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Category: overcrazed calendars

making time

before the packing begins, before i rifle through the closets, deciding which hanger stays and which comes along, before i pack up the vials of advil and tubes of triple-antibiotic ointment (the potions and goos and whatchamajiggers one needs in a school year far from the roost), before all of that, i’ve been making like a physicist — or maybe simply someone with lessons to learn in the fine art of communion.

i’ve been stretching and squeezing the measured-off hours we think of as “time.” i’ve been deep-diving into the fractions and eddies that lie between minutes. i’ve turned time-keeping on its head and upholstered the day with moments that otherwise would have escaped me —  unduly sacrificed at the altar of holy-cow-there’s-great-gobs-to-get-done.

at the urging and insistence of friends who won’t settle for virtual goodbyes, who won’t do with a storm of adios emails, i’ve been doing what i’m not so naturally good at, i’ve been discovering just how fluid the day can be, even when you feel harnessed by a long list of to-do’s, a russian doll set of to-do’s, with one list begetting another and another and always another (no wonder i wake up at 2 and then 3 and often at 4 in the morning).

i’ve been making time for friends. not just friends on the phone. or friends through strings of typed-out sentences. but friends in the flesh. friends who put down their busy lives, toss their to-do’s into the back seat of cars, click the lock and do not look back.

friends, face to face, side by side, smack dab in the middle of a day, early in the morning, or long after the fireflies turn off their blinkers and head in for the night.

oh, i know it’s not exactly a skill that demands extraordinary finesse. really all it takes is scribbling a name on the calendar, and, poof, a meeting is made.

but, truly, it entails allowing the hours to loosen up their tightly regimented marching step. it requires a bit of a mental leap to sink into the slow tempo, the enveloping gift of time spent together, in the telling of story, in the swapping of secrets and worries and gut-splitting laughter with the great good friends we have gathered, have come to love, over the undulations of years.

it’s been good for me — nay, great for me — this refresher course in friendship, in the stunning and cold-splash-of-water realization that none of us, ever, are really too busy to squeeze in the gift of time with a friend. time and space shared with a friend. whether that space comes in the form of an old wicker chair, or a kitchen stool, or the too-skinny sidewalk that goes on for miles and miles of unbroken conversation and footsteps.

in my gotta-get-it-done internal clock, i tend to picture a day as a blur without pause. truth be told, i leap, never saunter, out of bed every morning. i am often breathless by the time i get to the old butcher block counter, diving into the day as if a whistle’s about to blow, and i’ll get called for failing to make my quota on the factory line of household production, and whatever else screams for my well-honed cross-it-off-the-list skills.

a hundred times a day — or at least twice — i hear myself telling myself that this is no way to live, that really on my deathbed i am not going to be thrilled to have slam-dunked every to-do list put before my eyes. but does that slow me to a somnolent tempo? not often enough, really.

and so these days right in here — with less than two weeks till three of us climb on a plane (the fat cat counts as one in this high-flying equation) while the other two pack themselves and a heap of earthly belongings into the overstuffed car and take to the highways — it’s final exam time, an honest-to-goodness test to see if, amid a forest of calls that must be made, insurance policies switched, dehumidifiers rigged up to hoses, and lord knows what i’m forgetting, i can sink into the featherbed of friendships and do nothing more than savor the rare and wonderful gift of a dear friend’s hilarious stories, or her tears, or the three things keeping her awake through the nights.

making time — despite all the organizational doohickies the people at pottery barn try to sell us, and despite all the digital numbers flashing from our cellphones and microwave clocks — is an art that could be lost, at least when it comes to matters of the heart.

in the last few weeks, as one-by-one i’ve carved out an hour here, or a morning there, as i’ve gathered my friends within arms reach, or the squeeze of a hand, i’ve been reminded how essential it is, and how much more solidly my heart pounds when i see time not as a cage in which i’m bound, but as a deep and bottomless pool in which i can splash to my heart’s pure joy and content.

are you good at making time for what matters? or are you, like me, too hellbent half the time on sprinting through the days with little pause for plain old friend time? 

that ol’ nemesis: datebook

it’s not the first time i’ve felt strung up by my datebook. oh no. not even close.

maybe it’s just that it’s worn me down to the rough-sawn bone.

it is a modern mother’s dilemma: you write it all down, to get it all done, but when you look at the page, you get dizzy. short of breath. queazy bellied.

you look at the calculus there on the page, and you realize it’s an equation to stump even the most enlightened.

you don’t set out to cobble together a datebook with squiggles and swirls, and multiple colors of ink. you are not trying to illustrate the madness that is your life at the moment.

you are simply recording who needs to be where, and when.

so how come it makes me so queazy?

how come these last two months of the schoolyear, of high school for one of my two, how come once again it feels like a slammer?

i find myself whispering to myself, as i drive from place one to place two, “God only gives you what you can handle. good thing, babe, you only had two.” i can’t imagine the scene if i’d had the six or four or three i’d long hoped for.

i walked into my editor’s office yesterday, to ask about one of my stories. she asked how it was going, i flipped back, “oh, it’s insane.” she, a solid swede who never gets ruffled, flipped back: “you’re always insane. just don’t let it be.”

i carried those words with me the rest of the day: just don’t let it be.

hmm. and how would i do that? what does that look like?

i have two kids. one does two sports plus fourth grade. shouldn’t be too complicated. i have another who carries a nearly impossible load, including an art class that keeps him up till 5 in the morning, what with all the drilling and glueing, the mounting of beach grass in neat little lines, on a rolled-out base of self-hardening clay. and did i mention peculiarly bent tubes of copper? it’s intricate and beautiful. but it scares me to death. say, when he leaves it to dry on the floor of the kitchen, in the space where we walk from one room to another. besides the art, there’s the fine sport of rowing. and a chamber orchestra load that, for instance, has him awake at 4 in the morning to get on a bus to roll down to orchestra hall, for a recording on stage. and i’m due to idle outside, in the no-parking lane, to rush him from end of recording, to 15 miles away, where a boat of rowers will be waiting on the banks of the river. that’s on the docket for monday. never mind tuesday or wednesday.

did you read that paragraph there? it’s what’s making me nuts.

but my editor says, soundly, “don’t let it.”

so i come to the table, to ask: how is it done? how do we take on these loads and not sink under the weight of it, the here-and-there of it?

maybe i should have been some sort of a monk. holed myself up in a cloistered existence. worried about simple things, like when the chives were about to burst into bloom. or how much my knees hurt, kneeling there on the hard stone slabs at vespers at 3 in the morning.

maybe i was cut out for another life.

maybe being a mother in the 21st century is not my natural habitat. maybe i’m driving everyone nuts with all of my worries. and all of my odd calculations, trying to figure how long i can idle in that no-parking lane before the cop blows his whistle, slaps on a ticket?

it’s that ol’ nemesis datebook, back to bite me again.

i long for the zen. for serenity. for nothing more taxing than gathering blooms from my garden. for snipping fine herbs in my stew.

i need a prescription, i fear, to get through to the end of the school year. (pssst, i don’t mean a white little pill; nor a blue one. just some method to clear all the madness.)

and the sad thing is this: these are the final weeks that my firstborn and i will ride the waves of his everyday life.
i’d better figure it out, before i let these days swirl down the drain.

anyone have an eraser?

i need your counsel and wisdom: how do we take on a jampacked calendar, and not succumb to our worst worried selves? anyone else feel stretched to the point where you hear a snap in your head? anyone know the words to the serenity prayer?

despite it all…..

if, on any one of the days of this past week, i had scribbled down every last thing i was trying to hold in my head or my heart, i might have run out of ink.

there was the phone call from school, saying the little one was sick again, please come fetch.

and there was the early morning email that someone very wonderful, very brave, had died.

there was the lost assignment notebook, and the lost $40. there was the rowing jacket that needed to be claimed, and the rower, too.

there was the doctor to visit, and the milkshake to wash it all down. there was the carpool — or two — i was scheduled to run, and did, even though the player of soccer was felled by a flu bug.

there were eight lunches to pack, and three days where a can of noodle-y soup sufficed for the one spending his days on the floor in a pile of blankets.

there was dinner times four. and a brouhaha the night the little one didn’t eat much from his plate, but somehow finagled a trip to the donut shop, riding shotgun with his unsuspecting papa.

then there was the rowing trip to pack for, and the deciding which grownup would drive to toledo and which would stay home for the soccer team pictures.

there was the neighbor whose papa had died, and the figuring out who would bring dinner.

there were tomatoes to pick before they burst, and hand-me-down hostas to plant before they shriveled and died.

sometimes i wonder if maybe we’re doing too much.

if maybe i’m trying to squeeze too very much into the too-narrow skins of my sausage.

sometimes–and that list up above is barely the least of it–i think maybe it’s not such a good idea to try to live like we do.

but then, despite it all, i find myself out in the world, gathering stories, doing the work that i love, and well i can’t imagine not getting to do that.

one fine early autumn morning this week, i was tromping through parks i might never have entered alone. i was meandering along a prairie river, tiptoeing across rocks laid in the path of trickling waters. i was deep in the fronds of a fern room, all laid out by that great designer of greenspace and parks, jens jensen, the dane who fell hard for the midwestern landscape, the prairie, the rocks swept in by the glaciers, the billowing shafts and nodding heads of the grasses.

yet another hot september morn found me seated beneath a crabapple tree on a wood bench in an english walled garden beside a ruddy-cheeked englishman, one with a sketch pad on his lap, and a mug of earl grey clasped in his fist. it was john brookes, i was sitting beside, the great designer of gardens english and otherwise, author of 26 books, and something of a living legend. we were talking, he and i, about the spirituality to be found in a garden, and the distinction he makes between vines and climbers, and why one belongs in a vineyard and the other is essential for ooomph and lift in a garden.

through it all i was gathering bits and yarn for the most humbling sort of story to write (at least in my book, that is): an obituary, the distillation of one great and layered life into a mere 800 words. it is the writer’s job always, but especially here, to sift and pick, to harvest only the richest fruits from the tree of a life. to hold up mere threads that suggest the whole tapestry. to leave the reader gasping and grasping, understanding a life as its flame is snuffed out. oh, lord, let me do right.

so, yes, despite it all, despite the nights when i did not sleep, drew the bath at 3 in the morning in hopes of quelling a raging hot fever, despite the grumbling there in the kitchen, and the hauling myself out of bed to pack yet another brown bag lunch, to simmer one more pot of oatmeal, i cannot imagine a life much richer: to learn history at the foot of a great historian, to talk gardens with one of the best in the world, to talk to the still-raw widow, to ease from her the words that will tell the world of her one true and lasting love.

despite it all, i’d do it again. and chances are, soon as the page of the calendar turns, and a new week starts all over again, i will.

the variations are many, but the theme is constant: i cannot imagine one half of my life without the other, and even when they bump and collide, each half makes me so much more than a whole.

oy. forgive me. this might seem more of a lonely unspooling than reaching for common thread. except that every one of us likely has a corollary to the mayhem and triumph above: we live half-crazed lives, uphill climbs, because we believe we’ll get to a mountain top. there will be a moment, we convince ourselves, when all the headaches are swept away and the big picture is clear: the combined steps of our journey have taken us to a place beyond our dreams. how do you wrestle the dailiness of your life into a meaningful climb? do tell.
and p.s. for those of you wondering about that new tribune adventure, it’s coming next week. in the news biz schedules change with the blink of an eye. so the editors held off for awhile….

the obstacle course called dinner

some nights it’s a miracle i don’t land in my seat at the old kitchen table with sweaty beads of saltiness pearled across my brow.

or perhaps i do, but no one’s brave enough to tell me. “yo, ma, you popped a sweat. calm down, it’s no marathon.”

to which i’d argue back, “why, darlings, you’re flat-out wrong, wrong, wrong. it is a marathon, and more. some nights, in fact, it’s a flat-out triathlon, complete with swim and bike and run.”

which i’m sure would be met with that wordless but emphatic refrain put to good use at so many kitchen tables across the land: the chorus of eyeballs rolling in counter-clockwise direction.

they’ve no clue, really, just what it takes to get that one square meal roundly on the table.

take the other night, for instance (in the back corners of my brain i believe i hear ol’ henny youngman snappin’, “take ’er, please.” to which the snare drum responds, ba-dum-ba-dum. end of comic interlude).

back to dinner: so it was a wednesday, the one worknight when i am home early enough to fend for myself (the other two i lean heavily on my mama, who has made it her business to plan and shop and cook and then try ardently to coax vegetables and meat down the throat of youngest child; but that’s another tale….).

the aim here was simple: eat before 8 o’clock, so there was half a chance of getting little one to bed before, say, midnight, his preferred hour of surrender to slumber.

problem was, as there so often is, i had two carpool runs, one from 5 to 5:35, the other from 6 till 6:30.

that left 25 minutes squeezed in, or, plan B, cooking interruptus, that ill-conceived attempt to do what can’t be done.

here’s how i pulled it off, after opting for door no. 2, the plot that can’t be sanely done:

on the way home from news-gathering some 35 miles away, i found my car swinging past a grocery store where apple-studded sausages are sold. a wee noise in my brain reminded me that young children had recently declared moratorium on all sausages except for apple.

suddenly, and without warning to driver, the car was screeching off of six-lane throughway and into parking lot. with eyeballs glued to watch, keeping track of countdown till the hour when call was coming from new york, for next round of interviews for news-gathering purposes, i fairly sprinted through the aisles.

panting at checkout, the checker asked why i seemed so rushed (note to self: do better job of camouflaging frantic harried state; it’s apparently not so pretty).

when i mentioned that i had an interview at 2–a mere 20 minutes and 10 miles away–she thought i meant so i could get a job. oh, no, i tried to explain, i have one of those; a job, that is. this was interview of newspapering persuasion. which launched said checker into five-minute rant on how said newspaper had thoroughly disintegrated over the course of the last year, and how i really ought to be ashamed of working for the sorry paper. (actually it might have been a 10-minute rant, but i excused myself after five and panted toward the door. there was that call coming in, any minute, and i preferred to not take notes while driving down the highway.)

once i’d wrapped up all newspapering for the day, i set to housewifery.

catching that rush, that tinge of autumn in the air, i’d dreamed up a menu nodding toward impending crispness. stewed apples were first up, so i chopped and chopped. and realized right away i’d forgotten the second of two items on my ad-hoc grocery list: the apple cider that takes stewed apples up a notch.

oh, well. my improvisational back-up plans were bombs, according to the young boy who appeared at the front door, wearing backpack and familial tendencies. he vetoed a splash of orange juice, lobbied hard for a gurgle of gingerale, but instead i took the coward’s route, and added pure plain water. just a tad. and shakes of cinnamon, to boot.

then, going with apple theme, i decided to slice and saute a round or two. sprinkled with cranberries, we had a fine blanquette (the french version of blanket) to dump atop the sausages.

oh, the sausages. hmm. they would have to wait. get browned and sizzled once i dashed back in the door from carpool no. 2. or else i could crisp ‘em up, and leave ‘em to get, well, soggy. (which in the end, i and they both did.)
and, let’s see, what about the baked sweet potatoes?

how to get those done, when they need an hour in the oven, but that hour is one in which a.) i won’t be home and b.) they’d be blackened if i let them run their course while i run mine?


and thus was realized this: the need for carpools one and two to be interrupted by a two-mile detour back to home, for the mere purpose of turning off the oven at appointed hour and wrapping spuds in foil. sort of like aluminum pup tent, or shiny holding pen for yams.

all this to say, it’s nothing short of olympic-level competition to get dinner on the table, for even a mere humble family of four, a sum just shy of the national average. and, mind you, most folks aren’t such fools as i, and willing to charge hither and yon for mere purpose of sitting down to multi-colored plate of early autumn harvest.

so once again i ask, what’s come of the sacred time at end of day, when all are gathered to sift through the hours since the dawn, the highs, the lows, the questions?

it takes near stubborn dedication to the prize. there are obstacles aplenty to knock you off the course, to steer you to the drive-thru, to tempt with dinner ala styrofoam clamshell.

ah, but there are fools, and i am one, who will leap through hoops, stumble over hurdles, even land kerplop in water pits and puddles. if that’s what it takes to score even five placid minutes at the table.

before the milk gets bumped, and the vegetables are picked at.

but for those five sacred minutes, when we join hands, breathe deep, and whisper thanks and blessing, i will do what needs be done.

even if i look to some as if i’ve just run through the sprinkler, and come to dinner in desperate need of bath towel.

do you find it nothing short of olympic level challenge to gather serenity and deliciousness at the dinner hour? what odd hoops have you leapt through? tell us of the moments when you know it’s worth whatever blood, sweat and tears are required?

back at it

wasn’t it just a minute ago we were practicing putting our feet up, wiggling our bare-naked garden-stained toes?

weren’t we succumbing to the temptation to carry plates of food outside, light candles, watch the summer cloak of darkness fall, drape our shoulders, drape the twilight?

and, poof, in an instant didn’t it get swallowed, like a giant slurping down a clump of grapes?

here we are, back at it.

rising sharp at 6:01, no luxury of rolling back to sleep. there are boys to rouse, and oats to stir. there are slabs of bread to be slathered, meat slapped down, slithered into baggies. there are lunches to be lined across the counter, so many paper-bag soldiers awaiting their call to duty: fill the bellies of the hungry boys when the lunch bell rings at school.


one more round.

already, we had scissors out, were clipping pages from a stack of magazines, sifting through the baby picture box, in search of pictures that would tell the story of who was the tousle-haired boy squirming in his chair, the boy not ready to be back in a desk, on the dark side of the windowpanes, looking out onto the field where balls aren’t bouncing anymore, because children are back in straight-back chairs and desks and rows and raising hands again and trying to net the daydreams that flutter in the space where numbers and letters once again are swirling, are in charge, are trying to compute, to fall in neat and tidy rows and columns, make sense after the long summer’s snooze.

here we are, back at it.

there are school supplies to fetch and forms to be signed, in triplicate. and checks torn out and paper-clipped to notes that scold: do not be late, or else you will be sent to unforgiving chair in corner, where you will wait out the remainder of the year.

oh, and carpools. back at that, too. remembering that it’s monday and not the day you drive, but if it’s tuesday you do drive, only not the late shift, it’s the early shift. and don’t forget the one boy who only comes every other tuesday. so don’t sit out in front at his curb, waiting for him to lope out to the car, where you will squeeze him in, because your car isn’t quite as big and roomy as all the others in the carpool. so you slip sunglasses on your too-young-to-be-in-the-front-seat child, and you hope the nice police officer passing by doesn’t glance over and think, how odd, that toddler in the front seat.

for you’ve no time to be pulled over by the nice officer, no time to explain, to make him understand how, yes, yes, the child’s five pounds shy of the legal limit for front-seat riding. but really, how else will you get him where he needs to be? what, mr. officer, you think i can do all this driving on my own, without a carpool to assist? just to have the child snuggled safe in the seat behind me? oh, mr. officer, you do not understand: we are back at it here.

and we will do whatever need be done to make it from alarm clock at dawn till light’s out back at midnight.

we are surviving, mr. officer, and that’s all we can hope for. summer’s over, sir, at least as far as principals and teachers are concerned, and so it’s back at it for the grownups and the kiddies still under the thumb of the schoolhouse ways-and-means committee.

oh, we might sneak in a little morning’s coffee under the boughs of the pine tree where the wind chimes sing their end-of-summer song. might muddy all our toes squishing through the garden where the sprinklers try to make up for the lack of so much rain.

we might lick one more ice cream cone out where the fireflies do their blinking.

but we know the sorry truth here: we’re back at it once again, and summer’s break is a long, long way away.

have you been hit yet by the end-of-summer blues? have you been hit between the eyeballs by the non-stop pace that comes with the brink of each september?

thumb-on-the-hose therapy

likely, it’s linked back to some prehistoric inclination toward splashing under the waterfall. certainly it’s among the earliest playthings of any young babe afloat in the sink. i’ve seen many a toddler get lost in the gee-whizardry of making a fountain out of a faucet, the plain old kitchen-sink kind, the kind that when blocked with a thumb sends water arcing every which way, drenching the whole darn countertop and half the floor besides.

so it is with human thumbs and narrow spouts for water: they’re inseparable. you can’t keep from playing.
and so it was that i found myself out not-stopping this morn.

i’d only meant to crank the spigot, drop down the snake of a hose, let the wide-open O dribble and drool for awhile, fill up the gullet of all those poor thirsty things in my over-parched garden.

but then, well, the whoosh of the water wooed me, pulled me in, wouldn’t let me go, held me in a waterlogged trance.

it was just after dawn, and the day ahead promised to pull me every which way (much like the geysers of water), and to tell the truth, i had no sensible reason to be cooling my thumbs playing with the hose.

but there i was: unable to stop.

i was putting about, offering a quick dribble here, a long drink there, making like some sort of bar maid pulling back on the spout of the keg, filling the mouths of my in-need-of-a-tall-one stool-spanning patrons.

and that’s when i felt it: the whole gritty grime of the long jumbled week, just rinsing away.

the more i played with the hose, the lighter i felt.

there is nothing, i’d like to suggest, more soothing for a parched tattered soul than to while away the morning, at play with the hose. thumb on the spout, preferred.

oh, it had been a week all right. let’s see where shall we start: how bout tuesday? the day my tall fellow’s back went kerpluey (or splat; i can’t say as i heard the precise mechanical breakdown, all i heard was the odd cry of my name, the beckoning from above, shortly after dawn, just as i was about to scurry out the door to the worktrain, and, after some searching about, i discovered the long, lanky fellow quite flat on the floor).

egad. but that’s merely the start.

later that very day, just as dusk set in on a faraway riverbank, the young rower of mine called to say he’d been pickpocketed, a most unfortunate phone call that shattered the already-not-so-calm evening.

egad. just warming up here.

by next day, a fine locksmith was making our acquaintance, as he went about the business of changing eight locks to keep the tomfoolers away. (the pickpockets snatched the housekey along with the few dollar bills.)

oh, and then did i mention a house filled with houseguests? why, yes. a fine old gradeschool friend of said flat-on-his-back fellow arrived with his flock just after the locksmith let himself out. (might i add that a full seven of us shared one wee bath with a spritzy ol’ shower, for two nights and three days. rub-a-dub-dub. hmm, perhaps i should have hauled in the hose….or insisted on showers out back by the spigot…why in the world wasn’t i thinking?)

oh, it was a week all right. a week that had me driving hither and yon, once with a back patient supine in the flat back of the wagon. another time, rescuing the freshly wallet-less rower not far from the scene of the crime.

and then there was the unexpected jaunt to the airport to pick up what was left of said wallet; found not long after pickpocketing, it turned out, tossed aside on a runaway el train, one that pulled to a stop at the airport, where the wallet was scooped up and locked in a safe, there at the end of the line, till i could drive out to claim it.

which brings us, at last, to the hose, and the dawn of another hot sauna day, and the chilled spilling waters that lulled me away to a faraway place, the land of the tranquil, the fiefdom of the wholly un-frazzled.

it’s a knack i believe i picked up via pure DNA. my mama, she wields quite a hose, is armed with a thumb that’s a heck of a squirter; broad and flat, it gets right down to business.

fact is, i’m third-generation thumber. i needn’t even close my eyelids to see my grandma lucille in her fine summer frock, and her heels, out thumbing the hose all over her beds.

i’ve heard it said that the thumb and the hose are the tightest pair a gardener might ever employ.

beats any spigot or sprinkler. wallops a watering can.

why, with your thumb you can aim this way or that. you can spray. you can spritz.

you can get up close to the delicate fronds of the fern, or pour forth on the trunk of a maple.

you can steer clear of the bee, play chase with the robins.

you can get lost in all the water games. forget that you’d wandered into the garden loaded down with a week’s worth of worry and grit.

it’s what happened to me just hours ago, when i set forth with my hose and my thumbs, the two of ‘em.

and now, at the close of a long hot string of worrisome. wearisome days, my garden is humming, and so are me and those thumbs.

i barely had three seconds to write today, and likely it shows. oh well. so much for those fine-laid plans. tis summer. barely a minute to breathe.
anyone else live to splash in the water???

bottom of the barrel

the morning, it seemed, was unraveling in the same way as the dinner hour that preceded it.

the night, those long dark hours that sometimes steady the unsteady, alas, had not shaken off the sorry sense that somehow i was scrambling in a way that isn’t good for any one, and certainly not for me.

the eve before, it had been one of those full-scale collisions on the calendar. when mama works all day, and barely makes it home in time for the calculus that awaits. when child A needs to be decked out in full baseball regalia, fed and on the field at hour X. and child B, for reasons that don’t wholly compute, had to be fed, in tux (that would be tuxedo, mind you, for 14-year-old, complete with cummerbund and cufflinks and how-on-earth-do-these-things-wiggle-through-the-little-holes-on-daddy’s-wrinkled-fancy-shirt studs) and on stage at hour X+30 minutes.

in order for all this to unfold according to flawless mathematical equation, the lowly chicken roasting in the oven had to be cranked to overdrive which was setting off bells and whistles at increasing frequency and velocity. the father of said children had missed his train. and the grandmother, attempting to keep peace in roiling frothing seas, kept mostly quiet except to roll her eyes and mutter something about how in the old days such nonsense would never have unfolded on a school night.

to beat the odds, and keep my flagellating to myself, i just kept driving. child A from here to there, on time, and left in care of what i took to be someone’s trusty grownup. back to train to fetch the missing father. home to scoop up child B, still fumbling with those studs, and off to stage where he stumbled to the music stand in the very nick of time.

upon ditching out of concert, at so-called half-time, to retrieve long-abandoned child A, i discovered tear-streaked little person with aching throbbing head, and no bat, which, i discovered even later, his train-missing father had purchased just the week before for close to what i spend for groceries in a week. okay, make that two days’ groceries. but that’s only because food these days ain’t cheap.

much soothing later (and i mean of the throbbing-headed child, although i myself could’ve used some soothe if there’d been any left to spare), i plopped in bed, at weary last. and, promptly, heaved a sorry sigh.

awoke to grizzly bear stalking kitchen. was told i’d need to do X, Y and Z before the day was done.

and that’s when i looked out the window. caught the flight of many wings. flapping. diving. ruffling feathers in the branches of a bush i could nearly touch.

that’s when i felt the calm set in. or what passed as calm in a passage best described as bumpy.

and that is when i thought: i know, i’ll feed the birds.

for a make-believe farm girl like me, there is a soothing that comes in slopping for the herd. now, my herd might not moo, or oink. and, dang, there is not yet a clucking in my yard. no cock-a-doodle-nothin’. but i do make believe my wild things depend on me. and i’ve come to understand that i depend on them.

the cord between my heart and soul and the scrambling things outside is short, and getting shorter.

my ties to the world of nature, i do believe, are thick and thicker. part medicine, part religion, i step outside to heal what ails me. these warming days, i can’t stop walking. it’s as if the air itself is a masseuse’s fingers, and it rubs away the winter’s ache.

i am sure to stumble soon because i never look where i am walking. i look up, in trees. i catch mama bird resting her big belly on a branch that bends to hold her and her many belly-popping eggs. i see squirrels entwined, and i do not think they are merely dancing the watusi. i look way away from where my feet fall, into where the tender beauties of the spring are unfurling by the hour. i catch the light play tag with leaves, and watch the shadows try their darnedest to keep up with where it’s out-of-bounds.

it might at last be spring (although i heard that summer’s coming by the weekend), and the birds might find their fill with all the tiny buds and worms that have awakened.

but i am stingy. i want my birds to stay nearby. i don’t care to share them with the woods, not all day anyway.

so i thought i’d lure them back to where i need them on the days when all the world is yanking on my sleeve. that’s why i opened up the bird seed barrel. and that’s when i saw just the scantest bit of bird lure.

i saw that empty bin. i knew just how it felt. to be without the stuff that fills you.

so now i’m heading off, to buy some sacks of seed to soothe my soul. and keep my birds, as close as they can be.
until i fetch a cow to keep me company.

what soothes you on days when all forces conspire to bring you down at every turn?

i should mention that today is a day to mark for all who live for words and prose and poetry. today’s the day the bard was born. and here’s a bit about wm shakespeare that came to me from good ol’ garrison keillor, who every morning, like a kindly neighbor, sends me a snippet of poetry and wordly wisdom for the day. sayeth the one from wobegon…

“Today is believed to be the birthday of William Shakespeare, born in Stratford-on-Avon, England (1564). He was a playwright and poet, and is considered to be the most influential and perhaps the greatest writer in the English language. He gave us many beloved plays, including Romeo and Juliet (1594), A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1595), Hamlet (1600), Othello (1604), King Lear (1605), and Macbeth (1605).
Only a few scattered facts are known about his life. He was born and raised in the picturesque market town of Stratford-on-Avon, surrounded by woodlands. His father was a glover and a leather merchant; he and his wife had eight children including William, but three of them died in childbirth. William probably left grammar school when he was 13 years old, but continued to study on his own.
He went to London around 1588 to pursue his career in drama and by 1592 he was a well-known actor. He joined an acting troupe in 1594 and wrote many plays for the group while continuing to act. Scholars believe that he usually played the part of the first character that came on stage, but that in Hamlet, he played the ghost.
Some scholars have suggested that Shakespeare couldn’t have written the plays attributed to him because he had no formal education. A group of scientists recently plugged all his plays into a computer and tried to compare his work to other writers of his day, such as Francis Bacon, Christopher Marlowe, and the Earl of Oxford. The only writer they found who frequently used words and phrases similar to Shakespeare’s was Queen Elizabeth I, and she was eventually ruled out as well.
Shakespeare used one of the largest vocabularies of any English writer, almost 30,000 words, and he was the first writer to invent or record many of our most common turns of phrase, including “foul play,” “as luck would have it,” “your own flesh and blood,” “too much of a good thing,” “good riddance,” “in one fell swoop,” “cruel to be kind,” “play fast and loose,” “vanish into thin air,” “the game is up,” “truth will out” and “in the twinkling of an eye.”
Shakespeare has always been popular in America, and many colonists kept copies of his complete works along with their Bibles. Pioneers performed his work out West. Many of the mines and canyons across the West are named after Shakespeare or one of his characters. Three mines in Colorado are called Ophelia, Cordelia, and Desdemona.”
–from “the writer’s almanac,” (2008)

monday morning slam

it hits sometimes, with all the force of a dumptruck backing into your front hood (a force i recently felt firsthand).

one minute you are tossing off your hazy dreams, the next your heart is pounding, your boy is running late, oatmeal is looking impossible, and the week is barreling at you.

this was one of those mornings. oatmeal got into the boy, but only thanks to a styrofoam, toss-away bowl thrust into his clutches as he dashed past, stumbling into untied shoes, en route to carpool at the curb.

the throbbing thing in my mouth kept up its 2:4 time. i realized, head spinning, we were out of the weekend zone of leftovers and chili made by someone else in the middle of the afternoon.

it’s my turn again. to feed the boys. to wash their clothes. to get them where they need to be. to get me where i need to be. imagine that.

and so, lumbering down the stairs, to unearth the frozen chicken breasts from their frosty slumber, i take in a deep, deep breath. i consider all the things that soothe me. i take account of what surrounds me for moments such as this.

i consider soup, a tall slow pot of it simmering through the day. i consider the loaf of bread a wonder woman dropped by yesterday afternoon, hot still from the oven. i shoot a glance at my amaryllis, the one now neverminding a measly three blooms, going instead for homeplate, with four trumpets about to blare in all directions, north, south, east and west.

i press my nose to the window. see the birds flapping and the squirrels chasing each other for the cookie i tossed out last night.

i listen to the heartbeat of the clock, slow mine to sync with its.

i pour a big tall mug of coffee, spiked with cinnamon, as always.

i invoke the patron saints of everyday grace. i realize it’s my job to soothe these jagged nerves, the ones that are mine, and blessedly the ones of those who dwell here with me.

it is a job i love, a job that i’ll get done with snippets of herbs on bowls of soup, with toasty bread, with more seed for more birds, with breathing deep and slowed.

may every one of us this day find ways of stitching grace into the madness that is the monday morning slam. how do you soothe the dwelling place that you call home? do tell….

get set, ready, dash…

a page ripped from my to-do list, on this the day when a constellation of holidays converge on one little square of my calendar…

6:02 outa bed, sweetheart.

get oatmeal going, dump in dried fruit.

6:40 get 13-year-old out door to orchestra. our turn for carpool. do not forget toothpick bridge.

treadmill (how ironic).


latkes out of freezer.

teddy up, fed, dressed.

9:30 leave for hockey. don’t forget bag of chocolates for coach.

rent shin and elbow pads.

wedge feets into skates. lace up. squeeze helmet on head. let loose.

10:00 tedd on ice. re-make grocery list. refine to-dos. call editor.

10:45 strip sweaty hockey player of pads, skates, helmet.

look one more store for latke mix, darn it.

pick up gift cards for junior high teachers.

stop for two loaves holiday bread.

make fruit salad for kwanzaa at kindergarten.

make stewed apples for hanukkah.

finish setting table for hanukkah dinner tonight. don’t forget to let tedd put candles in menorah.

don’t forget to feed tedd.

12:30 drop tedd at school.

try again to file expense report. call computer help desk.

write bike accident essay.

2:30 kwanzaa at kindergarten. don’t forget yam chips, fruit salad, cups, napkins, forks, books. and notecards.

3:15 pick up tedd from school.

3:30 go to shake-shake at physical therapy.

4:10 pick up jelly donuts for hanukkah.

4:30 grate potatoes for latkes.

slice and reheat brisket.

salad ready to go.

check will & homework.

get little christmasy things off coffee table–toddler is coming.

6:30 hanukkah dinner for 12, at long last. hallelujah.

9ish clean up.

tedd to bed.

will to bed.

write teacher christmas letters. stuff gift cards inside.

line-up all gifts for delivery thurs.

make to-do list for thurs.

make fat bowl of popcorn.

do nothing.

don’t even begin to think about christmas eve, and what it’ll take to get there….

because i believe it’s therapeutic to share the madness, feel free to lay your to-do list on the table. i’ve always thought a year’s collected to-do lists, or the amalgamated lists of so many busy people, would make for one fascinating anthropological analysis…we begin here….