Family, Memories, Thanksgiving

Crowds in the kitchen.

Thanksgiving morning began before dawn during my childhood, as dinner was served at mid-day. Snug in my bed I could hear my mother toss together the breadcrumbs and chestnuts, the oven door creak and slam as she shoved the basted turkey into the oven; spinning clicks of the kitchen timer being set, thumps of a rolling pin. Water filling pots, dogs scolded. The next five hours were about timing — jobs diviid up the night before, tightly coordinated oven space, fillings whipped, potatoes peeled. Even as a small child I had a job, perched on a stool, a glass bowl full of cranberries on the counter in front of me, chin-level, my mother handing me a fat needle threaded with dental floss so I could string — berry by berry — necklaces for all the guests. A few minutes before noon we pulled the aprons off, fluffed hair, found shoes and were presentable in the nick of time for my grandparent’s Cadillac to roll into the driveway.

This year we don’t host, staying in a daughter’s house several states away, assembling our dishes at leisure as the turkey won’t be plated until the end of the day in someone else’s kitchen. There will be walks in the woods, bike rides and pancakes. I wake at five o’clock anyways and watch the sun come up, remembering over a hot mug of tea. They are all gone now, from the Thanksgiving of my childhood, their places taken by my children, their spouses, new dogs, new friends, bigger tables. And other, adult friends I called family are missing; I still want to call my girlfriend and ask her what she is wearing. A year and a half is not long enough to change that habit. Instead, I will text her daughter. This is precious time but I recognize, as the day brightens and the memories shift around me, there is sadness amongst the sweet.

I get up, tea cold, to roll out my pie crusts. My ghosts jostle at my elbow, urging me to make it thinner, bake it longer, get the flour off the floor before it tracks into the living room, chose a different outfit. The kitchen can be very crowded at Thanksgiving. Then I hand them all aprons and cranberries and we get to work.

Wherever you are, however the day is spent, I am thinking of you.

Be well.

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Holidays, Quality time, Table for one

Table For One.

I love a table for one, now more than ever.

Not just because it is more covid safe (2021, new language!) but because I can push my London Fog to the edge, dig into my bag, write/knit/read undisturbed, ask for more hot water, repeat. The perfect combination of alone-time in a crowd; being social without overdoing it.

My father once commented I had his ability to physically disassociate with what was happening around me and not hear the world. “Not a criticism,” he went on to say, smiling,”I admire that tactic and use it frequently.” Until he mentioned this I had not noticed, only knew I could read anywhere, anytime. Also noted many times that he didn’t look up when reading a book and the phone rang. We are not claiming any special powers here, just know how to sink. And lose track of time.

Recently, it feels like socializing is in hyper-speed, a sense of making up for lost time. For the record, I did not “lose time” in 2020 — I stretched it, listened to it, found more room in the endlessness of quarantine. I do not seem to be on board with the frenzy, struggling to find my former ability to small talk (maybe I was never good at that anyways), often standing in corners, watching more than mingling. Far from feeling badly, I feel healthy, self aware and quite ok with this view of the crowds.

A table for one, in a busy café on a rainy Seattle afternoon, is just the right immersion back.

I also do not feel badly for going to bed at 9PM. Or bowing out of invitations. I feel rested, and scheduled time with others have become more thoughtful and sincere.

As the holidays approach (fast), I hope we can all think about where to find the quality, not quantity. I hope to be in a pig pile with grand dogs, my grown children sleeping in their beds until noon.

Cheers to my friends and readers and supporters. Love to you wherever you are and be well.

When it rains, sit still.

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Choices, Give + Receive, Public Health

Everyone needs you.

I am having a lot of conversations with friends and colleagues about ‘getting back’ to what some are calling the normal state of affairs before March, 2020; a “pre-pandemic-ness.” Others fervently argue we now live in a completely changed world that cannot be brought back — broken social systems, transportation, public spaces, relationships to strangers, since the virus and lockdown. No question that contents have shifted. But one based on hope and one based on fear is not the answer.

I think neither is absolute. Fact is we need each other to navigate out of the middle.

After my cancer in 2017 and the subsequent decade of tests and scans and oncology visits ahead of me, I had to choose something besides fear. Lying awake, wondering if my life was balanced by days instead of years, I also realized I had been invited to live. So each and every morning that I awake up, I review what I can do for myself and the world around me. Here are some.

Give: in this broken and beautiful world I am here and so many are living less privileged lives than me. I can affect them in simple ways — make a sandwich, put it in your pocket or bag and when you see a homeless person, hand it to them and wish them a good day. Call a friend you haven’t seen or talked to since 2020. Stand in the rain with an umbrella. Offer it.

Generate: give to places that make you happy: church, town bench fund, beach clean up fund, immigrant families in need of clothes. Any amount. They need to keep the heat on, put boots on the ground, save others. Be the example. Tell others.

Go: to your favorite places, masked, sanitized, and fill them with your presence. So many community spaces lie empty or filled with so few people they despair for their future. Do you like to sit in a church and think? Do you love the library? How about that family-run taco truck? Be the hybrid, safe and present. Religion is just one piece of what the space in a church has to offer. Go find the peace in a park. Eat tacos that allow that family to eat.

Gush: over anything anybody is doing to cope. We made it. Celebrate the vast achievement. Accept the beautiful and broken world. Watch a bird on the wire overhead. Contemplate a red leaf. Walk the stairs and feel your heart beat hard. Put your mask on when required. Laugh a little at how good we are at this now.

Adopt a new state of consciousness that complies with the realities of public health. Public health and safety is a real thing now. While it isn’t the same, every time I leave the house, to remember to pack a mask and sanitizing wipes, sit six feet apart for music, theater, dance, all the beauty and music in the world is trying to happen for us. Give it your love. Can you imagine if it did not come back?

Take care of your community. Walk around. Sit in a pew. Drink coffee on a bench. Emerge safely.

Everyone needs you. I need you.

Strafford, Vermont
A walk in the woods.

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Dance, Moon, Travel

Dance with Me.

There is cold salt in the air today, swept in under the full harvest moon. The tomatillos have escaped under the fence and ruined my neighbors garden scheme. The cosmos bloom on yellow stems. The cherry tomatoes are leafless. Fall has shown up despite.

I feel braced.

Can we get higher percentages of vaccinations, send children safely to school, lift mask mandates before winter sweeps us all indoors and back into isolation? I miss my brother in the mid-west. I miss shining my smile on you. I want to have a salsa party on the back patio and dance cheek-to-cheek with strangers. I want to breathe.

I type at the bottom of my driveway sitting in an old iron chair of my grandmother’s, watching the sparrows forage, far from the street, my face tilted to the sun. I want to be in The Cotswolds, Provence, Lerwick, Iona. Cream tea with a dear friend. Heather in the hills. Scratchy, line-dried sheets off a clothes line in Greece.

Coming, someday, but we all have to work for it.

How can I help?

Full Harvest Moon
September 21, 2021
Harvest Moon Rising September 21, 2021

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Breath

The Breath between the Breath.

Today at noon I was stalled at my computer, the book proposal and the submissions going nowhere. Frankly, I felt overwhelmed by the news — the virus, inconceivable despair in Afghanistan, the state of emergency in hospitals AGAIN –and everything felt heartbreaking and confidence breaking. Writing prose seemed a waste of time, or rather time spent on the wrong things. By the middle of the morning, hump day was proving to be a very steep climb. I got up and went to the carwash.

While the car dripped I impulsively looked online for a time slot to access the Bloedel Reserve. I was on the trail ten minutes later, swinging my arms, skirting meandering visitors, craning my neck up at the trees, easing down past the rhododendron groves. Not until the moss woods and past the water lilies did I feel the air filling my chest. Back at the car forty-five minutes later, I peeled off socks, unlaced boots and headed back to my desk; drove bare foot back to Wren Cottage with the windows wide open.

One of my covid take-a-ways: there is really so. much. more. time. in the day than I allowed pre-quarantine; that there is breath between the breath if I relax; that the minutia, the small encounters, count more than I ever realized.

A little story about time and shifting perspective. I am privileged to have the freedom and the means to do this in a beautiful woodland, a roof over my head. How can I change helplessness?

I sat back down recalibrated — donated to an organization working amidst the crisis in Afghanistan, ordered more masks. Filed the essay away for a day. I brought up the news I dislike to listen to both sides of the story. This is what I could do.

Headed to anger and panic this morning, losing ground on making a difference, I took that space between and changed it up. I took that extra breath. I refocused.

And lo and behold, right under my feet, this was happening.

With you, friends.

Autumn Cyclamen, The Bloedel Reserve, Bainbridge Island, WA

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Look up

Look up.

I am in the Pacific Northwest for a chunk of time and when in Seattle I take every opportunity to walk Phinney, the heart of my old nest, especially a few turns around Green Lake. My last few visits a man has been parked in the same place, a high knoll of grass above the path, his wheelchair heavy with mechanics, screens, tubes, his body completely still, alone. I silently applauded him, this was always my favorite side of the lake, a place where a heron often stands watching a fishing hole and beyond the trees the water teems with ducks, dogs on the loose, paddle boarders, kayaks. Olive loved to stand here, on the tippy edge of the wall, staring into the water. But recent conditions have changed this public space and and for the rest of those walks, I worried.

In the last eighteen months of covid and quarantine the foot, rollerblade, dog and bike traffic has increased on Green Lake to rush-hour conditions, all day long. Any open space between the road and the water are now thick with homeless encampments, generators humming, radios blasting. The trash cans overflow. The grassy areas that host open-air birthday parties, barbecues, frisbee competitions and hammocks at the same time shelter people sleeping under the trees. Gone are the quiet off-hour Olive dog walks of the past: humanity teems.

How does he get there over the bumpy ground so far from the walkways, can he feel the breeze so bundled up, should he be alone. Acutely aware I can walk away — of the rhythm of my feet, the roll of my hips, my feet below me — how safe is he?

But here is this small big story:

A few days ago I looked up to check on him:

I cried.

A young man jogging ahead of me whipped around and said “I know, it makes my heart thump.”

I stopped right there and tilted my head up to the sky; watched some crows swooping into the tree tops, an eagle catch air and lift, witnessed the gigantic expanse of blue air above me. I wanted, with all my body, to go lie down next to him and say thank you for making me look up.

But I did not; he had this. And he showed me how to make the best of what we have right now.

Look up, friends. I miss you all.

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Uncategorized

Dog Days of August

Last week sweat pooled on my cheeks while I was first and only waiting for a bakery to open in Seattle. August has been dry, the sun relentless in the Pacific Northwest. At 8:50 AM it was already too hot. I sipped the last of my coffee, wishing I had iced. My favorite neighborhood in Seattle holds not only this bakery, many divine coffee shops, the amazing Teacozy Yarn store but also the National Nordic Museum and best Farmer’s Market in town. With minutes to go until 9:00 I could already taste the first cut of their thick seedy rye loaf, piled high with heirloom tomato and smeared with mayo. Then, from behind the locked doors, I heard something shatter.

I peered closer to the picture window. No movement. Seconds later I saw a rack against the far wall tip over, heard metal rails fall. No human in sight. Should I knock and offer to help? Then something hit the wall and a bowl slid off the work table infront of me, flinging cornmeal across the cement floor. The sounds continued to escalate, metal ringing against metal. Not a human word said.

After a while I realized that someone inside was having a spectacular tantrum.

Funny that my very first response was a little bit of envy.

It has been a long pandemic. As the cacophony continued — five minutes past opening time, ten minutes past opening time — I felt complete solidarity with this person, yet to be seen. “Take your time!” I wanted to shout through the locked door, keeping my head down. Had someone not shown up to help? Did a batch of bread burn? Was it payday and the check late? But really, does any one of us need an excuse to throw things in August, 2021, still masked and another variant bearing down?

The way of the world has been one step forward, one step back, limping if you have a new hip, for seventeen months of uncertainty, fear and illness. The urge to throw things is completely understandable.

At 9:15 a woman came to the door, latched it open, set up an iPad on a small table, wiped her hands on her white apron, held up a finger and said sweetly, “be just a sec, takes the machine a minute to warm up.” All around her lay bowls, spoons, shards of baked rolls, overturned trays. She stood on a small hillock of flour.

I was so happy there were no apologies. I smiled, paid for my bread, and left.

I felt better, too.

Artichoke, gone to flower.

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Perfectionism

Aftershocks.

I am elbow deep in dirt this May, coaxing some life into my gardens that have been neglected for a few years, five to be exact, due to some work on my body. Everything that I used to do at the speed of lightning — hauling bags of dirt and compost, spreading with the hoe, digging, dividing, edging, deciding — is taking me three times as long since I last dedicated myself to these spaces. I go to bed weighing the options. Once upon a time I would double my efforts but now..? I call this my wave of “covid aftershock.”

Are there things you have let go? Decided some things that obsessed you are not what you want to spend your wild and precious life doing anymore?

I let this float into the universe and think about planters. I think about quiet and good conversations and chairs at the beach for sunset cocktails. I like more space around me now. The feeling of the air on my face is sublime since masks are not mandatory on my walks, so I head out the door for hours and smell every blossom in my path. I also give up and sit still when things ache, not push through. Where has that fast-paced perfectionist gone?

What is your covid aftershock, your wave of realization?

I take more selfies, proving to myself I am still here. This is what matters; not so much the weeds.

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Uncategorized

Pot Roast

This week a trusted pod texted an impromptu invitation for a pot roast dinner. I didn’t have to think too hard: comfort food, friends, we brought the salad. Masks on to the front door, masks off inside as we are all vaccinated, we did a lot of laughing then tucked into the tender meat, buttery potatoes, roasted carrots and let memories flow of family meals, the savory smell of our childhood homes on Sunday, why don’t we eat pot roast more often? The night tasted good and felt good.

A Tuesday night which was not, as might have been in the past, a huge, planned dinner party, or boozy, or late. The salad bowl sat on the table. My cousin was still in her hiking gear. The puppy was asleep on her bed next to our feet. We were stripped of the past so-called necessities and formalities, a new definition of certainly my needs: a few friends, as you are, sustained.

Halfway through the meal our host paused his knife and fork mid-air and closed his eyes. Then looked at us and said:

“It feels so good to have friends.”

We all paused: he had perfectly captured this moment of such extraordinary value; this moment we had all stayed home for and worried for and stayed healthy for through the terrorizing pandemic months. It was so sweet and heartfelt and true and important.

For me, this crawl out of isolation presents a critical opportunity: what comes next and what do I care about? I lie awake, recalibrating what I really have to do and want to do. Can I bundle these errands? Isn’t there plenty of food between the fridge and the cupboards to create a good dinner for a few days? I relearned time during covid; I made art I never thought I had time for, I wrote art I never took the time to explore. On the nights when covid anxiety creeps around me I try to breathe and tell myself to remember I thrived, in some ways, when I slowed down my world.

I am still managing the sense of danger. A crowded room makes me short of breath. Hiking the trails on Bainbridge Island without a mask makes me feel — well — naked. My face stings, uncovered, in the breeze.

I am collecting a constellation of those moments in this new, emerging world: learning bird song, standing still for the owl hunting next to me on the trail, acknowledging myself. Closing my eyes and listening.

That night the dishes were cleared before the sun set and we went home to good books, clean cozy pajamas, windows wide open. Well fed in body and soul.

It is so good to have friends.

Masks off. Travel on. Groups can gather. It is coming, the new post-pandemic world.

What does yours look like?

Just about everything is going on here and I am ok with that.

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Compassion, Trans Youth, Voice

Don’t lose the plot line.

How is your stress level? I am all over the place.

Who would have thought: a cousin just celebrated his second covid birthday. Today on NPR the warnings for young adults about variants are very serious. I bought new masks and filters yesterday; a mask wardrobe emerges. The cherry trees are in full bloom, but we are banned from the famous gardens: these same gardens were packed with people last weekend. So far this week I have gotten together, in person, with two friends I have not seen in fourteen months; I was seriously worried whether or not I could both hold a worthy conversation and a glass of wine. I am getting lax about hand washing. My new PT is as young as my youngest. I am still awake at all hours of the night, fretting. I am fully vaccinated. Something terrible is happening to trans youth. While it is tempting to pull the covers over my head, I cannot.

I cannot lose the plot line: every day when I think that maybe it is time to relax, the reality of the obstacles still in place daunts me — but I MADE IT THIS FAR and will be damned if I slip now. Hear me.

News continues to contradict itself; effectiveness, reliability, availability. I cannot take my eye off the goal: all of us healthy, together, hugging. All of us who’s sanity has been tested as far as we will ever be, soon sitting close together, sharing empathy and stories. Check in with the strong people you know, not just the ones that confess the dark spaces. They will be suffering too, just really, really good at being strong. Listen to their voices.

For comic relief: my cousin and I agreed to order some linen dress off an Instagram ad last November — really — and four dresses for fifty dollars arrived months later off a container ship (maybe the infamous one), sized to fit twelve-year-olds. We have not stopped laughing. If that isn’t a symbol of covid desperation. That, and a cupboard full of pasta.

Go ahead and use your outside voice: about what you love, what you miss, what you are angry with: today I raise my voice in disbelief at the sweeping laws being proposed to prohibit trans youth from seeking the care and support they need to be human beings. Haven’t we learned anything from this pandemic? We are all vulnerable animals of flesh and blood, no one better or less vulnerable to the virus than the other. That we come in all shades and sizes and bodies, not one better or more worthy than the other. We are all worthy.

That discrimination in any form kills; from neglect, from brutality, from privilege, from fear.

Eye on the end game, people. To come out alive and well, in all our individual beauty.

I miss you all.

A.

Yes, I took the photo in a traffic jam.

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