Tuesday, December 21, 2010

On the Eve of My Birth

How lucky she is to be born on such a day. Most people cluck and shake their heads. "Rotten luck," they say. "Gypped on the presents." But no one she knows has ever been stingy with giving.

Is she the only one to recognize that she was born on a day of hope, in a season of hope? The winter solstice, smack dab in the middle of the Christmas season. The days are brimming with glorias and good cheer, with peace on earth, good will toward men.

This year is an odd year. Not odd as in strange, but odd, as in numbers. She thinks of the other odd years. Ten years ago, she was at the hospital with her baby, sharing birthday cake with the nurses. Twenty years ago, she was packing to go to Italy for a semester. She got married in an odd year. She graduated high school in an odd year. She graduated with her MFA in an odd year. She gave birth to her second son in an odd year.

She wonders what this year will hold for her. Something beyond the ordinary? Well, at least she hopes for it. After all, starting tomorrow the rays from the sun won't have to stretch quite so far to touch her.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Why I Write for Children, Part I

The stage is clear. The microphone is ready. The girl, in second or third grade, stands there in a black shirt, ripped-up jeans, and high-heel black boots. The music starts. She shakes, she shimmies, she moves around from stage left to stage right, back and forth, clearly mimicking the rock star du jour, strutting and prancing.

My heart aches for her. Be ten, little girl, be ten. Exchange those high-heel boots for mary janes. Take off the ripped jeans and don overalls. Spend your time climbing trees instead of memorizing bad pop lyrics. Play with your dolls. Write a letter to Santa. Stay young while you can. Don't wish away your childhood. Before you know it, you'll grow up.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Things Learned Over the Past Two Weeks

Number one:
When her mother was afflicted with a headache, the story goes, her grandmother stomped on her mother's foot to take her mind off her headache. Or something like that. Perhaps she only offered to stomp on her foot? Anyway, the theory behind it is apt: the greater pain makes the lesser one fade away. While her mind has been anxiety-ridden, awaiting news, she decided to figuratively stomp on her own foot. Throw a party. Invite everyone. Suddenly other worries take back-seat to figuring out how to squeeze a zillion people into her house.

Number two:
Her right arm is shorter than her left arm. With thanks to Power yoga for this tidbit.

Number three:
Her left foot is bigger than her right foot. New Dansko shoes. Thanks to the shoe salesperson who humored her and took out three different pairs of the same size so she could try them all on. Still, it leaves her wondering if her left side is gargantuan in comparison to her right side? Does she look unbalanced?

Number four:
Mutes for trombones do not make good missiles. They dent the walls, and break the glass in framed pictures. Lesson provided by Gingerbread boy #1.

Number five:
Tempering semisweet chocolate is much easier than tempering dark chocolate.

Number six:
You can still plant daffodil bulbs in December in New Hampshire (she has yet to learn if daffodil bulbs planted in December actually grow, though).

Number seven:
Pine pitch comes off one's hands with a vigorous application of olive oil, followed by soap.

Number eight:
The secret to a fuss-free breakfast for the ten and under crowd is, apparently, Healthy Mornings with red berries.

Number nine:
Living with a broken furnace is costly. Being able to regulate the temperature of one's home is priceless. But it really only cost $309.

Number ten:
Audrey Hepburn's sparkly eye shadow in "How to Steal a Million" is available for purchase at your local drugstore. Now, if only she could buy Audrey Hepburn's secret to removing sparkly eye shadow...

Monday, November 22, 2010

Sweetness

Today is a day of sweetness. It is a day of smiling. You feel it as you drive home, infusing your body and your soul.

Is it because of the woman walking out of the gym, the woman holding on to a walker, ready to blazon her way out of the double doors? You hold the door for her. She thanks you, then says, "If I don't see you before then, have a happy Thanksgiving!"

You can't imagine seeing her before then; you haven't seen her before today, but you wish her a happy Thanksgiving, too.

"Oh, I plan on it! I definitely plan on it!" she says, as she struggles with her walker.

"There's much to be thankful for, isn't there?" you say.

"Yes, indeed. There sure is," she says.

Much to be thankful for. Is it hypocritical of you to say that when you have the easy use of all your limbs, and she struggles with some sort of degenerative disease? When you have felt very little gratitude lately, and it nearly oozes out of this woman's pores? It echoes in your mind as you walk through the parking lot. You get in the car, and The Song is on--the song that is the song that you listened to with your husband, back before he was your husband. You sat in the airport, waiting for the boarding call, his boarding call, and shared ear buds listening to this song, this sweet song, with tears streaming down your face, knowing that he would be flying across the country, and you would be staying put. That, too, happened at Thanksgiving time. What were you thankful for then? The telephone? This new thing called email?

The sweetness takes root deep within as you listen to this song, infinitely thankful for your husband, who you giggled with last night, until you wept and your belly ached. You simmer in the sweetness.

You stop at the store to pick up some wrapping paper, some tape, some more Christmas presents, and when you find yourself back in the parking lot, there is a woman struggling with her shopping cart. She asks for your help, so you hold the cart as she unloads an awkward card table into the back of her van. How sweet it is to help someone.

Back at home, the fire glows hot, and the leftover pizza and chocolate toffee crackers feed your body. You decide not to worry today. Not about your children, not about upcoming festivities, not about news you wait for.

Today is a day for sweetness, a day for love, a day of gentleness and kindness.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Small Miracles and Large

She walks behind a waterfall, the water pelting down a hundred feet while she edges her way along the limestone cliff underneath it. Behind and above her are layers and layers of rock that had been worn down over time, so that the rock looks like stacks of books or carpet squares one atop another, rising up to form the escarpment.

She feels so very small at the edge of that path as the mist from the waterfall surrounds her. She often feels that way, like she's one small person in the midst of so many needs, so many sorrows. What can she do, really? She can't take away hunger, or pain, or sickness. She can't even find change to drop into the Salvation Army bell-ringer's bucket most days.

Just one small person.

On one side of her, the darkness of a narrow cave looms; on the other, a grandeur that makes her speechless. A cave is an ideal place to hold small things, small people. She ducks in there for a minute, but its closeness makes her uncomfortable. The darkness presses against her, and she doesn't stay. She turns, instead, toward the glory of the water, shimmering, falling, diving into the air, dancing with the sunlight, racing over the stones. She wants to reach out to touch the water, but it is too far.

They hike to the top of the escarpment and look out over the landscape below them. Farms, trees, a patchwork quilt of cleared land rolls out over an enormous bed frame proportioned for a giant with the distant Adirondack Mountains as the pillow. The waterfall is the giant's shower, she thinks, and we are nothing more than ants. They continue hiking the path until they reach the source of the waterfall.

It's just a small stream.

Such beauty, such grandeur comes from one small stream, barely five feet across? She's five feet tall. Well, five feet, three inches. There seems to be a correlation here. Can something that big come from something that little? She looks down at the water rolling over the edge. It can.

Small miracle or large?

You decide.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Somewhere

Someone somewhere is washing dishes right now, plunging her hands into hot, soapy water, feeling the sludge on the bottom of a pan that used to be the drippings from a pound of bacon fried up crisp. Her strong arm scrubs out her frustration as bubbles lift up into the air.

Somewhere else is a new mother nursing her baby, her nipples sore and cracked. The baby's wobbly head holds still against her chest, and his sweet scent soothes the tired mother. She wishes her baby would sleep. She wishes she could sleep.

In another part of town, a mechanic tightens a gasket and wishes once again that he could move to Austin.

An aerobics instructor leads a step class, the microphone loose around her head. She wishes the gym would get a better one, so she wouldn't have to keep adjusting it.

A teacher grades her last papers of the day. She is underwhelmed by this lot. Of course, she was underwhelmed by the last lot, and the lot before that. She wonders if it's time to retire.

A clerk at the grocery store scans cat food (bleep!), nasal spray (bleep!), breath mints (bleep!), and paper towels (bleep!). After scanning the order, the clerk thinks his life is marginally better than the guy in front of him, if only in comparison to what the poor bloke just bought.

And someone somewhere waits. That is not all she does; in fact, she has a long list of tasks to accomplish to keep her mind off of the telephone. She does laundry, she shops, she plans a birthday party, she writes a long overdue letter. She plans a new scene, though she doesn't yet gather the courage to write it. She plucks the leaves off stalks of thyme that she dried from the summer's harvest. Leaf by leaf by leaf until her nose clogs with the scent of it and her hands become sticky with the oil...killing time with thyme.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Leaves

The falling leaves look like God's confetti from some divine parade.

If the leaves are confetti, then she's on street sweeper duty, raking, raking, raking. She wonders under what circumstances God would arrange a parade. Would there be a brass band, New Orleans-style? Ticker tape, as well as confetti? Perhaps someone would be throwing candy. Would there be floats, manned by angels waving majestically? She decides she'd like to be at that parade, even if only as a humble street sweeper.

Monday, October 25, 2010

White and Black and Yellow

"I need to go to the bathroom."

Innocuous words, unless spoken, say, on a full elevator, or in the middle of rush-hour traffic, or especially on the subway, as they were that day.

The subway car rumbled to a stop, but not their stop.

"Can you hold it?" she asked.

"Yes." But the brown eyes looking up at her seemed just a wee bit desperate.

The train started up again. Two more stops. Hopefully there would be some place with a public toilet aboveground, some building that had a big neon sign flashing "TOILET! TOILET!"

The train lurched to a stop, and they jumped up out of their seats to make their way out of the train, out of the station. Stairs up and up and up to a street in Brooklyn, just like any other street in Brooklyn.

There were no flashing neon signs.

"I really need to go," he said.

There was a furniture shop, a bakery, and a small grocery. The grocery looked the most promising.

They stepped in, "Do you have a restroom?" she asked the man behind the counter. "He really needs to go." She pointed to the small gingerbread boy dancing next to her.

He smiled at them, took out a key, and led the way to the back of the store. A trap door leading down to a basement was opened, and another man stood by it, talking on the phone, making an order.

"I got four of them," he said.

"Four? Why'd you get four? We only need two a week," their rescuer said.

"Two then. We'll just get two," he said into the phone.

The man on the phone got out of the way, and the first man put the trapdoor down, and unlocked a door behind it. A mop stood propped in a bucket in front of a toilet in a bathroom smaller than a broom closet.

While the gingerbread boy found relief in the small bathroom, she waited with her older gingerbread boy.

"Why'd you let them back there?" she overheard the man who had been on the phone ask the other one.

"They're white."

She heard only snippets more: black man and shoot and white people, though she can't say what order they came in as she was still musing on the first bit.

They're white?

She never really thinks about her skin color, except in terms of skin cancer awareness. She only thinks she has people-colored skin. Isn't that enough? Doesn't he have people-colored skin, too? And the man on the phone? Isn't he people-colored?

Once, she worked at the Madame Walker Theater Center, a theater honoring African-American work. When she was hired, she thought she would be the token white girl, but when she left, she felt like part of the family--a large family of people.

And now? She feels sad that anyone would treat her differently because she's white, that anyone would treat the gingerbread boy differently because of the color of his skin, not the level of his desperation.

On their way back to the front of the store, she opened a refrigerator case and picked out a carton of orange juice. They could meet over orange juice: darker than her skin, lighter than his.

"Thanks," she said, paying in cash, as the gingerbread boys waved good-bye, unaware of what really just happened.

Friday, October 15, 2010

A Man, A Plan, A Canal, Panama

Every Sunday night, she makes a list. Two lists, actually. One: groceries. Two: menu. She didn't do that this week, and now she has a refrigerator full of food needing attention, and a freezer full of food uselessly frozen.Note: thaw sirloin. Make beef and mushroom soup. What's the plan, Stan?

She has a double batch of applesauce out on the porch awaiting attention, because she forgot about it yesterday. It wasn't on her list of things to do. Note: can applesauce

Why is it that she is so dependent upon her lists? Note: mail packages. Buy stamps. Pick up box at post office. Pick up letters with insufficient postage. Why can't she remember even the most rudimentary tasks? Laundry. Laundry. Laundry. Oh, and dishes, too. Are they not important? Why is it that she has to schedule in things like exercise? Emails to send? Volunteering? She was lucky that her brain came through yesterday because she forgot she was supposed to be in her son's classroom. Of course, the brain only gave her fifteen minute's notice and she was still in her pajamas when she remembered... Still. She made it, even if slightly disheveled.

Is it just that she's over-scheduled? Bring guitar to shop to have string replaced. Is it that everyone in the Gingerbread House is over-scheduled? Make a snack to share at the pack meeting tonight. It makes it hard to see the forest for the trees.

She thinks of the palindrome, "A man, a plan, a canal, Panama!" She loves plans. Plans make her feel comfortable. They give her a fence and a boundary, a place to start. A man, a plan, a canal, Panama! If you start with a plan, you can accomplish great things. Is that what it teaches us? Or is it that in moving forward, you eventually return to exactly where you were before, just like a boomerang? A man, a plan, a canal, Panama. Right in the middle is the 'c,' rolling around. If it rolls back far enough, it turns into a 'u,' a nice cushy spot for a nap. Or a place to write a list.

Skip the canning, and bring applesauce for a snack at the pack meeting.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The National Virus Service

Since it is the beginning of the cold season, she decides that she will name her colds, just like the National Weather Service names tropical storms and hurricanes. It seems appropriate, does it not?

Virus #1 should be named Adam--Adam being the first man and all--but she's partial to Abel. Virus Adam. Hm. Virus Abel. 'B' comes before 'D', so if we're going strictly alphabetical, we'll have to stick with Virus Abel. Next year she can start with Adam.

She offered to name virus #2 after her sister, Beth. Her sister suggested that she name the virus Bertram. She said it had a much more nasally sound to it than Beth. Truly, though, she suspects that her sister never got over being named after the March sister who dies in Little Women. The problem with Bertram, of course, is that it's a boy name. Abel's a boy name, and the pattern is boy-girl-boy-girl, isn't it? So she needs a girl name.

Bathsheba. That's a good one. Sneeze-sounding, if ever a name could sound like a sneeze.

She'll have to wait for virus #3 to rear its ugly head before committing to a name. Feel out its personality, so to speak. Carlyle? Canute? Cassius?

Gesundheit.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

A Little Light, Please

Her head pounds. Her body aches. Her nose runs and her eyes water. The day is long. She reads a book. She finishes the book. She emails. She Facebooks. She reads blogs. She blows her nose. A lot.

The next day is the same, so is the one after that.

As she lies there, she thinks about all the images and words she's consumed over the past 72 hours: a starlet off to prison, a dishonest businessman, a dozen trapped miners deep underground, a challenged book. This is news. This is entertainment. They are one and the same.

An acorn hits her roof. Thunk. Thunk. Thunk, thunk, thunk, thunk. It rolls down, picking up speed before it hurtles over the edge.

Why is it, she wonders, that the media feeds us darkness, when there is light yet to be had? Why do they glorify the hopeless, the hellbound, the dark, the demon, the despair? Why has the world been populated entirely with vampires and zombies and werewolves? Why is pop culture stuck on murders and mayhem, or the sexually scintillating? What happened to Donna Reed? Where is Fred Astaire when you need him?

Is this really what society thinks of as entertainment? She wonders what her great-grandparents would think--they who were professional entertainers, the stock of Vaudeville. Isn't there anything better than this?

She's thankful that colds only last an average of ten days. Not too much longer before she can return to her regularly scheduled programming.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Te Deum

By Charles Reznikoff

Not because of victories
I sing,
having none,
but for the common sunshine,
the breeze,
the largess of the spring.

Not for victory
but for the day’s work done
as well as I was able;
not for a seat upon the dais
but at the common room.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Power of Two

The Gingerbread boy walks into the kitchen. "I really want to go upstairs to brush my teeth, but I'm too scared," he says.

Gingerbread Boy #2 leaves his bowl of unnaturally colored cereal without a word and accompanies his older brother up the stairs.

She watches them go, astounded at their brief truce.

Here in a simple moment, compassion triumphs over cold cereal. Fear seeks out friend, and the fighting ends for a brief time, all for the want of clean teeth. The power of two.

She watches them pad up the steps, and with each step, she sees them turning into gangly boys, then teenagers, then young men; by the time they reach the second floor, they're tax-paying adults. Before long, she thinks, her two will seek out two of their own: two new families, and her family of four will be down to two again.

She remembers the night when she and he became we. When a welcome hug gave away a hidden ring box in a pocket, and she couldn't stop smiling. The day she joined ranks with the anonymous Johnsons.

One and one equals two.
Then three.
Then four.

Before long the chiasmus will begin. Four will become three, then two, then one.

And then the cheese stands alone.

But she doesn't want to think about that now. There is work to be done before then. Time is so short, she thinks. There is so much left for them to learn before they're ready to fly out of the nest. There is so much left for her to teach them. How to make chocolate chip cookies from scratch. How to iron a shirt. How to ask a girl on a date. How to floss properly. How to build a fire. One never knows when one will need to build a fire. Long division. How to match colors. How to balance a checkbook. Negotiation. How to handle heartbreak. How to go upstairs to brush your teeth without being scared. The list seems endless. The list seems overwhelming.

She hears them whispering and giggling upstairs. Come back down the stairs, boys! Be six for a little while. Let me hold you on my lap. Let me hug you still before you push me away. The lessons can wait until tomorrow.

She'll start with chocolate chip cookies first.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Coloring Outside the Lines

Sometimes nothing brings joy the way a blank piece of paper does, its creamy whiteness stretching out for what seems eternity, waiting for colors from markers to rain down upon it in lines and dots, swirls and scribbles.

What is to be created? Does it matter? They take the colored sharpies in hand and draw at the kitchen table. Markers and a big piece of paper. Magic.

She draws girls and boys--girls with triangle dresses, boys with inverted triangle bodies. She draws a playground with swings and teeter-totter, children going down slides, children jumping ropes. She even draws camels at the request of the Gingerbread Man to go along with the stories he tells the gingerbread boys of Ahmad and his whistling camel.

The gingerbread boys color in her line drawings, turning pigtails red and green. One draws a piano. The other draws a great pool of blue.

She thinks she should do this more often. Big blank sheet of paper. Fresh markers. No expectations. No judgment.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Going Home

She went home this month. Not to the home she grew up in--that home had the crab-apple tree she swung from like a veritable monkey, pheasants in the back yard, and the smell of pot roast and bread baking rising from the kitchen. The home she would stampede up the stairs, and stampede back down. The home where her glasses would steam up when she walked in the door after making snow angels in the yard.

That home exists only in her mind now.

Nor did she go to the home she lived in during high school, where she would unlock the milk delivery door before school because she always lost her keys, and if she unlocked the delivery door, she could stretch her hand into the hallway and unlock the regular door. That home was where she and her sister would sleep outside on lounge chairs on the porch upstairs during hot summer nights, hidden from view by the huge maple tree, and be unhappily serenaded by the birds at 4 am. The home where the dining room was permanently speckled with glitter and sequins from so many dance recital costumes. The home where she could look out her bedroom window on sleepless nights and watch a red light blinking on and off, on and off at the very top of a radio tower.

That home, too, only exists in her mind now.

Nor did she return to her college homes--the one where she lived in the attic, or the Hippie House, or the apartment in Italy. She didn't visit her first apartment (where she was burglarized even though there was nothing to steal) or her second apartment (where she wasn't burglarized even though there was marginally more to steal). Not her first home, owned as an adult, where she built a stone wall in the front garden; nor her second home, where she would count the fireflies flashing as they hovered over the ground during the long summer evenings.

Those spaces are all inaccessible to her.

No. She traveled, visiting some places she'd long been familiar with, and visiting others she'd never been before. She drove, flew, cruised, bussed, subway-ed, ferried, and trained it. And in the craziness of three weeks of consecutive travel, she found herself strangely at home in the oddest places: standing on the bow of the ship with the wind holding her up, rushing at her, whipping her hair into funnels around her head. She sucked in this air, feeling as if she could lift off, and fly, completely at home in the sky. She wanted to stay here--in the air--forever. The air outside called to the air within her lungs, to the oxygen flowing through her body. Join us! it said. And she wanted to--oh, how she wanted to. The sun could shine down, the sea could rise up, and regardless of anything else, she could stand in the vortex of rushing air, feeling its power, like her dreams of flying, lifting up, looking down, being carried along by a power that was not her own.

She found herself at home in the blue, blue sea, buoyed up by saltwater waves, rising and falling, rising and falling, surrounded by water that could not possibly be this blue. Water that swirled into the pink sand, water that pushed at her, soaking her when she fought against it. Water that loved her, that enfolded her in its beauty.

She found herself at home driving across a range of mountains on her way to a campus full of talent and love, of colleagues and friends, a place that she suspects has always felt like home, a place that will always feel like home. Surrounded by words and ideas, she contemplated all things that had brought her to this point--all the many homes she has had, the homes she will yet have--for nothing about her is settled. Her blood calls to her to move on. Perhaps that is why she felt so at home within the rushing wind and the churning waves. Nothing is settled. Nothing stands still. She least of all.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Picking up the vegetables

Wednesdays are CSA days. She drives to the farm with her bags, picks up the week's produce from a structure that has yet to be roofed, while the gingerbread boys feed the goats grass they pluck from the edge of the fencing.

This week: swiss chard, scallions, garlic scapes, beets, mesclun, red lettuce, green lettuce. Driving down the pitted dirt road back home, she realizes how similar farming is to writing. The work is never done. There's always something to do.

The soil preparation. The plowing. The seeding. The composting. The praying for rain and sunshine. The weeding, the pruning.

It's all the same.

The outlining. The research. The character building. The world building. The praying for inspiration. The revision.

Does the farmer get discouraged like she does? Does it rain when he wants sun? Does the sun shine down in harsh rays when he hopes for rain? Do his seeds rot in the ground? Are his plants overrun with slugs the way her brain feels overrun with slugs?

Hm.

She turns off the dirt road back onto the paved road, and continues the drive home, the gingerbread boys plotting what we'll eat first.*

She could only wish the fruits of her cerebral farming were as crisp as what she picks up each week.


*Garlic scape pesto, red leaf lettuce salad with scallions.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Take me out to the ball game

Irritation flows through her veins. She reads something peaceful in hopes that she can blow the stink off, as Great-Aunt Julia used to say. It doesn't work. She takes a walk. She takes a shower afterward. She's still irritated. No, she's no longer irritated, she's downright mad. She wants to drop-kick something.

She doesn't though. She makes lunch, she washes the dishes, she takes the gingerbread boy to the doctor's, she reads books to him.

After dinner, the gingerbread boys beg to play baseball.

She takes the whiffle ball in hand and steps up to the pitcher's mound--an uneven spot in the driveway, formerly marked by a chalk circle. She tosses the ball, again and again, as little arms discover the joy of bat connecting with ball.

And, then, only then, does the stink blow away, thrown with the whiffle ball, and hit far into the outfield.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

False Starts

Where to begin? Begin at the beginning, she thinks. But when is the beginning? Chapter one is the beginning. She looks down at her hands, hands at rest upon the keyboard, hands that grow old. Hands that should be typing. What should be in chapter one?

The beginning.

The skin on her hands no longer looks taut. It looks like well-worn linen. When did that happen? When was the beginning of the end? With her first breath decades ago, did the aging process start? Or was it when she found her first grey hair at 21? Or when "anti-wrinkle" anything became a permanent fixture in the bathroom cabinet? When she began taking calcium to fend off osteoporosis?

The end is so much clearer than the beginning, she thinks.

She tells her hands to type. When they move so fast at the keyboard, she doesn't notice their similarity to linen. Perhaps by the end, she will know where the beginning is.

Monday, May 24, 2010

City Mouse, Country Mouse

Two and a half hours.

Choice: grocery shop or flaneur. Feed the body or feed the soul.

She choses to feed the soul.

She drives a half hour to the closest city--a city which she is certain real city-dwellers would laugh at. Nevertheless, it is city enough for her. She parks the car, locks the doors, and walks down a brick sidewalk. She is joined at the crosswalk by a man in khaki shorts and two greyhounds. At least, she thinks they are greyhounds. They've got funky stripes, and they walk with a spring in their steps, like they're used to running.

If she lived in a city, she thinks, in a loft with big windows and an open floor plan, where friends would gather for impromptu dinner parties featuring things like pancetta and fried squash blossoms, she would have a dog like that. But she doesn't, so she won't.

She keeps walking, over the bridge with the river's water churning below, past the cafe, past the bank, the toy store, the lawyers' offices. She arrives at an antique store. Inside, there are bottles of sea glass, children's roll-top desks, oak tables, nine-foot half-round windows, wicker loveseats, and fabric samples. A framed Leonardo da Vinci poster leans against a glass-fronted cabinet.

She roams through the store, reveling in the benches, the kitchen tables, the chairs. How many pie crusts were rolled out on this farm table? Where is the child who sat in this desk? Who filled this bookcase with books? Were they spy novels? Romances? Farmer's almanacs?

How much she would like to fill her house with this furniture!

But, with a sigh, she knows she cannot. The time-space continuum works against her. Mostly the space continuum.

On her way out, she sees a desk cubby. It will fit on her desk. Perhaps it might even bring some order to the chaos. She will use it to file manuscripts in, to hold stones, and sharp pencils, and rubber-bands.

As she drives back home, she realizes she needed a mini-vacation. While it's true there was no actual progress made on the manuscript itself, she feels balanced. Now that she lives in Small Town, New England, she sometimes gets homesick for city life, for the whiff of diesel, the honk of a horn, a chance to brush up against other people. City mouse, country mouse. Today was a day for sunshine streaming down on city streets. Tonight she will tackle those revisions. Tonight she will count words under a sky dense with stars and a moon that knows all.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Fish is Fish

Last summer, the Gingerbread Man put nine goldfish in the pond. It was a very small pond, fed by a very small spring, bordered by sticks and stones, mostly. Moss, ferns, iris, and marsh marigolds grew on its edges. Week by week went by, and each time she looked, it seemed as if there were fewer and fewer goldfish.

By summer's end, only one goldfish survived. More clever than the others, this goldfish would hide under the leaves that fell on the surface of the water. They named him Angst and took him in to winter over in a glass bowl set on a bookcase by an east window. He sickened in the bowl almost immediately, turning black on stem and stern. They fretted over him, researched goldfish diseases, took action. Angst eventually got better, returning to his normal orange shimmer. They were relieved, happy in his goldfish antics, his goldfish shine. He grew bigger and bigger over the winter, fed on a daily diet of fish pellets.

When the sunshine became a bit more regular, they returned him to the pond, now inhabited by a frog. Angst was quite large now, for a twenty-five cent goldfish, anyway. They worried that he wouldn't be able to hide under the fronds of the ferns that hang down to the water's edge. When they went to visit him in the blue hour of the day, they couldn't find him. She worried again. A large fish in a small pond is a dangerous thing to be, what with raccoons and fisher cats trolling the woods.

She thinks about Angst as she drives home now, after being gone for several days, hoping he has simply been playing hide and seek with them. She remembers her mother saying certain people were big fish in little ponds when she was growing up. It was her mother's way of saying that people weren't really as important as they thought they were. She wonders if she is a big fish in a small pond, growing larger on a daily diet of pellets--a suspect means of nutrition. It's a dangerous place to be, with the fisher cats and raccoons of the world on the prowl.

She doesn't want to be a big fish in a small pond. She doesn't even want to be a big fish in a big pond. She's happy in her own corner, doing what she likes to do. She ruminates on this as the tires speed over the asphalt, mile after mile. When she reaches the exit for her town, she decides she's not a fish at all, big or little.

She's the keeper of the pond.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

The Tipping Point

Remember the swing
Remember the crab-apple tree
Remember the lilacs and the pussy-willows,
The pheasants and the squirrels
Remember the joy of pumping legs,
Swinging so high your stomach dropped down--
The exhilaration of flying.
Remember the rough brown bark
Ants climbing tree
Side by side to knee and elbow
Remember hanging upside down on branch
Hair swinging free
Blood rushing to face,
The tipping point.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Missing Alice

On a windy spring day, she drives down a winding road. Dry oak leaves blow in front of the car as if someone forgot to tell the leaves that it was spring, not autumn. She thinks about death during her drive; she kills off not one or two characters in her novel, but a whole slew of them. She's worried that she hasn't written the emotion to carry the deaths. But her lack in narrative emotion, she realizes, comes as a result of strong faith. She knows there's a heaven. When people die, they don't just die. When people die, there's sadness and missing, but not devastation. They don't disappear for good.

When she reaches home, she's met with news of a death. A woman nearly fifty years her senior, a woman she visited regularly. A woman she brought homemade peach jam to, who welcomed the gingerbread boy with blocks, who showed her newspaper clippings. In fact, she visited this woman in the hospital not four days prior. The woman's family was there, all gathered around that day. She had to wear latex gloves during the visit, but as she left, she squeezed the woman's hand--a squeeze as if to say, "I love you, dear one," for she did love the woman. A squeeze as if to say, "I'm sorry you're suffering."

And now she's gone.

And now she misses her.

The woman requested two specific songs to be sung at her funeral, two choral pieces that would be a challenge under the best of circumstances. She tries to learn the songs, though the notes are much too high for comfort. She sings them anyway. She makes a cake for after the funeral, and a pasta salad. But she is still sad.

In the afternoon, she goes out to the woods, urged by the Gingerbread Man. There she finds dozens of jack-in-the-pulpit. Maybe they'll preach to her, tell her that the woman flew through the wind that day, carried along by the oak leaves, flew away to join her husband. She lifts the leaf covering the small Jack. All is well, he says. All is well.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

The Menu

Supper's late.

The sun peeked out from behind the clouds, so instead of making supper, they go down to the river. She sits on the naked roots of a tree that weaves in and out of the bank, overhanging the water. How odd to look down and see water rushing underneath. Next to her is a sapling sheared down by beaver teeth and left to rot. The sky is blue, and the air is fresh.

When the gingerbread boys return from explorations over the stream that feeds the river, they all clamber over an old and massive stone wall, thick with moss and lichen. Where the forest floor was the tan of bleached leaves only a week ago, now wild lily of the valley carpets it. Ferns curl upward, lifting their fronds to the sky, stretching after a long winter's nap. Parchment berries spot the ground, specks of red amidst the green. Soon, she thinks, the lady's slippers will rise, ready to dance.

But now, supper.

At home, she measures the spices and stirs. She boils water for the rice, She roasts the vegetables. She whips the cream for the chocolate pie. And in the other room, the gingerbread boys giggle together snuggled up on a chair.

"What was that you said in the forest?" the younger one asks.

"I said that I'd always love you, even if I was angry."

"Oh, yeah."

"And I said that if you were hurt, I'd never leave you. Unless Daddy called me for supper."

Ah, yes, supper. She finishes cooking, while the gingerbread man sets the table. All is well in the gingerbread house, full of steam and good things to eat. Love is on the menu tonight, and for that, she is thankful.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Saturdays at Lockwood

She remembers long Saturday afternoons spent in Lockwood Library: Mom at the copier with piles of coins, sister claiming the best of the blocky chairs available. The options were limited. Ride the elevator up and down, up and down. Run out to the vending machines, having first snatched a quarter from her mother's towering pile. Quarter in, press F8, curly-cue swivels around, out pops frosted nut brownie.

Or there were the stacks.

Mostly, she spent time in the stacks. The one row of children's books, mostly books that sported shiny gold Newbery stickers. Somehow she got her hands on a bookmark that listed all the Newbery award winners, and she decided she would read them. Some of her favorite books were Newberies: A Wrinkle in Time, Tuck Everlasting, Bridge to Terabithia, The Westing Game, Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH. She thinks she read these books long before those Saturday afternoons, though. They were quickly joined by Summer of the Swans, My Side of the Mountain, The Witch of Blackbird Pond, The Great Gilly Hopkins, A Ring of Endless Light.

She remembers, though, mostly spending those afternoons with E.L. Konigsburg. Oh, they weren't on a first-name basis, but nevertheless, she became great friends with Claudia and Jamie, wishing more than anything that she could stay in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, that she could go to an automat (What was an automat, anyway?). She thrilled to the sound of Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley, and Me, Elizabeth. She gobbled up About the B'nai Bagels, while developing A Proud Taste for Scarlet and Miniver. She even became Father's Arcane Daughter for a while.

But she could only read those books so many times before she would dutifully return to her Newbery list, wanting to check another one off her bookmark. But some Newbery books she just couldn't get into. She would try one, then another, but the stack of Newbery books that didn't interest her grew and grew, and she would return to her trusted friend, E.L.

Last week, at the school book fair, she came across used copies of some of those Newbery books that she hadn't read those many years ago. Now's the time, she thinks, and shells out her quarters for several, determined to give them their due.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Roman Skies


What is it about spring that makes her long to wander through European streets, through cobblestone alleys with little cafes that are tucked in between book shops and walled cemeteries? Where skies above are so blue that they seem unreal? Where bridges can lead not just across a river, but to an adventure awaiting on the other side?

There's no wandering through European streets in her future, so she must resign herself to blue skies over New England, to rough paths through the forest, to tiny cemeteries hidden amongst birch trees and maples, to adventure found by crossing a ford through the stream out back.

Maybe she'll buy a baguette tomorrow.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

In Honor of Friendship

After reading Facebook status updates, she thinks how much she loves her friends--her friends who make giant batches of sauce so big that they need two pots, her friends who adopt children from Russia, her friends who celebrate Pi day, her friends who write books and her friends who don't, her friends who have songs stuck in their heads, and her friends who eat cereal with half and half.

She loves her friends who worry about her, her friends who bring her chocolate, her friends who call "just to say hi." She loves her friends she's known since forever, and her friends who she has only just met. She loves her friends who live down the street and her friends who live across the world. She loves her friends who pick raspberries and can with her, and her friends who buy raspberries and haven't a clue about canning. She loves her knitting friends, and her reading friends, and her friends who do spa parties.

She loves her friends who remember the exact place they met when they were freshmen in high school. She loves her friends who came to the hospital after a car accident, and her friends who offered to donate blood for her family members. She loves her S3Q2 friends, and her WTHS friends, her HAA friends, and her BYU friends, her IUPUI friends, and her VCFA friends.

She loves her friends who have cried with her, and her friends who have laughed with her.

And laughed at her.

She has been blessed with a lifetime of good friends. Thank you, dear friends.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Magic Eight Balls

Sometimes she wishes more than anything that she had a crystal ball--so she might know what to expect, so she can plan.

Because, boy, is she a planner. Lists galore. Lists by her bedside. Lists on the refrigerator door. Lists in her bags and in her head. Things to do. Things to buy. Things to bring. Menus. Activities. It's her small way of taking control, of making order, of prioritizing.

Mail taxes.

Mexican rice w/chicken.

Cotton balls.

A crystal ball would be so helpful, she thinks. Priorities would be set, neat lines with small check marks after each one. Time would be wisely spent. Order would reign in her small bubble, where everywhere else lies chaos.

Lentil and bulghur soup.

Cheesebread.

Order more checks.

Sometimes she just wishes she knew what was in store. When would this problem sort itself out? When would she finish her novel? If only she knew, then she could be calm.

Toothpaste.

Lasagna Bolognese.

Call cable company.

But on the way home from the doctor's office, she realizes that sometimes one doesn't want to know what's in store. One doesn't want to know the future, especially if the future is laid out with clarity.

One shake of the magic eight ball. Do you want to know the future?

"Don't count on it."

She pulls out a piece of scrap paper. Time for a new list.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Calm Sunday Afternoons

The sap is running. The maples are tapped. Five gallons collected already.

They go outside to check the containers and find themselves pulled toward the stream, pulled by its frozen allure, pulled by sound of the trickle of water over and around the stones of the ford, pulled by the desire to smash the ice, even as they stand on it.

Snow covers the frozen stream; it is no longer smooth and skate-worthy. It's crunchy, and it echoes underneath in the space between the flowing water and the ice ceiling. But in most places, the ice is still several inches thick, so they walk along it anyway, occasionally stepping onto the banks of the stream where it has cracked, following the tracks of deer who smartly skip from the bank of one side to the safety on the other side.

They walk to the island, then they keep going--all the way to the marshy pond, where cattails rise up out of the ice like an army protecting its territory with seed head ammunition exploding into fluff.

She thinks the marshy pond would be better named the cemetery of trees, for it is populated by dead trees. The year they moved here, beavers dammed up the stream, flooded the marshy pond, and built a lodge. Evidence of strong teeth is everywhere. He points to one such tree, a foot and a half in diameter, gnawed down on one side by the industrious beavers.

"What were they thinking?" he asks. "How did they expect to move that?"

Optimism! she thinks.

While they examine beaver industry, young arms whack smaller trees with sticks. The spindly trees fall, which is even more satisfying than breaking up the ice on the stream.

One of the dead trees has been spray-painted with the word "BUTTER." The one next to it spells out "GOD." This reminds her of other graffiti in places she's been: "Make tea, not war." "17 1/2 minutes of Nixon buried here."

They wander through the cattails, through the dead trees, through the snow and ice. They hear a woodpecker clattering away in the distance. Spring approaches.

But for now, it is still cold.

And it is time to leave the cattail army, the graffiti-trees.

The sun shines down from its blue heaven, and for just a moment, all is right in her small world.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Pieces and Parts

On the way home from the doctor's office, she thinks about anatomy--tissues and membranes, and how these thin walls keep everything from falling out. Veins keep the blood in, membranes keep the organs in, skin holds it all together. Amazing.

But sometimes these pieces and parts fail. Sometimes something springs a leak, or stops working, and there's only a thin membrane the width of one's skin stuck holding the pieces and parts together.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Ice

The snow gives way to the cold. The backyard which has been home to a sled run through the trees down to the pond, now has other allures.

The stream has frozen almost solid. Solid enough to walk on. Solid enough to skate on--if you have skates. If you don't have skates, a sturdy pair of boots does almost as well. Slipping and sliding, pretending to turn and spin, bypassing pine cones and leaves frozen to the surface.

The ice downstream of the springs is clear, glass-clear. So clear that she can see the water flowing underneath, see the detritus being pushed by invisible forces. Her son even saw a tadpole swimming under the ice a few days ago. How can that be? she wonders. It's six degrees out.

The ice upstream is cloudy, filled with tiny bubbles. Though it lacks the clarity of its cousin downstream, it is flat. Flat and perfect for sliding.

Back and forth they go, up and down, wary of the few areas where the ice is cracked and bubbled. Grabbing at trees to stay upright.

Pretending. Lost in the magic of an icy winter afternoon.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Gratitudes, with gratitude to Alison McGhee for Inspiration

She skipped being grateful for the entire month of November. Instead, she was sick. Should she be grateful now? Now, when the wind howls outside, and it's so cold that the snow squeaks when you step on it? Now, when she's been stuck inside for days, listening only to the sound of the fan on the fireplace insert whir and the goldfish flip-flapping in his tank (how does he do that?)? Now when she thinks bears have it made (for hibernation purposes only, raw fish eating habits excluded)?

No time like the present.

An alphabet of gratitudes:

A. Alligators? No. Alimony? Definitely not. Axes? Yes. Axes that split wood that burns brightly and keeps the fan on the fireplace insert whirring.

B. Bandannas? Sure, why not. Headpiece of choice while camping.

C. Chocolate. Dark chocolate with sea salt, milk chocolate with peanuts, hot fudge, chocolate shakes, chocolate mousse cake...it's all good.

D. Date night with the Gingerbread Man. ("Not the gumdrop buttons!")

E. Elephants. The Magician's Elephant in particular. She is grateful for book discussions with a community of brilliant writers.

F. Flip-flops. She hates flip-flops; she hates things between her toes. Don't get her started on those little thingies they put in between your toes during a pedicure. But when wearing the hat of "happy mother taking children to swim lessons and then showering them afterward," it helps to have flip-flops.

G. Ginger.
a.) She's grown accustomed to her name. It suits.
b.) Fresh ginger in home-made egg rolls which is what she had for dinner.
c.) Gingerbread. And Gingerbread Men. :)

H. Hot-tubs, hoses, hair-dryers. HOUSE! Being somewhat of a hermit by nature, she's grateful she doesn't have to live in a hermitage, or on top of a pole, or in a cave somewhere. Hibernating with a raw-fish-eating bear.

I. Ink. She loves ink. She loves Italy. She loves Italian ink.

J. Jazz. She remembers years and years of dance classes: ballet, tap, jazz, pointe, chorus-line tap. But she loved jazz the best--until she discovered modern. And folk.

K. Kindergarten, Kellogg's, Kicks, Kazakhstan. She remembers when her son could find Kazakhstan on a map. When he was two. He could also find a myriad of other obscure countries. One of his special gifts.

L. Lemonade. The last time she had lemonade, real lemonade, was at the village country fair--the kind of fair where you can see sheep, enter in an apple-peeling contest, and throw darts at balloons. Where you can walk in a parade, see a beekeeper's display, and listen to a real fiddler. And on a blistering hot day, you can drink a tall glass of lemonade, and know that life is good.

M. Macs. Yes, she is thankful for her computer. She loves her computer. She would consider marrying her computer, but she's already attached.

N. Hm. She can't think of an 'N' word. No. Nottingham. Nincompoop. Nasty. Nothing. Nothing is something to be grateful for. Sometimes nothing is exactly what she wants. Exactly what she needs.

O. Olives. Black olives on her fingers, green olives in arroz con pollo. Olive bread. Olive oil.

P. Post office. She loves getting mail. She loves special paper and envelopes with decorative papers on their flaps. She loves beautiful stamps. She wishes she sent letters more often. She wishes she received letters more often. Thankfully, her friends far away forgive her for not writing real letters, just as she forgives them for not writing real letters. Maybe she'll write a real letter this weekend. Maybe it will be to you.

Q. Quiet. She loves the quiet. She loves the things you can hear in the quiet.

R. Real whipped cream. The kind served over hot chocolate (see 'C' above) at Romeo's in Buffalo, where she went with the Gingerbread Man on date night ('G' and 'D' respectively). Whipped cream so thick you could almost cut it.

S. Slippers. No Christmas presents could be opened without slippers on feet and fresh-squeezed orange juice in hand when she was a child. While the fresh-squeezed orange juice has gone the way of Tropicana, slippers have become an essential.

T. Trunks. The turtleback trunk she got from her mother and grandfather when she was sixteen was her first real piece of furniture. Inside is the original decorative paper, flaking off onto the blankets stored there, the velvet crazy-quilt, the afghan, the down comforter. The inside of the trunk smells like the cedar tray that her grandfather built to replace the one missing. The refinished outside was a labor of love--the wood stripped, sanded, and stained; the decorative raised tin sanded and painted. Of all the furniture in her house, she loves this trunk probably the best.

U. Uvula, because isn't it a great word?

V. Why are all the V words adjectives? Venerate, vicious, variable. Voluptuous. Hah. Victorious. But then she thinks value. Not just the monetary kind, but the old-fashioned kind. Values, like scruples. Like the Young Women's values. She wishes such values were more valued.

W. Water. She is infinitely grateful for water. The hot kind in winter, the cold kind in summer. The frozen kind for ice-skating, the liquid kind for swimming.

X. Xanthan gum. Really. When the Kazakhstan-finding son was diagnosed with multiple food allergies, xanthan gum came to the rescue! She could bake with rice flour and the baked items would actually hold together! A food miracle!

Y. Yarn. Her fingers can fly in two places: the keyboard, and with knitting needles (two 'K' words. Hm. And all she could think of for 'K' was Kazakhstan?). But yarn? Oh, the deliciousness of it all. Angora, alpaca, iguana. Ok, not really, but it sounds good. The shades, the textures, the weights. Rapture.

Z. Zippers. Where would the world be without zippers? XYZ!

And now she is grateful.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Friday thoughts

Just when I thought I was on the homestretch with this novel, I discovered I need to change the setting. Need, Ginger? Really?

Yes, really.

And this morning, after I had gotten accustomed to this need, I discovered I need to change my point of view. And this revision, my friends, is much more intense that simply changing the setting.

Needs and wants. Needs and wants. Why do I keep going back to needs and wants...

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Great

Flipping through websites, I saw a blip on yahoo that said female singers make history. There was a headshot of three of them. I don't know who they are because I live under a rock, nor do I know what sort of history they made.

In that split second after I read that headline, the thought flew through my mind that I want to do something great. Not for glory or money or massive amounts of chocolate or to get my picture on yahoo with the headline "Female person makes history," but just because. I want to do something great to make the world just a little bit better than it was before.

Is that an odd desire? I don't know. So I sit here wondering if all people have the desire to do something great. And what do they do about it?

And what constitutes greatness anyway?

It's not all peace treaties and stock market victories, speed records, Hollywood contracts, and entertainment achievements.

On some days, it seems like patiently assisting with the homework of a very frustrated child constitutes greatness.

Or cooking a glorious meal. Or holding the hand of a suffering friend. Remembering to find the tap shoes your sister asked you to send to her.

Can there be greatness without love?