pull up a chair

where wisdom gathers, poetry unfolds and divine light is sparked…

Month: May, 2007

blue moon, coming soon…

the moon, it seems, is full of puzzles. the blue moon, in particular.
and if you shuffle out the door tonight, if you sit upon a lawn chair, crane your neck, look up, what you’ll see is something you can only see, well, once in a blue moon. the moon tonight is blue, you see. not blue in sense of hue. but blue in terms of not so often.
once every 33 months. or so. to be precise.
this makes tonight so very special. this makes it worth a finger to the phone, punch punch punch, call all your friends, shout loudly through the phone: yo, look up, the moon tonight is blue. at least in north america it is.
over there across the pond the blue moon isn’t yet. it will be in june. down the pike in june. moons are like that, you know. they slip and slide across the time zones. what’s blue to you, is not to merry ol’ england. and vice versa. sorry, friends in london town, you will have to twirl your thumbs. your moon is on the rise. your moon is coming ’round the bend. your moon, tonight, is june all right. but blue it will not be.
ours though is way up high. is now. is in the month of may. is blue and getting bluer by the hour.
now what about this lunar puzzle? a perfect thing to ponder while gazing from your lawn chair.
it seems the moon of blue was first referred to way back in 1528, if you believe almighty, omniscient OED, the dictionary of true distinction, which tells us it began thusly: “yf they say the mone is belewe…”
“belewe,” the scholars tell us, meant “to betray.” thus, the old english might have meant something about the moon betraying the usual perception that there is only one full round one in a month.
which is true 32 times out of 33. the last time the moon was blue, or full twice in a month, was back in 2004. july that time.
but wait. despite the old english “belewe mone,” it seems the term, meaning the second full moon in a month, got lost in vapors until just two decades ago.
if, say, you’d pointed to the sky in 1961, and called a full moon blue, people might have rushed to check your brow for fevers. they would not have a clue. they would have concluded you’d been drinking pre-elizabethan waters.
but then, thank goodness for the sake of so-called lunar folklore, along came the board game trivial pursuit, genesis II edition, in 1986.
it firmly pinned the blue on full moon no. 2 in any given month. alas, that trivial little factoid is traced back, actually, to a boo-boo in a 1946 edition of sky and telescope magazine, which erroneously garbled a reference in the maine farmer’s almanac of 1937. it’s more or less by mistake that we call the blue moon blue.
i tell you, it’s enough to make you pull your hairs out, all the blue ones, that would be. this blue moon lineage is oh-so-loopy.
it’s downright lunatic, which of course refers to luna, the goddess linked with insanity, which has long been tied, sadly, to the moon.
apparently the moon was the big question mark in the sky to the ancients.
a few consternations: it changed. worse yet, it changed in a cycle that seemed to mimic, more or less, the womanly fertility cycle. twenty-eight days, you might remember. i have a distant recollection.
this was scary stuff, apparently, to the early charters of the heavens. imagine a shining thing on high whose ebb and flow matched that of all the charters’ wives and girlfriends.
egad. grab the smelling salts.
the other unsettling thing about the moon had to do with all the shadows. all the looming blackened patches on the face of ol’ man moon made the charters scratch their furrowed brows. the heavens, they presumed, were perfect. so what to do with shining orb that wasn’t only bright?
they made up stories, of course.
the hindus had a legend that involved a hare throwing himself on the fire, from which the crispy bunny was plucked by the god indra, ruler of the heavens, and laid out upon the moon for all to see.
the danes decided the moon was not celestial but simply a wheel of curing cheese.
although the subject here is blue moons, the danes did not go for blue cheese in their moon; they determined it was fromage vert.
a few blue moon crumbles:
if you are a dame and you’d like to ask a mate to marry you, today’s the day. today or leap day, which was written into scottish law in the year 1288 as a day when girl-types could do the proposing, i’ll have you know. legend has it, betrothal tables turn when moon is blue or year is leaping. the question’s yours to pop, sweet lady.
also, according to undetermined random folklore, when the moon is blue it has a face and talks to whatever is in its moonlight. go stand in a moonbeam tonight and you will start to howl. back and forth with mister moon.
there will not, has not, ever been a blue moon in february. the month’s too short. a mere 28 days. it takes a moon 29.531 days to do its lunar thing: to shrink to wax to shine in full.
apparently, in 1950 in germany, the moon was truly blue. although i was not there to swear on that. unusually heavy forest fires that summer led to cast of lunar blue. a german astronomer said so. ditto back in 1883, when the famed indonesian volcano krakatoa blew its lid, turning sunsets green and all moons blue. for two whole years.
certainly the rarest rare blue moons.
one you’ll not see if you look up tonight. but it’s worth a gaze anyway.

rarer than the rarest moon of blue, blessed becca is.
and so, to bec, whose moon is shining over casco bay, the biggest bluest birthday moon we wish for you tonight. our love for you shines on….

apology: so sorry ’bout the moon shot up above. it was playing hard-to-get, the almost-blue moon was. most of last night, the warm-up to the big hurrah, you could not see it, not a speck, when early on i tried to get the moon for you. all i got was cloudy sky, a sky of black and gray. but then (don’t tell those who think i should be sleeping more) when i tiptoed out of bed and onto dewy lawn at 1:16 in nightgown and bare feet, i found the moon was playing peek-a-boo. i caught it just before it slid behind a cloud, and never did return. i’ll try again tonight to get the rare blue moon.

now, by any chance, anyone have a blue moon tale hiding in a pocket? or thoughts about the moon and its tug and pull on, say, your sanity?

rug carnies

step right up, he mighta said, when he lured me off the couch, out to hunt a rug. strike the circus tunes while you’re at it. grab some peanuts, too, this might be a tale that twists and turns before it’s through.

the day was monday, a day we’ll not forget. given that it was memorial day, a day for not forgetting.

don’t know about you, but every once in a while the mate i live with up and roars about the lack of progress on this house. the piles of laundry clogging stairs, the dust that makes me cough, he never sees. but once in a while, there is a something that stirs inside him, that will not let him rest until he lurks the jungle, tracks the thing for which he hungers.

monday it was the rug. the rug that never has been in our living room. the curled-up, frayed-edged thing in the room they call the family room. the one lugged from bachelor pad to honeymoon cottage to house to house. the one expired years ago, but we couldn’t find a worthy replacement.

which is how we found ourselves in a circus tent of rugs on memorial monday.

but let’s wind back, just a frame or two.

the rug hunter and i had done the persian rug store thing dozens of times. have hauled home loads of rugs, rolled up like so much fruit leather. furled, unfurled, they never worked. too dark. too skinny. too too.

the rug hunter had it in his head that the big department store, the one that used to be marshall field’s, might be the way to go. for a century, field & co. peddled fine wares. reputable wares. they combed the globe, they brought home what was good. if a rug wore a tag saying persia, you could bet the rug was truly persian. not north carolina, with a few zeroes slapped on the tag. for effect.

so mr. rug hunter, a man who likes to read his newspaper, spotted a big rug sale at the big department store. he’s from new jersey where they love to say, “the mall.”

“let’s go to the mall,” says the rug hunter. “let’s hook a rug.” he might not have said hook, but for the sake of the story, let’s say he did. he probably said, get. let’s get a rug.

so off we rumble in the station wagon. me and my shingles to the right, the rug hunter at the helm.

we pull into the so-called mall. we see a circus tent pitched in the middle of the asphalt. not thinking (a refrain that picks up here), we steer toward tent.

i think, oh, the big department store has pitched a tent for rugs. how convenient. i think the rug hunter thinks the same. you would think we’d just come in from picking corn out in the cornfields.

right away, before the car’s in park, i see a rug. it is hanging off the circus pole. or, rather, the circus tent pole. i like the rug. it has all the reds and blues that i’ve been seeking for years and years and years.

a man with painted-on eyebrow, a man whose name we never really caught, comes to lead us through the circus. at first i only see the rugs.

the eyebrow fellow and a chap named ash come to flip the rugs. one by one, they flip the dusty so-called persian rugs, so we can eyeball every one. i like the one on the tent pole, i say again and again.

“you never know. you might see another,” says the eyebrow fellow, who then goes on to tell me how his bride saw the wedding gown she wanted, tried on dozens, then walked out, hours later, with the first one that she wanted. “and i rented a tux for 45 bucks,” he says, laughing.

while they are flipping rugs, ash tells the rug hunter that he could make a deal. we could have two rugs for the price of one. is there any other room, he asks, where you would like a rug?

by the way, by now it’s been established, the flippers of the rug have no connection whatsoever to the store that once was fields. they leave it rather vague just how it is they landed in this endless lot.

it is at about this point, as ash is barking two-fer-one, that i let my eyeball wander. i notice, to the south and east, a corner of the tent is crowded not with rugs. but with so-called art.

i notice there are naked women. and a skyline scene or three. how amazing, the skyline is of the biggest city near where the rugs are being sold. i start to think, i’ll bet there is a skyline for every city where the tent is pitched. a revolving wheel of city skylines. circuses are like that. full of circus tricks.

oh, did i mention, this was the last day of the sale? ash and eyebrow, somewhere in the middle of the rugs, made clear that they were on the road. the tent was coming down tomorrow, they were rolling on.

peoria next stop.

it was then, again, that i noticed winnebagos, back behind the rugs. these chaps who flip the rugs, i realized, are plain old circuit peddlers. they are magic carpet carnies.

they pitch a tent. they flip some rugs. take down the tent. roll on. to yet another dot on the never-ending map. parking lot after parking lot. rug after rug.

turns out a guy named lou is the rug ringmaster. lou, who wears black safari shorts, says he works with importers in new york. but he works from a warehouse down clearwater, florida, way. says he likes the freedom of the parking lot. he pays big rent, he says, to pitch his tent, to peddle rugs. and cheezy art in god-awful frames.

well, whaddya know. we find two rugs from the rug carnies. three, actually. next thing we know they are offering to haul the rugs right to our house. to let us try them out. too bad for you, they tell us, you only get an hour. today’s the final day. the tent is coming down.

i notice on the rug a drib and drab of spill. “oh,” says ash. “the only persian rugs these days are used. from estate sales. you know a rug’s authentic, if it has some spills.”

my eye drifts back to the naked ladies in the corner. i start to wonder if these clowns make us out to be the biggest fattest marks–that’s carny talk for gullible–they’ve seen all day, all week, all month.

next thing we know, ash has all three rugs loaded in his unmarked truck. he is trailing us. turn right, turn left, right to our curb.

there’s no denying: the rugs look great. while ash is sipping orange juice on our stoop, i am whispering madly to a friend i think will know a thing or two about oriental rugs.

out front, on the stoop, a deal is struck. i think that might have been, as well, where ash mentioned that back in alabama, he’d “gotten in a little trouble.” the rug hunter forgot to mention that to me, ’til later down the road.
we follow ash back to the tent, back to the credit card machine.

i see there on the money table a little book, written by lou. magic flying carpet ride’s ten steps to happiness, or something close to that. stacks and stacks, free with every so-called persian rug.

i see a pile of oil paints in tubes. “do you paint?” i ask as ash adds up those digits for our rugs.

“no, i touch up the art,” he says, without a blink. off to the left, i see the eyebrow fellow with a gilded frame, empty, teetering atop the rugs. he is dabbing bits of gold in a corner of the frame. hmm, i wonder, do they also touch up rugs?

as we shake hands to leave, dear ash makes sure to say we were really nice folk to deal with. was that code, we later wondered, for, you fools, you did not deal me down. you took the line, the hook, the sinker. you bought the bit about the persian spills.

so off we roll, my rug hunting mate and i. two new rugs upon our floors, a swirl of questions in our head.

“i got a bad feeling,” the rug hunter said again and again, as we strolled the mall.

are the carnies and their rolled-up rugs and tent laughing all the way to pe-or-i-a? howling down the highway, yet another couple from the leafy lakeshore sinks a lot of zeroes in some rip-off chinese rugs.

that night in bed we tried to sleep. but visions of synthetic threads were dancing in our heads. the naked ladies, the tubes of paint, the alabama trouble. it bounced and swirled, it made us sweat. were we schnookered, fools for rugs?

by dawn, due diligence kicked in. the rug hunter hit the computer. didn’t find a thing. i grabbed an innocent friend, one who happened to ring the bell. i had her on her hands and knees, inspecting the alleged hand knots. she spotted scribble down below, noted it was arabic. aha, a sign. a hint of authenticity. much moreso than the dribbles up above.

at last, a call from santa fe. a woman by the name of audrey. she is nearly 80. the epitome of street-smart elegance, if there is such a thing. she has been weighing in on every aspect of my life for years and years and years: who i married, how i made my matzo balls, and now the rugs upon my floor.

aw, heck, she said, it hardly matters. the size, the color, that’s what counts. never mind the tent, never mind the trouble. “you got a deal!” she bellowed.

this tale is spinning far too long, so i will end it soon. with blessing from dear aud, the rug debate was closed.
without delay, i dialed mr. rug hunter. passed on the word in audrey’s vibrant color.

and then i hauled out the vacuum. the rugs were here to stay. i’d have no crumbs on my authentic circus rugs.

step right up, people, tell your circus tales. have you ever fallen for a spiel, in the heat of the hunt, only to awake in sweat that’s cold and clammy? today’s the day to seek the sucker prize. best deal wins. and the winner gets, an authentic dribbled rug…..


i chart uncharted terrain here. the topography of bedsheets smoothed and covers heaped, pillows mounted here and there. holding up a head, a spine of book or self, it doesn’t matter.
of late, i have spent good chunks of days supine, creased at the middle, a human demonstration of the 100-degree angle, not quite upright as i lean against my cove of pillows, intent on waiting out the siege.
i have brought to bed a whole catalog of friends. the two annies, dillard and lamott, are to my left. barbara kingsolver is straight ahead. she is perched atop the pillow perched atop my knees. she is who i intend to immerse my healing in today.
the annies got me through the weekend. ms. lamott, as she is wont to do, made me laugh out loud. laughing, i am fairly certain, makes the shingles go away. or at least they’re looking not quite so leper-like.
besides splitting sides with peals of laughter, annie l. was prompting me to pull out my pen. i read with a pen. have done so, probably, since high school. when the pen was required by a bellowing english master, mr. crouch, who insisted we make sausage in the margins, push big ideas, our own, the author’s, through the grinder, add spice, squeeze into the casing of the half-inch blank along the edge of every page.
i still make margin sausage. i still scribble as i read. and underline for amplification. underline so that, like now, i can flip back through the whole 253 pages of “grace (eventually): thoughts on faith,” and pull out for you every line that had me cooing.
like this one: “grace arrived, like the big, loopy stitches with which a grandmotherly stranger might baste your hem temporarily.” (page 58)
or this: “God recessed the neck for a loving, caring reason. while the face is right out front, She set the neck back, out of direct light, in the shadows….it’s like the thighs of the head.” (page 75)
when at last i lumbered out of bed, tucked my pen back in its cap, so as not to leak all over my black-on-white-on-white-on-white book-in-bed terrain, i recuperated through that hole in the head known simply as the mouth.
i ate. i fed myself deeply and plentifully with the bounty of the earth and the chicken coop that my friend terra delivered to my door. still wearing the drops of rain that had fallen in the night, whole bags of greens, each one bursting with superpowers, i was certain, cascaded through the open door.
cartons of farm-fresh eggs, still warm from the underbellies of the hens, so help me, made for hefty launch pads for the greens.
i cracked each orb, the shells a study in subtle browns, plopped the yolk, the very definition of what a yolk should be, golden orange to sunset orange, upright, firm, not all slip-slidey, not an egg without a purpose. ah, no, the eggs i cracked meant business.
then i stirred and poured. i had me a perfect puffy yellow mattress for my vibrant sweating greens.
with each bite, i felt a wholeness that does not come from ordinary eating. this was eating to be well. this was eating with intent.
the recuperative powers of the spinach and the asian flat-leaved chives, the tarragon, the baby beets, were evident in every bite that tasted of the earth, the rain, the mighty sun that had coaxed them from the seed.
all weekend then, i spent inhaling one way or another: the farmer’s bounty, the literary feed. and great good doses of friendship.
besides terra with her house call of organic greens and eggs, there was julie who arrived with her dearest angel and a loaf of foil-wrapped banana bread, the chocolate chips, charmingly, plucked right from the top, as if a bird had been pecking down a row. blessed jane came bearing steak. red meat, they say, will make you strong. will make you shed the shingles.
i was fed, indeed. i was bathed as well. bathed in oatmeal, if you really need to know, but better yet, bathed in those i love.
as i said, this is rather new to me. this is strange. slowing down is not a thing i do so well. taking in goes against my grain.
but it seems i have no choice. my legs, my trunk, all are shouting to my head: slow down, you fool. take in.
to recuperate, the big book tells me, is to obtain again. it is a word with latin root, recuperare. i must obtain again the few necessities for going forward: strength and vigor, a leg that doesn’t limp.
as i crawl back under cover, i chew on this: it seems blessed holy work, to point your very self toward health, toward wholeness, the moth to light, the sunflower to the sun. to deeply understand, with your every pore, that your purpose is to mend, to stitch together. you are no good for no one if you limp and hobble. you do dishonor, don’t you, to the purpose of your very soul.
and so, i eat, i read, i bathe in friends. sounds like a doctor’s order, a divine one, i can live with.
oh, one last thing. back to my friend annie; lamott, again. page 252. she weighs in with this:
“the best way to change the world is to change your mind, which often requires feeding yourself. it makes for biochemical peace. it’s almost like a prayer: to be needy, to eat, to taste, to be filled, building up instead of tearing down. you find energy to do something you hadn’t expected to do. maybe even one of the holiest things: to go outside and stand under the stars…”
tonight, then, i take in the stars.

how do you recuperate? what are the things that fuel you, when you are feeling less than vigor? are you wiser than me? do you take time for recuperating in the course of the every day? or do you wait until you too break out in splotches?

a soldier’s story

today feels like a day for tiptoeing to the attic, unsheathing old papers, nearly crumbling, yellowed papers, papers long ago put to rest.
because the papers tell a story, and the story cannot breathe, cannot be dappled in light and shadow, if not brought down from the attic, not unearthed so as to be told.
today is a day for telling soldiers’ stories, today is a day for bringing the dead to life. if only in the scraps of biography. if only all we know are bits and pieces. and we are left to fill in all the rest, to wonder. to remember.
this is the soldiers’ day, and not to stop to pause to tell their story would be a dishonor i could not live with.
we are only kept from cobwebs, only kept from obliteration if someone stops to tell our story. even if only in bits. even if only culled from family lore, and cemented through the most basic rudiments of life story, a birth date taken from the roster on the inside page of the family bible, the surest method long ago of recording someone’s place and time here on earth.
the only soldier story i know is one that haunted me all my growing up. it is the story of my uncle danny. my uncle danny, so the story goes, was tall and brilliant and had the world ahead of him. he was some 15 years my dad’s senior, more a father than a brother to my papa.
his mother, julia, had died in childbirth, on christmas day, the bible tells me, as she birthed her fourth child.
my papa, born 8 1/2 years later, was the only child of danny’s father and my grandma mae. so my papa was danny’s baby half-brother. and the way i’ve heard it told they were close, mighty close.
uncle danny ran a horse farm, a big one. if you ever baked a cake, you probably used calumet baking powder. calumet was the farm in bluegrass country, just outside paris, kentucky, my uncle danny ran. little gene, my papa, romped like a foal at his side.
folks said, i’m told, that danny mighta been the governor some day. or a senator. he was that smart. that full of promise. now, where these bits of lore begin, i have no clue. but that was the story they told, if you listened. and i was always listening.
uncle danny, like all young men in an age when a draft cut a wide undiscriminating swath, or so it was supposed to, was called to serve his country. a war was going on. the big war. world war II.
my papa, then just about the age, maybe a year or two older than my older one, must have gulped and cried when he said goodbye to his hero, his big half-brother who was like a papa, who let him brush the horses, feed them oats or lumps of sugar. i’ll bet my papa curled in a corner of the barn and heaved some sobs.
uncle danny left. uncle danny fought the war. and, of course, the war fought back.
i don’t know long bits of the story, but i do know this, was always haunted by this: my daddy was the one who came to the door, when the air force people rang the bell. my daddy was the one they told, when they said, “we are so sorry.”
my daddy was the one they handed the telegram. my daddy got the news, alone, that his hero was now a fallen soldier.
uncle danny died on iwo jima, he was sleeping in a tent, the story goes. the japanese came over a hill one dark night and ambushed uncle danny’s tent. he died in his sleep, they say, maybe more hoping than anything. you can only hope.
for dying amid his dreams, for dying there on iwo jima, they gave my uncle danny a purple heart. i’ve never seen it.
it kills me that i don’t know much more about the soldier in my story. i couldn’t even find a picture. only one of my papa, about the time when he was told his brother died.
i did find the page from the family bible with all the birth dates pencilled in. i know uncle danny was born on christmas day in 1912. and his mama died on christmas day, 1919. he was only seven when he lost his mama, on his birthday and christmas all at once. i can’t even find a piece of paper with the date he died.
all i can do is sift through the bits of story i do know, and roll them out. and stop to consider the holes a war puts in a family’s story. in what might have been.
“he never got over it,” my mama says of my papa and the day the telegram came.
to date in iraq, 3,455 american troops have died, the latest just yesterday. someone else, maybe today, not recorded yet. besides the soldiers, at least 64,000 iraqis have also died. i cannot ignore those numbers; all the holes of war.
the holes in all the family stories are nearly incomprehensible.

do you have a soldier story you’d like to tell? we’re listening…

connect the dots

ohhhhh, i said to no one in particular, as the parade of red spots made itself most apparent, marching boldly down my thigh. now i get it. now i know why, all week, i was having visions of my bed. with me very much flung upon it.
it appears that i’ve been shingled. by now, up and down my whole entire leg, the one that’s walking rather stiffly, as if it were a peg and i was pirate peet.
it had started days before. i’d been in a blur all week. but, until now, there’d been no spots, no way, no how, to connect the dots.
when i awoke on saturday i thought there was something burning on my thigh. first it tingled, then it stung. then it started moving. not one to mess around with mamby-pamby dramas, i went straight for melodrama. i am good at melodrama. been at it all my life.
i decided before the sun was high that i had a little traveling blood clot, oh yes i did. (feel free to click me off at any time if you, rare thing, have no hypochondriacal tendencies; but if you too make mountains out of molehills, read along, misery does love company.)
i kid you not, by the time i tiptoed up to bed, my left thigh burning deep within, i kissed my children extra hard, whispered words that i would want them always to remember.
as i cast myself upon the sheets, every bit tallulah bankhead, i swiped my brow, i uttered this: “this might be it. good night.”
my sweet beloved mate, he humors me, and plays along, groaning only sometimes. when i awoke on sunday, he rolled over, remarked, chipper as all get out, “well, well, look who did not die.”
close call, said i, as i rolled right out of bed. achy. limping like old rhymes-with-tart.
i made my way through sunday, stumbled through all of monday.
by now, i tell you, i had all but given up the ghost. i was feeling crummier than crummy, my thigh, my middle, all felt as if on fire. but there were no red dots, nothing to connect. so i just decided i was weary. worn out from month of may.
and then at last on wednesday, when either disc had slipped and sciatic nerve was making like a lightning strike, or i was going nuts, the little dots at last popped out. phew and phew and phew.
it was, it is, a blazing case of shingles.
praise the lord for neighbors down the block who took the med-school route. my beloved doctor friend, a mother of five when not diagnosing spots, came running to the rescue, made a real live house call, she surely did. took one look. consulted anatomic chart. pronounced it time to get the super meds.
next morning my back-up doctor called, the one who’s not yet realized how convenient it would be to move into the ‘hood. she told me many things, but the one i liked the best was this: dave letterman, one of my nighttime heroes, or at least he was, last time i bothered to turn on the tube, was off the air for three whole weeks with shingles on his face.
youch. i doubt my little dots will keep me from anywhere. certainly not from here, since they’re not on my typing fingers. not yet anyway. if there comes a loud silence from the chair, just know that i am upstairs trying to make these dots somehow disconnect.
but while i’m here, as long as i am typing, what of the human mind that zigs and zags on its way to making sense? how often in our lives, before we see the truth for what it is, do we read all sorts of plots into what’s not truly there?
what a treasure it would be if we could simply let the story line of life unfold as is, without mucking up the works, making melodrama where there are only dots. waiting for the wisdom that will connect them, dot to dot to whole clear picture.

do you sometimes draw lines from A to G to R before returning simply to letter B? does your head go wild places as you wait for what’s unfolding? and by the way, anyone have a shingles tale to tell. my doctor told me everyone’s got one. i had none ’til now. and i’ve just told you mine, so now it’s your turn…signed, spots…

oh, deary me, in my spotted-ness i nearly forgot to say: the most blessed of birthday wishes to the magnificent and uber-wise jan oh jan. tomorrow is her day. but today is of course the launch pad. for the richness she brings to all of life, and to the table, we hold her up. in highest honor. with much love. may we grow to be as wise as you someday….

home remedies

out of the corner of my eye, while i was typing at my keyboard, i saw the little legs come running up the walk. i heard the banging on the door. and then the wail. “mama,” he let loose, and then, like that, the tears.
the sobs began to heave. the baby finger, exhibit no. 1, held up, displayed, for me to catch a fleeting glance of the body part in question. the one that oozed with blood. the one that shook, in that way that something shakes when there is something rather out of place.
in one fell swoop he was in the door and flailed upon the floor. i groped, trying to get a closer look at the sorry little finger. hmm. i wondered, while i dashed to get a paper towel. and then cold water. and ice. the squishy little mama-saver they call the boo-boo bag.
i wiped his tears. i smoothed away the sweaty curls. i kept at the bleeding finger. tried hard to get a chance to diagnose. to see if underneath, there might be something broken.
the babysitter filled in the blanks in the story that was coming in between the sobs. something about a scooter. and a fall. smack dab, full force, on that baby finger.
never mind the not-so-breaking story i’d been tracking in the other room. never mind the sentence i left hanging, in the middle of a verb.
this very thing–the pains, the wails, the broken skin–is the reason long ago i decided i could only work from home.
i am lucky. i am blessed.
i say that not in hollow nod to those who have no choice. i feel the struggle of the woman just across the street, a single mama, who leaves the house at half past six, in her nurse’s whites, and pulls back to the curb, wiped out, at nearly 4, her gaggle of three already waiting and very much insisting on a piece of her.
it remains, in many circles, the pachyderm in the room that is tiptoed all around, in tentative baby steps. where a mama works, at home or not at home. whether she works, for pay or not for pay.
it is among the most private choices that a mama ever makes.
yet there’ve been trees felled and ink spilled by the tanker, in the national froth, still frothing, about what is right and what is wrong, in the domestic ring and the box the mama checks when asked the simple, “occupation?”
if it was true concern for women and children, if it was the personal pole-vaulted into the political, as means to put in place the underpinning of public policy that would ensure women the right to earn a decent living without worrying that their babies were left to God-knows-what or whom, or maybe even slipped a passport to rich and solid care, i wouldn’t mind the noise. i’d welcome it. but too often it is finger jabbing behind the mama’s back.
i suppose the only way to get at the nettling point is to, first, put down all the fingers, the pointing, jabbing fingers. and simply say out loud that there is no point in all the frothing.
it’s no one else’s business, is it? so why is it that how we choose to run our very personal lives becomes the fodder for so much political and playground debate?
i only know that in my house, long, long ago, when this equation rumbled to the surface, i had a baby boy who nursed and would not take a bottle. try leaving a babe like that home with sitter. see how far you get before a carrier pigeon is sent out to fetch you. for that was in the day when there was no such thing, at least in my price range, as a cell phone slipped lightly in your purse.
i made a choice that wasn’t cheap.
i gave up plenty over the years. i am no longer a player, not much of a player, anyway, at the newspaper i’ve called my home for the last quarter century. i have stood at fancy newsroom shindigs, and watched up-and-comers pass me by. because i was no longer someone who could get them where they wanted to go. i was only a mama who wrote stories, far from where they set their sights.
i have accidentally dropped a disposable diaper on a conference table, thinking the slim object i was pulling from my backpack was a reporter’s notebook. ooops. i watched the editor running that meeting roll his eyes. i heard him once tell me i knew nothing, i worked outside the tower. and that’s a quote.
but i did not give up the chance to be there when my boys bounded in the door from a bumpy day at school. and i did not give up the chance to wiggle loose the tooth that met with some resistance when it sunk into the hard-core apple. and i did not give up the chance to be the lap that sopped the tears when my little one came running in, his pinkie finger bleeding, swollen.
had it been dangling, the way i thought for a minute there it was, i would have been the one who grabbed the keys, played the ambulance driver.
i wouldn’t want it any other way.
i want the remedies the day demands to be the ones i minister right here at home.
it is delicate conversation, the heart throb of where a mama does the work she needs to do. it shouldn’t be debate.

no matter where or what you do in the course of every day, whether you mother, or work with mothers, i imagine you’ve given this some thought. i invite you to be polite, to listen in, to carry on a kitchen-table discourse on the ups, the downs, the sideways of the question: where and how for you is it best to ply the remedies that truly stir your heart? be they ones that heal the world, or the pinkie bleeding right before your eyes? i know, too, that what’s right at one point in our lives, might shift and change. it is a sad thing to me that women of my generation had so few models to look to, to learn from. and now, i ‘m told, women getting out of college look at us, the ones who’ve squirmed and wiggled, tried to do it all, and decided that we pretty much messed it up. they are choosing to get out of college, get married, start having babies. wham bam. wasn’t that the way it was half a century ago?


ha. in a million years i would not tiptoe up the stairs, climb into bed, pull up the covers and check out. not while the sun was shining, anyway.
i barely muster the whatever-it-takes to do that when the moon is out. when the night is all around. when lullabies are wafting in through open windows.
i am not wired to seek retreat. not in the middle of the act.
but, oh, how i long some days for a pillow under head, for some excuse, pure and simple, to call time out. to shout, “this mother’s done. she is wholly spent. she seeks retreat. do not attempt to find. not ’til dinner time. when she’ll be back, foisting chops onto your plate. worry not, she’s no deserter. she just needs a little break.”
i don’t know about you, but lately, the days are dragging. the overdrive is wearing down my gear shaft. i seek something deep and full of sustenance.
yesterday i launched full-scale refueling program. i called a friend. i cried. i went outside, hoisted hose. watered thirsty plants. imagined my own roots gulping what they needed. i lay on grass, watched puffy clouds scuttle by. put myself to bed at least an hour earlier than usual. heard the sound of the little one calling for his papa, calling for a drink. but i rolled over, went to where my aching tired parts would find their solace. i dreamt so deep i cannot tell you where that was.
i awoke, still achy, but not quite so very much.
it is time, my friends, to admit that there are spells when the demands of every day might make you feel as if you are under water.
the month of may, we’ve mentioned, is a tad on the over-scheduled side. but i am coming to think that it just might suffer from the famed seasonal affective disorder.
it is, sometimes, plain old sad. the leavings are piling higher by the hour. so, too, the hard goodbyes.
as one of the wisest teachers i ever knew once told me, when the subject was a young child’s birthday, every change of year brings with it as much longing for what’s being left behind as it brings joy for what is coming. do not miss the sadness, she counseled, behind the blowing out of candles.
so too, it seems, with end of school year. which in this little house this may is, you’ve heard before, end of kindergarten, the year that teaches you all you need to know (a much-passed-about book once told me so). and end of all of grammar school.
egad, i can see like yesterday that little pink-cheeked boy trotting off to limestone university castle, brand-new, bright-red backpack strapped around his shoulders. one day, in the door of kindergarten, now, whole lifetimes later, a wise man-child walking out another.
do not underestimate, a wise friend told me, the power of the 8th-grade graduation. you might think for a week or two that it’s just that you are busy. or tired. but suddenly, she said, it will dawn on you that moving onto high school exacts a heavy psychic toll.
perhaps it’s that, in part. perhaps it’s just the unrelenting daily grind. or holding down two jobs, one i do for love, the other for which i’m paid. and on top of those, the motherlode of jobs that come with being the mother.
whatever is the cause, the end result is this: i’m bushed.
and i know i’m not alone. which is why i say so here.
we can all be perfectly adept at getting along just fine for most of every year. but within each calendar, there are days and weeks where the climb is uphill all the way. and the air gets thinner with every lifting, falling foot.
it is, i am coming to believe, only deeply human to honor the fatigue. to admit that there are times when pillow, tears or time-out will not pump up the flattened tire.
it is times like this, i think, when you reach across the table, take the hand of a very tired friend, squeeze tight, and pray with all your might for a blessed wind to carry you until the load grows lighter once again.
which, i think, is what i just did.

as if my achy, tired self much mattered….yesterday afternoon, as i sat down to sink my teeth into a sandwich, i found myself staring at the front page of the chicago tribune. there, a photo of a beautiful iraqi teenage girl. i started to read, and barely kept from crumbling. the girl, dragged in a headlock into a circle of angry men, was beaten to death. gruesomely. for the sin of loving the wrong man. whole thing caught in cell phone images. i wept. i weep still. for a world that beats its women. i ask you to pray for her soul, the hearts of those who loved her, women and men. and for those whose stories we do not know, but which would leave us more than broken if we did. my silly load is nothing compared to these. God have mercy.

please, share your load….

in defense of the emergent sucking masses

look elsewhere, friends, if it is a recipe for fricassee of cicada you are after. you’ll not find ways to sizzle crunchy bugs in bath of butter. not here, i tell you.
not even if, if i understand correctly, they are best when just emerging from their rip-van-winkle slumber and shedding their standard-issue nymph skins, all naked milky-white there upon on the tree trunks, tasting rather like cold, canned asparagus.
now i like asparagus. even in a can. one of the rare few vegetables that can slither out of a can and still be considered chic enough to serve on ladies’ luncheon plates.
but i’ll not have at the poor emergent masses. will not spear them with my fork, the little darlings who do not bite, the red-eyed, orange-legged, technicolor visions that, at twilight this very night, shall be arriving without their suitcases.
who thinks to pack when going under for 17 winters, 17 summers, and all those springs and falls besides?
there is hubbub in all the land, it seems. everyone is gaga, getting armed for the invasion. i doubt there is a speck of netting left in any store. i have christo visions of vast acres wrapped in tutu netting.
but not at my house. not here where since my manchild was a wee one he has learned the fine art of shooshing out the fly. not smashing the fly. not splatting the fly. merely opening a window, and escorting the little fellow out.
i cannot quite so proudly boast of child no. 2. he is more the hunter than the gatherer. he is known to flick a worm, to poke the bug that thinks to land in his vicinity. i have my work cut out for me still.
but for tonight, i say, grab the picnic blanket, stretch out on the lawn, take in the epic, once-a-generation show.
because i grew up in an age of drive-in movies where black-and-white crawling insects, with bugged-out eyes, and flailing antennae, would be blown up big, so big you could make out the outlines from the other side of the cornfield, i have in my head a sort of 1950s sci-fi image of all the planet quaking, drum-beat drumming, as the earth lets loose and vast armies of cicada come up from the underground.
i see my whole backyard awash in exoskeletons. i hear the nights, the days, thick with cicada calls. that rubbing, thrubbing that, i’m told, will sound almost as if the bugs are chanting, “pharoah, pharoah.” (i’ll be ear to ground, i tell you, to see if i can make that out.)
in fact, before i did a tad of reading, i thought this morning would be that way. i thought i was waking up to a land of uninterrupted cicada, unbroken plain of newly emerging ruby-eyeballed critter.
but, dang, i went out to fetch the milk, and not a single bugger did i eyeball.
alas, we must wait still longer. tonight at sunset, perhaps, the underground alarm will rouse them from their mighty nap, and en masse, they will roust about, make for higher parts, begin their final march to death.
for really, truly, this is it. the closing chapter for what the bug people, the entomologists, refer to as brood X, of the order magicicada.
when the little nymphlets crawled into the ground, way back in 1990, back when lech walesa got the vote in poland’s planet-shaking presidential count and the two germanies agreed to come together, the life that lay before the ’cadas was plotted out as this: sleep. sleep. sleep. emerge. mate. die.
in six short weeks, it will all be over. their lives, recorded nowhere really, duly ended. by the time the fireworks of independence day burst into the sky, brood X, class of ’007: mere history.
this is, though, a rather booming crescendo to their humdrum lives. they sleep in silence, occasionally rolling over to nibble on a tree root. they slither out without much sound, an astounding fact considering that there are some 1.5 million of the little critters per acre, people. you would think that, even tippy-toeing, that many feets would make a rumble.
ah, but then, once they shed their nymph robes, take on the sleek black sheath of adult cicadahood, the rumble will begin.
they do not go quiet unto death.
they wake the neighbors, darn it. they keep the babies up and squawking.
if you were pre-programmed to sleep, to wake, to mate, to die with your entire population, you too, might make a hearty noise.
so let the noise begin, i say. let the backyards rumble.
the boy cicadas will shake their tymbals, that is the noisemaker on their bellies. if a girl is keen for how he shakes, she’ll flick a wing, let him in on her affection. sort of like winking from the far end of the bar in some smoky den on rush street, i suppose.
off they’ll flit. but once they fornicate (yes, that’s the scientific word), he’ll keel over. kaput, the end. he’s dead.
she, though, gets to carry on a little longer. she will bear her eggs, some 600 if you’re counting. and she will make a little slit in your branch (that’s where the netting might come in, if you are into cicada prohibitions). she will drop her load. and when she’s done, done carrying on the species, she, too, will succumb. she too will keel.
the little baby cicadas, now orphaned, will crawl back underground, will go to sleep, perhaps in teeny tiny tears. before they lull to sleep, one of ’em will have to think to set the alarm. turn the hands of the big cicada clock to 2024.
when once again, i will do all i can to keep the hungry paws of all the poachers off whoever it is who emerges from my lawn.

sign up here if you too want to join the save-the-cicada brigade. they really aren’t much nuisance, just a little crunching underfoot, a little noisy maybe. put up an umbrella if you must. but do not, whatever you do, wave a fry pan in my presence. let me know how you weigh in on the awesome sucking cicada.
stay tuned in case i change my mind…
oh, one last thing: the little darlings carry quite a load of mercury, it seems. so before you bite, consider that.

on another subject altogether: over on the bottomless cup, there is a newly poured essay from the mother of ben byer, the brave hero who lives with ALS, and who wrote and produced the award-winning documentary “indestructible.” check it out. you won’t regret.

farm hands

the hands belong to henry. henry is my farmer. well, he wouldn’t probably think in quite such possessive terms, but i do.

henry’s hands, the way i see it, are sacred tools. and they do sacred work. he is all about the business of putting life into loamy, yeasty-smelling soils. soils that teem with life.

and from that teeming soil, henry grows mounds and heaps and bushel baskets full to spilling. henry coaxes life from life and puts it back again.

just this past saturday, at the first of the farmers markets of the season, henry rolled up his truck from congerville, smack dab in the belly button of illinois, where his 10 acres are nestled between kinder creek and walnut creek on what he calls The Land, and he hauled out tender baby leaves that taste of the earth, and roots too, that seemed mighty happy to see the light.

there was mesclun, and spinach, of course. and ruffly lettuces and lamb’s quarters and arugula and asparagus, in stalks so green and sturdy you wanted to eat ’em raw, right then and there before they saw a drop of steaming water.

and, because henry is no ordinary organic farmer, there were shiso leaves, and asian flat-leaved chives. and french breakfast radishes, and just plain red ones too.

there was rhubarb by the crate and tender baby beets, and hardy sweet potatoes that, like wine, henry said, got finer over winter.

with every freeze and thaw, the gnarly, nubby roots–jerusalem artichoke and burdock, to name but two–who spent the winter underground, took in what the earth around them had to offer. and it offered plenty.

henry knows and honors all the earth: the soil, the seeds, the wind, the rain. it is all of the circle that is henry’s life. it can become all of ours, too, if we pay attention. if we rinse the dirt off henry’s sweet potatoes, put them in our pots, in our tummies. if we commit them to our very souls.

i’ve known for weeks that henry was out early in the morning, tending to the alchemy of seeds and sprouts. tending, too, to the fields, the rich black canvas for his farmer art. he plowed those fields, churned winter cover back into the earth, where it, in turn–it is all about the turn, ecclesiastes’ turn, in farming–would feed the summer crops.

all the while, he was keeping close eye on warm fronts and sudden frosts. when it came time, time to clear the greenhouse of his headstart on growing things, he would be deep in transplant, tucking tens of thousands of sprouted things deep into the earth.

while we were waiting, waiting for the saturday when henry’s tents would once again be raised, the bushel baskets turned, their earthy prizes spilling onto tables.

i talked to henry early saturday, i asked him about his sacred work.

“it is sacred,” he began, cradling a clutch of beets, “but if you say that, it kind of ruins it right there. it’s at such a level, it just is.

“as soon as you start to describe it, you start to lose it. it sounds pretentious or silly. when really it is sacred. sacred is getting dirty, getting wet, getting hot, getting cold, producing food.

“i work with life and death every day. life means death to another organism. harvesting a crop is death. decaying matter is death, but it gives life. it is a sacred thing. there is a sacred balance between life and death.”

i stood there feeling mighty blessed that the man who grows my food thinks these thoughts while working in the fields.

henry let on that it was weed season now, meaning he is on the prowl, clearing out the things that shouldn’t be, to make room for those that should. he’s out the door at half past four, these days. back in at 8. and that’s night we’re talkin’, people. 15 plus hours, and getting longer by the day.

“it’s not hard at all,” said henry. “what i do, i match my life to the cycle of nature. nature does the hard work. it pulls me along. the sun actually pulls me out of bed. the longest day of the year i’ll be up at 4:15.

“you don’t feel tired at all,” he insists, and you get the sense he really means it, you get the sense henry never says what he doesn’t exactly mean.

“whereas in winter, i’d feel dead because there’s no light. in winter i get home at 5 o’clock, eat dinner, think about going to bed. i look at the clock, 8 o’clock. i think, ‘man, i wouldn’t even be coming in from the fields yet.’”

henry is in the fields from february ’til almost christmas. his hands, earth-stained, hard with purpose, are the tools that i’d been thinking most about.

i asked him if he ever blessed his hands; told him i’d been offering up a prayer or two for those blessed tools.
he gave a little chuckle, turned his wrists to give his hands a better look.

said: “i always liked my hands. i must say. they’re my best tools. i like to watch ‘em move.

“they work so well. they do whatever you want, pretty much, without you thinking about it. they harvest, they weed, they get cold, in the bone-cold autumn, they get so cold they won’t work the zipper to go to the bathroom. that’s the one time they don’t work. they’re game, they’re completely game, but they just won’t work, can’t make it happen.”

henry gave his fingers a little wiggle.

“they go places without you telling ‘em to do it. i think that’s why i always wanted to work with my hands.”

he wiggled ’em once more, he bounced the beets. he looked down on his farmer hands. “they sing and they dance.”

indeed they do. they sing, they dance, they feed me through and through.

ahhh, it is a blessed thing to have your very own farmer. i share henry with all of you because, like the bounty he culls from the earth, there’d be no sense in hoarding him or what he harvests. henry is so wise he knocks me speechless. i could listen to him all day. i hope you too know a farmer. tell us about your farmer. i’d love to hear a tale of other hands that sing and dance. especially deep in blessed sacred earth.

hand-me-down plants

the bequeathing usually comes at the end of a muddy shovel. a clump is dug, is offered. it might land, for temporary keeping, in a soggy cardboard box. or get wrapped in wads of newspaper. and then it lumbers home, bumping all the way, in the back of a station wagon. or tucked in the bottom of a suitcase.
don’t think a serious gardener would think twice of, or be bothered by, airport security. certainly not a sentimental gardener.
which, no surprise, would be the box i check when it comes to categorizing those who muck about in mud.
i am, through and through, a sentimental soul. and so is my garden.
i grew up at the earth-stained hands of a hand-me-down gardener. so that’s the surest way i know to garden.
because i’ve watched her, for decades, ferry home orphaned things, discarded things, things that delighted her, or simply reminded her, i know that almost every single long-returning plant, every perennial, in my mother’s garden came from someone else’s.
oh sure, she makes the rounds each spring of the old greenhouse that grows geraniums from seed. and impatiens, too. but except for that single sweep for annuals, the growing things that insist on starting over every year, she does barely any buying for her beds.
instead, she gets her growing things the honest way: she lifts them from other people’s soils. with full blessing, of course.
she has a swath of english ivy you could easily get lost in. plenty of baseballs have. and every single speck of it started out on the hilly slope of the proud cincinnati red-brick where she, long ago, knelt beside her mother, learning how to turn the earth.
that house, once magnificently draped in ivy, is no longer. but the ivy lives on. now 350 miles north of where it once was loosed, its white waxy tendrils shaken of their soils, carried far to where the relocated daughter would sink her roots, would bloom, in a garden not in her mother’s shadow.
my mother’s peonies, which don’t yet grow in my yard but will, so help me, have roots that will make you want to trespass on my grass as soon as they do, and bequeath a peony or three to your very self. (i think they call that stealing).
if you promise not to tell, and try with all your might to resist the peony-poaching temptation, i’ll let you in on a big fat secret: they come from the yard of the old man whose family home was sold a long, long time ago, in memphis, to one mr. e. presley.
yup. the house, now known famously as graceland, was where the man who grew the peonies grew up.
oh, one little thing: he didn’t grow the peonies there. he grew them later, in another century-old house, one on the ravines that jut down into streams that feed into lake michigan, about 20 miles north of chicago, in a place called highland park.
and on and on go the stories of the plants my mother tends in her garden. the ferns from the biochemist who taught me much that i know about God. the lily-of-the-valley from the woodland where i grew up pretending i was a pioneer, making coffee of the wild chicory, berry pies of the honeysuckle fruits that stained my fingers red and my white shorts, too.
all of them, except those presley peonies, darn it, have hopscotched on to my house. they never seem to mind the migration. they settle in, sink roots, stay as long as they are welcome. and they are very welcome.
as would those peonies be, mother dearest. (hmm, i think they call that coveting. yet another garden sin.)
truth is, a garden, being of the earth, is most generous, without you even asking. you take a shovel, you slice the earth, the roots, and it gives forth.
you take, the garden gives. willingly. it asks no pay. other than undying devotion. but even that, it doesn’t demand. only appreciates. mightily.
one plant becomes two. life divides. multiplies. you move it, tuck it, water it. and, poof, the earth just gave you double bounty.
so, too, it gave you story.
to walk through a hand-me-down garden is to walk among those who’ve weeded and hoed and sweated before you. you bend and snip your grandmother’s ivy. you watch the fern unfurl; you think of the man with the booming baritone whose theology rattled you, shook you, and woke you up in your teenage years to its very rooted possibilities.
my mother, who has pedaled down the street, her trowel at the ready to rescue trillium and wild geranium before the bulldozer did them in, shakes her head at those who skip the stories, those whose gardens come bought, not borrowed.
“when you walk around the garden you remember all the people,” she says, as if that’s half the point of planting anything at all. “i think a lot of people now have landscape crews come in.” what’s the point, you hear her thinking.
two points: sometimes a hand-me-down reminds you of another gardener. sometimes it reminds you of another garden.
i know. i handed-down a plant to myself. from my old garden–my first, really–to my new one, the one that’s still becoming mine.
i ached, couldn’t bear to leave that magic garden, that little pocket of solace i had tended for a dozen years. one whose dirt i had sunk my sorrows in during some empty longing years when the one thing i wanted to grow i couldn’t.
i buried grief into those mounds, watered more than once with salty tears.
i pruned and clipped and hoped. i watched my heartache break open into bloom, each and every spring, when all my tender things jostled through the crust of earth, returned, reminded me of the resurrecting promise deep within.
i could not up and leave that little plot. so i took it. or a piece of it, anyway. a blessed fragile beauty, one with sky blue tiny petals, smaller than a fairy’s thimble, that float, it seems, a mist above silver-threaded leaves.
it’s called jack frost brunnera. and i don’t know if in the history of real estate transactions, there had ever been a contract that included what the lawyers call an exclusion—meaning something you won’t sell with the house—for a measly $25 plant.
but i wanted that brunnera. i wanted my every spring to include the magic of the floating mist. so indeed i excluded it. and now it blooms, my totem of my other garden, beneath another woman’s star magnolia, one that came to me with the contract on this old house.
one grows in the dappled shade of the other.
hand-me-down gardens do that. their roots get plenty tangled. they become a patchwork of all your life, a rolling blanket of ever-blooming beauty.
some day, you hope, the tender things you love will bloom in quilt squares in other people’s gardens, in the light and shadow of someone else’s heart.
some day, you hope, someone else will see that floating mist, kneel down, if only for a moment, and drink in the story of the crazy lady who would not leave her plot behind.
she dug up a piece of it. she kept her watch. and then she handed it down and down and down.
the truth of how a garden really grows.

ahh, people, do you have tales to tell of the old souls planted in your garden? do you know the joy, the thrill, of carrying home a tender thing, tucking it rather under your wing, watching it make itself at home in your parcel of the planet? plain fact is, the handing down of plants is, for those less inclined toward sentimental musings, just another name for weeding. as i can hear my mother say, she is making room for something else. why hold onto more than anyone really needs?