Friday, March 25, 2011


Every year the three of us look forward to our October vacation. Our destination is never a question; nothing to ponder, consider or mull over. We always head to the beach. (In the winter I think our blood somehow begins to crave a certain synchronicity with the waves.) Over the years we have stayed in a variety of places, some small hotels and a few cozy cottages. I have often wondered what it would be like to take the very best parts of each and create something new. The rooftop patio of one, the loft another, the beautiful surroundings of a third, the shutters and windowboxes of yet another, and lastly, the proximity to the beach from an especially lovely house. If I could, I would take all the pieces and, like the LEGOs that I still find strewn and scattered about the rooms here, build a respite where we could retreat in complete comfort. Often.

What would we keep in our house by the sea? Books and bicycles, picnic baskets and tea. Everything would have a use and a place where we could find it. Nooks and crannies filled with everything one would need for a day at the beach. Though having your own seaside spot does take away from the charm of a borrowed cottage. Vacationing in someone else’s home offers the chance to poke about and explore; treasures to be found, unfamiliar bookshelves to be browsed. A climbing of the stairs to the great unknown, pushing open the door to discover what lies beyond.

Either way, a house of my own, a few rooms borrowed for the weekend, or even a shelter of sticks and tarp--as long as the sea is nearby, then it’s absolutely perfect.

You are all invited to a housewarming party at my cottage on the beach. I don't know which beach yet. But there will be porches with rocking chairs, benches in herb gardens, a volleyball net for those of you who feel the need to express yourself physically, a fire pit for roasting marshmallows and small children, and a bar. And a Great Room with lots of speakers and bookshelves, with a hardwood floor on which we are going to dance to old Billy Joel and maybe some bluegrass. I'll make appetizers, most of them with fresh ginger, crab meat and watercress, and my mom will make quiche, and M will pass out headlamps for people who want to go skinny dipping after dark. You'll need the headlamps in order not to walk into one of the rose bushes lining the sand path to the private beach. And to navigate the leaning wooden stairs that traverse the delicate dune. Once you've finished with your swim - all dripping and giggly and slightly bashful but mostly proud that you were naked! in the water! with other people nearby! at your age! - come back to the cottage and we'll sip cinnamon coffee and tell stories about relatives who are now dead and so won't get mad. It will be a night of luminous fun. The kind of night we'll try to recreate a year later, but it will rain, and someone will have forgotten the recipe for sangria, and no one will even suggest skinny dipping, and the ginger will be powered instead of fresh. But the first party, that one - be sure to come. I will let you know as soon as I've found a cottage on the beach that I can afford. It might be a few (dozen) years, but I'll send an invite. Bring a friend. Children welcome.

Monday, March 21, 2011


The moments I will miss the most when my babies are grown are the moments that right now inspire the most exasperation.

Like grocery shopping. These days it's a headache - three asky boys hanging off the cart at various angles, me trying to navigate cramped aisles, focus on my list, and avoid running over other children, all while fielding a barrage of questions: "No, we may not get three different kinds of ice cream and no, we are not going to get a bunch of balloons, and really do you think I'm going to say yes to Coke?”

And bedtimes. I love snuggling in the big bed and reading stories and listening while their breathing slowly dials down to low, but not every. single. night. Sometimes I want to drink a second (or third) glass of wine and watch chirpy British crime shows.

And tubbies. How many tubbies have I expedited over the past nine years? Washing boys' heads can be exhausting if you do it night after night after night. But I know that someday I'll be brushing my teeth or washing my hands at that usual time in the evening when the sky outside turns pink and I'll miss the splashing, the gleaming little bodies, the sense of everyone safe in the house. This picture of B is already ancient - he was a baby then. Already he is a huge boy with opinions on bath toys and water temperature. Already my children need me less and this is both liberating and terrifying, like I'm losing my usual excuse for lack of success in other areas. Like gainful employment. But for now I bring my wine and a book and settle on the bathmat while B plays pirate, submarine, fireman, and sharks vs. fish. When he splashes, I scowl. And then we laugh together and he splashes some more.

This week I had one of those days that felt like forever. I was at the Library from sun up till way past sun down (or so it seemed). All throughout the day people kept coming in and remarking on the weather, they just couldn’t get over how warm it was. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a chance to step outside until darkness had already fallen. When I got home I remembered that the moon was going to be very large and beautiful that evening. I got out my camera and waited. It seemed like the clouds kept getting in the way, or my hands kept shaking, or cars were whizzing by without fully understanding how close they were to me. After awhile I went inside, surprised at how the cold had given me an extra surge of energy, an unexpected gift. Putting my camera away and returning my bags of knitting and books to their rightful place, I felt all of my enthusiasm drain away. I decided that a bath would be the perfect remedy to the situation.

As the tub filled and I began to anticipate the warmth of the water washing over me, I noticed this other moon smiling down at me. This is the image that adorns the package of tub tea given to me years ago by a very dear friend. The original contents are long gone, but the smile remains; presiding over the towels, soap and assorted bathroom accessories. I often receive special soaps, bath bubbles and beads as stocking stuffers and presents for Christmas. Truth be told I often give these gifts as well, wishing others a quiet moment free from stress and other family demands. Somehow Christmas itself is always full of pressure and stress and the need to do more, more, more. Amidst all of the chaos I try to step outside it all and watch some of my favorite films, made all the more special because we only watch them once a year. Conjuring up images from “It’s A Wonderful Life,” I am reminded of the scene in which George and Mary, walking home from an impromptu bath in the pool at the school, are dancing by the light of the moon. I sometimes wish I lived in a black and white world or at least a simpler time with claw footed tubs, and fluffy towels taken straight from the dryer and wrapped tightly round you. Whether it’s watching an old film or soaking in a hot tub, I wish you five (or more) minutes peace this week.

Sunday, March 13, 2011


I know some people count sheep in order to get to sleep. I say why wait until bedtime. I am surrounded by sheep all day long. 1. There's the curly ram that rides in my car. 2. The bank given to me by a friend that sits in front of my placemat at the table, a companion to each of my meals. 3. The card I bought at the Holly Meade studio that T and I accidentally stumbled upon when we got lost in Maine. (She wrote and illustrated a family favorite: “John Willy and Freddy McGee.”) 4. The knitted sheep that came from Columbia when friends adopted their son. 5. The wooly slippers that adorn my feet when the temperatures drop. 6. The lone glow-in-the-dark sheep that has somehow survived after all of the other flock has gone. Where I'm not quite sure and as I'm not a shepherdess I don't know how to call them home. Perhaps they are helping other kids to conquer their fear of being alone in the dark. Or maybe they are off having adventures like the sheep we used to read about when T was little. They were often: on a ship, in a shop, and our favorite, in a jeep. As with the adventures in the aforementioned guinea pig tale, there are lines I can recite still.

If for no other reason, I love these fuzzy animals for the wool that they give, allowing me to knit the hats, scarves and shawls that I bestow to family, friends and brand new babies. If I could, I would most certainly have a lamb (or two) in our backyard. But when the weather turned, I would want to bring it inside, and I just don't think we have the room. Quite simply: Sheep are sweet. Sheep are super. Sheep are swell.

All week I have been wondering about sheep. I considered writing about my summertime stints as a waitress at the GyroWrap Cafe in Georgia where lamb meat was shaved off giant, ever-turning spits and delivered to tables where large parties tipped badly and spoke so thickly sometimes I couldn't quite catch the meaning of their words. Or I could write about the plea posted to the town's listserv by our local sheep farmer for all of us to keep our eyes out for a missing sheep. Which was sad. And then a bit scary as we all pondered (digitally) what might be large enough and motivated enough to drag said missing sheep away. I could write about wool, my mother's constant clicking needles guiding that wool into sweaters, socks, shawls, hats. I even thought about riffing on Shaun the Sheep. How I envy that solitary farmer, set in his ways, fermenting in a damp stone cottage with only his faithful dog and independent farm animals to interrupt his pizza and telly. But March is already long, the days are still gray like the ropey coats of dirty farm animals, and so this. A lovely label on a delectable wine, shared with family on a night that feels almost feels like spring. Almost feels like it's time for the lambing.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011


Sorry for the posting delay. Equation of excuse: ice storm plus power outage plus sick children.

Three children in the family means a one-to-one child-parent ratio is fairly rare, unless you're the baby, who tends to be my constant extra appendage (a welcome one. Mostly.). But Sunday night T and I braved sleety rain, billowing curtains of snow, and roads of steely glare during our drive to and from Vermont to see dearest b - the other writer of this blog - graduate, an event all the sweeter for its allowance of time alone with my oldest son.

The last time T and I were alone for anything other than our nightly few minutes reading together before bed, the movie Ratatouille was in the theaters and I declared date afternoon with my first born. It was warm, it was raining. We were late. Shocking, I know. We ran from the car to the Nugget Theatre, T riding on my back and giggling in a purely kid-like way that he doesn't often do, that he has never often done even when he was younger. We sat right up front, him on my lap, and ate our weight in Reeses Pieces, and afterward walked slowly back to our car in air that was darker and dryer. “I hope we do this a lot when you grow up,” I told him. “When I live in New York City we can go to movies all the time,” he told me. Back then he wanted to live in New York City; now he wants to live in Ancient Greece. “I hope you remember this,” I told him. He didn't answer; I remember that he didn't answer.

I haven't asked him if he remembers that afternoon. If he doesn't I'll have to remind him of it with all my own interpretive phrasing.

Sunday night we arrived home late, tired, soggy. Happy, and somehow proud of our admittedly stunted journey to Vermont. We retired our boots on the mat and even though it was way past bedtime we spent a few minutes reading together in bed. We may not have traveled all that far, but being together made the trip broad and lingering. I'll remember it. I'll remember T reading his book during the welcoming reception, leaning against me through long happy speeches, and remarking that the french fries he ate with dinner on our way home made him feel "strangely sad." I hope T will remember, too. But we don't quite get to choose what our children remember, what they forget from their concentrated time with us. We just have to hope the lasting images aren't all chores, homework and time outs.

From the first page of Eleanor Brown's “The Weird Sisters”: 'These [letters] were the kind you save, folded into a memory box, to be opened years later with fingers against crackling age, heart pounding with the sick desire to be possessed by memory.'

This is what I will remember. Inspiring words. Hugs. Tears. Poems read aloud. The tuneful melody of a song being performed by a band of friends. Cheers. Shouts. The campus called a Narnia. Smiling husbands and exuberant sons. A room full of intense emotions. Love.

I gave my presentation to a roomful of family, friends and interested students on Sunday; followed by our graduation ceremony. It all passed by in a blur, as much as I tried to sear certain moments into my memory. I knew I could not capture it all, but I made every attempt to claim as much as I could and call it my own.

The day itself started out rainy, but turned to snow in the afternoon. As soon as the ceremony was over my family departed for home. The ride took all of them much longer than anticipated, such is their reward for their commitment to attending my special day. I was left to spend the night on campus, which was my original intent, all in the hopes of saying a gradual goodbye. But the snow continued to fall throughout the night, enclosing us the campus in a white, gauzy cocoon. It snowed for more than 24 hours, delaying my departure. Because of this, I was inadvertently given the chance to spend more time with my friends with no agenda, deadlines or specific intent. It became a gift, one of the nicest I've ever received. We sat, talked, ate, laughed and stretched my time here to its very limits. Walking back to my room as the day came to a close, I saw that someone had written in the snowbank--as one might write into the sand-- “You say goodbye and I say hello...” I do not want to say goodbye; not to friends, advisors, nor to my room or anyone, anything here. But I will try to keep it all safe in my memory, this special place and my time out of time. I will cram it all into my memory box. Shut the lid tight to prevent it all from spilling over, though the memories threaten to leak out and drift away from me. It will mix and mingle with the other Significant Events kept there: first date, first kiss, wedding, birth, first steps, and christmas on the beach. I will seek solace and pleasure from these thoughts, when I too am possessed by the desire to remember.