Friday, August 31, 2007

Under the bridge~

Transitions. Changes.

Why do we resist inevitable changes? Why do we hold on to what we have at the moment instead of embracing future possibilities with open arms?

I've been told it's fear of the unknown that makes us cling so tightly to what we are familiar with.

I typically love change. It invigorates me. Most change that is; I could do without some of the midlife physical changes, but even those I am getting used to. With a little tweak in my mindset, who knows? Maybe I'll finally learn to accept myself as I am now, without comparing myself to the way I was then-- in my prime.

But apart from all that nonsense, I welcome most change. I've taught for 34 years in the same town. I would have gone crazy if I hadn't changed schools, grade levels, subjects, and classrooms through the years. I know teachers who have been in the same room, teaching the same subject for decades. I would dry up in the routine sameness.

But people are different; what is dull and boring to me is comfort and security to another. I realize this as I've watched David make the transition to college. He's been away four days, and he's home for the Labor Day weekend. He chose not to stay on campus, although some did.

He walked in the door with a smile and said, "I haven't had a hug in days."

"Well, me either, " I reminded him. " From you anyway," I added.

He is a homeboy, really. He's been away for longer than four days, but the end was always just around the corner. Now he's looking way too far down the road, and wondering how he can be away for four years.

He's already gone off to Boston to bring his girlfriend home. I'm sure a hug from her will do wonders to cure what ails him.

David never liked transitions. When we took down the Christmas tree when he was little, he'd cry, When I moved furniture around, he'd complain that he liked it the old way. Starting school each year was tough until he got comfortable. That's just who he is.

I think maybe it is the process of transition that is the hardest. Moving toward something new is a little like walking under a bridge from one place to another. During the walk you are in a shadowy, unfamiliar place. But once you make it through and look around, you start to appreciate the newness, and soon it becomes familiar.

Some of us walk under the bridge quickly; Dave feels his way more hesitantly, I think. But when he's comfortable, he's off and running.

And for me, my summer is coming to a close and I'm back in school after Labor Day-- a transition I've made 34 times. Even now it's with mixed feelings. Summer is so short and I'm not quite ready to move on. I'm dragging my feet under the bridge.
It takes a lot of courage to release the familiar and seemingly secure, to embrace the new. But there is no real security in what is no longer meaningful. There is more security in the adventurous and exciting, for in movement there is life, and in change there is power. -- Alan Cohen

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Now's the time~

In two days we'll be driving David to college. Not far, an hour and a half away, and an easy trip over major roads. I know from experience that he'll be fine, and have fun, and grow older and wiser. And that I'll miss having him around.

He and his girlfriend Jen are in the "family room," packing his clothes and other belongings in plastic footlockers. They both look grim-- or maybe just solemn-- but determined. They've had a fun-filled summer, between jobs, and have put off thinking about going away until they can't ignore it any longer.

Dave and Jen have been together since 5-5-05, an "anniversary" they've celebrated twice. College will separate them for the first significant amount of time since then. They're walking through the throes of missing each other in advance.

At eighteen, who knows? They could have already found their life partner. Maybe absence will make their hearts grow fonder. Or maybe it will be out of sight out of mind, although I don't think so with these two who now are chatting and laughing as they take posters off Dave's bedroom walls, rolling and packing them for a new wall.

But this is about now. The future will unfold as a series of nows. Now is all they have-- all any of us have-- just this moment.

They don't need or want platitudes or clichés. They don't need to hear:

"We all went through it."

Or, "This will test your love."

"You're still so young," or, "If it is meant to be . . ."

And especially not, "There are too many fish in the sea . . ." my mother's personal favorite when she thought I should date others.

So I'll leave it to Dave and Jen to live their lives day by day, to feel their own pleasure and pain, make the choices that feel right for them, and to learn as they go. They don't know yet how young and inexperienced they are. Or that some day their college memories will be a foggy collage of experiences they will think of only occasionally.

But that's beside the point, because this is now.

For a look at walking through the empty nest period, read: Night,Dave~ and Last time~

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Inner beauty~

I picked peaches from the tree in our backyard yesterday. The tree was loaded with flowers this spring, all of which heralded a peach when they faded and dropped.

There were so many potential peaches that we sacrificed some for the good of the harvest. If all the peaches had been left to grow, they would have been small. Compare the size of a single newborn baby to the size of a quintuplet.

The tree still produced lots of peaches-- medium sized ones. Next year we'll be tougher in the winnowing process. I'd rather produce 100 pounds of large peaches than 100 pounds of small ones.

The fruit wasn't perfect. Some hung from the branches, showing a rosy cheek, deceitfully hiding their black, speckled side. Others were plain ugly all over with split skin because their inside grew faster than the outside.

The black spots are a fungus that could have been prevented with a fungicide spray. But for an organic peach, I can stand a little skin-deep ugliness.

As I peeled more than a dozen peaches, I recalled my grandmother's words: "beauty is only skin deep."

She lived with us from the time I was nine, and taught me early on that the thin veneer of beauty is of no value if there isn't any beneath the skin. And conversely, there is no such thing as "ugly" if there is inner beauty.

Once peeled, the peaches were glistening and golden, sweeter and tastier than a supermarket peach.

I made peach crisp, adapting the apple crisp recipe, all the while popping wedges of fruit in my mouth. I mixed the topping-- brown sugar, flour oatmeal and butter-- just as tasty as the peaches.

I mowed the lawn while it baked, and sampled some as soon as I knew I wouldn't burn my tongue.

Absolutely delicious! With vanilla ice cream melting into the peach juice it will be . . . deliciously beautiful.

I don't know why beauty got such attention from my grandmother, but another saying she often repeated was "beauty is as beauty does."

This one didn't make sense to me as a child, but I understood it clearly today. The beauty of these peaches wasn't in how they looked, but rather, what they did. And what they did was make a tasty peach crisp.

I finished what was left for breakfast this morning, a beautiful way to start the day.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Every flower deserves a garden~

Our yard is a mixture of our personalities, my husband's and mine. He likes straight lines, defining edges, fences. I like curving lines with an overflow of plants cascading onto the walkway or lawn.

He trims the forsythia into a boxy hedge. I tell him the blooms would be better if he let it twist and tumble like it wants.

He prefers factual conversation, a logical progression of information that has a purpose. I speak when the thought arises, often just a comment with no point except observation. I speculate, I wonder. This is uncomfortable for him.

"What's the point?" he says?

"Does there need to be a point?" I ask.

He has a system for mowing the lawn: he alternates between vertical, horizontal and diagonal passes each time he mows. He keeps the lawn cropped like a military crew cut. I prefer the tangly length that gets caught between my toes when I wander in bare feet, the kind that folds under me without scratching when I lie on my back to stare at the clouds through the branches of the elm.

He reads the paper for the facts, for the news. I go first for the editorials, the opinions of others shared in letters to the editor. He reads one book; I read several at a time., although neither of us might finish.

I got home from an appointment, changed into shorts, and headed out into the yard. Bruce was anxious to show me what he'd been doing in the yard. I was taking the "tour."

He pointed to the brick walk we stood on. "I transplanted the flower that was growing between the bricks," he said.

"What? Where did you put it?" He looked up at the sound of alarm in my voice. I sounded far more concerned about a scraggly Johnny Jump-up than even I thought reasonable.

"I put it under the butterfly bush," he said. "Why?"

"That flower was . . . a symbol . . . to me," I said weakly. "I wrote a blog about it." Even I knew this sounded . . . well, odd.

The flower was a Johnny Jump-up that managed to escape from the garden to stand alone in the walkway. It had struck me as an individualistic thing to do. If I were a Johnny Jump-up, I'd like to be far from the madding crowd, too.

But my husband-- a man of fences, rows, and flowers held in place by poles and wires-- saw it as something that needed to be captured and corralled, and put it back behind a wall where all good flowers belong.

It actually flourished under the bush; there was more shade, more room to spread its roots. There was another Johnny-Jump-up there already. I knew it was a good move for the tiny plant, although I never said anything.

Later more jump-ups leaped the garden's edge, or tunneled their roots underneath, and bloomed between the bricks in the walk. My neat and trim husband left them there. Somehow he'd understood.

This week they became so scraggly and over-grown and unhappy looking that I pulled them up, and tossed them in the compost. They would have been better off with the one my husband transplanted. Maybe every flower deserves a garden.

Read The American garden~ to see the Johnny jump-up.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Belly up to the bar~

On a previous jaunt with my camera, I stumbled across a woman sleeping on a blanket on the grounds of a mansion whose gardens I was touring. She woke to the sound of my camera's shutter. (I was not taking pictures of her.)

"Do you like butterflies?" she asked, apropos of nothing, as she rose to a sitting position. It turns out she had been meditating; I hadn't woken her at all, just interrupted her alpha waves.

I told her I did, and she told me where to find a butterfly zoo.

As she gave directions, I said, "Oh, yes, I know where you mean." I hadn't a clue, but I knew from experience that when I don't understand directions people give, they try again and again.

"You know where the ice cream stand is on Route 138? No? Well then do you know where the farm stand is across from the police station? No? How about the swamp hidden by the oak trees? Oh, you do? (No.) Well, go past the swamp about a half mile . . ."

A couple days later, I made the trip to the butterfly zoo-- courtesy of my GPS-- receiving a rather disappointing first impression: a dilapidated screened green house in an overgrown graveled lot.

Once inside the double security doors, after a lecture by the butterfly keeper on government regulations regarding butterflies, I was transported to the southern hemisphere, populated by insects, some of which I'd never heard of. Inside was a flowered habitat for over 400 butterflies of varying species fluttering about sipping nectar and landing on visitors.

Two South American Owl butterflies hung lethargically on the exit door.

"I'm not worried they'll escape," said the butterfly tour guide. "They're drunk."

It turns out that owl butterflies like to belly up to the bar. They spend most of their time sucking fermented fruit juice from a bowl of wretched looking bananas, and sleeping off the resultant intoxication.

"Oh, the poor things," I said.

"Hey, they only live two weeks. Do you blame them?"

Upon leaving the zoo I impulsively followed signs to the Greenvale winery. It sounded like a good place to take pictures. I was given a tour of the vineyards overlooking the ocean, snapped some pictures and bellied up to the bar for a taste of fermented fruit juice.

I bought two bottles of local wine and will sip a little on the patio, while watching the birds as the sun goes down, but not enough to leave me lethargically hanging from anything. I prefer to spend my life alert and aware.

As for the owl butterflies . . . oh, the poor things. They're missing life, and their life is too short as is.

More butterflies in my life~
Butterfly kisses~

Real life~

The zoo~
The Butterfly Zoo

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

So what's my problem?

Last summer I was active, hopping on my bike most days, or going to the Y to work out.

I planned to do that this summer, too-- make up for my relative inactivity during the school year. When I got home from school each afternoon, my choice was: read the paper in a prone position on the couch, or go to the gym.


I told myself I'd make up for it this summer. I'd firm up, trim down and . . .. Oh, the best laid plans.

The thing is, I like to exercise; working up a sweat feels good, and makes me feel that I've done myself some good besides. I like being in shape.

So what is my problem?

David, soon to be off to college, has himself on a program to get ready for basketball season. "Just exercise when I do, Mom," he says when I complain about my slump.

But that's his schedule; the timing is not right for me. Or is that an excuse?

"Will you write me out a list of exercises to do?" I ask.

"Mom." He's stern. "You didn't follow the other list I gave you."

"I just can't seem to get motivated," I say. "I just don't have the desire."

"You just have to do it, Mom," he tell me. "Set a time and stick to it. It doesn't take that much time."

I know this. I use to tell him the same thing a couple of years ago. He's right.

So what, exactly, is my problem?

I've been restless this summer. Sleep is elusive. I wake early, my mind already in gear. This isn't me. Or it is me, some strange new me that I'm not used to yet, not sure I like as much.

My exercise this summer is fingers flying across the keyboard as I write, and walking with my camera, exercising my shutter finger.

This is not without benefits, just more mental ones than physical.

I walk, and drink in images that go straight from my eyes to my soul, and I need to capture them in more than my memory. So I snap picture after picture-- sheer digital gluttony-- until I have filled some well inside of me. Then I walk home, "writing" my thoughts in my head to be recorded later, maybe.

And why do I complain about doing something that is so fulfilling, so pleasurable? Maybe because it doesn't make me sweat? Maybe because it is what I want to do, not what I think I should do? Maybe because something inside says I should be doing something "constructive."

I need to find the balance point-- pure pleasure balanced against the "shoulds." Right now my scale is tilted in pleasure's favor. Maybe I'm just lucky and don't know it yet.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Empty nest cooking~

Going through the remaining items in my parent's house, which is being cleaned for sale, I came across items the auctioneer left behind, things that wouldn't sell, things slated for the dump.

I opened a manila envelope and spilled out a pile of recipes, most copied on index cards in my mother's or father's handwriting, some clipped from "Good Housekeeping," and "Redbook" and pasted to the cards.

Sometime after my brother and I married and left home, my parents became real people. Among other things, they started cooking.

We were always well fed, but by cooking, I mean more than:

~beans and franks with brown bread from a can on Saturday night

~burgers that smoked up the kitchen, boiled potatoes and cooked frozen peas that were wrinkly

~spaghetti with sauce made from a can of tomato paste, a can of water and Spatini sauce mix

~and, horror of horrors, calves' liver-- for the vitamin A.

My parents apparently waited until they were empty nesters to fuss in the kitchen and eat in style.

They began cooking things like Stir-Fried Scallops with Lychees. What the heck are lychees? According to the recipe, they come in a 16-ounce can and must be drained.

In addition to scallops cut in half horizontally (Which way is horizontal on a scallop?), the recipe calls for Chinese pea pods (remove stem and stings on both edges) and ginger root (cut lengthwise into paper thin slices, then again into very thin strips).

This sounds fussier than preparing an art lesson for first graders.

These are a few titles of the food they prepared for themselves when living the childless life:

~Wild Rice Pecan Casserole (lots of chopping and dicing)

~Cayenne pepper wafers (with a half pound of gruyere cheese)

~Boneless Chicken Breast Bake (with a half cup of sherry)

~Oyster Stew

~Shrimp and Sausage Gumbo (with my mother's note: "excellent if you have the time. She'd crossed out the optimistic prep time of ten minutes and written two hours in its place.)

I won't even mention the desserts, one of which my mother has labeled "scrumptious." In her defense she made Whoopee Pies, cookies and cakes and let me lick the bowl.

I also came across a card labeled "Ruthie's Graham Bread." I vaguely remember my bread baking stage. I used to bring loaves of homemade bread to family get-togethers. The graham bread must have been good to have made my parent's recipe file.

Maybe when my nest empties this fall I'll bake bread again, and maybe try some of the other recipes, but I have no idea where to get lychees.

litchi (also lychee or lichee)
1 a small rounded fruit with sweet white scented flesh, a large central stone, and a thin rough skin. Also called litchi nut when dried.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Corn for breakfast~

In my vegetable garden a mere month ago, "the best was yet to come." But now it's that special time in New England "for which the first was made." (Robert Browning applied today)
The garden is bursting with sustenance ripe for the picking. Along with early apples and pears, I pick corn, cukes and summer squash. Potatoes and carrots are ready to dig while yellow beans still dangle from bushy plants. It's a glorious abundance for which I'm grateful. There are beets and butternut squash too. And broccoli.

My husband does the prep work in late March and the planting soon after. Then, apart from weeding and watering, he turns the garden over to me.

"I grow 'em," he says. "You pick 'em."

It always sounds like a good deal during the cold, muddy spring. He forks under the winter rye and culls rocks from cold soil, his breath a cloud I see through the window as I drink tea and read .

But now I feel a pressure standing among such bounty in the summer sun. We can't eat all we grow, and I hate to waste "good food," something my father constantly admonished against.

So neighbors get homegrown deliveries. I give bags full to the local Senior Center. My son's friends are mandated to take veggies home when they stop by. And still there is more "good food" than one small family can eat.

One answer is to can or freeze it. I've done that. I don't relish the job, which creates a different pressure in December anyway. With the wood stove lit and a snowstorm raging, I want spaghetti and meatballs or beef stew, not summer squash and yellow beans. I end up throwing out what remains when the next garden begins to produce.

Each year we plant less, give away more, freeze some.

And for one late summer month I eat corn on the cob for breakfast-- leftover from the night before-- cold without butter and salt. I pick ears for a mid afternoon snack to eat raw from the garden, sweeter and crunchier than when cooked. I add corn kernels to salads. Today I sautéed onions, green pepper and corn-- all from the garden-- added black beans and a spicy sauce mix, which only I will eat . . . and eat . . . and eat. Waste not, want not.

"I wonder what corn muffins would be like with real corn kernels added," I said to my husband this morning after I'd picked an armload of tomatoes, a fistful of beans and six ears of corn.

"They wouldn't be real corn muffins," he said.

"That's the point, but I bet they'd be good."

"I wouldn't eat them," he said, definitive as always.

But I would, I think. And if he's not going to eat them I might just spice them up with a little onion as well, maybe bake a cornbread in a cast iron skillet, and eat that for breakfast-- warm and with butter.
I hope I never lose sight of how fortunate I am to have "good food" in such abundance.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Butterfly kisses~

Where does the butterfly go when it rains? That's the title of a children's book by May Garelick. I often read to my classes during the years I taught first grade.

That question returns on rainy summer days. Not as a real question-- I suppose insects use leaves for umbrellas-- but more as a rhythmic phrase.

I've never looked for butterflies in the rain. How many of us have? Butterflies are elusive enough in sunlight.

I've seen them mate, that aerial Karma Sutra where the male and female soar and zigzag while connected end to end.

Yesterday I watched a pair of mating monarchs in my front yard as the sun was lowering. I remembered as a child asking my mother why butterflies stuck together like that. She probably told me they were kissing.

This mating flight looks more difficult than pedaling a bicycle built for two, where the riders are at least headed in the same direction.

Is there mating etiquette? Does the male wish his mate would flap her wings harder, help him along? Does the female let her mate pull her backwards, or does she flutter him forward too in a push-me-pull-you ballet? Does one say, "Hold on. You're crushing my antenna?"

This pair swerved up into the oak tree. I waited for them to drop low again, but when they didn't I peered up into the branches and saw them folded together, four wings, a head on each end. The outer butterfly opened and folded its wings; the one in the center stayed still. Eventually they were both still and the crook in my neck said I watched long enough.

I'd never seen this last phase of butterfly mating, this peaceful resting in each other's wings. I always glad when I'm given a glimpse of the more private parts of nature-- animals going about their lives, heedless of humans, yet so dependent upon us in many ways.

These monarchs will not live much longer. The female will lay her eggs on one of the abundant milkweed in the area. I hope she chooses one of the two plants we left in the otherwise cultivated garden.

More butterflies~
Real life~

Belly up to the bar~

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

A boy and his (girlfriend's) dog~

David is dog sitting for his girlfriend's dog Troy for a few days. And so, it turns out, am I, between the hours of 8:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. while David is working.

He's an adorable pug with a mushed in face and severe under-bite, similar to a bulldog, only smaller. And cuter, I have to say. His little tail looks like a doughnut perched precariously on the edge of a table. How can something with an under-bite, wrinkles, and a bottom right canine tooth that refuses to stay hidden be so damn cute?

It's fun having him, and apart from Becky the cat who's taken to sleeping under the bed in what we call her "thunder spot," we're all enjoying Troy.

He's very attentive when I speak, cocking his head thoughtfully as he listens. Even his ears change position-- upright, flopped, or way back-- in response. Very gratifying, not to mention the eye contact. Up until now I've relied heavily on Becky for eye contact. My husband's eyes are usually aimed at:

a.) his computer
b.) the lawn, or weeds he's pulling
c.) the TV
d.) shut

I was thinking that if I could tweak the human evolutionary process a bit, it might be nice to give males the capacity to change ear positions. It would save woman from asking, "Are you listening?" And men couldn't say yes and get away with it any more.

David called from work today to check up on Troy.

"How's he doing?"

"Great. He's on the patio with Bruce right now."

"Does he have enough water?"

"Yeah, he's fine."

"It's not too hot for him is it? Is he panting?"

"He's fine, David. Trust me. He's happy.

Later as I fastened Troy's leash to his collar to go for a walk, Bruce said, "Make sure you lock the leash so it doesn't reel out too far. Let me show you."

"I've used this leash before. I'm all set, " I said. Now there was some eye contact; I saw doubt in his. Just because I can't figure out the TV remote doesn't mean I can't figure out a simple button on a dog leash. I don't say this. I just think it.

"He likes to walk in the street," my husband said. "Make sure . . ."

"I've raised three kids to adulthood." I say. "I can walk a dog. Trust me." I'm not a 13 year-old babysitter. I don't say this, but I make eye contact!

Walking with a dog is not the same as a leisurely stroll with my camera. Troy is only six inches tall, but can he move! Had I known he liked to run I would have put on a bra, but there I was, pounding along the sidewalk in flip flops ready to fall off, racing to keep up with a tiny dog, his pink tongue flapping in glee. I told myself the neighbors wouldn't recognize me without my camera, or at this speed. Besides, we don't have a dog.

"Was that you I saw bouncing down the side walk after a dog this morning?"

"We don't have a dog," I'll say.

Tomorrow I'll wear a bra when I walk Troy.