November 2014


Today is my birthday. I’m not sure I’ve posted on my birthday before. It’s been six years this fall since I started this blog. I’ve written my way through some hard times and big news. This birthday doesn’t feel like either of those. Today I’m 48. Fifty is approaching. My good friend and day care partner Liana loved turning fifty. She had looked forward to it since she was a girl when she had an older friend she admired who was fifty. Now I’ve got loads of older friends and folks in my life leading me into the second half of life, fifty seems sort of young. Not young like thirty, which didn’t seem young when I was twenty, but does now, but young compared to sixty or seventy or eighty, which come next. Whoa. I’m not ready for any of those yet, but figure I will be when I get closer, which I will, no doubt in record time, though forty seems a ways away, and not a birthday I like to remember. Compared to forty, the idea of fifty feels great. I expect less angst, hope for less loss, less stress, less ambiguity perhaps, more grounding if I’m right and lucky. At forty I still had high hopes of making great change, and worked hard at it inside and out. At 48, I’m not so invested, and would even say not so hopeful, about my ability to do the things I wished I could do at forty, and in many ways, that feels not just ok, but good. The stuff that matters seems to be working, more or less, friends, family, work, a modest sense of community, love, home, money. I’m keeping on keeping on, and all the parts are more or less working, roof leaks and unfilled day care spots and van repairs of the day notwithstanding. I’m relatively sound of mind and body, and if those ahead of me in years are right, this matters more and more, while the other stuff matters less and less.

So, it’s been a good week. I’ve met with a million roofers and am hoping soon to decide what to do and to choose the ones to do it.  My big birthday gift is a snowblower! Go figure, the woman who trims hedges with a big set of shears is going to push a big, loud machine to plow the snow. Now to figure out how to store it and the carriages and wagon for the day care safely and securely and without too much hassle under the front porch.  We said good-bye to a beloved day care guy on Tuesday, in the last hours before Thanksgiving vacation. I have mixed feelings on that, too. His spot is only half filled, which hasn’t happened in years. He’s a lovely guy, and we will miss him and his lovely family. Richard is back and we’re walking the path, though without so much of a vision of where we’re headed as happiness in being together, hoping that will do.

My kids are home, all three since Wednesday, coming and going a bit, but here for meals, with me and our family on the Cape for Thanksgiving, here today on my birthday, up late last night in the house after dinner, here for breakfast and lunch today. Ben asked me what I wanted to do on my birthday. Brief thoughts of a trip to the ICA dimmed when I considered the glow of being at home with my kids. Really, that’s about it. Later we’ll head out, Ben to a friend’s for a post Thanksgiving bash with SVS alumns, Jonah and Isabel and I and maybe Isabella to Richard’s, where tomorrow we’ll have a big brunch and an outing to a concert I’ve been looking forward to awhile, a Crooked Still reunion, with appearances by Daisy Mayhem and another band of which I’d never heard, whose music I streamed and liked this week, sort of Ralph Stanleyish old timey tunes performed by youngish people. Then we’ll stay another night at Richard/s, return to school and home on Monday. I’ll drop the kids at their dad’s Monday night and return to a quiet house, then day care work on Tuesday. Life goes on, marching towards Christmas, birthdays, Isabel’s trip to Australia, hopefully roof repairs,

Once upon a time, I looked forward to big things, starting a school, spiritual transformation, marriage and kids and house and home. Most of that I’ve had. Some of it I’ve lost. Some may lie ahead. The not knowing has grown strong. Being happy while not knowing feels important. The kids’ well-being, all our happiness, love, family, friends, home, enough cash to make things work, all that I have for now. Thanksgiving feels about as real as it could, with gratitude for life as it is, hope and faith for the future, love all around. I don’t feel particularly inspired or inspiring. I do feel relatively at peace, well loved, strong enough for now. I’m looking forward to the day, to the shop, the packing up, the time around the house and on the road, the reunion with my guy, the life I’m living now. More than that is hard to say. I wonder if you hoped for more.

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Thursday morning I didn’t have the car. The kids had driven it to school, and because I was leaving for the weekend, I wanted to do the shop. I took the cart Richard got me at a yard sale, much bigger than the one I was forced to buy on one of my first outings to the then new Stop and Shop, since I couldn’t carry home the groceries in my cart without one.

Walking up the hill, I came across a couch in front of a former day care family’s house. The couch looked just like the ones we have in our living room and tv room, not too big to fit in the upstairs of our tight stair cased, small roomed home. It was in fine shape, brown velvety microfiber, plump cushions, no tears or significant wear. Using my shopping cart, I wheeled the cushions home, no clear plan how I’d get the frame down the street.

As I was wondering a truck arrived in front of a neighbors house to deliver furniture. I wondered if the movers would loan me one of their rolling carts. They were happy to do that. As they moved furniture into the home using the other two from their truck. I wheeled the couch down the center of the street to the sidewalk beside the porch, making sure the wagon and carriage for the day care kids were out front as I was blocking the storage area under the porch.

That afternoon I e-mailed the day care family to see if they could find out from their tenants what was up with the couch. Good news! It was free of any critters or stains, and it had come to it’s owner and to me free. He had gotten it on a deal from Jordan Furniture which promised his purchase would be free if the Red Sox won the series. As he said, they did and I did!

Jen and I tried to drag it upstairs Thursday night, but it was more than we could do. We rearranged the day care front room and parked it there for the kids to explore on Friday. Jen tested it out and it was comfy. She connected me with the mover who came on Sunday to get it upstairs.

Sunday afternoon between a wreath making party with my daughter and a class at Cambridge Friends Meeting I found myself beginning what has been two days of moving the house around. First I moved all kinds of stuff out of the living room to make room for the couch. Then movers hauled the couch up over the back porch while I hauled stuff to the curb, an old AC from under the porch, bins of yard waste from the tree limbs the wildlife removal guy trimmed Wednesday afternoon, trash, recycling, a small table from under the porch. They hauled the old blue couch to the curb, but this morning when it was raining I dragged it back under the porch, hating to think of it going into the mouth of the trash truck and to the landfill if someone might still love it. I stripped the slipcover off it and that is in the drier now. The seat cushion is drying in the bathroom and the frame is under the porch. If you know of a place that takes used furniture and has home pickup, let me know.

All day today I’ve been in moving mode. I moved more furniture around the house than I have in years. I cleaned cupboards, a closet, and drawers. The house painter came to add a layer of joint compound to the patches he’s put on the ceiling to cover the holes left by the electricians when they removed our old fixtures. He’ll be back on Wednesday to paint the kitchen ceiling, so I’m clearing off the kitchen counters and shelves and fridge in anticipation.

While I was doing all that I found a leaky can of furniture restorer for oak, and a ton of furniture polish. Interspersed with moving and cleaning and decluttering, I polished furniture, lots of it, shelves, bureaus, tables, chairs, a desk and file cabinet, windows and sills. Everything got a coating of Howard’s wax and feed, a polish I’ve had for years and used once upon a time to restore shine and good health to our many wooden surfaces.

It’s after midnight. the house is dark except for candles I’ve lit in the cleared off windowsills in glass votive jars. One of my jobs was cleaning out the candle drawer. Another was clearing the kitchen windowsill. While I was doing that, removed the screens as my friend who hosted the wreath party had done. I’m hoping in the morning the light will shine in more brightly than it has in years.

Through all the moving, cleaning, and clearing, polishing and rearranging, I felt happy. For the last many years, taking care of this house has been a loaded proposition. It’s been hard to find the time and energy. Now I”m working only one job and working less and my kids are growing up, I’m finding time to take care of my house. It was hard to take of the house when my marriage was falling apart and after our separation and divorce. Emotions interfered. Now I feel clear. That stage of life is behind me. I’ve found a new love, and a new strength. I’m feeling less like a weak woman, less overwhelmed at the enormity of taking care of my home along, more competent and energized that I can do it.

I may not have the bucks to redo my kitchen, but I’ve got a closet full of old polishes to shine the kitchen table and I can clear off the windowsill over the sink, remove the screens, shine the glass and the wood, clear off the plants and knick knacks, and put a candle in each of the three window sections, reminiscent this evening of the plug in candles my mom used to put in our windows for the winter holidays when I was a kid. The dark calls for freshening up home, for battening down the hatches, for inviting in the light, whether sunshine during the day or candle and lamp light at night.

I put the plants from the windowsill in my son’s room. Many of them were gifts from him, succulent loving guy that he is. I like having some life in his room. I also put three lamps there, shined the furniture, am leaving the doors open, adding his room to the living space we can all enjoy.

I took more of the after school stuff out of the dining room. There are still some children’s books that need to be culled from the shelves, but the big shelf of toys is gone, the art supplies are sorted, and the board games are in the newly cleared hall closet, sewing stuff that used to be there going upstairs to the newly cleared table there, in hopes I’ll get back go sewing this winter.

I moved the keyboard and it’s stand from the living room to the dining room to make room for the couch. I hung a Matisse print over it, and even sat down twice to play. This time I played scales and notes that pleased me, no song book or memorized music. I’m hoping gradually I’ll play music or sing again. It’s been a long time.

It’s bedtime but I’ve had a lot of coffee late in the day and I’m a little wound up from all the project work. Thursday morning I’m also off and I’m hoping to take on the upstairs again, sorting and clearing until the place is livable for guests, who may arrive in the next few weeks and need a place to sleep that isn’t full of boxes and children’s ancient art. Wish me luck in maintaining momentum.

My son crashed his dad’s car Friday night. I’ve loaned him mine for the week. Out of something bad came something good. He gets the car and I get more time at home. Rather than heading back to Northampton last night or running errands in the car today, I got the couch moved and ended up moving a whole lot more. When I woke up I thought I needed a vision of where I was headed before I could begin. Partway through the day I realized I often work best by following my energy, seeing what comes next step-by-step. That’s a good thing to know about myself. It makes it easier to take a lazy day when I need it and to use my energy for the things that call it rather than sticking to a plan.

T

Richard is here in my kitchen, just back from a movie, smiling and laughing. Life moves in the most mysterious of ways, sometimes into hard places, sometimes out.

This morning I’m at home. My kids are with their dad this week. My man has flown the coop. The projects I’m trying to tackle all seem to involve preparing for winter.

At 9:15, the man from the storm window company came to do the final measurements before placing my order. He noticed how quiet the day care was down below, allowing me to share with him that even small people can be calm and quiet when they are treated well and feeling right.

I’ve lined up gutter cleaning before the snow falls, called the painting company about estimates for the spring. I’m too late for AAA Sparkling to clean our windows this year. They are full and are looking ahead to next year. I’ll look to another company or live another winter with dust clouded windows, light more candles, turn on more lamps.

The electrical work in the kitchen is making me very happy. The electrician came last week to install the fixture over the kitchen table and it glows. That and the recessed lights over the counter and refrigerator are on dimmer switches, which I love. I’ve put candles on the table and the windowsills today, flickering flames reminding me I’m not alone.

I’ve gone back to the world of online dating, another winter preparation, in hopes of shared meals and walks and conversations, some dreaming in the dark. It’s hard to imagine holidays and weekends on my own, especially when my kids are with their dad. I wonder if this round may not go so well. I’m feeling protective of my time, selective in how I want to use my energy. So far, no one feels quite right even for a chat or coffee, but we’ll see. I hesitate to share this here, as it may be too private, and as a part of me hasn’t given up hope that life can continue on with Richard, but here it is, my secret self, posted for the world.

The Quaker Meeting is working for me, too. A community of kind people and good deeds, conversation and connection, interspersed with quiet and reflection suites my life right now.

My house is getting a bit of a take down. I’m sorting piles that have nagged me too long. I’m giving away things I had forgotten or no longer need or use. My daughter is helping me to sort the toys, now all three kids are grown. As I make space, I find I have the energy to imagine caring for what I’ve got, installing storm windows, keeping and gradually repairing and repainting the old windows, shining my kitchen table with mineral oil once it’s cleared, restoring the glow of wood, making space in the cupboards so putting things away isn’t such a chore. I have a long way to go on the road to an ideal of Quaker simplicity, but I’m starting and it feels good.

I have been sorting out how to manage a breakup. What I want is to live a life of meaning and happiness and joy, of connection and conversation, mutual kindness and support. I’m trying to figure that out. It’s a big experiment, life and living, every single day.

Here is a lovely poem from Writers’ Almanac that spoke to me this morning. Ah, the mystery of life.
LISTEN
In November
by Lisel Mueller

Outside the house the wind is howling
and the trees are creaking horribly.
This is an old story
with its old beginning,
as I lay me down to sleep.
But when I wake up, sunlight
has taken over the room.
You have already made the coffee
and the radio brings us music
from a confident age. In the paper
bad news is set in distant places.
Whatever was bound to happen
in my story did not happen.
But I know there are rules that cannot be broken.
Perhaps a name was changed.
A small mistake. Perhaps
a woman I do not know
is facing the day with the heavy heart
that, by all rights, should have been mine.

“In November” by Lisel Mueller, from Alive Together. © Louisiana State University Press, 1996. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

And here’s Joni, singing Both Sides Now, in case a song is more your taste:

This weekend I did a whirlwind tour of New England. My younger son was here for Halloween to greet the trick or treaters and share a meal. Then he was off for teenage fun and I was in the house alone, first time in awhile, which I needed a great deal.

Saturday morning I woke up early inspired to bake. From 6:30 to 9 I made cake for my sister’s birthday and chocolate chip cookies for my older son’s team.

Then I was on the road, nearly three hours to my son’s game at Yale, where I stood in the rain surrounded by the vigor of young men on the ultimate frisbee teams. Rain and cold didn’t keep us from having fun.

After three games, they were off to showers and dinner and I was off to sit by the fire with my good friends in Rhode Island, to conversation over dinner in a local restaurant til after nine.

Then on to Cape Cod, where I found my sister and my nephew by another fire, sat there with my sister and her husband when he got home til near one, glad for daylight savings time coming the next morning.

I slept in their basement guest room, cozy and well kept, woke early to the bustle of boys and men upstairs getting ready for more sports. My sister and I had coffee, talked. Two nephews and I sang her Happy Birthday, then we ate cake and I was on the road again.

This time I was headed for Cambridge Friends Meeting, where there was an afternoon session exploring the question, “Do you believe in Jesus?” which is something I’ve been wondering on a long time.

Then home for some food, a call, napping and reading a new book I found at Meeting, recommended by a woman who introduced herself to me, noticing she’d seen me around. Little by little, I’m becoming familiar.

The Friends Meeting House bustles.

Sunday evening I returned to join a large group learning about Quaker Fundamentals, first time in a long time I’ve been to a class where I was asked to listen, where so much material was new. Near the end we met in small groups to talk about what had brought us to Quakerism. A woman I’d come to wonder on for her wisdom in Meeting for Worship, who had chosen a seat beside me in the large group circle, talked about her experience being born to a mother who had recently discovered the Quakers, and about her childhood attending Meeting from about the age of seven, preferring it to the more traditional child’s world of First Day School. I loved this image and wondered aloud to her before we left that evening what sort of young girls she must have been.

Yesterday I put my house in order. I did the shop, washed the dishes and the laundry, tidied the house, sorted through piles of mail and loads of junk on the third floor, replaced a torn shade, all the small things that make a life more livable, in gratitude for the weekday at home to do them. I lit candles, alternated between listening to music and preferring silence, took breaks to rest and to read, again the book from Meeting, Plain Living: A Quaker Path to Simplicity. It was what I needed.

For the evening I chose to return to Cambridge Friends, this time for a meeting about a new initiative in Boston, a planned opening next summer of a group house for Quaker Voluntary Service. It was the first committee style meeting I’ve attended at Friends, first committee I’ve considered joining in awhile. I’m still considering, feeling protective of my time and energy, wanting to make sure I use both wisely, don’t wear myself out, make promises I can’t keep, walk too far along a path not meant for me..

Properly fed, I could be centered in the day care today. I started the day with the junk bins from upstairs and down, in search of batteries for some music block toys I had found on the third floor and wanted to share with the kids. In the junk bins, I fond only two C batteries, not enough for the toys. I organized lots of other things, extension chords, three prong adapters I hardly need with all the updated electrical outlets in the house, batteries in lots of other sizes, fuses, and many flash lights.

This made the kids curious, and happy. They love to explore junk, to handle real things, to talk about the mystery of electricity. In the sorting, I found exactly ten flashlights, one for each kid, got all but the two requiring C batteries to work. Then we had a flashlight meeting. We learned how to turn each one on and off. We learned how to shut them off when we’re done, how to handle them gently, how not to shine them into eyes. Some use batteries, one is rechargeable from a wall outlet, three hand crank. Then the kids tried each one, and some looked under couches to explore the dark. Later when it’s near dark we’ll enjoy the flashlights in the yard, something Anne suggested in anticipation of Daylight Savings Time.

Entering the darkness of fall and winter, I wonder how my future will unfold. I’m thinking a lot about snow and shoveling, wonder how I’ll cope this year. I’m on my own again, after a long while of being attached, and that is another unknown. The dark and cold has me in an introspective, get my own house in order kind of place. After years procrastinating about clearing out my house, stopping and starting, I’ve found the energy to begin again.

Yesterday I found not only the music blocks in the third floor piles, but a collection of photo albums on my son’s shelf. The children were small and lovely. We were two parents doing what parents do, visiting grandparents, celebrating holidays and birthdays, admiring our children tossing rocks in the creek, sitting around a fire, cuddling with their cousins. None of us had a clue how the last six years would unfold, how our lives would be ripped apart and put together, how the kids would grow up to be so fine. Here we are, all growing stronger, even as we are unsure of what comes next.