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Tag: home comforts

the cry of the october garden

october garden

the garden’s been hushed for months now. or maybe i’ve been too distracted to notice.

this week though, with honey-dappled light oozing across its fading, bent, and desiccating boughs and stems, with fronds of fern collapsed, splayed every which way, and nodding heads of hydrangea weighing down the branch, with my own soul ragged, in need of long slow immersion, i heard october’s garden call my name.

i’d been typing — or trying to anyway — when suddenly some drop of golden light, nectar from the heavens, caught my eye. i looked up, pushed out my chair, threw on my muck-about boots and grabbed the clippers on the way.

for a good long soak of an afternoon, i snipped and yanked and piled high the proof. my growing things, most of them at least, were forgiving; i apologized anyway. i’d left them all abandoned through summer’s height and frenzied weeks. they’d waited, as all good gardens do. they knew that, someday, i’d return. i always do.

and, apothecary on slender sturdy stem, the whole plot applied its balm. gentian blue dots, a sure cure for any faded heart, still winked at me. mopheads of hydrangea kept on their color show, turning lime to rose to tinged in plum, all but begging me to snip them at the neck and bring them in for winter. the black-eyed susan, once a perky swath of whimsy, now lay dark, nothing but the black-eyed button, landing pad for hungry songbirds, who peck and fill their bellies.

to be amid a garden in october is to catch up to the end of the story, to pay notice to what happens when the glory fades away, and yet another topography of beautiful is bared.

this is, after all, the wabi-sabi season, so defined by a farmer friend of mine as the season that pulses with the beauty of sadness and the sadness of beauty, the season that pulses with the poetry of imperfection and impermanence. nothing beautiful lasts forever, my garden whispers, so savor all of it, every drop of it, while you have the chance to reach out and rub your nose, your hands, your heart, in the whole of it.

essential wisdom, far beyond the garden.

i’m fairly certain it was the earthy, tactile element, the dirt under my nails, the pin scratches up and down my arms (october’s thorny roses are no less forgiving than the sturdy stems of june), that soothed me. the being out in golden afternoon, feeling the faintest ray of sun bathe across my sweatered back. there was healing in the garden stain splotting my knees, and surely in the armloads of autumnal offerings i hauled in the house, tucked in old vases.

once my shoulders ached, and my clipper hand throbbed, i kicked off my garden boots, and clambered back inside, content to watch the sunlight fade as i assumed my steady post just beside my chopping board and cookstove. in yet another iteration of surrendering to hands in lieu of cerebration, i turned this week to slicing, stirring, cracking eggs, and cranking up the oven. there was, there is, in the alchemy of the kitchen a sure cure for ails of the deepest-down ilk. stew and soup and pumpkin bars, i made them all this week.

i was drawn by battered heart, and sodden soul, to find my solace where the growing things live and breathe and surrender to the season’s close, and when the air grew chill, i warmed the rest of me — and those i love — by tending to the cookstove.

not a bad prescription, after all. welcome mat

where and how do you practice healing acts or arts?

when all else fails…turn to page 200

mac n cheese

for two decades now, ever since may of 1995 when i was plotting my firstborn’s second birthday fete, and i flipped open the pages of my monthly infusion of delicious, gourmet magazine — before it was ruth reichl’s gourmet magazine, before it was defunct, folded into the crypt of long-gone magazines, magazines that shaped our culture and then withered and died, the sad fate of so much of what’s printed in ink on the page — page 200, the page where the binding is coming unglued, the page crusted with splatters of roux, it’s been my no-fail, last-ditch, best-hope-of-filling-a-hole-in-a-heart-by-way-of-the-belly cookery map.

so it was yesterday, a crisp october day, when the sun poured in as if from a flask of molasses, so it was on a day when the boy who’d loped from the car at the school house curb was a boy with a leaden heart. he had so much homework, was so worried about homework, that he’d decided to skip the end-of-the-season soccer gorge on pasta and pizza. instead of hanging with friends, he’d decided he should come home straight after practice.

to make matters a tad bit worse, i wouldn’t be home when he got there. i try hard to keep my nights away to a serious minimum, but last night was a night i’d promised to be elsewhere, in a dim-lit watering hole and song hall, actually, reading words from a page for a very fine purpose, all to raise funds for a most noble cause.

i’m always torn when tugged away from my boys. and at the end of this week, this week when the lights in the kitchen never went out before midnight, because a young soccer player was trying hard to finish all of his homework, often accompanied by the sadness that lingers in our house, it was especially hard to be away.

so i reached for my holy salvation: the plainly-named “Baked Macaroni and Cheese,” ala page 200. it’s a cheesy-buttery bath stirred round and through tubes of wide-mouthed pasta, each tube filling with ooze as much as being wrapped in it. it vies, in our house, with bread pudding, as the neck-and-neck nos. 1 and 2 comforts on a spoon.

over the years, the making it — for me, anyway — is as soothing as it must be for my boys to polish it off in one sitting. assembling its components — the butter, the cheddar, the flour, the milk, the salt, paprika, bread crumbs, and parmesan shavings to finish it off — i slip into priestess mode. my old black cookstove — an industrial-grade contraption that somehow slipped into this old house in the 1970s, never to be removed — is my altar.

i begin my incantations and prestidigitations right there, where the flame is cranked, and the concoctions in my pots begin to bubble, not unlike vats of heavenly potions. with the oven cranked to 375, the kitchen begins to warm. everything about this kitchen ritual is warming. soon, my old sweater is off, and as i stir i imagine my sweet boy coming home to find the big white ceramic souffle dish perched atop the stove, my hand-scribbled note just to the side.

is there a more certain way to say i love you than to have cooked all afternoon? to have reached for the cookery shelf and pulled out the one thing a kid asks for on those nights when his sleepy head hits the pillow but the worries won’t be extinguished?

because a big old vat of mac n’ cheese wasn’t enough, not on this particular day, in the thick of this particular passage, i pulled out the produce bin and piled a mound of apples atop the cutting board. i chopped honeycrisp and granny smith, i didn’t peel — why bother? — and i tumbled the slices into the pot, added a splash of honeycrisp cider, a shake or two of cinnamon, and once again, applied flame to the equation. wasn’t long till the whole house was swimming in eau de apple and buttery-cheese. even the cat ambled back in from the garden.

then i set the table. is there anything that says i was thinking of you quite so quietly, certainly, as coming home to a kitchen table that awaits you, that has your very own napkin and napkin ring at the place where you always sit?

it’s the rhythms we carve into the grain of the day, of the months and the years — simple rhythms, unadorned rhythms, nothing so fancy as a napkin and fork at a place that is yours, set by someone who thought about how it might be to come home harried, and worried, and tired to the bone — that makes coming home feel as if someone just handed you your oldest, comfiest slippers. and a fuzzy sweater to boot.

i’d left the stove light on, and the mac-and-cheese under a foil dome, as i slipped out the door and turned the key. then, not a block from home, i got a message: the soccer player had decided, after all, to skip coming home. he’d hang out with the soccer team, inhale store-bought pasta and delivery pizza.

such is a mama’s existence.

so much for stirring and chopping, in hot pursuit of healing a tattered heart.

but here’s the holy truth: i was the one whose heart was soothed in the long hours of love at the cookstove.

and, besides, mac-n-cheese cold makes for excellent bedtime snack. when the lights go out at midnight.

what’s your when-all-else-fails cookstove concoction?

old sweater: ode to wrap-around-you love

old sweater vertical

some mornings, in the swift fractions between bare foot to floorboard, shuffle across the bedroom rug, and tumble into closet, i just know: it’s an old sweater sort of day.

a day when i need to feel my arms slide through the nubby sleeves, feel the wool scratch against me, pull the torso tight around my chest. i need to feel the wrap-around-you love that comes from pulling on an old, old sweater. a sweater that once belonged, and still — if you breathe deep and with all your heart — holds the sweet scent of the someone long ago who wore it. whose chest filled out its threads. whose warmth inhabited. whose whole self animated, in a way that — standing alone in the dark, cold closet — you still can see, as if a picture show before your eyes.

it’s been one of those weeks around here.

every day, an old sweater. truth be told, every day the same old sweater (fashion-forward is not a name you’d put to me, queen of holey jeans and banged-up clogs, and T shirts worn till rags). it’s a navy one, with suede patches on the sleeve. one the maker calls its “shaggy dog.” other than calling it a teddy-bear crew neck (one minus knitted-in images of bears, thank you), i can’t think of a better name for a sweater that fills its particular prescription: dust off the lonely flakes, embolden for the day ahead, stick close and keep the cold at bay. and not necessarily the temperature. more like the draft that comes when you feel all alone, a bit lonely, searching for that particular someone who steadies you, brings ballast to your wobbling hours.

it’s winter here. deep winter. a season i love. but the fellow who inhabits this house with me, the one i married nearly a quarter century ago, he’s been away. so it’s just me and the little one, faring for ourselves. and while i love the quiet hours stitched into each day, i find myself a wee bit lost. i find myself braving winds and cold. i’m without the markers at the start and end of each long day, when usually the door clicks open and in walks the lanky fellow, his glasses frosted up from cold. his cheeks pink from wind. his stories fresh, and filling up the room.

i’ve thought a lot this week about those i love who are missing someone. everyone misses someone sometime. sometimes for the rest of your living breathing days. you can’t go too long in this life before death comes, or leave-taking of some other kind steals the one you love. there are a million algorithms that all wind up with a big fat hollow at the end. there’s a kid i love who’s gone away, simply because he grew up and found a leafy college, far far from here. there’s a dad i loved, with all my heart; he up and died. no goodbye. just a blizzard and a phone call and a doctor standing in the blazing white corridor, saying, oddly, “i’m so sorry.” there’s a grandma, who wasn’t even mine by birth, just by heart. and every time i tumble in my closet, i see her cherry red, gold-buttoned cardigan. i don’t often put it on. but i love knowing that it’s there, in the stack of old sweaters just waiting to do their job: wrap my arms and chest, make like soft-looped armament, a shield that holds me tight, that makes me remember a certain hug, a certain chest against which i leaned and pressed my ear, drinking in a steady heartbeat. a heartbeat that steadied me, that launched me, that served as grounding rod and metronome for the songs i’d yet to let loose from the canyon of my hopes and dreams and wobbles.

sometimes in life we need to grope for tangible knowing that we’re not alone. not deep down, anyway. there are someones from the past, who swirl around us still. who pulse through us. and sometimes simply shoving a fist, an arm, down a narrow sleeve, it’s all the rubbing-up-against-us we need to convince ourselves that, once again, we can face the day. we can march out of the bedroom closet, armed for what the day will bring.

no one can see the someone we’ve tucked into for the day. but we know. we know we’re not alone. and the stack of old, moth-worn, years-stretched sweaters, they’re there to guide us on our ways. to enfold us. to brace us from the chill that’s sure to blow through all the cracks.

what armaments do you reach for when your day begs for emboldening? or your heart just needs an extra layer of fortitude, of resilience, of remembering how deeply it is loved?

the chambered nautilus that is home…

chambered nautilus coffee cup..

like some sort of sea squiggler slithering into my coiled shell, my safe place, nestled among the coral and seaweed, down deep where the waters are dark, are still, i made my way home last night.

in deep-dark murky midnight black, i put one wobbly foot in front of the other (i’d been three hours in the passenger seat), and crept along the meandering brick walk, past the gnarled crabapple fingers that don’t take kindly to passersby (more often than not, they reach out to make you bleed, or snatch the earring clear off your lobe), past the nodding anemones (now naked of bloom), the anemones i’ve not yet tidily clipped, not tucked into bed for their long winter’s slumber.

eons earlier yesterday, when we’d headed out for the very long day (driving one sweet boy to a plane at the airport, motoring across the state line to a charmed bookstore in the dairy state’s capital city, reading and talking, then turning ’round to come home, all in one day), i’d left the back lights on, the ones that cast their soft molasses glow on the steps so i’m less apt to tumble, the glow i always can spot from the alley, calling me home, beacon through fog.

fumbling with keys, with too many somethings stacked in my arms, i turned the brass in the lock, and stepped inside, safe inside. i was home. finally home.

i’d been waiting for that moment — for that deep sigh of “at last” — for what felt like weeks and weeks. and i couldn’t wait to slither back into all that’s familiar, that’s home: the old jammies with holes. the robe that should have been tossed a few tatters ago. the creak in the stairs as i come round the bend, and plant my sole on the arthritic plank, the one that complains every time.

not ready to sleep, i popped a few kernels, enough to fill a bowl. i drank in the tick and the tock of the old grandfather’s clock, the one sighing the midnight hour. i plonked myself down at the old scratched maple table. and i breathed. deep breathed.

and this morning, after the cat rudely awoke me with the sound of his retching at 3 bells past midnight, i tossed and i turned till i finally surrendered. i arose, took a hot shower (the very best balm for a night of few sleeps), slid into my oldest stretchiest muck-about pants, and, just before 5, i tiptoed down the stairs, the ones i know by heart.

even the simple act of coffee poured into a mug — the mug i love best, a chipped old vessel, one that’s red and dimpled with wee tiny white hearts, one that soothes me like no other when cupped in my palms — it’s medicinal in its powers to quell.

and it’s all a part of the rhythm, the song, that cues up our deepest contentment.

it’s this compendium of simplicities, one pure familiarity strung next to another, that serves to weave and re-weave the womb, the nest, the cradle that rocks us back to equilibrium.

we are, some of us, creatures of habit, of the familiar. we set out to upholster our every day in the somethings rubbed smooth from use and re-use. the jeans with holes in the knees. the blanket long ago snagged. the particular chair where our bum snuggles deepest.

oh, i know there are those who live for the new, the exotic, the never-before. and i don’t mind a dash of surprise, eccentricity.

but give me my druthers and i’ll reach for the old, the weathered, the worn through with love upon love. the dog-eared till tender.

even, apparently, in matters of heart-pounding, head-swirling lifelong attraction. upon meeting the man i would eventually marry, my mother heaped upon him the highest praise in her book, declaring him “an old shoe,” the sort who fits like a glove, who knows your rises and planes and sidles up seamlessly. the sort with no pretense. one utterly at home in holey-soled loafers and seersucker shorts with sagging-down hem (his apparel of choice for that maiden encounter with the one who would become his mother-in-law). one who’d not mind a lifetime of pre-wrinkled shirts, warmed-over stews, and a station wagon too often mistaken for heirloom.

and right in here, you see, i’m hungry for all that anchors me, tucks me in to the nooks and the crannies of my own chambered nautilus.

of late, i’ve been out on a bit of a voyage through unfamiliar waters (it’s that wee little book, the time-slowing tome, birthed five short weeks ago). i’ve been trolling farther from home, and in ways a tad beyond my comfort zone.

why, just the other eve, i found myself talking quite plainly — in front of however umpteen many households were tuned to a particular chicago public television channel — about something i’ve not talked about to seven-eighths of my dearest friends, a long ago mystical something, my so-called “miracle,” one that unfolded in the upstairs chapel of a faraway convent when i was all of 16 (see page 35 of said book, if you’re now curious). but there i was, on a sound stage, with cameras rolling, and the words of my heart and my soul being cast across airwaves, scattered like so many seedlings through miles and miles of midwestern heartland. egad.

no wonder i needed my shaggy old pj’s. and my banged-up coffee cup besides. it’s rather a miracle that i’m not wadded up in tattered blankets, burrowing deep beneath some coffee-stained couch pillows.

thank goodness the calendar for a whole stretch of days holds nothing more drastic than rising from bed, and tumbling to sleep. i’ve come at last to a somnolent spell. and i need it.

a home body, a comfort seeker like me, must return to the roost. must deep breathe the old and familiar. it’s in sinking into the rhythms we know best that we are freed to be our unfettered whole. we needn’t peek in the mirror. needn’t quake at the sound of our own voice, echoing clear across a room.

we are home. we are where we belong. we are unadulterated glory in the eyes of the only one who truly sees us, the one who set sublimest design upon us, back at the essential beginning.

when we’re home, when we’re safe in the confines of the golden spiral, the chambered nautilus, that’s when we reclaim our moorings, quiet the shaky insides.

it’s how we guzzle the holy, how we refill the vessel so we’ve got what it takes to return to the seas and conquer new vistas.

dear chair friends, writing on three hours of sleep is not very smart. so please forgive weak spots and tangles above. i’ve got a quiet spell for the next couple weeks, and a boy coming home in less than a week for the very best holiday. i’ll restock the larder. i’ll deep breathe the beautiful. and be ready to roll again.

in the meantime, do tell, what is it you do to anchor your soul, and set your wings back to soaring?

make-believe b & b

company coffee

if you put your ear to the floorboards around this old house, you might pick up a hum. a particular hum. a hum that’s more like a purr. (it would be found amidst the gnarling and churning that comes with waiting for news, editor news.)

that hum, i’ve come to determine, is the purr of an innkeeper in the making. a girl who makes believe she’s running the best sort of b & b. not one for money, but one for pure love. in recent weeks, we’ve had a long and sumptuous string of company. company of the very best kind: overnight, nestling deep into the morning. sometimes, day upon day.

overnight company affords moments that in-and-out company does not. overnight company affords these things: curling under a blanket, on the couch, as the stars turn on, burn deep into the night; ferrying trays of coffee and cream and wee little vases of wee little blossoms up to the bedroom door; settling in for long conversation that courses through the homework hour, as you practice the fine art of juggling your math tutoring skills along with your conversational curiosities. overnight company makes a wednesday night prestidigitate into the feel of the night before christmas.

overnight company is being wrapped in angora threads, throwing the blanket of friendship across both of your backs — yours and that of your overnight friend — and each of you pulling tight on your end of the threads.

overnight company allows for slow unspooling inspection of every last inch of the heart and the soul. or at least a good hearty guffaw deep in the hours of darkness. and, sometimes, a revelation or three.

because home is the wellspring of my heart, welcoming people i love into these chambers is the highest art in the art known as hospitality, a word with 14th-century roots, one that wends its way through old french and on into latin, where it’s derived from hospes, “guest,” and has come to mean “friendliness to guests,” (or if you mis-read as i first did, friendliness to ghosts. egad).

it’s the french knots and tiny twists embroidered into the course of the stay — be it a mere 18 hours, or as long as five days or even (gasp) two weeks. it’s filling the fridge and the pantry with the very deliciousness a particular friend savors, a secret you know because you’ve spent the years of your friendship paying attention. it’s stacking fluffy towels on the broad-lapped armchair, and punctuating the stack with a dark-chocolate sweet, and a french herbal soap. it’s tucking a water bottle and a vase of bright blooms at the bedside, because you’re aiming for beauty and full-throttle comfort, and stumbling in the dark for a drink in the night is hard on the toes and no fun, besides. it’s planning a dinner that’s at once unassuming and deeply satisfying, one that’s best if slow-cooked and accomplice to the trick of filling the house with wafting clouds of garden-clipped herbs and spices and fruits of the season.

it’s waiting at the train station. or driving into the city to fetch your overnight visitor. it’s clearing the deck for as much or as little conversation as the friend has hours or inclination.

it’s the blessing of hearing the footsteps from overhead as you’re down in the pre-dawn kitchen, slicing pumpkin-y bread, and popping the garnet-jeweled seeds out of the pomegranate’s oozing belly. it’s knowing the next face you see coming round the bend is one you’ll never get enough of. and there, over early morning swirl of caffeine, you begin the day, emboldened by this rare gift of starting the hours together.

over the years i’ve learned that i’m far more inclined toward one-on-one conversation. will take a tete-a-tete over a horde any old day. give me deep. never mind a room that’s buzzing with noise.

i savor a conversation that doesn’t drown out the tick or the tock of a clock in the next room over, a conversation that allows the pauses to speak as robustly, as tellingly, as the pop and the sizzle of the words. i am drawn to burrowing, deep in the heart, as well as under the deep stack of afghans tucked by the fire. and i find it best done in ones and twos.

it’s all the romance — and, really, the architecture — of friendship. of considering each and every sensory vessel a channel into the heart, into the endosperm of why we’re here in the first place: to find our shared thoughts, to hold our visions up to the light, to march in each other’s company, to hear the sound of our footsteps in tandem. to discover we’re not all alone. not always, anyway.

much of it comes, i’m certain, from my years curled up with fairy tales and picture-book pages. i was a dreamer early on, and always will be. maybe it comes from wanting so deeply to be tucked under the covers at night. or maybe it’s simply because the sound of a china teacup tinkling against a saucer or spoon, is a song that sings to my delicate heart. maybe it comes from knowing how enchanted it felt to be ushered into a wise woman’s greenhouse, one tucked at the back of a great gothic castle long long ago, and the crisp-edged memory of being served from a pitcher of fresh-squeezed orange juice and offered a plate of pepperidge farm buttery cookies, all dappled in afternoon sunlight. all whispering into my ear how very welcomed i was — how much i mattered — in that magical envelope of time and place.

or maybe it’s simply that i feel bound, sometimes, by the walls of my heart, and i turn to whole-body expression to tell the ones that i love just how deeply i love them: i cook for them, clean for them, tuck treats onto pillows or trays and carry it all to their door. i can’t always find all the words, so i wrap them in the swirl of all that i love.

it’s a bold hope that they won’t leave this old house without this knowing tucked in their heart: they are loved without bounds, forever and ever. amen.

how did you learn the art of hospitality? who were your shining lights and teachers? and what are the little remembrances — the french knots and tiniest stitches of hospitality — that melted your heart and made you know you were so very welcome in the life of someone you love? 

prodigal people

prodigal people

when your sweet boy is flying through night, is up in the clouds, winging his way to you, you can’t sleep too soundly. you toss and tumble, and peek open an eye to check on the clock.

you follow him, one flight to the next, berlin to amsterdam, amsterdam, home. 12:40, 2:40, 5:40….all in the ayems, of course. waiting, just waiting, for the scheduled landing at 2:10 p.m.

while he does his half of the task — sits strapped in the seat trying not to splatter his midnight breakfast — you do yours: you haul out the pots and the pans, you indulge in the making of prodigal feast.

there are apples to chop and to simmer. there is cinnamon to sprinkle in dashes. there’s that ol’ mac-‘n’-cheese, the one from page 200 of the may 1995 gourmet magazine, the one you first made when your firstborn turned two, and the one that — ever since — has been family shorthand for comfort hauled from the oven.

because your heart is thumping at john philip sousa proportions, you haul out the red “you are special today” plate. you run about the yard with your clippers, tucking hydrangea (the first of the summer) next to his bed (as if he’ll be awake enough to notice), plunging stems of rambling roses and catmint into an old cracked pitcher you’ve hauled out from hiding.

at last, you leap in the shiny black pick-up mobile (that’s pick-up as in boy from airport), and you note that it’s near out of gas. you make un-anticipated pit stop at nearest gasoline pump, then you motor on your way, arriving at said airport a good hour early. (but considering a week ago, you would have walked to germany to fetch the suffering child, this hour is nothing. and besides it gives you a chance to inhale the tears and the squeals and the long-lost embraces that come with the world’s second-busiest international terminal).

you stare so intently at the swinging double doors, the chute that spits out bleary-eyed, jet-lagged world travelers, you practically will your child to up and appear. as that first hour drags into the start of the second, you suddenly look up and there, curlier than ever, slump shouldered from all that he’s weathered since last you waved him goodbye, there is your sweet little boy, not yet a dozen years on this planet, and now bearing a much-stamped state-department-issued U.S. passport.

you cannot contain it. you yelp: “there he is!” as if everyone in the throng might care about your particular pronoun. and before you can note the collective raised eyebrows, you’ve leapt around the black sash that attempts to keep order there in the exiting-passenger chute.

so sweet is this holy reunion, your boy traveler doesn’t even flinch when you throw your arms tight round his shoulders and backpack. but the nice lady in the uniform does command you to move it along. so you do. and you stand there marveling at how gorgeous he is, how his soul feels like it’s deepened, it’s triumphed.

for it did triumph. that kid, who was sick for five days, who came to know far too many german toilettes, he found it deep within to muscle his way to the finish line. the line where, with your trembling hand squeezing his, he now stood.

you didn’t tarry, there in the airport. you shared hugs goodbye with two surrogate mamas (both of whom you’ll scribble onto your eternally-grateful list for the rest of your days), then you zipped to the car, began dialing essential persons — papa, big brother, anyone who happened to be breathlessly waiting by the phone for word of the traveler’s arrival.

and, at last, after 11 long months, and another two weeks plus a day, you brought the boy home to where he deeply, truly belongs.

he relished every step of the path to the door, through the overgrown greens and the weeds that threaten to cut you off at the knees. he called for his cat, the cat who leapt from the old wicker chair, and promptly rubbed fur against ankle.

he kerplumped into the couch. he soaked up the sights through his sleepiest eyes. then, halfway through mac ‘n’ cheese, he keeled over onto the bench by the old maple table. that’s when he begged for a bubbly bath, and his old old bed.

and that’s where i climbed in beside him, into the 100-year-old bed that once was my grandma’s. i curled my legs around his, and whispered a kite-string of prayer into his soft little ear. by the time i whispered the second “thank you, dear God,” he was off in that place where the dreams come, and he stayed there till six the next morning.

he’s still sleeping it off, all of it, but when he’s awake it’s utterly perfectly clear how he’s grown. deep down, deep inside where the stretching and growing unfolds, he’s a boy who’s mastered an obstacle course.

just two weeks ago he was sending home emails saying he couldn’t possibly make it, would not survive there in a faraway place, upchucking every few hours, alone in a house with few words of english. and we typed back a niagara falls of you-can-do-it declarations. it’s all we could do, since the state department isn’t so keen on issuing on-the-spot passports for mamas whose children are ailing from tummy flu.

there are times, i’ve discovered, when the wisest thing a mama can do is hold her breath, and believe. and pass on sparks of that faith — in whatever form she can send ’em — to a faraway child, who is out doing the hard work of childhood, discovering all the nooks and crannies of vigor and stamina nestled deep down inside. the figuring out that you’re stronger than you think you are. that you can do what you might have thought impossible.

and even when that mama’s heart is nearly skipping its beats, she’s giving that child the best she can give: the hard-won sense of mastery, sure-footed steadiness, that there is no mountain too steep for him to climb. that the summit is there, that lung-filling vista, for the kid who figures it out: put one hiking boot in front of the other, step, climb, step, steadying as you go. you’ll make it to the top. and, once there, you can always tuck that triumph snug in your pocket, for the next time you run into a climb up the sharp side of an incline.

***

one by one, my boys are trickling home. this old house is filling again, with the hums and the rhythms that make it purr. the blue-willow cookie plate, the one that shines from under the cake dome, it’s filled again. the fridge is stocked with milk in all percents — 0, 2 and 100-percent whole. the oven’s been cranked. the shower is steamy, is dripping.

there’s only one bed that’s un-stirred (so i plop the cat there to make it look used). and as much as i loved this old house all to myself, i discovered i love it more when it’s humming with people whose noises i know by heart.

my prodigal people are back. and i long for the missing one now more than ever, knowing we’ll not really be whole till he’s here.

i’m struck by a sense — sometimes softly, sometimes with a wallop — that it seems we’ve leapt a chapter or two since last we were huddled here at the old maple table.

i can almost hear the page that’s been turned, as the life of this family moves forward. and the sound of little feets on the floorboard, they’re fading. where’d the years go? oh, how i love this old house that remembers. that once knew the sounds of suckling, and little boy birthdays. and now is home to a world-traveler come home to catch up on sleep…..

post-script: i know. i said i would stay mum for awhile. but….well, i found a friday morning without typing a bit of an odd fit. and there were a few things that rumbled around this week, so tap-tap-tap, fingers to keyboard. i’ll try to rest easy in knowing that if you don’t care to click here, you certainly won’t. and i’ll console myself with the knowing that a writer needs to write if she cares to keep her verbs sharp and sharper, and i’ve teachers under my belt who admonish: daily, daily, you must do it daily. 

it’s a workday around here, as the professor is back to his life as a newspaper critic, and his first critique is spewing from the typewriter on deadline today. my world traveler is snoozing upstairs, and there’s a long day of writing ahead for me.

hope your fourth was lovely. and blanketed by a nightsky exploding with colors and sizzles and booms.

and now for a question: what were the chapters of your life that tested your deep-down i-can-do-it-ness? how’d you figure out that the best you could do was put one foot in front of the next, and sooner or later, you’d get where you needed, learning a few key lessons along the way?

house day

in the annals of psychology, i’m not sure where this would be filed: ordering one’s house as sure cure for inner re-arranging, pacifying, lulling into seasonal harmony.

humming while you work, another way to put it.

what’s on the docket today is no mere flickering of dust rag, no mere spewing this place’s dust over to that locale.

no, today is deep and pure and utterly satisfying.

i’ve yanked itty blue bottles off the window sills, hauled window cushions clear of the vast and dreamy looking-posts that are my window seats, where i’m nearly nestled in the boughs of trees, looking out and down on all that stirs in the lane and yards beyond.

yes, i’ve cleared the way for that once-every-18-months ritual (a saner soul might do it with more regularity, but oh, life got in the way): the washing of every blessed pane of glass in this old light-filled house.

but why stop there when the garden just beyond is calling, too. when the shaggy, floppy stems of summer’s-glory-gone now beg for sharp-edged readjustment. when weary stems can no longer hold up their end of the equation, and beg to be cut to the crown, where they can assume the winter’s lotus wrap and settle into slumber.

it’s inside-outside cleanse and purge today. i’ve been at it all morning, my hands worn raw already.

oh, but my soul is bright and shining. humming, too, because a cleanse is all a girl needs at the end of a long hard summer, at the end of a string of weeks that make your wiry hairs stand on end.

i’ve spent my life claiming to be mostly irish, but fact is i am half german. latent german, indeed. except for this one rare sprout of me, where it all comes spewing forth. and i can clean against the best of ‘em, clean my heartache away, sweep away my worries, scrub my everlasting fears.

oh, i’ve been caught out front, with broom in hand, sweeping off my bluestone stoop like some weathered, babushka-wrapped eastern-european hausfrau. i once (okay, maybe twice or thrice) forgot to eat the whole day long because i’d gotten caught up in the hurricane of cleaning that is a clean-freak set loose on a day without distraction. at night that night i got all woozy, felt my heart thump-thump in a way that made me think my dying act might be squeezing out the squeegee mop.

a friend of mine, one i work with, just last week watched her husband die. and she tells me that she cannot keep from cleaning. has been up half the night all week long, with toothbrush to the grout, trying to rid her house of every last speck of muck and gunk.

the famous family tale, told for years now, is that when my husband went off to college, his father, bereft and adrift, took to endless cleaning of the garage. when he’d rinsed the garbage cans for the umpteenth day in a row, someone who loved him finally pulled him aside, and suggested he might find his solace elsewhere.

someone here had better lock the garbage cans away, for we’re due for a repeat performance by the next generation–that very son who next year will be the bereft father who’s left his firstborn off at college.

i only wish that every friday could be my day-long deep-clean-the-house day. oh, i get spurts and chunks. string my week with short blasts of vacuuming, sponging down the counters. why, even emptying the dishwasher has its medicinal gratifications.

but for the nooks and crannies of the soul there is no such balm as a dawn-till-dusk, sun-soaked, crisp autumn day awash with buckets of soapy water, and piles of garden clippings to haul to the compost bin.

there are rare few corners of our existence that we can polish to a shine, rid of that which mucks it up. and so, to the cleaning rag and the garden clippers, we must bow in fervent gratitude.

amen amen. there’s much left to be done here today, and so this quick meander. still adjusting to this itty bitty screen, now carried to the kitchen table, where i watch the windows glisten, where i sense the garden’s lifted from its end-of-season shearing. it’s been quite a week or three on the workfront, none of it easy to swallow. and so i come back to here, to the table, where it all keeps ticking along.

next week, a serious treat here at the table. i’ll be sitting down to coffee with the barefoot contessa—be still my heart, and here i’ll uncork the back story, and let you in on all the secrets of what it’s like to share a table with the contessa herself.

till then, anyone else find pure emotional repair and contentment in the cleaning bucket, and the garden clippers?

blue vs. blues

it hit me, as it often does, in the blink between up and sleep. not even fluttering eyes, and already the lunge ball gets me. right in the belly.

the weight of the week just past, the specter of the week ahead. it doesn’t usually collide on the weekend, but this weekend it did. saturday morning felt too much like a monday. a blue monday, most of all.

so i did what makes no sense. i didn’t dive into the taxes, which was but one of the dark clouds looming. i didn’t dive into cleaning, which, check this out, i need to do for work (a journalistic foray into the land of cleaning without toxins).

i did not do a one of the things on my nerve-wracking, energy-sapping, tummy-rumbling list.

nope, i grabbed for old spoons and plates. i found solace in old willow china, chipped around the rim. i found delight in antique silver, worn to dull through decades of thumbs and fingers, lips and tongues, slurping, spooning, licking, lifting.

i ditched the deep red cloths of winter, pulled out the checks of blue and white. laid blue on blue on blue. watched the morning light stream in. it made blue shadows on the wall.

i tossed, at last, a mound of old dead apples, apples that long ago required cpr. i dusted out the wooden bowl in which they spent the winter. tucked it on a shelf.

filled an english pitcher with fists full of daffodils.

all the while, i worked alone.

the gods of sleep, they blessed me. even though they forgot to protect me from the onslaught of waking up with a lead weight in my belly, they kept everyone else in the house in slumber till i woke them at half past ten.

you can imagine, i’m sure, what three unbroken hours of solitude and silence do to soothe a harried mama’s heart.

i found, in setting a springtime table, that i was chasing away the blues. or keeping them at bay, anyways.

i have, since long ago, a little girl keeping watch as my grandma put out silver napkin rings and damask napkins, egg cups and a silver rack for toast that i might have thought would hold up bills and letters, or baby bicycles perhaps, found joy in setting tables.

i’m neither martha stewart, nor minimalist when it comes to tables. you won’t find me glue-gunning little bunnies, nor waxing autumn leaves.

but you will find me sighing as i put out plates given to me long ago, by a man whose house we bought who’s probably no longer still alive. and you will find me thinking all about the friend who gave me old spoons for turning 50.

as i set the table, i gather souls, some of whom i’ve not seen for decades. but who are never farther than the drawers and the cupboards where i keep old things, beautiful things. things sometimes chipped, often worn, but always with a story.

i set stories on my table. weave a half century, now, of history into what you might see as simply plate and spoon and cup. but not me.

i run my fingers over the plate of a gentle man who wept as he left behind the house he’d carved with light. i lift the cobalt glass i first gasped at when i spied it on a shelf at a store that is no longer, a young bride picking the things she’d set on her table till death did they part.

i have no clue if my grandma soothed her jagged nerves unfurling damask cloth, making paper place cards affixed with bunny cut-outs, or jolly santas with rosy cheeks. she would never have let on, if in fact she did.

but i know that by the time my boys tumbled down the stairs and came upon a springtime table, i was less a frazzled mama and more a woman who’d found a balm in bringing stories to my table.

anyone else find solace in the laying of a table? in the textures and the patterns, the colors and the curves? in, most of all, the stories and the souls who are carried to the table?