Tag Archives: katie m. zeigler

Portraits of Gratitude 2014


There’s a certain degree of perfection that people try to attain as the holidays approach. The perfect Thanksgiving meal, the best presents, the ultimate in outdoor Christmas light decorations. And I’ll admit I fall prey to it just as much as the next Joe. I find myself lured by the Siren’s call. The one that insists that everything must be homemade to be acceptable. Make your own butter! Needlepoint that pillow! Craft your own Thanksgiving centerpiece from fishing line and dried cranberries! And sometimes I succeed, patting myself on the back as I create my own Thanksgiving table runner from ribbon and construction paper. And other times I fail miserably, as evidenced by the burnt homemade granola bars now lining the bottom of my garbage can. And the pressure of being perfect, of creating the ultimate moment for your family is, dare I say, exhausting. And virtually impossible.

As Thanksgiving approaches, I feel like there is also tremendous pressure to be as grateful as you possibly can. Of savoring each and every moment of the past year and never, ever forgetting to be appreciative and humbled by the bounty of our lives. And as much as I wish I could, I just can’t seem to find the energy to be grateful all the time. I mean, I wish I could. I wish I could be one of those amazing people who go through every second of every day soaking up the wonder of life and saying little prayers of gratitude to every flower, every tree, every moment of sweetness. But I’m tired, people. And I find it almost impossible to feel grateful when I’m scraping doggie doo-doo from the bottom of my son’s tennis shoes. “Isn’t it wonderful that he had so much fun that he walked though poo without noticing! I am grateful for those small moments of happiness!” Nope. It’s just poop on a shoe. I don’t mean to say that I don’t experience moments of great thankfulness, in which I am literally overwhelmed by the beauty and sweetness of my life and the people in it. I do. And I cry over it quite often. But it’s just not every second of every day. At some point I think you have to put the grateful voice on mute in order to get the laundry done , pluck the gray hairs, and start all over again tomorrow. And that’s OK. It’s OK to be tired and cranky and ungrateful…just as long as, occasionally, you turn the volume up on that little voice that’s telling you to stop and put down the fabric softener and the tweezers and remember that even though we may be baffled by the complexities of life, at the rhyme and reason for the events that unfold before us, we can be mindful of the wonder inherent in the journey. My life is messy. It’s loud and frustrating and beautiful and sad and outrageously funny. And I wouldn’t change anything about it. But in loving my life as much as I do, there comes a freedom to be irritated by it. To loathe making lunches every morning. To cringe at the urine lurking behind the boys’ toilet. To roll my eyes each and every time my husband rearranges the dishwasher with the precision of an engineer. I think we work hard enough that we’re allowed to sigh occasionally out of complete frustration, while never forgetting how lucky we are to be irritated by anything at all. For it is in loving something so completely and so generously that we are able to feel the flip side of it, and yet still continue making the lunches, and cleaning up the pee and watching the gray hairs accumulate like a badge of honor.

That said, and in the spirit of last year’s post, I give you my 2014 Portraits of Gratitude…

I am eternally grateful that I married this guy…

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And that I can easily drive and see a place that looks like this:

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That, despite the distance, my children can have friends like this:

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And that this coffee mug exists…

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For letters like this (please note President Taft trapped in the bathtub)…

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For these two amazing, funny, crazy, inspiring boys of mine

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Who send me texts like this

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And for people who write books like this

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And students who make art like this

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And this

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And who never let me forget that I am learning from them

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For a small Beastie

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And a thespian

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That this guy picked me up from the airport

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When I got to fly across the Pond and drink tea with my dear friend

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And go back to the one place in my life that truly changed who I am

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For mother and grandmothers all rolled up into one

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For furry things

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And furrier things

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I am grateful for kitchens

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And for the friends who cheered me on as I read my heart out

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And for jumping in, white bra and all, without a single moment’s hesitation

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Let’s all give ourselves a break this Thanksgiving and aim less for perfection, and more for perfect chaos. For though we grumble and grimace, our lives are full of everything we can handle. And with each new memory, whether joyous or heartbreaking, comes a firmer ground on which to stand. (Hopefully with no dog poo on it).

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It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Jell-o


what mrs dewey did with the new jell-o

what mrs dewey did with the new jell-o

it’s that time again, ladies and gentlemen! time for Deedles’ holiday jell-o salad recipe!

i don’t know about your grandmothers, but my grandmother deedles loved jell-o. jell-o molds, jell-o parfaits, jell-o with just a dollop of mayonnaise on the top…jell-o was something yummy and sophisticated and worthy of purchasing several differently sized and shaped plastic jell-o molds for various occasions. as such, i love jell-o, too. perhaps not with the mayonnaise, but i do love it – especially around the holidays when i get to make her raspberry pretzel jell-o extravaganza. curious? here’s the recipe..(trust me..it’s divine!)

RASPBERRY PRETZEL SALAD

Bottom layer:

  • 2 cups crushed pretzels
  • 3/4 cup butter, melted
  • 3 Tbs. powdered sugar

Mix butter and sugar together. Stir in pretzels. Pat out into a 9×13 pan. Bake at 400 degrees for 10 minutes. Cool (very important to let this cool completely – keeps the crust nice and crusty…) and set aside.

Middle Layer:

  • 8 oz. cream cheese, softened
  • 8 oz. cool whip, thawed
  • 1 cup powdered sugar

Beat the cream cheese until smooth. Mix in the sugar. Gently stir in the cool whip. Spread over the cooled pretzel layer.

Top Layer:

  • 3 cups boiling water
  • 1 large pkg. raspberry Jello
  • 16-20 oz. frozen raspberries

Stir Jello and water together until dissolved. Add frozen raspberries. Stir until the raspberries are separated and soft. Pour gently onto the cream cheese layer. Refrigerate several hours or overnight.

Deedles never served this as a dessert – rather she served it as an additional salad during dinner. yummy and nostalgic. What a combination!

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Speak Softly and Carry a Big Peppermint Stick, or, How to Survive the Holiday Season


photo courtesy Getty Images

photo courtesy Getty Images

It’s the holiday season. Christmas trees on the tops of cars. Shoppers bustling through the stores, peppermint mochas in hand. Squeezing into that little black dress for the holiday party next weekend. It is indeed a wonderful (albeit Spanx-ridden time). But if you’re like me, there are moments when it all seems a little overwhelming. When trying to balance the spirit of goodwill with the holiday to-do list seems almost impossible. Yesterday, I was trying to get a little Christmas shopping done at BroadwayPlaza, the ringing of Salvation Army bells in my ears. I was looking through the window of the Kate Spade store (pardon the drool) when a woman (you know who you are, my dear) literally pushed me into the wall with her shopping bags and muttered “move it” as she passed. And as initially irate as I was, I recognized in her that frantic holiday feeling I get sometimes – that feeling that everything has to be absolutely perfect and Martha Stewart-like in order for it to be a happy holiday at all.

I knew how she felt – shopping bags askew, gift list a mile long, cookies to bake, school holiday parties to plan – and I realized that I, too, could be just like her. Forgetting what the season is all about and becoming mired down in the details. But not this year. No, this year I’m going to approach the holidays with a little less zeal and a little more Zen – and here’s how you can too.

1)      You don’t have to cook everything

Here’s a little secret. When it comes to food, most of the time people can’t tell if something is homemade or store-bought. Certain things, yes. Like chocolate chip cookies, for example. There is literally nothing in the entire world like a homemade Nestle Toll House chocolate chip cookie. Except maybe two Nestle Toll House chocolate chip cookies. But typically, there’s not a whole lot of sense behind driving yourselves bonkers making puff pastry from scratch or chopping basil for 3 days to craft homemade pesto. Now, I’m not saying you should never go all out and cook every single thing from scratch. I committed to doing it for a month this year (don’t ask) like some sort of crazed pioneer woman. And, while there were fleeting moments of blissful domesticity, honestly, I couldn’t wait until the month was over.  For some reason, when the holidays come around, there’s this sense that if you didn’t make it, you’re going to ruin the entire holiday season. I can’t tell you how many women at dinner parties feel compelled to confess that they’ve “cheated” on the dinner by buying certain dishes. That’s not cheating. That’s mitigating insanity. And I’m all for it. So for yourHoliday party this year, lay down your apple corers and pasta makers, pry your clenched fingers from the rolling pins and juicers and do yourself a favor. Hop on down to Trader Joe’s and treat yourself to some frozen appetizers, pop them in the oven and, when everyone asks how you could have possibly made such delightful delicacies, smile and proudly tell them you bought them in the freezer aisle. Cause that’s how you roll.

2)      Your presents don’t have to look perfect

Now, if you know me at all, you know that I’m obsessed with paper. I’m the crazy lady who strolls through the container store admiring the wrapping paper for fun. And for many years, I succumbed to my inner demons and worked my fingers to the bone creating “the perfectly wrapped present.” A lot of this is genetic, since my mother is the quintessential present wrapper. Her gifts are like pieces of fine art – gorgeous papers, exquisitely tied ribbons – and my DNA is programmed to follow in her scotch-taped footsteps. But last year when I found myself covered in paper cuts and muttering under my breath with each package, I realized that I was only doing this to maintain some sort of image. Do my children care if the ribbon picks up a subtle accent color in the wrapping paper? Do they really mind if the corners aren’t creased perfectly as they tear through each present like little hurricanes? No. What’s more, why, oh, why didn’t I allow those nice teenagers at Barnes & Noble to wrap my presents for me? This year, I’m taking a deep breath and when someone offers me free gift wrap, I’m going to say “Of course!” and watch them as I sip my non-fat peppermint mocha in peace.

3)      You don’t have to decorate every square inch of your house

Now, I truly need to take a dose of my own medicine on this one. Every year I am compulsive about filling every nook and cranny of my home with Christmas decorations. The tube sock snowman my son made in kindergarten? Right here! The oversized German woodcutter nutcracker? Over there! Enough lights on the tree to illuminate a small village? Of course! And I do it because I think my children can’t survive without living inside a replica of Santa’s workshop. But it’s not necessary. Yes, there are certain decorations with lovely sentimental value, like pickle ornaments and stockings my husband’s grandmother made, but overall if you find yourself going crazy as each plastic storage box of decorations is emptied, then take a break from the madness. Decide with decorations you adore and which ones you just put up because you’ve gotten into the habit of it. This year I left a lot of decorations in the box, like the paper mache Santa from our old neighbor. Because, honestly, the paper mache Santa from our old neighbor belongs in the box.

4)      You can stop and smell the fruitcake

Finally, the best advice I can give during this busy holiday season is to take a moment and enjoy it. Before our wedding, a dear friend told gave us a piece of sage wisdom – to, at some point during the reception, just stand quietly and take it all in. Reflect on the fact that all of your friends and family are there to celebrate you and remember what the day is truly for. The same advice works wonders for the holiday season. Take a minute. Smell the fruitcake. Sit in your living room next to a nice fire, listening to Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald sing “Baby it’s Cold Outside”. Put on your pajamas and watch “A Charlie Brown Christmas” with your kids. Meet a friend for coffee and laugh. Just take a few moments for yourself. Remember all that makes this season wonderful and give your loved ones an extra squeeze from me. For that is worth more than homemade pesto anyday.

*Originally published December 2010 Walnut Creek Patch

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Out of the Blue


Happy National Short Story Week, everyone! In honor of this most esteemed week, I am going back in time to 1999 when a young, fresh-faced girl living in Washington , D.C. heard that her short story, “Out of the Blue” had won a fiction contest and would be published. I remember getting the call and immediately telling everyone around me, “This is what I want to do with my life.” And while life has taken many different directions for me, if you were to put a Wonder Woman lasso around my waist and ask me, I’d still say “this is what I want to do with my life.” There is nothing, just nothing, like writing. It is my happiness, my sadness and the most treasured piece of my mind. And so, in honor of that fateful day in 1999 and the millions of words that have come after, I offer you that first piece. And a piece of my heart.

illustration for “Out of the Blue” by Juliette Borda
copyright Juliette Borda

Out of the Blue

by Katie Mauro

“God has spoken” was Grandma’s way of explaining things that didn’t need explaining. If the bread didn’t rise or the milk was sour before its time, God definitely had something to do with it. God had his hands in the middle of everything. He was a meddler, messing with everyone’s business for some higher purpose. When I wanted explanations for things like not getting asked to the prom or first getting my period, my adolescent curiosity could never be satisfied by Grandma.

“Don’t ask too much of Him,” she would say. “He’s busy with someone right now.” Like a personal secretary up there in heaven, Grandma knew all about God’s schedule and never let you bother Him in the middle of a meeting. So when the painter up and died like that, there was no need to wonder. It was just God making an executive decision.

Billy had died in the middle of painting Grandma’s old house a bright cornflower blue, and she didn’t have the heart to hire another one. So there she sat, out on the porch of that big house, with great strokes of blue across its weathered white boards. It was like a canvas some impressionist had given up on years ago, right in the middle of painting the blue, blue sky.

Mama and I had tried for years to talk her into painting that house. We hated that faded oatmeal color and couldn’t wait to go visit her in a house that was freshly painted and inviting. Mama and I spent hours clipping out pictures of blue houses with white shutters from Better Homes and Gardens, leaving them posted on her fridge like family photos. We just knew that a house like that would always smell like Pine-Sol and that no sadness could come in at all.

“Don’t want a blue house. Wouldn’t go at all,” she said. Perhaps referring to the mismatched vinyl furniture or the oil paintings of fish that Grandpa painted all those years ago. Grandma lived under the assumption that whatever you got, God gave you, and anything else just wasn’t worth wanting.

When Grandpa met Grandma, she was all blue eyes and hips and a voice like hazelnut custard. She had three brothers who all worked in their daddy’s furniture company; making chairs and beds out of the pines that surrounded their house. Father and sons working for years over a beautiful piece of pine like it was a woman.

Daniel and Jack, the older boys, loved the work. Loved the curve and smell of the sanded wood. Earle, who was only a year older than Grandma, wanted more than a circle saw and a staining rag. So he turned to Grandma and told her all his dreams of women and life. Through her starry-eyed, strong-armed brother she learned the secrets of men and that the chase is all.

“Don’t you ever want to catch ’em?” she asked Earle one day as they sat outside sipping water out of an old thermos.

Earle thought for a minute and scratched his arm where a mosquito bite was just starting to show. He took his fingernail and made a little cross on top of it, just like their mama had shown them to do to stop the itching. “Well, sure, honey,” he said, grinning from under his old blue bandanna. “We just want to make sure that the prize is worth it. And sometimes men gotta run a long way to figure that out.”

Earle talked like he spoke from experience. But she thought maybe he was just talking about the women who lived in his mind while he worked. She wondered if she would ever be the kind of woman that a man would turn his thoughts to while he sanded a particularly beautiful piece of pine; who had a song written for her about the sky and maybe a little bit about a porch swing and kisses sweeter than wine.

Handsome like the devil, Grandpa Max had always been the ladies’ man of the county with a broad smile that took up his entire face whenever he laughed. And he laughed most of the time. Always bubbling over with that throaty mixture of mirth and masculinity. According to Grandma, every girl in town had her eye on Grandpa. And I believed her. Not like Auntie Olida, who told me the same story eight times over about how handsome Uncle Tyler was in his day, and how lines of women would form outside the post office where he worked. Because I had spent every Christmas for as long as I could remember sitting across from Uncle Tyler at the dinner table, and he had crooked teeth and pores on his face that looked like they had been stretched open by tiny little hands. But I never let Auntie Olida know I doubted her. Because maybe to her, in her pea-green housedress and flip-flops, Uncle Tyler was still lining women up outside the post office.

I believed Grandma, though. She used to say that when Grandpa would walk through town, young ladies would press their powdered noses up against the windows of the fabric shop and just watch him walk. In Grandma’s photos I think he looks like Jimmy Stewart in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington — dashing and patriotic; like a Boy Scout with his back straight as a ruler and his eyes tilted upward as if he were saluting something American and grand.

Grandma first met Grandpa down at Mattie’s Bait and Tackle. On that particular day, Grandma was situated in Aisle 4 with the fishing line and nightcrawlers. Some women would have avoided Aisle 4 and those nightcrawlers at all costs, but Grandma could bait a hook like she was threading a needle. Men used to come down to the pond and watch her bait those lines with her pearly fingernails and just sigh to themselves while looking through the reeds at such a beautiful woman doing such a simple thing.

Grandpa watched Grandma down there at Mattie’s from behind the bottles of beer down the aisle. Her hair was brushed back in a rubber band that hung low at the nape of her neck. She had a wide mouth, and her eyelashes curled out from over her eyes like a canopy as she read the labels on the cans of bait. And he smiled. He liked her arms and her hair and the way she stood with one foot on the ground and one resting on the bottom shelf, her small shoe left on the floor and her painted toes tapping absentmindedly. And for one brief moment she looked up from those labels, put a stray piece of hair behind her ear, and looked Grandpa straight in the eye. According to Mattie, who was watching the whole thing, Grandpa just about knocked over every bottle of beer in the place.

Grandpa used to paint pictures for Grandma and help her hang them on their bedroom wall. He painted ships out on the ocean with mermaids all around them and another one of a woman sitting on a hill with a big straw hat on. And to me, it looked like the woman in the picture was waiting for her lover to come walking by with a broad smile and a new compliment.

Even late in his life Grandpa would take this beat-up easel out into the front yard every Sunday after church and paint. This all started when Grandma and Grandpa went over to Auntie Olida and Uncle Tyler’s house for barbecue one Sunday evening — sitting around on the back porch with the heavenly smell of smoke in the air. “Beautiful barbecue, Tyler,” my Grandpa said, leaning way down in his chair with a wide grin.

Tyler smiled. “Nice to have you folks over tonight,” he said. “Haven’t seen you since the wedding.”

Auntie Olida and Grandma looked at each other and laughed. “They’ve been busy, Tyler,” Olida said. “Doin’ what newlyweds do.”

Tyler blushed and wiped his hand over his thin blonde hair. Grandpa laughed and took Grandma’s hand in his. Olida, who had always thought Grandpa was something of a looker, watched his fingers stroke Grandma’s hand on the armrest of the chair.

“Max,” she said, “you have got the most handsome hands I have ever seen. Look Tyler, aren’t they something to behold?”

Uncle Tyler, not too keen on estimating the loveliness of another man’s hands, concentrated solely on the barbecue and grunted something like “humph.”

“Well, they are,” Olida said. “Just handsome hands. Saw a picture once of that artist Renoir and his hands were just like yours. Long and heavy. Why, Max, I do believe you have the hands of Renoir.”

Grandpa Max shook his head, laughing. “And you, dear Olida, have the face of Venus de Milo.” Olida, who really had no idea who this Venus gal was, but liked the way it sounded when Grandpa said it, giggled and slapped his knee with her hand.

The conversation eventually turned to Rodney Waystrap’s new double-wide or May Lamberton’s permanent wave, and the notion of Grandpa having hands like Renoir seemed lost. But Grandpa liked the idea of having the hands of a great painter who had things hanging in big galleries all over. And after a little thought, he took himself on over to the corner store and bought some paints and an easel; hoping maybe the hands God gave him would prove to do more than hold Grandma tight.

There’s about 20 of these paintings still up in Grandma’s house. “The Gallery,” she calls it, with all the pride of one of those New York City dealers with Picassos in his foyer. To her, these paintings are like love letters she can read even when company is there.

After they were married in the Presbyterian Church on Fourth Avenue, Grandpa took Grandma in his arms and they made love with the windows open and the smell of pine in the air. I never liked to think about my grandparents making love. I guess I thought that my Grandma, with her warm, inviting bosom and gray hair up in a bun, was not someone who could ever do something like that. But as I got older and had kissed a few men out in their Silverado trucks, my hips and elbows digging into empty cans of tobacco, I understood for perhaps the first time that my grandmother is a woman. And a woman making love to a man she adores is just about the most natural thing in the world. For Grandma, making love to Grandpa was like breathing. It was strong and natural and necessary to their continued devotion.

When grandpa passed, Grandma’s house changed. Mama would bring flowers and stories, and Grandma would smile, but Mama knew how hard it was for her to go to bed every night without the smell of aftershave on the sheets.

Being a strong-willed lady, Grandma kept the house just the same for years. Most of all, she didn’t want to repaint the outside. It had always been the color of oatmeal and apparently it would always stay that way. Until Billy Watson.

Billy Watson was a neighbor kid from down the street. Kind of a rebel, with a cigarette behind his ear and long hair. And I thought he was just about the sexiest thing I ever saw. He drove a motorcycle that was beat-up and rusted, but still made that glorious sound of popcorn popping when he started it up. He would ride that motorcycle around town, proud as a peacock, with no shirt on. I hoped that one day he would ride up to me while I was doing the wash, and he would grab me around the middle and pull me onto that machine. We would just let our long hair blow together in the wind, and I would sing songs like “Amazing Grace” at the top of my lungs. And the notion of burning my calf on the stainless steel engine seemed almost romantic. A fiery tattoo of Billy and our ride.

Billy Watson had about a thousand girlfriends with names like Sarah Marie and Naomi; they wore Daisy Dukes with little half moons of their butts sticking out from under the hem. Everyone said he had sex with them out behind the bleachers at Montgomery High, since that was the only place he could get them alone. And you couldn’t really lose your virginity on the back of a motorcycle. Though I often thought about the logistics of it before I went to sleep.

So when Billy Watson came strolling up to Grandma’s porch asking if she wanted her house painted, we were shocked to find that she accepted. I think Grandma just decided she needed a little color after all. And she even agreed on a bright, beautiful blue that spoke of summer skies and exciting company. Blue walls, white shutters and a red door — “just like Elizabeth Arden,” Mama said.

Billy came every morning and I would watch him from the top stair, as I’m sure Grandpa watched Grandma down at Mattie’s all those years ago. Grandma would bring him a sandwich and a beer in the middle of the day, and they would chat about things that I never thought someone like Billy was capable of talking about. I figured his vocabulary was limited to words like “axle” and “gasoline.” But he and Grandma talked and talked over sandwiches and beer, and she would laugh and touch him on his sleeve.

Mama wasn’t too thrilled with the way Billy was painting the house. Instead of finishing up one section at a time, he roamed around, painting wherever his fancy took him. So the house ended up looking like a patchwork quilt in progress. But Grandma never complained about it. I guess she figured Billy had a way of doing things that would eventually work out. As if the colors would suddenly learn to run together on their own.

On a Tuesday night, Billy was riding home from Hollie Anne Wilson’s house when he ran into a tree and died. One minute he was making out with Hollie on her front stoop, his hands everywhere and her Mama peeking through the window. And the next he was gone. They had a big write-up in the paper the next day with this great picture of Billy that his Dad had taken of him on a fishing trip, and he’s smiling this mischievous grin, with his elbows resting on his knees. I cut it out and keep it in my jewelry box.

At first we figured Grandma didn’t want to finish painting the house out of respect for Billy. For her, having someone finish the house so soon after Billy’s death was like a widow remarrying in a fortnight. And we all agreed that it was right. But it wasn’t just a temporary thing. She just decided to leave it that way. We thought the house looked like a bunch of Okies lived there. We thought she was just being stubborn. But no matter how much time went by, Grandma was set in her ways, and God had spoken.

You can still see the house from the new road they put in off of Highway 62. It sneaks up on you and suddenly it’s all you can look at. Families with little kids in the backs of their station wagons probably titter about who lives in that preposterous house. Couples driving along must wonder at the strange house that is half blue and half oatmeal colored. But they really shouldn’t wonder at all. They really shouldn’t wonder about a house sitting there, like a canvas. Like the painter just took a break for a cup of coffee or a nap and he’ll be back soon. I promise.

Katie Mauro, ’95, MA ’96, is a publicist in Washington, D.C.

Originally published March 1999 in Stanford Magazine

http://alumni.stanford.edu/get/page/magazine/article/?article_id=41477

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A Tale of Grief and Gratitude


“learn to dance in the rain”
copyright k.t. blue designs 2012

(This post originally appeared in the Walnut Creek Patch. It’s as relevant today as it was then, so I have reposted it….I hope you know how much I continue to benefit from your love and support and kindness. All my love to you all…)

Exactly two years ago, my husband and two sons and I were landing in the Newark airport to visit my husband’s family for the Thanksgiving holidays. As any parent knows, a cross-country flight with children can have its obstacles. We were duly armed to the teeth with Wimpy Kid books, Chex mix, and fully-charged iPhones. Once there, we enjoyed a beautiful time – taking the boys to see the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, peeking out over New York City from the top of the Empire State Building, visiting my own personal Mecca, the New York Public Library. Bundled in our scarves and winter coats, we soaked up all that our family had to offer and flew home, a bit tired and a lot grateful.

In the weeks following that trip, the meaning of the word “grateful” would take on an entirely new meaning, with my husband’s diagnosis of testicular cancer.  What began as a rather mundane doctor’s appointment, ended with a phone call that would change our lives forever. Suddenly, we were thrust into a new vocabulary in which words like treatment and prognosis found their way into our daily life. It was scary and humbling and ultimately began a new chapter in both of our lives. Doctors told us, “if you’re going to get a kind of cancer, this is the kind to have”, based on the success of various types of treatment and remission rates. We took that small nugget of optimism and ran with it, putting on our armor of humor and positive thinking as a means of steeling ourselves against a mysteriously ominous foe.

My husband, God bless him, took this opportunity to develop an arsenal of jokes – he was “having a ball”…he was “one tough nut”…he was even “a sad sack.” And the jokes helped. We held on to one another and laughed and cried and moved forward in the best way we knew how. Through surgery, through radiation and towards whatever lay on the other side.

To say I fell in love with my husband all over again during his radiation sounds quite unbelievable and yet that’s exactly what I did. To watch my tall, handsome partner come home each day during his three week treatment with a tired smile on his face was devastating and reassuring all at the same time. There were nights when he couldn’t unbutton his own shirt. There were nights when he seemed right as rain and we talked over hot slices of Extreme Pizza and everything seemed safe in the world. And the juxtaposition of those two realities became our new normal. To say we were changed by this would be the understatement of the century.

The news of the diagnosis, the surgery, the doctors, the radiation and the “we’ll see you in six months” forever altered our mindset and our vision of life. We became grateful of new things – pieces of our relationship that, perhaps, we had never even noticed before. We pulled our sons to us closer, we saw our friendships with new eyes and we became thankful in a way that seemed more true and authentic.

And then, two weeks after my husband finished his last radiation treatment, my father unexpectedly passed away. One moment I was at my son’s Little League game and the next I was driving down Interstate 580 towards my hometown and my mother, suddenly a widow and I, suddenly fatherless. With this loss, came a sharp, new sadness – one that held no optimism for future good news, leaving just a wake of seemingly unending sadness.  The first few weeks were a  whirlwind of phone calls, documents, flowers, casseroles, sleeping pills and the keen awareness that I had to keep up appearances for my two children.

Seven months later, I still find it nearly impossible to wrap my head around these two experiences. It is hard work, this grief, and it continues through many iterations. There are days in which I laugh and find small moments of, dare I say, carefree joy. And there are others, like on Halloween, when I paused at the front door of my house on the way to a costume party, and couldn’t stop crying for two days. It is a journey of introspection and of finding strength that you weren’t quite sure you had before all of this happened. While the circumstances of these two events of the last year are different — and the way in which I have found myself facing them uses two seemingly disparate skill sets — with both, I am struck by the sheer power of the families in my community who have collectively risen to the occasion and created an almost improbable support network within moments.

I have, over the last several years, been on the baking end of, what I like to call, the “casserole hotline.” I have cooked chicken potpies and enchiladas and sweet potato soup for families in our neighborhood and within our group of friends who have suffered a loss, an illness, an unexpected tragedy. While I understood that this was a nice thing to do, I never understood the importance of this small gesture until I was on the receiving end of it. For weeks following my husband’s diagnosis and my father’s death, the doorbell would ring and another dear friend of mine would come in, bearing a warm plate of cookies, a Tupperware filled with tortilla soup, a delicious bottle of wine.  In feeding my family, these amazing individuals kept us afloat and carried us along with each new dish and bowl. I will never be able to truly express just how thankful I am for this and for every kindness afforded my family in the last year. We are blessed beyond belief. We have known great friendships in our lives, but never before have we felt so acutely the power of community. It is here that I find a new sense of gratitude.

In the past, Thanksgiving had offered a small moment in which to find things for which to be grateful – some deep and self-defining, others fleeting and simple as the fall of a leaf, the sound of my children’s laughter, the joy of losing a few pounds. And yet, with the rug quite literally pulled out from under me, I’ve been able to see the things and people in my life for which I am most grateful. I am grateful that I can wake up in the morning, feel the loss of my father and the uncertainty of my husband’s health, and yet still find it within myself to make myself a pot of hot coffee. That I can touch the heads of my sleeping children in the morning as a first call to wake up and get ready for school. That I hear the first small steps of happiness re-enter my mother’s voice as she navigates this strange new world into which she has been thrust. I am grateful for the people in my life who know the full depth and details of my experience and yet still find it within themselves to embrace me both literally and figuratively, no questions asked. I am grateful for old friends and new ones, brought to me at a time when I needed them most. They say that when God closes a door he opens a window, and I have felt that window open with great abandon and watched it allow so much goodness into my family’s life.

I have known great grief and I have been blessed to be part of this outpouring of support. When it is my turn again to turn on my oven and put all of my love into a casserole dish, I will do so with a renewed sense of purpose and appreciation for the bonds that we create among one another.  There is beauty in these bonds. We are never more beautiful than the days when we give of ourselves and link arms in protection around another one of us — creating, perhaps, one small warm and safe place in the world.

Originally published in the Walnut Creek Patch: http://walnutcreek.patch.com/articles/gratitude-154f858f

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I’m a Finalist!


Thanks to all of the wonderful people who nominated me this year, k.t. blue designs Museum Masters is an official finalist in the Red Tricycle Totally Awesome Awards for 2012! Voting is now open for this amazing award! And I’d love love love your votes!

To vote, just visit this page, enter San Francisco as your city, and vote for me! Voting ends November 30th…

I will be so grateful and humbled and honored and thrilled with your votes! As will all of my students who are just the most awesome students in the entire world.
As an added incentive, just let me know you’ve voted, either by e-mail at katie@ktblue.com or by commenting below and you’ll be entered to win a 8×11 matted print of any k.t. blue designs piece you want! I mean, really? How can you lose!

Again, thank you so much for your support….All my love to you all!

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The Debut of Vera


Few things are more thrilling to me than writing a piece of short fiction. There is a “high” associated with the process that is truly exhilarating. Frustrating, yes. But beautifully so. Nine years ago I began writing a short story that has been percolating in my mind and on my computer ever since. A difficult piece for me to write, but one that wouldn’t leave me alone. I thought about it, edited it, read it out loud to myself, probably a thousand times…until I came to the day that I’m sure all writers come to. The day in which I just crossed my fingers, said a little prayer to the literary gods and goddesses and send my little piece out into the big world. And it is with great pleasure and many smiles that I can report that my story, Vera, has been published in the latest issue of “A Clean Well-Lighted Place” – a literary journal that I hold in great esteem not only for the fiction and poetry it showcases, but for the publication’s belief in my story and, by extension, in this troubling tale that has lived in me for so long and is finally out.

For those of you interested in reading the piece, it is available for purchase as a print or digital version. Visit A Clean Well-Lighted Place at www.lightedplace.com/buy.html for more information! And thank you for reading!

 

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