Sunday, December 26, 2010


Yet another sacrifice I have made for my children: wine glasses with stems. Back in the golden days, evening could find me sipping my nightly dose of red wine from an elegantly stemmed goblet which would relay no excessive heat from my fingertips to the delicately balanced alchemy within. I liked to drink while reading on the couch. I still like to drink and read on the couch, but now the book is usually something about Star Wars, Thomas the Tank Engine, or Henry and his big dog Mudge, and now my wine glass is a sturdy creature that used to hold jam from the farmers' market. We do have one wine glass leftover from the eight-year-long stemware massacre; I save it for special occasions, like when all my children are somewhere else after seven o'clock at night. It's not that they are malicious, jealous little people who insist the greater portion of my attention be on them, not my wine, but everywhere they go chaos follows and wine glasses suffer. Someone breathes weirdly in someone else's ear and the whole room erupts. Someone mutters an offending comment on the nature of someone else's artwork and battle ensues. No, my house is not conducive to stemware. Someday my lone wine glass will have friends again. But for now it holds a certain allure, a timeless grace wrought by its solitary stature. I can go on vacation just by sipping near-decent wine from a special vessel, without ever leaving my couch.

Last week in the midst of all of the end-of-school thesis chaos my husband brought me flowers at work. Not the cut bouquet type of flowers that need arranging, a water-filled vase, and will die shortly afterwards; but rather a lovely scarlet-colored cyclamen known as Tianis Fantasia. (It seemed an aptly named gift, a cycla-men from my bike-riding husband.) Wordplay aside, after taking off the plant’s protective clear wrap, I made sure to read the instructions. I went over everything at least twice so I wouldn’t screw anything up. I knew that I needed to water the plant from the bottom, and not too often. Unfortunately, I came in a few days later to discover the stems splayed everywhere, the poor plant dying of thirst. I set it in a container of water, and in a short time all was well. The first thing you notice about the plant is that the flowers are quite striking; they seem to mysteriously spring up out of the green leafy undergrowth. As the stem that holds them extends, it is bent then begins to right itself; the flowers start to unfurl, darkening as they open. The leaves appear so sturdy and the flowers so vibrant but delicate--each depending on the stems to hold them aloft. This is the part of the plant that is neither showy nor eye catching, but is necessary. A quick look outside reveals the bare stems that are sticking up out of the snow, they are a promise of the season that awaits us. A renewal, rebirth, the relief/re-leaf of Spring. Like our bones or spine, they add structure, a rigidness that defines and supports us. In a way they are like husbands who know you’d rather have a growing plant than a dying floral arrangement, sturdy and dependable with a burst of color or surprise when you need it most.

Monday, December 20, 2010


I don’t remember a December such as this. The end-of-the-years in my memory are filled with lights and festive feelings. The starkness of the snow outside has always been in sharp contrast to the warmth and luminescent atmosphere inside. This year is different. My mind has been elsewhere, focused on my studies to the exclusion of everything else. At the same time there has been a feeling of loss permeating everything like a heavy fog. I know four individuals who have lost a father this month. They range in age from 9 to 49, and yet the absence is razor sharp for each. My heart is where I felt their pain the most, it is an ache that won’t quite leave.

Finding time or inspiration for a blog entry this week seemed out of the question. In our free magazine bin at the Library I happened to glance down and spotted a book called, A Woman in Berlin. The cover was intriguing, so I took it home. Reading the introduction in bed that night I discovered that the diaries were an actual account of an anonymous woman over the course of eight weeks in 1945. I read on, interested to learn more about her. I was then rewarded with this quote: ‘My sole concern as I write these lines is my stomach. All thinking and feeling, all wishes and hope begin with food.’ There it was, like the clink of a shovel when it hits buried treasure. Yet I didn’t know how I was going to use this sentiment to inspire my own work. December is a time for food: eating and relishing, tasting and savoring. Plates and stomachs are often full, at least it seems that way to me. In some ways this is our gift to others: jars of homemade granola, bags of roasted nuts and tins of cookies. We also try to extend the bounty to other families by giving to local organizations. Everyone should be full this time of year, on good cheer as much as good food.

Still I didn’t find this quote to be the inspiration I was looking for, so I kept on reading. After a few pages I found it, the connection I had been seeking: ‘My stomach was fluttering… I felt the way I had as a schoolgirl before a math exam—anxious and uneasy, wishing that everything were already over.’ This is exactly how I feel about my thesis. There are butterflies inside my tummy who have taken up permanent residence. I think they’ve made themselves at home there, with a picket fence and a cute little handpainted mailbox. At all hours of the day I am anxious and nauseous, the thought of failing has me so paralyzed my fingers can’t often find the right keys. Then I try to put it all in perspective. The narrator of the book’s introduction illuminates a bit of the woman’s writing process when he says, “When a more permanent order was restored she was able to copy the contents of her notebooks on a typewriter.” My words aren’t a matter of life and death, and I am fortunate enough to be writing at a computer where I can revise and edit to my (or my advisor’s) heart’s desire. I am so lucky in so many ways. Maybe I should be thankful for my butterflies, they mean I care about my work. Heart or stomach, I feel just as deeply with each.

When I was about three or four months pregnant with T, I noticed that the space between my hip bones had filled out enough so that if I could tie a string across my stomach it would lie taught against my skin instead of sagging. I had always been skinny, and suddenly I wasn't. But I was pregnant, so I felt no compulsion to diet, exercise, or worry. Now I am not pregnant. I will never be pregnant again (knock wood). My non-pregnant weight is at the highest it's ever been. I'm not overweight, but I can't find myself in People magazine, or in any of the Boston Legal episodes we rent from Netflix. I can buy clothes off the sales rack at the local department store, but if I watch too many Hollywood movies featuring women who wear size two I start wondering if I'll ever attract the attention of construction workers again. Not that I enjoyed being, you know, objectified as I walked down the sidewalk, but on certain days a few pointed glances could really lift my mood. Now I make bargains in my head. If I eat salad for lunch I can have a cookie, or five, after dinner. If I manage to go for a run in the morning (back in the days when we woke to at least a balmy forty degrees) I can have a second helping of pasta. I wager, I stretch my neck in the mirror, I run up and down our stairs an extra time or two, and I misapply a virtuous patina to the physical sensation of hunger. What am I so afraid of? Other people's opinions. Embarrassment. That if I am overweight people won't think I'm smart. I know with my head that as long as I'm healthy it doesn't matter what I weigh, but my gut reaction to my current reflection is an internal grimace. I have digested the social concept of beauty: skinny. Kind've makes me want to throw up.

Ruben's women don't look like they worry about the overconsumption of ice cream and rum cake. They look delighted with their dimpled bellies and their thighs that could grip the breath out of their enemies. Botticelli's Venus - the string between her hip bones would certainly stretch to its limit. These ladies should be my vision of ideal, not the slips of girls holding their breath between the pages of glossy magazines or the leggy creatures on the screen who rely on generous cameras and a team of beautifiers for their looks. My stomach is not the enemy. Cupcakes are not the enemy. There is no enemy on the battlefield strewn with waistbands of the past. There is only perception. I always planned to grow old gracefully and cheerfully. I'm going to be one of those nutty chicks with a long gray braid who rides a motorcycle to the bingo game. To be graceful while growing out, too - that's a challenge, but one necessary to my sanity. It's bloody exhausting to mentally keep a running tally of consumed food. I've got other stuff to think about. Like the rum balls I plan to make, and eat, for Christmas dessert.

Sunday, December 12, 2010


When I was sixteen I had pneumonia and took to my bed for three weeks in a grand display of malaise. After the first novel day or two it was mostly horrible. My head hurt too much to read, my parents had to work and weren't available for daytime sympathy, and this was in the days before texting - my friends, off gallivanting at high school, were far removed. I couldn't even visit my horse. But, luckily, the Olympics were on. I discovered the rough drama of hockey. I discerned the dynamics of a salchow versus a lutz. I fell a little bit in love with and a lot in envy of a teen-aged skier from some Nordic country that must have had excellent socialized dental services. And I rooted hard for Eddie the Eagle, a ski jumper from England with no chance of placing anywhere near the top of the heap. Everyone rooted for Eddie. He got the most cheering, the most applause, and the announcers' voices changed to cheerful when they mentioned him, which they did often. His jumps were - short. And a little bit heroic. He didn't care that he came in last. He didn't care that his nickname reflected a faint blush of sarcasm. He was thrilled to be there, doing his best, representing his country. Several years later I heard that the qualifications grew more rigorous after those Olympics, and Eddie the Eagle didn't make it on the team for the next round of global games. He wasn't good enough.

One of my boys has that great natural ability required for swinging a perfect arch and making contact - bat or foot - that sends the ball at just the right spin toward whatever spot on the field he wishes. Another of my boys tends to stop mid-stride and spit out his mouth guard to make sure the player he just brushed up against isn't hurt, or upset, or sad. They are both delighted to be part of the team; neither of them is concerned about the varying abilities out there on the junior field. Yet. For their sakes, I wish the Olympics still offered athletes like Eddie, people who are there because they love the game, love the games. A certain type of inspiration is missing from the perfectly calibrated performance machines that now dominate the rink, field, slope, or ring. I miss the men and women who beamed at the crowds as they rounded a turn, who flung ice from their skate after a successful leap. I miss Eddie the Eagle and his delightful lack of talent, his obvious joy at just showing up. I spent three hacking weeks wholeheartedly involved with those winter games, and his is the only name I remember.

A few months ago a patron came into the Library looking for a picture of an eagle. She had recently taken up painting and wanted an image that she could reproduce on her canvas. We went downstairs to find her a book that might have what she was looking for. I could tell that she was unaccustomed to being in the Children’s Room, but we found her a very detailed photograph.(It’s a little known secret, if you want to learn anything—a language, how to knit, the rules for a particular sport or card game—try a kids book.) She left feeling happy, and in fact came back in a few hours to show me her completed masterpiece. She had indeed captured the bird’s regalness and majesty. But more importantly was her sense of accomplishment, which had to do with finding the right inspiration.

I don’t know why she felt the need and sense of urgency to draw that particular bird. I myself have never seen one. I do remember a story a friend once told me about driving along and noticing an eagle soaring in the sky. She quickly pulled over so that she could see it without running the risk of an accident. She said she saw it land on the side of a rocky ledge and thought she glimpsed a nest. Home sweet home.

It’s the nests that always inspire me, made out of anything that can be found: twigs, leaves, bits of ribbon and hair. They provide shelter and warmth; a place for eggs and baby birds. Babies that spend the day peeping and chirping, awaiting the return of a parent with a worm or bug. A nest is the place for the babies to return to as they practice flying, some needing a nudge out to get started. I wish sometimes that I could fly just like that eagle. The closest I have ever been is galloping on a horse, wind streaming through my hair. If I could, I would have opened up my wings and then let go of the reins. Maybe I'm like the baby bird, crashing and crashing to the ground before I get the hang of it, trust myself, and soar.

Sunday, December 5, 2010


Hard is working on your thesis to the exclusion of everything and anyone else. Hard is putting your nose to the grindstone while your family spends the Thanksgiving holiday weekend with friends. Hard is ignoring the movies that have been coming to the local theater, turning a deaf ear to the siren song of buttered popcorn. Hard is turning a blind eye to the ever-filling laundry hamper while the stash of available clothes is rapidly being depleted. Hard is typing even when your fingers hurt, or the sty in your eye is making it difficult to focus. Hard is getting up the courage to let others read your work. Hard is reading through their critiques and criticisms, then putting all that well-meaning and intentional effort into making your work better than it was originally. Hard is thinking you will never arrive at the end, or when the end comes much sooner than you were realistically expecting. Hard is putting all of your thoughts, ideas, hopes and dream into words that come to comprise the longest document you have ever created in your life and hitting the Send button. Hard is thinking it was the end, put knowing there will still be tweaks and adjustments. Hard is resisting the urge to fling the printed manuscript across the room. Hard is the agonizing wait to find out if it has been given the seal of approval. Hard is finally finishing and staring at the door that has just been opened, before stepping into unfamiliar territory wondering “Now what??!” But easy, ahhhhhh. Easy is…

These days, the hardest thing I do is yoga. Sure, raising children is hard, but it's hard in the same way digging a hole is hard: one shovelful of dirt after another, the occasional boulder that takes massive effort (and restraint) to budge. Not hard in a dangerous way. Yoga isn't dangerous either; there's pretty much zero chance of being escorted to the emergency room with broken bones, facial wounds, or bloody stumps. Yes, my hips hurt. Yes, my shoulders feel a bit tapped. But I don't feel weak and mortal upon entering the studio. I used to laugh at danger from a great height. I climbed trees to the thinnest branches, where, when the wind blew, I swayed along with the sticks that barely held my teenage weight. I used to ride a horse that thought it a joke to spring me from his back every. damn. day; I obliged with legs of vapor and never acknowledged I might die from this. I jumped out of a plane once. With a parachute, but still. Now, the swings at the playground give me pause. I rode the tea cups with L at the fair last year and nearly had to plead with the toothless attendant to stop the ride. The top of the Super Slide at the same fair - I couldn't look out, only down at my own shaky feet. I live now in a soft tunnel padded with ever-present laundry, bolstered by the conviction that I am sparing my children potential heartache by staying so safe and so alive; but it's an excuse. Really, I've just turned into a chicken. Have you heard about these woman who leave behind their babies to climb treacherous mountains in distant countries which may not have adequate emergency response times? My knee-jerk reaction is to grimace and shake my head: how selfish. But I'm hiding a deep, persistent envy. I'm not as brave as those women. I've made it a daily habit to turn away from the hard stuff. Maybe, like so many other things (lingering over morning coffee, all-day Jane Austen movie marathons, working for more than five minutes without interruption), risk will come back into my life when my children are further along the path toward adulthood. I'm not sure I'll ever leap from a perfectly good plane ever again, but at least I might get back on a horse. Or even climb to the uppermost branches of a swaying tree.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010


I began my love of coleslaw at Friendly's. Do you know Friendly's? When I moved to Atlanta in an ill-fated pique of commitment to the wrong man I discovered that Friendly's was region-specific and oh, my taste buds, - I missed Friendly's. And not even the ice cream; good ice cream is easy to come by - B&J's, Breyers, Edie's - but good coleslaw is another story. I lived a couple long years without good coleslaw (sometimes you can get decent stuff at a grocery-store deli, but none of the grocery stores in my part of Hotlanta complied) and I might admit, though barely, to considering the coleslaw factor when M and I first had the idea of moving to the frozen north. Just a few days after trekking a bleary thousand miles up the eastern seaboard in a super-sized moving van (car towed behind) while trying to keep three violent dogs far enough away from each other so they couldn't mutter bad dog words under their breath, we stopped for lunch at Friendly's. I can't remember what I had - probably a chicken sandwich - but I do recall the coleslaw was...disappointing. Like so many other things in life, the memory and anticipation was better than the actual moment. But. Several years and children later, in the midst of a farm share allotment that was a bit heavy on the cabbage, I learned how to make my own coleslaw. I use purple cabbage and extra dijon. I am awesome at making coleslaw.

I only read up to page 110 in that book, You Can't Go Home Again (which is why Thomas Wolfe's house burned down the night before I was scheduled to visit) but I think the title is the most important bit. I could never go home to Friendly's coleslaw. Or to the exact Friendly's where I first found with that crunchy, pickley taste; yesterday, driving around my old hometown with my oldest boy in the back seat I discovered a Dunkin Donuts parked on the spot where there used to be a Friendly's, where we used to celebrate school chorus concerts, where we went for lunch on certain Saturdays, where I'd walked up and down the stone wall that rose and fell beside the ice cream window. There's another Friendly's in town, up by the highway where most of the development of the last few years has fallen. We had lunch there a couple of years ago and while guiding my middle boy to the bathroom, infant hanging on one arm, I noticed a black and white photograph of a bakery with its name high in the window: Danforth's. There, amidst the near-tangible aroma of greasy of diner food, the smell of that bakery rose high in perception and I could have been three again, holding the weathered hand of my grandfather on his weekly trip to Danforth's. You may not be able to return home to your truest starting point, but stay open to evidence and it will find you: restaurant photographs, the cabbage on your counter.

I’m a Sort-of -Vegetarian, I think that’s the technical term. I eat poultry and seafood, but not pork or beef. During my senior year of high school my boyfriend bet me that I couldn’t go a year without eating meat. Never one to pass up a challenge, and having been heavily influenced by the Smith’s song “Meat is Murder,” I set about eating other types of protein over the course of the next twelve months. And vegetables, I made sure to include some of them in most meals. Though I am not one to take joy in a meatless menu, I do have a fondness for a variety of vegetables and have come to associate them with different memories and meals. Onions sautéing in the pan when I come home must mean we are having paninis, T wouldn’t eat a sandwich without them. Carrots are wonderful in a ginger soup, which happily no one will eat but me. I could eat bowl after bowl and never tire of the earthy orange broth. Green beans are best cooked on the stove with tomatoes, garlic and red pepper flakes--I have been known to pinch a flake or two too many. Tomatoes are lovely; especially the tiny ones that can be popped into your mouth, anticipating the flavorful explosion before your lips are closed. Corn on the cob, fresh picked, reminds me of Morning Glory farmstand and the ease at which it is cooked and then eaten. Yellow as the sun, chins dribbling with butter. I’m not a fan of cabbage, nor coleslaw or sauerkraut. Instead cabbages remind me of the now closed bookstore, Cabbages and Kings. We always stopped there during our vacations to the Cape. We visited right before it closed and it saddened me to know that kids wouldn’t go there anymore with fistfuls of change in order to buy themselves a ticket to a new world. It saddens me too to think of all that is lost, like my grandmothers recipes. I would love to have her knowledge of piroghis and Sunday soup and turkey ala king. If only I had the chance to sit down at her table I would eat Salisbury steak, meatloaf and even cabbage rolls.

Monday, November 22, 2010


As she set out the teacups that reminded me of my own, our talk turned to thrift shops and second hand stores. When M and I lived in Pittsburgh, we often spent our time together visiting such stores for treasure, both books and tea. His eyes lit up when he found a book about war he didn't yet own, my pleasure came from adding to my eclectic collection of china.

Our host for the Library Tea was a former children's librarian, whose list of qualifications included: extraordinary baker; owner of cups, saucers, plates, pots and other tea necessities; and visitor to the homes of the Brontes, the Alcotts and the Austens. Even though our event was intended for a middle school audience, I was enraptured. I hung on her every word and was especially entranced when she spoke of her visit to the Bronte house. She led us up to the moment when she saw the open box in Branwell's room and knew that the toy soldiers who were the inspiration for Pauline Clarke's “Return of the Twelves” were real. Our shared remembrances of author connections turned to favorite books of the past; what had challenged the adults when they were in middle school. The middle-schoolers talked of the first time they read a book meant for adults; discovering the joy that comes from not understanding everything but knowing enough to get through the book and feeling satisfied for the experience. All the while we merrily munched on scones, cookies and cake.

Serendipity, happenstance, coincidence, perhaps it was fate that again brought the fortuitous juxtaposition of tea and soldiers to my mind this week. Finishing Nicole Krauss's “Great House” I felt a jolt of recognition as I read the lines spoken by Weisz explaining how he came to track down lost items : “They begin to talk and I go back with them to their childhoods, before the War. Between their words I see the way the light fell across the wooden floor. The way he lined his toy soldiers up under the hem of the curtain. How she laid out the little toy teacups.... They've bent their memories around a void.” In the the battle against losing objects of the past, I am a soldier armed with memories. If only I had my Grandmothers recipes, her telephone stand. It is often the space around the hole that shapes us and defines us. Yet we move forward, sustained by cups of tea and conversation.

"Want to play war?"
"Yeah! How about World War I?"
"Nah, we do that one all the time. How about the Korean War?"
"I know, how about Future War?"
"Let's play Future War!"
They creep across the lawn. They hide behind fallen limbs and crouch as still as they can in the under-brush. They ambush me and the dogs with lazery shooting sounds and jabbing sticks. They fall to the ground, dead, and their brothers-in-arms drag them to safety where they revive and reload. Sometimes limbs are blown off. Sometimes there are disagreements and they call on me to set them straight: "Which side was Ireland on? The Vietnam War happened, like, last year, right?" We are a fairly peaceful family, but - not to be sexist - boys like war. And guns. And grenades. And tanks. They like to be heroes, they like to be saved. T draws rather magnificent military maps. L makes swords that can actually produce bruises and blood with nothing but printer paper and tape. Listening to them leaves no question as to the origins of the present-day, real-life wars; we may hear about money, oil, human rights, turf, but mostly it's a confused kind of ego out there in the hot sun. My boys revel in the language of battle, the sense of power that comes from firearms, even imaginary ones. But when someone falls too hard, or heads get knocked together during a tactical surge, they cry and come looking for me. Hugs, murmuring sounds, the occasional band-aid, and popsicles put these soldiers back right.

For a while, T had a collection of plastic toy soldiers that he bought with his own money after M and I see-sawed on the moral indications of plastic soldiers. We relented and T spent many after-bedtimes arranging his soldiers in intricate stations on the floor of his loft that I inevitably destroyed with my knees when I climbed the ladder for a kiss goodnight. Last week I tried to find some for a picture, but only one surfaced from the back of the tubby-toy drawer in the bathroom. He stayed for a night and a morning on the bathroom windowsill while I (and the rest of the family) fell victim to a stomach bug, and then just hours before our planned photo shoot, B bit his head off. Poor fallen soldier.

Monday, November 15, 2010


I remember the sound and feel of the receiver as I slammed it down, an abrupt period to my rant. The corded rotary telephone lived in the hall, and once I hastily ended my call, I scurried to the bedroom and looked for the best place to hide. Those mattress springs are burned into my memory, they were all I could see as I waited with baited breath under my sister's bed. Hiding there seemed the obvious choice: all of my Cricket magazines were boxed up and stored under my bed, and there I could only be approached from one side. Huddling next to the wall meant no one could reach me-- or so I thought. Moments later there were the pounding of footsteps, screen doors slamming and voices being raised. We lived in a small house, it didn't take long to find me. I don't remember who pried me out, or the punishment that followed, though I am certain I was grounded. It couldn't have been For Life, even though that's what my parents must have threatened. Here I am, decades later, decidedly Not Grounded. The cause of my parents' consternation: upon learning that I could not possibly bring home a new kitten until after we returned from our once-a-year-family-vacation to my aunt's house in Cleveland, I had called my very sweet neighbor and berated her for not being kind enough to petsit our brand new kitten while we were away. It had seemed such a simple solution in my ten-year-old mind. Now that I am grown, or at least older if not truly grown up, I don't seem to get in much trouble. I don't have anyone looking over my shoulder issuing punishment when necessary. After all these years my feelings towards animals haven't changed much. Though I am meant to be devoting every spare moment of my life to my thesis, I spent today with a friend. Weeks went into planning our meet-up in the middle so neither had to drive more than 90 minutes. There was to be much chatting and catching up on our way to visit a litter of baby bunnies. Some people may wonder at the need for pets, especially coming in to an already chaotic household. Each animal must be fed, cared for and loved, much in the same way as you would a child. Why go through all of that hassle, driving such an incredible distance and repeatedly getting lost (even though the printed out directions seemed very clear this morning before I set out.) I can only answer that dogs and cats love you like no one else. And bunnies, especially brand new baby bunnies, have the very softest fur and the cutest little ears. They are definitely worth the trouble.

When my children are grown, when I am no longer responsible for transportation to piano lessons, karate lessons, swimming lessons, and cub scout meetings, I will sell my car and never drive again. I will ride a bike. Up mountains, down mountains, over covered bridges, through tree-lined, laughter-filled suburban loveliness. Yes, I know. I live many miles from a grocery store. Winters here aren't conducive to open-aired travel. And the last time I rode a bike further than a half mile I was...15? 16? I don't even care. Cars are nothing but trouble, even when you have a husband that knows (mostly) how to fix some of the broken bits. Cars require endless gasoline, they make weird, squeaky, worrisome noises that can ruin a day, they cost a lot of money and depreciate in value. I figure I have another 15 years before I can safely denounce driving. I will be a fifty-year-old woman on a bike, long gray hair streaming behind me, a smile on my face (close-lipped, because of bugs), trouble-free.

Sunday, November 7, 2010


How to make a garden: for two years throw your compost onto a small patch of land, not too far from the side door to make the walk a hard one in the winter but not too close that you can smell the rotting coffee grounds. Let the chickens eat their fill of your waste, scrabbling and scratching and fertilizing the dirt beneath their feet. In the fall, use a big blue tarp to drag leaves from the back yard, the front yard, the side yard, the bit of yard by the road - drag all those leaves over to your soon-to-be garden and cover it as if it needs a woolen blanket to keep warm. Moan plenty about your aching back that night, even though your pain is a proud one. In the winter, throw compost on the top of the snow. Worry about bears. Throw more compost on the top of the snow. If the bears are distracted by the garbage they won't bother coming over to the house. In the spring of year number two, trade with your neighbor - tilling services for fresh-baked bread. "Smells like it'll be good," he'll say after running over the plot a few times with those strong, jagged tines. He's not talking about the bread. Feel proud of your good-smelling dirt. Plant four tomato plants (started inside several weeks before, with help from the Baby who eats some of the planting soil; he is number three and eating dirt warrants only an exasperated look) even though frost is still a possibility. Plant a row of lettuce. Plant six broccoli seedlings, and a few egglants. Two days later kick madly at the chickens who assume these, too, are for their benefit. Whine to your husband about a fence. Replant the poor assaulted seedlings in pots and put them on the porch railing. Whine more about a fence. Rejoice when the fence appears (after more whining). Plant lots of tomatoes, broccoli, celery and Brussels sprouts and also encourage the various volunteers that surprise you every year. And carrots. Plant carrots, because the children like to pull them up and sometimes they even eat them. In November feel wistful when you pick the last of the carrots. Wish you had planted more. Wish you had a bigger garden. Whine to your husband about a bigger garden. Recognize that you love the garden even more once all the harvest is gone, once you have laid leaves and hay again over the earth. Dirt smells good.

In Science class this week T was asked to do some research on Kittinger and his unintentional breaking of the sound barrier in the 60's. At that time he parachuted from an altitude of 20 miles above the earth's surface. Turns out there are two people currently in a race to break that record. Reading the article I was surprised to learn all about the great lengths people have gone to and the risks involved. Getting up high enough seems to be the tricky part, though freefalling that fast can prove to be fatal. Glancing through T's assignment, I was reminded of an image that often flashes in my head at the strangest of times. It's of the woman in the movie “Apollo 13” staring up into space knowing that her husband is there, and yet has no contact with anyone. (M and I went to the theaters to see it to celebrate our first anniversary.) Having not lived through this period of history it still hit me hard, still does. It is the longing on her face that often haunts me. Recently young T (a's oldest son) asked for a birthday cake that would represent the earth as seem from the moon. Maybe a rather unorthodox request, but to me it seemed magical, like he was gaining some perspective. It was a chance for us to celebrate his turning a year older and possessing the ability to see oneself and one's planet from a different place altogether. Major milestones. The going out may be the exhilarating exciting part, but there too is the return. Always the return. The chance for the daredevil, spaceman, adventuresome boy to put two feet firmly on the ground; the solid steady earth welcoming him home.

Saturday, October 30, 2010


There's a whole lot of candy in our house. Halloween means two bouts of trick-or-treating plus school parties and M is away next week so guess to whom the job of consumption falls? Not on the children - cavities! - at least not all of it. But don't tell them. I am one of those parents who sneaks into the candy cabinet after her kids are asleep and chooses multiple delicacies to snarf while watching TV or pretending to work. I know, pathetic. And they never notice that their bags are lighter every morning. I have always been a big fan of sugar. Two tablespoons in my coffee, a diminutive canyon sprinkled over my cereal, cupcakes (oh, cupcakes), cookie dough even though I know it will give me heartburn - yes, me and sugar are like this. So the thought of being alone during the off-hours to, ahem, borrow as many individually wrapped pieces as I can carry makes me quake with both anticipation and dread. Because, after 35 years and three babies, my metabolism no longer takes the chocolate, caramel and nougat in stride. Now those delectable ingredients sit and wait for me to do something proactive - like getting my heart rate over 60 - before they take their leave. If they take their leave. Some of them seem determined to squat on my ass forever. And, while I picture someday being able to climb mountains and run a dozen country roads before dawn, the present-day reality is that exercise time is at a premium. (see above: children.) One saving element: Sour Patch Kids. Sour candy? I just don't understand the appeal. If only all their candy were sour...

I headed south Tuesday with books, camera, waterbottle and friend in tow we left a somewhat gloomy sky behind us. I was being interviewed-- for a radio broadcast as it turns out-- and had wanted some company for the trip. In return I promised a delicious lunch, good company and a stop at at least one yarn store. But alas my interview took much longer than I had anticipated, and the plan to drive even further south to the Yarn Store of Our Dreams was just not to be. I was cranky, I was crabby. I was sour and dour; I just couldn't seem to get the bad taste out of my mouth. This may have also been caused by my accidental overdressing in anticipation of a much colder day. In fact the weather was so glorious, we walked over to the park with my camera--the colored leaves were calling to me. We tried to console ourselves by coming up with Plan B. But. The yarn store in town happened to be closed on Tuesdays. The other nearby yarn store I had remembered as being wonderful from a few years back had closed in March. Disappointed doesn't begin to describe my mood. We got in the car and drove a bit before stopping at Green Mountain Spinnery, the saving grace of our trip. We looked at new books, admired colorways, fantasized about patterns. We chatted with the wonderful woman there about charity knitting, trips to cold places and Canons vs. Nikons. She even allowed me to take a few pictures. The yarn they were hanging reminded me of long strips of apple or lime licorice, the kind that's coated with a little bit of sugar so your mouth is instantly filled with a sweet and sour sensation. From there we drove home feeling pleased about the day. As I pulled up to my house, I was welcomed by the glowing lights from the windows. I walked in the door only to be greeted by risotto on the stove and was immediately handed an icy cold beverage; as it so happens a mixture of black cherry seltzer and sour cherry nectar. This is definitely the sweet life, how happy I am that it's mine.

Saturday, October 23, 2010


I remember being shushed when I was little, usually in the middle of the day. “Your father is sleeping” was a phrase that was constantly batted around, the words nattering around my head like mosquitoes that wouldn't leave me alone. My father occasionally worked the midnight shift at the coal mine. When they weren't on strike. I often wondered what it was like to spend so much time deep, deep underground, leaving the sense of the outside world behind him as he boarded the elevator and descended. Each night the black earth swallowed him whole, only to deliver him to us the following morning. When I grew older I found myself working through the night for a time. After I returned from maternity leave, the store where I worked in NYC offered me an overnight shift. I was responsible for overseeing several shelvers. Our job was to get as many books as possible put in place for the holiday shoppers to peruse and perhaps purchase during the day. Every night I boarded the train with T in his sling. People would give us the strangest looks, as if to wonder why a baby would be out at such a late hour instead of sleeping in his own little bed at home. Nowadays I work underground, though the windows keep me apprised of the weather outside. And just like my father couldn't help but bring his work home--the coaldust covered his face, hands, and clothes--my work clings to me when I leave for the day. Spilling over into my car, my house, the rest of my life; it seeps, oozes and cannot be contained. 'She noticed her books spilled on the floor of her car. That was the way it was with books: you forgot they existed; you carried them around as though they were part of your body. Then you looked down and you were wading in them.' (From Four Spirits by S. Naslund)

Last night T went to bed with one last request. "Please will you wake me up at chore time to help you?" he begged. Pleaded. Nearly cried. "But it will be late," I stalled. "It will be cold. And...late." Because yes, children should learn to help with household chores, and yes, parents should encourage any eagerness towards hard work that our kids accidentally reveal, and yes, it's nice to have help for the dark, cold final round of animal duties. But jeez. Having boys help you feed horses means it takes twice as long and there's all that panic about huge platter-sized hooves landed on wee child feet. And if they help you walk the dogs there's a constant stream of observation when what you'd really like to do is read the book you're juggling among the leashes. Having my boys help makes the work harder. T could sense my reluctance and, connivingly, stayed awake until he heard me rustling around downstairs with coats and boots and leashes. "I'm too scared to sleep," he called cheerfully as he launched round the staircase landing. "Is it chore time?" So we did the chores together. He wore the headlamp, blinding me at every turn. He threw a flake of hay. He held Pope's leash. He found the two eggs our 20 chickens managed to produce (all in a day's work). He fed the dogs their treats and decided he too needed a snack, so I sent him back to bed with a cream cheese bagel and instructions to brush after eating, which I know he forgot, which I issued knowing he'd forget. And then I returned to my spot on the couch in front of The Office (American version, though I love both) and finished my wine, realizing our collaboration hadn't been painful. T has reached a useful age. Soon my boys will be able to handle the chores all on their own while I supervise from my warm house. Which is exactly why I had children: free labor. Oh, and because I like to steal their bubble gum while they sleep.

Sunday, October 17, 2010


It used to be that I could climb most any tree. Up high, nestled safe within its branches, I would read and survey the land beneath me as if I were in a magical land all my own. But those times have come and gone. I no longer hang upside down from branches, or ride aloft on someone's shoulders to catch a better glimpse of a parade. Funny how we don't make a fuss over Last Times as much as we do with First Times. Is taking your first step, first tooth or first word any more memorable or worthy of attention than the final scaling of a sycamore; the bark's texture leaving a mark on your hands that will fade before your eyes. The first and only time (but hopefully not the last) I looked out from the heights of the Eiffel tower I couldn't quite believe the beauty of the city spread out below. Such a unique perspective I will never forget, it's a memory that I revisit often. Something about being that close to the sky has left a mark on me, invisible to most anyone who doesn't know how to see it. Alas, there are no miles-high-beanstalks appearing under my bedroom window, or bouquets of balloons waiting to whisk me off to parts unknown if only I hold on tight. Instead my feet remain firmly planted on the ground; weighted down by demands, responsibilities, secrets, schoolwork, and other necessities. I only wish I could be as unfettered as a dandelion seed. Free to go where the wind might take me, visiting the highest hills and beyond.

When I was a teenager I knew a horse that died. Not an old horse, not a sick horse. A young horse with loads of talent, a sweet disposition, and a crowd of people who loved him and felt his absence like a blow to the belly. Most of all his owner. It shakes you to see someone you know as gleeful and freakishly well-developed in her ability to laugh at herself and anyone else saddened to the point of tears, and more eerily, quietness. The barn was glum, we were mired in grief. She went north to her sister's place, not half an hour from where I now live, and came back not healed but at least shaking her head and almost smiling. "I stood on a mountain," she said, and picked up a pitchfork. Her sister is dead now, too. Though the events are unrelated, they feel linked by image and circumstance. Twenty years later I remember her words when I look up from my own distracting problems and notice that nearly all the landmarks that surround me - mountains, trees - will still be here long after I'm gone, my kids are gone, my own horses are gone, our worries and mistakes and triumphs faded to disappearance. We are all brief. We stand on mountains and then pick up our pitchforks. It's all we can do. The world is changing; my boys will depend on a very different geography to inform them, support them and comfort them. But I imagine the mountains will stay, for a while at least, the highest ones. I hope.

Monday, October 11, 2010


There are no dolls in our house. No Barbies, no ribbons, no sharp, butterfly barrettes, no pink corduroy skirts, no Babysitters Club books. No princess-themed bedrooms. No blue jeans with embroidered flowers, no tap shoes, no rainbow headbands. Sometimes people ask: "So, are you going to try again for a little girl?" and I slay them with one of my are-you-crazy looks, but the truth is I feel a tiny, almost non-existent tug deep in my belly when I think about how there is no girl in our house. Not that I would consider trading any of my glorious boys, but. still. When I was pregnant with, oh, one of them, I was sure I'd have a girl, and she'd be named Sylvia and she'd have all the sense I missed when I was a teen-aged girl. She'd ride horses, volunteer to read to sick children, save her babysitting money for a trip to France. She'd sigh and clue me in to the pop icons I never recognize when I hear them mentioned on the radio. We'd argue, disagree, cry a bit, make up with peanut butter cups. I'd adore her boyfriends, some of them. I'd ache when she went away to college, to work abroad, to raise her children near the ocean that I miss. She'd help with all those pies and dishes at holidays and I'd cuddle her children and tell them stories about when their mummy was a little girl. There is no girl in our house but me and I don't even know how to wear makeup. Sometimes I miss the little girl that will never be, her absence like an occasional ghost, but then a boy makes a loud noise and I am thrust back into real life where everything is as it really should be.

The first time I saw the ocean was as a young girl on a visit to Philadelphia to visit my great aunt and her family. I can still see myself sitting in the water, pink swimcap on my head. I would flail my arms around in an attempt to tread water; a modified doggie paddle of sorts. I remember feeling so small next to the gigantic Atlantic. But I need not have worried, having my cousins in the water all around me meant that I was safe. The day ended with the pack of us piling into the back of the station wagon and stopping at the store for candy dots, bits of sugar attached to a strip of paper. Clearly the city had much to offer, somehow life was sweeter there. Now when I visit the ocean (I have yet to experience the Pacific) I often feel tiny. It reminds me of my younger self, my smaller self. No matter the weather I am always excited, sometimes giddy with anticipation. People often stroll on the beach, perhaps ramble or meander--I skip. We took our annual family vacation this week. At the beach, out of the corner of my eye, I spotted a redheaded girl--eyes glued to binoculars studying the vastness of the water in front of her. I wondered what she was searching for while these lines ran through my head: “For whatever we lose(like a you or a me)/it’s always ourselves we find in the sea.”

Thursday, September 30, 2010


For a long time we lived with a carpet that featured a stain from when our last fluffy black dog died - Tupelo. We're not sure what happened. There was vomiting, drooling, whining, stillness. We buried him in the front garden, the four of us digging spring-cool dirt and replacing the blanket whenever it blew off Tupelo's body. We tossed into the grave Baba's ashes and the two containers of frozen placenta we still had in the freezer. We are not people who take care of things in an expedient manner. We linger. We procrastinate. We let the ashes of a long-dead dog keep a place on the mantel. We rearrange frozen placenta every time we unpack the weekly groceries. We live with obvious stains on our carpet long past an emotionally appropriate moment. Finally, I ripped up the carpet in a fit of pique, knowing a bare, ugly floor might motivate us to put something in its place. I was pregnant with our third child and really leaning towards a nap, but there were these two boys at my knees who needed me conscious. So, for fun and distraction, we ripped up the carpet. And then, over several weekends, replaced it with pine boards. The upstairs floor is also pine, milled here on our land when when we cleared a few acres for the horses. I like the idea of the trees which used to grow here now serving an alternative purpose just a few dozen feet from where they were previously rooted. Just as dead dogs and placenta rot in the soil out front, giving the cosmos an extra dose of nutrients and karma. If it were allowed, I'd be buried there too, my bones mingling with Tupelo's, my skin rubbing up against dirt enriched by the placenta that fed my babies when everything was on the inside. Long after I am earth, our old stained carpet will still be whole, rolled up in a landfill somewhere. Maybe the stain will still be visible to the worms who try their hardest to eat through it, with limited success.

Funny thing about my friends in New England, none of us have carpeting. Sure there are rugs, but mostly it’s bare wood floor; oftentimes hewn from trees that were found right outside the door. You’d think that someplace where the winters are this cold we’d delight in the deep, thick pile of comfort underneath our feet. Not so. Our practicality gets in the way, as does our love for the beauty of the wood. In fact when we visit a house, we bring our own houseshoes. We expect to leave our outside shoes by the door and that the floors may be a bit cold. But if the house we've stepped into is not one we're visiting but rather thinking of buying, our minds start racing. How quick could we rip up this shag remnant and discover what exactly is hiding underneath? Then we imagine ourselves getting out the sanders and polishing the floor to a high shine. We can retire the vacuums, shake and hang the rugs as needed, and then sweep, sweep, sweep: dust, dirt and dog hair. Though we may not approve of carpet inside, outside is another matter. All of my friends still have this innate sense of joy when it comes to falling leaves. This is one carpet that causes us to kick up our heels, take a running start and leap right in. We hear the crunch and crinkle of the vibrant colors, knowing that soon enough we will need to rake, shred and mulch. But thank goodness, it never ever requires the vacuum.

Sunday, September 26, 2010


T was assigned to read a McCullers' short story for English class this week. I was surprised to discover that it was one I had never read before. The pivotal moment in the text happens when the main character finally loses his temper at his young cousin who has always worshiped him. His anger is not read hot, more like the raging white of a heated poker. He even says that if he had been loud things might have been easier to fix; but his tone was quiet and even, his words filled with hatred and the damage irreparable. I have been known to have moments of loud and seething rage, an unfortunate characteristic I inherited from those who came before me. What angers me most are the loss of moments and situations that cannot be fixed or repaired even with the best superglue: deaths, breakups or treasured mementos that accidentally slip to the floor from the hands of a child. I am not one to throw or hurl objects, rather I seethe then weep at their fragile, broken state. When discovering chipped cups and plates that have accidentally jostled too harshly in the sink, the loss of control rears it ugly head. I am blinded, wishing that I could somehow turn back the clock as if the moment hadn't happened.. Though I tell myself sometimes scars and cracks add a layer of beauty. Still my life is not one you would read about in a magazine where everything is placed just so; more like a story in an old used book, the pages dogeared from rereading. Our family's tale is filled with beauty, anger, joy and pain. All of those moments add up to a life, and without one you couldn't appreciate the other. We are not glossy or shiny, hiding our true feelings beneath the surface. Rather our edges are occasionally tattered and torn but we move on, using superglue or the emotional equivalent whenever needed.

I have so little to write about anger. I could tell a few stories about M's temper and how I learned to laugh at the vibrant shade of red his face reaches at certain key moments of the weekend, but thanks, I'd like to stay married. I could describe how angry I was at the dentist for making me feel bad last week because I was half an hour late for L's appointment when it was all their fault for sending the wrong time in the email confirmation. But that would be embarrassing, because it was actually my bad - apparently I was confirming the correct time for a different appointment on a different day. I could poke self-inflicted fun at the way I got mad at him when M pointed out I had a scratch on my lens when really I was furious at myself for never buying a clear lens cover. I could admit to getting mad at B the other morning when he needed to be held and I needed to make breakfast for humans, dogs and horses; I could describe how loudly I yelled (very) and how hard he cried as he wandered upstairs looking for Daddy, how he scowled at me later on from the comfort of M's arms and said, "Mommy is mean." I could tell you: that judgement broke a little bit off my heart that won't grow back. But that's a bit saccharine and not quite what I was thinking, which was more along the lines: you won't be two forever. "Make an angry face," I told T this afternoon while we waiting for somebody, anybody to buy cub scout popcorn from us outside the local video store. He complied and we laughed. Yes, I get angry sometimes. But mostly it's all terribly entertaining.

Sunday, September 19, 2010


After stopping in at the Farmer's Market before going to work on Saturday, my eyes travelled over to the community garden. Standing tall with heads bent were several sunflowers. As I walked among them I began to feel as if they were slumbering giants, towering over the flowers and vegetables. I was sure that if I gently nudged them the would awaken. Each seemed to have a different personality: One was an older, bumbling man with a gray mustache who had dozed off on his watch. He didn't even know how loud he was snoring. The other was a tall, willowy woman a bit past her prime, who believed in getting her beauty rest above all else. And then there were the twins pictured here. Awkward, gangly boys who catnapped every spare moment possible in order to offset their rapidly growing bodies. Once asleep their lanky frames falling away from each other as if they had spent too much time in close quarters before they were born; now they needed to take advantage of the space available to them. Teens I find take up a lot of space; though they can occasionally be so helpful, as if to make up for their periods of angst and moodiness. When asked they can rake leaves, walk dogs, or help put the garden to bed. For with Fall upon us, it won't belong before the snow falls and blankets the earth. Flowers, trees and shrubs can stay fast asleep until the spring awakening.

Like most parents, I get too little sleep. Take last night: T is sick and called for me around midnight. He needed a bathroom escort, a glass of juice, another dose of ibuprofen, warm reassurance that illness passes, that no one is sick forever. Which I supplied wholeheartedly with no whisper of falsehood. He knows about sickness that never goes away; in kindergarten his best friend was found to have type I diabetes. His dad has had the storm cloud of type II over his head for the past couple years. But he is eight and cautious and needs no encouragement to fear that which we cannot control, especially not in the tiny hours. After T and I did all we could to appease the gods of nighttime fever we tried to drift off in the big bed, but M is sick, too, which makes his nose loud, so we tried the loft which worked for an hour or so until B cried heartily because he couldn't find me in the big bed, where he'd wandered from his little bed right next door. So I moved again. And was awoken at 5:30 by B who had to pee. Nights are generally more solid now that nobody is breastfeeding. Waking every hour is a thing of the past. And while I'd never wish to return to that level of sleeplessness, there's something about it I miss. The subsequent haze that persisted even after three cups of coffee; the way I never had to worry about insomnia; the intimacy of being the only two (or three) people awake in the entire world. But mostly I prefer the sense of completion I feel when I go to bed these days. I read a few pages, flip to my stomach, stretch my right arm along my side and revel in the idea that I don't have to be on until morning. Usually. Unless sick, lonely boys need me.

Sunday, September 12, 2010


My boys rarely get new toys. B's trike came from the dump, as you may have guessed from the duct tape on the handle bars and general air of discard. B has never commented on its lack of shine, the way the seat tips all of a sudden despite any amount of bolt tightening, the independence of the handlebars from the front wheel. "I ride my trike!" he asks, so politely, and then someone has to push him around the driveway risking various appendages until the eager red trike can't quite meet its goal of benign usefulness and B falls off in a heap while the poor soul pushing rubs her shin where the sharp back step made fateful contact. B laughs. I pretend to laugh and mutter swears under my breath. "I ride my trike!" B asks again, and off we go. B's red trike reminds me of the red trike I had when I was a kid. I don't think mine came from the dump. I remember riding it in the old barn while wearing too-big tap shoes. Someone once told me if I ever walked in an oil patch I'd never be able to swim again, so I avoided those, even with tap-shoe protection, even though those stains came from cars long since traded in for newer models. Just me and my red trike, travelling miles on the same patch of cement floor. Someday B will be able to provide his own motor and my job as pusher will be done. My shins will be grateful for the reprieve, but for now, I'm glad to share these miles.

When I close my eyes I can conjure up her image; walking from building to building, the green hills her backdrop, or standing on stage reciting her poetry, the black curtains streaming behind. Through it all she wears the the red coat that shapes and defines her. There are also red earrings, red skirts and often a red shirt-- it is obviously her color of choice. The words she reads are exhilarating, the lines of verse practically lifting me out of my seat. The color and sounds of this young woman are what remains in my head weeks after I have returned home from school. Seeing her there reminded me of the cover of a recent booksale find.“Girl in a Red Dress Reading by the Swimming Pool” is the cover image for The Penguin Book of Modern Short Stories. I wonder if the book jacket designers had chosen something by Picasso in his Blue period, would I still have felt compelled to pick up the book and read these stories? I have never been able to wear red in that same way as these two women, instead I have relegated this vibrant hue to shoes, scarves, jewelry and other accessories. Perhaps these accents serve the same dynamic purpose, an edge or a border to my own persona. I find that red has the power to define and divide, drawing your eye as a magnetic compass points north. It is the only color of choice for my varied sizes of notebooks,which are always open and available to receive my own scrawl. Passionate words flowing from pen to the page.

Monday, September 6, 2010


They say three moves equals a fire; without packing a single box my family can lose most of its earthly possessions as a matter of routine. Like car keys - M is famous for his great, sudden lack of all things necessary for a day at work, including wallet, phone, and keys; they disappear with clever discretion just when he's ready to walk out the morning door. L loses many important items in his own hands. "I can't find my bakugan/pack of gum/vitamin/milk money!" he wails. "What's in your hand?" I ask. "Oh," he says, and bounds away, refuelled with his usual high quota of joy. T gets the most frustrated of the boys, especially when the lost thing is scotch tape and he has six minutes to wrap the present before we have to leave for the birthday party. "I hate this house!" he's been known to shriek. For a while he kept his own stockpile of tape in his loft, but his heart is too sweet and he loaned it to someone and someone lost it. When B loses something, he doesn't quite notice. Something's different, something, but he can't quite put his finger on it. No matter. Let's have a popsicle. Once I lost my wedding ring for three days and resorted to dowsing to get it back. Which didn't work, but doing laundry did - there it was, on the bottom of the basket, waiting for me to save it. Just this morning I pulled on a pair of pants and found a barrette I've been missing since the cool spring weather. I never even looked for it, poor thing. I had as much chance of finding it as finding a needle in a haystack.

Reading one of my knitting blogs this week, I was surprised to see the topic “The Future of Knitting” being discussed. I have often thought about knitting in relation to the past. As a novice knitter of five years, I am often comforted and sometimes overwhelmed by the long history people have with knitting; and with the amazing things that people create out of a ball of yarn and two needles. The variables often astound me--the width of the needle or its length, combined with your choice of fiber (natural or manmade) not to mention color… And then the numerous types of stitches can be charted to create a gazillion different patterns, which often spark many, many more thoughts and ideas. I have books devoted to wool, others to anything but, which includes soy, silk and bamboo. One book features a bag made from plastic grocery bags, and one determined knitter used wire to knit a screen door. The possibilities are endless. On the blog that I was reading, someone commented that in the future we’ll have needles that can tell you when you’ve made a mistake or dropped a stitch. One commenter hoped for needles that would tell you if what you were knitting would turn out ugly. One person wondered if in the future we might be amazed by the materials we would be using, new fibers and substances we hadn’t yet explored. One woman’s post went straight to my heart, she said: “It will always be about sticks and string.” That’s what I love about knitting, it feels like getting back to basics, no matter how nutty the rest of my life may be. Sticks and string are so much more constructive than sticks and stones.

Monday, August 30, 2010


I spent the last week at school, my final residency dedicated to defining my thesis and planning out my schedule for the next few months. Each time I make the trek there, I am please to reunite with certain students. It's a treat to spend time with them at meals or walking to the library. Sometimes, though, I feel like a fish out of water - I don't share much common ground with many of them. Social justice and books about Trotsky and the Revolution occupy their thoughts. I'm more likely to rhapsodize about my favorite children's books as a source of inspiration - Mrs. Frisby, Caddie Woodlawn, and Charlotte's Web just to name a few. There are moments at school when the connection is like an electric zing, a phrase or a certain sentiment that's expressed and I feel an instant bond with that person. When engaged in a conversation about creative writing, photography, or what I'm reading now, I can go on for hours. (My friend M and I spend many an evening comparing notes on the novels we love.) On my last day at school I spent a few moments in the Garden House. I had never noticed the intricate carvings: the essence of lizards, turtles, pigs and owls was somehow capture in the wood. On each corner of the roof a bunny or squirrel, sculpted out of stone, stood watch. The house itself, though immensely charming with a few stained glass windows framed in the doors, is in a bit of disrepair; reminding me of the Secret Garden and treasures that await for those who seek them. I instantly felt an affinity with all of the carved creatures, and for the spiders who contributed their own webbed masterpieces to the windowsills.

I used to be afraid of spiders. Not any more. I don't think we lose fears as we grow older; we just find other things to be afraid of. Now I'm afraid of pain. The pain of my children. The cost of college. I'm still a bit afraid of ghosty things, that fear hasn't diminished since childhood. I'm afraid of the demise of the planet, but only in a vague sense - my own five-acre patch of planet is quite lovely and willingly gives us food to eat, so the idea of global devastation is a hazy one. Some days I'm afraid of coming to the end of my life having accomplished nothing but the laundry. Other days I recognize that laundry is a fairly huge accomplishment and if that turns out to be the case I should be proud anyway. I'm afraid of early-onset dementia. I'm afraid I'll grow more and more uncomfortable in crowds and one day decide never to leave the house again. I'm afraid of failing my kids in a million ordinary ways. But spiders I've made peace with. They decorate the front porch with their webs, they eat flies and mosquitoes. They're quiet neighbors. The spiders can stay.

Sunday, August 22, 2010


When T was little, one of the cutest parts about him were those two small pudgy feet. We constantly marveled at the notion that they were just like ours, but miniature. When he was first born and sleeping in his vibrating seat (often the only way to get him to go to sleep) we would hold one in our hands and gaze at it in wonder. As he grew, so did they. For a time our feet were roughly the same size. If he needed to take a dog on a quick spin around the yard, he inevitably slipped on my galoshes. This past year he has grown at an alarming rate, and so have his feet. They have surpassed mine, and his curls tower over my own. Somehow I've become the shortest member of our household, a position I didn't think I'd hold for another couple of years. Oh how he adores putting his arm around me and reminding me of our height difference. Believe it or not, his feet have almost surpassed M's. I'm certain one day they will stop growing, but who can say when that will be. No matter that they leave deep tracks in the sand or large mud prints in the house, they give him such a strong foundation and provide a solid base for a steadily growing boy. Hopefully we've also helped him to learn that putting one foot in front of the other can take you wherever you wish to go.

Baby feet never look capable of any of those activities we take for granted when we are old – walking, dancing, standing on tiptoe. They're more like soft stumps that need to be kept warm, delicate peas for toes, smooth purply skin that's never seen the inside of a shoe. Bizarre alien appendages that require frequent kisses. Of all the strange parts on babies, feet might be the strangest. These feet belong to the new baby of my oldest friend. Someday H and I will describe what our boys are up to during our annual visit – she and I have a friendship that lies dormant beneath the surface of daily life and blooms like desert flowers in a yearly rain. Someday she and I will share a pint of Ben and Jerry's ice cream and describe how happy we are that our boys are at college/in Europe/married/having babies and then we might fall quiet and feel sad, the tiniest bit sad, that those baby feet have carried our babies so far away from us. But mostly we will be happy at our amazing good fortune, that we made healthy children with strong feet, that we are still friends after so many years. That we are full and giggly from ice cream, like we used to be so often in the sixth grade. Here's to the years ahead.

Saturday, August 14, 2010


T is a cub scout. T was born a cub scout. The checklists, the parades, the vows of effort, duty and faith - the whole process appeals to his acute sense of order and justice. When he first brought home the brochure - pictures of grinning boys in wooded settings, hanging from ropes and lugging canoes - he slapped it on the dining room table and asked, "Can I do this?" And I winced. I've nothing against camping. Or even weekly meetings. And I'm happy to go for a six-mile Family Fun Hike in the cold rain. But BSA is notorious for being unfriendly toward certain...types. The gay type. The atheist type. And I like to think we foster a sense of inclusion in our family. But when your oldest son looks excited about uniforms and derby races, you make some room in your schedule, you recalibrate your moral compass, to gather with members of an organization that won't allow some of your friends to join. You let go of the worry that another cub scout will notice your permanent absence in church, that your son will overhear a predatory remark. Instead we offer our time, we show up to meetings, we give rides to kids who need rides. Mostly the people we meet at cub scouts are like us, only with more church. We all want our children to learn, love, overcome fear, and find their way, to become good citizens and great people. If I had said no to T that day he asked to be a cub scout, I'd have been basing my judgement on politics and fear; instead we'll be open and learn. And we'll go camping.

Summer for us has a certain rhythm and tempo different from the rest of the year. Unlike our friends who dust off their passports and visit other countries, we often stick close to home. In July we always venture north to take part in a camp that's located in the community where we used to live. T has been going since he was 5 years old and I often lend a hand in the kitchen, making grilled cheeses for the masses. This is the fourth year T's also gone to sleepaway circus camp. There he juggles and clowns to his heart's content. Often towards the end of summer we plan to attend one of the local Circus Smirkus performances. We've been to see them in Burlington and Montpelier, but this year we wanted to see the final performance in Greensboro. T and I made plans to meet M there for the first Sunday show. Due to unforeseen circumstances we arrived late and ended up rushing into the tent, only to be seated in the back. I was furious. I couldn't see the kids performing and I didn't feel like clapping for anyone. Instead I sat and silently fumed. Then came intermission and the chance to sit on the ground with the little kids for the second half. I felt all my anger slipping away as I watched the jugglers, aerialists, kids tumbling and riding unicycles. After the show ended I wandered outside, a movement caught my eye and caused me to look up. Somehow I had never noticed the flags around the outside of the Big Top. Several countries were represented, which made perfect sense. In the years that we've been going, we've seen kids from Spain, France, Poland and Mongolia perform. When they get in the ring, though, it's their talent that shines, not their nationality. After many weeks together, I'm sure these kids feel as if they were in their own country, one where race, gender, age and background don't matter. No wonder people want to run away and join the circus. Too bad we can't take up permanent residence there. It's rather like a good book or special place in your mind's eye, we're happy to immerse ourselves while we can, pleased to have the opportunity to visit. No matter how we enter the tent, we always leave smiling - eager to be good citizens and stewards, spreading the whimsical word of the circus to those who haven't yet heard of this magical land.

Sunday, August 8, 2010


Last week B got his first splinter. "My foot HURT," he said. I was washing dishes, cooking dinner, sipping wine, and trying to explain the concept of infinity to an eight year old who is pretty sure he already knows everything anyway. "Poor foot," I answered. I bent down and brushed the top of his foot with my lips; usually a Mommykiss is the best first defense. But no. "MY FOOT HURT!" he calmly explained again. I took a better look and there it was, a sliver of wood piercing the tender skin of his still-new arch. This called for tweezers. B was patient. He likes tools, and tweezers count. As a reward for patience and stillness he got to play with them and thus they are missing. Our new porch, not yet two years old, delivers few splinters. Our old porch was infamous for its poor treatment of bare feet; I got quite adept at pulling out bits of it from the pink skin of sleeping babies. The roof of our garage has gone the opposite way, rougher instead of smoother. Ten years ago M threw several pieces of stale bread onto the shingles for the birds - that bread has decayed into patches of lichen in which the birds show no interest. Enough grass grows up through the cracks to make me think of mowing and those asphalt shingles sport more and more jagged canyons every year. We all do. Some parts grow smooth, some rough. Smooth: finding a hot cup of coffee on the kitchen counter made by the man who got up earliest. Rough: being woken several times during the night by two different children. All we can do is be patient and still and hope we can find the right tools.

Years ago I worked for a short time at a small publisher. I was there over the holiday season and I remember a co-worker telling us the story of shopping with her boyfriend for a present for his children who were now living with his ex-wife. They decided upon a rock tumbler for the boy. Turns out that a gift such as this is quite loud and it runs continuously. (This part may have spoken with the teensiest hint of glee.) Needless to say, the toy was relegated to the garage where it could do its work in solitude. I often think of it out there, tumbling and tumbling, making the rough edges smooth; only to be opened later to reveal a tiny treasure. Come to think of it, the loudness shouldn't have been such a surprise; making something smooth is never simple or even quiet. Rough hands, rough drafts, rough patches - they all take hard work and discipline to get through. There is much construction in our town at the moment, most of it involving the creation of a sidewalk that spans most of downtown. It's a project that has been going on for quite a while, from idea to sketch to near-completion. I'm longing for the day when I can ride my bike from the library to the park, the smooth, unbroken surface under my tires stretching out in front of me clear and unobstructed. If only difficult times in our lives came with warning signs. Caution, rough patch ahead. It wouldn't matter for some of us, we'd just keep plunging ahead. It's true: often the only way out is through.

Monday, August 2, 2010


This past week has been restorative, and magical in ways I couldn't even have begun to imagine before we arrived. There has been much reading, writing, knitting, napping, biking, chatting and walking on the beach. I'm writing this on our last day here on this beautiful island. I think what I will miss most are the windows. They let in the wind, the sounds of geese, children laughing and the waves crashing in the distance. And the view of the sky and the water below, it's enough to make you catch your breath, repeatedly. I think Frank Lloyd was “wright” when he set about designing and building houses, the best should be a part of Nature not in opposition to it. The windows here make me feel as if I am connected to everything going on outside of the house. There are 30 windows in this house-- I counted cause I was curious-- and the view out of each is memorable. One evening I ran upstairs to the upstairs bathroom to catch a better view of the sunset. After fiddling with the screen and leaning as far as I could go, I caught it; at least enough to remind me of it when I gaze at these photos in the years to come. When I get home I want to be able to conjure up the view from our diningroom table whenever I need it most: flowers swaying, birds flying, bunnies hopping, swans swimming and the slow steady movement of the water calling me home. Now close your eyes, can you see it...

My room at the beach had bars on its window. To keep people out, to keep people in? Whether it was the bars, the lack of distraction beyond flitting birds and curious wild bunnies, or the wish to not waste this unexpected gift of wide-open time, I did stay in my room, quite a lot, and finished a project I've been working on for six. damn. years. When I started this project L was an infant, we still had Bay, Baba and Tupelo, and writing time was devoted exclusively to my own files. Now there are three little boys, new horses and dogs, plenty of freelance work to take precedence, and the ever-present whisper "never going to finish" ghosting in my ears. But I did. I finished. And then I looked out the window and said hello to the spider. And goodbye to the house where I had felt peaceful for a week. Goodbye to reading on the chaise lounge with a glass of wine, watching the shadow of the house spread over the porch, over me, over the yard. Goodbye to leaning against one of the many windows while drops of rain streamed down, close but unfelt. Goodbye to the view above the sink which made the dish washing painless and fast. Goodbye to my own characters I've lived with for six years who know the importance of the sea air and the sound of the ocean.

Monday, July 26, 2010


We are on vacation, and life is... beautiful.