Saturday, December 10, 2011

I Remember Momma

"Christmas - that magic blanket that wraps itself about us, that something so intangible that it is like a fragrance. It may weave a spell of nostalgia. Christmas may be a day of feasting, or of prayer, but always it will be a day of remembrance - a day in which we think of everything we have ever loved." -Augusta E. Rundel

Only two more sleeps till Christmas, and like everyone else my mind is brimming with memories of home and family. Good or bad, our childhood memories have a profound effect on us, and this is never more true than the memories we have of the holidays. Traditions. Culture. Family. Food. For me, the memories of those times were what I thought the holidays would always be. But life has a way of moving on, no matter how much we wish it wouldn't. Divorce. Death. Even the very city that surrounds me continues to evolve and change. The very house I grew up in is now unrecognizable thanks to urban renewal. The memories then become even more precious. More sweet in the glow of Christmas past. And so this blog, so very long in coming, is dedicated to my mother and the memories she made for me. I hope that I made some for my own children that they will look back on with some fondness themselves someday.

I remember Momma most in the kitchen. Always in an apron, always cooking, canning, baking. At Christmas she started early in December. The old red Betty Crocker cookbook would come out, the one with the images I knew by heart. The old mixmaster mixer with the white glass bowls would begin to hum. Glace' cherries, candied citrus peel, Hershey's baking chocolate. Brown sugar, white. Chocolate chips, butterscotch chips. She started early and stored the goodies in tins on the cold back porch. In the evenings as we watched television she would appear bearing a tray of our favorites. Russian teacakes for me. Peanut butter fudge for my dad. White chocolate bark. Chinese noodle candy. Spritz. I think my mothers favorite were the white sugar cookies. Melt in your mouth, crisp and buttery. I remember coming home from school to find her baking them, cookies lined up in rows cooling on her big bread board. I sat on the stool that sat between the stove and refrigerator, enjoying fresh cookies and milk, watching Momma flatten each round ball of dough with a buttered glass and then press a candied cherry into the center of each cookie.

I remember Momma taking me to see Santa. Going to the Westland Shopping Center was a big deal at Christmas. It was swanky by shopping center standards back then, in the years before malls as we know them now. The decorations were fancy and there was a little train that took kids around the whole center. I suppose it was Montgomery Ward or Sears Robuck where I visited Santa. My child eyes were blind to the locale. All I saw was him. I remember that too hot crowded feeling of being forced to shop in your coat, boots, hat and mittens. Stumbling along in your snow boots, hot and sweaty, your socks wrinkled up and falling down. Getting so tired and thirsty and bored. And mom in dress and heels and everything that goes with it. How did she ever do it?

I remember Momma decorating the tree. Tinsel trees with rotating lights were the thing back then. Ours was done with multicolor lights and all red satin balls. One night after a walk to see the neighbors houses my mother declared it the most pathetic and moth eaten tree she'd ever seen. She came home and took it down. My poor father must have been in shock. After that we had real trees for a while. Free ones that my Dad got from the school where he worked as as janitor. At that time every classroom got a real tree of its own and when Christmas vacation started they went in the trash. Dad would keep his eye out and find the pick of the litter. I'd go with him back to the school in the evening after the big party and we'd bring our tree home. Eventually we got a new "lifelike" green artificial tree. As embarrassed as I was about our hand me down trees, I liked them better than the bristle brush fake one, but momma loved it. None of the old ornaments survived those fifty plus years of marriage, but I can still see the silver tinsel tree and hear the grinding hum of the spinning colored disc.

I remember how much Momma loved Christmas lights. There was always a drive into downtown Denver to see the store window decorations and the decorated city and county building. On the way home we'd drive down streets to see lights on houses, trees in windows. She loved those outings! In later years son in laws would do the driving and one year there was a carriage ride as a surprise. The old city is gone now, and the city and county building now sports LED lights instead of the big old fashioned bulbs. The manger scene is gone and Santa's sleigh is behind chain link fence and locked up from vandals but my memories of those special sparkling nights will never dim.

I remember Momma always making oyster soup on Christmas Eve. Buttery milk broth with that sea salty taste. I never liked the oysters but I loved the broth and oyster crackers. On Christmas Day it would be roast turkey again, just like Thanksgiving. There were pies; cherry, rhubarb, pumpkin. And often fried bread or cinnamon rolls. Pickled herring and always Momma's cranberry relish. It was my job to sit on the breadboard and hold it down while she cranked the handle on the grinder. Beneath the opening sitting on a chair was the big bowl that would catch the crushed cranberries and all that juice. I was not allowed to put things into the grinder until I was much older, she was so fearful of twisting my fingers inside, but I so loved to feed it cranberries! I loved the pop as they were crushed. Grind, grind, feed, feed, until at last the beautiful crushed cranberries began to emerge along with the bitter juice. Chunks of orange, rind and all went in too. My father loved it and piled it on top of his turkey, mashed potaotes, rolls, everything. Every year we did it. In the future other little ones took my place on the breadboard, and I was jealous. Eventually a food processor would make us board holders obsolete. She made it right up until the year she died, smaller batches as the family dinners shrank until it was just her alone. I have her old hand written recipe card for cranberry relish and when I hold it I bring back those days in the kitchen on Dover Street.

There was dinner and church service, and Christmas Eve seemed to last forever. Momma must have been so tired by the end of the day. All that cleaning and cooking and washing up by herself and me being a pest about opening presents and Santa. I remember the year Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer premiered. I remember Lawrence Welk. I remember Bing Crosby's and King Family's Christmas Show. Bing Crosby and Perry Como were Christmas in our house and to this day I only need a few notes of White Christmas or Home for the Holidays to send me over the bend of nostalgia, down the road of childhood, when Christmas was magic.

I remember Momma the year my father gave her a string of pearls for Christmas. Dad didn't often get the gift giving thing right, but that year he did big time. She loved those pearls. My mother never had any fancy jewels of precious stones. She didn't have furs or diamonds. Those pearls were a precious possession to her. And of all the daughters, I was the only one who remembered that Christmas and the giving of the pearls when she died. It was the hardest thing I gave away, those pearls. But I was not the only daughter, or granddaughter who remembered her wearing them, nor was I the only one who loved her, and I had the memory of Momma and year she got that special gift. Every string of pearls conjures the memory, especially at Christmas.

I remember the year I got a snow saucer and my father took me out in the snow to play. He pulled me so fast the icy wind bit my cheeks. He must have had as much fun as I did, because I remember it turning dusk and we were still out. I remember begging to go again and again. Dad took me up the steep embankment where they were building a highway by our house. I went down the slope and picked up so much speed that when I hit the ice at the bottom I shot across the street and just kept going. By the time I hit the sidewalk and ice on the opposite side, I did a complete flip and landed in a snowbank. Poor Dad must have thought hed killed me. I was fine. Scared but all in once piece. To this day when I watch the saucer scene in Christmas Vacation I can still remember that thrill. I wonder if Dad had sprayed my saucer with Pam if I would have kept going for a couple blocks.

For me the lingering memories of those days are of all of us together. The faces. The voices. The paper. The tree. The love. I don't remember years by the gifts I did or did not receive, I don't remember being disappointed that often though we were not rich and I'm sure their weren't many gifts. Gifts were small and simple. It was truly the thought and the season and the love, not the size, or quantity. For me it is the fabric of the years themselves that I remember most, not one year or one toy or one memory alone that defines my childhood Christmases. It is th time I long for, when life was still simple and we thought it would never not be so. The years with all of us together before we all began to marry and move away. Before our own families demanded our time and attention and the old family home was gone. Before divorce and death would separate us from one another. There in the glow of time we live on as before, gathered together in laughter and love. Thank you Momma.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Goodbye Summer Girls

Summer Breezes by Paula Nightengale

Summer Girls
I see summer girls in splendor
Walk footbare on fields of green
Sea-wet hair dried by warm breezes
Swirling through an open screen.
I see summer skin sun-ripened
Under flowing loose white gown
Mound of freckled salt-stiff breast
Hair at nape of neck like down.
I see summer girls in laughter
After yellow ball spins round
Voices murmur in the twilight
Fever rising with the sound.
I see summer rain on faces
Sleep-soft bodies stir in morn
Stain of virgin seed and berry
Strut of sainted youth reborn.
I see you summer girls and dread
The day veils will turn heartless
No more to open on blue hills
When I lie down with darkness.
~Joeseph Dunphy

I know I am but summer to your heart

I know I am but summer to your heart,
And not the full four seasons of the year;
And you must welcome from another part
Such noble moods as are not mine, my dear.
No gracious weight of golden fruits to sell
Have I, nor any wise and wintry thing;
And I have loved you all too long and well
To carry still the high sweet breast of spring.

Wherefore I say: O love, as summer goes,
I must be gone, steal forth with silent drums,
That you may hail anew the bird and rose
When I come back to you, as summer comes.
Else will you seek, at some not distant time,
Even your summer in another clime.
~Edna St.Vincent Milay


Does the Song of the Sea
end at the Shore
or in the Heart of Those
who listen to it?

Goodbye Summer Girls....

(photos courtesy of Sense & Sensibility patterns)

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

One Little Home in the West

The Prairie Is My Garden by Harvey Dunn

"Father and Sister Mary and I walked to the church thru the beauties of the sunny spring Sundays. I have forgotten what I was taught on those days also. I was only a little girl, you know. But I can still plainly see the grass and the trees and the path winding ahead, flecked with sunshine and shadow and the beautiful golden-hearted daisies scattered all along the way. Ah well! That was years ago and there have been so many changes since then that it would seem such simple things should be forgotten, but at the long last, I am beginning to learn that it is the sweet, simple things of life which are the real ones after all."

Summer is passing over now. The flowers have all grown leggy. The tomatoes are ripening at a rapid pace. The morning light has a different look, softer and more diffuse. Evenings are coming on a bit faster, a bit cooler. That feeling you have in April, to uncover, open up and empty shelves; to let in the light and breath of summer is being replaced by the desire to stock up, tuck in and hunker down. Too soon the winter winds will howl. Too soon will summer be lost again for another year.

It has been a glorious summer here, hot, sunny, green, the flowers lush. I've enjoyed every minute and really hate to see Summer go. I've spent the season much as I did as a child, letting the days slip by in lazy succession while I drowned myself in books. I found myself rereading The Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. It's been 35 years since I read them, and my perspective has changed considerably over the years. I was a young woman full of romantic notions then, vastly different from the woman I am now. And as the years pass I find the memories of those long ago days come more often and are twice as sweet.

Like Laura Ingalls Wilder, I've lived in many little houses in the West, and my mind often returns to the ones I loved best. One in particular is very dear to my heart, a little white clapboard house in Loveland, Co. It was 1974 and I was 14. John Denver was on the radio, Nixon was about to be impeached and magazines were filled with quilts and granny square afghans. The "back to the land movement" was at its zenith. Natural was the way to be and live.

The house was old, how old we never knew, but we found postcards in the attic dating to the early 1900's. It was just 2 bedrooms, an oil stove, a pantry made over into a bathroom with a claw foot tub, and a real Wizard of Oz root cellar. Poppies and raspberry canes lined the white picket fence, and the entire backyard was garden. I remember my father coming home to find Mom barefoot and knee deep in mud, a straw hat on her head, pulling bind weed. He said she looked like a Chinese woman at work in her rice paddy.

Mom never conquered the bind weed, but she did cultivate a peach tree. We canned everything from pickles to peaches that fall, and mom carried every dishpan of peelings and pits out to mulch her garden. Hence the tiny peach tree that sprouted the following spring. I can still smell the damp dirt of that root cellar and see the rows of jars on the old crooked shelves. String beans, corn, tomatoes, bread & butter pickles, peaches, pears, applesauce. Jelly jars of raspberry, strawberry, plum and tomato jam. That plum jam was something that dreams are made of, and I have never stopped craving the taste of sweet tomato preserves, ruby red with bits of lemon rind spread on toast. To this day nothing gives me greater pleasure than stocking my pantry. Mom called it my full larder syndrome, some holdover instinct from those long ago days of stocking up in preparation for winter I guess.

It was in the little house on Harrison Street, that I came to know the Ingalls family. I was smitten, entranced. Maybe it was the house. Maybe it was my romantic, impressionable age. Maybe it was the times we were living in. But something about all of it came together in a very special way there when I began to read those books, and it changed me, molded me, impressed me in a way nothing else ever has. I feel as if I've been on one very long journey back to that time and place and girl ever since. Rereading about Laura and her family took me back there to that little white clapboard house at 309 Harrison Street and my years within its walls and those that came immediately after.

We'd left the only neighborhood, home and friends I'd ever known and started life over in a small tightly knit town that had remained nearly unchanged for decades. Change was slow in reaching Loveland, but change was coming and in a big way. Those little front range agricultural based towns with their one block main streets and one local high school, where everyone knew each other and no one ever left and no one new ever moved in, were on the verge of disappearing forever. They would meld into one very large sprawling suburban entity where all bits of individualism were lost, the mom and pop stores became Walmart out on the 4-lane and farmland became rolling hills of cookie cutter homes painted taupe. I nearly wept the last time I saw Berthoud, Colorado. I had always dreamed of owning one of the big turn of the century homes that made up the tiny town square, but it was gone, swallowed up by housing developments and nothing I recalled from those days when I'd attended the livestock auctions with my friend Irene remained.

“I began to think what a wonderful childhood I had had. How I had seen the whole frontier, the woods, the Indian country of the great plains, the frontier towns, the building of railroads in wild, unsettled country, homesteading and farmers coming in to take possession. I realized that I had seen and lived it all—all the successive phases of the frontier, first the frontiersman, then the pioneer, then the farmers, and the towns. Then I understood that in my own life I represented a whole period of American History. That the frontier was gone and agricultural settlements had taken its place when I married a farmer. It seemed to me that my childhood had been much richer and more interesting than that of children today even with all the modern inventions and improvements.”

~Laura Ingalls Wilder, October 16, 1937~

Library's were good friends to me back then. Some of my best book memories come from my loneliest leanest years. Why after years of passing up Laura Ingalls Wilders books, I suddenly decided to give them a try I have no idea. And at what point it went from being a singular experience to my reading them aloud I can't answer either. It just happened. I have never forgotten the night Mom and I stayed up till the early morning hours as I read The Long Winter aloud. We just had to know that Pa, Ma, Mary, Laura, Carrie and Grace made it through all right. Or how we cried at Mary's blindness and the death of Jack the brindle bulldog.

Money was very tight for us, but Mom understood why I just had to have my own copies of the Little House books. I hold those tender paperback copies in my hands now, the covers worn, the pages falling out, each marked $1.50 on the cover, and I remember the nine months or more it took to buy them. Mom tucked those quarters away for me, and we'd make a trip to the bookstore downtown once a month or so for the next book, and then we read them all again. I can even remember catching mom reading them on the sly when I came in from school. I'd find her sitting at the kitchen table, book in hand, wiping tears from behind her glasses.

I don't think I ever really realized how hard my parents were having it financially during those years. I remember good times more than bad. Laughter. Love. Good food. I don't remember wanting for anything. Mom bought a winter coat for me at the old downtown J.C.Penny's and paid on it all summer. That was the first I'd heard of "lay away." I brought that coat home just in time for the first snowfall. (later that coat would be stolen from my locker, but that's another story). Mom and I took trips to collect pine cones, yucca and milkweed pods in the hills, packing sandwiches and our schnauzer, Buttons along with us. Mom spent long days and evenings crafting them into wreaths she sold to pay for new glasses. I picked cherries for a day in the summer of '75 and all I earned was a sunburn so severe I was physically ill. I baby sat for a young mother with two little girls who drove a Volkswagen bug with no heat, her guitar tucked in the back seat. She'd left her husband and gone back to college and I thought she was utterly fascinating. Probably the closest I ever came to a real life hippy. We watched the Watergate hearings on television an lived through the Big Thompson Canyon flood in July of 1976.

My oldest sister, Gloria and her husband Bill, left Colorado for the wilds of Montana to make a living off the land. Bill worked skinning logs and running a small welding business, while Gloria tended goats, rabbits, and a huge vegetable garden. I still remember her Blue Hubbard squash with skin so thick they could break a knife anf her kohlrabi that my mother dubbed Sputniks. She and her chickens worked side by side unearthing grubs and pulling weeds.She baked bread and made butter and grew her hair in braid that reached down her back. I remember her letters home and Mom reading them aloud at the kitchen table. Another sister was living on the plains of Kansas and the third raising a brood in Buena Vista.

Letters were a big deal back then, photos too. Who knew how all that would change? You sat there at the kitchen table, beneath a light bulb buzzing with summer insects or windows blocked with blowing snow and held in your hand those pages filled with a loved one's handwriting, maybe a couple photos too. Phone calls were expensive. There were no cell phones in your back pocket. I can't imagine what the phone bill was then, but I'm sure it never came close to the one I pay today.

Before long the lure of Montana called my parents too, and the next thing I knew we were packing up and leaving that little white house and heading over the Rocky Mountains to a little green house near Hamilton, Montana, that came complete with its own cat. But Montana didn't stick. Dad couldn't find work that paid enough, my parents savings was diminishing and I think Mom and Dad grew fearful they might lose everything. In less than a year we were headed back to Denver. Back to a house in the suburbs. Back to familiar locales. But things were never the same after that. Some dreams died back then I think. The years flew by and Dad was gone by 1989. Mom's gone now too. Rereading the Little House Books I was there again at that kitchen table in Loveland, with zuchini bread and a glass of milk. Buttons asleep in the old blue chair, and plenty of food down cellar in a teacup as Pa Ingalls would say.

Those may have been hard years for my folks and sometimes lonely ones for me, but they were also filled with excitement, promise and adventure. And lots of love. We touched again that pioneering spirit that was not only part of our family heritage but seemed to permeate those times as well. I think back and wonder what in the world my sixty year old parents were thinking uprooting like that. We moved five times in rapid succession and I attended 3 high schools in one year. And then I read about Pa and Ma, Mary and Laura again and I see the American Spirit at work. The looking to better times, to starting fresh, hard work and the rewards it brings. Maybe Mom and Dad were just looking to the simpler times they remembered as farm kids growing up in Minnesota. Simpler times before the world became so very big and full of itself.

I remember those years with great fondness. I was convinced I'd find my own Almanzo Wilder in Montana and end up a ranchers wife. I remember long letters written and received from friends I left behind. I remember being the big city girl in a tiny town where ladies still dressed up to go shopping, no one had heard of John Denver, the Captain and Tennile or feathered hair. There was a lifestyle there that appealed to me. The pioneer spirit was certainly alive and well in places like Hamilton, Montana. Life was about hard honest work, caring for your neighbors and community, value of family. Things that I'd never experienced except in books. There was also a backwardness and distrust of outsiders, the being made to feel odd that was hurtful,. But always there was Mom and Dad, the security of home wherever we were together and it didn't matter where that home was.

They were years filled with an abundance of love and laughter. I was growing up and those times molded me into a woman who would continue to love adventure and suffer wanderlust. That woman who loves parks with evergreens and swings, root cellars, the smell of barns and sheds with dirt floors, old libraries with stain glass windows and real card catalogs. Country fairs, quilts, canning jars, orange cats, picket fences, painted porches, windows you prop open with a stick, wainscoting and squeaky stairs. Maybe there was a me that lived once before, a long time ago, and that's why it felt so right and so familiar in so many ways. I am thankful for those little houses and those days, and I cherish the memories I carry of those late summer days all over the west.

In one of her final Missouri Ruralist columns published on August 1, 1923, Laura expressed her gratitude for the home of her childhood and its love, which still nurtured her as an adult.

Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,

Old time is still a-flying

And this same flower that smiles today,

Tomorrow will be dying.


“Out in the meadow, I picked a wild sunflower and as I looked into its golden heart such a wave of homesickness came over me that I almost wept. I wanted mother, with her gentle voice and quite firmness; I longed to hear father’s jolly songs and to see his twinkling blue eyes;I was lonesome for the sister with whom I used to play in the meadow picking daisies and wild sunflowers.

Across the years, the old home and its love called to me and memories of sweet words of counsel came flooding back. I realized that all my life the teachings of those early days have influenced me and the example set by father and mother has been something I have tried to follow, with failures here and there, with rebellion at times, but always coming back to it as the compass needle to the star...

...For when tests of character come in later years, strength to the good will not come from the modern improvements or amusements few may have enjoyed, but from the quiet moments and the “still small voices” of the old home.

Nothing can ever take the place of this early home influence and, as it does not depend upon externals, it may be the possession of the poor as well as the rich., a heritage from all fathers and mothers to their children.

The real things of life that are the common possession of us all are the greatest value; worth far more than motor cars or radio outfits; more than lands or money; and our whole store of these wonderful riches maybe revealed to us by such a common, beautiful thing as a wild flower.”

Thursday, February 04, 2010

The Chemistry of Love

Love it turns out is a drug.

A recent UCLA study shows that the very sight of a loved one can ease your pain.

"We indeed found that women holding their partner's hand reported significantly less pain than holding a stranger's hand or inanimate object..."

"It's amazing to me that love can have the same effect as Acetaminophen, as Tylenol."

Antropologist Helen Fisher says love is better than Tylenol! Fisher, who has looked at love for years, says affairs of the heart are often functions of the brain. "In simple terms, one of the parts of the brain involved in rewards and cravings - the ventral tegmental area (or VTA) - is flooded with the chemical dopamine when you do something pleasurable (like, say, eat chocolate) or see someone you're in love with . . . no matter how many years you've known them."

"The brain is built to respond," Fisher said. "We are an animal that is built to love."

Fisher and neurologist Lucy Brown of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York also scanned college students in the throes of young love, and found that the part of the brain that makes true love so durable also makes rejection so agonizing. "When you've been dumped, you're still madly in love with the person," said Brown. "As a matter of fact, looking at a picture of the person still brings you some reward. And that's part of the problem. I wish it didn't!"

Science can't completely save us from heartbreak, but according to author Tara Parker-Pope, it can help. "I think science teaches us the value of love and can help us make better decisions," said Parker-Pope. Her upcoming book "For Better: The Science of a Good Marriage" (Dutton) describes the science behind relationships. "...there's a whole lot going on beyond the conscious mind, beyond conscious decision-making, when we find ourselves drawn to another person and attracted to another person."

But beyond animal attraction, there's a mathematical ratio that can predict whether love lasts: 5 to 1. Five positive interactions to every one negative, like a critical comment, said Parker-Pope:

"A pat on the shoulder or a squeeze of the hand or a 'Honey, you look pretty today' or 'Gosh, I'm proud of you' or 'I like you in that suit.' Those little moments are highly protective of a marriage, and good marriages have them at least on a 5-to-1 basis.

What does all this have to do with me?

Life took an unexpected turn for me. A turn toward a younger more innocent time. Towards happier days of long ago. And because it did, the life I have now became more pleasant. I walk around with a smile on my lips nearly all the time, and my head full of conversation, jokes, and wit. To share so much with someone is stimulating. Enticing. Euphoric. Addicting.

Apparently, if the above studies are to be believed, this connection has triggered my dopamine levels. I realized I haven't felt like this in a very long time. To someone for just a little while, I am interesting, funny, smart, and amazing. It's been a long time since I felt anyone gave a damn about me that way. It is eye opening. It makes your heart beat faster, your step lighter. It's like I put glasses on. Not rose colored ones, but big magnifying ones so that I can see all the nuances of the life I'm living. How stifled I am. How psychologically harmful this life has been. I don't have a 5:1 ratio in my relationship. Mine would probably be the opposite. Five negative to one positive. No wonder I spend so much time apologizing.

A door has opened and on the other side is a secret garden. I can see through a little crack into the life that might have been. And the life that might yet be if I let myself move on. I don't know yet if I can open it all the way. Don't know if I have the strength to break the bonds that bind me to this side. I'm so afraid. I've lived like this for so long it seems normal. That world out there is very foreign and frightening. There is safety in the shelter of continuity and repetition. Comfort in the arms of the everyday. It too is a very strong drug.

But from this new self-discovery, I've learned other things too. That I could bloom again in the right environment. That there is sun in freedom. Fresh air if I open the window, and how wonderful it feels!

My life is a journey. My journey. A series of lessons on humanity. The good, the bad and the ugly. Kind of like a choose your own adventure book. You pack your backpack and pick a road. As obstacles and opportunities arise you make choices. A shortcut. Down a cliff or over a mountain? Proceed with caution or leap without looking. You must live with the consequences. All of them. And there will be fallout, that's a given. And there will be guilt, loads of guilt. Never look back with regret but learn from your mistakes. Put the bad choices behind you, and don't carry the guilt. It's far too heavy. Let it go. Take only the love.

I think of God as my traveling companion. He gives no opinions, doesn't lesson the fear, prevent the sorrow or carry a map. But, he does hang on to the rope! Recently, he and I had a conversation about my life choices.

I thanked God for connecting to my past again. That if tomorrow it disappeared back into the mists of time, that for a while I had laughed out loud again with joy. My loneliness had been eased. That I felt like that 18 year old girl again, when life was brand new and fresh with no mistakes in it. I told my parents I loved and missed them. That I hoped I wasn't a disappointment. That I was trying hard to be strong but it was hard. The road I was walking on was terrible rocky at the moment, and causing me much pain. Why Mike? Why this life? I wasn't angry, just sad and confused. I felt cheated. I had a bad case of the "what ifs". I was missing my father's counsel, comfort and wisdom.

In the early morning hours my father came. I have not seen him smile like that in such a very long time. He gave me his whole body to lean on. I woke crying with his arms around me and one of his very large hands cradling my head as if I were a little girl again. He said that I should remember that I had Elisabeth and Sarah. They were the reason it was Mike. They needed to be exactly what and who they were right now. It's enough. For now.

My journey has placed me in a precarious position. My life ship is lost at sea. I can see the shore but I am unsure of how to reach it. Do I stay the course? Or do I chart a new one?


"Looking for a Mate.
Sail with me through life my dear,
Hope shall guide and love shall steer,"

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Christmas with Bing and Rosemary

This year my Christmas season has had very little spirit. I've always loved the holiday, and considered it my favorite. I love Nativity scenes and baking cookies. I love advent calendars. I love to wrap packages and decorate the tree. But I don't love the family drama. My kids keep telling me that everyone has dysfunction, but it is very hard to believe that when it feels like you're on the outside looking in. Everywhere there are families shopping together, getting on airplanes, piling into cars. Everyone at the grocery store is buying the makings for goodies and planning meals with family. Everyone is on a cell phone making plans. Everyone seems conspiratorial and full of giggling secrets. The radio is filled with touching Christmas miracle stories and people calling in with their holiday traditions.

I sit at home and watch Christmas movies about perfect holidays, love, and laughter and wonder what is that like? I don't remember. These days I identify more with Riggs than Murtaugh in Lethal Weapon. My attitude is more like Bud White in L.A. Confidential, and my heart feels more like Sandra Bullock in While You Were Sleeping. My life has more in common with a sound stage full of fake buildings covered in soap flake snow than it does with all the people swept into the arms of loved ones in Love Actually.

It easier to watch Danny Kaye dance along a boardwalk beneath a false Florida sunset, or Bing Crosby sing White Christmas amidst the cardboard buildings on an imaginary war front in Europe than it is to deal with the mine field that is my life. I want to twirl around in a frothy dress and imagine that the best things really do happen when your dancing, or sing about love gone wrong on a supper club stage dressed in a black dress that outlines my curves. Everything always works out. Everyone finds their true love and the future is rosie with perfection as the camera pulls back and we leave our substitute family. The darkness closes in until all that is left is that paned window aglow with firelight and we get a final glimpse of the lovers embracing, dancing, opening gifts, or walking hand in hand up the stairs and out of sight. Its the Christmas movie equivalent of cowboys riding off into the sunset.

But for those detractors who tell me that I spend too much time living a life of fantasy. (I say if it wasn't for fantasy I wouldn't be able to survive my real life), I counter with the statement that films really can answer the big questions, solve problems and give comfort. If The Godfather is the Iching, the answer to any question (at least for men), then maybe Bing Crosby is the Iching of Christmas. He provides me with the warmth of childhood memories and the fatherly advice that I am so longing for as his voice soothes Rosemary Clooney in White Christmas.

When I'm worried and I can't sleep
I count my blessings instead of sheep
And I fall asleep counting my blessings
When my bankroll is getting small
I think of when I had none at all
And I fall asleep counting my blessings

I think about a nursery and I picture curly heads
And one by one I count them as they slumber in their beds
If you're worried and you can't sleep
Just count your blessings instead of sheep
And you'll fall asleep counting your blessings

I think about a nursery and I picture curly heads
And one by one I count them as they slumber in their beds
If you're worried and you can't sleep
Just count your blessings instead of sheep
And you'll fall asleep counting your blessings

If your feeling alone this Christmas, or dragged down by financial worries, marital strife, troubled children or grief. If its taking every bit of your strength just to get out of bed in the morning. If your feeling more like you've been scrooged than blessed. Go watch Emmit Otters Jugband Christmas or Little Women. Go visit Father O'Malley in the Bells of St Mary, or Going My Way. Go spend Christmas with Bing and Rosemary.


Thursday, December 03, 2009

Lost in the in-between

Early December and the temperatures have dropped below zero. The cold is coming in, creeping on soft cat feet across the floor and under my nightgown. I can feel the icy folds of it laying about my shoulders. Its too early for such cold as this. Only 22 more sleeps till Christmas and I haven't even pulled out the tree.

I have entered a phase of deep ambivalence in my life. The world is going on around me and I'm floating somewhere over a vast sky of stars trying not to be afraid, trying not to worry. Trying to relax, let life move on and take me with it where it will. Like the ebb and flow of the tides, I am at the mercy of the moon.

What is this place?
I wake up, I go through the motions of the day. I feed the dogs, I cook the meals, I do the laundry. I knit. I pray. I wish fervently that my mother were here. I kick myself for not listening more, not asking more questions. Not preparing myself for a life without her, when I would be the aging woman. We've traded places she and I. I look in the mirror and I hate the face there. The lines that pull my mouth down to an ugly line. What does Mike call me? Hang dog? The frown wrinkles deeply embedded between my brows. I look down and see my mother's hands, the hands of a middle aged woman and I weep.

What if I remain in this in-between like the poor girl in The Lovely Bones, unable to move on, unable to let go. What if I wake like Rip Van Winkle, ten or fifteen or twenty years in the future and I have no idea how I got there or what happened in those intervening years?

Where did I go?
I buy cookbooks in an attempt to inspire me to cook. Fabric to inspire me to sew. Books and magazines to inspire me to read, travel, craft. I tear out pictures, recipes, patterns. Bags of wool sit waiting to be spun. Sick of looking at the wheel I have moved it out of sight. Nothing works. Only the knitting is still there and even it has slowed to a snail's pace. It is my anchor to the earth, that line of wool as I float here uncaring, just moving my hands.

Mrs Moon
sitting up in the sky
little old lady
with a ball of fading light
and silvery needles
knitting the night

-Roger McGough

*Roger McGough is a well known English performance poet, born in Litherland in the north of Liverpool. Much travelled and translated, his poetry has gained increasing popularity, especially from its widespread use in schools. A prolific writer, he is twice winner of the Signal Award for best children's poetry book and recipient of the Cholmondeley Award. McGough is an Honorary Fellow of Liverpool John Moores University and an Honorary Professor at Thames Valley University. He has an MA from the University of Northampton.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Time left yet to play

Summer is fleeing without really having stopped here in Colorado long. She seems to have had other things on her mind this year, like me. She's on the run now, Autumn chasing her across the days. The prairie grass heads have turned brown and crisp like ripened wheat. The wild roses have lost their blooms. The thistles have finished and been replaced with black-eyed Susan's. Autumn is waiting just over my shoulder. I can smell her in the crispness of the nightly breeze and see her in the red tipped leaves of my maple tree. The morning sun is slower to make an appearance and lost a great deal of strength. Darkness is coming on quicker of an evening and I have already found myself slipping to the closet in search of another blanket at night.

It is frightening to see a season pass so quickly and not know how you spent it. It feels as though I just flipped the calendar page to June and here it is the first of September. It made me heartsick to pack up summer. The shell boxes, the trays of scallop shells, the bits of things I tuck here and there to make it feel like a summer cottage. I realized I hadn't seen a body of water all summer, not an ocean not even a pool. And yet, as I tucked the treasures away to wait out another winter, I was beginning to get used to the idea of autumn. Summer fades slowly to let you get accustomed to the idea of her leaving. You find yourself reaching for a sweater without thinking, or sorting through recipes with soup in mind. Summer is slow and seductive as she changes her green for gold. She tantalizes you with peaches, then pears. Apples and then pumpkins. And by the time that first drizzling autumn day arrives you're ready to greet winter with knitting and books. The urge to run away in the sun is gone, or at least curtailed for the time being.

Since money was tight and I couldn't have a real getaway, I had to get away the best way I could, escaping into films and books. In fact, this is the closest summer I've had to the ones of my childhood, when I lugged home great bags of books for the summer reading program.

I just couldn't wait to see the film Julie and Julia. Had to see it opening weekend. I'd read Julie Powell's book. I'd watched Julia Child for years on PBS. I love to cook. Besides, my name is Julie, how could I not want to read the book or see the movie? I walked out of the theater hungry. I walked out wishing I could see more Julia Child, or I guess Meryll Streep as Julia Child. I walked out wishing I'd read Julia Child's memoirs because the whole love story between her and her husband Paul was just wonderful.

So, I took myself off for a trip to France with Julia's memoir. Suddenly I found myself yearning to visit a country I'd had no interest in before. Even if I couldn't pronounce all the French, the food sounded wonderful, and Provence was now as appealing to me as Tuscany has always been. I'm feeling very Julia Childish, and inspired to spend long periods of time in the kitchen. Beth came home from a set visit with a recipe for grilled brie & pear sandwiches with carmalized onions in basalmic vinegar on walnut bread. I canned peaches and remembered the summers of canning with my mother. I feel like clutching my new bread book, The Bread Baker's Apprentice to my chest just like the girl on the cover.

I spent time with The Ugly Truth and time on the Moon and wondered if I would ever see a time with a real District 9? I bought a wand at the Renaissace Fair and wished J.K. Rowling would write a book of spells after seeing Harry Potter six. And I rediscovered my love of vampires with True Blood and Sookie Stackhouse. I spent a lot of time this summer somewhere else. With other people in other places in other worlds.

And how many times have I longed for the ability to time travel? To fix things or change things or just spend more time appreciating those times I had taken for granted? I even tried to revisit my childhood home, but that visit just proved you really can't go back. My afternoon in the dark with the Time Traveler's Wife had me rethinking that while sobbing into my purse. The book is allowing me even more time to travel or travel through time...

Tears have been a big part of my summer. Tears of anger. Tears of hurt. Tears of reminiscence. Tears of revolt. There's been no lack of water around here this summer. The hills around me are uncharacteristically green. I easily imagine myself away to almost anywhere and often have.

But now Autumn is calling me. Plying me with apples and sweaters. Whispering in my ear to come and play. Enticing me with a new box of crayons. For a while she, Summer and I will walk hand in hand, for there is time yet to play. We'll call to each other across the yards of our houses, playing hide and seek in the fading light.