternoon driving the back roads en route to Lake Geneva, our little-baby-scion rolled over into 250,000 miles. We filmed the moment and then pulled to the gravel shoulder for a photo-op. We cheered. We sat on the side of the road and talked about the miles. The stories. This intrepid little car has taken us many places, through many of life’s changes. It only once left us on the side of the road. And, even then, it had the courtesy to breakdown in a welcome center at the Minnesota state line. We were surrounded by helpful voices, towed and back on the road by day’s end.

We sent a photo of the milestone to 20 and his reply was a perfect encapsulation: To the moon and back.

The day we met, holding hands and skipping out of the airport, we jumped into this boxy car, the scion. Kerri had packed me a lunch and had a cup of coffee waiting for me. This car has since been to most coffeehouses in the contiguous United States. The moment we heard that Beaky had passed, we were frantic and driving to get to Florida in time. We did not make it and spent a long afternoon at a park in Illinois, weeping and walking and sitting in the car, wondering what to do. The day we were married we drove away from our reception in the little-baby-scion. It took us to Colorado for our honeymoon. We’ve slept in rest areas in Iowa, moved both kids to other states, drove back and forth across Wisconsin to fetch our dogga. We took my dad on a visit to his hometown for the last time, touring the streets in the scion. It has been a silent observer, the steady presence, to all the major stories of our life. The minor ones, too.

I could go on and on. We intend for this stouthearted little car to go on and on, too, to live with us and carry us through the next chapters and collected stories of our lives. The toaster. The shoe box that has taken us to the moon and back. And now beyond.

read Kerri’s blog post about 250,000

Come Home [on Two Artists Tuesday]

“I search for the realness, the real feeling of a subject, all the texture around it…I always want to see the third dimension of something…I want to come alive with the object.” ~ Andrew Wyeth

The first time I walked into this house, I felt that I’d come home. It was a potent moment because I’d never felt that before, not in my entire life. I was a wanderer, even as a small child.

I’d come to meet this woman named Kerri. I’d been writing emails to her daily for the previous six months. A job afforded me the opportunity to stop over and meet her face-to-face. She picked me up at the airport [she was the one holding the daisy], we held hands and skipped to the car, talked non-stop during the hour-plus drive from O’Hare airport. When we arrived at the house, I laughed when she asked me to wait at the front door. She wanted me to come into the house through the front door but the key hadn’t worked in years, so she ran around back to come through the house to let me in. When the door opened, with my rolly-bag in tow, I stepped into the house and caught my breath. I almost started to cry but inhaled my overwhelm back into my body. Home. I knew this place.

It was a festival of texture. Raw wood exposed through the aging, flaking paint. Immediately I could see that this woman populated her world with stories, surrounded herself with rocks and wood and tin. She lived in a tangible world, loved the raw and the real, and had a designer’s eye. The dining room was a miracle of tortoise-esque pattern made when she stripped the wallpaper. She loved it so much that she abandoned her plan for paint and left the marks exposed.

This was an artist’s house. The hardwood floors creaked. Some of the antique door handles popped off if you pulled too hard. “It’s an old house and has its quirks,” she explained as she pulled a screwdriver from the silverware drawer to tighten the screw that holds the screen door latch in place. I learned over time that there are somethings you fix and others that you don’t because to fix them would interrupt the relationship with the house. Now I, too, weekly pull the screwdriver from the silverware drawer and tighten the aged-nearly-stripped-screw that holds the screen door latch in place.

Shabby-chic. They gave her style a name and she beamed the first time she heard it. “That’s me!” she exclaimed, “Shabby-Chic!”

When my dad came for our wedding, he stood on the back deck and said to me, “If you don’t put a finish on this deck, you’re going to lose it.” I told him that Kerri liked it that way. In fact, she’d throw herself in my path, she’d break my fingers, if I attempted to clean it, let alone paint it. He nodded and said, “Well, that’s all that matters really.”

Home. All that matters. Alive with stories that reach back and back and back. Texture and piles and projects everywhere I look. The lock on the front door still doesn’t work. And, like my wife, Kerri, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

read Kerri’s blog post on SHABBY-CHIC

Touch The Walls [on DR Thursday]

A Haiku

I wander the house

touching boyhood memories.

Stories pour from walls.

read Kerri’s DR Thursday Haiku

Hear The Whisper [on Two Artists Tuesday]

a house copy

A house remembers.

We took my dad back to his home town. It was a pilgrimage. He wanted to see it one last time. We walked through the cemetery. He pointed to headstones and told stories. He looked for people and grew frustrated when he couldn’t find them. He’d breathe a sigh of relief when, after walking row after row, we finally found them.

The pilgrimage was not to the cemetery. It was to a tiny little house that his grandfather built that he needed to return. To touch. Nowadays it is being used as a shed. His dad grew up in that tiny house. It was the center of his universe when he was a child, his cathedral.

Standing before the tiny house, he told the story of how his grandfather split open and pried apart the rafters, making a second story. He built on a small kitchen. He added a small bedroom on one side. There was a porch.

To our eyes, it was now barely standing. To my dad’s eyes, it was the most beautiful home on earth.

As we walked the perimeter I couldn’t help but feel that the house needed to see him as much as he needed to see the house. It remembered, “You came back!” It seemed to sit up straight, remembering the days that it housed a family, that meals were cooked within its walls, that children slept there. As my dad told the stories, I was overwhelmed with the notion that he wasn’t just telling us, he was talking to the house. And the house was nodding, smiling, “Yes, I remember…” The children ran free. Everyone worked hard.

As we walked away he knew he would never see it again. But he’d shared the story. He’d introduced us to this house, his-and-now-my sacred place. “This is where you come from,” the house and my dad whispered together, “Remember.”

IMG_2909

 

read Kerri’s blog post about A HOUSE REMEMBERS

 

 

footprints in sunlit snow website box copy

Fill The Box [on Two Artists Tuesday]

toolchest copy

Among my most prized possessions is the small wooden paint box that DeMarcus gave to me. He was a brilliant painter and director of plays. I am one of the keepers of his legacy. The box holds a few sacred (to me) items: the nutcracker my grandfather used, a woven frond from Bali, some stones and notes from nieces and nephews.

Another treasured possession is the small box that John K made for me. He is a master woodworker and is dear to me so the box is also dear. He is impeccable, among the best men I have ever known, and it shows in his creations. His box reminds me to strive to be-more-like-John.

Kerri and I learned early on in our relationship that we both have a thing for boxes. We call them special boxes. We gravitate toward them when we are wandering through antique stores. Sometimes they look like old suitcases. Sometimes they look like old tool boxes. We’ve learned that we need to admire them and put them down. That, or we need to give in and open a Special Box Store.

Stand in the middle of our house and look any direction and you will see one or more special boxes. The box in the sun room holds watercolor paper, paints, colored pencils, India ink and nibs. It was the keeper of the promise for our cartoons and children’s books, Chicken Marsala, Flawed, and Shayne. The stacked suitcases in our dining room hold the artifacts of our relationship. Tickets to concerts, playbills, menus, feathers, train tickets,… The wooden box in the living room is filled with stones that we have collected in our travels.

Okay,  an amendment: we collect boxes and stones.

The other day we were strolling down the aisle of an antique mall with Jen and Brad. Mostly we were coming up with ideas for performance art pieces or conceptual art knock offs or listening to the wisdom from Riley-the-Realist. Kerri grabbed my arm, “Look at this one,” she said, showing me an old green tool box. “Don’t you love it?”

“Where would we put it?” I asked. It’s my go-to answer when I actually do love a box but also know that we need to walk away. Kerri squinted her eyes. We took a breath and stepped away.

The real problem with opening a Special Box Store? It’s a very bad business premise. We would be unwilling to sell any of our merchandise. They’d all be filled with special rocks or memories or hopes and dreams in the form of paper, Sumi ink and brushes. You could look but not touch. Though the stories we could tell…

 

read Kerri’s blog post about BOXES

 

old suitcases website box copy