pull up a chair

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

Tag: crazed calendar

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?

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….