We are Creator and Creation
Both the artist and his art
Our first, lush days painted like frescos
Into flesh still wet and new
Sometimes Botticelli, sometimes Bosch
Swirling fusions of shapes and hues
Ever and always a work in progress   
We are tattooed by mistakes   
False starts and regrets
The burned skin then displayed to all
Equally revered and reviled
By the circumspect eyes of patrons and critics
So achingly beautiful, so grievously lacking
Paradoxical and juxtaposed
I stare at the easeled mirror
A reflection of my handiwork
Itself balanced precariously on a pedestal                                                    
Earnestly carved of self-mined marble
Transfixed by the veins, I chiseled deeply
Bloodied my hands and rendered the column
All in the name of articulation
The human gallery is a carnival, a spectacle
Strewn end-to-end with masterworks
Each piece an opus, every creation a rhapsody
Yet one by one, they crash to the ground
Knocked from their underpinnings
By hecklers, by vandals, by fellow artists
Imperfections and faults exposed
Yet despite motive, hunch, or vision
No matter the inspiration
There is one great equalizer:


We are given charge of a subtle palette
Then, tempered by our sameness
Must bravely reach toward exaltation





At the big home improvement store where I work, there are managers and project specialists and customer service associates.  There are cashiers, loaders, and night stockers.  But of all my coworkers at the big home improvement store, my favorite is the little sparrow who lives in the rafters.

In most stores, the presence of any animal would be an oddity at least, more likely a disturbance.  But because of our store’s size and openness, birds fly in and out at will.  They’ve become our unofficial mascots—ad hoc good will ambassadors at whom adult customers smile, and which their children regard with unabashed glee. 

What is it about birds that makes us humans feel all homey?  Our vocabulary is seasoned with bird-related idioms meant to evoke home and family:  A couple just setting up house is said to be nesting, with that first shared home likely referred to as a love nest.  Advancing one’s position in life is sometimes called feathering the nest.  An expectant woman is on the nest, or on the egg, and when the children are grown, we say they’ve flown the nest.  At that point, we nickname their parents empty nesters.

So charmed are we by our winged friends, that many of us openly invite them into our lives— transforming our yards into bird havens by decorating with feeders, baths, and nest-friendly houses.  Perhaps you’ve seen that clever commercial in which Mama and Papa Cardinal use their local home improvement store to build the bird house of their dreams.  That’s no coincidence.

Still, it’s not the result of advertising that I’m so fond of the store sparrows.   It’s the harmonic relationship which has developed between the two; it’s what the birds have come to represent to me:  adaptability and survival. 

Snugged in the beams above the lumber area cash register is a nest built by a little brown sparrow. I watched as the nest took shape;  at first she flew out the loading doors and back in again with twigs gathered from the ground, but soon she was incorporating materials from the store itself.  Tufts of insulation were carried up into the beams, along with snippets of twine and other packing materials.  The little brown sparrow and her mate made themselves at home in their adopted, block- and- steel meadow.   Undaunted by the noise, the clutter, and the close proximity to creatures of a much larger and much different species, they learned to raid the seasonal shop for spilled bird seed and other goodies.  And unless I’ve misjudged the signs, they’ve filled their carefully-built nest with a clutch of eggs.  How could my heart not be happy at such good news?

Who knows what brought the little brown sparrow into our store weeks ago?  It’s a big, wide world out there.  But journeys tend to begin and end as they like, and we make our homes wherever that road leads.  Sometimes the journey is geographical, with starting and ending points in different physical locations.  But for many of us, the journey is an emotional one—or a spiritual one, or one of self-discovery, or of self-improvement.  The point of some journeys—so it would seem—is to overcome an obstacle or survive a crisis with perseverance and grace. 

Likewise, the home we make might be a three-dimensional structure built of supplies found in the aisles of a home improvement store; yet, home can just as accurately be defined as that state in which a person feels comfortable with his situation, or within his own skin.  What a home, sweet home that must be!

I applaud the little brown sparrow:  her determination, her creativity, and the moxie with which she hops among employees and customers, shopping for bits and pieces to take back to her nest, are the embodiment of home improvement,  both literal and metaphorical.  I can only hope to do my job as well as she does hers!



You said you’d be my hero
I’ll fight for you, you said
My hope was hung on pretty words
Spoken like a melody, and I
Believed your song in my despair

You said you’d be my hero
You’re safe with me, you said
Then pulled your white hat down low
Over both your faces, so I
Couldn’t see the lies you’d hidden there

And when you talk about me
When you sit and talk with friends
Do you say I got what I deserved?
Nothing you could do, would do
To stop the train wreck barreling down?

Washed my pain down with a beer
And my loss was your amusement
Do you say I got what was coming to me?
Pretended you cared, you dared
To turn your back and watch me drown

Are you happy now, hero?
Put a shine on your little tin star
And move on to the next suffering fool
Offer a life line, a good sign
While crossing fingers behind you

Next time, I’m my own hero
A hero who knows right from wrong
Carry a shiny shield and sharp sword
To defeat my foe, you know
Those goddamned false saviors who

Smile a joker’s smile. . .
Cry a liar’s tears. . .
Throw a silken rope that
Turns to a choking noose. . .

You said you’d be my hero
I’ll fight for you, you said
I hung by the neck from pretty words
Left twitching, retching, and gasping
While you rode off into the sunset

Of another day’s work. . .
Another job well done. . .
Another innocent lost. . .
Champion to no one.


Damaged goods.  It’s an interesting term, isn’t it—an adjective and a noun that when put together would seem to create an oxymoron.  I mean, if something’s damaged, how can it also be good? 

Here’s a quick story for you:  The home improvement store where I work sells a wide selection of tool chests, including deluxe models for the most serious of handymen, contractors, and craftmakers.  One such tool chest stands nearly six feet tall, and in addition to the usual assortment of drawers and bins, features some pretty sweet perks like a built-in stereo and a mini refrigerator.  Lots of shoppers stop to admire that bad boy, but because of its hefty price tag few of them are actually purchased.

The other day, a customer returned his super-deluxe tool chest and asked for a refund because the item was damaged.  And by damaged, I mean that he bought it several years ago for something like $1,600, used it hard and beat the crap out of it, then decided to Smith the system.  See, the manufacturer has an unconditional lifetime guarantee, so the fact that the owner had covered the tool chest with stickers, broken several drawers, snapped the antenna for the built-in stereo, and left food spills in the mini refrigerator didn’t stop our store from accepting his return.  What can I say?  We have a pretty liberal returns policy. 

But what to do with the cast-off tool chest once it was in the store?  As I said, the chest was pretty badly beaten up.  After the options were considered, it was decided by management to have the tool chest cleaned up a bit, slap a “$200 as is” price tag on it, and roll the dice.

That evening I was fortunate enough to be working in the department where the used tool chest was set out for display.  It looked pretty rugged, and that’s no lie.  But customer after customer stopped to admire the thing.  At one point five men stood there testing its drawers, checking its wheels for rollability, and peeking inside its fridge.  Just pound out that dent, clean it up a bit, get those two drawers back on track; each of them saw the diamond in the rough.  An Amish fellow was especially interested, although he admitted he wouldn’t have much use for the stereo even if he could get it working.   As he walked out, he announced that if the tool chest hadn’t been sold by the time he returned, he’d have to buy it himself, which would probably make his wife furious. When I suggested that if she got mad enough he could always bring out his pillow and sleep in the top compartment of his new tool chest, it tickled him to no end.

Within a few hours  the tool chest found a new home with a gentleman who was able to look beyond its sketchy past to see its present and future value.  Sure, it carried a few scars— but it was still good!

And doesn’t that just describe us all?  Aren’t we all damaged goods

I’m reminded of this scene from Field of Dreams, in which Ray encounters the spirit of his father as a young man:  (click the link below)

Watch it again, and let these lines really sink in:  “My God.  I only saw him years later when he was worn down by life.  Look at him.  He’s got his whole life ahead of him, and I’m not even a glint in his eye.”

 Wow.   Sooner or later we’re all worn down by life, but that doesn’t mean we cease to have value.  I’m surrounded each day by friends who never knew me when I was bright and shiny—they didn’t meet me until life had worn me down and dented me up—and still they are my friends.  Even sweeter are those people who have been with me throughout the journey; my husband, my family, lifelong buddies who can look at me now and see me as the same person I’ve always been:  Lisa.  I’m damaged goods; damaged, but still good.

My favorite Bible story is that of David.  Righteous king, victorious warrior, musician, poet, author of many of the Psalms, a figure central to Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. . .what’s not to admire?  But what I love most about David is his fallibility.  David did honorable things in spite of his baser tendencies—he was at times a liar, an adulterer, even a murderer.   Still,  God didn’t wait for David to shape up before guiding him to greatness; God watched with joy as a mere man navigated his own stormy seas and ultimately lived one of history’s most celebrated lives.

Here’s one more quick story:   I hosted a yard sale a few weeks ago, and while all the choice items sold quickly, I was left with a pile of things that nobody seemed to want.  After some time passed, I took those misfit toys and other oddities out to the corner of the yard where I displayed them with a sign that said FREE.  Within a few hours, every single thing had been taken by someone who saw it as treasure. 

From the safety of my porch, I witnessed two teenaged boys pick through the items.  When one of them tucked a couple of cute-but-inevitably-outgrown stuffed animals under his arm, this was their conversation:

Boy #1:  Dude.
Boy #2:  Hey, chill.  My sister’s birthday is this week.
Boy #1:  That’s cool.

Despite the fact that they’ve already lived one life, despite their mended seams and their lumpiness from having been cuddled to sleep or crushed by the weight of backpacks, those stuffed animals still will make some little girl very happy.  

We’re all damaged goods.  Sooner or later, we all fall down.  But we keep on going forward, and that’s called life.

Damaged Goods by Francesca Crescentini


The day the child realizes that all adults are imperfect, he becomes an adolescent; the day he forgives them, he becomes an adult; the day he forgives himself, he becomes wise. – Alden Nowlan


This story begins with the ending.  Traveling home from a long Labor Day weekend visit, I asked our guest if he’d had a good time.  There was no hesitation whatsoever in his answer:  “Oh, yeah!  Your family’s lots of fun.”

“That’s right,” I wisecracked, “we’re dysfunctional, but in a totally loveable way.”   I was only joking, but my daughter’s response was heartfelt:

“But Mom, we’re not dysfunctional at all.”

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Just 48 hours earlier, twenty of us gathered around a table laid out with a seafood feast so vast and sumptuous it made our mouths water, our wallets weep, the Atlantic gasp, and the neighborhood crickets quiver in fear that we would run out of things to dip in drawn butter and come after them.  I could almost hear their crickety little admonitions:  “Dammit, Carl, keep your legs quiet—they’re down to their last dozen snow crabs!”

My family builds its calendar around beloved traditions, and the Labor Day get-together crowns our entire year.  Though it’s not a religious holiday, eveyone’s higher power is thanked freely.  And though the atmosphere is party-like, the only gifts exchanged are the gifts of each other’s company.   Gazing from face to face,I tried to define, tried to qualify this group of people each of whom occupies a special room in my heart.  Parent, child, cousin, niece, nephew, brother, sister, boyfriend, domestic partner, fiance, lifelong friend. . .every title an honor and a term of endearment.

By the numbers, we look like this:

2, 564:  the greatest distance in miles traveled to be there
650:  a conservative estimate of the dollars spent on seafood
148:  the combined years of marriage among the spouses
100:  average amount spent per family to make personalized t-shirts for the occasion
28:  the number of cell phones, iPads, and laptops running concurrently
18:  how many years we’ve gathered together for Labor Day
14:  various musical instruments played by attendees
13:  college degrees currently held by the group
12:  number of handmade trophies prepared to be awarded after games
11 – 79:  our range in ages
9 and 11:  the numbers of females vs. males
8:  hours held out until someone proclaimed Firefly to be the greatest TV show ever cancelled
5:  pots of coffee brewed each morning
3:  hours until someone compared our family to the one in the movie While You Were Sleeping; also the number of dogs vying for food slipped under the table
2:  hours until it was noted that the Orioles and the Pirates have lost a combined total of 162 games so far this season
1:  Irish Car Bomb consumed by me to the chagrin of my kids and the delight of my nephews

Demographically, we represent the following groups:
upwardly mobile
recovering alcoholic
senior citizen
young adult

Around the same table each morning we laid out a banquet of a different kind:  tinctures and pharmaceuticals designed to manage hypertension, hypothyroidism, glaucoma, fertility, heart function, depression, anxiety, asthma, allergies, hormone replacement, attention deficit disorder, chronic pain—all of this because life is messy, and we live life.  We go out into the world and take what it has to offer, then bring it all back.  Triumphs and tragedies walk among us like poltergeists until they see that we are humans, whole and actual, because of—and sometimes in spite of—-their presence.  We absorb these experiences and emotions; they become part of our collective history, and then we move on to make even more memories and even more mistakes.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Later in the car, I contemplated my daughter’s firm proclamation, “But Mom, we aren’t dysfunctional at all.”  And here is my conclusion:

Taken as a group, we probably shouldn’t work.  We probably shouldn’t get along as well as we do.  And yet, year after year we seek each other out for company, for recreation, for playful hijinks, for advice, for lively debate, and perhaps most importantly, for emotional support.  In each other’s presence, we are unafraid to be imperfect, we are open to encouragement, and we are guaranteed to feel love—-the kind of love that is apparent even when we don’t like each other very much at the moment.

Every family has emotional baggage, and ours is no different.  We are just devoted to each other,  and through simple acts like cooking and eating together, playing card games, watching movies, making family t-shirts, giving out homemade awards, and somehow managing to keep track of seven rambling conversations at once, we help each other carry that emotional baggage.  Life is a big, old, emotional mess.  And we live life.

So now I amend my earlier comment:  We might be bat shit crazy at times, but we function like a well-oiled and time-worn machine.  As it is now, so shall it ever be. . .


At the risk of jumping the shark, I’m going to uncharted territory with today’s post. 

In this blog, I’ve written about everything from love and marriage to invasive medical procedures and bull semen.  I’ve revealed my thoughts on parenting, work, family, human nature, fashion faux pas, the tragedy of cat nip addiction, and my spectacular inability to master any form of choreographed dancing.  But one topic I’ve never discussed is my tendency toward depression.  It’s not that I’ve hidden this part of my life, and it causes me no shame.  Rather, I choose when and to whom I talk about a condition which I share with approximately 18 million American adults.

My goal here is not to provide you a comprehensive course on depressive disorders.  You can go to to WebMDWikipedia, or Google, for all the basics.  Instead, I want to write about my personal experiences, and how my life has been affected by the presence of such a stubborn condition.

Specifically, my type of depression is dysthymia—-a chronic condition characterized by consistently low moods.  I am not bi-polar.  I am not self-destructive.  I am not a substance abuser.  And I am generally thought to be a jolly, if not downright silly, person.  So how can I be depressed?  See, depression is a chemical imbalance in the brain.  Our brains shift out of balance for lots of reasons—-falling in love, grief, extreme anger, terror, guilt, worry—all of these feelings happen because chemicals like dopamine, serotonin, norepinephrine, and oxytocin have stopped working and playing well together.  When that happens, our brains are capable of resetting the balance and restoring order to our universe.  With depression, however, the brain cannot accomplish the reset by itself.  The feelings associated with depression (sadness, isolation, hopelessness, guilt, fatigue, apathy, anxiety, etc) become troublesome, and in the case of clinical or major depression, overwhelming.  Dysthymia (like other forms of depression) is more common in women and can develop into episodes of major depression, especially when paired with other health problems or stressful situations. 

I want it known that I’ve had a pretty sweet life.  All around me are folks who shoulder burdens much heavier than my own.  But I remember my first episodes of depression occurring after my dad’s death.  Cancer took him when he was 46 and I was 14, and chaos ruled our home during that time.  From the outside my family appeared to be adjusting to the loss and moving on; but trust me:  each of us carries individually relevant scars.  For me, they take the form of anxiety issues.  Experiences that cause me stress can transform my dysthymia into full-blown depression. 

It was years before I realized what was happening.  Hot flashes, obsessive thoughts, sleep problems, weight gain, guilt—both justified and undeserved—and worry, worry, worry.  The worst thing was knowing I was unable to control these feelings.  They seemed to live and breathe as they wreaked havoc in my mind and body.  Eventually I sought help, and a combination of medicine and behaviors keeps me from spinning off into outer space.  But  I live with it every single day of my life.

So how does it feel?  Most days I’m absolutely fine.  Don’t forget that in spite of my depressive tendencies I’ve worked, enjoyed a long and loving marriage, raised two fine kids, and maintained friendships.  I am, without doubt, a people person and a social creature.  But sometimes I do all those things through a slight haze.  And if I’ve recently had to deal with something stressful or I’ve had reason to be anxious, then that haze thickens into a heavy fog.  It feels like I’m trying to walk through waist-deep cement.  It’s a daily battle to accomplish simple chores like housework or cooking.  It’s realizing things that used to make me happy and satisfied no longer interest me, and I grieve their loss.  Thoughts are hard to control, and I ride a pendulum between nervous energy and deep apathy.   I might not make the best choices, I might act impulsively, or I might find it difficult to act at all.  Here are the words of an anonymous sufferer, in response to the question “What does depression feel like?”: 

Depression feels like a circle of guilt, worthlessness, inability, weakness, and fear. All wrapped up in silence and fog. You don’t function like you used to, you can’t think like you used to, you can’t participate like you used to and you let down those depending on you like they used to. You live in a circle of fear and guilt and your brain constantly reminds you that you no longer measure up and there’s no point in trying anymore.

The good news is I’ve learned to adapt and to adjust.  Yes, I take medications.  But more than that, I respect my condition and keep a watchful eye on it.  Remember when I said I’m generally known to be a jolly person?  I’ve always been a laugher, and since I know that laughter is a natural antidepressant,  I laugh every day— not just because I like the giddiness, but because it helps me maintain a positive outlook.  Reruns of FRIENDS and my collection of Calvin and Hobbes comics work magic, as do intriguing conversations with interesting people, innocent flirting, great music, being social, and enjoying family time.  I write.  I make jewelry.  For awhile, I baked away the blues and really gave Betty Crocker a run for her money!  Especially helpful is having a husband who understands and is fiercely supportive of my needs.  During low periods I don’t watch sad movies, read scary books, or listen to news reports about tragic events.  Instead, I fill my mind with things that are happy and positive.  I also read devotional books, talk to God, and meditate on the Psalms.  That King David could really turn a phrase.

I also leave my own head and turn my thoughts outward.  My dysthymia (with its episodes of anxiety and outright depression) has actually made me more empathetic and less judgemental.  If people are incapable of knowing the twists and pivots of my mind, if they can’t feel what I’m feeling on a given day, then how can I know and feel them?  We are really, truly, all in this life together, and just as I’ve had to reach out for a strong shoulder or an attentive listener, I am determined to be those things for others in need.

Some studies have suggested that creative types (like me) are more susceptible to depressive disorders.  Perhaps it’s because we are a bit more aware of, or in tune with, or at the mercy of, our emotions.  The term tortured artist was coined for a reason.  But I’m certainly not looking for sympathy.  After all, I’m not the only person who struggles to manage anxiety or depression.  If the statistics are correct, anywhere one hundred people are gathered, at least 10 of them are suffering.  Life has dealt those of us living with depression similar hands, and even though we have to play them wisely, we’re still in the game.  Don’t you doubt that for a minute!


Despite being an incorrigible flirt and an ardent admirer of the male gender, I consider my long-standing marriage to be the crowning achievement of my time here on Earth.  When I mentioned my upcoming 29th anniversary at work the other day (unsolicited, of course—my coworkers have lives), I was challenged thusly:  “Yes,” asked Doubty Suspiciouston, “but how many years were you happily married?”  My reply, “All 29 years” was met with stunned silence, appreciative smiles, and respectful head nodding.

Couples are expected to sail through the first few years of marriage fueled by sex, stupidity, and dreams (if you don’t, you’re doing it wrong), but when you can mark your relationship in decades, people start to take notice.  How did you do it? they want to know.  Indeed.  How the hell did we do it?  As far as I can tell, marriage—like most of adulthood—is a make-it-up-as-you-go- along sort of proposition. 


Item #1:  He didn’t propose to me, and I didn’t propose to him; we simply realized that marriage was where we seemed to be headed and decided to plan a little ceremony to make it official. 

Item #2:  I was halfway through my first pregnancy before we even realized a baby was on the way.

Item #3:  We spent the money intended for remodeling on a trip to Ireland instead, and used money saved for a 25th anniversary cruise to buy our son a $2,000 musical instrument.

You might say those items simply prove that my man and I are just a couple of flakes.  And although I’m not denying our flakiness, I’d like to offer an alternate/complimentary explanation:  We are adaptable.  We’ve adapted through changes in attitudes, changes in jobs, changes in hairstyles, weight, priorities, goals.  Life goes on, and so do we.

Vive La Difference

A successful marriage might be seen as a living, breathing VENN diagram.  The partners are individuals with their own personalities, ideas, and values—and marriage (won’t? shouldn’t?) change their individuality.   But, oh,  there’s magic in the areas that overlap!  For example, my husband believes in the right to bear arms, and I believe in the right to arm bears.  But we both believe in human rights and civil liberties.  Bingo!  He refuses to acknowledge popular music beyond the 70’s, while I feel absolutely disconnected if I don’t at least give a courtesy listen to what’s currently playing.  But we both love music.  Bingo!  Marriage has to make room for differences as well as similarities.

Scott would walk barefoot for three miles on shards of glass if he were following Emily Dechanel. Lisa could eat David Boreanaz for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Bones = BINGO!

As George Carlin said, “Don’t sweat the petty things, and don’t pet the sweaty things.”   I don’t care how perfect two people are at the beginning, eventually they will start to annoy the bejeezus out of each other.   Take Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie*, for example.  She probably can’t stand the way he slurps his coffee, and he probably hates how she eats in bed.  I’ll bet she despises his growing a long, gray ponytail as much as he despises her wearing pointy-toed shoes.  But are they going to let those little things overshadow years of memories, triumphs, challenges met, crises managed, laughter, inside jokes, and the pleasure of each other’s company?  Hell to the naw.  They find that keeping thunderstorms in perspective assures plenty of strength in reserve come tsunami season.

* You figured out that I'm actually talking about my husband and me, right?

Logistics, yo.
A successful marriage requires the touch of a civil engineer, as it is the construction, manipulation, and maintenance of elements both natural and manmade.  After years of trial and error, my husband and I have arrived at a balance of togetherness and space, bickering and laughter, parry and thrust, allowing and withholding. 

Handy chart for quick reference

There’s much more, of course, but you get the idea.

It’s All About the Dopamine, Baby 
Warning:  This section will make love and marriage sound about as romantic as a junior chemistry set, so feel free to plug your ears and sing la, la, la if you feel the need.
I’m as flowery as the next girl, but I have a healthy respect for the science of love.  As it turns out, falling in love is nothing more than a rush of dopamine** to the brain, a chemical imbalance similar to those which result in feelings of grief, anger, depression, or euphoria.  When such chemical changes occur, the brain struggles to regain its balance by raising levels of serotonin.  We are glad when our rebalanced brain is free of grief, anger, or depression.  But when the chemical reboot lessens the delicious headiness of attraction and lust, we fear we’ve fallen out of love.   Science tells us that partners who remain attached to each other long after the dopamine rush has subsided are also producing significant amounts of oxytocin, a chemical abundant in nursing mothers and especially empathetic males.  
 The real cupid.
So my long and happy marriage is, in fact, a combination of good timing, good choices, good fortune, and good science.  I can live with that, because we also make each other laugh.  Our marriage started with a belly laugh when the groom admitted to the congregation that he’d never memorized his personally written vows and would be winging it instead.  And we’ve been laughing ever since!  We laugh like fools at puns, dirty jokes, each other’s foibles, oft-told anecdotes, and our childrens’ antics.  In all this time, neither of us has encountered anyone or anything else worth giving up the life we’ve built together.  Here’s to the next 29 years!

Freaking adorable.

**I’ve simplified things a bit.  Read here and here for more details.