Tag Archives: family

morning thoughts

 


Last night I dreamed about my cat who was dying.  It was my cat, but not my cat (in the ways that dreams work).  She was Toby, but not Toby.  She was curled into a ball on my chest and was shaking and heaving.  And as much as I tried, I could not remember her name.

I woke to the sinus ache of dry hot air, another night of the “Santa Anas,” yesterday’s temps peaking at 104 according to my car’s thermometer.  I immediately stepped outside to check the progress of the garden.  The peas that I planted a few weeks ago are surviving the dryness, thanks to a regular dousing.  The Siberian winter tomato varieties that we planted a few weeks ago are thriving.  We’ve never planted winter tomatoes before, but it seemed worth a try and the horticulturist at our local nursery was insistent that they would set fruit.  I wonder if they are as acclimated to dry desert winds as they are to the shortened days of the season.  They already have several blossoms apiece.

I am barefoot in the garden though I probably should not be.  We’re rebuilding our back house and the ground around the garden is covered in splinters of wood and screws and small sharp things.  But I take my chances anyways, today.

I sit on the pavers in the sun, near the plants, and marvel that it’s fall and yet it’s hotter than the summer.  Though this happens every year, it always feels strange and new when the dry winds blow.

My son moved home this week, for awhile.  It’s a strange thing to have my kids around–it is so easy to share with them, everything.  Yet I struggle with parenting them, as adults, never knowing how much to guide, how much to let them do for themselves.  We went grocery shopping together yesterday afternoon and as he put the shopping cart away he deftly lifted the entire thing over the parking lot median, as if it was as light as a gallon of milk.  I am jealous of his easy strength, and am reminded of my middle age.  The time when I carried him on my hip feeling more than two dozen lifetimes ago.

For lunch he and I have a salad of spicy mesclun lettuce from the garden, picked at midday.  The leaves are wilted and limp, but have so much flavor that they overpower the small grape tomatoes that I’ve added into the mix.

The house is full of the smells of fresh bread, as Stijn is baking his next round of sourdough.  We watched Michael Pollan’s “Air” documentary a few days ago and ever since I have craved bread, remembering all of the dark and rich loaves of Scandinavia.  Little else is as interesting to me right now, as that.

moving right along…*

grapevine

Photo taken of the grapevines on the front fence of our current home. I’m sad to know that we’ll be leaving these behind, but the new house has a huge avocado tree, orange tree, and a well-developed herb garden…

Last night my son and I were watering our vegetable/herb garden at dusk and the smell was so achingly familiar. Of lavender and tomatoes and sage and basil.  And dark wet soil. Grassy and fecund.  It was the smell of the community garden plot that I nurtured for a decade.  What rich and pleasant memories that scent evoked.

Oddly enough, our garden is not at the wee corner bungalow where we moved last fall.  Our garden is at a house down the street, where we will move at the end of this month.  After eight months of living on this busy corner we realized that it was time to seek somewhere a bit quieter, with a bit more space and no grass (because who wants grass when there are so many other lovely less-thirsty plants to enjoy?).  It also has a pergola-covered back patio for our late summer evening parties and a small back house for a robotics workshop/guest lodging.

So, a few weeks ago we moved our raised garden bed plantings over to the new place, a barrow-full at a time.  Everything survived the move and is thriving in its new raised-bed location.  We even picked our first tomatoes and peppers yesterday!

While I am over-the-moon excited about the new house, lately I’ve been wondering whether I simply move too much.  At last count, I’ve moved 14 (soon to be 15) times in the past two decades, which doesn’t even account for my sabbatical wanderings last summer. There’s no moss growing on this rolling stone, that’s for sure!  But…I am starting to think that it’s time to put down roots for awhile, rather than living lightly and moving on so readily.

Being mobile is exciting and freeing, but it also has its consequences–one never has to invest much when one knows that everything is only temporary.  In so many ways, my mobility has been a defense mechanism, to prevent me from caring too much about any one place or any specific community. It also simply doesn’t seem to fit me anymore.  After all these years of being able to pack up and move on a dime, I want to stay put for awhile and accumulate a bit too many things and let myself settle into a home and a community.  I want to know my neighbors.  And their kids and their dogs.  And whether they like red or white…so when I see them coming I can make sure that I have a bottle at the ready.

*this phrase always reminds me of Super-Sara.  I still miss her so much.

2012 Retrospective #2 (simplicity)

Post #2 in my 2012 reflections…

Simplicity is one of my core values, one reinforced by my Quaker beliefs.  The best way that I’ve incorporated simplicity into my life in 2012 has been in the home where I live.  It’s uncluttered and open, and thus it’s easy-to-care-for.  It rarely looks messy just because there isn’t much stuff to pile up.  In general, my fridge and cupboards and closets are sparsely-filled.

When I moved, I got rid of stuff.  As I packed, before any item went into a box I asked myself whether it was useful and whether I loved it.  If it wasn’t either of those two things, it moved on.  Broken stuff was discarded.  Anything that I hadn’t used in more than a year went to the goodwill. Also, if something had a bad memory attached to it, it didn’t make the cut.  That last element is an important one–I realized that bad memories can clutter my home just as much as piles of physical objects.

One lesson that I’ve learned from my recent travels, is that there’s very little stuff that you actually need on a daily basis.  So I’ve incorporated that lesson into the ways that I’ve organized my surroundings.  Also, I learned from some of the hotels that I encountered in my travels that sparseness makes feel more comfortable than a space full of many things. (note: I took this to an extreme during christmas when I realized that I couldn’t stomach piles of gaudily-wrapped packages under the tree.  Instead, I used the soft white packing paper that we’d recycled from our move to wrap our gifts)..

Another way that I “keep it simple” is to arrange all of my financial documents to be delivered online (no more paper!), to shop online, and to keep my google calendar updated.  When I bring in the mail each evening I sort it immediately and try to deal with each piece of paper then, instead of letting them linger somewhere in a pile.  That, and I try to keep stuff in the same spot all of the time so it’s not hard to find when I need it (no more searching for shoes and keys and phones).

Most importantly, and this is related to my first retrospective post about finances, is that I resist the pull to accumulate more things.  When I’m tempted to buy something new, I first consider how I might meet that need in some other way besides accumulating more stuff.  Maybe I can netflix or ILL that movie or book (or buy it on kindle).  Maybe I can use a slightly different-shaped pan instead of buying a new one with a specific purpose, or maybe I can downscale my giftgiving to a small thoughtful thing rather than many unnecessary things.  Or maybe I can wear some sparkly earrings with that favorite older dress to a special event instead of buying a new one.

Overall I’ve learned that a quieter simpler life feels better than one filled with busy-ness and things.  Sure I am still often crazy-busy (lining up one to-do after another each evening until I’m exhausted just thinking about it all).  But…I still feel as though this year has taught me much about what’s really important.  And what that is is something that rarely has a shelf-life or a price-tag.  Instead, it’s time spent on the porch swing with a book, or giggling with the kids over a meal, or singing too loud while on a road trip, or a ramble on the beach on a windy day as I am squinting into the horizon.

This sweet hedgehog bell hangs in the doorway to our home.

Retrospective Post #1: Finances

creating the post-divorce Christmas card

I used to send out Christmas cards every year.  In fact, it was one of the things I most looked forward to about the holidays.

Composing the newsy letter with updates about each family member and a photo in front of our family tree, meant so much (although in the one below, we are so much bigger than our tree, you can’t really even tell that we are standing in front of it…).

About 5 years ago the cards stopped.  Mostly it was because of graduate school–all Christmas break I would be feverishly applying for grant monies to fund my next year of studies.  Cards fell by the wayside.  That, and I never was quite sure how to explain that our family had left the Mormon church and that my (now ex-)husband was excommunicated.  How would that fit into a tidy narrative that included my kids’ swimming lessons?

Then after the divorce I wasn’t really sure that there would ever be a cute family narrative again.  The kids were teenagers anyways, and not very interested in wearing a Christmas sweater or a velvet dress and posing in front of the Christmas tree (although I have to say that I do like last year’s “goofing off in front of the tree” photos very much).

[flickrslideshow acct_name=”pilgrimgirl” id=”72157628152003563″]

The other issue that was rolling around in my head, is how best to discuss my new partner in my Christmas card.  Do I make some type of official, “hey, guess what,” sort of declaration, or do I just include him in my family update without any mention of the change?

Though the card is still in “draft” stage (pending approval of the kiddos, who haven’t yet seen yet what I wrote about them), I opted for fairly brief text, listing just a few recent highlights on each person.  It’s succinct, but it also catches everyone up on the exciting happenings of the past year (new address, new schools, new jobs, etc).

The photo part of the card was a bit harder than the text.  I messed around last night with a bunch of photo collage templates to see if I could do something artful from our travels this past year.  But after I did this for over an hour I realized that no one that I was sending this card to would care much about a view of the alps or of Tuscany.  I am pretty sure that they’d like to see us and not what I ate for dinner in the Netherlands.

So…my plan is to herd everyone in front of the tree after Gameboy returns from college on Thursday evening and snap the annual holiday photo.

Because it feels like some traditions should stay the same, even in the midst of so much change.

Note:  I recently opened up my Christmas card address book and realized that it’s five years out of date, and so many of you have moved in the meantime.  Please email (janaremyATgmail) me your new address if you would like a card and you’ve moved since we were last in touch via post.

making a fist

Perhaps one hard lesson of the last few years of my life has been to learn to express uncomfortable feelings–the coping mechanism of so many years of suppressing sadness is hard to undo.  But what I’ve realized is that I can tell when there’s something I need to express…because my left hand will be balled into a tight fist. Generally I don’t even know that I’m doing it, but I will look down and see the knuckles white and fingers tight and know that something is awry.

(It’s been interesting to peruse my photos from the last few years and to see how many of them include that tight fist in the frame.)

Today, I am finding my hand in a fist because of that hug that I gave my college-bound son at the side of my car just before he walked away with two suitcases in hand.*   That moment recalled many similar hugs that I’ve given in the past.  Hugs meant to hold on to someone who was leaving.  To keep them close and safe, despite distance.  To offer a memory for me to grasp on days when my hands are empty.

Making a Fist
by Naomi Shihab Nye

For the first time, on the road north of Tampico,
I felt the life sliding out of me,
a drum in the desert, harder and harder to hear.
I was seven, I lay in the car
watching palm trees swirl a sickening pattern past the glass.
My stomach was a melon split wide inside my skin.

“How do you know if you are going to die?”
I begged my mother.
We had been traveling for days.
With strange confidence she answered,
“When you can no longer make a fist.”

Years later I smile to think of that journey,
the borders we must cross separately,
stamped with our unanswerable woes.
I who did not die, who am still living,
still lying in the backseat behind all my questions,
clenching and opening one small hand.

*He’s not gone to college quite yet, but will be with his Dad for a few days until he leaves