17 years: welcome to the jungle

Our lawn mower wouldn’t start this spring. I waited until the grass was shin high to even try and, by then, every shop in town had a two week wait.

With this home, we inherited a neighborhood chore. We mow 1/3 of the public land out back. Mowing is my job. I love to mow. Andy is very allergic to flying particals of grass and weed. Our house came with a tractor but I prefer the push mower. I like the exercise, the hands-on, the rhythm. The tractor wouldn’t start either.

We turned to YouTube, as we do with things like this. Andy drained and replaced the gas and oil. No start. The next day he replaced the air filter. No start. That same day he took the whole thing apart and got groovy with every piece and place. No start. The grass was growing by the minute, I swear. He was fired up. Man vs. Lawn Mower.

He stopped only to go for a bike ride, at my urging. That adrenaline needed to go somewhere, I winked. When he got home, he stood in the driveway with his hands on hips and rounded shoulders. That day, he would accept defeat and have a gin beverage on the deck.

Sunday morning he was back at it. Alternating between YouTube videos. saying swears at the lawn mower and jumping on the trampoline with the kids. I had stopped suggesting we get on the wait list to take it in. He was committed.

I admire my husband’s steady determination. He really can do anything. Nothing is ever a mystery or too hard. He gets there. And when frustration sets in, my role is humor and making hearty, healthy snacks. He stays well-nourished and even when he doesn’t laugh I know he thinks I am funny.

It’s the spark plug, he announced as he took off for the hardware store again.

Our daughters were cheerfully invested by now. They knew it was a duel that had been going on for several days. They knew they wanted their dada to win. Their support came in hula hooping while singing Let It Go. Their support came in sidewalk chalk drawings around the sad mower and thousands of questions.

We were making bread in the kitchen when we heard the engine start up. I don’t think the sound of Santa’s sleigh bells could have beat the sound of that mower. Margot and Ruby tumbled off their stools and ran, shrieking and barefoot to the driveway, where Andy stood with one hand on the lawn mower and his modestly proud close-lipped grin. He believed in their enthusiasm and gave into a celebration of kid tosses in the tall grass. They know he hung the moon.

Andy announced he’d mow for a bit. He triumphantly pushed that beast through the waving green blades while sneezing and sneezing and smiling and sneezing.

I watched my man’s 36 year-old body walk behind the mower and had this moment of understanding time, of appreciating my time with him. Our daughters danced circles in his periphery. He moves just like he did when he was 11. Quiet, confident, long strides. He still has that thick, wild hair that barely fits under a hat. I am still charmed by the same things: his creativity, smarts, adventure, humility and kindness.

This day, 17 years ago, Andy and I had our first date. We went rock climbing in East Rosebud. We kissed by the creek and ate peanut butter and jelly on stale bagels. We sped home, around those sunny corners and over those green hills, trying to be on time returning his mom’s car to Red Lodge. We were late and newly in love. 

While Andy mowed, I grabbed my camera and army crawled in the grass taking pictures, bugs flying all around my head. Babe, he laughed. What are you doing?! What if a rock kicks out from the mower? But he knew I’d keep taking photos. Just like I knew he’d get that mower to work. We know. Through broken things and fixed things. I enjoy manicured landscape, but I like our unruly jungle even better.


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heirloom kitchen 03 > clean yo sink

Both our kitchen and bathroom sinks are old cast iron behemoths. We chose them because we love them. Because they are white and cast iron, they get easily marked up. And since we’ve added these sinks to our home, one of my most frequently asked housey questions is about these sinks: how do you clean them? I learned from my friend Melanie.

A little over a year ago I went to a baby shower. We had all pitched in on several weeks worth of house cleaning. The gift was presented and our very pregnant friend was amazed and thankful. And then she said she didn’t know who to hire. A chorus broke out, singing the praises of their house cleaning fairies. They cheersed their margaritas to the bliss of knowing their tub would be scrubbed every other week. I raised my glass in solidarity.

I felt a palm press into my thigh as my friend seated next to me said, YOU have a lady?! Am I the only one? What the hell. I need to get on this train. 

We do have a cleaning lady. Although I really don’t dig calling her that. She is our Sparkling Goddess or something divinely similar. As things in my town go, she was a friend of a friend who quickly became our friend. We hired her for a spell when Margot was a baby. When we were both working outside the home full time. And then it felt extravagant to me. I talked myself out of it. I left that job. We had another baby. We moved. I worked from home and felt like I ought to keep up with the pet hair and toilets just fine. I didn’t.

A few years passed; Andy and I had a conversation over exhausted late-night beans and rice where he said, ok I think we need to either hire childcare or hire another employee for your business. We were tired. It felt too hard. We dissected our days and hypothesized on how to make it all better, easier, gentler.

During that chat, our current scenario sharpened in my brain. We need help. We need to hire someone to either care for our kids, do some of my work or…do some of our chores and free up time for us to spend with kids and on work. TA DA.

Hiring someone to clean our home wasn’t extravagant. It was brilliant. We called Melanie again. Her schedule was booked so we waited. And now we see her every other Monday for two hours when she casts sweet-smelling spells on our everyday funk.

Melanie is charming and efficient, a friend and a great help. She uses totally non-toxic supplies. Our kids, our bathtub and our marriage adore her. I am thrilled to bring Melanie into this space as our first Heirloom Kitchen contributor. Because, among her many skills (milking goats, raising kids, making body products, knitting, running a farm, always cheerful) she can make our sinks sparkle white without the use of anything toxic.


In Melanie’s words:

Most of my cleaning techniques have been handed down from my grandma, Shirley. As a kid, when we visited and as a young adult when I lived with her, she made sure I wasn’t sitting around too much. There were always chores to do.

She was very particular about how things got done. I’m not nearly as exact, but I have many of her little secrets that I keep in my pocket.

For sinks of all kinds, my go to product is Bon Ami cleanser. It is the only thing I will use. It doesn’t scratch and is tough enough to get dirt and most stains up easily. Especially on ceramic or cast iron sinks like Nici’s, you shouldn’t use a lot of force to your scrub. Easy gentle circles are all you need. On those stains that cleanser just won’t touch, cider vinegar or hydrogen peroxide poured full strength and left to sit usually does the trick. If you need it to sit a while, saturate a paper towel and leave it right on the stain.

Something everyone should use, in my opinion, is my homemade all-purpose cleaner that I use for shower walls, countertops, walls…pretty much everything.
in a spray bottle mix:
1/4 vinegar
3/4 water
1 tablespoon or so of Biokleen All Purpose Cleaner.

Melanie is a busy-hands kind of gal with too many projects and businesses going at any one time. Gardener’s Tiny Farm is where she shows off a few. Thank you, Melanie!

And, thank you to our friends at Earlywood Designs, sponsor of Heirloom Kitchen. Use code DIGTHISWOOD to get 10% off your purchases.

post details:
* both sinks found on craigslist
* repurposed bathroom lockers, beetle kill pine counters and ceramic light fixtures found at Home Resource
* Earlywood tools pictured: large flat saute, ironwood cutting board, long server, trifecta
* Sculpture above our kitchen sink by Kensuke Yamada. And, a sweet story about it. We have long loved his work and in 2007 I emailed him to inquire about some small pots I’d seen, hoping to save up for a gift for Andy. Months later he just gave this to me, left it at the front desk of my old work place with a note that read “Hi Nici, I’ve been in my studio in Seattle and I made this small piece for you. Hope you like it. Sorry I did not have small piece last time you called me. This is a gift. Hope you like it. Sincerely, Kensuke Yamada.” So we display our sculpture sitting atop the note.

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wardrobe change
bare feet, something sparkly
hi, Daffodil!
kisses and hugs, always
tall, green grass
frames my small, bright girl
her name means inextinguishable flame
vibrant, passionate, protective
shhh shhh shhh shhh
pressing her cheek to Daffodil’s
hair falling into the chick,
into the light
into my heart
I got you, honey, she coos. Mama’s here.

chipped blue nail polish
thick palm callouses
practical, stretchy clothes
because she likes to run fast
because she like to be upside down
hanging, bending
flipping, swinging
if I squint and blur her silhouette,
I see a young, strong woman
confident and content
tongue pressed to freckled cheek
hair wild, an accessory to speed
watch this mama!

she reads her books and ties her shoes
she combs her hair and buttons her dress
hits and then holding hands
annoyance and then acceptance
they bring out the best in each other;
they bring out each other’s truest selves
like dandelion tufts
there and then somewhere else
roots remain

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wacha tonaya

We cross the creek several times every day. We get to notice every change, every ebb. It’s such a gift.

We see the creek frozen and slow twist into a creek that swells up over its confines, flooding and raging through the green green forest. We see geese and then their goslings swimming in a spontaneous lake in the middle of the woods.

Tufts of white fluff dance lazy and sparkly from the Cottonwood trees. I can’t get over the fragrance. I think it’s my favorite. Certainly my love is influences by the scent’s transience. It comes and goes so fast, the only way to get it back is to wait a year. And even then, things will be different. The temperature, my age, my lens, the height of the trees and direction of the wind.

Hills around us bust open with balsamroot, penstemmon, lupine, prairie smoke and clematis. Bucks with furry antler stumps look like babies standing in our path. Rusty tails of hawks stamped against the bluest sky float over grass that grows by the daily inch and literally moves with bugs.

And our feet move over the dirt trail, over the bridge, over the creek.

Ruby sits on my bike handlebars and squeals,

Mama! The river is still wachatonheya! Heya heya!

It’s a song she sings with her preschool class. One I’ve loved learning from her. The words seem big and powerful coming from her tiny, powerful body.

I did a little bit of research and discovered it is a Creek water blessing. Ruby sings the first three lines softly like a low, meandering creek. She moves carefully and quietly. She sings the last three forcefully like a high, thunderous creek. She leaps and stomps.

Wichita do ya do ya do ya
Wichita do ya do ya heh
Wichita do ya do ya do ya
Wacha tonaya hey ya hey ya
Wacha tonaya hey ya hey
Wacha tonaya hey ya hey ya

I found a handful of recordings on youtube which have become favorites around here. This one is particular:

I know the creek will move through this phase and into the lazy pace of summer. We will walk across the shallows. The shallows will even become dry and we will walk all the way across the creek. Water will lower and expose rocks that bake hot in the sun before they ice over.

Wichita do ya

I know these things will change and change again. I appreciate the simplicity of this blessing  – it celebrates the high and the low. The fast and the slow. The loud and the quiet.

There’s no preferred way; there is only the way it is.

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it’s ok if it goofs.

Many years ago I decided, decidedly, that I was not to be a painted nail girl. Not for any sort of statement but just for two simple reasons:

  1. It felt weird. With painted nails I moved like Edward Scissor Hands, like my digits were foreign and not to be trusted.
  2. It went to hell. I garden and cook. I do normal things that I think everyone else does. But it appears normal, active people also have painted nails?! I’ve never understood this.

I haven’t felt like writing lately. It’s an uncomfortable feeling but one I’m chewing on. Tonight I feel like writing and I’m giving myself permission to ditch the 27 drafts I have and start new and easy and without expectation, like a four year-old’s freshly painted nails.

While shopping this week, my youngest requested new nail polish because “ours is gloppy and doesn’t spread out at all.” That’s because it’s all from the 1900s. College Halloween parties, most likely. I said yes, which doesn’t often happen in these sorts of situations. She picked two colors. Turquoise and neon purple.

It got me thinking, in that bright, cosmetically-alluring aisle.

Do I still chew my nails? I must. Because I never cut them and they are short. Or is that just because of my rough ways? I honestly don’t know if I bite my nails or not. I do know I have rough ways.


Yeah? (staring at my garden-dirty, jagged, asymmetrical nails)

Do you want to paint your nails with me?


I answered quickly, like a dare to myself and also a high five to Ruby. I chose my color and we checked out. We also bought nail polish remover and cotton balls.

Our Mother’s Day was good and slow, gentle and loud. I felt thoughtful about loss. It seems the clip of death and illness is picking up in our lives. I guess this is to be expected as we age. It’s hard. And often feels unfair. How do we react? What do we say? We exist and we hug. We dig in like it’s our last dig.

The new-nail-polish afternoon was magic in the way any new thing is magic with a four and six year old. It could have been a thrifted cup or a fresh grapefruit or a rearranged living room. This day it was nail polish and that mama was doing it too.

They watched me intently, their noses a few inches from my fingers, as I expertly smeared the dark goo across my nails. I was deliberate and exact, an Opi Ninja. They were impressed and that made me laugh. They laughed with me.

Ruby chose all neon purple, every nail, many coats. It mostly all smeared off in moments. Some on her cheek, some on the back of her hand. Margot chose to have the tips of her nails painted in the black polish I chose for mine. She’s heard of a french manicure, she explained, from our neighbor and insisted this was how it looked. So, essentially, I painted her nails to look like mud was packed under the tips, which is how our family’s nails look most days anyway.

We spread our fingers like starfish in the sun and chatted about our day, reminding each other to NOT BONK THE NAILS. It didn’t work or it exactly worked, as Ruby pointed out when she said:

It’s ok if it goofs. That’s how it’s ‘posed to be. And we can do it again! Differently next time, which will be even more fun.

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