Walking Alone




It’s a complicated pursuit, inspiration. But, I’ve found there is one sure way to engage. 

GET AWAY.

That’s why once a year, in the heart of winter, despite life’s persistent demands…we go…to the woods of Maine.

It took us awhile to achieve flow. Our visits are oddly different each year. 

One year I spilled a tablespoon of water on my laptop causing it to stop working on day two. Another year, one of us got a call that a loved one had been hospitalized. Still another year, someone forgot their suitcase and had to traipse to the local consignment store for a purple sweatsuit that has become standard retreat wear. This year one of us was on the verge of big change, the messy kind that life often brings. 


The combinations and circumstances vary. But the guts are always the same. 

We’re there—together.

We write.
We make excuses, and 
Read.
We go for long walks, and
Take naps, glorious naps.
We share our work.
We sip wine.
Eat chili.
We venture out into the world for at least one meal.
We snicker when our roommate hums, and
Worry about the people we left at home and wonder…
What are we doing here?

And, then we write, and
Write some more.
Take more walks.
Sip more wine.
Eat more chili, this time with baked potatoes. 
Set goals.
Share work.
Revise.
Take that last walk.



Toward the end of this year’s time away a co-writer returned, red-cheeked from one of those walks, just as I was donning my own protective layers. “How is it out there?”

“Cold.” She smiled. “Sorry I didn’t ask if you wanted to go with me but I know you like to walk alone.”

She’s right. I do like walking alone even though nature in its purest form scares the bejeebers out of me. 

But, everything—even walking alone in the woods of Maine—is less scary when inspiration and friends are waiting, willing you to push past those pesky self-inflicted limitations.









Peace

She was a whirling dervish—the kind of person that dropped a casserole off to a recovering parishioner after a committee meeting on the way to a game of Bridge with friends. Grandma Gregg rarely said no to anyone or anything, especially family, friends, or a worthy cause.

Crafting was her favorite past time and she tackled each project with the same fervor as the rest of her full life.

Reindeer made from clothespins, chocolate heart lollipops, Uncle Sam doorstoppers… a holiday or season never passed without an associated creation.

She was an avid sewer, lover of the art of Scherenschnitte (say that five times fast) who went through a prolific ceramics stage. 

I always appreciated her endeavors and often joined in on visits. Still, “No thanks” was my usual response when she’d ask if I wanted her latest creative undertaking. It was hard to get excited about a ceramic frog sponge holder back then.

“Take the frog sponge holder!” That’s what I would say to my twenty-year-old self now. 

Because decades later you will remember exactly how she looked when she wiggled her tongue as she painted. How she admired your lackluster ceramic efforts through smeared glasses that she never found time to clean. How no matter how hectic or hard her life was, she never said no to time with you.
There was one time that I did say yes. Somehow I had the vision or maybe it was guilt? I honestly don’t remember. 

Grandma loved sparkle. There wasn’t a sweatshirt or lampshade or ceramic pumpkin that couldn’t be improved with a glue gun and glitter.

It must have shaken her to her jubilant core to make me a clear glaze white ceramic nativity scene. But she knew, maybe even before I did, that I found simplicity comforting. 

White lights draped across a crisp porcelain landscape of tradition. 

That’s what I see now when I look at my nativity scene. A gift given long before I had a surface to place it on, or kids to tell the story to, or enough life in my heart to appreciate what it would all mean someday. 

A portal through a litany of holiday obligation straight to the heart of the season. Peace.

Merry Christmas, Grandma.

Candles on the Cake




In my twenties, I had a birthday eve tradition.

Late night before the strike of father time, I would sit, pen in hand, and write. Poems, short stories, essays—my musings were passionate odes to who I was and who I wanted to be. 

I would jam as much creativity and curiosity and artistic pursuit as was humanly possible into one coveted evening in an attempt to capture the value of my passing time.

It seems strange to me now, this tradition. Especially given the stage of life I was in. I was single with no kids or responsibilities outside of my day job which was, incidentally, to write television commercials. All day, every day I was surrounded by artistic souls in various stages of their own creative pursuits (you know who you are Comcastaways!) 

Still, writing for myself, seemed indulgent, frivolous, scary. So, it was a gift I granted myself, once a year, near my special day.

More than a few years later, after my son John was born, I finally recognized the need for a change when instead of reading a magazine or putting a dent in the mountain of laundry during his nap times, I found myself obsessively reviewing e-mails. New e-mails, old e-mails. The content didn’t matter. Written communication was oddly comforting—even when the topic was mundane. I chalked it up to being a new mother. Clearly, I was missing work and adult conversation. 

Until, finally, one day it hit me, what I was truly craving. Syllables strung together cemented by the power of punctuation. Words! My own.

I had something to say! But, what exactly? 

I am still working on the answer to that question. 

The difference is now writing is a gift I give myself most days—a  pursuit that puts me closer to making sense of all the seconds, minutes, days, weeks and years. A way not only to pay respect to the passing of time (Is that manuscript ready? Please dear God, I hope so!) but a calling that makes me a better me—all year long. 

It’s like I tell the boys (insert teenage eye roll here) the definition of happiness is simple: Doing what you love with people you love. 

The hard part is having the courage to find out what that means for you…then giving yourself permission. That’s a process that takes determination and grit, and more than a few candles on the cake.




Summer Longing


The summer started strong, in the garden. One month in I was declaring weedless success and then…


July hit. 


I could give you all sorts of reasons. Not enough time. Life. Swim meets. Performances. Tennis matches. Work. Life (did I mention life?). But all of those things while true, are, well…excuses.

In short: it’s been another weedy summer. 

There are weeds in the garden. There are weeds around the garden. I dare say the individual plants invited their own squatter weeds and they’re all thriving.

In the ambitious days, before the weeds, I put up a fence, to keep the bunnies out. We have lots of bunnies, always have, but this year they either multiplied or attended an assertiveness seminar.

Growing up I spent many an hour with the story of Peter Rabbit. My mom is a Beatrix Potter enthusiast; we had beaucoup volumes on display. Ones we could touch, ones that were *vintage* for show only. Peter was a big deal in our house. (Mom still has Peter Rabbit china!)

After this summer, I view this supposed-to-be idyllic tale of a bunny in search of food through an entirely different lens. I now strongly identify with the antagonist, Mr. McGregor. What right did Peter have to graze on his hard work? None!

But, I digress.

There is another side to every story…

After several failed attempts to grow peppers, this summer I have peppers a plenty! Hot peppers, sweet peppers, even yellow peppers. (Can you feel my pepper pride?)

And my zucchini, well, they’re ginormous. Which probably means that I didn’t pick them soon enough but it also means that there were so many it was hard to keep up. After a few weeks of grilled zucchini, zucchini fries, marinated tomato zucchini, and lots and lots of zoodles, I started throwing zucchini at anyone who looked my way. My squash were the butt of an office joke or two and at the heart of many a meal.

The tomatoes this year are also quite astounding. Multi-colored heirloom varieties and sweet grapes, all drenched in that ridiculously awesome scent, nature’s most perfect perfume. 

Not all the crops were successful. The pumpkins were a bust and the bunny-nibbled sweet potatoes never rebounded.


But the simple truth is, this season, the vegetables flourished right alongside the weeds. The whole thing is really spectacularly strange and beautiful to behold.

I’m fully aware that it’s a magical synergy of sun and rain and soil that make the vegetables grow—not me—but I’ll take a little credit. Because I claim those massive weeds too. 

Some summers simmer slowly like lazy youth filled days, others are a thrill seeking frenzy. Then there are summers, like this one, with too much sun and too much rain, a jumbled mishmash that leaves me longing. 

But all of these summers have one thing in common. I'll want them back someday. 


'Cause there’s never enough summer, in the garden.







Then & Now


It’s summer. The pause in the year when fireflies dance at the end of sunscreen drenched days. Needed space between what is and what will be. Which is why when I found the essay below from many summers ago, it felt worth remembering.


Then: I was trapped by nap times and feeding schedules and too much laundry, some days more happily than others. Our daily outings centered around coffee and air conditioning. I tried to look like I knew what I was doing in hopes that someday I would. But mostly I prayed that the beings in my care would turn into happy, kind humans. 



Now: Feeding has no schedule or budget (WOW do teenage boys eat a lot!) and there is still way too much laundry. I wonder if they will ever go to bed and then if they will ever get up to join the day, already in progress. I have officially given up on looking like I know what I’m doing...I don’t. And, that’s okay. Because mostly they, those toddlers once in my constant care, are kind and happy human beings who’ve mastered the art of laughing right alongside their caffeine coaxed mother.














Summer, Circa 2006
It is an air thick as soup, “I am never again buying a house without central AC,” kind of day. And so, with the clock reading nine thirty and the thermostat ninety-two, I pack my little guys up and begin the trek to our local, highly air-conditioned, big box bookstore. The one with the great coffee and train table. The same train table that we have at home, but for whatever reason is so much more enticing when surrounded by volumes of Dr. Seuss and sales people who smile forcibly as toddlers dismantle strategically placed toys.


Iced coffee in hand, we make our way to the back of the store. I quickly span the displays looking for potential reading material. I have exactly three minutes on the walk from the front door to the consumer-in-training section to find the day’s literary gem.

On this morning we reach the children’s section with relative ease. There are less people than usual. My three year old leaps out of the double stroller at the sight of the other kids while my fifteen month old recites “twain, twain” until I release him from the grips of the seat and he runs to his brother’s side. 

There is a pleasant looking woman, a grandmotherly figure, with a boy and girl about the age of my boys. Immediately all four children begin grabbing trains in a claiming frenzy. The grandmother and I smile politely at each other and gently coach our youngsters into sharing. This is a mostly futile exercise, but we fain its importance nonetheless.

After a couple of minutes, another mom and her son join our newly banded group. The son confidently begins playing and chattering with the kids. I watch my little one look on holding a lone broken train in his hand. I imagine that he is contemplating if he yet possesses enough brut force to obtain an upgrade from one of the other children’s piles. He smiles as if someone has just told a really funny joke and then mimics the “choo choo” sound my oldest is making. 

Everyone is plugging along until: 

“Sh**!”

For a moment no one says anything. The kids are oblivious. I open the book I have been holding. The grandmother looks away. The young mom stands silent until “Sh**!” happens again.  Still trying not to make a scene, she leans down very close to the boy’s face and says in a half whisper “That’s not a nice word.” 

The moment could have, should have, ended there. But it didn’t.

“He must have heard that word somewhere before,” the formerly pleasant grandmother sputters.

Again, silence. The young woman smiles, sort of, clearly not sure what to say. I mean really what is the correct response? “You’re right. My husband swears like a truck driver. Come to think of it so do I!” 

I search frantically for a witty, ‘this is no big deal’ comeback. I don’t find the words.  Instead the women finds her son’s hand and they are both gone within seconds.  

It’s back to me and the grandmother.  

I feel like giving her a piece of my mind. Unleashing all my frustrations, pertinent and otherwise. Instead I bury my head into my book, taking special care not to acknowledge her out of some weird solidarity with the mom who has just left. 

I silently wonder if the woman sitting across the train table is an all around crummy human being or if she’s just having a bad day. And if the mom who has just left will roll her eyes at the experience or stew all the way home.  

That’s the thing about parenting. The responsibility can feel overwhelming.  Shaping a budding little life is a marathon-like endeavor.  And it would be nice if the job came with a few accolades—a big booming loud speaker announcing your name as you cross a milestone, or a little one liner in the paper noting the care and speed with which you glide through each day.  Instead, we torment ourselves and each other, not really sure how we’re doing.  

That night as I rehash the bookstore scene with my husband, I barely make it through the first expletive before we are both laughing hysterically. Only then do I realize what I should have done earlier in the day. 

Kids are just plain funny.  And, sometimes all we really need to do is laugh.  



For Me



Before the search for circles of color
And spring shaped chocolate 
Before ooey gooey homemade cinnamon buns 
Made with real butter
I’d run

To the chock full fridge
choked with leftovers and pickles and
Twelve kinds of mustard 

There they’d always be

In shades of
Carnation
Orchid
Lily
Tulip

Polly Flinder smock dress hanging
Thoughtfully I’d grapple
Perfect match or 
Favorite?
Rarely the same

Carefully, finally…
I’d choose
The right one 
For me.


Early on, I’d told him the story.

How my mountain of a Grandfather would stock the refrigerator with single stem flowers and pearly pins in colorful boxes on Easter morning.

The cast of characters would change. But each year they—the corsages—were the same. Well not the same exactly. But there. Like spring’s calling card, waiting.

And so on cue I’d run to assess the selection before ceremoniously informing my grandfather of my decision. He’d proclaim the one I’d chosen: taken. My aunt would invariably pretend that too was her favorite before relenting. Everyone knew. As the oldest granddaughter, first pick was mine.

All those years ago, it was an already out-of-date tradition, one that meant the world to me. Though I don’t think I could have articulated why.

This year on Easter morning I entered my kitchen with mock excitement intended to rouse cynical teens.

“Did the bunny come?” I called out before my senses flooded. A small pink box with a single orchid sitting on the kitchen table.

“For me?” I asked, with familiar anticipation.

The one who chose me smiled.

It looked strange, out of place, lopsidedly pinned on my bright sweater. The corsage actually fell off half way through mass. (How the heck did I get that pin to stay on my dress when I was nine?) But, it felt amazing. 

To be remembered.



May 6, 2000
Happy Anniversary to the guy I'd choose EVERY time!


What's In Your Junk Drawer?



Next to the stove, near the garbage, is where my junk drawer lives. 

It holds:
Indiscernible doodads that could be important (once I figure out what they are);
Items that I’m not ready to let go of;
Instruction manuals that I may read someday (but probably won’t);
Ribbon (who throws ribbon out?);
Things that I know I shouldn’t purge like pennies and paperclips and;
My go-to tool for cutting and tightening.  

I “sort” my junk drawer once or twice a year. Other than that it is largely untouched—which is why, a couple of months ago (deep breaths here), when I opened said drawer and noticed its contents were halved, I panicked.

“Boys, what happened to the junk drawer?”

As you can imagine, my tween and teen stared back blankly. “The what?”

I should have instantly known who the culprit was. My likes things neat husband. 

For people with spouses who leave rooms looking like a tornado came through, I realize this might sound appealing. But, I assure you, this mostly admirable trait can wreak havoc on the natural order—my order—of things.

“You can’t honestly tell me that you’re going to miss anything that I threw away!” he said.

(Deep breaths, deep breaths.) 

What my husband doesn’t understand is that I will now miss EVERYTHING he threw away. Because I don’t actually know what he threw away! That’s what makes a junk drawer a junk drawer—there is no need to overthink the contents because they’re safe in their “place.”

There was only one thing to do…

Sort through the trash in dramatic fashion, with my husband watching, so that he could see firsthand what golden fodder had inadvertently been tossed.

A magnet we bought right after John was born that says: “Every blade of grass has its angel that bends over it and whispers, “Grow, grow!” I mean, really? Is that not sage sentiment?

A pile of dull, eraser-less pencils. I definitely would have pitched them on a routine clean, but you better believe with an audience, those suckers were sharpened and put back into homework circulation.

Other priceless items…too meaningful to remember…were saved that day. Along with a renewed understanding: Keep your hands off my junk drawer!

My reaction surprised even me. The daughter of a “collector” I vowed early to minimalistic ways. A family member once asked, “Are you moving?” years into us living in our current house.

I believe in purging. But, I guess I believe in holding on too.

After all, I spend chunks of my day examining my writing junk drawer. Musing over scraps of memories and inclinations that may prove useful someday.

Wading through:
Experiences that instruct who I am today;
Foggy recollections that hold pieces of emotion still yet to be explained;
Hurts that rarely serve me well, except on the page;
Glory days (the proverbial ribbon of life) and;
My treasured notebook.

It’s important to have a place where the junk of life—priceless and otherwise—hang out until we’re ready. To let go of those eraser-less pencils.


So...what's in your junk drawer?