Island, Uncategorized

Star light, Star bright.

I am on holiday where the stars are so bright my daughter and I didn’t need a flashlight last night. Olive could hop through the grass and hunt crickets along the roadway. The sky was actually crowded. We craned our necks and stubbed toes watching upwards, walking up a hill, silent for the beauty.

Here it is summertime and as the song goes the living should be easy. But we need rain in a bad way and forget social media. Have you noticed how the conventions escalated super-bad-form behavior on FB and Twitter? This week I have read a lot of good ‘take your finger off the keypad friend’ reminders. As well as a lot of ‘unfriending.’ A hearty dose of not very nice emoji, too. I turn on my phone and usually end up wincing.

When I first came to this island thirty years ago or so there was no technology: neither Internet, or cellphones, or television. One phone booth at the Fish dock. It worked just fine — I would liberally spray myself with bug spray, grab my piece of paper, walk down to the dock in the pitch dark and stand by the phone booth to await my turn to call in my groceries. This was fun, truth be told.

When I get here now I practice leaving my phone behind on walks and keeping it on silent. I remember to concentrate on what is happening around me. I am reminded on night walks like last night that I am very, very small. That I am part of a greater planet watched over by the sun, the sky, the stars and the moon.

Not to get too other-worldly here, but try this. Even in the city. Park the square of plastic and glass that bring you such distress and walk away — into the street, the back yard, the field.

I’m not saying this is easy. I have a love-hate-need-want relationship with my iPhone as great as anyone. But cast your eyes upwards and consider even that annoying drone. And let this sing though your head:
Star light, star bright, 
First star I see tonight, 
I wish I may, I wish I might, 
Have this wish I wish tonight.
(Anonymous)
I acknowledge answers aren’t that simple. But nothing ever hurt for asking.
Phone

Cuttyhunk Island, August, 2016

Standard
Uncategorized

Sing We.

I did not want to jump into the fray of what has been monopolizing the media this week. Nope. Jumped out in the spring with the only promises to remain true to myself. But I would like to talk about you, me and a glass of wine. And singing.

This morning, two headlines were completely unavoidable on my email and I loved how much they contradicted each other and made me think. NPR, New York Times online and the print paper blasted this quote from the RNC:

“I AM YOUR VOICE.”

Well. You know who said that. And nope to that, too. Neither are you my voice, reader, or the guy expounding over his double latte next to me this morning at Cafe Vita or anyone else posting long diatribes on Facebook, which I do not mind reading because they remind me of the diversity I firmly believe in. I have no control over anyone’s words, but I do know myself.

Today’s poem by Mary Oliver (Blue Horses, Penguin Press, 2014) on The Writer’s Almanac reminded me of what I needed today. Titled,

“To Be Human Is To Sing Your Own Song”

and read aloud by Garrison Keillor in his unmatched tone. Click on it. Think.

Writers, thinkers, tinkers, we humans have achieved nothing if someone else tells us what to do, or think, or wear, or believe. Let’s remember We The People. Let’s remember the Constitution that says we instead of I. That is what has made us the USA.

Sing your own song, to yourself in the shower, to your dog on the grass, to the seagulls on the beach. Make it your own and stand on it. Stomp on it. Believe in yourself. Your instincts are right, for you.

Nope to the rug and the mist for me. But you know what? If that works for you, then I can’t wait to talk over a glass of Rosé and hear why. You can’t change my mind but you can expand it.

That’s what our human brains are for. Let’s use them.

IMG_9966

Olive and I found a friend on our morning walk. Random happy photo on this blog today.

 

 

Standard
Uncategorized

After the last three days, I have renamed this blog post:”Resuscitation Is The Only Option.”

 

Angelpic

What is the first thing that comes to your mind here?

Well I stopped and stared and thought a while and this being Seattle, I allowed the possibility that this tree was rescued from demise and a neighbor was thanking an unknown… but then, no. This felt like a human rescue, a heroic passerby that knew to administer CPR, a stranger that then stepped back onto the sidewalk when 911 arrived. So the rescued painted this sign and hung it at the roundabout — which made me think bicycle wreck– and perhaps the stranger kept walking when she or he saw all was stable.

No name, no license plate, no record of this angel. Just a momentous moment of taking action.

I have a friend here in the city that was hit by a car a few months ago, a mess of braking and slamming and somersaulting and then — blacking out — an inability to recall details. Rattled passerby gave conflicting accounts, uninterested policeman wrote a one-line report, the ensuing hours in Group Health made this a lingering PTSD-like experience that has made him reluctant to take his bike out of the shed, unable to piece together what has scarred him.

What makes us good passerby, rescuers, observers and in the greater picture, responsible for others? Recently I have been unable to articulate how to take care of others in the wake of So. Much. Carnage. Since Orlando. And Medina. And Baghdad. And now, Baton Rouge. I know, with horror, I am not listing all the blood shed since June. Guns and more guns and more fire and more violence.

What do I do, some fifty-something gal working on her writing sitting in her nest so far from so much?

I start by looking closely — at myself, at the people around me, at the moss on the north side of the great tree that shades me as I type. How to take action, starting with myself?

At the coffee shop a few days ago I saw a man hunched over on the bench outside, weeping into his cell phone. Without a second thought I lay my hands on his shoulders, held him and pressed a little love into him for a few seconds. Then I kept walking.

It was my turn to make sure he knew he was not alone. It wasn’t CPR but it was action. Take some.

 

Standard
Uncategorized

And so we go on.

 

The mother-of-the-bride status has been interesting. Sort of like being visibly pregnant and strangers feeling free to rub their hands on my belly. With the engagement of my oldest daughter, suddenly the subject matter of every conversation is weddings past and present. And dresses. And money. And the best way to do things is…

But here’s what keeps me up at night.

I regret many decisions or lack of decisions back thirty years ago when I got married. So I cannot help imposing my “what-if’s” on their “maybe’s.” Today the issues are not that different: While the costs are so much more significant, getting a wedding planned still makes it hard to remember that love drives us to these conversations about flowers, and dresses, and invitations. I keep a running mantra in my head, thanks to a friend — what will make this wedding feel wonderful to you? I repeat myself often to everyone’s frustration.

I have an Aunt who now has known five generations of women in my family. One of my favorite conversations with her over a cup of tea sitting in front of her bay windows wreathed in rangy red geraniums is listing them off and commingling our memories. My Aunt was a young adult when I was five years old yet our memories of Anma, my great-grandmother, her grandmother, are not dissimilar. As the eaglets fly outside the picture window and the sea lions dive for fish in Puget Sound just beyond our chairs, I never cease to be amazed how our ages evaporate as we laugh over these women, how pulling the thread of family and time tighter between us makes me so incredibly happy.

How do I pull the thread tight as our family marches towards the next phase, a new man at the table, new holiday traditions? My son watches us as we role model as sisters, mothers, daughters, women. I want all of them to be able to pull that thread tight in the years to come — with or without me — to laugh at the memories, to remember shopping for the wedding dresses, the successes or disasters of our first holidays as a new family. Our favorite colors. How we stayed in touch.

In the middle of the night I am filled with a fierceness that keeps me awake until the birds begin to sing. How do I make this feel right for all of us?

I want them to remember all the quirks and failures and fabulousness like my Aunt and I share together. I want to rub their bellies and swat the hands of strangers away. I want to welcome my son’s partner into our quirky house and applaud her for jumping into this family of strong women that will soon go back six generations in my memory when babies arrive. I want to rub her belly when the time comes and tell stories about a great-great-grandmother that embroidered the footrest for her swollen feet.

And so we go on. I just have to keep the faith I am a thread that will not break, despite any and all changes. That I cannot control much of anything.

But I will keep saying,

“What do you want to feel so this is the most wonderful day of your life?”

And ignore the eye rolling.

 

FullSizeRender

Me and the girls. Canton, NY May 2016

Standard
Uncategorized

Holding Space

This article on holding space hits home. After holding space for so many family members, friends and strangers with my hospice volunteer work, I am reminded that there is nothing easy but everything rewarding by giving the gift of holding space for people who need us. Occasionally, I like to post something I have not written but would like to share with my readers.  Thanks again to Ann Teplick, here is this.

What it Really Means to Hold Space for Someone

Standard
Uncategorized

Blessings.

This morning at six I sipped tea and checked my phone, gearing up for the last seven hour trip up to St. Lawrence University to celebrate our family’s last college graduate. This was the poem of the day on The Writer’s Almanac. My cup runneth over. Enough said.

 

Blessings
by Ronald Wallace

 

occur.
Some days I find myself
putting my foot in
the same stream twice;
leading a horse to water
and making him drink.
I have a clue.
I can see the forest
for the trees.

All around me people
are making silk purses
out of sows’ ears,
getting blood from turnips,
building Rome in a day.
There’s a business
like show business.
There’s something new
under the sun.

Some days misery
no longer loves company;
it puts itself out of its.
There’s rest for the weary.
There’s turning back.
There are guarantees.
I can be serious.
I can mean that.
You can quite
put your finger on it.

Some days I know
I am long for this world.
I can go home again.
And when I go
I can
take it with me.

Standard
Uncategorized

Here it comes.

 

Twenty-nine years ago and nine months after my mother had died from ovarian cancer I closed my eyes, gave a final push and became a mother. An hour later, her Dad out making phone calls, the little pink bundle tucked into the crook of my arm, I listened to the joyful racket outside my hospital door — new grandparents, nurses, flower deliveries, baby deliveries, laughter. My room was silent and my heart broke into a million pieces.

I cried hard that day, dropping tears all over this newborn; messy, snotty salty tears of loss and love and blessing and disbelief. My mother was not going to walk though that door, swooping up my baby, crying tears of happiness. She never would. But there I was, given a new life in my arms to cherish. I was so overwhelmed by the roiling emotions inside me, by the incredible magic of lost and found.

And so, one of the loneliest days of my life was the day I was never lonely again.

Here it comes, another Mother’s Day. On Sunday I will brace myself for the rapid-fire emotions — remembering who is not here, feeling that familiar little break in my chest, but smiling, thinking how amazing that my eldest carries her name, how my son has her blue eyes, and how my youngest laughs just like her. These days, with all of us far flung, I will lie back, drink tea, and think about the phone calls and the updates I will get over the phone. I might spend the day in my gardens, filled with decades of Mother’s Day peonies and roses, trimming and fertilizing and staking them up for the impending growing season. I will embrace the sadness and dig deep for the future as I do every year. And this year, I will be thinking about that little pink bundle and her wedding. I will probably cry a little bit and take a beach walk. I will say a prayer.

There is no question I am a little moody, a little tender on the second Sunday in May every year, spending time alone to contemplate.  But I am so full of grateful, too: mothering brought me life and love and peace. And so, with every bitter comes sweet. That is just what life is all about.

We never lose our mothers, they swim in our veins and camp in our hearts and are always there to talk to. Trust me. Mine can visit in the linen closet. We are full of them, every single day, every single minute. Missing them, loving them, wanting them and seeing them run by in little footed pajamas. They never really leave us, they just leave the room.

Look what I got, Mom. Aren’t they just beautiful?

2

Alexandra Dane and Alexandra Hammer 1960. Milford, Connecticut

 

Standard
Uncategorized

Filled to the Brim.

 

Yesterday I worked in the gardens for six hours, sinking my hands into the dirt, chatting with the cardinals, whisking compost off Olive’s beard, planting tightly-closed plants and tipping my face up to the warmth.  The sun, the birdsong and the simple tasks disconnected me from my head. I needed this.

In brief, a lot has happened in the last twenty-eight days, most of it unimaginable:  I kissed a friend good-bye for the last time. I received a call from a young man asking to marry my oldest daughter. I prepare to graduate my youngest from college. I attended my very last family lacrosse game after twenty years on the sidelines. Sometimes I felt I couldn’t catch my breath.

Have I taken this all in stride? On one hand, there is a hole in my heart the size of Kansas, the loss of my friend from ovarian cancer inconceivable. On the other hand, the love pouring into me from her family, friends and mere acquaintances has filled me to the brim. And while the sadness running out of me has left me wrung out, proposals and wedding plans smack me on the side of the head, reminding me that our lifelines go on, and on, and on, and I am full of joy and happiness AND sadness — a nest of words and emotions exploding in my head and heart.

So there I was, pruning roses and teary, illogically wishing I could call my mother, dead thirty years ago, to tell her all the amazing news and this popped up on my phone screen from a friend:

Blog

And I realized, as the sparrows squabbled overhead and the earthworms wriggled below, that there is truly always more room in my heart, that hearts are made to expand —  to have and to hold, to hug and to cherish, to grieve and remember, to love and to lose.

How lucky am I to have all these memories and all this emotion. I am filled to the brim. And yet? There is room for more.

Bring it on.

Standard
Uncategorized

Tasting Memory: A Night of Paella.

 

Paella night

By the grill, Bainbridge Island, Washington, April 2016

Last weekend I poured a blood colored Spanish into my glass and watched the seals slip through the borage blue water. Behind me, the cast iron pans slid onto the grill suspended over smoldering hardwood coals as a pair of eagles flew screaming into the evergreens above. The familiar hiss and cackle of arborio rice and garlic stirred hard into the hot oil drew our crowd of family and friends, dressed in a kaleidoscope of Seattle April attire — white linen, puffy vests, scarves, caps — away from the sunset on Mt. Rainier to watch the chef. I can map my fifty-seven years by paella: so many paellas in Connecticut, all the paellas in Boston, one amazing paella in Madrid and tonight, a Pacific Northwest paella on Bainbridge Island, overlooking Puget Sound. A dish of summer. A dish of layers. Tonight, a simmering pan of memories.

My mother’s best friend always made my childhood paellas, gathering her ingredients from the Boston fish market on the edge of the Quincy market. She would arrive at our door in Connecticut arms laden with paper-taped bundles of shellfish, flat fish, fish with eyes, peppers with stems, chicken with pin feathers not quite plucked. We would dance around the grill ducking flakes of ash while she layered the ingredients into the expanding rice, fragrant steam rising, the pan nestled into a homemade grill of rock and coals outside the kitchen door. As the eyes of the small smelt laid last on top began to bulge and bubble, we would shriek and run, fast on bare feet, into the darkening light.

1973 in Madrid: Visiting family that hosted my mother decades before, garlic and saffron and smoked paprika as intense as the language flying around me, the fish chopped apart next to the grill, the heads tossed to the cats milling under the tables. Course chorizo flecked with fat sizzled and jumped. I leaned over the pan, trying to be the sophisticated teenager and inhaled smoke straight up my nose. Feigning a deep drink of the unfamiliar sangria, I flicked the tears away with my sleeve, the night soon a blur for too much fruity wine. That week, I hand-carried a cast iron paella pan home to the States, a gift from this family that loved my mother, wrapped in brown paper and tied with butcher twine.

Then in Boston, married, small children, little fingers tossing the chicken, the peas, holding the youngest over the pan so she could place the red peppers in her pattern of choice. Small dresses danced on the lawn and gin and tonic rattled in glasses. Over the next thirty years we adopted some of the old ways, added some of our own. We used more saffron.The oysters and clams were farmed by a cousin from Vineyard sound. There were allergies, and vegetarians, and paellas in the rain.

And last summer: My son bent over the grill, the flat wide spoon that stirred a hundred paella before in his hand. I watched him measure and stir the rice, the garlic, the saffron,  carefully laying the fish, the chicken, the blue mussels, the redolent chorizo, each ingredient nestled into the deeply oiled pan, this pan older than he is, the hardest grains first, the tenderest flesh last. His father standing nearby, passing on each step learned from this deep history of paella, places and hands; the steps learned from the one who has died, who had learned from a Spanish beauty, who had cooked for the one who now sits on our patio, our guest of honor, my mother’s friend who stirred the rice on the rocks while fireflies danced so long ago. She pulls a sweater close, drinks a small sherry and smiles. Memories laid down one by one into the pan, hands reaching back in time.

And here, on Bainbridge Island: New friends and old family. Fresh Halibut and mussels from the Sound. A child who waves a whisk and runs to watch for Orcas. A mountain as old and as stately as the first peasant paella, thrown together from leftovers. We carry the traditions, we change the traditions, we taste our past and adjust the flavors for our future.

Such is cooking. Such is life.

I dig the spoon deep into the chicken fattened rice and remember.

Standard