Feminism, Women, writing

Kick Butt.

I remember the day my grandmother taught me how to curtsey. She was somehow in charge of me on bridge day and I was dressed to be shown off, squeezed into an uncomfortable wool jumper, the white blouse underneath bunching up around my middle. I knew I fell short on many levels, but determined, she gave me a quick how-to before her guests arrived. Holding my plump hands in hers she positioned me in front of her and demonstrated: slide one foot behind the other, dip my knees together, look her in the eye.

I remember feeling a little sick to my stomach. At home I ran barefoot in the wheat fields. Why am I learning this I wondered. The year was 1965 and I had personally witnessed my mother throwing away her bra. “You can do EVERYTHING I couldn’t” my mother told me as she dropped it in the bin with a flourish. But I also knew, like my grandmother’s even, back-slanted handwriting, that today’s lesson held the key to being a lady, a term my mother scorned but the little fat girl secretly worshipped. I stood by the front door with my grandmother that day and executed a perfect curtsey to each guest. They cooed in admiration. This felt just fine.

So began my conflicted relationship with being a woman that frankly has not abated fifty-two years later. Does it ever abate with any woman my age? I write my essays on being white, middle aged and full of words. I question retiring from life when the kids leave for theirs. My essays and blog posts are sprinkled on the internet weekly and after publication I am full of heavy dread each time I turn on my laptop. Who will be offended? Can I live what I say and say what I mean?

But then we have the elections of 2016 and I face that I have been coasting along, letting other women do the heavy lifting. How to hone feminism and fifty and language to shape the next generation now keeps me awake at night.

“Look what we did for you!” was my mother’s favorite line when she pushed me to college, graduate school, begged me to get a PHD. This year I assure my oldest daughter as she plans her wedding, “You don’t have to do anything you don’t want,” and I know my mother would be proud. Then I order my daughter monogrammed stationary. Because, honestly, I am still doing a little curtsey with a pen in my hand, bridging the worlds that raised me.

If I want my daughter to keep the path for equality and feminism open despite the elections of 2016, for her to be the next female president (why not?) or know her, I need to trample the have to’s and remind myself and other women daily that women can do anything. So here goes another blog, and some more words, and the choice of honesty.

You will still be a lady if you kick butt. Even more of one now in 2016. And you need to.

Thanks for cutting the path, Mom. Stomping on it right now for you and all of us.

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Gathering lilacs at Moose Hill. Alexandra Dane, 1965

 

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Community, Friendship

Moving on.

The dog threw up at five this morning. Then again at seven. She won’t have a name until the three loads of laundry are finished. And I swear she can’t reach the Halloween candy.

My Seattle pied-à-terre entrance is in back of a house and up thirty five steps. I have had all of three trick-or-treater’s in the last three years. But for 364 days of the year I store a purple plastic pumpkin, bloody hand decal and illuminated spider web for just this one night.

Why? I continue to claim this is my least favorite holiday. But consider the one or two faces that struggle up the steps clutching wands, gowns, masks, bags of candy, oversized pants, dogs. Then the rifling hands. Then the “Thank you!” and thundering feet descending back down the stairs, dashing off to the next house, fast, as my back yard might be a little bit SCARY.

All Hallow’s Eve is heartwarming. And brings back memories of Disney princesses, Robin Hoods and Ninja Turtles of days gone past, of borrowing bits of costume from across the street, contriving swords out of boxes, spraying glitter on a line-up of star wands, of trailing the neighborhood pack of kids with other parents, keeping a respectable distance sometimes with warming libations tucked in our pockets. It’s good memory of friendship, taking care of one another, of October leaves and the harvest moon.

This afternoon in the pouring rain I will carve a pumpkin, light it with a Glassybaby (of course) and wait. Even for one smiling princess. And remember Robin Hood in his green tights filched from his sister’s dresser. Of Princess Jasmine. And remember community is the backbone of who we are, regardless of political party or race or sexual identification. We are the people who will make tomorrow happen, together, raucously, maybe with a wand, hopefully with a ballot. We will move on and make it work. We always have.

Then Olive and I will turn off all the lights, the universal signal that this eve is over and go to bed at eight due to our early day, full of good thoughts and hopefully a memory of that knock, knock, knock at the door and a chance to meet a new neighbor.

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Olive, Halloween 2015. She wants to be Newt Gingrich this year. I suggested we reuse the same costume.

 

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Changes

Details.

I am fresh off summer. Too tan and crunching sand in my closet. Today I aired sweaters and gazed with dismay at the soles of my feet. Waistbands are not my friend yet.

I brought some tokens home from summer holiday, tucked into pockets and the bottom of my duffle bag. Something to remind me of the light on the water, the lull of the crickets, the soul-warming smoothness of a summer day.

Rocks.

I was choosy. They had to be smooth. Just the right round. Just the right shade of grey. Warm when I picked them up. They had to fit in the palm of my hand with fingers closed or my palm open to the sky.

I often forget to look down and under my feet, I am so busy getting places. I talked sternly with myself on the last beach walk: slow down, take time, notice the details, remember this day, you don’t know when you will return.

Yesterday, I piled them on the edge of my writing desk, feeling a little guilty, a little bit like a thief. Little bits of mica I hadn’t noticed winked at me. I saw they weren’t just grey at all — veins of pink and white ran through and around them. I have already stacked them two different ways while thinking out a word. I worry the roundest one in my hand while I reread paragraphs.

I believe they will carry me through the darkening days of fall, just as they steadied me on the uneven shore. beachstone

Just five arbitrary stones lifted off the sand. I caught endless flak when everyone realized why my bags were so heavy. But there is a good chance that I will return them next summer, a gesture of good faith to that little beach. And say thank you.

I swear they still feel warm when I cup them in my hand.

 

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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.

 

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Me and the girls. Canton, NY May 2016

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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.

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