The Barefoot Heart

adventures & derring-do in the third half of life

We Never Had a Problem Sharing


When I met her, she was on her hands and knees planting tulip bulbs around the patio in the backyard while Pepper, the Corgi, made laps around the base of the biggest pine tree in the yard in an apparent effort to build a moat or dig the tree up. We’re not sure which.

I met her 43 years ago, long before I got the memo saying Mothers of the Groom were to wear beige and keep. their. mouths. shut. Not knowing any better, I invited her to join my mother and me and go shopping for my wedding dress, among other things.

We took sewing classes together. We cooked together. We had long talks.

She put mustard on grilled cheese sandwiches.
Ask me how I found out.


She was beautiful in the way young women were beautiful in the 1940s. Mr. Chambers told me that had it not been for the war, he probably wouldn’t have married her. “Well, you would have been a damn fool,” I assured him.

They were married on October 2, 1942 by an Army Chaplain in Hobe Sound, Florida. The bride wore a brownish dress with a matching hat that had a veil that tickled her nose. How do I know? I asked her.


When I asked her about the most adventurous thing that happened to her while traveling, she didn’t tell me about dressing up and winning the prize for her obviously convincing portrayal of a drunken hag on the cruise ship, she told me about how she played gin rummy with a sergeant all the way down to Bermuda where her new husband was stationed in World War II. Her first job as a married woman was as a court martial secretary, and who was there on her first day on the job but the sergeant she’d played so many hands of gin rummy with. “He was a bigamist,” she told me. “He had THREE wives.”

She could be funny – like the time she sent me a pair of clear plastic salad tongs for Christmas with a note that said “Try these with spaghetti.” Sometimes – when I disappointed her, for example – she wasn’t particularly funny.

“How’d you get along with your mother?” I once asked her.
“OK,” was all she said.
“How’d you get along with your daddy?”

After a morning of taking her mother to the doctor or to get groceries or just out for lunch, Mrs. C would call me: “Hello?” I’d answer, not knowing who was on the other end of the line because those were the days before caller i.d. (or even answering machines, for that matter).

“If I EVER get like my mother,” she’d say skipping the greeting and going straight to the point, “kick me.”

(Too many times to count, I had to bite my tongue to keep from saying “Bend over” cause let me tell you: she was the spittin’ image of her mother, though she fancied herself to be just like the daddy she adored.)

The first house we bought was right down the road from them, and because she liked to drop by during the day to take her friends on a tour (she liked what we did with the place, and she specially liked that I made the macrame headboard just like the one in the picture she tore out of a magazine for me) or to drop off two pies (a cherry pie for me and a strawberry pie for The Engineer – we could eat them back then without consequence), we gave her her own key to the place. She sewed the curtains for the front window . . . and she never quite forgave me for agreeing to leave them when we sold the house. I wish I had them right about now – I really do – but the buyers wanted the curtains, and we were young with many curtains yet to come, so those curtains stayed with the house.


Years later, we bought a house in a new subdivision, and while the in-laws were out having a look, they spied a house one street over that captured their interest. Because they had long lived on the same street and because they lived in a beautiful house, she invited me to lunch to ask what I thought about them buying that house and moving there. Without a moment’s hesitation, I told her to buy it, and when she asked me why, I told her it was on a golf course, and I knew – I just knew – she’d enjoy playing golf.


They did move, and she did learn to play and enjoy golf, and as a bonus that I never even considered, when Alison was born, Mrs. C. was right around the corner and ready to help. I don’t know what on earth I would’ve done without her. I really don’t.

When we were first married, I watched Mrs. C. closely, and not just because watching people closely is my favorite kind of entertainment. I watched to see how she related to Nancy and Mr. C. and her boys. I watched their family communication model, the family dynamics. I took in how they related to each other. She taught me a lot without knowing it. A lot, I tell you.

I wish she’d never started smoking, but if that is too much to ask, I wish she’d been able to stop smoking. I have things I long to ask her, you know. Things I long to talk about. Things I long to apologize for. Mostly I want to thank her (again) for raising the man I married.


Today is not just Groundhog Day, it’s Mary Chambers’ – my mother-in-love’s – birthday.

the night that changed everything


a girl walks into a bar
and when the bartender asks
“what’ll you have?”
she says
43 years ago tonight.

no joke.

it was luck that brought us together
and love that keeps us together
the kind of love laced
with gratitude and respect
with patience and kindness
the kind of love that deepens
with age.

he continues to bring out the best in me.

i love to make him laugh
to hear him lay out the future
and ask my input
to watch him load the dishwasher
(because he does it right, you know).

i don’t tell him
(and more importantly i’m not sure
i show him – because words can’t touch it)
often enough
how much i adore him.
that needs to – and will – change.

i don’t ever want us
to grow stale
or feel taken for granted
and that takes effort,
you know,
conscious, dedicated effort.


my daughter and i went to a thrift shop
here in pennsylvania today
and it occurs to me only now
what i brought home:


his mother and i
had the most fun
taking these classes together.
we made t-shirts,
skirts, even swimsuits.
give us some of that dotted paper,
some thread and a length of double-knit fabric,
and there was nothing we couldn’t make
and nobody we couldn’t dress.
i miss those days
and i miss her.


and this
ceramic delft blue thimble.
we visited the delft factory
– the engineer and i –
on our honeymoon
(our second honeymoon)
in september
43 years ago.

we met on january 27, 1973
became engaged on april 1, 1973
and said “i do” on july 31, 1973.
there was no need to wait cause
i knew a good guy when i met him
oh yes i certainly did.

What Now?


Every time we visit Nancy,
I bring home a set of drawings.
First I scan them
then label them by set and drawing number
then I print them
and pin them to the fabric.


I stitch through the paper
then pluck the paper off
using lighted tweezers to get the teensy little bits out.

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I stitched two drawings a night,

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and when we got sick
and sat on the sofa all day,

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I stitched more than two,
so I finished more than a week ahead of schedule.

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It was quite satisfying
to have a quota, a schedule, a plan
and meet it.

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There are 95 drawings in In Our Own Language 4,
and I have no idea how to assemble them
now that I’ve stitched them all.
This is known as Entering The Unknown.
I’ve been in and out of The Unknown so many times,
I’m not too worried.
I’ll see something that sparks an idea
or dream up an image
or somebody will say “Why don’t you . . . “
and I’ll be off and running again.
So if you have any ideas . . .

back in the saddle


we walked today, the engineer and i. walked for the first time since thanksgiving, really. holidays – travel – family – rain – coughing, coughing, and more coughing have put my fitbit on a pretty strict diet. i’ve missed walking. sure i’ve had 2 hours of found time to stitch every day, but walking is kindling. i solve problems when i walk. i get ideas when i walk. i clear cobwebs and make connections when i walk. i think at least 7 impossible thoughts every time i take a walk.

sometimes we walk up the falls and get our shoes muddy.
sometimes we walk in the gym and dodge basketballs.
sometimes we walk 4-8 laps through the grocery store before filling a cart with foodstuffs.
many night we walk laps around the sofa and dining room table and kitchen island.
sometimes – like today – we walk the aisles at lowe’s. the engineer drools his way down every aisle, and he never comes away empty-handed. me? i just wish fabric stores were as big with well-lit and well-defined aisles cause i’d like to walk, drool, and shop, too. i believe i could do it. i believe i’d be good at it.

i did not escape my notice that the snow shovels, sleds, and ice melt were directly across from – no more than 2 feet, i’m telling you – the seed packets and starter sets. doesn’t that just crack you up?

the good news is i’ve got my walking on again – feeding my fitbit regularly – and that’s a good thing. maybe i’ll even add that 15 minutes of yoga first thing every morning i’ve been dreaming about then pop a handful of almonds and enjoy a mid-afternoon (think 3:00) workout with resistance bands. cross your fingers. it’d be nice to do it for real instead of just in my imagination.

and all the while in the background, nancy still draws, and i still stitch.

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In Our Own Language 4:34

Memories of Makings, part 1


From our front window, I watched Granddaddy’s Ford come up the dirt road – slowly so as not to kick up the dreaded red dust that was bad to seep in and cover everything with a veil of grit – and pull into their driveway. We lived right across the road from them on land Granddaddy and Grandmother gave Daddy as a site for his first house. Their mailbox was a standard issue mailbox on a wooden post that leaned a little to the left and wobbled when mail was put in or taken out, but our mailbox was special. Daddy welded a chain with big, thick black links to stand up straight and hold our mailbox securely. Our mailbox didn’t lean or wobble, and with both men being named Crawford Hewell, I suppose this difference was more than aesthetics.

Because you could pull right up to it, we all used the side door instead of the back or front doors, and when the Ford stopped, Granddaddy turned off the engine, put on the parking brake, and pocketed the keys. But instead of going into the house – even before they took their suitcases out of the boot – Grandmother and Granddaddy headed straight for me – their first granddaughter – and they never once came empty handed.

Having buried four of their five children before I was born, they delighted in me and I in them. Usually it was dresses they brought. Frilly, ruffly shirtwaist dresses with a big sash that tied in the back. Whatever the fabric – plaid, polka dots, dotted swiss – the dresses always came with a petticoat that spread my skirt out big enough to seat six. And I ask you: what dress is complete without patent leather shoes of a color that matched the dress, and fold-down socks with rows and rows of lace? Sometimes there were gloves and a pocketbook. Maybe even a hat. Oh yes, I was well dressed and heavily accessorized.

But after a trip to Florida, they came bearing nothing wearable but a lamp festooned with colorful shells, dyed coral, palm trees, a plastic flamingo or two, and sometimes a seahorse – all set in plaster and celebrated in light when plugged in. I never, not once, slept in the dark thanks to Grandmother and Granddaddy Hewell.

As a child, I had an impressive collection of these lamps, and I adored every one of them. My eyeglass-clad hazel eyes glazed over at the site of these emblems of being cherished. I mean shoot, Grandmother and Granddaddy didn’t bring Mother and Daddy back a souvenir.

Yes, these lamps and these people were special to me, so you can imagine my delight and surprise when I came across another special book on our outing yesterday: Kitschy Crafts: A Celebration of Overlooked 20th-Century Crafts by Jo Parkham & Matt Shay. Just look at that cover, would you!


As a child, I was bad to make things. I turned the pump house into a veritable palace, using bushel baskets for stools at a counter I created from well, I don’t remember what, but something I found laying around. Not only was I out of Mother’s hair as I puttered around bringing order to the chaos of that pump house, my creativity blossomed in the process. I was never happier than when using whatever I had on hand or could lay claim to to create private spaces for myself.

Between the covers of this book are page after page of things I’ve made in my lifetime.


Remember string art? I still have the boat I made for my father-in-law. I’ll show it to you next time I head to the attic.


And macrame pocketbooks? As a flat-broke newlywed, my mother-in-law tore an article out of a Southern Living magazine and gave it to me cause she thought I’d like to make a macrame headboard for our bed. She was right. Again.

There’s more, but I’ve gone on way long enough, so I’ll show you more tomorrow.


I’m preparing to dust off and rev up an online trellis I offered two years ago for folks interested in finally sitting down to pen their life stories. If you’re interested, leave a comment here or on facebook or shoot me a note so I’ll know to let you know when I finish with the details.

What The Engineer and I Did Today (Rated G)

Date Day. Recharge My Battery Day. Play Day.
Call it what you want,
but when The Engineer and I strike out for a day of it,
I never come home disappointed.
Today was no exception.

There was this:


and this:


and this:


I seldom go in search of anything but mirth.
Today, however, I declared myself in search of an orange dress,
and I came home with not one but two.
I can’t wait to show you what I have in mind for these beauties.


Tucked in a dusty ole’ cluttered corner,
I spied this self-illustrated self-portrait
of and by one Tina Schart Hyman.
Having spent my entire life as a (volunteer) family
and (professional) personal historian,
I couldn’t leave this $2 treasure on the shelf.
Good thing I cleared out the bookcases a couple of weeks ago.




Turns out that Tina Schart Hyman
was a talented, well-recognized
illustrator of children’s books.
A Caldecott Medal runner-up three times,
Ms. Hyman took home the prize in 1983
for illustrating
Saint George and the Dragon,
a story retold by Margaret Hodges.
Ms. Hyman is one of the first white American illustrators
to incorporate black characters in her illustrations,
largely as a matter of principle,
because her daughter married a man from Cameroon.
Her grandchildren appear in several of her books.
I’m so glad I didn’t talk myself out of this treasure.

And now, we pause for a public service announcement:
Have you written your life stories yet?
Y’all know that I loudly, enthusiastically, ceaselessly
encourage everybody to pen their stories,
write a book about their life,
capture their stories for all posterity.
And yes, I mean you
and you
and you.
Such a gift to all of us, that.

I love staying home and getting things done,
but it always does me a world of good
to get out of the house
and see what’s happening in
the rest of the world.
Or at least in the neck of my woods.
It’s like a tonic
that doesn’t smell or taste bad.
And you know what?
There’s more!
But it’ll wait till tomorrow.

What Comes Between Starting and Finishing


I am trying to stay on task this year,
having no more than three cloths in the works
at any one time,
finishing one project
before starting another.

(Wish me luck.)

One project must be portable –
able to fit in a small bag
that will fit in my purse or tote
because we travel
– a lot –
Which is why it often takes so long
to cross the finish line.


I am using my machine on some projects,
(I couldn’t’ve finished the Christmas presents
– table runners for my son and his wife –
without the assistance of my sewing machine)
but always there is a bit of hand stitching.

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Stitching In Our Own Language 4
is my night-time stitching project.
If I continue to stitch 2 drawings a night,
I will be finished in 10 days.


It’s quite satisfying to lay out a plan
and stick to it
and quite satisfying to complete things.
It’s a feeling I want to experience
more often this year.


If It Is Not Too Dark

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Go for a walk, if it is not too dark.
Get some fresh air, try to smile.
Say something kind
To a safe-looking stranger, if one happens by.

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Always exercise your heart’s knowing.
You might as well attempt something real
Along this path:

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Take your spouse or lover into your arms
The way you did when you first met.
Let tenderness pour from your eyes
The way the Sun gazes warmly on the earth.

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Play a game with some children.
Extend yourself to a friend.
Sing a few ribald songs to your pets and plants –
Why not let them get drunk and wild!

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Let’s toast
Every rung we’ve climbed on Evolution’s ladder.
Whisper, “I love you! I love you!”
To the whole mad world.

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Let’s stop reading about God –
We will never understand Him.

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Jump to your feet, wave your fists,
Threaten and warn the whole Universe
That your heart can no longer live
Without real love!



In Our Own Language 4:27-33

Nancy, my developmentally disabled sister-in-law draws.
I, the woman who flat-out loves her, stitch her drawings.



The body is a sensing instrument of consciousness.
Without the body and the mind, the trees couldn’t see themselves.


Usually we think that we are looking at a tree,
but the tree is looking at itself through us.


Without this instrument,
the tree doesn’t get to see itself.


We are the sensing instruments of the Divine.

– Adyashanti

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In Our Own Language 4:24
Nancy, my developmentally disabled sister-in-law, draws.

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I, the woman who flat-out loves her, stitch.

A(nother) Squeaky New Beginning


Happy New Year from Jeanne and Nancy

Every New Year’s Day, my Grandmother would finish breakfast, get lunch on to cook, then take her seat in the chair underneath the telephone. She’d pull out the baby blue zippered 3-ring binder that held all sorts of important information, turn to the curled-up page where she’d written all the family phone numbers, and put her finger beside the name at the top. Carefully, making sure she got the number right, she dialed one number after another.

“Hello?” answered the receiving party.

“Hello. Is this 1-9-7-6?” Grandmother would ask, clamping her hand over her mouth so the person on the other end would take her seriously.

“No,” they’d say, thinking she was referring to a phone number, “this is 5321.”

“Oh yes, it is so 1976,” she’d say, “check the calendar,” her laughter erupting as she slammed down the phone. She’d take a few deep, satisfied breaths to collect herself before dialing the next number on the list.

New Year’s Day is the only day my grandmother ever turned prankster, and she wore that year-turned-telephone number prank slap out. Today, ignoring caller id because that’s not important to the memory, my cousin Stacy and I race to call each other on New Year’s Day, asking simply, “Is this 2-0-1-6?”, laugh, and hang up.


Happy New Year, y’all. I hope you’ve had your black eyed peas and turnip greens and pork cause there’s no need in tempting fate. But listen here: whatever resolutions you make, whatever resolutions you break, may 2016 hold delight around every turn. May you laugh more than you cry. And may you never question – or let anyone else question – your worthiness.

Now let’s get on out there and have ourselves a big time, why don’t we.


Doesn’t matter what day of the year it is, Nancy and I continue doing what we do . . .

Nancy draws:

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And I stitch:

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And we watch to see where that carries us.

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