pull up a chair

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

Category: friends

pull up a chair. no, really.

in a life where just about every hour feels claimed, where any which one belongs to work, or washing machine, or endless runs to the grocery store, i always seem to be lacking in one serious department: taking time to sit and be with friends.

not dashing off an email in the middle of the night. not calling while walking on the treadmill. not sitting side-by-side at work. but actually, intentionally, gathering for pure purpose of catching up, checking in, putting finger to pulse of a heart that i love, a heart i don’t know as deeply as i wish i did, or both of the above.

and so it was that this morning was carved out. held by scribbles of ink on the calendar, anchored there more than a month ago, after a few rounds of emails eventually ruled it claimed and untouchable.

nothing–not a tummy ache of a child, not a deadline, not leaves that beg to be raked in the yard–nothing was going to hijack this morning. so help us, lord.

and sure enough, no hijacking occurred. one lugged a baby. one lugged a heavy heart. one shoved aside an annual trip to the midwife. i brewed up the coffee.

and so we sat. for hours and hours. no one minded the clock slipping into double digits, and then back into singletons, when the noon hour came and went.

how rare, and how perfect, to sit, hands cupped around still-warm mugs. plates stacked high with clementine peels and crumbs from pumpkin loaf.

how rare, how perfect, to watch stories unspool, to follow one thread into another. to sit back and watch, the criss-crossing of this thread over to that one. to peel back the layers of who we are and the lives we have lived.

to relish the mere fact that this morning had brought us together. that in this small town, four such drawn-together hearts, could actually draw together.

it’s one of the pitfalls of packing too much into our daily to-do’s: it’s friendship, too often, that falls by the wayside.
not that the love’s not there. not that the yearning is gone.

just that, in a tall order of living, we too often forget to refuel on the very thing that stirs all our hearts: the simple sacred time for connection, re-connection, building layer upon layer of holy criss-cross connection.

clearly it’s something i long for. it’s at the heart of this old kitchen table. the one where words on a screen too often suffice for the real thing.

so, rare that it was and it is, this morning the knock at the door came over and over, and each time, i uttered the words that have opened so many hearts: here, pull up a chair.

do you take time to pull up real chairs in your life? do you carve out hours for sacred connection? or do you, too, skimp on what might be the most essential of all? tending to friendships that matter….
and now, late for my mad-dashing rounds of errands, i need to lope out the door….

talking till the wee, wee hours

i’m thinking slumber parties for grownups are the next big swell idea. or, at least they should be, if we give a dang for the continued tick-tock-tick of that ol’ vessel keepin’ time, just beneath our jammies and our frayed and flannel robes.

oh, i don’t mean yakkin’ the night away with whoever it is you’re shacked up with. that’s all well and good (although there are the toothpaste blobs in the sink to contend with, and company seems to know to refrain from that. or at least wipe ’em down with a wad of toilet paper). in fact, some nights when i find me and the tall-guy-with-glasses laughing ourselves silly at 2 in the morning, i really do think marriage–on a good day–is like your mom telling you your best friend can have a sleepover all summer long. and then, poof, the summer never ends.

what i’m talkin’ here–sorry, boys, you can go play all-night poker, or whatever it is that would float your so-called boat–i’m talkin’ havin’ your best girl friends, one at a time is how i like it best, come knockin’ at your door, with jammies, mouthguard, heck, even pimple cream tucked in some little over-the-shoulder satchel.

i’m talkin’ curling up on the couch, armed with bowls of popcorn to punctuate the most important points–you can bite it hard and loud, if you need to, or let it linger on your lips, for effect; it really is the perfect conversational accessory, salted, greased or plain old plain.

i’m talkin’ whispers when the rest of the house is filled with zzzzzzs. i’m talkin’ getting past the ancillary business and boring straight inside the heart.

i’m talkin’ saying things you can’t say out loud to barely any other soul on earth. but you can when you’re with a best friend, because she knows it all already. and she can fill in blanks no one else would every guess.

what makes me think all this is i had a slumber party just the other night.

one of my oldest, dearest, wisest friends was in town from california. she stretched her trip just to spend two nights, one day, with me and my boys. once again, i was humming as i readied her room, blew up the air mattress, put out a little vase of white tea roses in winter, laid yummy soaps and lotions on her tall stack of fluffy towels. i even plunked a toblerone chocolate on her pillow. there is nothin’ like spoiling your best friends.

the first night, after fish soup and black cherry pie, we stayed up for hours, accompanied by the boy i call the manchild. he adores her too. she is pretty much his auntie to the world. she knows more about everything than most anyone i know. she’s hip. she’s cool. she wears her hair in dreadlocks (not a lot of which you see around this leafy shore). and she’s the one who taught him how to take whatever’s in the fridge, add rice, one egg, and call it “ghetto fried rice.” a dish he could eat five times a day, swooning every time.

oh, and besides, she went to the school he’s set his sights on, so he had hours’ worth of questions. right down to subway stops, and profs.

that night, as you might figure, it was all PG, content approved for family audience. (with just a few racy winks and nods, perhaps, since after all, he’s a manchild now, and she was easing him into the club.)

the next night, though, once home from a rousing dinner with old newsroom pals, we paid no mind to the clock telling us–in no uncertain terms–that anyone with sense would be in bed, tucked beneath the puffy covers.

nope. we were two old, old friends who’d had to keep the lid on all the really pressing stuff the night before. so this night, we were all but yankin’ that old clock right off the wall. it ticked, we talked. ignored its insistent gongs, every quarter hour, like a toddler tugging on our sleeve.

we got down to business. we got down to girl talk–and i’ll not spell that out. you’re either of the double-Xs (i’m talkin’ DNA, not ratings, here), and you know of which i speak. or else you’re not, and forgive our exclusionary ways this one time, but there’s no translator in the house.

here, though, are some hints: dreams, drama, heartache; repeat, repeat. how’s that for what it was us girls were digging into, besides the mound of exploded kernels that stoked our late-night talking binge?

oh, yes, there was something to the sleepiness that crept in, as that ol’ clock kept burping up its teeny-tiny numbers. not unlike wine, it made the room all gauzy, almost blurred. i was bleary-eyed, all right, but that only oiled, loosed, the conversation.

like a stream that rushes, sends its waters down and in, rinsing ’round the rocks, bathing every crevice, that late-night hour propelled the words, the thoughts, down deep to all the nooks and crannies of our souls.

we went to places the daylight does not allow. only the long blank slate of night, with dawn the only end in sight, still miles out beyond the eastern sky.

in fact, at one brief synapse, when some wayward thought was trying to take the leap from nerve to nerve, i did think, oh heck, let’s just go all night. let’s watch that rosy-fingered dawn reach out and try to tap us on the noggin.

but at last, when every chamber of our hearts had been unlocked, laid bare, when eyelids were truly slipping, and yawns distorting words, we succumbed.

we did what grownups do: we got off the couch, and sensibly climbed the stairs (if 2:30, maybe 3, has any sense at all, what with a whole sunday just ahead).

we kissed goodnight, for that’s what best friends do.

and then we dreamed. of the next night when we’d unspool our hearts and souls, join hands and sail to places that can only be discovered when it’s dark and quiet and you pay no mind to midnight chimes on busy-body clocks.

have you had a slumber party lately? with your oldest bestest friend? or with, perhaps, the ones who shared your dorm, or house, in college? or, maybe, you lucky duck, you have a sister who brings her jammies for the night…
to mix it up here, do you ever think of being married as the longest lasting slumber party in the world? oh, one other thing, i hated slumber parties as a kid. hated the way it made me feel the morning after. hated being the only one who wanted sleep, and didn’t like to get in trouble, despised the scary movies. did you like ‘em? or were you, like me, more inclined toward the one-on-one, more tame, sleepover?

the dinner party

it started with a phone call one cold sunday afternoon, not so long ago. are you free next saturday night, was the plain-and-simple question.

yes, came the answer, after the requisite checking of calendar, double-checking with spouse, most likely checking in with kiddies to make sure they too could pencil it in. or tap it in, or however it is cyber-tots lock in a date these days.

once secured in the affirmative, another phone call was made. same question posed, left there on the recordable secretary.

and so began the cobbling of souls, the making of lists that for me is, well, about the hummingest hum i know.

i am, it seems, never so quick in the pulse as when i am deep in constructing a dinner party.

if given one more day of my life i think, yes, i do, i would call up everyone i love, and plenty of folks i don’t even know but would love to. i’d order up as many leaves for the table as i possibly could, break down the living room wall if i had to, to make room for all of the chairs. and then i would cook, cook, and cook some more.

oh, did i mention i’d borrow plenty of knives? for, darn it, i only have nine. although, somehow, in the spoon and the fork departments, i am swimming. i think when we were married, when slim little boxes came in many-a-day’s mail, there must have been some sort of 2-for-1 sale on all the parts of the place setting, except for the parts that do cutting. which means you might come for soup, and maybe some ice cream, if you come with more than eight of your friends. and surely, hopefully, some day you’ll come.

for, surely, positively, this is the truth: i would if i could spend the rest of my days dreaming up, doing, yes, even drying the dishes from dinner party piled on dinner party here at my drafty old house.

in fact, so nutty am i for le diner that i looked up from my vacuuming the other afternoon to tell my sweet mate the very something i was thinking at that very moment. then i stopped myself. said, “oh no, that’s too irish.”

to which he urged, “no, tell me.”

i hemmed. hawed. then spilled it: “when i die, skip the wake; just do a dinner party.”

to which, of course, he moaned.

and i went right on vacuuming fur balls.

so it was, all day saturday i found myself humming. humming, you should know, is me at my, well, purring-est.

i was, all at once, cooking, setting the table, imagining the conversations. i was deciding who would sit where for maximum conversational flow. oh, and i was putting out proud tall candles, and snipping the stems of tulips. red ones in february.

to lay out a table for a dinner party is to be bold. is to be alive, really. to be filled to brimming with all sorts of possibility.

it is, i realized, as i lifted the lid on the steeping, steaming coq au vin–my idea of the perfect february dinner party dinner–the most sacramental moment, perhaps, in this holy place we call home.

it is gathering friends, and sometimes near strangers. it is paying no mind to color or age, or political side of the table. it is inviting muslim to sit down with jew. it is asking the atheist to join hands as you stop and offer a few words of grace before picking up fork and, well, keep from jabbing.

it is detente over dinner. it is catching a gleam in the eye as you pass down the butter. it is laughing so hard over salad, you wipe the tears from your eye–and not at all from the shallot.

try not feeling fondly toward the one who pours a splash more merlot in your glass.

it is, wholly, the breaking of bread, and all that that means going back to the dawn of civilization.

it is eucharist, small “e,” defined: bread and wine, yes, but really, “the giving of thanks, offering graciously.” leave it to the greeks and the romans to give it a name, to launch it. the french to refine it. you and me to make it our own.

it is unfurling ideas and stories there at the old family table. it is drawing out thoughts from those you’ve asked to pull up a chair. it is listening. it is returning the thought with a question. and maybe another, and another.

it is, before you even get to the table, making the house come alive, igniting its reason for being. kindling lights. cranking the stove. making a fire. putting on mozart. or muddy waters. it is opening the door, with a gust of warm, wine-sodden air that can’t help but sweep in those shivering there on the stoop.

and for the one doing the inviting, it begins long before the bell rings.

it begins, for me, as i pluck from thin air the someones i’m dying to know, or simply to gather again at the edge of my table. the ones who i think will make for fine conversation. whose stories we might not yet know. whose ideas might rub off on my children.

a dinner party with children, i’ll have you know, is the height of my dinner-party definition. oh, i love a gathering of grownups. but i believe in bringing the children, more than once in a very scant while.

it is there, where the art of the napkin is figured out, that life’s lastingest curriculum is spread.

i am not, never have been, one to segregate the little people. i don’t believe in banishing the squirmers off in the kitchen. oh no. let them squirm right here among us. let them learn how to listen. let them learn the art of unspooling the story. let them follow words to a simmer, then rise to almost a boil, but right then, before the lid blows, let them absorb the knack for cooling it down to a slow gentle bubbling again.

and so it was, last saturday night, that i laid out a table for 12. spent the whole day, and part of the one before, toiling away. picking out cremini mushrooms. uncorking bordeaux. mismatching old plates. scribbling names onto red folded cards.

not a minute felt like a chore, or anything close. it was joy, only joy, pure, simple, undiluted.

there is something, i swear, to making a table that sparkles. to filling bowls and baskets and platters to spilling. to stoking the evening to come.

there is dinner. and then there is feasting.

saturday night at my house, we feasted. till our bellies–and hearts–were stuffed near to bursting.

when it was over, the last napkin tossed down the chute, the last bit of cake tucked away, i only had room for a very full sigh.

ever since, i’ve been licking my lips on all that’s leftover. and i don’t mean what’s in the fridge.

do you too love a dinner party? are you daunted sometimes by the notion? or have you mastered the grace of making it seem effortless? like something you do at the drop of any old reason? what are your secret ingredients to a dinner that lingers long after the lights are turned out? do you have a tried-and-true menu that works every time? or do you indulge in experimenting on company? is there a dinner you’ll never forget, and why?

every year, a cast of characters



every year. count on it. there will be characters. they will be many. they will be deeply, richly, crazily creviced, shadowed, colored.

it is as much the order of the seder as the haggadah itself. the table will spill with character. ooze with it. rumble, tumble, jumble, full of characters.

wafting just above, that’s character no. 1. the tall one, that is.

that’s ted. rebbe ted. the one wrapped in japanese prayer robe, tied with obi. the one raising the first of four glasses of vintage manishewitz. the one we drive miles to be with every pesach.

ted, a rabbi and cantor without a congregation these days, is a therapist; spends his working hours trying to screw on people’s heads, or at least screw them on a little less wobbly than when they first wandered in.

but mostly, always, ted is a character. ted’s eyes, i think, must gleam even when he’s sleeping.

at ted’s seder, things are, um, unorthodox. ted reaches in a bag and pulls out yarmulkes from around the world. sometimes he wears his tibetan temple headdress. he always wears his japanese robe.

at ted’s, you do some chanting. you close your eyes and chant the vowels. you do not close your lips when chanting vowels, he tells you, and thus you assume a posture of openness that ted thinks the world truly deeply needs. you chant deeply, ahhhhhhhhh.

at ted’s, you eat sumptuous french hors d‘oeuvres. (and then you find out, oops, they are not kosher for passover; maybe that’s why they tasted so good.)

i tell you the story of ted because in bringing my children to ted each year i bring them to one of the most essential gifts a parent can give a child: the gift of the one who’d never paint by numbers, the iconoclast, the eccentric, the character. the deep and rich and soul-expanding knowledge that life is splashed with vibrant colors.

one of those colors is the color ted.

it brings unending joy to me to bring my children to tables where i know they will hear voices they do not hear at home. home is where the grounding happens. home is where you learn that the parachute has a safety cord, and you can pull it any time.

other people’s launch pads are where you learn to lift your foot off the ledge, set it in mid-air, and feel the fall, but then the updraft, carrying you, lifting you to places you’d never see from the safety of that concrete ledge.

last night we soared with ted. heard his salty brand of politics. took in his dash of new-age mysticism. felt the gestalt of letting go of that by which we’d been enslaved. watched him raise a yale sweatshirt, oy, to teach a lesson on hebrew light and perfection. (right there, spelled out on yale’s emblem, in hebrew letters, who knew? found out that centuries ago, at the founding of yale, patrician of patrician schools, hebrew was required study. ted, by the way, went to yale.)

tonight we congregate again. at another table of eccentrics. they will be the ones with whom we’ve worked for decades. the ones with whom i’ve “sedered” for 25 years, before husband, before children, and every variation since. a cast of newspaper kooks. my boys, all eyes and ears, will learn much that i won’t teach them.

besides the wine glasses filled with jelly beans (the kinder version of fruit of the vine), the flogging each other with scallions, yes, scallions, the pulling out of little plastic plagues, there is the annual putting of passover lyrics to broadway tunes.

we drive home each year, from nights one and two, with bellies aching. not from all the passover matzo kugel. no, no. from laughing ’til our sides feel split in two.

we are blessed. so very blessed.

all my life, far back as i can remember, i have loved the odd ball. the duck who waddled to his or her own drum beat. at my mid-century mark, i survey the landscape of my life and see i’ve assembled quite some cast of characters.

my almost-man-child told me recently that one of the most lasting lessons he learned from his uncle david was when david spoke of a brilliant friend of his, a friend with phD in sanskrit, a friend who studies global drumming and, for a long while, drove a cab in new york city. david, it seems, told my almost-man-child: “he really is a kook.” and my almost-man-child told me that the way he said it, he knew that uncle david meant that to be a kook is a very noble thing. “that’s how i learned i should never march to other people’s drummers,” said my boy who decidedly does not.

my prayer this pesach, my prayer that already has been heard on high, is that all the children, not just my boys, hear a world of many drummers. and come, as often as they can, to a table that spills with kooks and characters and bold eccentrics, a table, every first-night seder, led by rabbi ted.

who, by the way, i love with all my heart. even if he makes me close my eyes and chant the vowels.

do you collect characters? do you see the beauty in those who color outside the lines? do you, if you have children, or love children, or are a child at heart, seek out tables where you know they–and you–will hear voices unlike the ones they–and you–hear at home?

casserole for a faraway friend

she is, sadly, only the latest. only the latest in a circle that keeps growing, a circle for whom casseroles are tossed together, tucked in the oven, delivered.

delivered in hopes that what you stirred into it might lift the burden, find the cure, deliver them from whatever evil ails them.

this time the casserole is for a faraway friend. in case you pray, she is sliding into that ether-stoked sleep at 1 o’clock today, on a hard cold surgical slab in baltimore, actually. the skilled hands that will wield power over her are hands that will be excising cancer, taking it out from her breast, dammit, that place that keeps harboring cancer in women we love.

my friend is young. has children far too young. beautiful little children. a girl with such curls you want to sit her down with a set of oils and paint her, and frame her. a sweet big-eyed boy too little to be worrying about his mama. today or any day.

my friend, who writes roadmaps through kitchens, but really through life, for a living, for a newspaper, sent an email the other afternoon. short and to the point. let a whole string of us know with the click of a button that she was having surgery today, breast cancer surgery. she apologized for the abruptness of the news and its arrival via email. but she explained, as if she needed to, “i haven’t been much in the mood to talk.” vintage for my friend, telescoping so much in so few words.

she asked for whatever sorts of prayer anyone might happen to pray. then she mentioned, in a short string that sums up a mother’s worries, that casseroles, spring play-dates and dog dates would be more than welcome.

casseroles, it seems, are the latter-day pulling in of the wagons. when the distress call is put out, like so much gray smoke rising from the chimney of the house where the hubbub is happening, the women all through the village start lining up at the door with their casseroles, their bundt pans, and their tins filled with brownies.

here in the town where i live, the labyrinth of home-cooked, personally-delivered meals is astounding. i’ve seen it go on for months and months, strategically organized, right down to the plastic cooler on the front porch where meals could be dropped without ever disturbing the family inside nursing a young daughter through death, it turned out.

the meals come so fast and so furious, the need for air traffic controller is immediate. without asking, it seems, someone steps up and takes over that slot, too.

there is, when you’re the one being fed, nothing to do but sit back on your pillows and take in the great parade of great food, and unshakable friendship. some come quick, simply. some are elaborate works of caring. i still remember the kindergarten teacher who sent food for my little one and thought to make it into a smiley, silly face of cut-up fruits and squiggly pastas. my little one, who often doesn’t, gobbled it.

the point when making a casserole is that it is, often, the only darn thing you can do. we all know what a slippery slope we dwell on, we all know that to suddenly be whisked from your role there at the command center, in the kitchen, at the phone, in front of the computer, is to surrender all semblance of order in your life and the lives of those who you love.

in the case of, say, my faraway friend, she is, God willing, going to be all about the business of healing. even if she hadn’t asked, the impulse would be there: to bake something, make something, take something, do something, dammit, to ease her equation. even if something boils down to nothing so much as a few chicken breasts, rice, broth, a sprinkle of herbs, salt and pepper.

in the casserole for my friend, which was only one made in her name (the distance is daunting, a serious impediment to personal delivery), one made as my way of harnessing forces, sending deep casserole vibes out into the far-flung universe, i took that casserole up a notch or three.

you see, she is all about cooking. she writes, droolingly, about cooking. i have called her for years my latter-day laurie colwin, that magnificent writer of food (“home cooking,” “more home cooking,” both still in print), but really of life, who died way too young, at 48.

i realized yesterday i stop my comparison of my friend to laurie at the point where her words make you hungry and fill you all at the same time. nothing more. no further comparison.

so inspired by my friend, i took my stand-by, family favorite, chicken rice grammy, dug it out of the old wooden box that i hold together with a red ribbon these days. and i spun it up a notch, made it chicken rice for my faraway friend.

added red peppers, wanted a splash of intensity for my friend, even if it meant my one boy who would eat it would curl up his nose, shove red bits off to the rim. added artichoke hearts. this was my friend, for crying out loud. sophisticated, elegant, always-producing-the-unexpected, my faraway friend, this was.

slid it into the 350 oven, filled the house with its savory perfume. these were vespers for my friend, lifting and rising. an hour later, i took it out of the oven, slid spoon into thick creamy middle. this is comfort as comforting as it gets.

nearly three springs ago, my friend wrote about bringing ready-to-eat meals to a friend of hers who’d been up all night having a baby. “if she can deliver life,” my friend wrote, “you can deliver dinner.”

she went on to tick through the essentials: it need be “something sturdy enough to endure the car trip. resilient enough to shrug off freezing or reheating or neglect. and yet, nothing so grab-n-go as to be mistaken for K rations.”
she finished with this, most essential: “a dish that suggests hope.”

she went with risotto, risotto with shelled english peas. i went with rice and artichoke hearts. the intent is the same: my faraway friend, wherever you are, however knotted your tummy, there is a casserole baked and waiting for you. now all i have to do is figure out how in the world to mail rice, broth and perishable chicken.

i am certain as i could possibly be that i am preaching to a choir of practiced casserole bakers, a whole phalanx of hot meal deliverers, whether you have a casserole story, a recipe, or a tip for taking that delivery up quite a notch, won’t you please pull in your chair and spill here at the table?
and, oh, by the way, here’s my chicken rice for faraway friend….

glue, paper, scissors

in the thick of a sunday so cold it made my fingertips burn all day, just from filling the bird feeder (without mittens, silly me).

at the end of a week so bitter and cruel it made my heart burn, just from the tumult of too many things.

in the midst of all that, my telephone rang. it was melissa. she wanted me to come on a cold afternoon to cut paper, pour glue, add glitter.

i did. and somewhere deep in construction, maybe during the part where my thumb and my pointer were hooked in the zig-zaggy scissors, my heart started to thaw. my heart started to twinkle.

we were cutting out whimsy, dabbing on love, making wonder from red and from pink. i think maybe valentine was a saint, only because it gives reason for folly deep in the depths of the winter.

now i am not one to pull out paper therapy at the drop  of a hat. but i must confess to a paper obsession. maybe it’s because i put words on them, consider them missile for my missives, the vessel that takes me and my thoughts out into the world, through the mail, from my desk to yours, far away.

maybe because papers set moods. maybe because paper is clasped in your fingers. you hold it. you behold it. it’s not incidental. not always, at least.

playing with paper takes me back to long long ago. i made whole kingdoms from paper. built houses all summer long. played out great paper dramas, this paper doll taking a walk through the forest. that one lying sick in a bed.

it is a smart thing for a grownup in an increasingly paperless world to return to paper. to pull out the scissors, the glue and the stamps.

we gathered, the mamas from the street where i live. the little girls too. we all cut and we chattered. we nibbled, we sipped. we built paper hearts in as many creations as there were souls at the table. to watch women engrossed in making love out of paper is something to soften your heart on a cold winter’s day.

then the little girls, led by an angel among them, started tracing their hands, cutting them out. laid out in a circle, they made a whole wreath of hands, hands poked through with hearts. a circle of love for the little old lady next door. the one who went off in an ambulance in the dark of new year’s night, and hasn’t been home ever since.

i sighed as i saw it. i marveled, i did, at the power of paper on a cold afternoon. cut paper, my friends, snip, snip and snip. there are wonderful curative balms that ooze from the core of the pulp.

before the page turns

before the last page flips over and away, it seems fitting to say, in no particular order…

this was the year my bones got less wobbly thanks to a dancer named donna; my broken-necked boy got rescued, he did, thanks to guardian angels and samaritans, too.

a little girl with a brain tumor reminded me how simple it is, when she nestled next to her mama and proclaimed this lasting truth: “i can read, i can whistle, i have a loose tooth; my life is complete.”

another sweet girl with a brain tumor didn’t make it, but she got up out of her wheelchair and walked across the finish line, she did.

a quartet of builders pounded their hearts into my farmhouse kitchen, and everywhere i look, everything i touch, i see them, i feel them; one blessed builder didn’t live to see the end of this year and for him i will forever ache, and forever be thankful.
a wise editor named ross urged me to tell the whole truth in a tale that finally brought my skeleton out of the closet; an even wiser woman named linda gave me the courage, the backbone, to do so.

a wizened man from ecuador told my sweet will how he walked to this country, would let nothing keep him away; another from mexico told of crossing the desert for three days with nothing but orange peels and hard candy.

a plaza filled with passionate people would not let the world deny nor forget the suffering in darfur, and my boys, thank God, were there to soak in the passion, to add their voice to the outcry.

a college kid with pierced ear and huge heart fell in love with my rambunctious child, offering hope that someone out in the world might see the golden light in his aura.

a golden-haired girl, with a platinum heart, loved that same little kid, and filled his wednesdays with light, every week through the summer.

standing in the emergency room with one trembling 5-year-old, my dear friend and neighbor ran to our rescue, interrupting her birthday to let him leap to her arms and out of the terrifying horrible place.

month after month, our friends at the soup kitchen bathed us in gratitude, humbled us deeply with the simple act of telling us our supper was something.

two soccer coaches, our first taste of the game, cared not about winning; were gentle and sweet as two coaches could possibly, imaginably be.

friends jane, jan and judy, old hands each, took me by the hand, by the elbow, the shoulder, and got me through the great rite of my firstborn’s bar mitzvah.

my blessed magnificent rock of a friend, one from way back in the newsroom, flew here to stand in my kitchen, to be by my side, and teach my sweet will the fine art of ghetto fried rice.

a sweet woman named molly left a shabbat basket on my stoop, melting me thoroughly with her random act of deep kindness.

a man named dorel, who can no longer make words, delighted me endlessly with the gleam in his eye as we went over and over simple sounds, ah, buh and k, kat.

when the going got rough, i stood back and watched a man named pete be the consummate father, showering love on a kid he wouldn’t let get dumped.

on the other end of the line, when i needed him most, my old ER doc friend said the words i most needed to hear, and stayed on the line ’til all was clear.

a farmer named henry, week after week, quietly, wordlessly grew for the world the purest produce that i’ve ever tasted; his sister, the word smith, puts his stories in print, and reminds every one of us of the infinite wisdom buried deep in the earth.

in a million other ways, the friends who i love bathed me in goodness and light, made me laugh, dried my tears, held my hand, held me up. from the ones who brought donuts before dawn to our hospital bedside, to the ones who pushed me off the great blogger ledge, i ask and i beg God to bless them with grace and with all that is good.

it’s been one stunning year, and we’re here at the end. God bless you. God keep you. take a deep breath, take a dive once again…..

if perhaps you have someone who stood out in your year, for their kindness, their goodness, their most amazing grace, tack their tale here. no need to name names, we’ll all get the gist….

extending the table

the leaves of the table, perhaps, are the heart of the table. they’re meant for extending. for adding guests. for making room. this is about extending the table.

if you’ve poked about this place we are building, this place called pull up a chair, you might have wandered over to the corner of it called the bottomless cup. i mention there a book i was dying to dash out and get, a book called “extending the table: a world community cookbook.” well, i dashed all right, and i got it. and it is every bit as delicious, as chewy, as i had hoped it would be. there’s a link on the bottomless cup, right where i mention the book, that will hook you right over to the ten thousand villages website, where you could order up a copy all your own. (or you could look for it elsewhere, it’s compiled by joetta handrich schlabach, it’s $20 and it comes from herald press.)

i am reading the book with yellow highlighter in hand. when’s the last time you read a cookbook with a highlighter?

the reason i am highlighting madly is because the book shares a deep underlying theme with pull up a chair. it is about welcoming. taking time. it is about making room at your table. making room in your day.

as my wise wonderful friend susie, the one who told me about “extending the table” in the first place, was musing, she talked about how when she was growing up, if you came to her mother’s house, you got a cup of coffee set down before you. no one even bothered to ask. you just got a coffee. it was assumed you were staying long enough to get to the bottom of the cup. now, says susie, you’re lucky if someone offers you a glass of water from the front of the fridge; no one really has time. no time to make the coffee, no time really for you to stay. a quick swallow of pre-chilled water, you’re back out the door.

not so around the world. not so in places where cold water does not come spitting out the front of the fridge.

“in turkey,” one passage of “extending the table” begins, “it is a great virtue to be known as someone who loves company and has a lot of it.”

the book goes on to tell that when a guest arrives at the door, shoes are removed, a pair of slippers are offered. the guest is ushered into the great room; the host kisses both cheeks, and sprinkles lemon cologne on their hands. coffee is offered, the host asks if they like it with or without sugar. once coffee is finished, the host prepares tea, which must be simmered 17 minutes, and always is made fresh for a guest (family might drink warmed-up tea). tea comes with sweet and salty pastries; the cup is refilled until the guest insists she or he cannot swallow another drop. when the guest insists she must leave, the host hurries to the kitchen, returning with plates of fresh fruit for everyone. when the fruit is finished, and the guest again insists she must leave, the host brings damp washcloths, and arranges shoes with toes pointed toward the door. they part with kisses, handshakes, and an exchange of invitations for future visits.

oh my. nearly makes you squirm. imagine packing that in your blackberry-buzzed day.

makes you think, though. makes me stop and think.

when was the last time you made coffee for someone who came to your door? when was the last time someone came to your door, dropping in for the sole purpose of pulling up a chair to your table?

maybe, one cup at a time, we can begin to change that…

an ear to your heart

sometimes, great swaths of time can go by and it doesn’t happen. but it happened this year.

happened as i reached for the wadded-up clump that came in a box of other-sized things, all wrapped in the same red-with-white-snowmen.

little hands, you see, unable to wait when the big box arrived, had reached for the same lump and started the ripping, so this particular clump had some of its underthings showing. a brown-paper webbing, in fact, that was meant to keep something safe. but this something had my name on it, penned in silver on a snowflake cut from white paper, so when the ripping began we told it to stop. patiently, temptingly, its underthings showing, the lump it had waited all of these days.

there wasn’t much under the tree with my name on it this year, and for some reason i knew that this something i would want to open off to side, where i alone could drink in whatever it was.

and so, after the rest of the opening hubbub this christmas eve, in between gathering up scraps of paper and ribbons and ladling out bowls of white-hot white chili, i reached under the tree for the lump that was mine. as i unrolled the brown-paper webbing, i uncovered a layer of tissue with the stamp of a store that i love up in maine. stonewall kitchen, i read. and my heart started to skip.

you see, stonewall kitchen, a vast storehouse of jams and jellies and all sorts of dry mixes, also happens to peddle a blue-and-white pottery that makes my heart skip. burleighware, it’s called. comes from england.

the signature pattern is a rich cobalt calico. months and months ago, i splurged on a big fat oversized pitcher, marking the end of the kitchen construction and the start of the second half-century of me, which begins in just over a week.

never in my life have i wanted to collect anything (although there was a spell when the world, it seemed, had decided i was a bovine collector, and thus i seemed to reap cows in every size shape and utility), but once i eyed this burleighware, i thought, uh oh, this could be trouble. it’s blue and white you see, and i am a sucker for that.

cobalt blue sets me to swooning. and this burleighware comes in intricate patterns, each one transferred by hand, over in some charming barn in the countryside of merry ol’ england.

so back to my lump, now revealing its stonewall-kitchen origins. here’s where the magic starts to creep in.

i do not go on and on about “things” that i love. so maybe i might have once mentioned the shop, maybe twice. but someone was listening, someone was looking. paying attention to the thump in my heart that came from the blue calico pitcher, and a small flock of similar ilk that had crept into my kitchen in dribs and in drabs.

that, there, is the magic of christmas, the magic of gifting, the magic of utterly truly giving a gift. for in the end, as my dear becca (blessed art therapist who works wonders with the most troubled of kids) says, all that all of us want is to be heard.

and so, standing there, pulling back the tissue, pulling back the wrap, i found in my hands two tiny pitchers, both in calico blue. how did she know, was the first thing i thought. bless her for listening, bless her for hearing the thumpety-thumpety-thump of my heart.

they sit on my sill now, my white-with-blue sill, in the little thin window that charmed me, that whispered to me, the instant the builders slipped it into its place. there’s a bramble of bushes and a tall cedar fence out that window, but if you look carefully you can imagine a scene from a farm, all rolling and cows. and now, with the english calico pitchers, you might imagine an english farm scene.

but the best part of the window, now that they’re perched, is that someone was listening to the inner tick of my heart.

for a girl who spent years opening things that seemed to belong to someone down the road, around the corner, certainly at some other address, there is nothing so sweet, nothing so humbling, as the great gift of being touched at the tick of your heart.

perhaps it happened to you, perhaps someone heard the tick or the tock of your inner-most heart. if you care to, tell your tale here….