pull up a chair

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

Month: December, 2009

wet christmas (bliss)

the eggnog bread pudding just came out of the oven, making its sweet presence undeniably known as invisible bits of it swirl through the kitchen and up to our noses.

the brown sugar bacon has taken its turn in the very hot box, is now sizzling there on the old oven racks.

the boys–bass and soprano–shriek from the basement, playing a game found under the tree. bach pours from the radio, tucked on the ledge.

it’s been quite a morning already.

it’s the morning i love so very much, for its quiet indulgence, its unscripted joys.

what i love about christmas as a mama who loves tending her boys is the chance to lay down deep chords, to wrap them in ways that will forever inform their vision of christmas.

even if, just a while ago, the older one mentioned how some christmas he wanted to go the cheap-chinese-and-a-movie route, to try out being jewish for christmas. i laughed, then got teary eyed, said, “wait till i’m dead.” (not a moment later, mulling it over, we struck this religious detente: christmas morning we’ll keep, and at 2 some christmas afternoon, we’ll give it a whirl, shuffle off to chow mein and a movie.)

oh, the joy of christmas.

ah, well…..

while i purr like a cat, puttering about the kitchen, making merry with sugar and cinnamon, egg nog and spice, i leave you this little tale that i wrote for the tribune. seems like just the right bit for this christmas-y morn…

Long, long ago, I figured out the Christmas morning secret: Before the sun peeked up, I would tiptoe down the stairs, guided only by the light of stars and moon, if I fancied half a chance of getting there before Santa’s shiny boots landed with a thud.

After all, once the jolly fellow in the all-red duds arrived, it would be bright lights and crinkled paper hurled beneath the tree. And if I wanted what I was after, well, I practically needed to slide down the banister before another creature stirred in that old house.

Oh, this wasn’t back when I was a child. But, rather, as the mother of a sleeping babe.

It was there, in the kitchen, as the windows clouded up with steam — as heat from the oven met with bitter freezing cold just beyond the panes — that I discovered the joy that, for me, comes on no other morning of the year: Christmas tunes on the radio, tree lit bright just for me, I haul out the makings of my tried-and-tested coffee cake, I get the cocoa bubbling on the stove, I set the table with a handed-down set of merry Christmas plates and cups and saucers.

It is the gift of making joy in the morning, wrapping my every sense in the magic of the season, and then, once the footsteps come — not so long ago, padded toddler feet, now the clomp of boys who’ve grown to nearly man-size — I get the best unwrapped gift of all: I behold the face of pure delight as my most beloved boys dive into what’s become of my pre-dawn puttering.

They needn’t say a word, needn’t whisper thanks. The thrill comes for me in watching tradition replay its fine refrain, the candy canes lifted from the cocoa, the clementines passed around the room (and occasionally tossed as if baseballs), the Christmas stockings unceremoniously dumped.

This is a mama’s heart’s content: to lay down the stuff of dreams, and weave golden-threaded memories for all the yuletides yet to come. Mine as well as theirs.


from my steamy kitchen to yours, i wish you the utter contentment that comes, wholly and purely, on the most blessed of christmasy morns.

xoxoxo wherever you are…..

p.s. instead of snow we’ve buckets of rain here this christmas, thus instead of white it’s a wet christmas….

i wish, i wish….

soon as the snowflakes started to tumble from the sky, i threw on my puffy old coat, slipped in my boots, went out to play elf, quite early this morning.

never mind that the sun wasn’t yet out from under its covers. sleeping in, that sun was.

i’d been up hours already–16-year-old pulling an all-nighter, 8-year-old burning up with a fever (the yin and yang in my house really is something sometimes)–so why not shuffle through snowflakes, make my deliveries, greet the dawn with that rare, lung-filling mix of seasonal tiptoeing around.

might as well finish the job is more or less what i was thinking. fact is, i’d been up late into the night, filling my sacks with holiday breads, studded with cranberries, swirled with almond-y paste. i’d dropped in a helping of clementines, enough for every house along my way. and candy canes, too.

such was my merry christmas this year, up and down the alley. draping the bags over the knobs of so many doors.
christmas is simple this year. simple with purpose.

seems right to pare down, for a whole host of reasons. indeed, so says the look from my mate who happens to think not so much of the giving of holiday gifts. oh, don’t take that wrong. send him off to the store for a little something, he comes back with a thoroughly thought-out, utterly generous choice.

it’s just that, well, he does not–in any way–equate the giving of “stuff” with holidays. (sorry news for the two boys in this house who are living rebuttal to the notion that all jewish-catholic kids are holiday double-dippers. alas, they escape with not much more than hanukkah gelt and a christmas sock stuffed with an orange and various old-world trinkets.)

but that doesn’t stop me from wishing.

i wish, i wish this time of year, my head filling with a list that goes on and on.

oh, no, it’s not what you might be thinking. it’s not for me i’m wishing.

what i wish, darn it, is that i could be the merriest elf that ever there was and give and give till my old heart’s content.

i seem to find my december delight in thinking back over all the year, and wishing i could fill the arms and hearts of all of those who’ve sprinkled some sort of magic dust here upon my path……

i wish i could fill a basket, first off, for my little one’s teacher, a teacher who buried his very young wife, not even a year ago. i’d give him a blanket, and home-cooked breakfast, i’d wipe away the tears that surely will spill plenty of times in the long weeks to come.

i wish i could wrap up a house with an orchard and mail it off to the brother i love up in maine. i wish i could do the same, sans the orchard, to my very best friend in sunny LA, who feels very cramped in her tiny apartment, with a dog and a daughter besides.

i wish i could make the cancer go away for my across-the-street neighbor.

and i wish i could find a job for my friends who have lost them. especially the one with the newborn, and the wife who can’t bear to leave that baby for 10 hours every day, but will if she has to, if he can’t find work before this hard year ends.

i wish i could knit a sweater for the old man who lives next door, who tells me how his wife is dying, as tears run down his very sad face.

i wish i had time to bake beautiful cookies, and wrap them in bright shiny paper, for each of the very good souls who sit beside me on the days i toddle off to work, all of us typing away in what might be the end of the newspaper era.

i wish i had enough left-over sweets to make one heaping platter for the wonderful man at the front desk of the tower where i type, a bear of a man who greets me every morning with a heart-melting smile, and gives me reason to not mind the 45 minutes it took to get there.

i wish that each one of you could come to my house, pull up a chair, and dive into a big bowl of oranges, pour the coffee, slice through a nutty cinnamon cake.

i wish we could sit and watch the birds flutter by. i wish you could see the sunlight begin to filter in. and the candles flicker.

i wish, in one last outrageous wish, that i knew the address of the wee little boy who sat beside me on the train the other night, showing off his brand new construction boots, size 3 at most. i wish i could knock on his mama’s door, and hand over a tree, and a basket filled for christmasy dinner. and a bright shiny something for that kid who made the whole train car laugh out loud.

i wish for all the world to be blanketed in a holy comforter of peace. i wish for houses filled with joyful noise. and the utter silence of two dear friends who needn’t say a word.

i wish for whatever’s deepest in your heart to please, please, please come true.

i wish you merry almost christmas.

what do you wish for? let the wish list begin….

one, two, three

we count, some of us, to keep track, to order, to line up.

we count, some of us, to make sense of the sweep of history.

we learn to count on stubby, chubby little fingers, fingers so plumped-up there are dimples where the knuckles ought to be, will be some day, before the gnarly knots set in when we are old, very old.

we count, early on, with cheerios. or raisins. or pebbles on the sidewalk. we count watching clouds scuttle by. we count our eyes, our nose, our toes. we learn that we are whole while counting.

and then we go to school. we learn to count forward and backward. we learn that numbers jump and leap, crumble into bits, and hurtle ever higher. we learn there is no end to counting. we try. anyway.

we count as if to shove tidy, sharp-edged bookends on the sloppy shelves of our lives.

and so i count.

and here we are, at three.

three years ago this day, my not-yet-highschooler, pushed me to the edge of where words and screens came tumbling into this new odd invention, the blog. sounds like someone burping, that word.

you should do it, mom, were the words, as he shoved me off the diving board, into the deep waters of the world of clicking buttons in the dark, in the quiet of this little room where i type, where you, all of you out there in readerland, you find those words, give ‘em a taste, swirl ‘em around in your mouth, maybe in your heart, and then, through a mix of alchemy and voodoo, we are joined. our hearts march along a little mountain trail, together for a while.

closest thing to friendship some days. you can wrap your hands ‘round a mug of steaming tea, or you can click a comment box, send words, connect.

too often, maybe, we click.

maybe there’s not enough time made for teacups at kitchen tables.

but we are living now in the chapter of the in-home computer. in-home, heck! on-person. there are folks, i know, who haul their little box to bed. tuck it underneath the pillow. who knows, maybe news comes in the middle of the night.

for one whose father long long ago now, once said, “you have a sense of history,” leaving me at the time puzzled, a bit let down, this blog that sounds like burp is in fact a blessing. think of all the sharpening of pencils it saves. and the reams of paper.

then stop and think of all the places and the souls to which this world without wires has carried me. and us, the lot of us who make the chair a stop along the way.

makes me scratch my head, and count my lucky stars.

it’d take a lot of postage stamps to get to all of you the old way.

so here we are: three years later.

there’ve been births and deaths and diagnoses this year. there’ve been friends i love, wholesale fired, shoved out the door, their worklives packed into boxes with other people’s names already scratched out.

i no longer get to work where i live. no longer get to simmer winter stews while i talk to smart and newsy people. can’t run out and peek in on the tree peony, minutes away from bloom. don’t mark my days by the way the light pours in. don’t hear my little one bounding in the door, ready to spill the stories of his schoolday, now a third-grade day.

but still, despite the changes all around, i’ve cleared my friday mornings, made this a time to type the keys, watch what spills, sometimes wonder where it came from, sometimes wonder if the words are even worth sending on their unseen voyage.

but send i do.

and i am grateful for the chance to reach out and grab a swatch of life. to try, with all my heart some days, to lay out what it looks like, feels like.

like catching butterflies, or moonbeams, the art of trying to write your life. or at least wisps of it.

some day, long long away from now, someone with ties to me, might look back, and read, come to understand this time, this heart. mostly, i think, i write for my own two boys. i write to leave them a record of how they were loved, how they lived in the old house where they grew up with a mother who was always watching, always looking out for their hearts, their sense of wonder. who tried to stitch the beautiful into their everyday, and somehow found her own salvation.

i write for all of you, kindred souls. you who take the time to trace your eyes across these words. you who write back–or not. i write because in this wee small circle we’ve discovered that we’re not alone. not always anyway.

in a world with not enough teacups and kitchen tables, not put to good use anyway, i write here so we can all–all of us who long to share the good company of our tender hearts–i write so we can, each of us, pull up a chair, find the closest thing to joy and gentleness we know how to offer.

thanks for stopping by, all these many many weeks—156, and counting….

no questions, today. but listening, as always….

when the phone ruins the day

until a few minutes ago, my day was humming along. i sat here typing. about snow. about a dusting of snow that came before dawn.

then the phone rang.

it was my oldest best friend. the one who has been through every twist and turn of my heart in the last 33 years. the one whose voice has always been balm to whatever ails me, the voice of tenderness itself.

the best friend who long, long ago, taught me, perhaps, the lastingest lesson about just how to love, when the one who needs love is your very own self.

“i have breast cancer,” she said, minutes ago.

just like that–no preamble–that’s what she said. those words that pierce and destroy.

i’ve heard them before. heard them too many times.

once from my mother. once from my east-coast best friend. to name but two times in a long, hollow litany.

this though is the best friend who moved down the hall my sophomore year of college and wholly captured my heart, who i lived with back when we were young and, often, spinning in circles, who was maid of honor at my wedding, who is godmother to my little one, the one i call my miracle.

she has had trials already, my very best friend. melanoma, among them, just a few years ago.

and now, this lump in her breast, a lump discovered nine months ago. a lump, checked right away and mostly dismissed. not by my friend though, she kept close watch. and that lump, just a while ago, it decided to change.

this time the test came back with these words from her doctor: “this is not the news i was hoping to give you,” he told her.

and so my best friend called me.

that’s what best friends do. we hold each other up. we share one deck in the cards of life. she’s dealt a card, it becomes mine. and vice versa.

we don’t shirk, run or hide. we step right up, we do the lifting. we hold each other’s hearts, often, more firmly than we hold our own.

we don’t edit our thoughts, or our words when life is upturned and one needs the other. we spill as it comes, knowing every last drop will be sopped up, taken care of.

the chamber in which we talk is the place where knowing comes swift, where silence is filled with deep understanding. the beauty of friendship, when it’s deep, when it’s real, is that it is the essence of life itself.

we are, through our history, through our ups and our downs but always together, pulled into a primal language of love leaning up against love.

you needn’t hold back, needn’t protect, when you’re deep in the work of propping up your very best friend.

right away, she said, her thoughts turned to the one thing that mattered the most: her daughter, her long-legged, blond-haired, brainy, 12-year-old molly.

“it wasn’t, ‘oh, i can’t handle it,’ or ‘poor me,’” she said, as i scribbled her words, an old habit picked up from years of recording whatever folks say.

“what tore me apart was molly. it’s the mother in you. i don’t want her to be afraid, i don’t want her to have a sick mommy.”

and so i just listened. woulda leapt through the phone if i could.

couldn’t stand being half a country away.

what is it with this damn cancer?

i’ve been following a friend in new york, just barely 30. two weeks ago, had a double mastectomy.

other best friend in new york, mother of three on long island. she called and said the same thing, years ago now. she had the surgery, the chemo, weeks of radiation. she still holds her breath. every year, every month, every day.

there are women who come to this table, who count themselves among the survivors.

they know what it is–as my young friend in new york wrote just this week–to be afraid that every mole, every headache is cancer.

to wonder, quite realistically, who would care for their kids, who would give them the talk (quaintly put: the one about the birds and the bees), who would shop for the prom dress, who would recount all the stories from when they were babies…..

my best friend is now among the ranks.

and i, once again, am praying like mad, and doubling my heart. i’ve got a faraway friend who needs me again.

she needs me to be strong.

to believe.

to listen.

and to tenderly care for her heart, as she gets on with the business of beating this cancer.

today turned out to be more of a ramble, than a meander. it’s what happens when you are knocked flat, find yourself trembling…..i trust you understand……so here are the questions…

who and how have you held up the ones you’ve most loved? who held you, when you needed the holding?

and, p.s., whisper a prayer for mary mullane, an angel without the wings…..