Sunday, November 12, 2023
Friday, November 10, 2023
I came home from school on a bleak March day, overcast, sodden.
Snowdrops huddled in clumps, heads together, silently enduring wet drops
Rolling off their white hats.
I put on the kettle as the radiators quietly rattled and steamed
Cat stretching and hopping off her chair to see about kibbles.
Taking the leather carrier I walked to the woodpile,
Piled in too many logs as I do with logs generally
And the carrier clumped and bumped against my legs painfully
As I dragged it into the house, piled them into the woodbox,
returned to the cold to scavenge for kindling.
Twisting newspapers, laying sticks, striking matches-
Matches, plural, because it is hard
To master match-striking.
The fire curls up into the twigs with small swirling whisps of smoke
The kettle sings loudly in the kitchen
And then I sit and do my homework or read my book
With my own pot of tea
And my own English muffin
Sharp aged cheddar brown and bubbling on top from the oven
Logs shifting in the fireplace and popping and crackling
And under the grate the embers are glowing brightly
By the time my mother comes home.
Monday, November 6, 2023
Right now there is a powerful article from NPR that I highly suggest you go and read if you want to have a bit of hope in humanity in the midst of this terrible, brutal war between Israel and Hamas that is shattering life after life. This quote from the article is spoken by Oded Adomi Leshem:
"Think about a small flame of a candle," he suggests. "If the room is lit with daylight, then the light from this small candle doesn't really influence anything. But when the room is dark, then suddenly the light of the candle has some meaning."
We need candles in these times. My brain needs candles. My anxiety levels have been creeping higher than they’ve been in a long time. Intrusive thoughts about shooters and bombings and threats to my children zing around leaving trails of adrenaline. I am blessed with, or suffer from, depending on the situation, extremely high levels of empathy for others in pain. This naturally orients me toward prayer: good. Being unable to function well from the pain of what I hear and see of Palestinian and Israeli “normal people” suffering: really hard. Images of what Israeli families suffered on Oct 7th and the images of suffering Palestinians now seer my heart. The normal people who love their families and kids and want to live in peace and work and eat and go to the beach. The majority, in other words, not the zealots and fundamentalists and terrorists who are the minority but hold all the weapons.
Some people may disagree with me about anyone over there being “normal” and longing to live in peaceful coexistence with the “enemy.” You can go back and read that article and decide if you believe the polls. I’m going to believe my friends on the ground in these places who long for peace and friendship with their fellow normal people on the other side, though who knows how these events of this last month have affected them, will affect them, after all is said and done? It would be completely understandable for them to be feeling hostility and fury at this point. And yet, this article shows us that some are choosing differently. Refusing to be pulled into hatred, steadfastly holding to empathy by the teeth while every reasonable factor suggests they should be consumed by bitterness.
I’m taking a break from my obsessive news consumption for a bit. I bought a book of Mary Oliver’s nature poems at the thrift store today and I read them this afternoon with the golden light streaming through the forest canopy and squirrels rustling in the fallen leaves. The air is still but directly above my head, high in the sky above the giant tulip poplar, a hawk circles on the thermals with utmost laziness.
I want to make poems while thinking of
the bread of heaven and the
cup of astonishment; let them be
songs in which nothing is neglected,
not a hope, not a promise. (Mary Oliver)
Yesterday I took the bread of heaven and the cup of astonishment into my own soul at the altar, given by the blessed stand-ins for the Lord himself, women of our church dressed in white robes, speaking eternal truths to my heart of Who I belong to forever, bound in unbreakable chains of love to his side. Week after week these men and women dressed in white give me this spiritual food and tell me not to lose hope. Stand fast, take courage, remember, remember, whose body and blood this is, given for me. The storming waves crash on the sharp rocks in the night but I am held fast. It is written on my heart and your heart that love and goodness and joy will win.
Maoz Inon, Oded Adomi Leshem, Dr. Lina Qasem Hassan, Robi Damelin, Yousef Bashir and his parents- thank you. Thank you for being candle-lights of shalom for us in these dark days. May the light and peace of God surround and uphold you through every day to come.
Thursday, November 2, 2023
If you are like me, you’ve spent almost a month now in a haze of astonished horror at the level of evil we humans are unleashing on one another in the lands on the eastern shores of the Mediterranean. It’s frankly scary to say anything or give any opinion for fear of being misunderstood or drowned in a chorus of but-what-abouts, and yet silence feels wrong, too.
I wrote a poem tonight that does not even begin to encompass the grief I feel for scared and grieving Jewish friends, the mothers and fathers holding dead children in the ruins of Gaza, for peacemakers witnessing years of trust-building shattered, and for hearts so scarred by the indoctrination of evil that they think bringing about terror and death is actually approved of by their Creator. My prayers are with them all.
We know what is right
We know what side to be on
We proclaim it loudly in the streets and on the screen
While others die and bleed and fight.
Tuesday, May 9, 2023
|In case you were wondering what a
"millrace" is and how one would sit
The smell of a river- is the smell of my childhood living across the street from one. It is the smell of languid summer days canoeing- oh how lucky I am that I got to spend so much of my childhood in a canoe with a friend gliding through dappled green glades with a wood thrush singing! My memory of having chicken pox is not so bad- because I was lying in the bottom of a boat on cushions while my mother paddled us quietly under willows and tall sycamores. There were days spent on an innertube put in below the millrace and watching startled turtles plop into the water and herons take flight and baking on top of the tube in the sun and cooling off in the deep spots by hanging on to the back and floating in the current. Or getting right IN to the millrace and letting the water flow over my head while sitting on the water-moss covered flat surface below it.
There is honeysuckle blooming right near our backdoor right now. I pull out this invasive foreigner constantly- it likes to take over and strangle anything native that might want to try to grow- but I think I will always have to leave a little to make our springtime that much more glorious. This smell is the smell of nighttime of my childhood and teen years. Leaning out my window in the moonlight taking huge gulps of that sweetness and imagining I am Juliet and thinking about romance. The soundtrack for this memory is Mozart Concerto for Flute Harp and Orchestra in C major, K 299, Andante, which I listened to ten million times at night with the honeysuckle blooming and I still consider one of the most glorious pieces of music in existence.
Even the faintest hint of woodsmoke in the air will summon the delights of family camping trips- especially that one in the Finger Lakes on our way to Ontario where it was freezing and and we ate borscht that my mom had prepared and frozen to be camp food. Eating hot steaming borscht when you are freezing next to a campfire is top notch. Woodsmoke is also the smell of walks in the cold air and going inside with cold noses and having tea by the fire and maybe even fresh scones and jam and clotted cream that your fabulous friend's mom made and cats coming to get in your lap.
The hot sun warming up the plants in an Appalachian mountain clearing where there are ripe blueberries- that is the smell of family weekend hikes in our favorite northwestern NJ spots. Grass and wild onions and dirt- that's my mom digging a new vegetable garden on a windy day in early spring. Hot attic air smell- the hours I spent playing in the long huge attic that covered the length of our big old colonial house- creating huge barbie doll living spaces with a combination of 60's and 70s's hand-me-down barbie furniture and accessories from my older sisters and all kinds of other stuff found in corners of the attic. Musty earthy smell- the root cellar below the kitchen where not much was stored because it was too damp but still an interesting place to play occasionally. There are other smells that I can't exactly identify but the memory is attached- the smell that says "Jurgen's house in Germany when I was six." Or a smell that is the smell of a loved person long gone. And smells that don't have a specific attachment but have all the good feelings- like apple pie baking in the oven makes the whole world a wonderful place.
Bad smells? Oh yes, they exist. Formaldehyde- instant reminder of intense headaches after high school biology class dissection labs and the awfulness of death. But most bad smells aren't attached to an evocative memory, thankfully. I just hate them. Strong perfumes and air fresheners and new cars and carpets. Chemical smells. No thank you! They can be so powerful and headache-inducing that I'll do anything to get away from them. Even the most offensive natural smells are far preferable to those. Yep, a dog fart over a new carpet- I'll take it. Even though dog farts might send me fleeing the room just as much as the next person they won't give me a headache and the sensation that evil incarnate is trying to poison the world. There's a few chemical exceptions- like the smell of faint perfume and cigarette smoke clinging to clothing because that is the smell of my mother coming in to check on me after a date night out with my dad (when it was legal to smoke in restaurants so even if you weren't smoking, you still came out smelling like it), and now I could go to sleep because my mom was home.
I like to keep my coffee beans in the fridge because when I take them out to gring them I love to inhale the cold coffee air that instantly transports me to the blizzard years of high school of endless snow-days off from school and going down to the little coffeeshop that was the hangout of local teens and opening the door and coffee smell flooding out and playing chess with my dear friend and then walking down to the river to look at the magical ice formations hanging from the cliffs and sparkling in the below-zero sunny weather.
If I could imagine a perfect museum it would be a museum of smell. Different species of pine trees in the hot sun. Smell samples of grandparents houses. Restaurants of the world. Schools on the last day of the school year when it's hot and humid and summer freedom is about to ensue. The wooly-hay-manure smell of a sheep barn. Arizona desert after a rain when mesquite smell fills the air. Coyote bush on a hot California hillside by the ocean.
Do you have smell memories to share? Please, do! Also welcome: ideas for the Smell Museum.
Saturday, March 18, 2023
|My dad and his brother and the family cats.
I don't know whether this is true or not. I think the theory makes a lot of sense. We've certainly believed in using screentime limits for our kids. I'm always trying to figure out how to spend less time on my phone and constantly backsliding. There's lots of other things I want to do with my time and the phone gets a hold on me and my brain and I don't want to transition into "up and at 'em" mode. I'm like that with pretty much anything that engages me, whether I'm in the midst of an art project, playing music, reading, zoning out in the nice warm shower, or weeding my garden. Don't take me away! I see another weed! I just have to finish this chapter... and read a little in the next so I'm not left on a cliffhanger!
However, the point about imagination not developing because of screens? Maybe? But I do have friends with kids who really don't put any restrictions on time with devices and those are some of those most freaking imaginitive kids I know. They spend a lot of time on their screens but also seem to be playing dress-up and inventing things and getting incredibly dirty outside.
So, I guess my opinion on this is fairly wobbly. My youngest gets a lot more time on his devices (still with limits) than my oldest did, who is always ready to point out this proof of parental fallibility. He had to make do with 5 thirty-minute screen-time tickets per week when he was a certain age, and decide how he was going to budget his time. Poor kid. He was so deprived.
But I can tell you ONE way to develop a brilliant imagination and it DOES have to do with high levels of boredom. Here it is:
Be born in the 1940s, have a case of strep throat that doesn't get treated with antibiotics and turns into rhematic fever which damages your aortic heart valve which causes you to spend much of your childhood in bed.
Yeah, that's the idea you were looking for, right? That was my dad as a kid. A man with an incredibly brilliant imagination. A great storyteller, master of silliness, fabulous writer of the best silly cat songs. And I have a strong suspicion his childhood of being made to stay in bed had a lot do do with it. Of course he made do with the electronic entertainment available to him at the time: radio shows, for example. But there certainly wasn't an infinte selection of shows for kids all day long. They only came on at certain times on certain stations. He read a lot books. His favorites were books with talking animals: the Thornton W. Burgess Books (The Tale of _________. Insert appropriate animal- Grandfather Frog, Jerry Muskrat, Billy Possum, Reddy Fox), all the Freddy the Pig books. Cowboy adventures, Tarzan adventures- those were good too. His father gave him a big world atlas and he spend untold hours poring over all the lands of the world, marking out routes for adventures he wanted to go on. And he loved his stuffed animals! One of the favorite games he played with his stuffed animals was to use them as cat-teasers. He would tie a long string to them and dangle them out his bedroom window as one of the family cats came strolling by.
When I was sick as a child, he taught me a game he used to play in bed: Bedcovers Zoo. First, get out your collection of plastic miniature animals. Then put your top blanket over your head to create your own personal tent. You'll note that the next blanket or sheet underneath is all wrinkled around your legs. If you want to sit cross-legged, that's fine, but make sure there's lots of wrinkles all around you. Use these wrinkles as the walls of the enclosures for a zoo for all your minature animals! There's plenty of room for everyone to have their own area, and they can visit back and forth and talk to each other- it's really good for a full day of play. Then you have to convince your mother to let you have your chicken soup and saltine crackers in your personal tent on your bed. That's a little harder.
Really, I have no moral or wise parenting advice to offer about the use of screens in childhood. But I think that maybe kids figure out how be kids in nearly any circumstances.Sometimes they need help with moderation in all things, if that's your motto (thanks, Hesiod). Maybe my grandma used to come in and say "now Christopher, I think you've spent enough time reading Freddy the Pig today, it's time to dangle your stuffed animals out the window" but I kind of doubt it.
To be perfectly honest, the whole point of today's post was not to have an Impotant Talk About Screentime but to tell you how cool my dad is. Because he is.
Saturday, January 21, 2023
Well isn't this so typical- I go for months without writing and then- two days in a row. My passionate interests and desires to do things come in spurts of intensity. I suddenly remember today how good it was writing yesterday and I want to do more. Tomorrow I might build on this momentum and write again- or, distracted by the sheet music on my desk and my viola on its stand on my dresser- decide to record some chamber music that is me playing all the parts. That is really fun. I also have winter seeds to plant and invasive vines I want to rip out while they are dormant. Books to read, a new banana recipe to bake, art ideas- let's just say that when I have free time boredom is never, ever, an issue. Three kids, husband, two dogs and two ailing parents with dementia for whom I am the medical power of attorney- you might ask what have I to do with free time? Yes, I am always behind on things and forgetting things. But I can't help it. My interests intrude and insist on luring me out of responsibilities into joyful creative places. And I wouldn't trade that for anything. I don't think I could still be sane right now otherwise. Joy is a good buffer against the hardness of life on earth.
One of the things I did in this last week while sick was watch all 16 episodes of the Korean Drama "Because This Is My First Life." As far as K-dramas go it wasn't one of my favorites. But the lead female actress, Jung So-Min, reminded me so much of a childhood friend that I've lost touch with that I haven't been able to stop thinking about her. Yes, to me, Jung So-Min looks like the Korean edition of Abby. No, if you happen to be one of my childhood-era readers that knew Abby and you go look up Jung So-Min, you probably won't see the resemblance. But after 16 hours of watching her I began to remember Abby's face and expressions vividly. Thinking about Abby goes well with my ponderings about living with ADHD because I'll venture to say that she probably had/has it too, in the much more culturally recognizable form. I flew under the radar for my whole childood and young adult life with not an ounce of an idea that my struggles fit neatly into the category of "Inattentive Type ADHD." I was quiet, Abby was not. I was very cautious, Abby was not. But aside from those two qualities I can see that we were very, very similar, which is probably why we were such good friends.
We were both very impulsive, though my impulsivity was restrained by fear and caution so it wasn't nearly as visible. She didn't seem to have those restraining factors and I often remember pulling her back by her collar from the edge of a canyon, so to speak (Abby was a metaphorical "let's try hang-gliding with this new invention I built this morning!"). I can see her high up in the limbs of the enormous old Norway maple behind by house, with me below pleading for her to come down, absolutely certain that she was on the verge of plunging to her death. I have no idea where Abby is today, but if she is anything like she was as a kid, her hobbies probably involve sky-diving, swimming with sharks, and a side of space exploration. I hope she has pursued life with the boldness and flair she used to have.
My impulsivity involved much less risk but the fun thing about having Abby for a friend was she was always up for adventure and ready to jump in head first. She was a great supporter of my ideas. Putting on disguises and foreign accents and going around our small town seeing if anyone recognized us. Deciding we were old enough to go out to a fancy restaurant by ourselves and dressing up and putting our money together and giggling and flirting with the cute waiters who were hopefully Italian but were probably just local high school boys. Writing elaborate creative stories together... which I bet I have some of stored away in a box in the attic. I can picture her handwriting precisely in my mind after all the notes we exchanged in class. I hope she is still writing, too.
I'm thankful for her perpetual encouragement of my creative, out-of-the-box self. And she was one of those people that deeply cared and was always there for you, no matter what. We had some terrible clashes, one of them involving, shall we say, her un-asked-for-assistance with a boy I liked (which I can see now came from a heart of wanting to help a friend and not thinking through the possible results, which was that I would lose my head and go crazy and not speak to her for weeks).
I really hope Abby has taken the world by the ears and shaken it. I have no idea where she is or what she is doing, but maybe somehow this blog will find its way to her. I want her to know she was one heck of a great friend and influence and that she is making me laugh right now to think about her. I'll bet she has a tome full of crazy stories from her life of the past twenty-plus years and I hope one day I'll get to hear them.