Our family first met Izzy McT when she was assigned to be Kami’s locker partner in 5th grade.  I immediately thought, I like this girl. She’d be a good friend for Kami. 

Two years later, Izzy’s dad rented our studio apartment for awhile, and on the days he had Izzy, she slept upstairs among us Goulashes (Goulds+Upshaws), firmly establishing her as Family.

There are countless Izzy tales, but here’s one of my favorites.

Two years ago, a few months after our niece Simone died, Izzy stopped by our house one lazy weekend day.  We were all home and ended up hanging out at the dining room table, talking.  Then out of the blue Izzy said, “Oh my god, have you seen Ukulele Anthem?!”  We said we hadn’t and she grabbed our laptop and before you know it we were watching Amanda Palmer singing Ukulele Anthem atop the Sydney Opera House.

Uke2.jpg (1366×768) Garth showed the Youtube video to Simone’s mom, Lauren. Lauren was seized by the carpe diem message of the whole song (“…remember we’re all gonna die/So play your ukulele”).  She went out and bought a ukulele – and so the Goulashes decided we should all get ukuleles. Lauren and I in particular started practicing together a couple days a week to work on songs together. Always, we would play Ukulele Anthem. I was so grateful to have something to do with Lauren that was connecting, and that also that gave some shape to her days: practice ukulele during the day so she could kick my butt when we played together in the evenings.   

My dad dug out the ukulele he’d bought for himself at the age of 14, over 55 years before.  We had it restrung and it became Kami’s ukulele. Before long, my parents got the bug and started playing, revisiting their days playing duets (on the recorder in the ’70’s).  In fact, pretty soon, the Goulashes had a couple songs we’d practiced together and had a little house concert at my parents’ 54th wedding anniversary.  We practiced a song to play for a friend’s wedding (didn’t happen – another story).

We spread the Ukulele Anthem far and wide.  My dear friend, Tanja, rehearsed it to play for my 52nd birthday (along with giving me a model of the Sydney Opera House, a flask of Jack, and an Etch-a-Sketch – which I naturally took to work).
The list of cause and effect goes on and on. Likely I have forgotten a twist or turn somewhere. What I love is that it all started with Izzy and her enthusiasm – and her knowing we would also love this video she thought was great.
Izzy has set so many wonderful things into motion in the world.  I’m glad to have benefited so much from her heart, her enthusiasm and her Izzy Energy.  Happy birthday, dear one.
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Ways I know yoga still has some work to do on me: when I see someone finishing up a cigarette before darting into yoga class, I feel judgmental of them.

Yogananda is credited with saying about yoga and/or meditation that neither requires the practitioner to give up smoking or drinking or promiscuity – but one might find as one practices that they feel less inclined to do these things.  I love this notion that we don’t have to be perfect before we can be on a healthy path for ourselves.  The path itself is what invites in us behaviors that are better for us.  I can’t imagine being drawn to a spiritual practice that encouraged my participation while also chastising me for my flaws.

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I really hope one day, when I see that smoker heading into yoga class, that I think to myself, Good for them for having their feet on the path.

When I was four, we moved to Sweden.  It was the home country of my mom’s dad, and we all benefited from her pleasure at connecting with the country of her ancestors.  One Swedish tradition that persisted in our home ever since that time was Santa Lucia Day.

It is a day that has become synonymous over the years with the sweet, earthy smell of saffron and the rich yellow that results when you bake with it. This year, I was determined to have some saffronsbrod to offer at our Santa Lucia Day breakfast.


You start with saffron.  This is one of the richest colors I know, and the scent immediately transports me back to countless Santa Lucia days of my childhood and later.  We always dry it on a piece of tinfoil.  It wasn’t until quite recently that I realized one could dry it on just about anything.  But in my childhood, part of the magic involved shaping a sparkly piece of tinfoil and shaking the saffron onto it to be dried in a low-heat oven.


Next, you dissolve the yeast.  This is a bowl from my paternal grandmother.  I don’t particularly remember the bowl from her home, but it gives me such satisfaction to use something of hers while carrying out traditional family cooking.

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Melt some butter…

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…add flour and sugar and currants and stir.

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It is impossible not to spill flour on myself – or the floor.

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Let it rise…

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This scrap of paper with the recipe is over 25 years old.  I was in graduate school in LA and couldn’t find the recipe in my stuff.  I got on the phone with my mom and wrote it down.  On the other side are directions to my friend Liz’s home in Los Feliz, CA.

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More success!


My folks came over for breakfast this morning and we had a lovely time.  What a pure pleasure to make something that -through sight and scent -creates a thread reaching back almost as far as memory goes.  Thanks, Mom, for knowing what’s important and doing it all through my childhood.  I think I’m finally catching up.

One of my favorite meals to make is potato leek soup with jalapeno biscuits.  It’s been awhile since the weather and my schedule cooperated for this endeavor, but this Thursday, I had the time and the day was chilly, so…  While I was rolling out the biscuits, I happened to also be listening to Adele 21.  I don’t know which it was – the Adele, or the rolling pin – but I thought about Simone, my niece, who died two years ago last month.

Simone loved to sing, and she loved to bake. Five years ago, when she lived with us for a time, she baked a rhubarb pie and spent some time on the crust, adding a heart detail on the top of it.  A couple months ago, I thought about that pie and said to Kami, hadn’t that been wonderful, and rhubarb pie was my favorite – and Kami said, “Mom, she made that pie for you.”

I am pierced by this memory. It is one of the harshest thing I know, the way we humans sometimes completely miss each other, and how sometimes we don’t get to come back and try again. I carry that now, and it fuels my efforts; I try not to miss the signals of those who are still here. I fail at that more than I’d like. Perhaps that’s what regret is for: to use our sorrows about the past to shine more awareness on what we still have a chance to love today.

When I was ten and living in Massachusetts, my paternal grandfather sent me a small instamatic camera through the mail from Oregon.  As I recall, this gift came out of the blue, possibly not even connected to a birthday or Christmas, which was highly unusual.  In 1972, you paid for film development and didn’t find out till afterwards if the photos were any good, so I tried to make every photo count.

I didn’t have a knack for photography, but over the course of the rest of his life, my grandpa gave me two, maybe three, more cameras. It never occurred to me to wonder why I got the old camera when he upgraded, and this is still a little mysterious to me. Did he give similar things to his other grandchildren? Did he think I’d be good at it? I don’t know the answers.

At the beginning of this month, a neighbor told me about a photographer who’d invited people to take a photo a day for the month. I was intrigued, and also a little intimidated. Then I remembered the nature photography class Luken had take as a nine-year-old. I asked if he’d come into the yard with me for a lesson. In ten minutes, I feel like he made me a better photographer than I’d managed to become through trial and error. The results are below. See if you can tell which was about the lesson on contrast, which about angle or perspective.

There was something so sweet about finding myself with my son in the yard taking pictures; it’s something my grandfather started almost 45 years ago, and I might finally be getting the hang of it.

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A couple days ago, Garth and I were returning home from 6 a.m. yoga.  There’s a methadone clinic between the yoga studio and our house, and it’s always busy first thing in the morning.  This morning, as we passed by, my eye was caught by a flash of bright pink.  Walking along, holding her dad’s hand as they left the clinic, was a small girl of no more than three years old.  Her blond hair was tangled and mashed on one side from sleep; she wore her pink sleeper and held a doll close to her chest.

My first thought was one of sadness.  Here was a little girl (my narrative went) dragged from her bed on a cold, dark morning so her former heroin addict dad could get his methadone.

Then I saw myself: a middle class woman of comfortable means driving home from a yoga class before the start of work, pronouncing on a scene I knew nothing about.

What if I had it all wrong and my narrative didn’t describe her experience at all?  What if methadone has given her daddy back to her? What if this is the first time in her life that he has held her hand and it makes her feel loved? What if the people at the clinic fuss over her and she adores the ritual of entering the warm building with its wafting smell of coffee and its smiling adults – smiling at her because they are uplifted by her fresh presence?

I want all children to grow up safe and warm and unscathed by things like drugs and early-morning awakenings, but I also want to remember that a life which appears, to me, to be devoid of these things may still be a life that is loved by the person living it.

The summer when I turned 15, my family moved from outside NYC to Albany, Oregon.  We went from an east coast life where we were less than an hour away from “culture” and where we partook of symphonies, theater and dance performances a few times every year.  During that hey-day, I saw the Martha Graham company and the Pilobolus Dance Company; we saw The Wiz on Broadway (thanks, Tom and Kathy), the Boston Pops and the NY Philharmonic.

In Albany, our fortunes crashed a bit.  Albany, Oregon is almost as different from Yorktown Heights, NY as Kenya would have been, only it was less interesting to me than Kenya.  Where NY had felt expansive – an environment well-matched to my emerging adolescent sensibilities – Albany felt closed and constricted.  That first term of my sophomore year felt like an endless slog.

Then right around the winter holidays, miraculously, my mom scored tickets to see Linn-Benton Community College’s production of Godspell.  She got three tickets, one each for my sisters and me.  I’d seen the television production of this play in my 8th grade class in NY.  Sitting in the small, modern theater the night of the performance, I was someone who hadn’t known she was thirsty until she was offered a drink.

The cast danced and sang through the first act and I was entranced.  At intermission, joyful rock music played and the cast invited the audience up on stage to dance.  The guy playing Judas beckoned to me and that was all I needed.  Up on stage I hopped and we started to dance.  He asked what I thought, and I said, “It was great.  You guys are great.”  “Where’re you from?” he asked.  “New York,” I said.  “In fact, I saw Godspell when I lived there.”  “On Broadway?” he asked breathlessly.

How could I turn this guy’s enthusiasm aside?  “As a matter of fact, yes,”  I said.  “And you are way better.”  “Really?  Wow, thanks.”

Fast forward a couple years.  It’s my senior year in high school in Sweet Home, Oregon.  My friends, the Steiners (Jacquie, Julie and Mike), start telling me about a cousin of theirs who’s an actor.  He’s gone to NY to try and make it.  His aspirations had been encouraged two years earlier when a member of the audience during a performance of Godspell told him she thought his performance was Broadway-ready.

I really hope he’s glad he followed his dream.

Yesterday and last night, part of the Arctic front that’s been moving through the upper States arrived in Portland.  It made for a restless night.  People had set out their garbage cans and recycling bins next to the street for trash pick-up this morning.  The wind was so strong, it picked up the occasional recycling bin and sent it crashing down the street like the noisiest ever tumbleweed.  The wind shifted here and there, and from some angles it thrummed through the house with a sound like  distant helicopter rotors.  It brought with it a freeze, or at least a near-freeze.  This morning has dawned impossibly bright.  The ground crunched a little as I walked through the yard to the garage.  The maple, oak and aspen trees in our yard shimmer with fall colors and the air feels freshly scrubbed.  I have always been in love with November.

Simone Carolyn Shel Upshaw, July 09, 1995 – Oct. 05, 2013. Simone Upshaw, 18, best known for her amazing unique cupcakes, quick wit and penchant for My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, died Saturday of untreatable sarcoma. Simone graduated from Pacific Crest Community School where she excelled in theater, writing, art and cupcakes. She had planned an ambitious year at Portland Community College that included first-year Japanese, one of the many steps she’d taken to fulfill her dream of traveling to Japan this spring. As a native Southeast P-towner, Simone was known by neighbors and local shop-keepers as sophisticated (they didn’t know about the My Little Pony obsession), sweet and very polite. But, behind the well-insulated doors at The School of Rock, she belted out Stevie Wonder or Christina Aguilera with a gusto that belied her composed demeanor. Simone’s complexity cannot be fully described in these few simple paragraphs. The kitchen is full of giant tubs of unsalted butter, enormous bins of granulated sugar, every imaginable cake tin and unanswered requests for vegan unicorn cupcakes. The saddest thing is not remembering what she accomplished or how many lives she touched in those few 18 years, but to imagine, given who we knew her to be, what greatness, what beauty, what love has been left undone.

One of these days I’ll actually write something of my own.  In the meantime, I heard the most inspiring Radio Lab show yesterday – in particular, about the amazing strength shown by California Congresswoman Barbara Lee a few days after 9/11 to vote her conscience.  I so admire anyone whose behavior challenges me to be the best person I can be.