Posts Tagged With: friendship



Over the weekend a friend invited me to make quince jam.  Quince,  I learned, is a “pome” fruit, a cousin of the apple and pear.  Some believe  it was the quince and not the apple Eve plucked in the garden, the quince and not the “golden apple” at the heart of the Trojan War.  Most Colonial gardens had quince trees.  Quince fruit is loaded with pectin but labor-intensive to access.  As soon as modernity figured out how to manufacture pectin, the virtues of quince fell away, and now it’s rare to find a quince tree growing in backyard gardens.  It’s an old story.

While the fruits in a bowl can fragrance a whole room, they’re too tough and sour to eat and need to be cooked.

Every year, in remembrance of her mother, my friend cooks up a batch or two of quince jam using her mother’s handwritten recipe.  This method requires more than twenty-four hours– day one you cook down the fruits and strain them through cheesecloth; the next day you boil the juice with sugar until it sheets in the right viscosity.  Although quince meat is white, once you process it for jam it blooms first a salmon color, and then the most gorgeous shade of amber.

I was honored at the invite to participate in this autumnal ritual, a tender communion between mother and daughter.  At the bottom of the page, faded and water-marked through years of use, her mother had drawn a little heart.

At our house, we try not to gobble up our preserved fruits too quickly.  It’s important, in March especially, to have access to a jar of peaches put up during summer’s heat.  To remember standing next to the tree and eating the perfect one.  We picked it, rubbed the surface gently to stand down the fuzz.  Golden and red, neither mealy nor too hard, the juice dripped everywhere.

As it always does, canning strikes me as an activity as much about celebration as it is about longing.  We gorge and revel in the fruits of our labors and that of others.  And yet there’s palpable yearning in our efforts – all those brilliantly colored jars are sense memories of summers recent and past.  We are desperate to preserve these as we steel ourselves for the dark season, for the uncertain future.  The inherent hope present in germination, the thrill and sometimes defeat of the growing season, the labor and satisfaction of harvest, the reflection necessary to begin the cycle again as we put up jars and save seeds:  These are the elements of stories that resonate.

I’ve had my head lost in writing fiction lately (thus, the radio silence here), so longing has been on my mind more than usual.  My characters are a lot pulsing with yearning, desperate in their quest for it; they make messes everywhere, then shamble through the messes they’ve made, hoping, still, they’ll get at least some flint of their desires.

Emily Dickinson, fond of the gardening metaphor, wrote about longing in far fewer words than I’ve used here. I would’ve like to sit down over toast and preserves with Emily.  After, we’d walk out to the garden and noodle about a place for a quince tree to live in our tiny orchard.

Longing is like the Seed

That wrestles in the Ground,

Believing if it intercede

It shall at length be found.

The Hour, and the Clime-

Each Circumstance unknown,

What Constancy must be achieved

Before it see the Sun!

*This is supposed to be two stanzas.  The first ends after “found,” but  I can’t drive the formatting well enough to make it look that way.  Apologies to Emily.

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cyclopean eye

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For the better part of a year, I’ve been agitated about selfies, trying to articulate what feels so Orwellian about pictures replacing words.  I know too many adults who have given themselves over to the selfie revolution.  A growing, navel-gazing army of teens is at the front lines of this surge.  You know the posture – one arm outstretched so the self-directed cyclopean eye of a cell phone tastes an experience in order to broadcast it.

It’s hard to be in the world these days without witnessing a selfie in the making.

At our house most technology is considered poor company for sitting down to eat, engaging in conversations, reading, doing homework.  Cell phones, computers and tablets are not invited to join us at these times, and this rule is largely true when the kids have friends over.  We’re mean parents and expect our kids and their friends to actually hang out together, use real words from their mouths, and also maybe some eye contact. Our kids are pretty accomplished at live conversation.

Still, I know when they leave the house the story is different.  Owen’s received a few alarming selfies of girls scantily clad.  One poor girl repeatedly photographed and texted “I Love You” spelled out with a variety of objects — chocolates, candy canes, Goldfish crackers.  I know about these photos because I check.  A lot of parents don’t.  I’m heartsick that for these girls, no one seems to be discussing self-respect and appropriate use of technology, and probably all sorts of other things too.

More to the point, though,  too many teens are free to use their devices without boundaries or guidance.  The result, it seems to me, is the crafting of a whole culture of self-consumed, image-obsessed, instant-gratification-seeking citizens.  Immediacy of everything is king.  Waiting of any kind is bad.  I worry about the fate of the good, hard work of face-to-face social interaction and conversation.  What about companionable silence?  What about the art of doing one thing at one time? What will happen to these important skills?

It’s hard to say.

Now is the time of year for retrospection.  According to the Oxford Dictionary, the word selfie has been so important to us culturally it’s 2013’s word of the year.  This sort of thing makes me feel I was born in the wrong time, and also feeds my sometimes unease that perhaps I’m just not seeing the world clearly.  I mean, if everybody’s doing it, maybe it has some merit. Maybe if I did IT, I would like IT.  Growth and change mean moving out of one’s comfort zone, after all.

Back in October, I decided I’d do a whole day of selfies, dawn-to-dusk.  First, I had to figure out my platform.  I wasn’t willing to have an Instagram or Snapchat account just for the sake of research, which probably means this wasn’t a valid experiment from the start.  But I was willing to text, so I enlisted my friend Heather.  We agreed to text each other all day to see if we could crack the code of what made selfing so attractive.

The next morning, my alarm rang at o’dark-thirty.  I used my phone alarm, so I could take a picture of myself still in bed, in the dark.  I picked it up and realized two things:  I had no idea how to use the camera directed the wrong way –where was that button anyway?– and also that I’d never taken a picture of myself.  Ever.  I HATE having my picture taken, which is plainly obvious in any picture with me in it.

John rolled over and pushed me to get out of his sleeping space.  “I know what you’re doing,” he said.  “It’s stupid.  Just don’t involve me.”

“But don’t you think it’ll be an interesting sociological experiment?  It might help us understand Owen better.”

“Get out of bed now, please.”

In the pre-dawn light, it occurred to me John was right.   What I’d signed us up to do was, frankly, kind of lame.  While I fumbled with the phone, thinking about calling it off, Heather texted a picture of herself waking up, so I went to the bathroom and took a bunch of pictures of brushing teeth.

Brushing Teeth

Because we couldn’t help ourselves, we also used lots of words, mostly about how foolish it felt to snap pictures of things like our ablutions.  Well, not all of them, just the ones involving teeth.

So the day began.

Heather’s two hours ahead of me.  One photo of brushing teeth is plenty.  Here’s one of her feeding the birds.  Look how excited she was to be involved in this research.  We were crushing it.

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There was get-the-paper selfie.  Drink-some-coffee selfie.  Start-some-laundry selfie.  Take-the-kids-to-school selfie.

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Another trawl through the interwebs informed the heap of options I’d already decided against taking pictures of:  my hair (a helfie), my backside (a belfie), my workout (a welfie, also called a gym selfie), my drunken stupor (a drelfie), and a funeral (a felfie?).

I opted for a kiss-a-beer selfie (my carrot later in the evening for doing this stupid experiment).

Running-with-the-dog selfie.  Maybe this qualifies as a welfie, except with no abs or mirrors –the rules about this one seem shifty.

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The dog-swimming-with-my-face-in-one-corner selfie.

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Each time I snapped a photo, I texted it right away.  Waiting for any kind of reply was excruciating.  Sometimes Heather took a whole twenty minutes to respond.  What the hell was she doing anyway, that she couldn’t make a quicker response?  Our experiment was serious business, social science.  Part of the deal was immediacy, because waiting is stupid.  I worried whether she’d aborted the mission, whether her heart was in it, whether she was offended by my zeal or thought my pictures were stupid. Later, in our debrief of the experiment, we discovered we’d been doing the same thing — snapping many pictures but not sending them all, worried that the barrage of photos would be annoying, anxious that we were overdoing it, ill at ease with completely embracing the selfie way of shouting PLEASE RESPOND TO ME.  I guess we’re not very good scientists.

By eleven that morning, I was running out of ideas.  I tried a duckface-gangster selfie, except mostly I looked deranged.  I mean, what grown woman pretends to be a gangster?

I sat down to get some work done and took some pictures of that.  (Don’t zoom in and read the words; I had to murder those darlings.)

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Then I tried to concentrate, but it was hard work because right next to me, the phone was silent.  What was she doing anyway? An hour later I took another picture of myself working, texted it again, and tried to concentrate some more.

Heather sent a picture of herself doing the same thing, and also, because she was running out of ideas, some words about why teenagers do stupid things in photos.  It seemed clear that when you’ve got your finger on the trigger all the time, OF COURSE you run out of material.

On a break from work, I googled selfie again and found an article by Alexandra Siferlin in TIME, “Why Selfies Matter.”  Siferlin suggests parents who are gripped about selfies need to unhinge themselves.  (Oh dear).  Selfies are just part of growing up in the digital age (shit).  What counts is to teach kids what KINDS of selfies are acceptable.  And then the article tacks south and basically says that selfies can be dangerous because:

A:  Kids don’t understand what’s an acceptable thing to take pictures of, even when you tell them (but hello, neither do plenty of adults.  I’m talking about you, Anthony Weiner).

B:  Selfies often make kids feel jealous and lonely when they see their friends doing what LOOKS like fun, and they are not.  This leads to risk-taking, potentially of the naughty kind.

And so, the jury’s out, maybe, still, on how all this digital stuff is shaping the next generations.

Back to the experiment, more hours passed.  All my pictures of working looked the same, so I stopped taking them until I left the house and had an experience worth documenting.

Later that day there were more driving-in-the-car selfies while I picked kids up from school.  A man in the car next to us at the stoplight caught us being idiots.  He shook his head and scowled.  When the light turned green, he sped up and cut me off.

Heather sent a driving-in-the-car selfie also.

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Back at home, Riley and I perfected the blowfish selfie.

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Then we did some yoga and took pictures of ourselves doing downward dog.  I can’t show those photos here because, in addition to our faces, the photo captures everything down the front of my gaping shirt.  Sharing them would violate our household acceptable use policy about privacy.  Our drumbeat of advice for the kids goes something like this:  Remember that there’s no privacy anymore.  Your technological presence is a PERMANENT DIGITAL RECORD. Let us be the voices in your head when you’re out in the world.  Also, while we’re on the subject of out in the world, remember that GENITAL HERPES can ruin your lives.  Please keep your pants on.

But.  I digress.

Like so many I see around me, I went through my whole day without letting the phone out of my sight.  Just in case there was a message responding to my message.  By dinnertime, I was weary of the mission, sick of myself and horrified by how much getting an instant response from one person had come to mean over the course of twelve hours.  What would happen if I expanded my recipient list?  Would I begin to move through my days, starting every sentence with I and forgetting to ask people questions about themselves? If I practiced this kind of relentless self-focus, would my frontal lobe leave my body, pinging around like a pleasure-seeking UFO that couldn’t find the mothership?

While dinner cooked, I flipped through a smutty magazine and enjoyed that carrot beer.  John came home and caught me snapping pictures of myself engaged in these two activities.

“Jesus.  You’re not really doing that are you?”

“What?  It’s research.  Come over by the fire and we’ll selfie together.  Although maybe if we’re both in it, we would dualie…”

“Oh great.  Now it’s a verb.”

Once John was home, I couldn’t experiment with the same verve.  It felt dirty somehow.  We ate dinner, and I left the phone in the other room, though I confess I did flirt with hiding it under the table in my lap.  Afterward, when I checked my texts, Heather had sent along a half-asleep-on-the-couch-and-goodnight selfie.

I took a last picture and sent it, quickly, while John announced from the kitchen that he was turning his phone OFF for the night and suggested I do the same.

Honestly, I needed someone to be the heavy and make some rules.  I was exhausted.

Categories: community, family, girls, kids, parenting, writing | Tags: , , , | 4 Comments

the shoulds

2012 India Trip #3 025

My feet and hands, a little rough and scarred with the miles, are evidence of my wonky pursuits.

Being pampered doesn’t often rank as a way to spend time, but last summer I tagged along with a friend to a salon so we could soak our feet, have the skin on our heels scrubbed with a cheese grater, get our nails painted.  Above the sound of the motorized massage chair and the bubbles in the foot bath, we chatted, catching up while flipping through smutty magazines.  On a stool below me, a very small woman set to work on my feet, clucking about the dead toenails and calluses (thank you, running).  Ill at ease with the perch on my vibrating throne, I tried to engage her in conversation, made difficult by my general discomfort in salons, and also by the language barrier.

When I asked her about her day, she smiled and shook her head and pointed to the bottle of polish I’d picked.  “Empty,” she said, and then went to find another.

After that, I gave myself over to the experience of having my lower legs rubbed with exfoliating scrub and the pedicurist’s deft hands loosening up a tight calf muscle.

Next to us in the bank of chairs sat another woman, older by twenty years or so, who greeted us when we arrived and then sat reading a magazine while her feet were worked over.  Her long, white hair was tied back in a loose ponytail.

A half hour later, we all sat around the drying table together, cotton wedged between our toes, our flip flops on.  It was June.  The kids were about to be out of school, a busy time for families.  My friend and I were lamenting our long list of things to accomplish before summer officially began.

At a lull in our conversation, the white-haired woman leaned toward us and said, “I used to talk the same way.”

We assumed she was referring to our kavetching about kids, summer, or the eighty-seven end-of-year projects and parties.

“But one day,” she went on, “this wonderful friend of mine said to me, ‘Why do you do that?’”

In the pause that followed, I filled in the blanks for what she meant by that. Why did we make ourselves so busy?  Why did we bitch about our kids in public?  Why were we talking about Hollywood stars as if we knew them?

She leaned down and disentangled the cotton from her purple toes, then sat back up.  “Think about it this way,” she said, “there is what you need to do, and there is what you want to do.  But should?  This is a word you can take out of your vocabulary.”

“It sounds good,” my friend said, “but I have a big-ass list of things I should do today.  I definitely don’t want to do them.”

“Yeah,” I chimed in.  “I don’t know if I could break up with should.  I mean, what would I complain about?”

I considered her perspective, doubting its merit.  My life was full of what I should be doing instead of getting a pedicure.  Like playing hooky, escaping from the shoulds was part of the thrill.  In truth, the weight of my obligations felt heavy.  I’d been thinking for months about how to disconnect gracefully from several commitments, which involved going head to head with my guilt-lined Lutheran upbringing.  It’s an ugly, ongoing skirmish.  Also, I was kind of pissed.  I mean, I went to the shop with my friend to relax and not feel shitty, and here was this woman life-coaching me.  Who did she think she was anyway?

The white-haired woman nodded.  She reached into her purse and took out her wallet.  “Those are probably things you need to do. Go to work, clean the house, pick up your kids, make dinner.  Right?”

“But I should do them,” my friend said.

Gathering her things together, the woman shook her head.   “Try it, girls.  It’s very freeing.  Now I think of the world in a totally different way.  Before, I spent a lot of my time fulfilling the obligation of should.  It takes practice not to, because we’ve all been at this kind of thinking for, well, our whole lives.”  She paid the gal who’d worked up her feet, waved a goodbye to us, and left the shop.

My friend and I sat looking at each other for a moment.  “I bet she cruises the nail shop circuit,” she said. “She’s like a salon prophet or something.”

“Or full of shit,” I said.  “And also clearly has no relentlessly hungry kids to feed.  Probably gets her toilets cleaned by someone else.”

After we left the shop, I filed this encounter away, chocking the white-haired woman’s advice up to a world view of someone who didn’t pressure herself too much.  The bored rich.  A woman who read a lot of self-help stuff and hired out for every last thing.

Except I didn’t really believe that.  I kind of liked her calm, self-assured way of being, and also that she hadn’t dyed her hair or cut it super short to tame the wire out of it.  She seemed like someone I might be friends with.  We’d only had a few minutes’ exchange with her, but her words worm-holed within me all summer and into fall.  I couldn’t say should without thinking of her, without pausing to reframe my sentiment and edit out the shoulds.

Lately, John and I have been talking with Owen about choosing a college, about what he’d like to do in the world.  Our advice to him has always been to seek a path of joy and fulfillment, as well as one that will make him a living.  Every time we have this conversation with Owen, though, I can’t help but think to myself about the similar, parallel path of partnering need and want.

At the risk of seeming like a white-haired lady groupie, it occurs to me that fulfillment comes when want and need intersect in a singular pursuit or practice, and that this is a rare, precious thing.

Of course, it’s hard to hit the right groove all the time.  The dailyness of life isn’t all rainbow brilliant, shot full of light and unicorns and feel-goodery and self-worth.  My kids make me crazy. The state of the world is scary.  Fully in touch with my inner bitch, I’m not nearly as patient, loving or kind as I aim to be.

But living with purpose serves me well most of the time.  I need and want to raise thinking, compassionate kids in the world.  I need and want to write.  I need and want to garden, to know how to do things for myself, to be a good friend, to travel and know the world, to go outside and teach kids how to do the same.  There’s little room for should in any of these passions.

I haven’t quite been able to get to the same level of bliss about cleaning, driving or laundry, but it could come for me someday.

Meanwhile, in this season of thanks, I’ll sit down to the table with my family, enjoy a meal we’ve all pitched in to prepare, and know as certainly as I know anything that I both need and want to be spending my time this way.

2013 November 067

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you don’t get what you don’t ask for

Until last week, for several weeks, our air space was jammed with the frequency of Homecoming:  the powder puff football game and which class had the strongest athletes, then the “real” football game (actual words used by actual boys) and whether we’d defeat our rivals, then the dance, which was the most painful part, a reminder of how complicated being young is.  It was both entertaining and excruciating to watch Owen begin to understand the gaping maw between his prevailing view that the world is a black and white place – easy to legislate, govern, and operate within if adults would just move over and let teenagers be in charge – and a growing sense that maybe life is not that simple after all.

The real sport of Homecoming was negotiating the dance.  The pre-game show began weeks before the event as boys negotiated amongst themselves which girls to ask and how.  On our way to swim practice each night, Owen’s friends debriefed.

Here is a sample conversation from the car (A conversation highly similar to this was reenacted every night for at least two weeks):

B:               You should ask Emma because she’s going to say no to Brian and she will say yes to you.

Owen:       But I want to ask Izzy.

D:                Dude, you can’t ask Izzy.  Tim’s asking her.

Owen:        But what if I ask Izzy before Tim does?

B:                You can’t do that because Tim already told us he’s asking her.  It’s like stealing.  Not cool.

Owen:        But what if I do?

D:                Don’t do it, man.  That’s lame.  You should ask Emma.

Owen:       You should go with Emma.

D:                I can’t go with Emma.  She’s super quiet and so am I and nobody would talk all night.

B:                D’s going to ask Jane because she talks a lot.  She’ll make it fun.  And you should ask Emma.

Owen:        I don’t know.  I want to go with Izzy.  What if I ask Kate?

B:                Dude.  I’m asking Kate.  D’s asking Jane.  You should ask Emma.  It’ll be fun, I promise.  Plus, you just got here, so you need us to  help you understand them.

Owen:        Them who?

B:                 Girls, dumbass.

There was a long pause while we waited to turn left into the pool parking lot.  It sounded settled to me.  We pulled up to the front door and the boys loitered in the car, gathering up their gear bags.

Owen:         So.  I can’t ask Izzy?  I mean.  For sure Tim knows WE know he’s going to ask?

B:                  You kind of suck at this game.

Once they’d settled the girl question, the issue of the ASK descended.  My recollection, which may be wrong, is that being asked to Homecoming used to go something like this:

(Written on a note passed to me in history with Doritos stains on one corner):

Wanna go to the dance with me?


(Written on a note shoved inside the slats of my locker door)

Will you go to Homecoming with me? Check yes or no and bring it to English.


In those days, which Owen tells me were uninspired, boys didn’t ask girls in person.  It was almost always on a note, or through a friend, and in this way not much has changed since the dark ages.  Except that now part of THE ASK has to be creative, thoughtful, unique.  A big statement that others see, a “treat” meant to impress with a sugary crust of embarrassment.

Me:            So, you’re going with Emma.

Owen:       Yes.  Not Izzy because she said yes to Tim.

Me:               I see.  Have you asked Emma yet?

Owen:        Not yet.  I have to figure out how to do it.

Me:             I see.  You mean, when you’ll have a chance to see her to ask her?

Owen:       No.  It’s not like that.  You have to DO something.  Like creative.

Me:             Like creative how?

Owen:        I was thinking about putting a piñata in her front yard?  Inside would be candy and a bunch of ASKS wrapped around the candy, and when she breaks it open, it all falls out?

Me:             I see.  So you’re going to find all that at the store, then wrap each candy with papers that say something clever, then put the candy inside the piñata, then take it to her house after asking her parents and then hang it on a tree in the front yard and leave a stick or a bat to whack it open with?  By tomorrow?

Owen:        Geez.  You make it sound like such a big deal.  Also.   I thought you might help me do it.

Me:              But I’m not going to the dance with Emma.

Owen:         Mawwwwmmm.  I’m just brainstorming here.  I’m supposed to do something creative.  Can’t you just help me think of something, you know, clever?

Me:             What about just asking her?

At this point he left the room, shaking his head.

As Owen deliberated, his friends settled in on their ASK.  They pushed the ASK date ahead.  B bought a betta fish (also known as a Siamese fighting fish) and left it in a tank in Kate’s room with a speech balloon asking her to the dance.  It was an interesting choice – given the known aggressive nature of this species, which is not a “schooling” fish but one that prefers solitude and without it will fight— but I wisely kept my thoughts on metaphor to myself. D put some pink flamingoes in Jane’s front yard with a poster asking her to boogie with him, which was also funny because D had confessed to me that he hates to dance.

B and D waited for Owen to figure out his ASK, and then they all agreed to go forth and ASK on the same day.

The night before the ASK:

Owen:           I’m sick of brainstorming.  I’m just going to get some flowers and leave them in Emma’s locker.

Me:                 Sounds good.  How will you get her combination?

Owen:            B’s getting it.  Will you get me some flowers today?

Me:                 Sorry, pal.  That’s your job.  You can walk over to the shopping center and choose some.  We’ll put them in water until you’re ready.

Owen:            Wait.  I have to do it?

Me:                 Yes, sir.  Because Emma is not my date.  Take your wallet.  Please don’t get carnations; they’re grandma flowers.

Off Owen went to flower shop at the market, where he chose six red roses, proudly brought them home remarking on the deal he got, then threw them on the counter, sighing with relief.  I felt bad, having sent him into battle with so little information.  We had a nice chat about the loud statement a flower like the red rose makes in the romantic world, at the end of which he just shrugged and said, “I’m not going to marry her or anything.  They’re just flowers.”  And that was that.

We hadn’t even gotten to costuming yet, and I was already exhausted.  The boys all chose bow ties.  Those had to match the dresses.  Emma’s mom picked Owen up after school one day and off they went to the mall to choose a bow tie that matched the champagne color in Emma’s dress.  I can only imagine what this must have been like for Owen – shopping, which he hates, with a girl he hardly knew and her mother who was in charge of choosing part of his outfit.  For my part, I was relieved, since I also hate shopping.  He came home with a bow tie that cost forty dollars and went to bed early that night.

Then began negotiations about dinner and which restaurant would be good for a party of 12.  B was in charge of reservations, and there was a lot of conversation in the car about the automatic gratuity for parties so large and whether it was a scam.  Then there was the issue of transportation.  As sophomores, many of them not yet driving, they decided it was totally uncool to have parents ferrying them around.  They booked a limo, and Owen was in charge of organizing that.  Meanwhile, his stash of earned cash was dwindling.

We expect him to use his own money for many things, and this policy has been instrumental in his more thoughtful and miserly approach to spending, for which I am grateful.  There’s nothing like having some skin in the game of spending to learn about money management.  I suggested he and Emma split the tab for the night and was told that’s not how you do it.  When I asked him why, he shrugged and said, “I guess that’s just how it works.  I think the girls pay when there’s a Sadie Hawkins dance or something, except I’m not sure we have that kind of dance at our school.”

We paid for the clothes, but the tickets, dinner, flowers and transportation were up to him.  It was hard to watch him struggle with how much the night would cost and whether it was worth it.  He wisely kept to himself any bitterness he harbored about his friends’ parents’ footing the entire bill for the time.

By the time the actual dance arrived, and we’d learned how to tie a bow tie courtesy of YouTube, and gotten more flowers, and showed up early to the garden of friend’s house to take pictures, my boy seemed to have lost the bounce in his bungee.  But he rallied.

The night was a success, thankfully, and Emma proved to be a fun date, though the next morning over breakfast Owen confessed he was glad it was over.

Owen:          Now I can focus on swimming and school.  I think my math grade has dropped.

Me:               Was it worth it, do you think?

He chewed his bagel and thought a minute.

Owen:         I think so.  I mean, we could have had a dance without all that, you know, stuff.  It was a lot of stress.  Plus, I’m broke now.  Life is expensive, you know?

Me:              I do know.

He shook his head and opened the sports page and we were quiet for a minute.

Owen:        I mean, I’m just not sure about events where the boy has to pay for the whole thing.  It’s like you say.  Where’s the skin in the game if someone else is paying for you? I just don’t know about it.

I kept to myself all the things I wanted to say, or the high-five I itched to give him, or how I’d asked myself that same question more than a few times.

Me:             What if I come up with a creative ASK for cleaning the bathroom and washing the car?  It’s a paying gig.

Owen:        Okay.  You can skip the flowers and candy, though.

2013 September 057

Categories: kids, parenting, writing | Tags: , | 8 Comments

feeling young at heart has gotten me this far

For several years my running pals tried to woo me into running a marathon with them.  I was diplomatic in my rejections – that kind of training would ruin my already fractured writing life; I was worried it would turn running into a job; I really liked the half marathon distance.  Also, I’d been at the finish line of other marathons cheering friends on, and what I’d witnessed there was a lot of crying.  More than a few runners would cross the finish line, get their foil blanket thingy, and then break down, some of them falling down, sobbing.  It didn’t seem like the kind of activity for me.

At some point last year around my birthday, when I was feeling fragile and mid-life-crisis-y, I realized I COULD run a marathon if I wanted to, and that I probably SHOULD do it soon since I wasn’t getting any younger.  Just once.  The sisterhood could drag me across the finish line if it came to that.  I signed up and paid the eye-watering registration fee for the pleasure of torturing myself.  And also for some pretty good bling at the finish line, according to my friends.

So began the training.  It was thrilling to declare and strive for such an ambitious goal.  I spent a lot of time in the woods, running on back roads and trails, and the marathon was a good excuse to stay in the forest longer.

Then the long Sunday runs began.  15 miles.  17 miles.  18 miles.  20 miles.  Allotting that much time of course was an issue, though we made a point to begin early in the morning and be finished before lunch.  We staged water and fuel stops.  Even when someone wasn’t feeling great, someone else was, and that person would chat the rest of us along until we were finished.  Almost worse than the runs themselves was the week of dread leading up to them.  There was no sleeping in the day of a long run.  We had to beat the heat.  So each week I stared down three or four or more hours of running that began before dawn.

I tried to keep the whining to a minimum, because, really, you sound like kind of an asshole when you complain about something you’ve chosen to do on purpose.  It occurred to me not too far into the journey that most people would be hard-pressed to devote enough hours for such a feat, and that I was lucky to be able to make the time.

We trained through the spring and summer together, while I battled the dreaded Piriformis Syndrome.  There’s a smart medical definition, but the short version is this:  there’s a muscle in your ass that can wreak havoc up into your back, down into your hamstrings and calves, and through your groin and inner thighs if you are fond of   long-distance running or prolonged sitting, both of which I was enjoying in copious amounts between running and writing.  Some days my legs felt so tight it was like wearing a really tight climbing harness while running.  The Piriformis announces itself for many runners, especially if they are not good at stretching.  Which I am not.  Because I used to be able to do athletic events off the couch, and really, feeling young at heart has gotten me this far.

I forced myself to be better at stretching, and it worked.  For a while.

After I moved and was without my posse, I wasn’t nearly so diligent at either stretching or running.  I’d get up late and have to run in the blistering heat, then get bored almost at my goal of 20 miles and stop at 17.  Or 14.  I’d go for a swim in the river instead.  I drank more beer than I should have – not during running (Well.  There was that one time…), but after.  To rehydrate.  I’d lie down to stretch when I got home and then get distracted by something shiny – People Magazine or gardening or the dog biting at my head.  Meanwhile, the big day loomed.

The day of event bands along the route and the big-hearted crowd with their snacks and cheers and good will felt more like Carnival than an athletic event.  There were aid stations every two miles with electrolytes, gummy bears, pretzels.  I had my running pals, some friends who jumped in to run along the way, my cousin, and others who had Cheezits just when I needed them.

Running Gang Before the Event.

Running Gang Before the Event

My old nemesis Piriformis announced herself at the beginning of the race, but not so badly I couldn’t ignore her.  Besides, it was entirely my fault she was still with me.  Until about mile 19, life was good.  7 miles to go and the harness was cinching and there was another hour of running and I couldn’t remember why I thought running a marathon was a good idea or even fun.  Crying, quitting, hitchhiking with that nice motorcycle guy who weaves in and out of the race, or joining one of the front yard red solo cup beer parties all seemed like reasonable choices.

But there I was, doing my just once marathon, my one and done, and I’d be damned if I was going to quit.  I wasn’t the only one feeling the burn.  Around mile 21 people around me began to walk, limp, stretch, lie down, you name it, it was happening.  One guy was throwing up gummy bears into the bushes.  Another took off his shoes, threw them on the sidewalk, and kept running in nothing but socks.

My cousin stuck with me, and I did more listening than talking; I don’t remember much about the last five miles, and then we were across the finish line, and someone was draping the foil blanket around my shoulders, and someone else gave me a medal, and I followed the line of finishers to the food station.  My friends and I wandered like zombies, dried sweat crystals on our faces and our lips pale.

I remembered about the crying from other events and understood, finally, that the tears are born out of relief and gratitude and exhaustion and exertion.  I didn’t cry but I did sit down and watch other runners making their way through the feed zone.  Only a few were crying.  Wrapped in their blankets, dazed, most of them looked as if they’d sustained some kind of trauma.

Friends have told me that after their first few marathons, they were so burned out they couldn’t bring themselves to run again for several months.  This urge hasn’t come for me.  What’s followed the event is pride in finishing, even though it took longer than I’d hoped, and a deep gratitude for running pals — I’d probably have abandoned the mission without them.  After a few days I hit the trail and shook out my legs.  They felt surprisingly good.

Still, I think I’m going to hang up my marathon shoes, stretch more and dump that bitch Piriformis, get back to the kind of running I love best – on the trails, with the dog, without a watch.  It’s a good pace for living.

Categories: girls, running, writing | Tags: , | 4 Comments

Harvest of People

Each new year I engage in the secret, irrational hope of making resolutions.  My good intentions usually last until about March, although each year I hope will be the exception, when I make it all the way to December.  Maybe 2013 will be it.  I hope so.  This year the list looks like it generally does, a collection of rusted resolves from previous years and some new ones too. They’re written on post-its that have already lost their sticky-power; I keep finding them on the floor or attached to the bottoms of my socks.  Probably, there should be fewer than ten and I should keep them to myself, but I’m still in the honeymoon period, encouraged by the way sharing them might help them to survive:

  1. practice the Zora way = more wag & less bark
  2. learn to play guitar
  3. run a marathon
  4. do at least 10 minutes of core per day (before you stick your head inside the computer; how hard can it be?)
  5. write
  6. write
  7. finish a draft of a novel
  8. be grateful
  9. be humble
  10. be centered

Now, almost at the end of January, I have resolve still in the tank, though the guitar has been swapped out for a ukulele.  I’m awful at it.  I watch You-Tube videos to keep myself motivated.  Maybe by spring I’ll be able to strum something that sounds like a song.

I’m trying not to spend too much time looking ahead, but it’s dark and cold and gray.  Blessedly, the days are getting longer.  It’s time to start mapping out the garden, order seeds, and calculate what my soil will grow.   With spring in the wings, it’s a little hard to practice living centered in the now, especially when a whole lot of the now, honestly, is pretty painful.  Having to explain to my kids why friends lose their jobs, or get cancer, or decide to divorce, what the hell the deal is with Twitter, or why bullies have such power, or why there are all those empty desks in Connecticut, leaves me feeling inadequate to the task.  We must learn to rub along with people of all kinds, I say to them.  Some relationships are for business, others are toxic and teach you about boundaries and knowing yourself.  Some relationships are for friendship, some are for love, some fall away.  It’s all part of the deal, I tell them.  Our job is to acknowledge that we can’t control other people or their responses to the world, we can only be in charge of ourselves.  But they’re kids; they think I’m not hearing them well enough.  They want life to be decipherable, literal, with rules they can anticipate and apply.

I try, always, to end these hard conversations with what we are grateful for –the winter wren; books and chocolate; our chickens, who press themselves in a heap against the glass of the slider doors, asking to come inside and be with us when it’s cold; the woods; the tangle of people we hold dear in our lives, for whom we have fierce love.  But some days, when the world feels bleak, and when my advice is cold comfort for kids working to make sense of the world, digging for gratitude is damn hard.

Before the new year a poem by Max Coots arrived in the mail from a friend.   Max is someone I’d never heard of, but his words — grounded, grateful, funny– made me want to invite him over for dinner or a glass of wine.   I asked Uncle Google about him and discovered he died in 2009 after a long, rich life as a Renaissance Man.  A Unitarian Universalist minister, a sculptor of gargoyles (this, alone, is enough to make me half fall in love with him), a poet, and a gardener, Reverend Max was the kind of guy who spent his life working to embody my resolutions.  Maybe not the ukulele or the ten minutes of core, but it seems to me he was the kind of spirit I aim to be.

Anyway, here’s to Max, to the journey resolutions bring, to sowing seeds — real and metaphoric–with kids, to a garden of friends, and to gratitude:


Max Coots

Let us give thanks for a bounty of people:

For generous friends, with smiles as bright as their blossoms.

For feisty friends as tart as apples;

For continuous friends who, like scallions and cucumbers, keep reminding us that we’ve had them.

For crotchety friends, as sour as rhubarb and as indestructible;

For handsome friends, who are as gorgeous as eggplants and as elegant as a row of corn; and the others as plain as potatoes and as good for you.

For friends as unpretentious as cabbages, as subtle as summer squash, as persistent as parsley, as endless as zucchini, and who, like parsnips, can be counted on to see you through the winter.

For old friends, nodding like sunflowers in the evening-time.

For young friends, who wind around like tendrils and hold us.

We give thanks for friends now gone, like gardens past that have been

harvested, but who fed us in their times that we might live.


Categories: community, gardening, writing | Tags: , , , | 5 Comments

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