“Every Day I Have to Figure Out How to Detach Enough

to have a life that isn’t consumed with anxiety and terror.”

“How’s it going,” Jon Lovett asks.

“It’s difficult, man.”

So says Marc Maron in this week’s podcast of Lovett or Leave It. Maron goes on to counsel that you do have to figure it out. Trump thrives on making us mad and scared so when you let the unprecedented unprecedentedness of the terror of his presidency keep you from enjoying the clear blue of a cool autumn day in New Hampshire after spending two days playing with the unspoiled and precocious children of your child, then he’s won. Resistance is enjoyment of simple pleasures and there’s nothing better than a rainy Saturday morning entertaining beautiful children so their parents can have a rare morning of sleeping in together.

I have to say this over and over in order to write blog posts. What difference do my experiences make, as sweet as many of them are? Well, they make a lot of difference to me and then I have energy to at least try to do my fifteen acts of resistance a week (way off that average recently having taken over a month more or less off). And my frequent emails to Mitch McConnell (go here and join in the fun) telling him I’m afraid in a way I have never been as an American (fear is a core motivating message of Republicans so I love being able to honestly use it to oppose McConnell’s unconscionable behavior) are actually renewing.

Life has been good to me recently and horrifically hard for a number of people I love. So all that makes sense is to share the extra generosity of my life. Mortality and change and rain then sun, zinnias and eggplant running into colder weather but no frost yet, bouquets in the house still and all the colored paper clips put away from Ava “working” at my desk this morning.

Ava loves to help put things away and clean up. Emilio has an arm that’s astounding for a six-year-old. Really. We measured our football throws this morning and as I thought he can throw twice as far as me.

I’m ready for the next week.

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A Ball to the Head

Thursday was my first full day at home without any commitments since returning from Ireland. I planned to garden and open the memoir file on my computer and start to sort out my next steps in the revision process.

Instead, I got up and made a list for the day, starting with four people I wanted to call. Then I did a lot of puttering — folded our Ireland hiking maps and put them in a cupboard with all the foreign country maps I’ve collected over the years, rearranged files on my desk, filled out medical forms for an upcoming appointment, made a big pot of black beans.

Finally I opened the memoir file and fiddled with it for a few minutes. Then closed it. Looked out the window. I went out to the garden to pick flowers and make bouquets for the house, hoping that might dislodge the heavy funkiness and floating dislocation I’d felt all day.

Arranging hydrangeas in vases to dry for the winter, I thought about Chris. Two summers ago when I spent so much time with her as she was dying, the first thing I’d do when I got home was pick flowers for the house. And here it is just about two years since she died. Tomorrow is the deathaversary.

Then I got the “ball to the head,” the term Adrienne uses to describe the sudden smacks of grief you don’t see coming.

The four people I’d put on my list first thing that morning to be sure to call are all friends who’ve lost a spouse. Of course I wanted to talk to them, check in. I know how hard it is to figure out your way through the loss of a life partner. But I wanted to talk about grief for myself too, and access the rare benefit that comes from deep loss — being able to talk to others about it.

Having people to talk to who’d gone through a loss like mine was such a comfort for me after Eric died. It comforts me still.

Summer: There, Here, Gone

I’ve been an infrequent blogger this summer, mostly because for the second summer in a row I’ve largely let go of any writing habit. It started with the week in June with Emilio, playing like a six-year-old since I was with a six-year-old, which was enormous fun but left no room for writing. An editing job with a July 1 deadline also ate up most of my desk time, making other people’s writing work better, leaving little energy for pulling my memoir into a better shape.

Then it was vacation time with family, followed by a week at the Vermont College of Fine Arts Postgraduate Writers’ Conference, a week spent immersed in workshopping, generative writing, outstanding readings by the outstanding faculty and talks about the craft of writing. It was inspirational and gave me a clear bead on exactly what I need to do next to get my memoir in shape to get it out into the world. But there’s was no time to actually work on the memoir.

The week at home after the conference and before returning to New York for another week with Emilio was consumed with harvesting and processing the bounty from my garden (yes, an electric mesh fence really does work — at least so far — to keep the woodchucks from eating my vegetables and flowers before I can get to them). The time I did have for creative focus I found myself drawing, pulled into my right brain after a week of such intense language, left brain focus.

Today I fly back to New Hampshire and will have 24 hours at home before David and I leave for over two weeks in Ireland. It’s been a very fun week again with Emilio — playing miniature golf, seeing how many times in a row we can catch each other’s throws (55 is our record), going to parks and playing the game of Life. He and I can be silly, serious, focused, scattered, wild and quiet together. He’s sweet and intense, loving and competitive and fiercely athletic. I’ll miss being with him and Ava every day; the energy of small children is amazingly centering because there’s no time to be anywhere other in the moment you’re in with them.

An added bonus of the week: celebrating my birthday which included Ava painting her legs with the blue frosting on my ice cream cake. It was impressively messy and abandoned. Emilio continued his habit of taking whacky selfies while I’m driving.

Now I’m looking forward to a traveling adventure with David. It’s been a long time since we’ve spent a couple of weeks only with each other, exploring a new country. We’ll be walking the Beara Way, then traveling to Connemara and Donegal. From everything we’ve read and heard about Ireland, I expect we’ll be stunned by beauty, heartened by a friendly culture, and cheered by the camaraderie of pubs. I’m also going on a Twitter fast. Who knows, maybe I’ll even go a day or two without checking the news.

All of this activity has made the summer fly. But it’s not over yet and this next journey should be as rich as all the summer I’ve already lived. Want to get a sense of what it’s like to walk, drive, drink, tour, discover and relax in Ireland? I’ll be blogging while we travel, so follow along.

Peony Porch

 

 

Home, on my porch, as gray storm clouds pitch across the sky and peonies poke through the balusters. For a change I’m not going to miss peony season in my yard. The last couple of years I’ve been away during the peak of peony blossoming. To extend the season, I wrapped buds in newspaper and stored them in the refrigerator. When I took them out weeks later, once I was home for awhile, they bloomed.

This year I’ll get to pick the heavy heads as they open their extravagant faces, petals tucked in petals tucked in petals in silky folds that seem like forever. The house smells like heaven. I have such peony bounty yesterday I brought a bunch to a family gathering in Massachusetts.

This morning I sat on the porch of the beach house my siblings are renting, watching sun begin to brighten the ocean out near the horizon, the never ending in and out of the waves, white water on white sand. Beautiful.

But I’m happy to be home. Instead of the hot, dry, empty, full ocean beach view, now I face a green world of rampant vegetation and peonies so thick they become part of the porch. I live in a beautiful place and it’s a treat to be here in the height of the light season.

I’ve been away a lot. Last week I was in New York playing with Emilio. We had a blast — a ferry ride to Fire Island, wave tag on the beach, ice cream every day, a DIY water park in the backyard with Ava, timing how long it took to round the bases of a ball field and run the smallest circle on the running track at the park. Short distance, Emilio is faster than me. Youth is a powerful thing.

Now I’m sitting still on my porch as the rain approaches and wind begins whipping the tall grasses in the field across the street. Most of the coming week ahead I’ll be home. Next week too. And the next and next and next until I’ve been home the seven weeks I don’t have to be anywhere else for longer than an overnight. I’m delighted.

I’ll bring in a fresh bouquet of peonies every day. Then it will be zinnias and cosmos, marigolds and nasturtiums, salvia, rudbeckia and poppies. Plus lettuce, kale, peas, beets, squash, cilantro, basil, peppers, and dill.

Yes, I’ll say it again. I’m happy to be home.

 

Returning

The last month may be the longest blog break I’ve ever taken. It wasn’t intended, but it happened. Which is life, right?

Or maybe it’s my reflexive response to the current political insanity. Yes, I’m still obsessed with the news and spend a lot of time working to keep myself centered and using my energy to resist the dismantling of so much of what I’ve taken for granted as norms of democracy and living in a country inching its way towards true social justice.

At a party this weekend I talked about how meaningless my blog seemed to me after the election. How could I write anything that wasn’t directly political and pushing back against the madness engulfing us? Why write about the apple blossoms filling the trees and then salting the ground around my garden as the flowers start to fall apart?

“Because that’s exactly what we need,” one friend said. “We need to read about apple blossoms.”

It has been an extraordinary year for blossoms. From the forsythia bushes to cherry trees to apple trees to dandelions to lilacs, everything is having a bumper year of flowering. There are maple trees on my running route that have such thick clumps of red seed pods (also called samaras, maple keys, helicopters, whirlybirds or polynoses) they look like tropical blossoms, heavy and full as they nod towards the ground.

Yesterday afternoon I sat on the back deck steps for a few minutes, looking across my garden beds to the lilac bush intermingling with the largest of my apple trees. I could hear a catbird and finches singing. Every time I walked towards the small wood shed on the side of the barn a robin screeched from its nest at the top of one of the posts, trying to distract me from what must be a clutch of pale, blue eggs. The yard is an unbounded aviary (which actually would make it not an aviary at all, but you know what I mean), full of birdsong and nests and the flash of wings.

The world is still beautiful. I’m still resisting (15 acts of resistance a week — phone calls, emails, meetings, discussions) but I’m also still writing and drawing and turning over the soil and planting and picking bouquets for the house.

I’ve learned this before but have to keep learning it again. Bad things happen, but birds and trees and bushes don’t care. The sun comes up and spring comes on and the grass gets green and then grows again and the cows return to the pasture across the street, as they did today, right now come to the corner right across from my porch, as they do most evenings.

That’s reason enough to celebrate.

 

 

 

Youth

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As we moved in to summer I started crying, the light letting the sad memories in — how sick Chris was on the 4th of July last year, being in Humarock without Chris and thinking about what it’s like for her widower and sons to have that hole in their traditional family beach time, what it’s like for my parents.  But our family time in Humarock was also sweet, lots of family still gathered in a beautiful spot.

I don’t mind the crying.  It’s been balanced with the joy of having youth around me. Yesterday I sent Adrienne a chat and asked her to snap the kids for me through the day, happy enough just to see Emilio and Ava but knowing there was the bonus of two more children there over the weekend, adorable child video riches.  And I got to share those videos with the youngsters here, Melia and Mackenzie and a crew of their friends, of course not as young as the grandkids but still much younger than me, in lives that are still expanding and reaching out and full of energy and hope.

Not that I don’t reach out still, but more and more I’m content with what I know I love best.  Home, family, close friends, garden, time at my desk to write.  It’s not only me.  This is a researched phenomenon.  As people age, they more and more value time with a closer circle of people and experiences.  We’ve learned what we like and know there’s limited time left to enjoy it.  We get more careful about how to spend our time when there’s less of it to spend.

Being with our kids and grandkids is top of the list, always.  I realized this weekend David and I never mediate when we’re with our kids in spite of being regular mediators otherwise.  We don’t need it.

So my sad weekend was also a great weekend.  I love a full house, the crowd in the kitchen, the meals with multiple palates contributing to the taste, the conversations and laughing at stories, coffee and toast on the deck in morning sun, cocktails and beer on the porch in the evening. Now I have a line full of laundry, flags of the pleasure being with loved ones brings, soaking up the energy of youth

How lucky we are.

 

Today

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This is the day my grandson started kindergarten

This is the day the latest heat wave ended.

This is the day I tried to pick enough apples off my Golden Delicious tree so the branch that’s draped all the way to the ground can lift again.  A large branch has already broken off the tree, too much apple weight.  I didn’t succeed.

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This is the day I discovered the garden spider is gone, an egg sack left dangling from a bar of the wrought iron trellis the nasturiums climb.

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This is the third day my sister hasn’t eaten or taken liquids.

This is the day my grandson started kindergarten.

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Tidy

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I was being tidy yesterday.  Actually, I was looking up, once again, the varieties of my apple trees.  I wrote it down in my gardening log years ago, and have looked it up several times in the last few years, as the run of laden trees continues.  Wanting to compare the taste of the types, I needed to look up what’s what yet again.

David’s blood pressure machine has been sitting on the bottom shelf of a small table in the kitchen for the last year, the cord to the cuff looping over the folder with my gardening log sheets.  As I reached for the folder, holding up the loop and balancing the device so it wouldn’t fall off the back of the shelf, I decided to make room for it in the drawer at the top of the table. One problem — that drawer hasn’t been cleaned out for decades.

There were old maps and menus in the drawer, five dreidels, small plastic bags of metal and rubber parts to long ago gadgets, screws and nuts and a four inch antique nail, a hand forged wedge of steel too beautiful to throw away with the rest of the mess.

And a plastic bag with an unusual assortment.  Two banister supports, some screws and a few washers, a bit of old bead twine and three green clay beads.  I remember the beads were made by Eric’s first wife, Rene, at least 45 years ago.  I don’t know why they were in the bag.

But most surprising was the human tooth, a broken molar.  Who put a tooth in this random bag?  Whose tooth is it?  Eric’s?  On the assumption it is, I’m going to put it with the baby teeth of Adrienne and Sam that I still have in a box on my bureau.  Is that weird?

I found the log sheet with the varieties of apples.  The trees were planted in 1992, thin sticks now over fifteen feet tall and so full they shade the north side of the yard and one of my garden beds.  This year the trees have enough fruit to feed us all winter if we had the ambition to store it. Working west to east, Northern Spy, Cortland, Macoun, Golden Delicious, Baldwin.  Nourishing Courtship Makes Good Babies.

Ah, babies. . . .

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Baby Emilio and Baby Ava

What Comes and Goes

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Garlic is small this year, each bulb I pull half the size of last year’s.  It’s not from the dry summer — I irrigate my garden with timed soaker hoses, and my onions are their usual hearty balls of tang.  Was it the harsh winter?  The many cold nights this summer?

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Apples are outrageous, my trees dotted with fruit, branches hanging lower and lower as the apples plump and pull with their weight.  Last year there was hardly an apple, the two previous years were like this one, an apple bonanza.

My potato plants were hearty and healthy with no pests.  Yet when I dug under the mulching hay last weekend to find potatoes for dinner there were hardly any spuds.  Are there more further down the bed?

Wild blueberries are sparse, lakeside bushes mostly bare.

I have two eggplants on the four I planted — one is two inches long, one an inch.  Two years ago my plants were dripping with eggplant, we had grilled eggplant for dinner every night, I filled my freezer with eggplant.

The farm where I’ve picked peaches the last two summers has none this year.  No peaches. The buds froze in a late cold snap, a whole orchard empty.  But the area where Chris lives is full of orchards and I’ve brought home two big boxes of peaches for a ridiculously low price and filled my freezer and now a friend is filling hers.

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Strawberry picking in June was the best I’ve ever done — the low plants bent with the sweetest and cleanest berries I’ve ever picked.  More in my freezer.

 

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Today it’s blueberries.  There may be few wild berries, but Berrybogg Farm is loaded, bushes so laden you can pick pounds in minutes.  Which I did yesterday.

Bounty comes and goes and the reasons are mostly a mystery.  I’ll be making applesauce in a few weeks and loading apples into my friend’s truck for his cider mill. My onions will last well in to the winter and I’ll run out of garlic.  I’ll be making smoothies with peaches and Emilio will eat frozen strawberries for breakfast when he comes to visit. I doubt my potatoes will last until Thanksgiving, which is my goal every year, to mash my own potatoes.

But I’ll have what I need to make blueberry pie, which has always been Chris’s job, superb pie maker that she’s been.  This year I’ll be rolling the dough and concentrating on gratitude for the bounty that is, while honoring what has passed.

What else can I do?

 

Quantifying Spring

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Yes, April can be a cruel month, with its tease of warm, sunny days followed by raw rain and wind that whips away any heat I manage to absorb from the sun.  But there’s steady evidence that the season is, indeed, changing.

A week ago I looked out the kitchen window and saw that the garlic was up, four faint lines of green in the garden bed, shoots rising from the cloves I nestled in to the soil last fall. Also a week ago my sister Chris and her husband Jon came for an unexpected visit.  It was a clear day, but the wind was strong and chilly, and when the sun shifted so the back deck was in shadow, we moved to the front porch.  The porch was too windy. We tried the bit of lawn below the stone terraces, a low spot where the wind is blocked and the sun is strong.

Sitting in a circle chatting, I noticed how much taller the chives were.  I’d raked last year’s dried foliage off the clumps on Saturday, hoping to use some snippings for the dinner I was making that night for friends.  But the shoots were too small.  Now they were tall enough to cut and I wondered how fast they were growing; it seemed like they’d sprouted inches in just days.

So I measured both the chives and the garlic, two days apart.  The garlic grew an inch and the chives grew two.  An inch a day.  Solid evidence that summer is coming.  A few gray days, a raw day, a day of hard rain, doesn’t stop the seasons from following their course. When I feel a bit off course, I look out at my bed of garlic, green growing every day. Growth I can measure.