Stories Around the House

Our homes are filled with stories, filled with memories of where, when, why, and how we acquired the objects we display. We keep them for a reason, often for their backstories: the photograph of children on the sideboard, the handmade potholders over the kitchen sink, the books along the study walls, the carving from friends’ vacation, the Amish quilt on the bed. It’d be hard to find any object in my admittedly cluttered home of 30 years that doesn’t have a backstory. 

Participants in Suleika Jaouad’s “Isolation Journal” were recently asked to think about the backstory of an object in their homes. The prompt went something like this: Imagine that the gaze of a visiting friend lingers on one of your objects. She’s curious about why you’ve displayed it. The task for the journal writer is to pick such an item, provide its backstory, and tell why it’s meaningful.  

On reading that journal prompt, I began imagining I was the visiting friend. I saw lots of curious objects but kept coming back to one in particular: a small framed picture of a squirrel eating a berry in the crook of a tree trunk and limb.

That picture holds many memories for me of my favorite cousin, Joanie. An accomplished watercolorist, she sometimes sent notecards that featured prints of one of her paintings. The squirrel was one of those, greatly reduced in size, of course. My husband and I are fond of squirrels (most of the time). They play all around our wooded area. They eat the old bread and apple cores I put out for them. We enjoyed the notecard image so much, we framed it and offered to buy the original watercolor.

A generous soul, Joanie said she would give it to us, but she grew sick and died a few weeks later. We are fortunate to have a number of her watercolors, but the notecard was the last thing she could send. It has special meaning for that reason, among others. In particular, I associate the squirrel notecard with her playfulness. I also associate it with the incredibly moving experience of attending her funeral in a Quaker church in Richmond, Virginia. The reverent silence brought comfort and peace. And out of that silence arose her friends’ stories – softly, gently, lovingly spoken, all beautiful like the person they honored, Joanie Harper.

I could spend hours just walking around the house recalling backstories of objects here and there. For me, even mundane things like the toaster oven, recliner, and desk hold stories. My newfound interest in backstories of home-displayed items has broadened to include those of cable-news contributors and guests who, like me during the time of covid, have self-isolated. I’m taking a kind of voyeuristic delight in glimpsing parts of their homes and spotting the occasional curious item.  

The rooms of a few talking heads reveal hardly any decoration; others are in rooms that would make an interior decorator proud; and yet others have a well lived-in look. It’s the latter that interests me. The most common objects behind them are books – in filled bookcases with framed photographs, on a shelf with small art objects, on a fireplace mantel lined between decorative bookholders, or even a book in full view that they’ve authored. I try to read titles and generally conclude they’re nonfiction, which makes sense for writers like those in the bookcases of Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson and New York Times journalist Peter Baker.

Other items are more inscrutable. For example, why did former White House communication director Jennifer Palmieri have a framed image of a rainbow trout (perhaps a watercolor) behind her, or why did political strategist Steve Schmidt have four whole pineapples sitting up in his kitchen? Then yesterday I was intrigued by civil rights activist Alicia Garza’s attractive liquor bottles on a cabinet against which protruded the handle of a canoe paddle, and behind her was the bottom 2/3rds of a portrait of a woman in an old-fashioned dress. Nice!  

I imagine that you have lots of objects in your home that evoke memories and emotions, items visitors find curious. Just look around. You might be surprised how deep some of your items’ backstories take you.

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Bad Poem Illustrated

It’s fun Friday. Time for another bad poem. This one is for my friends here at home who may wonder why I play World of Warcraft (WoW). But, of course, I hope everyone who lands on this page enjoys it. I illustrate my verse with screenshots that I took at various times while playing. It can be sung, sort of, to the chorus of Bing Crosby’s 1944 hit “Swinging on a Star.”

Would You Like To?

Would you like to fly in the clouds
On a dragon so blue and proud,
Glide grandly all up and down, Toa 1st day on cloud serpernt 111412

Or would you rather fly a pig?Jolly & flying pig3

Would you like to camp by the sea,
Spend some time with my fox and me,
Fry some fish on an open fire,VixxCampZand2new

Or would you rather dine with friends?IBmeeting tavern2new

Would you like to go to a faire,
Watch fireworks burst in the air,
Roll the coaster for a fun scare,DarkmoonFaire Rollercoaster

Or would you rather dance with bears?snowballsIBnew

Would you like to join in a fight,
To kill monsters that are affright;Spirit Kings4 fight 6-8-13

Triumph of good over evil feels right
For reflection at the beginning of night.Xipe overlookAnyportDrustvarSauna

Now this game of WoW is by no means highbrow,
But it works for me quite enjoyably.


The Doughnut and an Economy for Everyone

Today on Mother’s Day I’m remembering a mother and friend I’ll call Adeline. She could brighten my day with a funny greeting card. She loved animals and usually had a little dog, a cat, and a large collection of mechanical stuffed animals. She lived alone in a run-down house with floors sagging under the weight of her kitchen and bathroom fixtures. Her generous heart was as big as her stories were long. She would go on and on about the doings of someone I didn’t know. After all, she had little to give but her stories and time. Adeline worked hard at low-paid jobs most of her life, mainly waitressing. She held a minimum-wage job at a nursing home her last years, before dying of breast cancer.

childhood bunny

Today I’m also thinking about the mothers and their children who are going hungry in increased numbers since the pandemic stripped them of their meager paychecks. The Brookings Institute reported that in April about 20% of American children age 12 and younger experienced food insecurity, a rate three times higher than during the Great Recession. Alarming! And yet, as the New York Times reminds us, although Republican legislators agreed to spend trillions of dollars on other distressed economic sectors, they “have balked at a long-term expansion of food stamps,” a proven program for reducing hunger. Meanwhile, we see images of cars lined for miles to access food at food banks.

These families live, as Adeline had, in the economy’s doughnut hole, a widening hole now with unemployment in April over 20 million. Many powerful people who could ease their hunger and health concerns care little about them, care little about the low-paid workers who help to keep this country running – domestic, retail, agriculture, health, and service workers. Forgotten, uncared for, struggling just to get by. After the pandemic, their condition will persist unless we learn how to create and maintain an economy that works for everyone.


Now is an excellent time to reconsider our economic values. Kate Raworth, a senior researcher at Oxford University’s Environmental Change Institute, has an intriguing plan. She calls it Doughnut Economics. She calls for us to change from growth to sustainability as our economic model, to abandon the economic goal of endless growth through consumerism and take as our goal a healthy, happy population and a healthy planet by mending and fostering the Earth’s life-support systems like climate, water, forests, biodiversity, and soil. (For an quick explanation of Raworth’s doughnut, watch this 1 ½ minute animated video.)


To help us plan for a better future, Raworth asks us to think of the sustainable economy as a green doughnut. The doughnut itself is where our needs are taken care of, where everyone has food security, health care, housing, education, job opportunities, and overall quality of life. I now enjoy these things. Chances are you do too. But too many in our country and worldwide are missing some or all of these essentials for a good life; they are in the doughnut hole and not, like us, part of the doughnut itself. Beyond the doughnut are the needs of the planet and all life on it – climate, air, water, vegetation, wildlife, resources, and so on. The goal is to bring everyone into the green doughnut and to mitigate the damage to the life-supporting realm beyond the doughnut.

Our current measure of economic health (GDP), Raworth says, is like the trajectory of an airplane that flies higher and higher without ever landing. How is such an economy viable in the long run? What happens when our airplane hits an unanticipated storm? Well, our airplane is currently in a storm unlike one we’ve ever experienced. We’ll get through it, somehow. But we need to land the plane and ground it in favor of an economy that works for all of us, from the poorest to the richest citizen.

For social and economic policies to be just, wrote American philosopher John Rawls in Justice is Fairness, they must “be to the greatest benefit of the least-advantaged members of society” or, at the very least, to do them no harm. Likewise, Jesus said during the Sermon on the Mount, “whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40).

Note: I learned about Raworth’s economic model during TED Radio Hour’s episode called “What We Value” (5/1/20, beginning at minute 14:45). She goes into greater detail in her TED2018 talk. I recommend both to you.


Photo Credits: My childhood bunny and friends; Kate Raworth cropped photo by Stephan Rohl , Creative Commons, CC BY-SA 4.0; Doughnut Economics infograph – Own work, Wikipedia Creative Commons, CC BY-SA 4.0. 

Bad Poem: “Wild Hair”

An Isolation Journal writing prompt appears in my email inbox every morning. I mostly lurk, while thousands of others internationally engage in this covid project. In other words, I don’t keep a journal but do enjoy reading Sulieka Jaouad’s introductions and her guest contributors’ stories and prompts.

To take a break from a serious post I’m working on, I thought it’d be fun to try today’s prompt. The prompt, briefly put, goes like this: “Write a bad poem,” whatever a bad poem means to you – sappy, singsongy, inscrutable, or whatever. Why not try to write your own bad poem? Meanwhile, here’s my bad isolation poem. It can be sung to the chorus of The Troggs’ 1966 hit “Wild Thing.”

Wild Hair

Wild hair,
You make the people stare,
You make me crazy,
Wild hair.

Wild hair,
It just isn’t fair,
You are an awful scare

Wild hair,
I had no recourse,
My salon is closed,

Wild hair,
I grabbed the scissors,
And I cut you,

Wild hair
Is now a worse scare,
When they see me,
On Zoom.


Photo: We call her Coco. She comes from one of the Caribbean islands where our son and his wife honeymooned. They gave it to us as a gift for helping them with trip expenses – a bit odd, but lovable. The main difference between my hair and Coco’s are my ever-growing long, stringy, graying bangs. 


Tree Hugger <3 Nature Conservancy

I live in the wooded part of a small city in a mostly rural county in far northeast Home summerWisconsin. Our city borders Lake Michigan’s Green Bay, which I can see from my loft windows. Today the bay is sparkling blue. Our daffodils are blooming and the tops of the tall trees – mostly white pine, red pine, maple, and oak – are waving in the cool breeze. It’s spring in the northwoods, at last. And I’m happy here in my refuge from the chaos of the novel coronavirus pandemic.

I’m a tree hugger, a nature lover. So I relish the natural beauty that surrounds our home. My husband and I take long walks and greet, from a safe distance, neighbors raking leaves or preparing flower beds and vegetable gardens or simply basking in the sun. Some are out biking, jogging, or walking, often with their dogs and children. Everyone says “Hi” now. Strangers in occasional passing cars smile and wave. We’re all hungry for more social contact but know that it’s best for everyone to stay apart for now. 

As I write, lots of other people are working to help us with food and health issues, garbage and power, news reporting and law enforcement, and other essentials. Although its offices are closed, the Nature Conservancy also continues its important work outdoors. It’s my favorite environmental nonprofit. I’ve been a member (but never a volunteer, alas) for many years.

Peninsula Park GCNature Conservancy’s priorities sync with my environmental concerns and values: protecting land and water, tackling climate change, providing food and water sustainability, and building healthy cities. Worldwide it helps to protect over 125 million acres of land, thousands of miles of rivers, and countless wildlife. In Wisconsin, it protects over 236,000 acres of forests, wetlands, rivers, lakes, prairies, bluffs, dunes, and more.

In my general area, Nature Conservancy manages 5 preserves and, overall, helps to protect almost 8,000 acres of Wisconsin’s Door Peninsula. The peninsula juts into the big waters of Lake Michigan to form the bay of Green Bay. From where I sit, I can see the silhouette of the peninsula’s bluffs 15 or so miles across the water. A fast motorboat can reach it in about 30 minutes. But being boatless, my husband and I travel by car, taking close to 2 hours. We like to make the trip twice a year, always for an overnight or two, sometimes camping in Peninsula Park atop a bluff overlooking the bay.

Of course, many other environmental nonprofits are engaged in vital work. Along with Nature Conservancy, Charity Navigator gives top ratings to the Environmental Defense Fund, Sierra Club, Rocky Mountain Institute, and Greenpeace. I encourage you to learn more about the work of these groups and to discover Nature Conservancy’s projects near you.

Stay well. Protect others. Protect our environment.

Photos: Our home; a view of Green Bay and Peninsula State Park Golf Course in
Door County where my husband and I enjoy playing. 

Suleika Jaouad Inspired Me

It’s day one of Create 31. As I mentioned in my previous post, each day during May, a few friends and I will attempt to devote at least 15 minutes to an individual creative project. In my case, it’s primarily working on posts for this blog. I’m not a fast writer; I often get bogged down in background research – that is, I often become more involved in a subject than needed for a post. As such, I’m not holding myself to an impossible (for me) standard of posting anew everyday. But I do have a concrete goal: to publish at least 12 posts this month.

Today I reveal my inspiration for Create 31. Earlier this week I listened to TED Radio Hour’s April 24 podcast called “Meditations on Loneliness.” The last segment (beginning at minute 38:14) features Suleika Jaouad, who talks about her long-term hospital isolation during her battle with leukemia, which included a bone-marrow transplant. She was in her early 20s, just out of college, when her life was interrupted for years of medical treatment. She was a “bubble girl” unable to leave her room, attended only by hospital staff in protective gear.

To help her through this harrowing experience, Jaouad recruited family and friends to join her in doing an individual creative act each day for about 15 minutes (or more) over 100 days. Her mother, for example, painted one tile a day, and her dad chronicled his childhood memories. She returned to journal writing, aspects of which appeared in a New York Times column called “Life, Interrupted.”


Fast forward to April 2020: Jaouad, cancer-free at age 31, took refuge from Covid-19 in her parents’ attic, where she started a new project called “The Isolation Journals.” Tens of thousands of people from over 100 nations signed up to receive daily email prompts for journaling during the month of April. They wrote about their isolation experiences and feelings, along with other topics, like this prompt: “write a letter to your younger self.”

Create 31 combines aspects of both of Jaouad’s projects: to engage in a creative act each day and to limit the project to one month, the 31 days of May. After that, who knows? It’s worth noting that as our small local group launches Day 1, Jaouad’s enormous international group begins Day 31. Yes, she and her team have decided to keep the “Isolation Journals” going, this time for 100 more days, the timeframe of her first project.

If you’re interested in joining the “Isolation Journals” group and receiving daily prompts, you can subscribe at To learn more about Jaouad, visit her website at To learn more about Create 31, leave a comment on my blog, and I’ll get back to you. I also anticipate posting about some our Create 31’s experiences from time to time.

Stay safe. Stay healthy. Protect others.

Photo: Sunset on Anna Maria Island, FL, Feb. 2017. This photo, one I took, suggests to me the peace a person can find in creative solitude.