Monday, April 25, 2011
Walking around this morning, I found yesterday's snow was mostly gone and the air was filled with promise and possibilities. Instead of eggs I seemed to be on a flower hunt, discovering snowdrops and crocuses that had pushed their way through last Fall's leaves. Many of the daffodils were making appearances, and the buds were finally beginning to show. The lilac leaves are starting to appear as are the ones on the rosebush. With the sun shining it was easy to remember the Easters of my childhood--there were new dresses, ribboned hats and always the traditional photo moment as the three sisters posed in front of the tree at my grandmother’s house. There was most certainly a feast to be eaten after church on that holiday. I seem to remember fried chicken, potato salad, and several varieties of pies being on the menu. We all gathered in our finery, happy that Spring was finally upon us.
The weeks leading up to Easter were a solemn time filled with solitude and introspection. Not only did we have to give something up for Lent that we truly could not do without, we were expected to attend church every Friday evening for the Stations of the Cross. During that time the priest and the altar boys would stop at each picture that adorned the church walls. The priest read passages and in the pews we would kneel and respond. As a teen I had no desire to spend my Friday evenings reciting scripture verses when all of my friends were out and about; but some of my friends were the altar boys who accompanied the priest around to each station. Often I would catch the eye of one of my friends and we would exchange a knowing look, wondering how we ever managed to be inside reciting when the rest of the world was wild and free.
Those evenings the priest would have certain robes to wear; but on Easter Sunday, after so many weeks of sacrifice, his attire was resplendent. The way I remember him best though is not dressed in robes, but rather in a black short sleeved shirt, black pants and a clerical collar. And though he lived in the rectory next to the church and I would often see him around our small town, how I think of him now is at the roller skating rink. Several times a year our catechism class would have an outing to a rink in a nearby town. Our priest had the merriest time on his skates going round and round without a care in the world, or so it seemed. In some ways it was very out of the ordinary to see him there, as many of the kids here are shocked to find that I do indeed go to the grocery store and I do not live at the library. Yet I think it showed me at an early age that you can do what you love no matter your constraints. By working within those boundaries, and upholding your commitments there is still some time to (rock and) roll along to the tunes.
T woke to a basket of candy this morning , including a chocolate bunny with tremendously long ears. As he opened up the Laffy Taffy he started reading us some of the jokes on the wrapper. If I closed my eyes I could almost imagine a younger son immensely pleased with the finds from his Easter hunt instead of the teenager in front of me. I reached for a taffy, wanting to taste the days of my own roller skating youth. Back then it was my absolute favorite candy to buy at the snack bar, strawberry, grape and watermelon. I used the money my grandmother gave me to buy one long piece and then saved the rest of the coins to fund some fantasy or another. But before I opened a piece today, I stopped myself, for that was then and this is now. I knew my teeth wouldn’t appreciate the stickiness. So I reached for a peep instead. And then quite possibly, another.
I've been to New Orleans twice. Once for New Year's Eve with an old boyfriend (it rained) and once with M to his uncle's wedding. We'd only been dating for a few months and were still in the early stages of infatuation, and while it was thrilling to meet his extended family, it was also excruciating. I'm shy, and thirteen years ago I was even more shy. Enough to render me mute in the face of decent people. But smiling graciously comes pretty easily, so I did that whenever I couldn't speak, and it all went just fine. It was a Catholic wedding, my first ever. It was long and lovely with an abiding sense of formality, and M's family was so warm that I, with my lingering nontheism, never felt too much out of place, even when the strangers next to me gave me hugs and shook my hand and told me how glad they were for my very existence.
"The priest is a good lesson for me," M commented once, during the reception. The priest was not very old but had to have an oxygen tank on a leash wherever he went. M was in the process of trying to quit his smoking habit. Which he'd had for twenty or so years. But fear of lung cancer didn't work. A new girlfriend (me) didn't work. Later, a new baby didn't work and then another new baby didn't do the trick either. The habit stuck, not for lack of effort on M's part to shake himself of it.
What did work was the sight of his little boys sucking on twigs and leaning against the car, one hand tucked into a front pocket in that classic smoker's pose. Nothing warned M of the effect of his actions on his boys like seeing influence in real time. After that it was easy. Well, he made it look easy. He threw away his last pack, circled the date on the kitchen calendar and sighed. Turns out that quitting a lethal habit can really become just another mundane task we perform for the sake of our children. Like changing bed sheets, filling out school emergency forms, grilling hamburgers to the right shade of pink. The boys still pretend to smoke, especially in winter chill when their breath produces real puffs of white. But they do it to get a rise out of us, to get the lecture they know is coming. They are not boys trying to be like dad through pursed lips and lightly clutched twigs.
Monday, April 18, 2011
It takes several hours of preparation to leave our farmette overnight. There's the packing, the securing of animal caretakers, the writing of the notes, the arranging of the supplies for easy access and understanding. Yesterday we left behind 99 mouths to be fed in our absence; about 80 of these mouths open no wider than half an inch, but still. That's a lot of hunger.
We went to Lexington to witness the first battle of the Revolutionary War. We rarely travel far as a complete family unit, and we very rarely stay in hotels. It's hard to spend three hours in a car with so many varying tastes in music, jokes, leg positioning and noise level. It's hard to navigate three smallish children through an unknown town, a town with a population nine times that of our rural hamlet. Last night, while waiting for the take-out order to be ready, M and I had to drink in shifts at the bar since they didn't allow kids that close to the alcohol. My margarita moment was lovely, a sweet break from constant questions and immediate decisions. I wrote a few aimless paragraphs on a receipt; I watched sportscasters talk to each other on the big TV above the bar. I sipped frothy sweet alcohol and had to resist the urge to pack the tainted ice cubes away in my purse for later. Then we all ate Mexican food in our room in front of the TV (this is, after all, a vacation) and went to bed at the same time. I didn't sleep much and now my whole body is hungry for a nap.
This morning - early, early - we made the trek to Battle Park, with a stop at Starbucks for necessary caffeine. We marched in regiments with other parents carrying children in footed pajamas. Lots of them also carried buckets and ladders and we discovered why when we got to the park and found the audience about ten feet deep around the perimeter. A kind man with two boys of his own offered my guys a spot on his ladder bench and the battle began with drums and guns and shouts and colonists running and scattered. "Is that man broken?" asked B. "Is he broken? Will he get up?" I tried to explain that it was pretend, he had only pretended to die, but two year olds don't always get the subtlety of living history. "Is that man broken?" I sipped my cooling caramel macchiato and kissed his forehead in answer.
I'm not one for blatant emotion, but watching the redcoats and the minutemen mix it up on the lawn while the wives huddled in a far corner and used their aprons as flimsy shields against the sight of slaughter, it was hard not to well up. These were people so hungry for a new and free identity that they were willing to die on a patch of chilled mud on an April morning. I understand that the road to a democratic nation was a complicated one with many variables, but these men we honor with reenactment every year - there was nothing vain about their sacrifice. I appreciate that my boys get to see that.
Back at the hotel we had our own little skirmish during breakfast. We were hungry, we were tired. But we survived. Unbroken. And returned home to feed those waiting mouths, to settle back into our routines we take for granted with such comfortable disregard for the history that allows our lifestyle. Until next year when we may again bear a kind of witness. Next year, though, we'll eat breakfast before the war.
The scene that sticks with me the most from “In the Language of Love” happens on page two when Joanna is reminiscing about a happier time, when she was a little girl and would pull the cookbooks out from under her bed and make up stories from them. No one ever questioned the rationale behind the cookbooks being stored in a drawer under the daughter's bed. So it is at our house, often times items items grow roots and stay in a certain location irregardless of logic. It is our wrapping paper resides under the bed, in an IKEA box that used to contain the parts of our dresser. Somehow it just works and we always know where to find it when needed.
A few weeks ago we spent a Sunday organizing our books. After a bit of shuffling, all of our cookbooks and food magazines were able to be together on one set of shelves. Less hunting for the book means more time for locating specific recipes. After many years some of them are so beloved the magazine just automatically falls open to the right page. Last night when I couldn't sleep, I decided to come downstairs and find M's favorite bread book in anticipation of making challah today. The book is almost falling apart and when I turned to that page there were stains and marks all over it. And it was like I could suddenly feel him next to me. If it is true that you leave a part of yourself in every book you read, a battered (either covered in, or bruised-- take your pick of definitions they work equally as well here and spattered cookbook will conjure images, tastes and smells faster than any other.
Watching M work with the dough today, braiding the bits into a beautiful loaf; I was in awe. (In fact one of the reasons I married him is because he owned a waffle maker and juicer, two non-essential kitchen items. Or so it has been said.) He cooks for us most every night and tries to be cheerful and appease us when the dreaded phrase “I'm hungry” is uttered, (often at a late or terrifically early hour.) He provides for us in so many ways, and his meals are always nourishing. Some of those recipes I find in the magazines that arrive in our post office box each month like magic. The books, too, with their beautiful photographs and tantalizing recipes are a constant source of inspiration. A current favorite is Heidi Swanson's “Super Natural Cooking.” I visit her blog often and reading the stories behind the recipes makes me feel connected to something larger. I feel the same about Molly Wizenberg. Reading her magazine articles, her cookbook and Orangette blog, is like connecting with a friend. I realize that I've never met these women, but I feel a commonality with them: what we cook, why we cook and what we use. I love that they choose to use accessories and baking dishes that have a history, passed down through the family or found at flea markets and second-hand stores. That the past is valued over some bright and shiny new pan you simply must rush out and by.
Reading these two women satisfies something in me, a hunger I didn't know I had. In some ways they are feeding us with something more than food. It's their stories and personal experiences that elevate their offerings from a mere collection of recipes. Every time I find a new cake/cookie/pastry recipe that appeals to me, I instantly think of who I want to make it for. That's what cooking means to me, taking all of the ingredients and mixing them up in a way that the outcome can be given to someone. It's what M does for us when he cooks, it's what I do when I bake. Pulling out the ingredients and following the recipe calms and soothes me. It's a task that I can see through to the end, unlike so many of my other projects for work. And best of all: you can eat the results.
These blogs have been inspirational in other ways. I'm hoping to grow more of our own herbs and vegetables this year. The few potatoes we produced last year, as well as the mint, the rhubarb, and the chives made me happy beyond measure. I am ready to get started, my fingers are itching to mess about in the dirt. It's an ache, a need, a hunger to be satisfied. Now if only the weather would cooperate.
Monday, April 11, 2011
My day off this week was truly just that. M took the car to work and though I could have driven him and had a sense of four-wheeled freedom, I chose to stay home. The fog outside was intense and close around the house drawing me inside myself. I found that after months of writing, research, deadlines and computer screens I rather enjoyed this solitude. Looking out the window I was reminded of the day several years ago I spent in Venice. My friend and I crossed bridges and walked over cobblestones in search of an artist who made tiny exquisite bugs out of glass. I also spent much of the day soaking up the atmosphere and visiting shops looking for a glass ring. I had been overcome with a desire to bring one home, and after much debate about color choice, I finally settled on cobalt blue. It had reminded me of a vase I once owned (coincidentally quite like the vase A featured in her very first blog entry.)
Looking though the jewelry box I find the ring where I knew it to be. Sadly it doesn't get much use for fear of breaking the glass. Putting Miles Davis on the stereo I let the notes of the soulful saxophone wrap round me as I get out my camera and photograph the scene. Sensing something is missing I have a mini epiphany. In a Venice state of mind I race upstairs to find the blue marble paper amidst my collection under my bed. I didn't get this particular paper in Italy, it was from the time 5 years ago when our little family had driven to the funeral of M's dad. On the way back home we visited one of the places where we used to live in Michigan and found this paper in one of my favorite stores. I haven't used it yet, no project has been worthy enough it seems. Yet laying it down under the other items I notice how the blue serves as a basis for the other colors, making them sparkle and shine.
After the CD ends I pop in something else and in a world of strange coincidences I see that the name of this CD is “The Blue Horse.” As the Be Good Tanyas start to sing I am instantly transported back to school when a group of lovely young women stood on a stage to sing about birds and not being too blue to fly. I wonder where they are now and if they too think about that evening with as much reverence as I do. Though I am reminiscing today, living in my own head and visiting the past, I realize that am not too blue to fly. I dance and move around to the music. Reveling in the joy that comes from movement and feeling almost effervescent at the thought of those looming deadlines that are now behind me. As the lyrics remind me, they are only in the past...
Looking out I see that the fog has dissipated and there are now drops of water on the window, blurring my view. The Tanyas are singing about rain and snow, which seems very apt for the world outside today. I wonder about the sun, and for a moment miss its place in the sky. Perhaps it too is taking a well deserved rest. I close my eyes and see azure, cyan, and cobalt. They conjure up vivid memories, like displacing the heat of the afternoon with a popsicle that stains your tongue and amazes your friends. Every time. Nothing about that image evokes sadness. There are many kinds of blue.
All last week I had the blues. Not because of my birthday, which was Friday and splendid in a quiet way. My blues was weather related and shared by much of northern New England, where it is still winter and has been for about three years. Last week was mostly gray skies, rain, and the added bonus of occasional snow. Last week dinners were uninspired, mornings were extra rushed, daytimes were marked by gusty sighs of certainty that the sun will never again warm the ground enough to promote green grass. Status updates on Facebook - which last week I checked way too often - were a chorus of meteorological despair. Generally I tend toward the cheerful and find myself lost in the face of the blues - I make a lot of lists and watch too much T.V. I drink more coffee than can really be healthy. I grit my teeth and remind myself, sometimes out loud, that everything changes.
The end of the week was marked by sun, but that's not what blew the blues away. The boys and I had planted two trays of seeds on the last snow day (which was what, a week ago?). We keep them in L's room where the sun is most likely to bless the window; he checks them every morning. Friday after breakfast he sent out a rousing call and the family gathered to see the new green shoots making their instinctive way toward the lamp we'd provided in place of the sun. Standing in various stages of dress we cheered, we marveled. We were almost late for the bus. And that day was sunny, a sweet birthday gift.
Sunday, April 3, 2011
Yoga - there's nothing swift about it. Yoga is about slowing down and breaking pieces into pieces and more pieces, about gathering those pieces back up and molding them into something a teensy bit more bendy than the original form. Take backbends. When I was twelve, I spent most of the day in a backbend. Or upside down. Check out our family photos from that time of my life - I'm the one showing off her underwear. Now that I am Grown Up, upside down is called an inversion and backbends take an hour and a half to accomplish. And even then, it's not exactly an accomplishment because it's yoga. Instead it's another step on the journey towards... well, I don't even know. I think I'm not supposed to know. I think yoga is about the unknowing, the trusting, the foggy future, the present moment. I'm not complaining. I love yoga. I LOVE yoga. My once-a-week yoga class is almost as sacred as my morning coffee. I've yet to bleed much yoga into my daily life, only because of the danger: bend down, bend over, bend back, and inevitably a child will leap onto your resulting apex and that. hurts. So every Sunday, well, most Sundays, I leave the men lapping up their weekend allotment of television and head to the yoga studio where for a short time I am able to think of nothing. When thoughts burst through my Wall of Focus I delightedly smoosh them with my laser gaze. Nobody begs me for an extra ration of cinnamon graham crackers, nobody needs my help in the bathroom. And that's true nirvana.
Yoga may not be swift but my six year old is. "I did backbends in yoga today," I tell him. "Can I do one?" he answers. "Try." And he does. He lays down, plants his feet, his hands, and like swift helium rises up toward the sky. Sigh. "Namaste," I say to him. And we head out for a walk in the shock of springtime air. He flies away on his bike.
M and I have been sharing a car ever since the event that we have now named Almost Running into a Snowplow: Choosing to Drive into a Snowbank Instead. Tuesday morning we were out running “before work” errands when I spotted a pheasant out of the corner of my eye. He was standing proud against a backdrop of pines and practically asking, begging to be photographed. At my insistence M quickly swung the car around, using all four wheels, though it almost felt like a two- wheeled maneuver. He brought me back around to where I had seen the bird. I grabbed my camera and stealthily headed out to capture his image. The bird was having none of it. I followed him as he walked, then ran at a road runner like place. Finally he used his wings to go a short distance. I crept along hoping get close enough for a shot. In the end I chased him all the way around the office complex. I tried to remain focused, shooing the image of office workers gravitating in droves to the windows to see the crazy lady stalking a pheasant with her camera. I lost my friend the pheasant in the tall grass and finally admitted defeat before heading back to the car. I hopped in and admitted to getting at least one photo which would be perfect for this week’s word. M chimed in with his guess of what it might be: Late for Work, (though he admitted that was three words, so probably not… )
Swift is not a word I have given much thought to in recent memory, given my study of slow media I seem to be moving in the opposite direction. Yet everywhere I went this week, there it was. Funny how you completely pass something by until you actually start to seek it out. Parked in the lot at the general store a truck pulled up next to us. It was covered in mud, as will be the fate of many cars in the coming weeks. I could barely make out the letters of the business name painted on the side, but peering closer I saw: S-W-I-F-T. I made a presentation on Wednesday regarding the topic of Early Literacy and was treated at the end to listen to a bit of the weekly read-aloud. The book was “Trumpet of the Swan” and they had just reached the part where the babies are learning how to fly. I closed my eyes and tried to imagine their father describing the process. The little cygnets were assured that it would be swift, for how else would swans fly?
Thinking about this collection of words recently, I have come to realize that capturing these images each week is my way of making these day-to-day experiences tangible. It’s proof that I lived, breathed, laughed and loved during the past year. To me it says these fleeting days, months, seasons matter. They are what make up a life. If anything I have learned that time is constantly moving and slows for no one, even when we try to stop it and live extra in a certain moment. As Jane Austen’s Isabella says in “Emma,” ‘She had nothing to wish otherwise, but that the days did not pass so swiftly.’