For such a small space, a bathroom can really make or break a house.  The one in my home has been a source of irritation, embarrassment and frustration since I moved in.  While I appreciate – and take for granted – indoor plumbing and hot and cold running water, I have not enjoyed the rapid disintegration of a room that looked “really cute” when I bought the house.  Within the first year, I became concerned when my nice cast iron bathtub began to peel – bathtubs don’t peel! What the heck? Apparently the folks who sold the house had the tub painted with some sort of finish that looked just like porcelain covered cast iron to make it “look like new”.

Once, while sweeping up the flakes from my ailing tub, I hit one of the baseboards with the broom and it clattered onto linoleum reminiscent of vomit in color and design.  Bending over to examine the baseboard, I discovered that it was a two-by-four painted only on the front and top where it was visible to the casual bathroom occupant.  It was also just propped up against the wall – no nails or even glue to sully the paint job. How did I not see this when I first looked at the house?  Reaching back to steady myself on the pedestal sink, I felt the basin start to give way and quickly righted myself to avoid disaster.  Closer inspection revealed that the sink was only partially secured to the wall and, because of the sink design, it was impossible to adequately re-attach it without becoming a contortionist.  In the intervening years since my initial disillusionment, I have continued to find new and distressingly “unique” qualities about my bathroom.  Those qualities usually become apparent while I am getting frostbite on my hindquarters from sitting on a numbingly cold toilet seat.

But … today is the first day of a major bathroom renovation and, in the midst of all the demolition hubbub, I am at once excited and somewhat nostalgic about the old throne-room. My mind is awash in sweet memories. Winter morning sprints in to turn on a ceramic space heater that would thaw out the toilet water and make the floor warm enough not injure bare feet. My little niece used to enjoy using the toilet-paper holder as a gymnastic device until it ripped out of the wall.  And how could I forget standing in shin-deep water because the tub drain finally decided it had had enough? I recall throwing myself a birthday party for a “big” milestone and having to post a sign on the medicine cabinet mirror asking people not to lean on the sink as it would provide no support but might cause a significant plumbing issue. Thankfully, my family and friends are easy going and no repairs were required during the party.

Today I learned there was NO insulation in a bathroom that is situated in the northwest corner of my house and gets the brunt of all the gusty, arctic Midwest winter weather.  “Live” electrical boxes were buried in the walls and one of the shelves in my linen closet was a cutting board in a previous life.  The room is now down to the studs with the exception of a toilet whose presence is deeply appreciated. It will be sacrificed soon to make way for new flooring and a shiny new pot.   I am anticipating that, in a short amount of time, I will be able to shuffle barefoot into a room that is at least as warm as the rest of the house, run a luxurious bath and soak, unmolested by paint chips, secure in the knowledge that a lipsticked pig has been transformed into vision of quality craftsmanship.  

Ryan Betrun - march 2010

drawing by Ryan Betrum (March 2010)

Into the wild – sort of

A couple months ago, in late Autumn, I spent a very agreeable morning hiking through a state park with my favorite companion. I was mystified (and secretly pleased) at the small number of other people we saw at the park that day – to be fair, it was a Wednesday. Frequently, however, on visits to the park, I am left with the impression that we must be people of some consequence to have all this land, wildlife and simple beauty at our disposal – a private wonderland.

Efforts to move silently down the leaf-strewn trails were futile.  Crunching and scraping along, I glimpsed a doe furtively crossing the pathway far ahead of us.  No camera at the ready, of course, similar to a park visit several years ago that included an unnerving semi-close encounter with a GIANT turkey with several regular-sized turkey minions in tow…but that’s a story for another time.  Standing still in the middle of the park we could hear varied birdsong and see the occasional squirrel, chipmunk or groundhog scuttling through the foliage seeking food. Based on the number of walnuts I had already turned my ankles on, they would probably eat well once we vacated the area. A company of black-capped chickadees swoop into a tree nearby and sing their two-note song intermixed with the zippy “chick-a-dee-dee-dees”. As swiftly as they arrived, they were off again, their bouncy flight taking them out of visual range.

Our walk took us past a lake where, with binoculars, we saw a Great Blue Heron gracefully preening itself on a small rise in the lake. Such an angular creature, it was at first invisible amidst the slim trees jutting up from the little island on which it stood. Searching the water further with the binocs, we saw that logs, usually teeming with turtles, had only a few torpid inhabitants soaking in the late morning autumn sunshine – sunshine with a distinct golden hue rather than the lemony glow of a spring sun.

At some point I remembered my cell phone secured in my jacket pocket. Though it gets no cell service in the park, the camera works and I was able to capture a few images. My photography skills and the limitations of a somewhat dated phone do not do justice to the glory of a late autumn day in northern Indiana. I hope you enjoy the somewhat fuzzy photos.


aging (2)

My blue jeans are just a little snugger over my hips in the mornings and the face I see staring back at me in the mirror is a little less fresh and dewy than it once was.  My focus seems to have shifted startlingly while I wasn’t really paying attention.  Birthdays used to bother me only insofar as they were usually forgotten by people I had hoped would remember.  I think at one time I believed I would never be any older than 9 and I would always have a sense of “belonging” in the world – if not owning it – as I did when I flew down the street on the green Schwinn I shared with my sister.  When I turned 20 years old, my Uncle Mikey shared a now-sobering thought with me.  He said, “It feels like it takes forever to get to twenty, and the next time you look up, you’re fifty.  So enjoy!”  I remember that comment being accompanied by a big hug and followed by a bigger laugh….more than 20 years ago!  It seems like it was just yesterday.


Years ago I was with a group of pre-schoolers (my favorite age of kids to work with) and was feeling like quite a youngster myself as I helped several children to build LEGO airplanes in the block area of a classroom.  Everything was going well – lots of giggles and helpful comments among the builders – when a very charming little guy asked me, “Whose grandma are you?”  Pierced straight through the heart (I don’t think I was 30 yet), I sputtered, “I’m no one’s grandma; I’m not even anyone’s mom!!”  The boy responded matter-0f-factly, “Then why do you have them cracks in your face?”  I experienced a twinge of alarm before I realized he was talking about the “character lines” on my face.  Not knowing what to say, I went over to see what was happening at the puzzle table.


Sitting at the lunch table with a group of 4- and 5-year old children, I was witness to a conversation they were having about what they were doing for their mothers for Mothers Day.  Deja asked me if I had any children, and when I answered that I did not, she asked if I had a dog or a cat.  “Yes!”, I said, “I have a dog.”  Deja smiled sweetly and said, “Then you are a dog mom.”  Brenda, another child at the table, made a disdainful face and stated, “That doesn’t make her a mom; that makes her a farmer!”


Aging itself isn’t what bothers me.  I shudder to think of the opportunities I have let slip by me in my efforts to grow up.  Yeah, it’s somewhat daunting to see the lines that have appeared on my face and the not-so-stray strands of gray that highlight what used to be decidedly chestnut brown hair.  The thought that I would ever look like an “old lady” never entered my mind until recently.  What does bother me is the nagging pull in my gut that I haven’t “lived up to my potential”.  No graduate degrees, no children, no book deals, no exalted titles.  Going in one direction with certainty will, eventually,  inevitably find me wondering what might have been if only…  It is not a question of regretting my choices (well, not most of them); it is a sense of sorrow  – the loss of what might have happened on the road not taken – of wishing I could do everything I ever wanted to do and having the time and energy for all of it.


I was helping out in a classroom of 5-year-olds whom I had gotten to know fairly well.  The children in this class were a joy to be around.  The schedule had us heading out to the playground and, as I moved toward the merry-go-round, twenty children followed me.  They piled onto it and began asking, even begging, me to push them around “real fast”.  After several attempts to honor this request only to have kids flying off or maintaining only a tenuous grasp on the play equipment, I had to be an adult.  I told them in a semi-stern voice that, if they wanted me to push them “real fast”, they would have to find a spot on the merry-go-round and hold on very tight. Talk about raining on their parade.  They perceived this a very unreasonable, but, seeing that I meant business, they eventually got themselves positioned for safe fun.  I began to push them in a circle, very slow at first and then faster as the kids began to fuss about it.  Then I was running as fast as I could without killing myself,  The kids were flying!  As I stepped away to watch  and listen to the kids enjoying themselves, a child named Rudolfo, who was right in the middle of the merry-go-round, yelled, “Miss Frances, you run like a teenager!”  I don’t care how loud the teachers were laughing – that comment made my day and Rudolfo is a child I will always remember.


In my head I can do flawless back flips down a hallway, create the next BIG THING, raise incredible children, foster world peace, write a book worth publishing, cure cancer…


in my heart there is a dreamer who will probably always be nine-years-old.

Parade of Life

CARTOON PARADE OF CHILDREN-ILLUSTRATIONI was recently asked, “If life is a parade, why would someone want to hop onto your float?”


I was struck dumb – which may have been the desired result.  I not only could not come up with an answer to the question, I got all caught up and nervous about what my float would look like, would it have to be visible to other people, was it going to be graded, etc….  I stammered trying to organize my thoughts quickly enough to come up with some self-deprecating rejoinder.  Nothing.  The person asked me to just think about it for a while and get back to him.

Having considered the question for a while, this is the best I could do.

“If life is a parade…”

Well, I guess it sort of is. Every day I march out into the world to do my thing and be myself.

My brain morphed the question to “If life is a parade, why would I want to be on my own float?”  I’ve spent a lot of this parade jumping off my float, being embarrassed by it, feeling like it just doesn’t measure up and being grateful when I’m invited to hop on someone else’s float.  On other’s floats, I have invariably found that what looks very attractive and inviting before I hop on turns out, from a closer vantage point, to be an artful, carefully constructed facade .  Up there, I see all the glue, feathers and crepe paper – objects designed to obscure and charm.  I’m certain my float, up close, is no different.

When I decide to jump off one of those floats, get kicked off or crowded out, I am initially reluctant to return to my own.  It seems foreign – mediocre and lacking. I am painfully aware of all the draping, soft lighting, smoke and mirrors I’ve employed to create it. It isn’t perfect but when I regain my bearings, I realize, in spite of the visible dents and dings and the attempts to cover them, it’s not so bad. It’s mine and it’s home. I’ll have reflect a bit more on making my float a place I want to stay; that, I think, will help to answer the question originally asked.