Tuesday, December 13, 2011

And Then We Came To the End

I've talked about this before with some of you, about how what I put on the screen is an abridged version of life as it really is. It has to be. Otherwise every moment would take a page, every day a book.

What I've put on this particular screen is, I think, the most truthful I've ever been. But I've left parts out. The ugly parts, the boring parts, the tedious parts. I'm not completely the person you know through this blog.

I haven't told you about how, once every couple of months, I scream at my kids so fiercely that my throat aches the rest of the day. I never mentioned how M and I had a not-quite-whispered argument in the car in front of a dear friend and how it embarrassed me. And this: if you are skinny, or rich, or otherwise remind me of certain girls from high school, I might not like you upon our first meeting. Yes, I'm shallow. Less than zenful.

Please don't mistake this as a call for reassurance - I have good qualities, I know. I am generally happy with who I am and how my life works. But people have said things to me about this blog, about how my life seems to be full of raucous laughter and sweet kisses, and it is but I don't want anyone to get the impression that joy is a constant, that I have reached the nirvana of family life and every day is sunshine and lollipops from the nice ladies at the bank.

So - it isn't.  Sometimes the lollipops are not the right flavor. 

That picture of me - I hate my teeth.  And my face is too red.  And one eye closes more than the other.  And is my nose really that big? But there I am. This is me.

We're going to keep going. B and I, we don't get to see each other very often even though we don't live all that far apart and we work even closer, geographically.  This is a way to stay in each others' lives and I don't want to give that up. Plus, the fame and fortune of blogging is just too much for us to resist. So join us in the new year at our new blog, www.letusgothenyouandi.wordpress.com. This isn't so much as goodbye as it so long, see you soon.
There are doors everywhere you look, some of them are magic and some of them don’t look like doors until you step through them.

Two years ago we came up with an idea for this collaboration. At the time it seemed like a lark and making it through all one hundred words was perhaps a possibility. Like seeing your child off to kindergarten and wondering what the cap and gown will look like at their high school graduation. Never has one felt so far away from its counterpart with the two extra zeros. Yet it’s never just a hop, step and a jump to the other side; rather its baby steps--one next to the other until you turn around and realize how far you’ve come. Turn around sometime and see for yourself, I promise that you will be amazed.

The writer, Mollie Hunter, says children are the ones who ‘never pass a secret place in the woods without a stare of curiosity for the mystery implied… who still turn corners with a lift of expectation at the heart.’ No matter how many years old I am this is how I live my life, always wondering and full of wonder. This is the season for delight and merriment, feeling like a child and realizing that anything is possible. Even magic.

If you just believe.

The next time you have a chance, say yes to a collaboration and see where it takes you. Open a door to another world and step through without hesitation. Little by little this blog has become a part of my weekly routine. By saying yes to this weird and wacky idea we had, there’s been the opportunity to reflect on our lives and connect with people we didn’t even know two years ago. Looking through my lens each week—every day if possible—has been the most incredible gift I could have ever asked for. Seeing what my dear friend a saw and reading her words next to mine has been surprising, funny, heart wrenching and has shown me parts of her I didn’t know. I cherish each and every one of these posts. Somehow we’ve created this mosaic of our lives, a bit of beauty from broken pottery and a little bit of somethin’ to make it all stick together.

As crazy as it can be, December is also the time of year when we start to wind down, wrap up presents and loose ends. We’ve finished our challenge and are taking on tackling another literary work, which should last about another two years. After a brief break we’ll post here every week starting in January. If you have a moment, please comment and let us know some of your favorite photos and stories. Hearing from you would be quite a treat as we gear up to step though another doorway into the beyond. We hope you’ll join us.


Tuesday, December 6, 2011


Why do I dread these writing these posts? At the beginning of the week I am hopeful, even joyful for the challenge. Come Sunday I keep wishing for wisdom and a perfect image to appear in front of my lens. It often takes me forever to put into words what my heart is longing to say. I reach out and they fall like sand through my fingers. I’m afraid that the words I do capture fall short of my intention. It’s like they aren’t good enough, and by extension I’m not good enough. As if someone will read what I have to say and make these judgments.

I make my own judgments about my life maybe too harshly. I can’t pass by a mirror without averting my eyes. I can’t-- won’t look at the me I’ve become. Being a student and now being a teacher (in addition to librarian, bookseller, wife and mother) have thrown my equilibrium off and distorted my sense of self. I found myself cringing a few weeks ago when there was a mirror in a scene of a movie I was watching. I soon realized the impossibility of the situation, the irrationality, and that maybe this is not your everyday fear, but perhaps a phobia. Otherwise known as  Catoptrophobia.
At night I dream of those same mirrors, or showing up to school unprepared, or driving off-road, downhill and being unable to stop. I wake up wanting to shake those thoughts out of my head, salt out of a shaker. But the dream that terrifies me to the core is the one that I wake up from and shiver, as if it was a reality that seeped under my skin. In it I am rocking in a chair, it is dark and I think I can see and hear but there is nothing around me. All I can feel is the emptiness that surrounds me. I am old and have been left all alone. What I can’t understand is how it happened. Surely in my old age I would have a cat or two. Could it be that I cannot care for myself, that in my old age I have become feeble, vulnerable, waiting for it all to end.

It cannot end that way. Each time I make a decision, choose a path, I think about where it is leading. Yet the end cannot be all consuming. It’s about savoring, living, noticing, taking it all in because it is
mine. These are the days I will revisit. Moments make the days, days make the years and together they make a life. I want to look back and feel full, not empty. In my old age I want to read and write. If I cannot read, I want to listen. And if I cannot do that I hope I can have my memories to comfort me. There are days now when I wish for the chance to rock back and forth. Slowly. An empty house around me, but only until everyone comes back, eager to share news of their day.

These words from Tara Sophia Mohr, hit home today and made me see that words have power. They can transcend and connect us all. Even if they aren’t perfect, not the words she wanted. She wasn’t afraid to put them out there, and for that I am thankful.

“What you’ll want a thousand years from now is this:
A memory that beats like a heart—
A travel memory, of what it was like to walk here,
alive and warm and textured within.

Sweet brightness, aliveness, take-me-now-ness that is life.
 You are here to pay attention. That is enough.”

I say: Forget fear.  Be brave. This is the end, but there is no need to be afraid of what lies ahead. An end means there is room for a beginning.

When I was three I threw a rock at a truck.  And managed to hit it.  The driver braked and shouted, "Who threw that rock at my truck?" and I ran to the house and tried to open the door, but I was three and the doorknob was unfamiliar - this was my uncle's house in California where my mother and I were staying on our vacation - and uncooperative.  I couldn't get into the house, where safety and my mother waited for me.  I don't remember how the situation ended - maybe my mother opened the door, maybe my older cousin helped me out - but I remember the feeling of dread that persisted in my stomach for the remaining afternoon.  Would the truck driver come back?  Would he do something horrible to me, to my mother?  That's the most afraid I've ever been in my life.

At least that's the most consciously afraid I've ever been in my life.  I mean, there's the ever-present fear of death.  It's the death of my children that scares me more than my own.  Dying myself would hurt less than my children dying.  There's the fear of total nuclear annihilation.  There's the more pedestrian fear of the bank balance.  There's the fear of the unknown that I get every time I climb the stairs to my office, even after two months of working at that wonderful place.  There's being afraid of the month ahead with its resident deadlines, shipping fees, and hours packed too tightly with have-tos instead of want-tos.  There's the abstract fear of never publishing a book, never visiting Africa, never being invited on to Fresh Air with Terry Gross.

All of which I can mostly handle.  But that fear from thirty - ahem - four years ago of having done something terribly bad with unmanageable consequences looming over me, that fear can still keep me awake at night, lights blazing a weak defense.

But I learned: never throw rocks at passing trucks, even if there's no chance of hitting the target.  Because there's always a chance.  So feel safe driving your truck down my road.

Next Week: we wrap it up.

Monday, November 28, 2011


I Am Losing My Bloom.

Not of youth. That patina was rubbed off several years ago, not by a specific number of accumulated years but by my children, who are determined to make permanent the hint of red in the whites of my eyes.

No. My current loss of bloom concerns writing. The voices in my head are getting quieter and quieter because I listen to them so rarely. They are annoyed with me. They've almost given up. They whispered the other day, in the car, “Yes, we were concerned at the lack of specificity in the cartographer's directions. Most of were concerned. Those of us who spent our time looking down at the ground were concerned, but those of us who more often looked up at the trees felt no worry.” I know, it's not much, but it was mine and it was singing until... someone asked if we could get pizza for dinner. And then someone else asked for cd 2, song 4, which happened to be that mining song by the Decemberists that I really loved until we played it for the 459th time – two months ago.

My purse used to be littered with scraps of paper. Important scraps of paper with ideas written on them. Now my purse is just littered. On my computer I used to have several documents open and active and each one would be visited every day and added to a little bit. I still have several documents open in various stages of completion; some of them bordering on late, most of them bordering on boring.

Is this a phase? Does everyone go through a time in their lives when they fail to work at what they love the most? And how does one end the phase? I've tried booze, I've tried Mozart, I've tried candlelit tubs. It's no use.

Patience, I suppose. Patience and distraction. I try hard not to look too closely at the problem, and that's pretty easy since life is full of peanut butter jelly sandwiches, shirts on backwards, those bills that come every month, salted caramels and earaches. Maybe the voices will return full strength in the spring. Which is tough, since, despite the snow on the ground, it isn't even winter yet.

Maybe I just have to listen more closely. Shhhhh.....

It used to be that there were more lazy sundays, those special do-nothing days of the Calvin and Hobbes variety. The apartment and the surroundings may have changed—not to mention the addition of children and pets--but the music has remained the same. Once upon a time Sinatra was the soundtrack to our sundays. Sometimes there was Ella or Hartman, sometimes Baker or Etta, but the sounds from the stereo always went down like a smooth drink that warmed or cooled depending on the weather. Now that it's November the days are looking a bit grey and we're starting to gear up for the beginning of the holiday season. In the face of the chaos that is to come, our teenager spent the afternoon at a friend’s and the grown-ups took the day off.

Blossom Dearie was the clear choice today. She's one of my favorites, I think I feel a connection to those big glasses she's wearing on the cover of the CD. I love her easy, carefree lyrics, which are the perfect upbeat accompaniment to waffle-making, knitting and hand holding. As much as I wanted to cross off all of the items on my mammoth to-do list, I resisted. Still, it seemed to be sitting there, mocking me, growing and expanding every time I turned my eyes away. It haunts me. Yet I wonder, when will I learn that you can only push so far before you break and snap?

M is often after me to take it easy; to rest, relax, enjoy. And I try, I really do. Every time I manage to slough off that ten-ton bit of baggage I've been carrying, I am amazed at how much I enjoy myself and I begin to love life again. I had this idea recently that maybe, just maybe “growing” isn't enough. Could it be that we need more than the basics: food, water and shelter? How much do we need to feel a connection, to be with someone that we can just be ourselves, our ugly selves if need be, to really thrive? Maybe being in a relationship of any kind that is honest and sincere is where we start to show our true selves--our best selves—which allows us to blossom and shine. Given those connections and that intimacy, what we produce and are capable of creating can be heartbreakingly beautiful. I think of those sunflowers I admired this summer and how they would turn their heads toward the sky and just drink it all in. I know (though that knowledge may be buried somewhere deep inside me) that a decent rest can rejuvenate you just the same. “Go, go, go!” doesn’t always have to be the mantra.

Unfortunately we won't see the sun much for the next few months, the days are getting shorter. Much to my dismay I find that my energy runs out so much faster at this time of year. In the summer it often feels like I can go on forever. Now words like “dormant” and “hibernation” trip off the tongue. Really those are just a way of describing a longer rest, cause in the scheme of things Spring is only a season away. We just have to get through the snow that will inevitably bury us several times over this Winter. I don't mind the snow, it's the sun I miss most. On those days when I feel depleted, M will remind me of all we have to look forward to come Spring and how we'll rejoice when we finally see the leaves budding on the trees. He'll also remind me how much I love being cosy in these snow-covered months, and that it really is the best time to knit, curl up with a good book; and that icicles, snowmen and hot cocoa will begin to make their long awaited appearances. As much as I fuss, I can't begin to imagine a year without them.

No matter the time of day, the time of year, or how he's feeling, M never fails to perk me up when I need it most. He supports those crazy out-of-this-world goals and dreams of mine. When I whisper ever so faintly how much I love baking and taking photographs he is the one who hears the quiet longing of my heart. And when I (finally) get up the courage to make those passions a bigger part of my life I know he'll be there with open arms to clap for me or pick me up when I fall.

In the words of our gal Blossom, “I'm glad that I'm the one who found you. That's why I'm always hangin' round you. Do I love you? Oh my, do I. Honey, indeed I do.”

Next Week's Final Word: Afraid

Tuesday, November 22, 2011


November is many things, chief among them grey, desolate and often the calm before the chaotic holiday festivities. It is also known to others as NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month. A few years ago my sister-in-law mentioned to me that she might like to try it. Last year I signed up online, mostly for the pep talks, which come once a week from a variety of authors. Even though I didn't really write any fiction last year--that thesis seemed to suck up all my energy like a high-powered vacuum cleaner--I did enjoy getting an “I know you can do it” message in my inbox each week. This year I signed up without any reservations or hesitations. At this point my word count is still meager, but I have created characters that seem to be living with me. It's like I bump into them occasionally while I'm on my way to something else. Through these little interactions I'm always surprised to find out what sort of breakfast cereal Mattie prefers or what bedtime rituals help Jamie drift off to sleep. Still no matter how many words I actually accrue towards a finished novel, for me it's all about the pep talks.   (Erin Morgenstern thinks that “pep” sounds like a dog nickname, and encourages you to think of her inspirational note as a small dog full of spirit or energy. Gotta love that imagery.)

This year the NaNoWriMo website has an agony aunt, Maureen Johnson, in all her irreverent irrepressible glory.  Every day she responds to a question a struggling writer has submitted. The results are very unexpected but always right on target. As much as I find some wisdom in her answers, I highly enjoy the pictures she includes from old black and white films that feature the Marx Brothers, Gregory Peck and Jimmy Stewart. In one of her very first letters she made reference to a cheese wheel race down a very steep hill every held Spring Bank Holiday in Gloucester, England. The analogy being that this month in which one tries to write a whole novel is all about giving in, letting go and rolling with the words wherever they take you. It's not about editing, critiquing or refining; it's about writing that rough draft no matter how bad it may be.

One of the ways I foster my creative energy (and conveniently procrastinate) is to read most everything I can lay my hands on. Right now it's “Bluefish” by Pat Schmatz. Skimming the blurb on the back of the book I was instantly drawn to Velveeta. It is a name she wears with as much style as the colorful scarves she adorns everyday--each one different to suit her mood. Her real name is Vida, but she was given nickname by a classmate in second grade. Much to her dismay, she is also known as Cheap Cheese. This being a YA novel, the moniker seems obvious, but Velveeta manages to ignore it, her dysfunctional family and most everyone around her. She finds herself drawn to Travis, a boy with issues of his own. And then there is Mr. McQueen, a teacher who helps his students discover their true potential. He does it in such a sincere way (or as Velveeta calls it: all Stand and Deliverish) that I wish I could channel him in my class. As far as I’m concerned, any book that offers up “The Book Thief” and “One Fish Two Fish” as important influences is pure genius.

I am more than enchanted and excited by both of these characters and the author as well. It's like by reading her words, Schmatz has given me some highly-caffeinated, super-sugared drink that's enabled me with super powers. I can't get to the keyboard fast enough. Yet I can only maintain the buzz for so long. I find in that in the quiet moments it's the poetry of Mary Oliver makes me want to be a better writer. She instills in me this sense of wanting to put down word after word after word just to see what they look like floating next to each other in a sea of paper and ink. .

If this were somehow possible, I imagine that they (characters, authors and poet) are all on the path up ahead of me, beckoning me forward. I don't know where they are leading me, try as I might I can't see past them. Will it be a clearing, a flower-filled meadow, sandy beach or steep hill? Be it the latter, I should do up my laces, and get ready to run. Auntie MJ, I think I'm ready for those trips, stumbles and ridiculous speed you mentioned. Heck, I don't even care if I win the cheese, I'm just happy to be in the race.

Context is everything.

For the past few days I have been able to remember, very faintly, the smell of the carpet in my parents' living room.  Not the living room carpet they have now, which is red.  I think.  I have no head for details.  But the carpet currently haunting me was beige and fairly unblemished by exposure to ancient dogs.  It did not reach the walls all the way around but was framed by bare pine boards run through with squiggly dark lines that I used to suspect were secret codes implanted by a child who'd lived there before me.  The rug's weave was scratchy against my elbows.  That floor, that rug, was where I read most of the Little House books.

And when I snuggled on the couch last Friday night with T, L, B and friend D, and read to them about how to slaughter a pig and make head cheese, that rug came back like it had been lying in wait around the next bend of brain.

This happens more and more often as T reads the books I once read, sometimes the same worn copy.  He zipped through retro Gordon Korman and I found myself in a sleeping bag on a friend's floor with MTV blaring from the television on the dresser.  He read A Wrinkle In Time and boom, my mouth was filled with sharp rock candy.  It's not just kids' books - whenever I reread The Stone Diaries I taste roast beef half subs on white with oil, vinegar, and rosemary, my standard lunch during my last year of college.  Rosemary for remembrance. 

I wonder what attracted to me to those Little House books, which turn out to be a long list of instructions that could have been titled "Frontier Living For Dummies."  But T loves it.  Which is strange, since he's the one who spends months October to May wrapped in a quilt.  He's the one who avoids the outside if he hears the whine of any type of insect.  But there he sits, reading about cutting ice from frozen lakes and escaping beatings from the schoolmaster.

I wonder what he'll mentally associate with these books when he's older.  Maybe the smell of a dying fire.  Maybe the taste of eggnog of which we are all allowed one glass a day during this delightful season (some of us add spiced rum and moan like Homer Simpson).  Maybe he'll remember me, something about me.  I'd like to be remembered as all-knowing and benevolent, but most likely my voice will sound a tad, ahem, whiny in retrospect.  Probably it sounds like that now.

But we have little control over what our kids will remember about us.  Mine might remember laughing about head cheese as we sat cozy on the couch in late evening light.

Next Week's Penultimate Word: Blossom

Tuesday, November 15, 2011


One morning last week L asked me "Do you want to hear this song I made up?"

No.  I did not want to hear the song he'd made up.  I wanted to feed dogs, walk dogs, feed horses, feed children, drink more coffee, make lunches, shower, brush my teeth, sign T's reading log.  My morning had no room for made up songs sung in high, squeaky voices.

"I'd love to, sweetie."

And so he began.  This was no ordinary song.  This song had props: shiny slivers of colored stones held up against the morning windows of our front door and crowned in the sunlight: kings of earth, sea, wind and air.  I'm not sure why he called them kings.  I'd record the lyrics if I could remember them, but only the theme has survived my my beleaguered brain.  L carried those stones, his kings, with him for several days - to school, to a cub scout meeting, to bed.  A few times I caught him holding them one by one up to whatever light source was available, sometimes humming under his breath.  Those stones, for at least a week, were something magic to him.  I miss that, about being young.  The ability to know for sure that magic exists.

Of course, today was overcast.  We tried to recreate the light-and-stones show for a picture, but the inside of our house was uncooperative and the outside just as bad.  After a few dismal tries L and I headed for a flag burning ceremony.  I was a bit shocked when the e-invite to the flag burning came from the cub scout leader, who never seemed the type to take that sort of action, but M explained this is what you do with a tattered flag - burn it.  Not bury it, not shove it in the trash can.  And apparently you can't cut it into squares to use as hankies, like we do with old cloth diapers.  No, flags have to be honored with fire.  The stripes are cut apart and burned individually; the square with the stars goes last; it's all very solemn and...cold.  At least today was cold.  And really there was nothing about kings on that patch of grass next town over; it was all about the opposite, the democracy we find ourselves trying to uphold with occupations both foreign and domestic, but the ceremony was royalesque, and L, standing at attention a few times visibly trying not to shiver, looked princely.

My princes of New Hampshire, my kings of New England.  Keep reminding me of magic.

After several weeks of rehearsals, T's play was performed this past weekend to several sold-out shows. My son is usually the one to be on stage, but this time he found himself working behind the scenes. As part of the tech crew he moved props and made sure everything on the stage was where it needed to be. He also stepped in to rehearse lines when different members of the cast were unable to make a practice or two. As a result there were many lines from the play being bandied about at home. One in particular was my very favorite, and was often quoted to me whenever I stood in the kitchen with mixing bowls and oats at the ready.

When I actually got to experience the performance I found that I knew much of the dialogue and was familiar with several of the songs. Still, I kept waiting for my line. Finally we came to a part where the old and new toys are facing off against each other. Mr. Potato Head confesses that the only reason he's still around and not in the recycling bin is that some mommies don't believe in letting their kids play with video games. Queen Frostine chimes in with her affirmation, “I have met those moms. They live in a magical Kingdom called Vermont and they make their own granola.”

If I were to be a king I would wish for something as beautiful as Vermont the woods and hills as far as the eye can see. I know that I am truly lucky to live here and at the end of each day before I close my eyes I often hear a familiar refrain (albeit in a voice reminiscent of Michael Caine.) “Goodnight you princes of Maine, you kings of New England. Then I start what has become for me a nightly Cider House Rules ritual. Which begins by me silently saying “ Let us be happy for...” and like a prayer I go through in my mind all of the things I am grateful for. And in this way my days come to a comforting close.

Yet overall endings to most anything make me weepy and tearful, I'm rarely ready to let any experience go. The end of this weekend's play was no exception. Throughout each scene the queen is insistent that her one wish will be granted and it will finally snow inside the toy store. As the lights dimmed and a hush fell over the audience, the first flakes started to fall and it truly was magical. In a clear quiet voice she began to sing, “And when it snows. It is how I know. I am home.” Tears came to my eyes as I felt a recognition and deep connection to those same thoughts. This is my home and it truly as beautiful as a dear friend reminded me in the midst of my feeling sad this week. My one wish would be that everyone should have a place like this to feel at home. A house, a fortress, perhaps a castle--or my fondest desire: a turret-- where they can live, reign and love as they so choose.

Next Week's Word: Cheese

Just three more left, hard to believe.

Monday, November 7, 2011


Looking back over this week, a flood of inconveniences wash over me: the overflowing toilets, the lack of sleep, and the walnuts that were toasted beyond recognition. Then there was the alternator in my car that gave up the ghost. I really couldn’t blame it, weeks like this make me want to throw in the towel too.

Having only one car threw a real wrench into my weekend plans. I had a commitment on Saturday and needed a way to get there. The only solution was to wake up at the crack of dawn and take M to work. As we stepped outside the stars were at their brightest, surprising me with their beauty. Who knew the sky could be so intense before the day breaks? We drove down the hushed streets of town without seeing a soul. Most likely they were still asleep, enjoying a slow start to a day off from work. After dropping M off at the store, I headed back to the house; turning up the radio to keep awake but not really listening. As I drove out of town a fox crossed my path, breaking me out of my thoughts.

When I got home I fed the dogs who were eagerly awaiting breakfast and snuck back into bed. I picked up a Maureen Johnson book and tucked under the covers. A few pages in and there it was, a description of a fox wandering early in the morning. And then another mention a few pages later. An artist had tattooed the names of her foxes on her feet. Instantly I felt a connection and the book became electric in my hands.

Then it was time for me to get up, get ready and head out on my way. The drive up to school gave me an opportunity to think about all that’s happened these past few months. The question I keep coming back to is this: Why is it just when I think I’ve reached the bottom does the rug suddenly get pulled out from beneath me?  It makes it so hard to get my footing, and almost impossible to take that first step

We live in a nice house in a lovely small town, but we certainly don’t live on Easy Street-- though I think about moving there. When I do, I hear that song in my head from the Annie musical. Which always reminds me of that redhead’s introduction to the mansion and everyone who works there. What would it be like to have someone draw my bath, lay out my clothes and give me tennis lessons? It might be fun-- even thrilling--at first, but overall it sounds boring to me, never having a chance to do things for yourself. I am nothing if not a DIY gal.

Given everything that’s happened to our family recently, I’ve realized that it comes down to a choice. I can be broken or broken open. That’s the one true thing that I keep coming back to again and again. Rather than be deluged by thoughts of inconveniences, hardships and mishaps I’m choosing to look beyond. I think of the stars, the fox and the warmth of sneaking back into bed with a book. Too bad those people on Easy Street slept in and missed it all.

We live on a road.  I don't think I've ever lived on a street.  Streets offer neighbors, hot dog vendors, sidewalks, parades.  If you live on Mulberry street you might catch a glimpse of elephants, pashas, bands and men with long beards.  Our road is dirt and quiet.  Sometimes dusty.  Today I met a man with the same last name as our road.  That's what happens when your neighborhood is both large and small.  When the dirt you walk upon is old as...dirt.  My dogs and I generally rush through our morning walk these days; the air is frigid already and there are small people to deliver to various spots.  But the road is very patient.  It waits for weekend days when time is somehow longer and stretchy.  Our road has never hosted a parade beyond our line of boys and four-legged friends, except when the road needs grading.  Then we sit on our porch and pay close attention.  We wave.  We might cheer.  And we feel less alone in the world populated by large growling machines.

Next week's word: King

Tuesday, November 1, 2011


I tasted my first margarita in a dimly lit dive in Amherst, Mass.  The usual story.  A lazy winter afternoon.  Two friends, now faceless in memory, did not have to work hard to convince me to skip my women's studies class for a more productive lunch of burritos and margaritas. I was a beer girl back then, beer or screwtop wine, and their margaritas seemed excessive in huge bowl glasses with lime adornments and salty rims, as bad as those plaid elbow patches affected by certain English majors. But one sip and I was reborn.  My feet ceased their cold ache.  My nose quit drizzling.  My worries about essays, that pesky graduate thesis, rent payments, a far-away boyfriend - all hushed while I embarked on a brief yet potent tropical vacation.  And then those friends ordered guacamole, another first for me, and I might have married either one of them that moment if they'd thought to ask.  Never mind the far-away boyfriend whose heart may or may not have been broken by my sudden elopement.

I had a margarita last Saturday night while dressed as a witch and accompanied by a ghost, a geek, a German beer wench, a driver and a zebra.  And though the wind cackled and battered the window panes and my feet were damp in their high-heel boots from the short trek up the storm-struck hill, that cool margarita made me warm.  As did the friends around the table in various stages of giddiness.  I usually leave Halloween for the kids and dip into their candy bags as if they were my own but this year we shucked our true selves and went out dancing, drinking and laughing.  Another margarita, waiter. No worries about the faces of these friends turning ghostly with time.

Dear P,

We only met once and perhaps it seems an odd thing to write now, yet something told me I should. I always wished that we had had more of a chance to get to know each other, but for some reason it wasn’t meant to be. I tell myself that it’s not as if you’re completely gone, your legacy lives on in your children and grandchildren. This November marks the seventeenth anniversary of your death. Not a day goes by that I don’t think of you. This time of year I am reminded of it was like to be a stranger amongst your family. Trying to comfort them for their loss, all the while trying to make that Thanksgiving seem as normal as possible. I’ve always wanted to thank you for all that you’ve done, and this week just seemed like a good time to put down these thoughts.

I’m sorry that you didn’t live to see your son become a father. He’s done such a wonderful job, you would be oh so pleased and proud. Hard to fathom how quickly it happened, but your grandson is a teenager now. He’s very tall, though you probably expected that. I would describe him as witty and talented, with his own unique sense of style. He seems so confident and comfortable in his own skin. I
sometimes imagine the two of you having a chat over tea and scones, I’m certain you both would enjoy each other’s company. You would smile at his wry sense of humor. Raising him as an only child, especially one without grandparents, has presented its own set of challenges. When I think about you raising six children I am in awe. I often consider what it must have been like when your family sat down to dinner at the very same table that now resides in our kitchen. I think about you using the blue and white canisters we inherited as you baked something special or put together yet another meal. Perhaps once you got sick you wished for the routine of everyday life. Hoping to roll out a pie crust or sprinkle the salt onto some freshly baked Parker House rolls.

Those rolls are some of my favorites. Who can resist that soft, pillowy dough? The kiss and bite of the crystals, ensuring you will reach for another. You can never eat just one. Did you know that your son is an amazing cook and a talented baker, making us dinner each and every night. His willingness to try and replicate any meal I discover in a magazine or online is one of the reasons I absolutely adore him. He’s thoughtful, kind and caring. I know it’s due to your influence that he became the loving husband and father that he is today.

Thank you for all that you’ve given us. If I had my way we would have had more time to talk and chat, for you to give me advice about being a wife and a mother. I often revisit the one afternoon we had
together. You brought out your quilts to show me, as I was what you called “a captive audience.” Many years after our meeting we still have some of your smaller quilts hanging on our walls. Everyday I am
reminded of your artistry and dedication. Someday these will be passed along to children and great grandchildren, along with canisters, furniture and other memorabilia. It’s the stories though that I hope to preserve and pass down. In this way we keep your memory alive for generations to come. Thank you for all that you accomplished as a wife and mother and for helping to give my little family a strong
foundation on which to grow, shape, structure and grace.

Love always,
Your daughter-in-law


Next Word: Street 

Tuesday, October 25, 2011


Though most of the leaves here in Vermont are slowly giving way to a red, yellow or orange hue, we’ve still plenty of green to go around. For me this month has been filled with community gatherings. Each in their own way have lifted my spirits, made me laugh, and made me pleased to be part of a larger whole.

Definition 1 green~ A pop culture term to generalize all of the environmentally beneficial and sustainable means of mitigating the impact of human industrial development and the damage of previous degradation of the environment.

This Columbus Day Weekend, instead of heading to the beach, I headed to the hills. Cedar Circle farm held their annual pumpkin festival and I was asked if I wanted to volunteer my services as a photographer. I couldn’t say yes fast enough. The benefits are great (free shirt, free food!) and it was a chance to see many of the children who have since grown out of my library storytimes. I was amazed at all of the offerings: music, crafts, face painting, cider pressing, horse-drawn wagon rides, great local food and a field of pumpkins just waiting to go home with over excited children to be carved and lit. My camera was never far from my side. I clicked and clicked, pleased to be there amidst the harvest. There were over 1800 people who attended this year’s festival, with only two and a half bags of garbage collected. Everything else was recycled or composted. That’s definitely a commitment to the environment that we can all try to adopt in our own way. I can’t wait for the strawberry festival, I hear it’s just as much fun.

Definition 2  green~ A common or park in the center of a town or village

The center of our town serves as a gathering place throughout the year. We host many events, including picnics, May Day, concerts, and the Fair. Every other Fall we host an event called Giving Bowls. The premise is this: local artists make ceramic bowls, the children (and other community members) glaze the bowls and bake bread. Local businesses donate soups and we gather on a beautiful day in October to eat, drink and be merry. The money raised goes to a different charity each time. This year I volunteered to work in the silk screening both. Seeing that there were many capable hands ready to turn blank t-shirts into works of art, I grabbed my camera and proceeded to capture as many images as possible. I love seeing so many of my friends and neighbors together in one place. This is the event I eagerly anticipate, even more than the Fair. (Which I certainly love; but a good bowl of soup, in a beautiful bowl that I get to take home gets my vote every time.)

Definition 3 green~ a color whose hue is somewhat less yellow than that of growing fresh grass or of the emerald or is that of the part of the spectrum lying between blue and yellow

For years my fellow knitters have talked about the October sale at Yates Farm. On Saturday they serve a breakfast, and their yarn is displayed throughout their old farmhouse. I have always wanted to go, for it sounds like a version of Christmas that truly must be experienced rather than just imagined. This year I managed to swap my Saturday work schedule in order to see the sale for myself. It was even more lovely than I could have possibly imagined. The farm, the house, the yarn—I didn’t know where to look first. I got the tour and then decided I had to have my camera. I desperately needed to take some of these images with me, maybe even more than I needed the yarn. (Who ever thought I would write that sentence ?!?) Everything was so thoughtfully arranged, both the yarn and the furnishings. The whole family was there helping out with the sale. The daughters were ringing people out, the grandsons were telling the adults when the yarn was low, and one of the granddaughters had spent the morning putting the colorful skeins just so onto the table. It certainly was a labor of love, for the whole Yates family, and the community certainly appreciated it.  As I sipped a cup of coffee I watched people go by loaded up with yarn, the open skeins slipped over their arms. Each person that went by seemed so happy, and I realized it was because they were planning, and dreaming of possibilities. Of the sweaters, scarves and hats they would make for their family and friends. I managed to limit myself to a few skeins. I chose a beautiful blue-green yarn that will be perfect for a sweater I have had my eye on. This winter as I knit (and knit and knit) I will remember my time at the Yates Farm, as well as the day spent at the Giving Bowl and the Pumpkin Festival. I will trust that white snow will certainly one day give way to the verdant green grass. These are the thoughts that will keep me warm.

For more images from each of these events, please visit Flickr

Sigh.  Holidays can be tough in our house.

Take Halloween.  Friday night was the cub scout Halloween party and when you are three and a half, the cub scout Halloween party is a really big deal, up there with Christmas, your birthday, and your first trip to the dentist.  But the party starts at 6:30 and you have been up since 5:30 (in the morning) and have had no nap so, of course, when you are three and a half, you fall asleep on the way there and stay asleep stretched out on the floor over by the janitor's closet where other parents give you and your mother weird looks.  Even though your mother loves you so much she gives you her own coat for a pillow.  Until she gets cold and has to take it back, but the floor isn't THAT dirty.  And then, when you are three and a half, you wake up on the way out to the car and wail, "Why are we leaving?!" because for you the party has just begun even though for everyone else, especially your mother who needs a glass of wine, an aspirin, and a few hours of Modern Family, it is really, really over.

Poor B.  He was confused and his feelings were hurt.  But he did rally enough the next day to wear his Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle costume for several hours and make great use of a green glow stick brought home by one of his brothers.  I know, Halloween is still days away and chances are very good that his Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle costume will rip, burst, tear or shred before we go trick-or-treating, but I don't think he would care, and he likes to practice being...a mutated turtle with enemies.

Apparently, though, since he missed the party and only knew the glow stick in daytime, he had no clue of its true powers.  After tucking him into bed Saturday night, after reading him a story, kissing him, kissing his plastic spiderman and finally turning out the light he called me back in with a voice half-panicked, half-bewildered.  "Mommy," he gasped.  "It glows!"  His sweet face was lit (in a sickening sort of way) by the clammy green light of his glow stick and I was struck anew by the true meaning of Halloween.  It's not about goody bags, gorilla suits and fake blood.  Well, it is, but it's also about that shivery fear of the otherworldly.  The gruesome potential of might-have-beens.  It's about being a kid who believes in both the benevolent and malevolent sides of magic.  And glow sticks.  It's about glow sticks.  Which are just cool and do not even explain to me how they work, I don't want to know.

Next Week’s Word: Salt

Sunday, October 16, 2011


We don't do quiet in our house. We do rambunctious, crashing, shrieking (both joy and anger) and laughing. We do multi-leveled simultaneous conversations. A friend once mentioned our house reminded her of that fable in which a wise man councils a complaining man to bring in a cow, a rooster, another something loud and another, and then to get rid of all of them so the house will be silent in comparison. Only we can't escort the loud makers out the house until they're eighteen.

Quiet can be better found outside our walls. Especially in winter when all sound freezes. But fall is quiet, too. Leaves make little sound when they crumble to the dirt road. Spring is loud with the world gone melty, and summer's sound is a buzzy one, but fall – you can clear your head with fall.

We don't take advantage. We usually fail to engage in long walks. We neglect to spend hours on the porch. Afternoons that could be spent hidden in the leaf pile are instead filled with mental and physical detritus – errands, meals, cleaning, chores. Slowing down is hard. Listening to the quiet and asking nothing of it is harder. Soon it will be winter and outside quiet won't be an option - freezing is a danger. Certain days I look forward to that excuse.  Other days I notice golden passing by and shudder for not snaring it in some kind of web.

I say to myself “Do not go quietly into that good night.” And so when I need to be I am loud. When it’s called for I am boisterous. I stand up for what I think is right. Yet this is the way of everything these days, the bombardment is constant. As if to be louder and more outrageous is always better. It certainly gets you attention. Or at least that’s how it used to be.

Now I find myself wanting to unplug, disconnect, tunnel under and be still. These past few weeks have been cacophonous, jarring and discordant. The stress has become a constant pounding that would not be silenced. Our world has fallen apart and we are putting the pieces together again in a new configuration. Through it all my camera has become a lifeline. Each shutter click a step towards calmness. Looking through that lens the rest of the world falls away. To overstate the obvious, the camera gives me the ability to truly focus on the image that’s right in front of me. Not the one that was there or will be, just the image that is present.

This is the time of year we normally we visit our ocean. Due to circumstances beyond our control we’ve had to reschedule. Instead of making the trek southward, I spent some of the time with friends and made an attempt to distance myself from my weekly routines. My dear friend S took me on a walk this week. Not just any ramble, but a special meandering that you can only do with companions and their cameras. We took the time to enjoy our surroundings and really look at the details, instead of quickly passing them by on the way to somewhere else. Each time I pick up my camera without any real intention I am always amazed at the results. Once I get into the motion of looking and clicking I remind myself that the only real way to do anything is to actually do it—be it writing, painting, dancing, or playing an instrument. Wishing doesn’t make it so. There is an effort and involvement required. Without it there is nothing.

Patti Smith is on the cover of the latest New York Times magazine, which features several of her gorgeous silver gelatin prints. About her photography she says. “My dream is simply that they would have a place of honor over someone’s desk. When someone is reading or writing a letter or contemplating, they can look up and they would find a moment of serenity or a moment of centering from one of these little pictures.” I feel the same. If someone looks at these photos from the past two years and for a short time is transported out of their busy life, then the chance to spend a quiet moment is a gift I have received when I took the picture and one that I am then giving to those viewing the image I captured. Think of a photograph that captures your attention like a trip into Narnia through that beloved wardrobe. Be quiet, be still; look and listen.

Nest Week’s Word: Green

Monday, October 10, 2011


Virginia Woolf wrote about a room of one’s own. I have dreamt of such a luxury, space that was mine to do with as I wish. Every time I put any serious thought to the matter, the details change shape and the specifics shift. Sometimes it’s just four walls, other times it’s over the top elaborate. But overall the idea is that I would have a place for all of my artistic endeavors. I once toured Eric Carle’s studio and I was in awe of his flat-drawered filing cabinets. These are the type that would hold maps flat, only he used them to store his beautiful handmade papers. I would certainly put a set of these to good use.

There would be cubbies for yarn, tall pots and jars for knitting needles. Rubber stamps displayed on a small set of shelves, ink pads in their own bins. Paint brushes, gluesticks, beads, and stickers all in a spot designed just for them. A repurposed card catalog would probably be perfect for this. My film cameras would be there somewhere on display, while the typewriters would sit in a place of honor. My latest idea involves a magnetic strip above my desk, the kind chefs use in kitchens for their knives. Such a space would allow me access to each of my scissors when I needed them: the orange-handled heavy duty pair, the tiny ones that cut so sharply and my favorite ones that produce a deckle edge.

Somewhere in the room there would be a bookcase filled with the works of inspirational artists. And hanging above it would be my new calendar featuring my most recent fixation—Nikki McClure. I’m not the type to buy a calendar in September but after years of wanting one, I finally decided to do it. More inspirational than practical, each month is a work of art unto itself. Nikki is a paper artist who starts with a piece of black paper and then cuts out the parts she doesn’t need. Every time I see one of her images, or look through one of her amazing children’s books, I am blown away. I would love to be talented in that manner, but more importantly I wish I had the ability to see images the way she does; to possess a perspective that confidently allows you to take away what you’ve started with, much as a sculptor clears away stone. Cutting those unneeded bits away allows you to see what’s been hidden, and to let the beauty shine through. If I could buy a pair of scissors (or any tool for that matter) that would allow me to trim the unnecessary pieces—instead of holding on for dear life because I will surely need each and every tiny scrap for something later—then I would do it. To toss them aside might actually be freeing. How does one make that leap? How to decide what to toss and what to keep?

Maybe someday I will have a room of my own; where I can sew, knit, paint, cut and create to my heart’s content. A girl can dream.

In our house we have a problem with scissors.  We run with them, we toss them across rooms, we hand them to each other blade first.  But mostly we lose them.  "Where are the [insert expletive or potty word here] scissors?!" is a common refrain, especially around the holidays or in May, when three of our five birthdays fall.  Scissors, nail clippers, mechanical pencils, barrettes - someday we'll stumble upon a gleaming pile in the basement.  Until then, we rage and weep for lack of scissors.

But - a few nights ago while feeding horses by headlamp I came upon these lying innocently on the ground, no idea they'd been searched for the past week.  They'd been buried under a pile of hay raked out from the garage floor - or maybe they'd been on the garage floor and came along for the ride.  The chickens had unearthed them earlier in the day.  Those same chickens I'd sworn at for their pooping habit.  I suppose if they insist on hiding their eggs at least they've earned part of their keep by finding the scissors.

Yesterday I used those scissors to cut pumpkin stems.  Over a dozen pumpkins grew in our garden this year, which is weird since I planted watermelons.  I severed the stems and hauled them to the front yard and L aimed the hose at the clumpy dirt that coated the waxy orange underneath.  M, T and B stuffed old clothes with fresh hay to make three scarecrow boys that now stand at the end of the driveway, frightening passersby with their headless torsos.  I keep catching sight of them through the window and wondering for a moment who's come into the yard.  The pumpkins are curing now in these last sunny days.  Soon there will be pumpkin pie, pumpkin soup, pumpkin bread, jack o' lanterns.  Thanks to the scissors, thanks to the chickens.

Next Week’s Word: Quiet

Sunday, October 2, 2011


One year for Christmas, Santa left a telescope under the tree for me. I was...young.  Eleven?  Twelve?  Old enough to not quite believe in Santa but young enough that I pretended to be a spy when I took the different lenses out and attached them to the viewer, unscrewing lens caps and blowing imaginary dust off the glass. I never pretended to be an astronomer. Until I made it outside under the stars and whispered the names of constellations under my breath.

I never saw much when I looked through the telescope. I must have used it sometimes in the summer but I only remember frigid air and frozen fingers, lashes that stuck when I pressed my eye too hard to the metal. I remember crusty snow, painful breath. I remember being mostly alone. Except once when my grandfather came out to look.  He was the kind of grandfather who took pleasure in things. My father's father, he was also my mother's sixth grade teacher and thus boasted he'd had a hand in shaping both their minds and that's how they got along so well. When I knew him he was retired and deeply concerned about money, which did not stop him from taking me out to eat occasioanlly at expensive restaurants. He taught me what eccentric meant; he taught me that if I ever wanted to be a writer it was up to me; he was my first exposure to Bill Cosby.  And he followed one night to take a peek through my telescope.

I suspect he saw as little as I was able. But he admired the instrument, he made suitable ahhh sounds when he looked up at the moon. We stood in the cold and shared an appraisal of the nighttime sky. Then he went back inside and I stayed out a little longer, trying desperately to discover a comet.

I still like to look up when I'm outside at night. We all do, don't we? We need those reminders of vastness. Our common disappointment, rage, hope, success - none of it comes close to filling the space around us. We've only got each other to impress; the universe doesn't much care.

As the crisp Fall winds start to take up residence in our neighborhood, the days find excuses to end earlier and earlier. The sun leaves the sky before too long, and the moon makes an appearance at what seems to be an ungodly early hour. How did this happen, summer gone in the blink of an eye.

The moon for me has always represented a magical place. I knew that you could get there by flying like Peter Pan to the third star to the left or in a rocket like the brave astronauts of my childhood. If only I could see for myself if it was actually made of cheese, or how the man in the moon occupied his time when he wasn't gazing down at sleeping children.

When I first read Homer Hickam's “Rocket Boys” I felt as if my childhood had come back to greet me, the depressing air of a coal mining town swirling off of the page. Eventually Hickham's childhood memories went beyond the printed form, were made into a movie and renamed “October Sky.” When he was old enough T and I watched it together. As unfamiliar as my son was about the time period and the place, he laughed and enjoyed it overall. Despite their obvious differences, I think T found in Homer a curious, kindred spirit. My underlying, motherly hope had been that some of the movie's messages would seep into his bones: That hard work pays off, that school isn't all about sports, sometimes science can save you and wishing to go to the moon instead of a dead end job is not an impossibility.

These days I feel like the three of us are thinking about “What I Want to be When I Grow Up”-- some more intent on finding an immediate answer than others. In the grand scheme of things a job can be what pays the bills and what gets you through.  But to discover what you love, what you really feel passionate about it, then the sky's the limit. Until then we'll put up with rainy days and the trees losing leaves as one season overtakes another. Knowing that a sunrise can bring about a new day, second chances, another shot at getting it right. A moonrise though, especially when it's full, can be otherworldly-- illuminating the dark, and making light the path where the shadows threaten to overtake you. By putting one foot in front of other you can stumble onto the stuff that our dreams are made of. With enough stubbornness, perseverance and faith you can somehow find a way to turn them into a reality.

Next Week's Word: Scissors

Sunday, September 25, 2011


Knitting for someday baby. Come soon.

In the style of Hemingway’s six word piece, I thought this would be enough. I wanted it to be. But I felt that I needed to say more, the story behind the story.

I need to tell you about her, the baby that I hope will someday come to live here with the three of us.

You would think that after a certain age, one would tire of imaginary friends, having long since outgrown their usefulness. Yet most days I see her somewhere in my midst or think of her. Her features are unclear and her age changes depending upon the day of the week, the time or the activity that I am engaged in. We make reference to her often here, especially when the boisterous boys in my house begin their bantering. Sometimes I follow their witty offerings back and forth as if at a tennis match, other times I wish for another girl in the house to even things out and provide a bit of balance.

If you wish hard enough for something, with all of your might, will it come true? I picture her, the clothes she would wear. I try out dozens of names as if they were clothes on a paper doll. Esme, Tabitha, Maisie, Mariposa, Tatum, Mathilda, Sabine, Tullia, Beatrix, Etienne, Tesserae. Fitting them together with middle names like Jane, Gardner, Grace, Paige, Maeve, Patrice and Bea. This is my fall back activity, the undercurrent to everything, the puzzle that keeps my brain occupied.  I pore over name books and websites thinking I may stumble onto a magic combination, the words that will bring her to me as if they held the same weight and power as Abra Cadabra or Hocus Pocus. Sadly I am not equipped with a wand, and we’ve already pulled a rabbit out of a hat. (We’ve got two. Three dogs and a cat.) And in some ways they’re like children. When we’re goofing around we often cradle the dogs like a baby, kiss them, hug them and snuggle. And yet I feel like there’s something more, something missing. I wonder: Has she been born? What does she look like? Will she somehow make her way to us through a series of related events about which I have no idea?

Or has our family reached its limit, with three of us who laugh, cry, read, eat, and love together? I have always believed the song I’ve sung since I was little, three is a magic number. When we hold hands everyone is touching everyone else. But I remind myself of the children’s stories I have read, remembering that there always room for one more.

Perhaps I should be happy to have made my way out of the land of sleepless nights, spit up and diaper changes. Looking forward I know that it won’t be long until our teenage son makes his solo flight to
his new life. Other mothers tell me that high school passes by in the blink of an eye. Are we really ready to do it all over again and become parents to a wee babe? I wonder and I worry. I wish and I wait. Mostly I wish for someone tiny and sweet who will wear handknit hats, socks and sweaters; dresses, ruffles and bows in her hair. Until she insists on overalls.

The entertainment factor wasn't why I had my first baby, but it definitely popped up in consideration of the other two. Never do I laugh so hard than at my children. In a good way. Usually they get the joke and laugh along with me. Except the other day when Luca made a bike jump in the front yard and went over it in slow motion. He failed to see what was so funny about THAT. But we all giggled over this conversation at bedtime the other night:

Luca: “Would you want to find money or a baby raccoon?”
Me: “A baby raccoon.” [Not really.  Money, any day.]
Luca: “Me too. I love baby raccoons.”
Barno: “I don't like baby raccoons.”
Luca: “Would you rather lose me or the guinea pigs?”
Me: “Guinea pigs.”
Luca: “Me too. Would you rather lose a dog's ear or a whole dog?”
Me: “A dog's ear.”
Luca: “Me too. I love our dogs.”
Barno: “I don't like dog's ear.”

Written down it lacks a certain...something.  Like the muffled hysteria of a mother trying not to get her kids riled up at bedtime.  Because as funny as I find them, I still want them to go to bed.  On time.  Without incident. Without extra water trips.

Tomorrow Barno spends a whole day at preschool for the first time ever, because... I'm starting a job.  Out in the grownup world.  Not full time, hell no.  Baby steps, people, that's how life is accomplished.  I'll be working only three days a week but for those three days my youngest, my baby, will be taken care of by a trio of ladies who might be getting paid better than me and will probably pay him more attention than I can manage for longer than a few minutes.  But still.  I am surprisingly veklempt at the thought.  He's been my constant appendage for the past three and a half years; I might tilt when I walk through the office halls tomorrow.

But that's why there's yoga, and paychecks.  To make us feel better about our choices, to make us realize that soon I'll walk upright as if nothing was missing.  And nothing is.  It's time for him to learn that other people can cut the crusts off his peanut butter sandwiches just as well as I can.  It's time for me to learn I have skills beyond cutting crusts of sandwiches.  And I get to wear grownup clothes, which will be fabulous for at least a day. Bye-bye, baby. Love you, baby.  See you at quitting time.

Next Week’s Word: Moon 

Monday, September 19, 2011


I am not a good mother to plants. I let them suffer until an untimely death, and then I shrug and toss them into the compost pile. I wish I had a greener thumb; I wish plants and cut flowers thrived in my house and lasted longer than the bag of potato chips I buy every Sunday, which lasts until...Monday.

I do better with things that can tell me when they're thirsty. Like the dogs who have mastered the art of looking reproachfully at their empty bowl. Or the kids, who have mostly learned to get their own drinks. The guinea pigs can squeal like nobody's business, and the largest horse, Carly, has a glare that can reach all the way to the bedroom where I'll feel it in my spine. No forgetting those animals.

But plants – poor plants. Sorry, plants. Maybe someday I will have a bit more space in my brain for you. Maybe someday I'll play host to an array of plants – violets, orchids, tea roses – settled in a tray of white pebbles, each in its own hand-painted pot, each sporting new growth and smiling blooms. But for now, please accept my apologies and know my neglect is not malicious. Rest in peace.

With the start of school for two of us and holiday planning in not-too-far distant future, there have been some sleepless nights recently. Often those bouts of insomnia put you in touch with inspiration, and somehow ideas that come in the wee hours are brilliant and fully formed. Almost as if by magic. Despite feeling tired, we are desperately trying to lay claim to the last bits of summer right now, taking advantage of every moment to soak up each spare sun ray.
It occurred to me on one of those thrashabout nights, that what I want to have next summer is a lemonade stand--but for grown ups. Let’s say you’re dropping off a child at a playdate, then stop on by for a glass of something cold. And if you’re planning a bike trip, try to steer your group past my house, nothing appeases your thirst like a sparkling beverage.

I’ll have several drinks to choose from: cordials, syrups, and elixirs that can be splashed in some seltzer or lemonade for a little something special. Come try a little rhubarb, mint or ginger. Each concoction created in our kitchen, with more than enough to share. Would you like a tall glass or a small one? Most will be reclaimed jars; some wide mouthed, some that used to hold jelly, but all make a satisfying clink when you toss in a few cubes. And I’ll make sure we have a freezer stocked with ice cubes a plenty.

So this winter as you wrap your hands around another cup of tea or mug of hot chocolate, try to remember what it felt like to be warmed by the sun, and how thirsty you were after being outside for so long. Know that next summer you’re always welcome to stop on by for a cold drink. I’ll have sprigs of mint and lemon verbena for a festive garnish, some cut up citrus fruit that you can toss in just for fun. The sun will make the ice jewel-like and beautiful. A refracted rainbow in each glass.

As the snow piles up outside my door, it will blanket the grass and flowers. Life will be a little quieter with time for reflection, dreams and desires. Sipping from these thoughts will keep me going through the endless winter months. I can almost taste it now.

Next Week's Word: Baby

Monday, September 12, 2011


I wish for a claw footed tub the way some people used to desire indoor plumbing, a vintage bike the way some people pined for a Model T to replace their horse-drawn wagon. Something inside me yearns for a simpler time and so I try to surround myself with old-fashioned devices. I long for ones that feel sturdy to the touch like tin cookie cutters passed down from a grandmother to her beloved progeny. These are the treasures that move through the generations, hand to hand to hand.

Feeling that heavy weight in my own palm instills me with a calmness that flimsy plastic just can’t conjure. There’s a trust there, as if something that has worked for so long will always be dependable. In some circles the word heavy may mean difficult or burdensome, in others the meaning may be substantial, durable and enduring. For always.

Yet even the biggest and strongest anything is not guaranteed to last. A plane can topple a skyscraper, a flood can leave houses in ruins. What you thought would always be, is suddenly no more.

Even after the worst catastrophes there are survivors, certain items that remain. Somehow they become even stronger for having lasted. These are the items we pass down with reverence. The ones that are of use--like teapots and juicers--become desired by future generations, not the silly rings and things that have been locked up in a box. Of course they will survive. But day in day out, the items we use have a story connected to them. It gives them a luster, a particular history that deepens the patina. They glimmer and glow with a shine not seen by everyone. If you are at a flea market or antique shop, look for it. When you see it, you’ll know.

In this day and age it seems silly to be in love with typewriters, fountain pens, rotary fans and hand mixers, yet these are the things that give me pleasure. Each is so much heavier than their modern day counterparts, which is reason enough for people to shy away from using them. But these items bring with them a story, each were created in a time when craftsmanship mattered. In today’s world lightweight is becoming synonymous with disposable. Use it for a short time, throw it away, end of story.

Even so our lives cannot be filled with heavy things, sometimes a little levity is needed. Bubbles, dandelion puffs, pink clouds floating and a long list of others lift my spirits when I need them most. Holding on to a cluster of balloons and flying high above it all sounds magical. In the midst of the noise and swirling chaos the tap of a typewriter key centers me, the click of a shutter helps me focus. They remind me to keep my two feet grounded, my two wheels touching the earth below.

To reference a quote held dear by our friends “We love the things we love for what they are.” These words written by Frost so long ago speak to me of those things that have survived, that become special because we love them. They become imbued with our memories which can only give them a heavier weight, a gravitas that will help them endure. For now and for always.

Yesterday, Sunday, September 11, we harvested potatoes. I planted these potatoes in the rain last spring, in tall grain bags that I weighted with dirt and a quarter of potato. I planted a few in the horse paddock, small hills of dark dirt. I added more dirt, and more as the summer went on and the potato quarters sprouted into bushy green plants. A month or so ago the plants all died and I thought the Great Potato Blight had recurred in smaller form. I shrugged off the disappointment. Yes, planting those things and tending them, even at a minimal rate, was a lot of work. But we could go to the Co-op and restock. We'd still have potato soup, roasted potatoes, potato salad, mashed potatoes. We would not starve. We would not die.

But still. It stung, just a bit. A gardening slap in the face.

Saturday night I came back downstairs after putting a child or two in bed. In the sink: four potatoes. Dinner was long over and preparation for the next meal wasn't scheduled to start for another ten hours. The potatoes did not belong. Except, maybe...

“One of the horses dug up some potatoes,” M reported from the porch, a gentleman farmer in black rubber boots and a headlamp. We went back out to investigate. M dumped one of the potato bags and five more Yukon golds rolled up to the surface of the dirt. What I had mistaken for disaster was only the natural process of growing potatoes. And now we have a harvest.

On Sunday I was good for a few bags, but the weight was too great and I let M take the job of lifting and dumping all that used dirt onto the ground. B and I sifted through the muck with our hands. It was sunny, warm but not hot. Blue sky after the fog burned off. Not quite the brilliance we had ten years ago, but close.

For dinner we ate roasted potatoes, red beans and rice, salad and apple crisp made from the apples we'd picked earlier at the local orchard. We sat at the picnic table with friends and family. We shivered a bit in the coming cold. We were happy to be together, with potatoes.

Next week's word: Thirsty

Monday, September 5, 2011


Reasons I can't sleep on any given night:

1. I'm hungry.

2. I'm worried about famine, nuclear threat, and friends with cancer.

3. I have a deadline that I'll meet with no problem but part of the process of meeting the deadline is worrying about it. So I do, late at night.

4. Children are sick, or might be sick, or expressed some version of sickness right before bed and now I wait tensely for the first sounds of sick.

5. Someone said something angry to me in the past twelve hours. I know this is ridiculous. I am 36 years old and should be well over ingesting other peoples' anger. But I like it when everyone likes me and hate it when one person doesn't.

6. We're broke. I mean, we aren't broke, but again, part of the process of staying not broke is worrying that we're broke, so I do. Late at night.

7. There's a storm outside and maybe trees will fall on us. So I stay awake and plan escape routes.

8. More than two other people occupy my pillow.

9. M is running a marathon in his sleep. And cheats by trying to trip the runner next to him. I'm the runner next to him.

10. I can't stop thinking how tired I'll be tomorrow. How hard it will be to maintain some semblance of order in the house.  Those of you who have seen my house will laugh at the idea of order within, but trust me, it could be so much worse.  And will be if I don't get to sleep soon.

11. It's hot.

12. I forgot someone's birthday.

I wish I could sleep as soundly as my dogs do when they manage to sneak onto the bed and stretch out in the occasion of morning sun. I stand above them and look down disapprovingly while they pretend they are far, far away, but really I'm envious. Of their stillness of body and mind.

 In this bed:

We do lingering
We do mismatched sheets and pillowcases
We do dog cuddling
We do handknitted blankets
We do comforting
We do naps
We do sneaking in just one more chapter
We do laughing
We do hot water bottles
We do recharging
We do writing and planning
We do escaping the world
We do breakfast for dinner
We do listening to the rain on the roof
We do family read-alouds
We do watching late-night movies on the laptop
We do dreaming, hoping and wishing

Make love not war is honored here.

Note: To see the inspiration for this post, click here.


Next Weeks Word: Heavy

Tuesday, August 30, 2011


In like a lion, out like a lamb... or so the saying goes. In a weird twist of fate, The Storm (Hurricane Irene) has joined forces this weekend with The Beginning of School to morph into some weird lion headed beast battling against The End of Summer. Sadly it's not an even match and it's very apparent who will win. How does one fight back such a ferocious monster? Some would take up the chair and the whip to try to beat it into submission. I speak from experience when I say that tactic doesn't usually work. Fighting rage with rage never does. I lost it this week as I screamed ferociously about the state of T's Lego-strewn room. I think back onto that time and am appalled by my reaction. Deep down inside I know it's Time that is my enemy, threatening to turn my child into a high schooler--a transformation that starts in just a few short days. I am not one to take transitions smoothly.

Instead I've been turning my attention towards ways we can enjoy what's left of Summer as it fades away. Thursday T and I braved the rains to tour our favorite Farmer's Market where we met another mom and son dynamic duo. They had also braved the elements to bring their cart and delicious food to friends and neighbors. After an amazing meal of crepes and samosas T and I made our way home as the rains lifted. There was a moment on the highway when we glanced over to a breathtaking view of the setting sun casting the clouds and mountains in a golden hue. The fog was lifting, giving off an ethereal aura, as if we were traveling somewhere magical. T expressed his sadness that I couldn't stop to photograph it. I told him that I was truly happy to see it with him. That is what I want to remember, a scene I can replay in the years to come, not some humongous hissy fit about an untidy bedroom.

Last night I came home to an empty house. Seizing the moment of solitude I made a batch of blackberry scones for us to have at breakfast this morning. Armed with a cup of tea (a lovely lemongrass given to me by a dear friend) and an oat scone I spent the morning preparing for the coming storm. Part of that time involved listening to the new Matt Nathanson CD. At one point we were all up dancing, and I thought this, I want to remember this.

Afterwards we all got our rain jackets and headed to the car to do some much needed school shopping before the heavy rains came. We were all so unnaturally suited up, that T remarked something like “In Which We Head Out on an Expedition .” I could see it as a chapter heading in a book of stories. For this is a new chapter which we are about to begin. The two are so intertwined, and ironically you can't have an ending without a beginning. It's taken me years to come to this realization, but that doesn't mean I can accept any easier. Still, I have hope...

It just might be that Matt's new CD, “Modern Love” was the perfect music choice for us this morning. Looking through the booklet I saw lyrics such as 'less drowning, more land.' And 'you blew through me like a hurricane.' But in commenting about the inspiration behind these songs Nathanson writes that they were compiled around the idea of things 'smashed up against each other, working together.' The lion and the lamb, an exciting starting point and a slow quiet end. I know I'm not ready for the warm weather to leave us, nor I am ready for my son to enter this new phase in his life. And I am torn, between wanting to fight and fret or sit and be calm, making the last of these few moments. I know it does me no good to roar at the elements or the passing of time, both of which can make me insanely crazy at times. But I do know that armed with a good cup of tea and space to sit and enjoy it I can prepare myself for almost anything.

As the day drew to close we three sat in bed to read aloud from our current book, flashlights at the ready. The winds grew increasingly loud and gusted to high speeds. I watched my son jump up and walk out into them, a thrilled look on his face. Some of us love beginnings, it seems. I can see he's ready to embrace the excitement and make his own way.

Our lone sunflower is a volunteer.

Usually I plant a row or two along our front porch. Almost every year here since our first we've had a line of nodding sunflowers standing in haphazard, ineffectual guard. One year they nearly grew to the second-story windows; neighbors were placing bets. But this year, I missed the moment. Spring was hectic. I managed the tomatoes, the pumpkins, the potatoes which are now dead. I'm pretty sure I ordered sunflower seeds. I think I have several packets of seeds drifting somewhere in the house, maybe behind the guinea pig cages, or in the kitchen desk. Maybe in a boy's room. But only one flower in the yard and that one had to grow by its own effort.

It may not be there tomorrow. The wind has picked up. I don't know if you've heard, but there's this hurricane? Irene? Today was mostly rain. Our road is sink-holed, our basement is a lake. And we are lucky – our power is persistent and our structures are whole. Old covered bridges around the valley are crumbling with the weight of all that water. The towns to the east and west of us are flooded. I can hear our stream – that usually by this time of year is a weak trickle – roaring outside my window.

And maybe we'll lose some trees, a few boards off the coop, another inch or so of driveway gravel. As long as my family stays safe. And if I could put one more wish on the list – let the sunflower stay upright. She's got courage, that lion-faced flower, making her lone way in the wilds of my yard. 
Edited: posting was delayed by intermittent internet difficulty.  The sunflower survived upright.  But my basement of books did not.  Still, we are firmly in the camp of lucky.

Next Week's word: Bed