February 2013


This afternoon I’m mixing up three pots of soup..all asparagus, one with chicken broth, one with veggie broth, one vegan. The asparagus this week tasted like spring. Asparagus soup is all I could think to bring to book club, given that someone else offered salad and dessert.

The snow flakes are enormous this afternoon after a morning of cold rain. The house is warm and stocked with food for the week. Pandora Steve Earle is playing all sorts of music in the kitchen, while my kids are quiet as the snow.

Tomorrow is back to day care and school. Winter is still here. Soon spring will come. There will be more asparagus, irises again, and less soup. For now, the shoots and the stove combine, another good recipe from Cooking Light. Though I would have been just as happy with heavy cream as one percent milk and butter, the cookbook is where I turned this morning before the shop.

Enjoy the recipe. Winter into spring is on the way.

Last time I remember this soup was in a bowl in the dining room of my host family’s house in Quito, Ecuador when I was fifteen. It was made by Maria, the Andean cook, who looked like an old woman, but was probably younger than I am now.

http://www.cookinglight.com/food/quick-healthy/healthy-soup-recipes-00412000070018/page20.html

And a poem from Writer’s Almanac earlier in the week to help me manage the quiet of an adolescent and a teen behind closed doors:

 LISTEN

The Cord

by Leanne O’Sullivan

I used to lie on the floor for hours after
school with the phone cradled between
my shoulder and my ear, a plate of cold
rice to my left, my school books to my right.
Twirling the cord between my fingers
I spoke to friends who recognised the
language of our realm. Throats and lungs
swollen, we talked into the heart of the night,
toying with the idea of hair dye and suicide,
about the boys who didn’t love us,
who we loved too much, the pang
of the nights. Each sentence was
new territory, like a door someone was
rushing into, the glass shattering
with delirium, with knowledge and fear.
My Mother never complained about the phone bill,
what it cost for her daughter to disappear
behind a door, watching the cord
stretching its muscle away from her.
Perhaps she thought it was the only way
she could reach me, sending me away
to speak in the underworld.
As long as I was speaking
she could put my ear to the tenuous earth
and allow me to listen, to decipher.
And these were the elements of my Mother,
the earthed wire, the burning cable,
as if she flowed into the room with
me to somehow say, Stay where I can reach you,
the dim room, the dark earth. Speak of this
and when you feel removed from it
I will pull the cord and take you
back towards me.

“The Cord” by Leanne O’Sullivan, from Waiting for My Clothes. © Bloodaxe Books, 2004. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

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Yesterday the man came about the basement. He walked the breadth and length of it with my friend, my daughter, and me. We talked drainage, digging, epoxy, heat, timelines, noise, and price. When he left, we women walked the floor again, talking space, use, and stuff. When my friend left, my daughter and I tackled her room, which lead us to sort books, those on the shelf in her room, those on the shelf in the hall. Then I called my son, and he and I sorted the books on his old shelf, in the childhood room he has abandoned for the new one downstairs with a door.

All through dinner and conversation and Apples to Apples with my kids and my sister and her family last night I sorted in my mind, digging through my past, imagining my future.

This morning I wake up doing the same. Where will we put the bicycles is just one small question I have to answer, along with where will we put the legos, the  inheritance of silver champagne coolers from my ex-husband’s family, the washer and the dryer, dryer broken as of last night, the garden things and the woodworking tools, the salvaged doors and trim, my former father -in-law’s workbench, the buckets of my children’s outgrown clothes, the winter boots, the extra wine glasses, the day care toys and art supplies, the cribs, the holiday decorations and the camping things, the shelves? The one thing I can imagine salvaging is a small box my mother delivered awhile back which I opened on All Saints Day a year or more after it arrived, with a card from my father to me, not too long before he died. I’ll find a place for that, safer than where it’s been of late, in a cardboard shirt box atop a plastic bucket full of books which had been headed to the Charter School, currently on hold.

Sorting the books was a place to start. My daughter took those she loves from the large shelf she wanted to get rid of and found new spaces for those in her room. I took the remaining books from that shelf and sorted them. Those that mattered to me I put on the hall shelf. Those that didn’t, I sorted into boxes, for day care, for giveaway. My son and I sifted his old shelf in a similar way. We made a box for him to take to his new room, kept some old favorites on the shelf, rearranged, which saddens me this morning, not to see them as the boys left them as they finished reading, but put back in some order that we fabricated on the spot, and put the others aside to give away.

My son’s books of magic will find a new home, along with the book club books we might not have read or read but didn’t love, the birthday gifts that didn’t stick, the Barbie and Littlest Petshop books my daughter once could not resist, the how to books for making paper airplanes, string games, and card tricks, things all better learned now on the internet, or not at all.

The basement and the bookshelves are full of worlds and dreams we entered once or might have if we’d dared or wished or had the time or inclination. Deciding which we’ll enter next or in the future is hard work. I wake up this morning reluctant to return to the basement or the books, though I promised myself yesterday that I would. Today there are shopping, cooking, book club, no laundry unless I find a way to hang the clothes, the living in the here and now, which is where I want to be. In between we’ll see how I do sorting through the memories and nailing down the dreams.

Today’s Writer’s Almanac poem should help. I’m back to poems.

 LISTEN

Long Term

by Stephen Dunn

On this they were in agreement:
everything that can happen between two people
happens after a while

or has been thought about so hard
there’s almost no difference
between desire and deed.

Each day they stayed together, therefore,
was a day of forgiveness, tacit,
no reason to say the words.

It was easy to forgive, so much harder
to be forgiven. The forgiven had to agree
to eat dust in the house of the noble

and both knew this couldn’t go on for long.
The forgiven would need to rise;
the forgiver need to remember the cruelty

in being correct.
Which is why, except in crises,
they spoke about the garden,

what happened at work,
the little ailments and aches
their familiar bodies separately felt.

“Long Term” by Stephen Dunn, from New and Selected Poems. © Norton, 1994. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

This morning I woke up to another Tony Hoagland poem in my e-mail box, the Writers’ Almanac selection of the day. This evening I made it to the movies with my kids at last, Quartet at the Kendall Square Cinema following dinner at The Friendly Toast. In between my daughter and I made a trip to her chosen destination, All That Matters, returning with the van seats folded down and a piece of old painted wood waiting for a home. Later she tidied her room while I read to her from two delicious books, Songololo and Brian Selznik’s Wonderstruck, a request that hasn’t come from her in months. In between she had her first off site babysitting gig while I had time with her brother, who made us coffee, played music, read books, and talked, interspersed with time on each of our computers. I even found time to write to some friends and to read from my newest book, a collection of poems by Louise Gluck. Love in many forms.

We’ve moved the instruments back to the living room. What is living if not music anyway, opera, saxophone, electric guitar, pop, rap, folk?

On the way home from the movie near midnight, my son played music from his iphone in the van. I was astounded again that my children’s music makes sounds I enjoy, that my children often listen to music I first loved, Neutral Milk Hotel from both my boys for me tonight, Tracy Chapman for my daughter earlier in the week, Bob Dylan for my boy in the upcoming show. I wonder if what I listened to while the kids were in utero affected their brains, if the music streaming while their father cooked and I lay on the couch soaked into their heads, if the life we’ve lived together has predisposed us to our tastes.

In any case, Quartet was my daughter’s choice and we both loved it. You might, too. The Tony Hoagland poem is here below, in case you want to start and end your day with opera as I did. Odd to have a day so unplanned and so synchronistic. Some are that way.

My ten year old Honda Odyssey never sounded so good as it did this morning when I read the poem or this evening when Neutral Milk Hotel sang us home.

 LISTEN

Honda Pavarotti

by Tony Hoagland

I’m driving on the dark highway

when the opera singer on the radio

opens his great mouth

and the whole car plunges down the canyon of his throat.

So the night becomes an aria of stars and exit signs

as I steer through the galleries

of one dilated Italian syllable

after another. I love the passages in which

the rich flood of the baritone

strains out against the walls of the esophagus,

and I love the pauses

in which I hear the tenor’s flesh labor to inhale

enough oxygen to take the next plummet

up into the chasm of the violins.

In part of the song, it sounds as if the singer

is being squeezed by an enormous pair of tongs

while his head and legs keep kicking.

In part of the song, it sounds as if he is

standing in the middle of a coliseum,

swinging a 300-pound lion by the tail,

the empire of gravity

conquered by the empire of aerodynamics,

the citadel of pride in flames

and the citizens of weakness

celebrating their defeat in chorus,

joy and suffering made one at last,

joined in everything a marriage is alleged to be,

though I know the woman he is singing for

is dead in a foreign language on the stage beside him,

though I know his chain mail is made of silver-painted plastic

and his mismanagement of money is legendary,

as I know I have squandered

most of my own life

in a haze of trivial distractions,

and that I will continue to waste it.

But wherever I was going, I don’t care anymore,

because no place I could arrive at

is good enough for this, this thing made out of experience

but to which experience will never measure up.

And that dark and soaring fact

is enough to make me renounce the whole world

or fall in love with it forever.

“Honda Pavarotti” by Tony Hoagland, from Donkey Gospel. © Graywolf Press, 1998. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

When I take pictures I am fascinated by the children’s engagement with the physical world. That is the draw of the camera over the computer. I can see with my eyes what a person is really working to do, the beauty in a block structure that has come from a child’s eye and hand working together, the strength in a young girl’s character and body as she tackles a physical challenge, whether putting on a cowboy boot or carrying a large slide. I can see the joy a child feels in slipping down an incline on a scarf, the persistence of a group in sharing turns with that same slide, the thrill of transformation in donning a helmet, hat, or power pack.

We all feel and do these things in our days, whether dressing for a party, rebuilding our houses, making a fine meal, or brushing our hair. Transformation of the physical world shows our power, our personality, our dreams and ambitions. How fine to capture the beginnings of each of these in full flower in the children in our care.

Here are some photos I took the last two weeks which make me look closer at the kids.

The other day I was in the office at school. One of my kids was there eating chili I had made. It was ok, not my best batch, which I offered to the room, explaining that I was not a great cook, could cook dishes I’d learned over the years, wasn’t one to try new things too often, like my son, who’s experimental in the kitchen.

Humbled by your kids. Get used to it, was the reply from an older staff, whose kids are my age now.

I think about that the last few days, while two of my kids and I share the house, the third is back at college checking in from time to time. One kid is funny as can be, sharp, musically curious, an information sponge. Another is into fashion, shopping, makeup, nails, decorating, organizing, designing, painting, art, and athletics. The third is a math, science, computer guy, acing his college courses, collecting the items he needs to dress for success, putting together a resume and attending another career fair, playing frisbee for the college team. None of these are things I do.

I am a middle aged mom, single again, browsing the aisles of Porter Square Books. I’m good enough at lots of things as I have been throughout my life. Still, I admire the potential in my kids. Part of me envies the young couples in the grocery store with a child in the cart, the pairs shopping together for the evening meal or the week’s food, the Facebook folks whose friends share pictures of happy families and comment on one another’s statuses. I’m negotiating through this phase without a map or a blueprint or a curriculum, free form midlife for a woman whose girlhood dreams were mighty traditional, good grades, school activities, Ivy League college and grad school, one job with kids and in education leading to another, married the college sweetheart, bought a house, three kids and a large circle of friends, worked hard, fixed up the house and bought a second with friends, attended lots of weddings and funerals and school events, and then, just after forty, shift.

I read a quote yesterday I should remember.

Nobody can go back and start a new beginning, but anyone can start today and make a new ending.
-Maria Robinson

When I left my marriage I thought there might be a do-over, a way to recreate the happy families I had lost, first as a kid when my dad died, then again when my marriage failed. At forty six, that seems unlikely, no more babies for me, kids leaving home one by one. Midlife is not living young adulthood again, at least not for most women in my shoes. It’s making a new life as the kids grow older, as my circles shift and shrink, adjusting to being my own person, learning to retreat with a bit more grace, thinking about what now and what next while trying to open my mind to options I might not have previously considered.

I keep thinking about being a young feminist, about how clear I was in some ways about what it meant to be a woman, to work hard, to marry and have children, not to give up my ambition or my mothering or my self. Now I’m more on my own, I wonder about that. The glamour of paying my own bills, of looking after my own house, of running a business at home and going out to work at school, of being the parent only I want me to be, of being an independent woman, isn’t quite so glamorous as the early self might have hoped. It’s who I am now. After four years on my own, I no longer wonder if I can do it, though sometimes I wonder how long I can hold on this way alone, or panic at a new challenge like three feet of snow and no boys to help. It takes a lot more time reflecting that I’d expected, interspersed with the lived life, to negotiate new territory, lots of time inside my head or in my dreams, in the early morning mind and the late night thoughts, to live the life I’ve got. I’m learning to turn in after a life of turning out, and wondering what now, what next, and how.

This is the Saturday morning that is the one I can say follows a pattern. I sleep in a bit, lay in bed awhile, get up to work, to sort the week’s mail, to pay the bills, and find myself wandering the internet, e-mailing with friends and family, cat beside me, mail opened, bills unpaid, though they will be soon, all while my kids sleep.

Some Saturdays while they’re here, I cook first and do the dishes, perhaps a more productive way to start the weekend, fresh banana bread smell a lot more satisfying than recycled envelopes in the bin.

But, here I am. The screen printing gear is in my living room again. The first round of shirts are done and will go on sale the week school reopens, for the week before the show, then at the Coffee House where my kids will perform. I’ll attend the second show after attending the memorial service of a former day care mom earlier in the afternoon. Life and death and music of all kinds that day. My mom an sister may even come for the show, if we can coordinate.

The week ahead is not typical at all, in spite of the mail opening, bill paying start. My kids are on school vacation. I have to work three days. We’ll have a weekend at home and a weekend away. No huge plans. Feels like that in general right now. It’s a stage of no huge plans. I am a bit at sea.

In what now appears to be an attempt to get a plan, I’ve called the contractor about the basement renovation and put the San Francisco, Muir Woods, Big Sur fantasy on the table for the kids. Now it’s all the steps from here to there to make those dreams come true. Hold Fast To Dreams, as Langston Hughes once said. I sure do try.

Our day care will be full of kids from one to twelve this week, a week I enjoy very much. One teacher is away with a brother having surgery. The rest are on different schedules, one day with our sub. The snow is back again, big, loose flakes on the skylight and in the sky this morning as I woke and worked,  now subsided. The sidewalks and streets are still clear, which brings relief, though tomorrow that may not be true. Later today a group of girls will show up to hang with my kids. The house will be full for an evening and parts of two days. That will make me happy. As does the time this morning in its way.

All week, I’ve been with people at school and day care. I’ve thought a lot about the social and the introspective, what it means to be alone and not, how to find happiness and/or meaning in both. Will stop with that thought, bring it back when I’m ready, assuming it sticks.

I listened to a great podcast of Krista Tippet interviewing Seth Godin for On Being while I made one of my better Spanish Tortillas for my kids and I to eat last night, a dinner at nine in the Spanish tradition. I’ll post a link here in case you’re curious. I loved it, thought I’d write more, but will let you discover it for yourself. When I reread the title, I am reminded why I loved it and why I hope you will, too. Enjoy.

http://www.onbeing.org/program/seth-godin-on-the-art-of-noticing-and-then-creating/5000

Four years ago today we did something really dumb. We told our kids we were getting a divorce. Advice to the reader: if things in your marriage are really bad, do not pick Valentine’s Day to tell the kids. It’ll ruin the day for at least a few years. Fortunately, today, four year’s later, I can reassure my daughter that while I’m sorry we couldn’t hold it together, the good news is we are all ok. She and her brothers are doing great. Her dad and I probably get along better now than we did not only four years ago, but maybe five or six or seven. Things had been bad a long time. Now they’re better, at least by some measures.

It’s not fun to miss your kids half time. That was the biggest warning I got at divorce class for parents, required by the state, and one I remember often. While no one divorces their kids, the effect is pretty awful. Even in shared custody cases like ours, where the kids spend roughly half time in each home, I miss the kids a lot. Part of me hopes they miss me, too. Part of me hopes they don’t. Half time is not full time and it’s a big adjustment, a big loss all the way around. I have friends who are single and have their kids full time and they have their struggles, too, as do plenty of families with two parents in the home living with their kids.

If there’s one thing I’m hoping its that the finding a new normal phase is nearly over. I’ve stopped expecting things to be as they were, have started making plans more than a short while ahead, feel relatively stable and solid on my own in most ways. A big whopper of a snow storm may throw me off, but soon I’m back on my feet. Nothing of late compares to having an entire life of twenty years tossed on it’s ear and battered.

So, today was not half bad. I bought candy for my kids and for myself. I ate two pieces before turning in for the night, after Modern Family with the kids, after a pasta dinner with red sauce and avocado salad, not gourmet, but good enough for us. While I tucked my daughter in and told her on how lucky I was to spend the day with the ones I love, she reminded me that the last few years we weren’t together on Valentine’s Day because the kids had been off to Texas with their dad. No wonder today felt better. Time heals. So does the presence of my kids.

I also got three Valentines, one yesterday from a day care sweetie who made them herself for everyone, including my own three kids, even the one in college, and two today, one as soon as I arrived at school and another later in the day. It was good to be remembered in the day care by a girl I now see only rarely and at school by kids I am just beginning to know. There were warm cookies at school at noon, with cups of milk (some pink) with lids and straws and monkey faces that made the whole place feel like a Chuckee Cheese birthday party. I made more shirts, talked to kids while I ironed, folded, printed, and cleaned up. Later there were friendship bracelets with a table full of girls, one who made my day by telling me I was good at my job, good with kids and patient. It never hurts to get positive feedback from a very competent nine on my way to the next round of democratic hiring.

Meanwhile at the day care, the teachers made it through another day. Yesterday there was one broken down car and two of us late for work, the teacher whose car died on her way to day care and me who had to cover for her until she arrived before I could leave for school. Today there was a collection to help get the broken car fixed and I’m fantasizing about adding rooms into my basement to create housing for the staff, a bit more income for the household, and company for me.

There is some sadness, too, which I’ll keep closer to my heart. Life is never just rainbows and happy trees, even in a Frances book. Probably only my ex-husband would get the reference. When the kids were little those were our favorite books.

Here’s to love in all it’s forms, past, present, future, traditional and new.

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