Yes, Sweet Things Happen Too: A Tea Party

You know you live in New Hampshire when you get invited to a tea party to celebrate your elderly neighbor’s house turning 200 years old. At the party the many older women there tell stories about growing up in this town.

“There was the time the horse fell through the floor of the barn. My father tied a rope to his tail and dragged him back up. How else was he going to do it?”

“I would visit Sam at the farm because otherwise I didn’t get to see him and one day I went in to the milking barn. His father and uncle pushed me between two cows and said, ‘Can’t come out til ya get some milk outta that udder.”

“There were only 40 of so students in each class at Coe Brown (the high school) and the boys didn’t know enough to ask a girl to the prom so the teachers had to tell them — ask a girl. They all asked the same girl.”

When you’re asked where you live people know your house by the family that owned it four generations ago.

Everyone goes around the room to say how they know the elderly hostess.  Connections that reach back three generations are discovered — a grandfather’s uncle lived on the farm next to a great-aunt’s mother (or something similar).

One women reads from a card with notes about who owned the house first — a couple who grew up on abutting farms (of course) and had eight children but only five lived to grow up.

There are fewer farms now and lots of people who live in this town are “from away” and the elderly neighbor no longer walks up the hill to collect branches blowing off the old maple trees bordering the ceremony to bring home and use as kindling. She’s too frail now. So her family keeps her house warm and makes tea and scones and fills the house with stories and maybe another 200 years will go by and another circle of women will gather and talk and make connections that radiate out from a center of home.

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“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.

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.

 

Unplugged

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“This is the most unplugged I’ve been for a long time,” David said last night as we drove back to our house from our camp rental on Jenness Pond.  After three weeks of living on the water, mostly sleeping in a corner of the screened porch so that lying in bed at night I could look out on the overhanging maple and oak trees to the night sky beyond, and spending much of every day in the water or looking at the water, I knew just what he meant.

For the last three weeks it’s often been almost unbearably hot out in the world which continued to report the usual bad and distressing news.  On the water it’s been comfortably cool and when it got too hot, I got in the water.  When my periodic checks of the NYTimes website to stay updated on Trump missteps was too distressing I clicked off my phone, put it on the hutch on the porch and went outside.

There were stretches every day when I didn’t know where my phone was and didn’t care. There were days I didn’t open my computer.  There were many meals with many friends and lots of family eaten on the long porch table, watching the sun set over the pond. There was an unending supply of zucchini brought to the camp by visitors.  Emilio learned what a “dip” in the pond before bed is (a skinny one) and learned to jump off the swim raft, plunging deep and popping back up above the water with his eyes wide and blinking every time, as if he was just being born.  That was the big news of the week.

Now I’m on my porch at home, listening to geese chatter as they circle the farm ponds across the street.  There’s a breeze and late light on the horizon, the geese silhouetted as they circle the fields.  Tomorrow instead of waking up to water off the porch it will be the cows in the pasture.  But I may keep trying to lose track of my phone periodically. Unplugging  can be blissful.

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.

 

Howl

 

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The wind was gusting over 30 mph when I pulled in to the driveway late yesterday afternoon. Drifted snow, blown off the fields to the west, covered the path to the porch, I had a full car to unload after a long weekend in New York and I was late for a conference call.

I tromped into the house through the snow, sneakers covered in white and leaving wet footprints on the kitchen floor. Earbuds in place and the conference call on mute, I put on my thick down jacket and Winnie-the-Pooh hat that wraps down around my cheeks and chin, pulled on windproof fleece mittens, and shoveled a path to the car as I listened to the meeting. Unloaded. Hurried out to the woodpile before it got dark to throw a day’s worth of wood into the barn because our stock got depleted last week. It was a night for a fire.

Later, dinner done, sitting by the fully throttled wood stove and catching up on email, I realized I’d yet to do my Grind small poem collage for the day. All I could think of was the wind, whipping away any heat the house managed to collect, especially in our bedroom, which faces north-west, directly into the battering gusts. I could feel the house shake and listened to the wind beast trying to break into the house, a constant roar accented with long howls

I sent off a quick, tiny poem to my Grinder group, then went upstairs to make a collage. It was just barely warm enough in my study to work. The images emerged, the words changed, and David and I gave up on the bedroom and slept in one of the beds at the back of the house, under double down comforters, as far from the wind as we could get.

 

Ice Skim

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Yesterday there was a glass-thin layer of ice across a leaf-packed tub of water on the disc golf course David and I walked with Sam as he somehow got discs to angle around corners and find open lines through trees.  The sun was bright but winter felt close by.

This morning I ran by small ponds skimmed with ice.  Now the sun is setting behind the silo in the old farmyard, at least 45 degrees down the horizon from where the last light disappears behind trees in June.  Darkness takes up more and more of every day.

But the pasture across the street still has a sheen of green, grass not yet entirely done for the season, though not enough for the cows to eat.  They romp and bellow as they come to the hay trough that’s parked in front of our house, right under my study windows.  A daily show I never get tired of.  Like watching a fire or moving water, having animals live across the street, in clear view, is calming.

Almost exactly three weeks from now the sun will begin to travel back up the horizon. It’s a relief to be that close to the light cycle turning around yet again.  It will continue to get colder, the ice will thicken and eventually hold and hopefully bear weight for skating or skiing.

But there will be more light.  And cows.

Sadness Moving — Reflections

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When I write about grief and sadness my blog gets a lot of hits.  Same when I write about my travels.  What’s the connection?  What if I wrote about both at once?

Thursday I went to Boston to the Museum of Fine Arts, meeting up with my youngest sister Meg and her husband John and Chris’s Jon.  Family disappears so I’m hanging on.

Wednesday night I went to Portland to hear Ry Cooder and Ricky Skaggs play such accomplished music, accompanied on piano by Buck White (85 years old!) and his daughters singing exquisite harmony, I remembered how to be happy.

I’m hunting art.  Moving.  Years ago a friend from my work life spent a weekend here. She came to NH to do a half marthon with me so I would think she’d have known what she was in for.  But a day in to our visit, before all our mutual friends showed up as running support and talking-drinking-eating buddies, she watched me move around the kitchen as she sat at the table.

“You really can’t sit still can you?”

“Nope.”

For years she made a joke of the fact that 4 miles into the half marathon I abandoned her and moved off ahead.  I couldn’t run that slowly.  It hurt.

If I could slow down I would.

If all my reflections on life created an infinite pattern, I doubt it would be as beautiful as “Endlessly Repeating Twentieth-Century Modernism” by Joshiah McElheny.  His piece at the MFA is stunning and brilliant, a perfect, mirrored box of glass objects that reflect into an unending distance as each object holds its own jeweled reflections.

Now I’m wearing some of Chris’s jewelry along with her shoes and socks and jacket and jeans.

I’m not planning to go anywhere for a while.

We’ll see how long that lasts.

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