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.

Umbrian Gardens

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Garden in Panicale

Enough of Tuscany?  There’s always Umbria, where I went almost every day last week.  I’ve been continuing my marathon training on this trip (marathon training while traveling in Europe is certainly interesting), and had two 4 mile runs, an 8 and a 12 to do last week. Cetona is on the border between Tuscany and Umbria and running across the valley from the farmhouse where we were staying to Umbria was my best option for a flat route.   I’d walk down the steep, gravel road from the farm, then follow Via del Gore across the flat farm land of grape vines, corn and sunflowers until it ran into the bottom of the Umbrian hills we could see in the distance from the garden of the farmhouse.

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Roof Top Garden, Overlooking Umbria

On Friday David and I decided to explore a bit more of Umbria, especially the town we could clearly see as a long smudge of reddish buildings on the ridge directly across the valley from us — Citta della Pieve.  A lovely town of old brick buildings, winding streets and cafes that had at least as many locals as tourists, we found it delightful.  We’d visited some of the more popular Tuscan cities earlier in the week — Montepulciano, Pienza, Sienna — and found plenty to enjoy, but also bus loads of tourists.

As we walked around Citta della Pieve, I looked for gardens created in the stone streets and around the brick buildings.

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Garden on a corner in Citta della Prieve

We drove on to Panicale, and again I took note of the many gardens created from potted plants or in tiny pockets of green between or on top of buildings.  I’d been enjoying potted gardens all week as we walked through many ancient hilltop villages, such a contrast from the large gardens and sprawling yard and pastures of the farmhouse where we were staying.

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Vertical Wall Garden

The most stunning gardens I saw were at the Monastery de San Francesco, a few kilometers up in the hills behind us at the farmhouse.  Now a rehabilitation center for young men with substance abuse problems, the church and former monastery is beautifully landscaped with cypress trees and hedges of rosemary, flowering pots of plants strung along the side of the road, and large vegetable gardens terraced on the hillside below.  We were given an enthusiastic tour of the church with frescoes that date from the 1400’s by a young Spanish man.  I marveled at it all, especially the peaceful and beautifully created landscape.

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Exterior of Monastery de San Francesco

Of all the cities and towns we explored during our week in Tuscany, we didn’t find any place we liked better than Cetona.  It’s charming, authentic, surrounded by a beautiful countryside, and, for me, has some good flat running routes outside of town.

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Cetona

Now we’re in Rome, the hills and gardens of Tuscany and Umbria behind us as we immerse ourselves in three days of frenetic antiquity before heading home on Thursday.

 

 

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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What I’ve Been Up To

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“What have you been up to?” John, the father of the bride at the Asheville wedding asked.  We were sitting on his deck, shaded by tall trees, the wedding and morning-after brunch over, the boxes of flowers and food unloaded, a time to sit and visit for a bit before we left for the airport.

“I’ve been writing, spending time with family, doing some consulting work, training for a tri.”  I hesitated for a moment.   “And managing zucchini.”  John smiled at the zucchini comment.  I smiled because I liked my list.

It’s been a continuous struggle, since I left my job, to spend my time the way I’d imagined I would, or the way I felt I should.  But who makes up the shoulds?  I’d envisioned a life centered around my writing, with a lot of reading, and many breaks for being outdoors, gardening and kayaking and cross-country skiing, with time for traveling and unhurried visits with friends and family.  This summer, it’s finally feeling like that’s exactly what I’m doing. The activities may not be in the proportions I’d imagined, and since there’s no predicting what each day is going to bring, I’ve gotten better at not expecting a certain amount of time or attention for what I think I should be doing, and instead being grateful for the days I’m able to do largely what I want.

Maybe I’m feeling better about how this post-big-career-overwhelming-job-life is shaping up because I have been doing a lot of writing this summer.  I’m making progress on my memoir and I’ve got poems and essays out being considered for publication and at least two dozen poems in on-going revision and one poem that’s in my head as soon as I wake up, as I run or bike or swim, as I’m falling asleep, shifting a word here and there in my mind and eager to get to the page on my computer screen so I can see how it fits.

And yesterday, I cleaned the shoes out of my closet.  I had expected I would do this within a week of leaving my job over two years ago.  Seven pairs of old running shoes, three pairs of boots, black flats, slippers, walking shoes — almost twenty pairs in all, sorted and bagged and dropped off at Goodwill.  Progress.

And on the subject of gratitude, there is bounty to appreciate.  Now I’m managing cucumbers and tomatoes and green beans, as well as the zucchini.

Prolonging Peony Happiness

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Like many people, I adore peonies.  Their lush blossoms and intense fragrance are intoxicating.  So when two recent family trips crossed into and right back out of peony season here, I was truly sorry to be leaving my peonies.

I mentioned this at a dinner with old friends just before the first trip, and Al told me a trick for prolonging the peony season. Cut peony buds when they’re still tight balls, wrap them in wet newspaper, store in the refrigerator for up to several weeks, then take them out, put the buds in a vase with water, and the blossoms will open and delight.

It works.  A week and a half ago, headed off for the second of the family beach gatherings, I picked two bouquets to take with me.  If I had to leave and there were open blossoms, why not cut them and bring them with me, one jar full for my mother’s house, one for my sister’s cottage at Humarock Beach.  And I cut a dozen stems with buds, wrapped them in newspaper, wet the paper under the faucet, put it all in a grocery store plastic bag, and stowed it on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator. I unwrapped the buds and put them in a vase on Tuesday.  Today, they are peony perfection.

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And now the annual poppies that volunteer all over my gardens are open, coming again and again from seeds I started 20 years ago.  The colors and shapes have intermixed, and now I get lavender and red and the pink carnation poppies with their shaggy blossoms which have migrated some genetic code over to ruffle the edges of other colors.  When the blossoms have frayed and left the bare poppy heads, I let a few of them dry on the stalk, break the seed head open and scatter the poppy seeds over my beds.  Next summer, poppies everywhere.

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And here is the rudbeckia, also sowing itself into new clumps every time I weed another garden bed.  These flowers came from two clumps a friend dug me from her garden, and I in turn dig clumps and give them away.  I pull up and compost more than I can keep or gift.

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This all makes me happy.  When the big stuff in life gets a bit heavy to carry around day after day, making sure to appreciate the simple, little stuff gets more important.  Not that flowers are simple or little.  But they’re here and now and lovely.

The Gravitational Pull of Work and Haiku Habit II

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Two months ago I recognized how much my consulting jobs have cut into my time and whatever space I was finding in my mind for writing and creative concentration.  I remembered that while I was still working at the Coalition I started the practice of writing a haiku everyday as a way to stay in touch, however briefly, with daily creativity.  Not that my work in the movement to end violence against women hasn’t always had a strong element of creativity, but it’s not the same as writing down the constant scroll of language translating experience in my mind.

Two months later I’m admitting to myself that the gravitational pull of work has landed me back in a place where much of my mental energy is expended helping organizations and projects further their work to address domestic and sexual violence.  It’s not a surprise.  No one is emailing me and calling me asking for the next poem or essay or book.  People are emailing and calling and asking me to do consulting work.  I get paid, I get praised, I get absorbed.

So back to that Haiku Habit idea from two months ago.  I’ve hardly written a haiku since, but today as I got ready to be away traveling for a job, knowing that the first real frost may finally arrive while I’m gone, I decided to let the turn of the season turn me back to at least a small space for poetry in my head every day.  I hope it lasts.

Haiku Habit II

Late garden basket
Last cascade of summer porch
Frost’s chapter opens.