Summer Time

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Once again, more than a week has slipped by without time to write a blog post.  What have I been doing?  Playing Chutes and Ladders and Match game, and spending a bright, windy day on Governor’s Island, a former army base and now a 173 acre island park just off the southern tip of Manhattan where I watched Emilio scamper over climbing structures and spent only a moment on the long stretch of criss-crossed logs myself and ended up with a splinter in my thumb that throbbed and seeped and shot pain under my nail for a week.

I spent a day with Ava who spent an hour going through my purse, taking out everything and putting it back, mimicking putting on chapstick (“open, open”) and holding up an appointment card and pen (“color, color”) and scribbling and who helped me walk the dog at the end of the day but not until she’d gotten properly set for the walk (baggie, baggie”) which meant hoisting an empty handbag almost as big as her over her shoulder and dragging it along the sidewalk, taking the longest two block walk in the history of dog walking, averaging a step every 30 seconds or so because there was the bag to drop and readjust and neighbors front steps to try and a driveway to run up and flowers in the grass that needed to be touched.

I went on a carousel and roller coaster and spinning cars and bumper cars at Adventureland with Emilio, and we make a good amusement park pair because neither of us like scary or twirling rides.  The ferris wheel was my favorite.  By the time we left I was with batman.

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I got to watch Emilio figure out how to cross a line of monkey bars and then experience a 6 1/2 hour car ride from Long Island to New Hampshire with a five year old and one year old in the car (very long).

This weekend we had a full house — family, friends, peonies, strawberries, teaching Emilio how to make whipped cream, swimming, visiting the cows across the street and counting motorcycles everywhere we went because it was motorcycle weekend in NH and we saw 70 in a 5 mile trip to the store and back.

Finally, last night, I stopped being a baby and let Melia take out the splinter that was plaguing my thumb.  Good thing — that 1/2 inch of wood wasn’t going to pop out on its own.

So, this is a very long introduction to a substantive blog post I did write, for the Prevention Innovations Research Center blog.  Given the Orlando massacre and the previous attention to a too-lenient sentence in the Stanford rape case the topic of this blog — child sex offenders ending up on lifetime registries — may seem mild.  But it’s another example of how we need to make sure our intentions line up with our actions.

Onward into summer.

 

The Last Time You Cried and Why

Image courtesy of The Reluctant Grandmother
Image courtesy of The Reluctant Grandmother

I send writing prompts to three friends every Monday.  It started as a way to help a friend who wants to be writing more in order to remember things about her husband who died last year.  Then a writer friend talked about not writing right now and wanting to, so I offered to include her in the prompts.  When another friend saw the result of a prompt I’d sent the second friend, she wanted in too.  So, I’m up to three.

But today has been an off one for me.  A nagging dread has kept me from falling into mindful/mindless absorption in making a collage, or reorganizing my study or fiddling with poems. Is it that I’m working on my memoir, writing about a particularly difficult patch in the months after Eric died, a part of the story I haven’t told yet, which means reading those journals again and living with some of that pain present?  Not that it isn’t present on some level anyway.

I was having trouble coming up with a prompt for my friends until I got in the shower late this afternoon and started scrubbing at the nasty scrape I got on my knee when I tripped running last week.  It hurt, I started to cry, and I thought, ah, the prompt.  Write about the last time you cried and why.

I remembered the side of Chris’s face swollen with scrapes last spring and I cried more.  I’d talked to Chris the day before and she’d told me, “I’m not having a very good day.”  She’d fallen that weekend out walking with her family and was sore and discouraged.  The next day she and Jon came to visit unexpectedly, arriving while I was at an appointment.  When I got home and went out on the back deck to greet them I had to suck in my shock.  Chris looked so banged up and battered, with red scratches covering one side of her face. Battered by cancer.

In the shower I thought about how much physical limitation Chris had to live with, and then she still died.  I cried.  I cried because I’m close to a lot of people who have a serious illness, love someone with a serious illness, or have lost someone to illness.  I cried because the list of people I include in my healing meditation every day mostly die rather than get better and then I include on the list those left grieving.  I cried because my knee hurts and is taking a long time to heal and interferes with much of what I want to do.

Then I turned off the shower, dried off, dressed my knee and sat down to write.  To myself and to my friends.

 

Day Thirteen — Blessings of Boys

 

The world is full of light this morning – sharp, bright, cold finally.  I woke late, the sky already gray with dawn, sounds coming up from the kitchen. Last night watching Snapchat stories for Sam and Will I suspected they had started their drive north, and here they were, Sam plugging in Sylvia, the espresso machine, Will smiling.

“Why are you making coffee? Weren’t you up all night driving?”  They were, but they took turns napping, they wanted to get in a round of disc golf at Beauty Hill before crashing – they’d played a sunset round in Johnson City before starting their drive yesterday, they were excited about following that with a sunrise round.

Will would have napped but was willing to be swept along in the stream of Sam. Mike arrived, they all drank coffee, they left to play. These beautiful young men who’ve been in and out of this house since they were boys.  Twenty years. Such a blessing.

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Day Eight — Left Turns

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The unexpected left turns of life can be dangerous. You have to cross a lane of traffic so hope for a quiet road without too much to dodge. But life is a busy road as a good friend found out last week, suddenly navigating a turn she didn’t see coming, hanging on to the wheel and weaving through the potential collisions, steering for safety.

I know what it’s like to be in the hospital room where a sudden medical crisis landed her, sitting for hours listening to the beeping of monitors and watching the line of heart beats on a screen. I’ve spent the night drifting in and out of sleep in a reclining chair, ears alert for any change in the rhythm of machines tracking vital signs. Waking up and waiting. Waiting for the doctor to come in and deliver the latest news. Waiting for the results of scans and blood tests. Waiting for the day to pass because then it will be night and maybe everyone will sleep better and tomorrow will be better.

Then tomorrow is worse.   And still getting shorter and darker.

Last night, driving home from visiting my friend I had a couple of close calls. A truck made a left turn in front of me, drifting across my lane as if I wasn’t there. Then a car pulled out where I was turning left, making a wide arc that cut in to my lane. It was dark and I had trouble seeing the road once I’d made my turn.

Right.  My headlights weren’t on. So I was as invisible as I felt.

We are all so small and invisible. So I pay attention to the road, to what’s coming at me, and to everyone I love who’s riding out a scary turn.

Day Three — Warm December

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The cows are clustered around the hay rack in the pasture across the street, a low moan rising out of the one lying off by itself. A few are eating. A calf lies in the curve of a large cow’s body, both heads erect, wet noses glistening, breath steaming.

I can see all this so clearly because I’m outside, on the porch, low sun on my lap, almost hot. I’ve written about this before, there’s a poem in my book titled “Warm December,” another poem was written right here, warm when it should have been cold.

The Porch

This is where I come together, my feet
in white wool socks, the grass still patched
with green, open, a winter with no winter,
the warmest ever. Other people are scared
but I don’t care. Birds fly across the porch
under the grooved wooden ceiling, above
the railings. Small white pines are coming up
in the bit of pasture beyond the barbed wire
fence of the old calving pen where it doesn’t
get bush-hogged in August, the nature of nature.

That was eight years ago. The pattern continues. World leaders are in Paris trying to at least keep worse from happening, but this is going to be the warmest year ever, again. I think the world has always been this dire, the future, the violence, the inexplicable horrors that humans do to each other, or one does to another. We just know more about it, we know the full scope, information coming from everywhere all the time so our heads fill and fill with one tragedy and then the next, a massacre, a disaster, push notifications that ping my phone so I pick it up and read about the latest horrible thing.

I could shut off those notifications.

Last night poet friends gathered here and we ate and chatted and then all read what we’d written in response to a prompt David had come up with – Plagues We Have Known.We always have a prompt to write a poem for the Yogurt Poets holiday party, though past prompts have been gratitude, tradition, grace. Plagues was a whole new direction.

“What wonderful nerds are we?” said Hope as Kay talked about exploring the etymology of “plague.” Nancy had written 14 lines to each of the ten plagues visited on the Egyptians by God, Hope had written one line for each. David had used the metaphor of cell phones as progenitors of infection, a coming epidemic. Mary was happy to have been able to write anything.  I was happy to listen to what everyone had written. A group of creative souls who write for an audience as small as the dozen of us, as small as themselves, because we love the beauty of poetry.

Now the calf has moved to lie against the back of the cow who was moaning earlier. The world is hazy with moisture and inappropriate heat.

Memorials

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Chris died on Thursday evening as the family gathered around her, including David and I, took turns reading aloud from the Tao Te Ching.  We got home Friday afternoon, just before the long-planned arrival of Carol, my friend who lost her beloved life companion to cancer last winter.  As she came in to the kitchen Carol asked, “Are sure you’re ready for company?” and I said, “I’m ready for you,” because I knew we could both dive right in to talking about death and dying and grief and how do we move on in the face of sorrow and the absence of someone we love dearly.

Our friend Deb arrived the next day and we kept talking and cooking and crying and eating and coloring in my Crazy Paisley coloring book.  Yesterday morning we went for a walk out to the rock where I’ve been building cairns as a memorial for Eric since he died.  I told Carol and Deb the story, which I’ve told here on this blog, about the cairns accidentally being knocked over while the woods around the rock were being logged last summer, and how badly my neighbor who owns the land felt about that.  He erected a stone cross as a way to continue my ritual of using the rock as a memorial site, and also because he’d begun to use the rock as a place to remember and honor his father.

As we walked Carol told me she was looking for large, flat rocks to use in the memorial garden she’s creating for Steve in her yard in Delaware.  She’d shown us pictures earlier of the mosaic sculpture that sits among plantings of perennials and shrubs.  I started looking down as we walked, hoping to find stones she could use.

When we reached the rock with the cross and the beginnings of cairns being rebuilt by me, I stepped up on the top to put a couple more layers on the cairns.  From that vantage I could see that many of the rocks from the previous cairns had fallen in to a cleft in the middle of the rock, piled in a jumble waiting to be reassembled into towers.  There were a half-dozen that were large and flat, some speckled with tiny flakes of mica.

I asked Carol if she wanted any of the flat rocks for her memorial garden and she loved them all. So Deb, David, Carol and I walked back out of the woods carrying rocks, heavy but manageable.

Now Carol has taken rocks from Eric’s memorial cairns back to Delaware to become part of Steve’s memorial garden, and I’m carrying memories of Chris as I help make the arrangements for her memorial service.

It was a sad and glorious weekend, with striking blue skies and sharp air, gusty wind and sunshine glinting on the leaves of the trees, beginning to rattle with autumn dryness.  We looked at photos of Steve and Carol and me and my sisters and talked, talked, talked.

Getting ready to build again.  I’m going to start a cairn on the rock for Chris.

Welcome to Europe

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We’re heading into our second week in Europe, and the first week has been so full of sights and stories and amazing food I hardly know which adventures to recount.  Anny has been a great friend and hostess, her door always open, both metaphorically and literally, because in Normandy during the summer windows and doors and shutters are open so there’s no barrier between the outside and the inside.  A stream runs through Anny’s yard with a hearty gurgling, and our last night there we slept with the windows and shutters open, even though it was cool.  We wanted to be able to listen to the water talk.

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A Garden Corner

I’ve been running a lot (marathon training is moving right along), gardening (Anny has extensive and wildly imaginative gardens at her home and it’s been so satisfying and fun to be part of her living creation), eating (so many outrageously excellent meals and so many chunks of crusty baguette slathered with local butter or creamy cheese), and wishing, yet again, that I’d taken my intention to become more fluent in French (because I’m about 0.5 on a 1 – 10 scale for fluency) seriously and maybe after this trip I will.

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Panoramic Normandy

Yesterday we took a train from Lisieux to Paris and this afternoon we leave for Amsterdam.  It was raining hard yesterday as we walked through Paris but that didn’t keep us from appreciating what a beautiful city it is.

A few more photos from our wonderful week.

 

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Rich Stillness

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Last night was the sixth night in six and a half weeks that David and I were alone in the house. We have had an amazing richness of visits, which has meant a month and a half of being in the moment for the most part, because the immediacy of having loved ones so close by has kept me securely rooted in what has been happening right here, right now.

Yes, that right here, right now has meant lots of getting beds ready and almost constant food shopping and marathon cooking of many meals for many people.  But then those beds were filled with our children and other loved ones and the table was circled by friends and family eating and talking and laughing, and none of it felt like work.  The meals ranged from 19 for Thanksgiving dinner, to 11 of us eating vegetarian chili before going to a bonfire party on a frigid night, to 14 for New Year’s Eve, to Sam and a friend eating leftover soup yesterday morning after a late night out, getting ready to head off for a skiing and snowshoeing adventure.  Thanksgiving night 15 people slept in the house, in beds, on couches and floor mats and rugs and a blow up mattress in the studio.

And now this evening it’s only David and me.  The house is quiet, and we’re not expecting any overnight guests until the middle of next month.  I’ve loved the richness and bustle and closeness of the last six weeks, but I’m feeling fine about the coming stillness.  Last night at a party I talked with a friend about her intentions for the New Year.  She wants to contain some of the pushing she usually uses to direct her life, to get her where she feels she needs to be.  “I want to let more creative unfolding happen,” she said, and I knew exactly what she meant.  Being still, listening to what is emerging, letting time unfold, can lead to unexpected places.

Just as a house full of friends and family can lead to unexpected conversations and connections and the pleasure of sharing a warm home and bountiful table, stillness can lead to a rich connection with self, and an awareness of what the next turn might mean, or be, or where it might lead.  I’m feeling full and ready.

Day 5: Pearl Light, Impossible Poems, Silence

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Pearl light, empty and cold.  Clumps of the off-and-on light snow from the last few days top the browned hydrangea blossoms.  The white lying across the fields and caught in hemlock needles bounces the day back up into itself, a bit of brilliance.  There won’t be many hours of light today, but at least what there is will be reflecting into the air, hard and dry.

David and I have been talking this morning, about the party we went to last night, a collection of poet friends, each of us quirky with creativity and the struggle to hold the making of poems, defenseless little expressions in such a chaotic world, as a primary focus in the face of enormous demands.  Each of us gathered last night have such huge loads to carry – challenging and time-gobbling jobs, or aging family members who require constant attention, or young adult children slipping their tires as they try to get traction in adult lives.  It’s a wonder any of us ever write anything.

Our holiday party tradition includes the hostess giving everyone a prompt to write a poem.  After eating, we each read our poem – or not, those too overwhelmed to write are easily excused – and we tell ourselves we’ll just listen to each other, it’s not a night for critiquing, it’s a party, not a workshop.  But we can’t help ourselves.  Reactions to the poems leak out.

“I wish we could let go of feeling we need to comment on the poems,” a new member of the group said to me as we were leaving.  This was her first holiday party.  “Did you notice the silence after each of us read, as we tried to figure out what to say that wasn’t a critique?”

Mostly I just noticed how much more silence there was after my poem.  Or did I imagine that?

The prompt: Traditions Made New.  My poem:

The Table

“The table comes first,” the French say
and our table fills, and fills again, golden

oak sliding open on gears, leaves unfolded.
A voice carries from the snowy road, lilt

of the neighbor calling her dog, a woman
who never left her house, who now walks

every day past the pruned apple trees
and boxes of frozen garden. Chairs move

in and out of rooms, go back up on hooks
in the barn. The house has nothing to prove.

Yom Kippur

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It’s become part of my Yom Kippur tradition to read my blog posts from past years, then add the current year’s reflections. Can this really be my fourth year of posting Yom Kippur thoughts? The eighth year of celebrating the High Holiday days without Eric?

Yes, this is year four, and yes, Eric still isn’t here.  But life is rich with family and friends. Adrienne, Matt, Emilio and Melia were all here.  Adrienne and I attended Kol Nidre and Yom Kippur services with Mark and Andi, as usual, and as usual had a lot to discuss about what we did and didn’t like in the service, the sermons, our own reflections as we thought about transgressions of the last year, forgiveness of ourselves and others, and intentions to do good and be well in the year ahead.  The afternoon of fasting at home found us gravitating towards the sun on the porch and in the yard, as it always seems to, our hungry bodies wanting at least some of the last warm sun of the season.

Our festive break fast was joined by friends last night.  We began by remembering those who aren’t still here to celebrate with us, then feasted on the garden bounty of three of us at the table and more good discussions about life and art, endurance and jelly fish and tractors, tomatoes and the after effects of fasting.

After dinner, Emilio wanted to go out outside, so he and I walked out on the porch together to watch the last of the light on the western horizon go from pale to dark.  “The sun is going down,” Emilio said.  “But it will be back.”  He nodded his head.  He’s closing in on 3 years old and is constantly putting together more and more about how the world works.

“Yes, it will come back from over there,” I said, pointing to the other side of the house.  “The sun comes up in the east, and goes down in the west, over there,” and I pointed to the horizon of trees now silhouetted against the low light.  Emilio watched me, alert and listening.  “We live in a world that’s like a big ball,” I said and made my arms into a circle.  “The sun comes up over there, and crosses the sky during the day,” now pointing, tracing the arc of the sun with my finger.  “Then it goes behind the other side of the ball where the light can’t reach us.”  And I ran my finger around the bottom edge of an imaginary circle, Emilio and I sitting on the porch in the middle.

Emilio nodded again.  “That’s why it’s dark,” he said.