The Beginning

This is the first of three posts where I wrangle an unsuspecting Pfister guest into a short story project.

Pt 1. – The Beginning (this one)
Pt 2. – The Middle
Pt 3. – The End

Today, I asked for random details to shape the beginning of a story.

Jeff / Milwaukee/ Writer & Producer

  1. A fire you had to put out this week? Deciding on whether to spend a lot of money on a rug.
  2. Where do you go for peace? Lynden Sculpture Garden
  3. Favorite relative? My Aunt Vanda. She reminds me of my mother, who’s no longer with us. She’s wise, not book smart.  And she’s curious. I think that’s important.
  4. Best gift or surprise you’ve given? I teach.  I think passing along information and knowledge is like giving a gift.
  5. A food you won’t eat? Onions, because I’m allergic.
  6. A city you’re curious about? Istanbul
  7. As a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up? Lawyer
  8. Something you have that’s broken? I can’t think of anything that’s bugging me. I usually fix everything.
  9. Describe your favorite boss. In college, I waited tables.  This boss was not like most other restaurant owners.  She was actually kind to her employees and took interest in us.  We were part of her family.
  10. Describe your least favorite teacher. My gym coach.  He was… well… we just didn’t mesh well.
  11. What does this character want? Peace of Mind

Okay! Here we go…


Corinne shrugged the coat from her shoulders and stood on the ribbed floor mat to stamp the snow from her boots.  She would still have to remove the boots before entering the kitchen.  Aunt Vanda had often scolded that “mud room” didn’t mean “make as much mud as possible.”

Corinne pushed open the door, the familiar chimes tinkling above her head. Aunt Vanda stood at the stove, swallowed by a cloud of steam.  The windows, usually framing a view of wildflowers or snow sculptures, were opaque and sweating.  Aunt Vanda peered into an enormous, grumbling pot.  As she stirred, her signature swag of silver bangs was pinned back with a glittery barrette.  Corinne remembered when the edgy auburn bob had boasted only one thick streak of grey. They all loved this full head of platinum and smoke.

Aunt Vanda greeted Corinne without looking up from her pot. Corinne walked to the cabinets and pulled down a coffee mug.  She never had to ask if there was coffee made. Aunt Vanda always had coffee.

She sat at  the tall wooden table in the center of the kitchen, sipped her coffee and watched Vanda at the stove.  Corinne hadn’t met many people who also appreciated silence.  She and Aunt Vanda had shared powerful moments that hadn’t included a single spoken word.  The best was when Aunt Vanda had introduced her to the Lynden Sculpture Garden and they’d strolling the grounds in exquisite and soothing quiet.  Corinne was grateful to find someone that finally understood her non-language.

After a few more minutes of tantric stirring, Aunt Vanda lifted the long-handled spoon to drain a dark strip of fabric.

“Is that the teal?” Corinne asked.

“No, this’ll be more of a smoky blue once it dries,” Aunt Vanda said. “I think she’s making a dress with this one.” Corinne watched  Vanda transfer the dripping fabric into a bowl of cool water.  Whether it was cooking or creating, they could often push open the kitchen door to find Aunt Vanda floating about her vast kitchen, peeking into cabinets, lifting lids from multiple large pots, kicking closed the oven door, grinning to herself.

The first time Corinne entered this space, she was arrested with thick aromas of cumin, mint, figs and lamb.  Aunt Vanda was fascinated with Istanbul at the time, and her menus reflected that passionate curiosity.  She’d even splurged on an expensive Turkish floor rug, once she’d learned that their artistry rivaled that of Persia and Egypt. Morocco was Vanda’s next fantastic study.  Later,Vienna .Singapore. New Orleans.  Aunt Vanda couldn’t treat herself to much travel in those days, but she gifted herself with knowledge, as she put it, learning everything she could about the culture or city of the moment.  Anyone who spoke with her would’ve thought that Aunt Vanda had lived in locales around the world when, actually, she’d never traveled further than 100 miles beyond this farmhouse in her entire life.

As a child, Vanda watched her family’s farm waste away after her father died and her mother had taken to the drink. Vanda protected her six siblings from most of their mother’s violent tirades, but not all of them.  They each carried a constellation of scars and dark memories.  Vanda’s siblings fled the farm and the small town, one by one, and never came back.  Not even after their mother died and Vanda was alone on the farm.  Vonda didn’t fault them. She had simply learned to live with the ghosts howling in the shadows.

Then she met her truth.  Jim showed up on her doorstep like an angel dispatched from the clouds.  He was passing through town and decided he might stay for a while. He asked if he could earn a few dollars by helping repair things around the property. Vanda had thanked him, but told him that she usually fixed everything herself.  Whenever Vanda retold the story, her eyes always twinkled at the part where Jim had asked her if she planned to spend her life always doing what she’d always done.

They were wed in seven months.  The marriage had, indeed, been tumultuous but Aunt Vanda said she would always think back to their first date when Jim had ordered for her and instructed the waiter not to include onions. She hadn’t even remembered telling him about her allergy, but he’d obviously remembered some passing mention of it.  If he could care for these small parts of her, she decided, they could manage the big parts together.

In fact, Jim was integral in opening the World Café & Inn.  He converted the old barn into a restaurant, scavenging the entire region for scrap parts and used equipment.  The farmhouse rooms were even converted into a boarding house.  Jim loved her fiercely and completely until his passing.  That’s when Vanda had the idea to change the inn from a boarding house for adults to a transitional home for teens.

When Corinne came to the Inn, she’d been braced for another tooth-and-nail, survival-of-the-fittest foster home.  She was aging out of the system and was relieved learned to be placed in a group home where she would work at a restaurant in exchange for room and board.  Most foster kids found themselves homeless once they turned 18 and were released from the state’s care. Corinne had barely survived her foster homes; she wasn’t cut out to make a life on the street. Her social worker had been a childhood friend of Vanda’s and said  she only placed her most promising kids at the World Café.  Corinne had listened to the warm endorsement but couldn’t help rolling her eyes at the words “treats you like her family.” The social workers always said that. They’d always been wrong.

It had been seven years since Corinne lived at the Inn, and she was one of several “World Kids” whose heart never moved away.  Vanda had become their family, which is why they called her Aunt Vanda.  There were nearly three dozen of them breathing out there in the real world.  A handful had perished, but most of them had been refortified after lifetimes of abuse, neglect, rage and fear.  They’d become musicians, gym teachers, lawyers, mothers, soldiers, sous chefs. They’d become whole.  Corinne worked at a jewelry store.  She liked dressing up and being surrounded by beautiful things and loved the serenity.

She lived in the city now, but found her way back to visit Aunt Vanda at least once a month.  She liked observing the new Kids as they stocked the silverware trays or carried fresh greens to the barn.  They were doing more of the cooking now, since the nearby culinary school had taken an interest in the Café and its mission.  Vanda still set the menu (apparently, she was all about Serbia these days) but she filled her cooking time with creating hand-dyed fabrics for a designer in the city.

Corinne stood to refill her coffee mug.  She could feel Aunt Vanda’s eyes on her this time. She knew.  Vanda always knew.

“So,” Vanda said wiping her hands on a rag and taking a seat at the high wooden table. “What’s eluding you, kiddo?”

Corinne let the warm coffee rest on her lip while she thought.  “Peace of mind,” she answered.  “I can’t seem to get any peace of mind.”


Read parts 2 & 3 here:

Pt 1. – The Beginning (this one)
Pt 2. – The Middle
Pt 3. – The End

Rock Star

“Let me tell you a story about the Colorado River…”

The speaker is only a few minutes into her keynote address. From my seat at the back of the grand ballroom, I can barely see her diminutive frame on the dais. I’m sitting on a stray banquet chair between two elaborate exhibits for water purifiers and intelligent faucets. I’m pouting.

I’d been unable to wrangle a conversation from the conference planners I’d met down the hall. They’d gracefully ducked my efforts to engage them, then shuffled me to the ballroom to hear their luncheon speaker. Passing the elevators, I thought better of leaving. I had nothing to lose by listening for a few minutes, even though I couldn’t imagine what could hold my interest at the World Water Summit.

Then she said “story.”

Her name is Pat Mulroy.  She’s the General Manager of the Las Vegas Valley Water District and Southern Nevada Water Authority, entities that oversee, treat and deliver water to more than two million Nevada residents and 40 million annual visitors.

“… the Colorado River runs through seven states, starting with Wyoming all the way down to the Gulf of Mexico. This one river is the artery for all of the southwest…”

Pat had been introduced to this audience as a “rock star in the water world.”  I look around the ballroom and crinkle my brow, an involuntary response when my brain is challenged to consider the interior of a new world. Whether its guidance counselors, line dancers, contractors, chefs, funeral directors, renaissance fair gypsies, socialites or water execs, every world has its own culture, and every culture gets a rock star.

“…we use more water per capita than anyone else in the world. As a nation, we do this because we can. We take for granted that when we turn on the faucet, fresh, clean water will pour out. It is difficult trying to tell people that water will not always be there…”

There are nearly 500 business suits in the ballroom, sitting in rapt attention.  Pat speaks with fire and authority, facts and context. She never looks down to notes or stumbles over her words. She is an anomaly in the industry. First, she’s a woman. Second, she didn’t arrive at the post with the typical background in science or law. Rather, she holds a degree in German literature. When she assumed the position, the establishment was caught unawares with her networking finesse, strategic grit and wherewithal for a good fight.

“…in the west, property ownership has no relation to water rights. You can’t just dig a well on your land and tap into a water source; you have to apply for water rights. The discussions around water in our region are, naturally, contentious…”

This watershed runs through through farms and communities of Nevada,Arizona,Utah,Colorado,New Mexico,Wyoming and California. In fact, half of the water supply of southern California depends on water from the Colorado River. Pat’s story chronicled the events, threats and challenges that led to a landmark, 1922 treaty over the seven states’ access and delivery of Colorado River water. Today, this river region provides 20% of the nation’s fruit and vegetables and 27% of the country’s GDP.

“…we’ve learned through hard knocks that you can’t poke at any point of this system without causing a domino effect…”

In 1990, Pat says that experts and authorities in all of these states agreed that they were running out of water. Lake Meade, one of the two reservoirs funneling water through the region has dropped to a water level that almost reaches its lowest mark since 1956.  Falling water levels of the other primary reservoir, the Hoover Dam, threaten the electricity source as well as water for three states.  Pat explained how the Upper Basin and Lower Basin communities of Nevada decided to band together to develop new partnerships and solutions.

“…it was unheard of in Western water. We threw away our water rights. We threw away proprietary plumbing. We pooled our resources. We were able to speak as one Nevada, one voice. It was not a pleasant experience for the other states…”

Pat, who also has experience as a lobbyist, described the tension and challenge of renegotiating Nevada’s role in the Colorado Compact which, previously, favored the more agricultural states. Now, 20 years after taking the post, Pat is heralded across the nation as a key player in reshaping the industry’s approach to water politics and conservation. The states brokered creative partnerships for storing, channeling and leveraging Colorado River resources.  In her own district,Las Vegas went from a city with the highest level of consumption to becoming a national model for water conservation.

“…we are a dry community, so most of our water savings will happen outdoors. I’ve spent a lot of time talking with home owners associations and, once everyone stopped worrying about whether their trees were going to die, we were able to make progress.  One thing I learned, however, is that nothing will interfere with senior citizens and their car washing schedules…”

Although the car washing “car pools” were a bust, as well as the ban on water fountains, the Southern Nevada Water Authority successfully implemented a residential watering schedule and distributed $200 million in rebates to customers who removed grass and replaced landscaping with desert plants instead.

“…we have people who move here from Chicago and Florida, but Kentucky bluegrass is not indigenous to the Mojave desert. Oh, let me reassure you, my Midwestern friends, that doesn’t mean rocks, a cactus and a dry coyote skull. There are plenty of beautiful plants and flowers on the desert landscape…”

Pat and her communities engaged in more than conservation strategies; they changed their culture. As a result, 94% of the water in southern Nevada is recycled and the region reduced its water use by one third in less than six years.  Today, they’re even able to “loan” water to California.

“…the drought we’ve been experiencing for the past 12 years will have astronomical economic, social and geological consequences if we do not continue to explore partnerships and aggressive solutions. There cannot be winners and losers. There will only be losers…”

I sense that she is nearing the end of her presentation. I look up to scan the room for the first time since she’d started speaking. I’ve been scribbling furiously in my notebook, too fascinated by her every word to observe the attendees.  These are executives and researchers and policy makers gathered from all over the world to discuss the “future of water,” a proposition that, sadly, few pedestrians like me will often think about.

“…a water conversation is the most difficult to engage with the public, but it’s a conversation whose time has come. We showed that it can be done.”

Now, I watch the audience.  They are unified and focused.  There is no side chatter, no early exits.  She is speaking their gospel.  This is their world and it is clear –even to an outsider like me– Pat Mulroy is a Rock Star in it.

Can You See Me Now?

Maggie Janssen is the Senior Vice President of Global Communications for one of the largest and most respected non-profit organizations in the world.

Well, not yet.

I found Maggie stationed at a skirted table outside of the Imperial Ballroom.  At the entrance behind her, a diagram has been pinned to the partition beginning a maze of  exhibition panels and displays.  A similar schematic is on the table where Maggie sits.

The ballroom is almost empty and its deflation of energy was palpable.  A handful of people in lanyards milled around, the long day beginning to drape heavily over their shoulders.

Maggie is still smiling.

I introduce myself to Maggie and her supervisor, Elizabeth. They work for Bon Ton, the parent company for a portfolio of department stores, including the local Boston Store.

“What’s going on today?” I ask.

The supervisor, Elizabeth, says, “This is our global vendor fair. We invite suppliers from around the world to present their materials and make bids to produce for our private label.”

“Interesting,” I say, looking from Elizabeth to Maggie.  “Who do I get to talk to about the event?”

Elizabeth, a short bespectacled blonde with a glint in her eyes and sideways smile, points to Maggie. “I’m delegating,” she says with a playful chuckle.

I turn to Maggie and she’s beaming.

“Sure!” she says, clearing the seat beside her.

“So, what’s your role?” I ask.

“I coordinate the planning and logistics for this event.”

“All of it?”

Maggie nods.


Maggie nods again, smiling.

“That’s kind of a big deal,” I say.


Maggie’s exact title is International Vendor Fair Event Coordinator – slash- Global Sourcing Specialist.  One day, she tells me, she’d like to be director of events and communications for a non-profit. Just last year, however, she was a new college grad in search of a job.

“I studied PR and business at UW Stevens Point,” she says.  “I started here as a temp a few months after graduation.”

“Not bad for your first gig,” I say.

“Yeah, I got lucky.”

More smiles.

As a temp, Maggie supported last year’s organizers by handling data entry and helping with logistics.  “This is what I want to do,” she says of the experience. She even enrolled in classes at a local community college last fall to earn a certificate in event management.  Maggie’s three-month temp assignment became seven months and, ultimately, a permanent full-time position.

“I was texting everybody as soon as I found out,” she says.  “So excited.”

A facilities manager approaches the table to ask for clarification about the schedule.

“You can go ahead and lock those doors in back,” she says to him. “We won’t need to get in there until eight.”

I ask Maggie whether she’s already started thinking about tweaks for next year.

“I was just making a list,” she says excitedly.  “Like, I want the reception to feel more like a party.  It’s all business around here.”

She notices a hotel staff person fussing with a breakout room door.  “That lock doesn’t work,” Maggie calls out.  “You don’t have to bother with it. Someone’s coming back to fix it already.”

I ask Maggie if any of her family or friends might be surprised to see her in a role like this.

“Not at all,” she says.  ‘

“Let me guess,” I say.  “Captain of your sports team? President of your class?”

Maggie nods with a sheepish grin, “Yeah, I was class president.”

She’s also the oldest of five, three sisters and a brother from a town of about 10,000 people. “It was kind of expected of me to be a leader,” she says. “I’ve always liked pulling people together, making things happen.”

“What’s something else you’re challenging yourself to make happen, outside of work even?”

“Golf,” Maggie says. “My boyfriend is helping me learn.  I’m not too awesome.”

“Not yet,” I say.

Big smile. “Right,” Maggie says.  “Not yet.”

She turns her smile to a trio of women exiting the ballroom, heading toward the elevators.

“Bye ladies,” Maggie sings. “Have a good night.”

“What has been the hardest part about going from temp to official?” I ask.

Her reply was instant: “Making myself known.”

Maggie describes how the layers of management make it difficult for any higher ups to witness her talent. Common with most large companies, rookies rarely gain audience with the top brass.  As the keeper of all the event details this time, Maggie hopes to parlay her logistics intel into a memorable interaction –or two– with her boss’ boss.

For the first time, I glimpse the fierceness and determination in her eyes. Far more than providence or discipline, this young woman is fueled by deliberate and raw ambition. As Maggie spoke, the sudden hard angle of her jaw nudged my imagination forward to the future version of her, with a commanding maturity and series of impressive notches to her resume.

“Has your plan been working?” I ask.

“It’s going well,” Maggie says with a slow smile.  “He’s talking to me. He knows who I am.”

“When this is over, do you start planning for next year right away?”

“Not yet,” she says. “It’ll take a few months for us to process the orders that happen here this week.  As soon as we get back, my temp will start to input–”

“Wait,” I interrupt. “You have a temp?”

Maggie smiles. “Yes.”

Of course. Of course she does.


Every Three Seconds

“You want to know about Indian culture?” he asks with a raised brow.

I pick up my pen, square my shoulders, and give an affirmative bring-it-on nod.

The lobby lounge is relaxed after a full day of visitors and tourists trafficking through the hotel. I’m having an evening coffee at the bar and my guest, Murali, is unwinding with a glass of whiskey. His flight from India touched down only a few hours ago. He’s in the t-shirt business and his work carries him all over the globe: Sri Lanka, Australia, Europe, Japan, Singapore. He’s in Milwaukee for the first time.

“I left home for work as a young man. I have traveled with my work ever since,” he says.

An exporting entrepreneur in his early 40s, Murali tells me that he lives in the southern region of India now,400 kilometers from his native city.  With his extensive travel schedule, I ask how often he gets to his home village.

“Every year,” he says. His dark eyes are piercing and certain.  “I travel home every year to worship at my temple. It is wonderful.”

Murali tells me about the full day at his home temple, with 150 families together from sunrise to sunset. He even clears napkins from the bar and a tray of mixed nuts to illustrate the generations and linkages of men who worship with him.  He continues worship traditions in his new city, of course, but explains how each region of India will have varied approaches and styles.

“There are 24 states in India and more than 24 languages,” he says.  “Even 60 miles away, there is a different language.  The celebrations are similar, but will look different from region to region.”

“After living away for so long,” I ask, “does your native city always feel familiar when you visit or oddly foreign?” Murali has been cordial with me so far, but understandably guarded. He lets his first smile peek through when I ask about “home.”

“My native city is always home.” Murali says.  He pauses for a moment, his face becoming serious again, and adds, “Things do change where green fields are now homes or shops. Everywhere in the world, things are becoming commercialized. Still, we appreciate tradition.”

I ask about these traditions and Murali lists just a few of the festival celebrations from his culture. There’s a River Festival, a Sun Festival, a festival for studies and a festival for the harvest.  Each month, he says, there is a different celebration with a different focus, and even a different food.

“Each celebration is regenerating,” he says.  “If you think about it, the total of these celebrations are essential for human beings,” he says.

“Which is your favorite?” I ask.

“Diwali,” he says, taking my journal and pen to write the title correctly.  Diwali, Festival of Lights, is held in November or October and is India’s biggest and most important holiday of the year. It is named for the rows of clay lamps that Indians light outside their homes to symbolize the inner light that protects us from spiritual darkness.

“Every family will have new dress, there are firecrackers and sweets, servants get bonuses, brothers will visit sisters. It is a time for families to come together,” he says.  “The first Diwali after a couple is married is a big celebration for the entire family. The first Diwali with my own wife was in 2000. It will always be my favorite.”

“As a kid, did you value these traditions,” I ask, “or did you learn to really appreciate them once you were an adult?” Murali didn’t hesitate: he’s always cherished his culture and traditions.

“In my childhood, we woke up at 4:30 in the morning to be at the temple by 5am.  We all were there, praying to God,” he says. “We all prayed with the same movements. We had the same ritual of exercise.  We all eat our evening meals on a new banana leaf.  There is even a way to lay in the bed. Yes, these things create a culture, but they are also essential to the body.”

I think about his world, and the certainty it suggests.  I can admit that I have wrinkled my modern and Western nose at the notion of tradition, focused too intently on familiar expectations won’t exist or might be forbidden elsewhere in the world.  In talking with Murali and witnessing the joy he holds in simply describing his traditions to me, I’m better able to appreciate the sense of foundation and purpose that occurs he gains from a culture steeped in prescription and rich tradition.

The more Murali tells me about his village, holidays, rituals and memories, the more relaxed and talkative he becomes.  He speaks from a grounded place, a clear understanding of his journey through the world.

“Ancient priests wrote many things about timing. Every second, for example, three people are born in the world,” Murali says, settling back against his chair, his eyes fixed on mine. “The destiny and the ancestry of those three people can be charted by the sun and the stars.  The people born just one second later will have a different destiny. Our ways are ancient. This is what we believe.”

As much as our cultures may differ, I learn that Murali and I share quirky similarities.  First of all, we were born only eight days apart. Secondly, we are both raising preteen girls.  Third, we both have surrendered our memory to digital gadgets.

“When I started my business, I kept 200 phone numbers in my head,” he says. “Now with the mobile phone, there’s no need.”  I laugh because the only number I have committed to memory is my mother’s.  (If I ever lose my digital address book and find myself in an epic crisis with only one permitted phone call, I’ll have to cross my fingers that she’s not in the audience of a stage play with her ringer silenced.)

“The young people now are a digital generation,” Murali continues.  “Anything they need to know, they pick up their phone and have an answer in seconds.  We used to memorize everything.”

I ask if he uses technology readily or reluctantly.  “Oh, I use it,” he says. “I have to. For business, conversations that used to take a week or two weeks happen instantly now.”

I ask if he uses programs like Skype to talk with his daughter while he’s on the road.  Murali loosens his second broad smile.  “Whatever it takes,” he says.  “Every Sunday when I am home, she asks questions about my travels. So many questions. I miss that.”

I smile. Love and family are certainly universal concepts … and food.  Murali turns to greet a delivery person with a fragrant bag of takeout.

“Food from my country,” he says to me with a smile.

I begin to pack my things, and thank him profusely for his time and generous cultural lesson. Murali finishes paying for his dinner and settles his bag atop the bar.  He turns his attention back to me and gives a slow nod.

“You are most welcome,” he says.  “Next time, I will tell you about Indian food.  That will take an entire day.”


Sacred Harvest

I’ve always enjoyed fall. Not because of the burnished and bronze treetops or the soft comfort of an old sweater or for the ubiquity of football. Definitely not for the football.

Rather, I am incredibly buoyant during the early fall months, inspired by the season’s warmth and currents of change. Perhaps it’s trace enthusiasm for the first days of school.  It might be my practice of renewal during my Libra days. Or, maybe, I have ancient agrarian roots still eager about the harvest. Yeah, maybe.

Whatever the source, I am aware of the conversion taking place. My stroll is more purposeful against the retreating grass. The days approach more urgently as my calendar is layered with more meetings and appointments. I am meditative about possibilities and metamorphosis and preparing for harsher winds to come.

I carry this thoughtful quiet with me into the café this morning.  The restaurant is filled with guests. I take a deep breath and steel myself.  High voltage energy will require an extra effort from me today.

As is my usual rhythm, I take a seat to watch the room. After 20 minutes, longer than usual, I realize my calm has been absorbed into the low hum of the room.  I’m unaccustomed to early mornings in the hotel. At once, I am started and soothed by the stillness among this restaurant full of people. The servers smile and pass swiftly with plates of food. A large table is holding a breakfast social in the back.  A trio of guests lightly lob orders over the counter for made-to-order breakfast sandwiches. A woman sitting alone uses her forearm to pin down a paperback book  beside a plate of eggs. The space is active and still … still.

I move into the lobby lounge and find more morning mediation in motion: newspapers fan open and closed like rustling butterflies, revealing only glimpses of the people behind them; tall cups of coffee dot the table-scape of the room; no one is making eye contact; no one seems to be aware of the person beside them.  Everyone carefully packing and unpacking their ideas and plans for the day.

Although I’m pulled from my own thoughts, having begun to imagine the stories seated at each of these tables, I am loathe to interrupt anyone.  Not even the few tables with pairs of people talking in animated whispers. Not even them. Not this morning. This morning feels sacred somehow, as guests scroll through their smart phones, scribble into notepads, consult their watches, and wait.

The quiet will end soon.

A man sitting on a lobby couch folds his paper and stands.  He’s a tall, stocky guy, I’d guess in his mid 50s, dressed in jeans and a Raiders long-sleeve shirt.  He tucks the newspaper into a pocket of his roller bag and guides his luggage out of the lobby lounge.

I step back over to the café side and nearly collide with a conga line of guests leaving their large table meeting.  New diners are arriving in twos, some with matching padfolios and some with matching wedding rings.

The quiet. It will end.

A woman races in, arms weighted with bags and folders and gadgets.  She rattles off a breakfast order, bounces from foot to foot while the barista and cook prepare, pays for her to go meal and flies out again.

The quiet has gone.  In a matter of minutes, the vibration of the cafe has changed to a heightened frequency and the new guests are arriving with intention.

I am still in a space of contemplation, however, and would like to hover here a bit longer.  Perhaps this is what endears me to Fall, a sense of being suspended inside the transition from summer to winter.  Here, in this narrow window of days, transformation is the priority.  Right now, inside this sliver of a harvest morning, it will be the promise of emerging possibilities to carry me through a gorgeous autumn day.

Back to the Future

“Don’t you remember when police officers had the baseball cards?”

This happens a lot. Though I’m Milwaukee-born, I’m an Army brat and didn’t fully experience the city until I moved back an adult.  Subsequently, I miss many of these “remember back when” references of my Milwaukee-bred peers.

“Don’t you remember??” he insists.

Gabriel is a true son of Milwaukee. I met him over a decade ago when he was a radio personality for WMSE.  As we pass one another in the lobby, we both do a double take, hug, and fall into our usual rapid-fire exchange. The last time we bumped into each other this way, we stood talking in a grocery store parking lot. This time, at least, we had chairs.

“So, let me get this straight,” I say. “Once upon a time, Milwaukee police officers walked around with baseball trading cards in their pockets?”


“And handed them out to the kids on their neighborhood patrols?”


“And it became your life mission to restore this tradition because …?”

“My son.”


I settle back in my seat. The evening bustle of the front lobby sweeps back and forth in front of us as Gabriel tells me about his project, Cops4Kidz.

“The officers who patrolled my neighborhood as a kid, they gave us cards,” he said, recalling how he and his friends had often hoped for football or basketball card, too.

“I mean, we took ‘em,” Gabriel says with a laugh. “One, they were free. Two, they were still sports cards.”

All grown up, Gabriel instantly thought of those cards while out walking with his son one afternoon. His son was seven at the time and they saw an officer at the end of the block.

“We were coming from the library, and I was already feeling like SuperDad that day,” Gabriel says, his face filled with animation.  “I decide to go for the bonus round and score my son a pack of cards.”

Gabriel’s grand plan fizzled on two counts: his son was afraid to speak to the police officer and the neighborhood cops didn’t carry trading cards anymore.

“It was such a small but such an enormous thing,” Gabriel said, his face serious now. “I knew the officers in my neighborhood and they knew me.  Simple, but it went a long way. I wanted to see what I could do to help bring it back.”

Gabriel started with a string of phone calls to various precincts and district headquarters.  Once he reignited their interest, he contacted national distributors for sports cards and secured boxes and boxes of cards for baseball, football and basketball. Once he began placing cards into the hands of beat officers, Gabriel imagined other possibilities.

“I approached Summerfest about hosting an all-star game between police officers and teenagers. This summer was our third year,” he said. “Our motto is ‘let’s meet on the playground and not the battleground.’ ”

I ask about his son, who’s 14 now, and what he thinks about the work Gabriel is doing.

“He loves it.” Gabriel says.  “Especially helping with the games. Plus, he can see there’s no reason to be afraid of police if you haven’t done anything wrong.”

I raise an eyebrow.  Gabriel raises his hands in mock surrender.

“Yes, I’ve had my issues with the police,” he said.  “Arrested in front of my own house for not having my ID on me, handcuffed in an alley another time because I looked like a robbery suspect. Yes, I’ve been through the drill. But the police force isn’t made of up of boogey men. There are more good humans who happen to be cops than bad ones who got the job. It’s all about building dialogue.”

I give him a slow nod.  “So how does all this bring you to the hotel today?”

“See that man over there?” he says, pointing his chin toward the lobby lounge where two tall and distinguished looking black men were looking over menus. “He was the community relations officer who first helped me with this.  He’s retired from the force now, but he still checks up on me from time to time.”

In fact, he’d told Gabriel about a tribute event to honor NBA legend and Bucks icon, Oscar Robertson. Gabriel’s eyes light up as he rattles all the names he hopes to see passing through the lobby.  I can easily see the little kid in him, stacking his favorite cards in a pencil box for safekeeping.

“You’re just a big kid,” I say teasing.

“Of course I am,” he replies. “Of course I am.”


When people wax poetic about “the good old days,” it’s not often that they’re referring to the 15th century.

“Artists had it best during the Medici period,” my table mate says to me.  She’s referring to the Italian dynasty famously credited for ushering forth the Renaissance. Their patronage of promising new artists such as Botticelli, Raphael, Donatello, Leonardo da Vinci, Michaelangelo, and even Galileo launched a trend where arts patronage became one of the ultimate status symbols for wealthy families.

“If there were a tax break, patronage might have a comeback,” she says. “We do need patrons again.”

Her name is Amanda Marquardt. I found her in the café as I was scouting someone to share a cup of coffee. I picked her out right away: dark hair with fair features, fierce haircut, fluid movements as she worked on her laptop and an appraising sideways glance as I sat down with my coffee.

Amanda has recently returned to Milwaukee, after 12 years in Los Angeles, to help out with her niece and nephews. A graduate of Milwaukee High School of the Arts, Amanda has been immersed in the arts for as long as she can remember.

“I’ve been dancing since I was three, started instruments when I was 10 and theater when I was 14,” she says.

Amanda describes some of her work as abstract, “late night,” and a bit sardonic. Her plays have earned three nominations for LA Weekly Awards; she’s been a tour manager for the Prince Poppycock, a past finalist on  America’s Got Talent); she produces authentic burlesque shows; and is regularly consulted as a Vaudeville expert.

“In the 20s and 30s, it was working,” Amanda says. “Clubs would include 10-12 chorus girls in their budget. Costumes, a choreographer, a live band. They all were paid. Not a lot, but they earned a working wage.”

“Why do you think things changed?” I asked.

“All that money was yanked out of the budget, out of the schools, out of the social infrastructure,” she says. “The struggle is that, now, people will spend $150 a month on an insurance policy they probably won’t use, but can’t see the value of the arts.”

We talk about the life of an artist, the sacrifices, the necessary drive, the investment of time, education, training and the unbalanced payoff of financial instability.

“There are so many talented people who used all of their saving to move to LA, but can’t go to auditions because they have to work three jobs,” she says.  “The risk is so high.”

Amanda and I share woeful observations about mass market entertainment and how arts and culture will be defined for a new generation, especially with the withering investment of the arts in schools. She’s currently building a Shakespeare children’s theater.

“There are kids who can actually sing who don’t make the cut at Disney because they don’t look a certain way,” she says. “It’s all a big machine that diminishes the other things the arts can do. I was encouraged when my little girls told me they preferred being at rehearsal instead of watching TV.”

Amanda’s friend from high school, Matt, arrives.  As he approaches the table, she introduces him as “a wonderful visual and conceptual artist.” He raises a blush, shrugs one shoulder. Matt is blonde, clean shaven with a youthful glint in his eye.  He also works full-time in the engineering department for the Pfister.

“He’s creating the artwork for my upcoming show,” Amanda says. “I should be able to write him a big fat check for his incredible talent.”

I turn to Matt and explain, “We’ve been talking about the state of the arts.”

“She opened up Pandora’s box is what she did,” Amanda says to Matt.  To me, she turns to say, “He’s heard all this. A lot.”

Matt chuckles and excuses himself to wait at another table with his portfolio. I ask Amanda why she thinks artists keep at it, with the deck stacked so high.

She folds her hands in her lap, gives me a wry smile and says, “I have no other marketable skills.”

“I know better than that,” I say after a laugh. “To sustain an artist’s career for as long as you have, you have an arsenal of marketable skills.  So, really, what pushes you?”

Amanda leans back against the cafe bench to think for a moment. “Where we have evolved is incredible, but where we could be makes me sad,” she says. “A society that values its creative community is one that is elevated. People don’t see the immediate value, but I know that the arts completely inspires people.”

We say our goodbyes, Amanda with a production to plan and me with scribbled notes to sort through.  As tempting as it can be to second-guess a career in the arts, Amanda’s bold conversation was fortifying to this writer and, I’m sure, the many young people and performers she will mentor. Completely inspired, indeed.

To Tell Our Truth, pt. 1

It’s like hearing a song from your past in the car speakers beside you at a stoplight, or when a favorite book cover winks at you from behind the fingers of a fellow traveler.  An artificial familiarity, but comforting just the same.

A table of professional African American women, still in their heels and lined skirts, sit at a high cocktail table in Mason Street Grill.  

I greet them with hugs right away. We’ve worked, volunteered or socialized in many overlapping circles through the years.  In spite of Milwaukee’s size, I always describe our city as a “big small town.”

I excuse myself to the bar, wanting to survey and observe the room for while.  To my left, two co-workers compare gossip notes about a mutual colleague. Both have their elbows folded on top of the bar, one with his button down oxford folded back at the cuffs. A group of men in polo shirts to my right boom at one another about sports scores, tee times and microbrews. In the back, I count ten hair tosses and three cackling laughs by a voluptuous blonde and wonder if the guy she’s with might need rescuing.

Near the front entrance, a woman stands alone peering out onto the street.  She’s dressed simply but elegantly in a pencil skirt and patterned chiffon blouse.  Ten minutes, twenty minutes pass and she’s is still standing there, waiting.  I weigh the logistics (and crudeness) of chatting with her until her date arrives, or not. I take a photo of her silhouetted against the sunlit window, crafting a story outline in my head.

But the table of sistas gathering behind me tugs at my attention like a moon over ocean tides.

I finally give in to my indulgence and head over to their table. Michelle Hinton, the common denominator of these friends, is in the middle of an animated story about a recent fundraising event.  She has a rich, dark complexion and razor sharp wit.  I ask her about the last time her group got together.  She’s beginning to tell me about the Wig Brunch she’d recently held for her birthday when the waitress comes to check on us.

“You guys should really put the sliders on the happy hour menu,” Michelle says sweetly.

“One of our other favorite spots, which shall not be named, has their sliders for happy hour,” agrees Johnna Scott, her voice filled with good humor. “Can you see if we can get them anyway?”

The waitress cheerfully agrees, also confirming their order for another round of mimosas.

Michelle is a state director for the American Cancer Society and Johnna is an executive for Mosaic Communications, a boutique PR and marketing firm. “All of us travel a lot for work so getting together is tough sometimes,” Johnna says. “It’s not always the same group.”

“I make it whenever I can,” adds Azure’De Williams, a communications manager for the American Heart Association.  “This revives me in a lot of ways.”

The fourth woman, Michelle Mason, is a managing director at ASQ.  She has been in Milwaukee for only a few years and came to rely on informal gatherings like this one to get her true bearings on the city.

“Networking for work is one thing,” she said, “but I need a network of black women when I’m off the clock to help give me balance, too.”

“I need this,” Michelle says.  “I don’t know how other Black women get by without reconnecting like this, but I need it.”

Then it hits me.  I’d resisted joining their table because it felt like an “easy win.” As we begin to thread one topic to the next, I realize that relaying this experience will be more challenging that it initially appeared. How could I recreate the true pulse our broad conversation without also communicating the subtext? That would be like reporting from some family’s holiday dinner about Uncle Jimmy having a new wife.  If only the family understands that Uncle Jimmy had been an avowed bachelor, a visiting dinner guest might not appreciate the profound weight of his news.

Similarly, without some ticker tape of our shared “understandings” as black women, this happy hour round table could lose much of its depth.  Like any other demographic of people, African American women share a complex knitting of “truth” and “fact.” Truths would be our individual perspectives, as they have been shaped by our collective reality, or the facts.

 According to Department of Education, black women earn 67 percent of all bachelor’s degrees awarded to blacks, as well as 71 percent of all master’s degrees and 65 percent of all doctoral degrees. There are more black women than black men (24 percent to 17 percent) in the professional-managerial class. As of 2007, 70 percent of professional black women were unmarried. Black women are five times more likely than white women to be single at age 40. ~Washington Post

 The waitress returns with the champagne flutes and sliders.  The ladies are jubilant and appreciative.

“We meet up all over the place,” says Azure’De.  “Service like this will keep us coming back.”

 And they’re an attractive demographic for advertisers: black spending power is estimated to reach $1.1 trillion, according to the State of the African-American Consumer Report. ~Los Angeles Times

“She’s our foodie,” teases Michelle. Azure’De smiles and responds with a loose shrug of her shoulder. “I’m glad to have her, though. I can’t always get people to try new things, or to spend a few extra bucks. I want to do more than just go eat at Red Lobster.”

Johnna gasps, “Girl, I love Red Lobster…”

We all laugh, adding our own ad libs and funny footnotes. Soon, the jokes unfold into sobering social commentary.

“We’ve just gotten so used to settling and recycling the same ideas,” Azure’De says. “It makes me think I’m crazy for wanting something more.”

I say, “I agree.  What’s more frustrating is that our young people grow up thinking that the way things are is they way things will always have to be. Complacency breeds some of our biggest problems.”

 African Americans have the highest rate of total TV usage, according to a 2011 Nielsen report — translating to an average of seven hours, 12 minutes each day, two hours above the U.S. average. ~Los Angeles Times

“It’s tough to expect folks to care about ‘being part of the solution’ when they’re struggling to pay their bills and can’t find a job,” says the new Michelle. “It’s rough out here for black people.”

 Since the end of the recession, the overall unemployment rate has fallen to 9.1 percent, while the black unemployment rate has risen to 16.2 percent, according to the Department of Labor. Unemployment for college-educated whites is 3.9 percent; for college-educated blacks it is 7 percent.~Chicago Sun-Times

“We’ve got to stop accepting status quo as a standard,” I say. “We’re raising kids who won’t know how to fight for what they want.”

“I say it’s the community’s fault that our education has deteriorated,” says Michelle. “We used to show up at the school, stay on top of our kids.”

 Black students are more likely than White students to have lower-quality teachers. In high schools with 50 percent or more Black enrollment, 25 percent of the teachers have neither a college major nor standard certification in the subject that is their main teaching assignment (math). The percentage for schools with White enrollment of 50 percent or more is 8 percent. ~Educational Testing Service

 “We have to stop being victims, too, though,” says Johnna.  “I’ve still got that ‘hood girl in me but, at some point, you have to decide what you want for yourself, and not just accept what’s handed to us.”

“Or what’s not handed to us,” says Azure’De.

 The rules remain the same as in 1956 when C. Wright Mills’ The Power Elite described the exclusively white, male, and Christian makeup of the leading members of America’s political, military, and business institutions. Indeed, the diversity “forced” upon the power elite has given it buffers, ambassadors, and tokens through the women and minorities who share its prevailing values. Discrimination is still widespread, and the ascension of different groups, albeit uneven, depends on four factors: class, education, assimilation and skin color. ~Mother Jones


To Tell our Truth, pt. 2

…continued from “To Tell Our Truth, Part 1”


“We have to do more of this!” new Michelle says, gesturing to our tabletop of appetizer plates and empty glasses. We nod and toast in agreement.

 A 2007 American Bar Association report titled “Visible Invisibility” describes how black women in the legal profession face the “double burden” of being both black and female, meaning that they enjoy none of the advantages that black men gain from being male, or that white women gain from being white. ~Washington Post

“When I first moved here I was baffled to find out we have three black chambers of commerce,” says new Michelle. “I was, like, ‘Really? Three? Is the city that big?’”

“No,” says Azure’De. “It just feels like our only choice is to fight for a small slice of pie instead of sharing it.”

“The old black guard needs to get out of the way and make way for these young professionals coming up,” says Michelle. “The more they hang on, the more good talent we lose to other cities.”

“Where would they go?” I ask, referring to our veteran black leaders. “There’s no succession of power for them. They don’t get invited on to boards, absorbed into corporations or get to reinvent themselves into consultants.”

 In the last decade, 98 percent of the nation’s population growth was due to increases in the black, Latino and Asian populations. Together, women, racial and ethnic minority men already comprise 66 percent of the nation’s population. White men overwhelmingly dominate boards of Fortune 500 companies, holding three-quarters of all seats. Fortune 500 boards are less diverse than Fortune 100 boards. ~Huffington Post

“I had a woman crying in my office once,” says Michelle. “She was so frustrated that she couldn’t get the information and support she needed. It wasn’t from whites, though.  It was black women who wouldn’t give her the time of day.”

“Let’s be honest,” Johnna says.  “When we do try to connect and support each other at the job, we get followed around and looked at funny for having ‘secret meetings.’”

Secret meetings! We all shake our heads at the familiar suspicions.

“Remember, when I told you about the woman walking back and forth past my office when we were in there?” Johnna says, referring to her previous agency. “She wanted to know soooo badly what we’d been talking about. I should’ve told her ‘you.’”

“I’m tired of folks asking me if I’m mad, too,” Michelle says. We shake our heads a bit more, laugh a bit less.

 Scholars at the business schools at Duke University and Northwestern University conducted a study that showed black women in a corporate setting faced less of a backlash from the survey participants for dominant behavior than white women or black men. The reason appears to be that participants expected black women to be strong and accepted that type of behavior from them. ~Journal of Blacks in Higher Education

“Dasha, how have you been received in this role for the hotel?” new Michelle asks me.  “You’re the first African American Narrator, right?”

I had to pause and give this an extra thought.

“I don’t doubt that more than a few guests have been caught off guard,” I say.  “I’m a complete stranger walking up to them in a hotel asking them to tell stories about themselves.  To be fair, I think the idea of a hotel having a program like this blows them away way more than the fact that I’m black.”

“And you speak so well,” Michelle quips, sending us all back into laughter and more head shaking.

 The problem is that popular culture and the media glorify and foreground Black women in so many caricatured and undignified ways that Michelle Obama appears to be more of an anomaly than she really is.  In the African American community, we are accustomed to seeing good looking, intelligent, well-educated Black women. ~Dr. Marilyn Mobley, Case Western University

“We should have our own TV show,” Johnna says.

“As long as you’re not talking about having us throw drinks on each other,” I say.

The majority of what we, as a community, celebrate in the media, isn’t worthy of our women. Not the ones that I know and love. ~Essence Magazine

Individual black women are more likely to be viewed as representatives of their race by the majority culture.  ~Bitch Magazine

“Listen, there are plenty of white women acting a fool on television every night,” says actress Holly Robinson Peete. “But there’s a balance for them. They have shows on the major networks—not just cable and not just reality shows—about them running companies, being great mothers, and having loving relationships. We don’t have enough of that.” ~Newsweek

 “Girl, no,” Johnna says.  “But I want to host the segment on entertainment.  I still try to keep up with what’s ‘poppin.’”

“I would want to tell stories for all the silent voices,” says new Michelle.  “Regular black women living regular lives.  That’s who gets ignored, the vast majority of black women who are living between the extremes.  Those are important stories to tell, too.”

There are menfolk circling our table now.  Michelle’s husband. A colleague of Azure’De.  The fellas in jazz trio have begun to play near our table.  It’s time for me to float away to another soft seat of the hotel.  As I hug all the women and pledge to join an upcoming happy hour respite, new Michelle asks the question swelling in my mind:

“What are you going to write about all of this?”

“I’m going to try and capture the range of everything we crammed into forty-five minutes,” I say.

Mostly, I think to myself, I’m going to do my best to tell our truth.


As a society, we know very little about the psychology of Black women, a group of 19 million people — seven percent of the U.S. population. The way they experience the workplace, the complexities of their romantic lives, the challenges they face as mothers and grandmothers, their spiritual and religious practices, these and so many other aspects of their lives are largely unknown to the wider community. Being ignored and poorly understood likely explains why so many Black women today still feel profoundly unhappy about their place in society. ~ Charisse Jones and Kumea Shorter-Gooden, authors of “Shifting: The Double Lives of Black Women in America”  (HarperCollins Publishers)

The Student Whisperer

By all accounts, Timothy Westbrook is a cheerful guy.  He’s beaming whenever I see him: showing one of his fabrics to a guest, chatting with staff, carrying a cup of coffee through the halls or waving from behind the sewing machine in his studio.  Beaming.

His good mood radiates with a different frequency today. Three of us have joined him in the studio: a chick with a notepad (me), a guy with a video camera (Dustin) and the woman he credits for launching his weaving career.  I watch as he smiles and fidgets with papers on his work station and smiles some more. His professor, Sarah Saulson, is looking about the studio space, admiring his works. Timothy is glowing with unfettered joy.

“Sarah was one of the few professors who was able to tap into ‘what’s important to Tim?’ and encourage those things in me.  She was so nurturing and wonderful,” he said.  “She’s still wonderful.”

Sarah stands beside Timothy as he talks.  She is tall, roughly 5’11”, without being imposing. Poised but unassuming. She’s dressed in comfortable, asymmetrical layers of leggings, skirt, smock and cardigan.  Her ash blonde hair is also clipped into interesting angles.  Her face is kind as she watches her former student with an approving grin.

Then, I hear her speak.

It’s only halfway through her recounting of Timothy’s first classes with her that I realize I’ve been mesmerized.  Sarah’s voice is airy and measured.  Lithe and deliberate.  She speaks with the lightness of a kindergarten teacher at story time and the unwavering calm of a hostage negotiator. I imagine the gauzy softness of her voice uplifting Timothy as a frustrated student and even leveling a humbling critique.

Sarah has been a professional textile artist for more than 20 years.  Her pieces have been featured  in textbooks; she’s published articles in trade and consumer magazines; she’s given workshops and presentations at conferences and guilds across the U.S.; her work is widely exhibited and juried at craft shows; and she works frequently with elementary school classrooms, in addition to being a professor at Syracuse.

I ask about her markers to gauge new students’ weaving potential.

“I know by the end of the first class,” she says, explaining that the studio classes are once a week in a four-hour block. “That first day, I get observe their work habits, confidence in learning new skills, creative approach. It’s intense amount of contact.”

During her decade at Syracuse, Sarah’s classes have drawn students from fashion, interior design, industrial design, print making, sculpture, history, public relations and music composition.  She’s mindful that they all come seeking something.

“Teaching at an arts school is something of a tight robe,” she says.  “Students are searching for their own voice but, by necessity, I have a list of techniques and terms that I must teach them.  I try to keep the assignments open enough for them to bring themselves forward.”

Open enough for weaving cassette tape ribbon into a loom? Yes.

“Tim was a fiber arts major, I suppose I already had a few expectations,” Sarah says with a wide smile. “I had vivid recollections of a research project he had done involving historical gowns and dinosaurs.”

Timothy drops his head with a sheepish grin.

“He’s concept driven,” Sarah continues. “Weaving, on the other hand, is technique based. It’s labor intensive and step-by-step. I knew this class was going to stretch him.”

“It wasn’t until the very last minute that I realized I love weaving,” Timothy admits.  The passion Sarah ignited in him that last semester of college ultimately catapulted Timothy halfway across the country to become the Pfister’s Artist in Residence.

“It’s amazing that your journey led you here,” Sarah says.

Timothy looks to her with genuine adoration and says, “You are responsible for me getting here.”

I ask Sarah about her new work. She is preparing for an exhibit this fall, “Relics of the Twentieth Century,” where she explores the anthropological roles of textiles and weaving in the human experience.

“It was only until the Industrial Revolution that the typical home didn’t weave its own fabric or, in some cases, spin its own yard to make that fabric,” she says. “I find it equally interesting how many twentieth century items are already obsolete.  Once upon a time, women didn’t leave the house without little white gloves. Many of my students conceptually know about typewriters or rotary phones, but have never handled or even seen one.  Exploring the concept of ‘commonplace.’”

The voice. I’m nodding my head…

Timothy and Sarah trade stories about exhibit materials and memorable projects from other former classmates.  The sample list is intriguing: pantyhose, candy wrappers, film negatives, shredded paper, coffee filters, yellow pages, aluminum cans, pull cords from a ceiling fan.

“I had an intern for a few weeks this summer,” Timothy says, “and I was totally inspired by her use of rubber bands.”

“Timothy,” I ask, the notion in my head slowly shaping into a question. “Having had this powerful mentoring experience with Sarah, what do you want to be a part of how you mentor new artists?”

He  paused and says, “I have such a strong point of view, I want to be sure I’m motivating them to pursue their own styles.  I also want to make sure I explain the technical elements as thoroughly as I encourage the conceptual ones.  I’m still working on that.”

I turn to Sarah. “Who mentored you, Sarah?” I ask.

“I don’t even have a clear memory of it. I’ve been weaving since I was eight,” she says.  “There was a woman on my block. I might have gone to her house once, but I’m sure it had its impact on me. As an adult, I became friends with a woman who had been the first American weaver to travel to Finland in the 1950s.  I also learned that the weaving community is very warm and nurturing.  I’m fortunate for that.”

Timothy and Sarah slip into another conversation that has pattern counts, lace, artist communes, rescue dogs, the Adirondacks and loom maintenance.  Their exchange is easy, like a beloved nephew and aunt.  Like peers.  Like friends.

They both look wonderfully fortunate to me.