Wednesday, December 31, 2008

december 31st


Because I live on the Atlantic coast (not “near” the coast but “on” the coast) I never believe any forecast that calls for snow. Oh, it might snow two miles inland, I’ll say, but for snow here, I’ll believe it when I see it.

The bay window is a beautiful white-out, my tiny blue car buried below, my family out trekking to finish a few more errands before we hunker in for a New Year’s Eve at home. (We had other plans, but I’m Not Driving.) I’m starting to brainstorm ways to celebrate right here in the living room, or maybe sliding down the icy street from the snow ramp below our house.

I see no harbor today—I can barely see the flag flying in the boatyard half a block below. I love the filtered light, the muffled sound. I hear snowplows thundering somewhere, engines warming, a neighbor shoveling.

Three weeks ago I turned in my last packet of school work for the quarter and shifted to be Holiday Mom, the baker of cookies for the bake sale, the person who guides children through gift-making and thank-you writing, the person who can convert a European recipe for gingerbread house frosting. And these days I’m enjoying a new role as The Person Who Assists. Gingerbread houses? I hand them the kits, carefully stored from last year, and $20 worth of candy and supplies. Tree? I plunk it in the bucket and wire it to the wall, then I bring boxes of ornaments from the attic and stand back. I put the star on the top. I untangle lights. They do the rest. Cookies? I make sure the dough is the right texture for the cookie press: they can do the rest. I take photos. I admire the results. I clean up, which is a mighty task but look how much the kids can do themselves! Each year the kids grow more confident, sensible, capable, funny. I like these ages. I like assisting.

I set up the loom with enough warp for two scarves: one for a kid to weave, one for me to weave—it takes time, but I’m learning a little more every time, how to make the fabric stronger, how to make fewer mistakes, how to make the most from a skein of great yarn.

I see my family trying to steer the minivan up the unplowed street: no way. This is going to be a good one.

Happy New Year.

Monday, December 15, 2008

recipe for winter-dry hands and Christmas gifts


Luxury Salt Scrub for Knitters and Other People

Madeleine is labeling the glass-topped tins, now, for gifts for all the women in her life—and a few men, too. “Place a generous pinch in the palm and rub into hands and cuticles vigorously. Helps prevent hangnails and makes hands SMOOTH.” The scrub is also good for elbows, feet, and peeling lips.

Ingredients:
Sea Salt—coarse is good but fine is also good. (I hear sugar works also, but I don’t know if it will clump)
Oil that is good for skin: jojoba, vitamin E oil, almond, avocado or grapeseed oil.
Essential oil: choose a scent you like. Lavender is very good for scrapes.

We poured three cups of coarse salt into a glass bowl and added two or three tablespoons of oil, then shook in about a hundred drops of essential oil. Stir and put in sealable containers.


If you don’t live near a health-food store, you might look at a pharmacy for vitamin E oil to combine with salt or sugar. Essential oils are very concentrated and not at all like perfume—I wouldn’t use other scents. But if you do, let me know how it goes.

WARNING: This is not a cheap project. Organic, healthy, but not cheap. A small bottle of lavender oil is $17 and my grapeseed oil was $5. Sea salt, $3. But the ingredients go a long, long way, and we use lavender oil for a number of things. We crafted 25 little tins of salt scrub, and didn’t even use a third of our ingredients. (A.C.Moore Crafts sells a bucket of “favor tins” @ $20 for 25 tins, and I had a 50% off coupon—hooray!) With more tins, we could easily make 50 gifts from these supplies.

My hands are feeling smooth, and they smell great. And my daughter has a stack of Christmas presents all lined up for teachers, neighbors, and all her grown-up friends.

looking for non-verbal diversions

Hey! I hate blogposts that say "hey, I've been lame about blogposts," but never has this message been more true. I just submitted a boatload of all-over-the-place pages to my faculty mentor, who just wrote me a gracious and honest response. And I've never been tired-er of the written word.

After I submitted my end-of-quarter work, I submitted a proposal for a $9000 scholarship-- of course after I hit the "send" button I doubted the content of my application. But it's sent!

Now I find myself cleaning house madly for school vacation, which starts Friday. And I find myself spinning yarn with my spindle, remembering how much I love color and wasting time on pretty stuff. Yarn therapy. I'm reading a novel, which feels just decadent. Scott and I are watching the John Adams miniseries. Kids are preparing Christmas gifts for teachers. And I am feeling delightfully boring.

I'll write as soon as I'm recovered.

Friday, December 12, 2008

birthday poem

Given to a fiery Brendan from his teacher:

The light that burns within me-- hidden, silent, deep,
It streams with power like the sun from realms of sleep.
It fills my heart with joy. It gives me strength and gladness
And lets me shine to others too, to heal their sadness.

When fire burns and I am master of this fire,
Then, pouring light upon me, Heaven's Sons inspire
My work, and I can do God's deeds as they require.

Master of his own fire: may it be so.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

rare gifts

The quick solution to after school hunger was a stew from last night’s roast and potatoes and carrots—cut the meat and potatoes, add a handful of peas and a cup of chicken broth… it was a good start, one small bowl each for three people.

Madeleine whined. She loved the roast last night, raved about the sauce made with red wine and red lentils. She walked to the frig and noted the pie dough, whose recipe said the dough could chill up to two days in advance. (It’s been eight days, but who’s counting?) She put her foot down and demanded to make pumpkin pie, from the ingredients we purchased for Thanksgiving, the ingredients we never used.

Let’s see, my child is insisting that she make me a pie, with a vegetable in it! Um, okay, I guess, if you want to bake me a pie, I guess I can just roll the dough out for you. I guess. Aprons come out, hands are washed. She squints at the recipe on the back of the pumpkin can.

I can’t write with them at home, so I save chores for these hours, the laundry folding, the last of the dishes to wash, the dusting. Brendan offers to help with the pie, and I demonstrate how to use a can-opener. They mix. I roll. We nibble scraps of crust and I agree they can lick the pumpkin bowl if they help me clean up.

Then Madeleine asks if she can reorganize my cabinets. Um, yeah. Brendan wants his own project and asks if he can re-label all of my jars of herbs, if he cleans them and removes the old illegible grubby labels. Is this the same guy who was dragging all through school prep this morning? The same guy who’s been so terribly stubborn? He pulls out the permanent pen, the computer labels, and goes to work. Some bottles are so old we need to guess what they were. The change is astonishing.

Madeleine finishes with the cabinet and asks if she can organize the freezer. Hmmm. Okay. She dons mittens and pulls a chair up to the freezer door.

I should go into their room right now and reorganize the desk, which is piled high with stuff, or their unmade beds, or the piles in the closet. Nah. They are capable. Besides they are tidying public spaces, and the house smells of pumpkin pie, my miraculous luck. They kick and scream over putting away their socks. I don’t understand, but I love pumpkin pie.

Time to fold more clothes. They are singing Halloween songs. Sounds good to me.

Writing goes well enough, with an academic paper in the draft stage and a creative essay in the draft stage. I attempted to teach a dozen third graders how to spin yarn today, and it wasn’t half-bad! Several kids got it right away, and some got it after some work, but they were all enthusiastic to try. Christmas prep is going okay.

Did I mention my kids are making me a pumpkin pie? All I had to do was roll out the crust. It’s coming out of the oven, now, and smelling like dinner.

Monday, December 01, 2008

quick and unimaginative update

Turkey soup is bubbling on the stove.

My son is tired and grouchy, but pulling out his viola to practice. Grouchy + tired + viola, hmmm. We’ll see how it goes.

My daughter says she is finished with her bath, but is dragging her way out of the bathroom slowly. She woke howling today, convinced her teacher would be mad that she’s not finished her Native American project. She was still weeping into her waffles when I phoned her teacher for a word of encouragement. Madeleine finished her last illustration this evening without further dramatics, so the weeping can be over and the project can be turned in tomorrow.

My husband tells me he was exposed to strep throat yesterday and by the way his head hurts a lot. I’m remembering Gloucester once had a “sick house” for contagious people, on the other side of town, and suddenly that seems like a good idea. I mean, he could take a stack of magazines, and I’d bring him some chicken soup (as long as he didn’t breathe near me).

Essays and a critical essay are due in a week. I’m drafting the critical essay today.

Got a work memo asking where my report was from last Friday. I’ve never heard of the necessary report form mentioned in the memo. I asked when I should send it, and the answer was “now would be good.” Sigh.

But, I have a critical essay topic and the book seems newly salient to daily life. M. F. K. Fisher wrote How to Cook a Wolf to encourage economy and even flair among beleaguered cooks suffering food shortages during World War II. While quite dated in some parts (one recipe is for flavored tooth cleaning powder), much of the “we could all use a bit of common sense” tone could be quite useful today.

I have turkey wings, bubbling into broth.

And the viola playing is not bad.

Thanksgiving was simple and lovely, and the leftovers did not last nearly long enough.

The house we hoped to buy was pulled from the market last week, and the sellers decided (firmly) to keep it for themselves. But we discovered we can qualify for a mortgage, especially if house prices continue to lower. And the former-sellers (the non-sellers?) know where to find us if they change their mind. (Which they clearly need to do—the land has a creek, a bit of woods, a view of our favorite beach, a fireplace…)

I was typing away earlier, in my bay window in the clouds, when the sky suddenly opened up and I could see the fog sink down to the ground, and gradually pull itself away. With the sun out, my daughter and I skipped along the beach for half an hour after school, watching the waves play, a lovely treat.

Now the stars are icy clear and sparkling and I need to think of dessert for children, who believe dessert happens every day and I’m too weary to argue. I love them wildly, and they are skinny children. I am glad for them to eat. So I’d best go rustle up something. Then their bedtime, then back to my work, if I can stay awake.

That’s my quick catchup. Tell me if you need more news, and I’ll keep you posted. But most likely, I’ll write again next week, after the pages of essays are turned in.

It’s still mostly fun to be a student, even if it means studying every waking hour, trying to catch up for five days at home with the family.

Tomorrow morning, they all leave AGAIN to go to school AGAIN and leave me to my quiet. Hopefully.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

oh, sad news: the house we wanted was pulled from the market. disappointed.

but that means more months with the bay window, which is currently being pounded by rain.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

winter twilight

I forget the shortness of these winter days until I look up from the chores and my work, startled by the dwindling light. Church and church school pass in a flourish of cold sunlight, then lunch passes without me taking a moment to sit in the chair near the bay window overlooking the harbor. 3:20 finds me raising the shade in my bedroom—the last hint of direct sunlight streams through the upper corner of the window above my bed. I close my eyes and face directly into the sun, letting the glow work its way through my eyelids. By 3:29 the sun sets lower than the ridge of nearby houses, and I pull the dusty shade back into place.

By 3:40 the light no longer falls on the harbor. Soon the peninsula on the other side of the harbor will flush with warm rose-tones.

Each day is filled with its regular concerns, getting children to school on time, practicing violin and viola, Madeleine’s Native American project, Brendan’s thank you notes for birthday gifts, making sure children eat well and dress warmly. I’ve yet to find the big bin of heavy winter clothes and the outdoor temperatures are astonishingly low for this time of year.

And we are learning the ins and outs of home-buying, home-wishing, house need. We found a good house, quite possibly the right house, and are pulling together resources, learning our way around. No one is sure if we will find our way soon enough—the sellers may pull the house from the market.

Two weeks of graduate work until the end of the quarter (at least 30 pages of writing, academic writing plus creative writing), with Christmas shopping imperative, and each child has missed a day of school in the past two weeks. Laundry piles up, Christmas treasures stack up, the advent calendars and candles and mittens are still somewhere in the attic. I spend my time researching mortgages, real estate, and how to keep my small part-time job.

I will cry the day I leave this window for the last time. I will cry if that day doesn’t come soon: we need more space.

But today my glimpse of sea is blue, darkening, and filled with boats, with a wee little bit of light. There—there comes the rose-pink lights of winter sunset, lining the trees and the curves of granite, and the roofs of the houses. Next the windows across the way will glimmer like squares of fire.

I’ve been tired and tense for days. I referee one more argument about lengths of turns and toy ownership rights…

A bath is poured. Madeleine’s project is moved to a desk in another room. The squares of fire across the way change to winter pink. Evening stars emerge. I turn off the reading lamp to watch the light for one more minute or two, before we hunker in for the dark hours. 4:35, sigh. Miles to go, this evening.

Next Sunday the Advent Lantern comes out of its case. Miles to go, before then.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

signs signs everywhere the signs


I found this photo as I was doing some research on a house I crave.

Massachusetts' city limit signs are this shape.

(The house I crave has a creek, a little woods, and a distant view of our favorite beach. It is small and tidy, with cool neighbors. And a fireplace.)

We are looking at a house-- sorry to be so busy. More news later. But pray if you'd be so inclined.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

how to write in your own home

Do not look at the clock, the calendar. Do not look to see if the cell phone is turned on.
Do not notice broken objects requiring attention. Do not wonder why your daughter’s piggy bank is on the dining table before you.
Do not wonder about anything but paper.
Do not listen to the cat no matter how hard he rubs against your ankles.
DO NOT LET YOUR CHILDREN LEAVE MARBLES UNDER THE HEATER, since the cat loves marbles more than ANYTHING.
Do not waste any time being angry, annoyed, exasperated with marbles.
Do not notice the pajamas you are still wearing.
Stop drinking coffee. Now. That last cup disappeared without hardly passing the tastebuds.

Imagine sensory blinders that dull everything but the warmth of the sunlight streaming through the window (do not look at it, do not wonder about a walk) and memory. Become more alive to memory than to this particular day, hour, minute, the cat batting the marble across the wood floor, finding an abandoned Pez dispenser and wrestling it under the edge of the braided rug, his favorite game, returning to the marble. Do not think about how old and dusty and ugly the braided rug is, how it needs to be replaced, how you’d like even the most threadbare oriental rug. Under no circumstances should you think about that little colonial for sale in your dream neighborhood, and the horrific list of to-do’s surrounding THAT question.

Blinders.

Okay, go get dressed in something— there’s an appointment in an hour, an appointment you intended to cancel but you can’t find the phone number, can’t find the paperwork at all from the last appointment. While getting dressed pick up every single marble wedged under the heater AND the one your cat is using to make all the noise. Shake off the sluggishness. Move the clothes from the washer to the dryer, and the clothes from the dryer can go atop the laundry basket, hidden behind the couch with every single stray object that’s been left in the living room and kitchen. Everything is out of sight. The surfaces are cleared so you can think, remember, fall into that trance, if there is time before the appointment.

Let the cat play with one more marble, just for a moment. You are not thinking. You are not sinking into a trance. Do not dwell on this. Do note the pleasure of washing your face—this new bit of self-care is a little intoxicating, no? Do note the goodness of flaxseed oil on the whole grain slice of toast—save butter for something more exotic than toast. Do pour a scant quarter-cup of coffee and dress it with milk, now that you are tasting and conscious.

Now pick up the marble, and scratch the cat behind his ears, sitting in the sunny window, the place you love. Set the timer on your cell phone, for that appointment later.

Now. Sit back at the relatively empty table, listen to the quiet, look nowhere but inward. Go.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

veteran's day holiday note

The morning dawns and the boy’s fever broke last night. I wake with him tucked into the middle of my bed, my husband huddled far on the other edge. If he weren’t still recovering, the boy would shove both of us off the sides with his voracious appetite for space. He’s been fierce with his bony elbows and knees since he was a baby, and today he is nine years old.

And I have a party to plan. It’s a school holiday. I’ve promised soup, a cake made of big cinnamon buns, candles, hot cider. (Need mugs, spoons, the special candles, matches, napkins…) I sit slowly, find my wooly slippers, and move toward coffee.

“So much work to do,” is my mantra these days, so much work put off, so many really important projects to attend. The birthday party is simple, the weather crisp and cold and we need hot liquids—I can do that. We are meeting at a state park, with the intent to have a treasure hunt but if we just climb, I’m not complaining. I will prevent children from flinging themselves off rocky precipices, for the most part, and I will feed them. Everything else is extra.

Grad school writing is due tomorrow. I’m researching house-buying, of all things, though that may not even be possible. (It’s a beautiful, simple place—I’ll keep you posted.) We would miss our view, but I’d love to solve our need for another bedroom just that quickly. My to-finish list is huge, bulging with details. I finished a book last night and am still mulling it for an annotation. My daughter needs a ride from her sleepover with a friend, in an hour.

Black beans are simmering. Onions and garlic and carrots are next. The cake is all set. The box fills with stuff for the party…

And I need coffee. And maybe to get dressed.

Back to you soon.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

to make a leaf crown

To make a leaf crown: First, apply your thumbnail firmly to the base of the maple leaf, where the stem joins. The stem should tear off easily. Layer the edge of one maple leaf on top of the next leaf and stitch downward and upward with the narrow end of the leaf-stem. The needle-stem holds the two leaves side-by-side, slightly overlapped. Use the stem of the second leaf and stitch to the third, the third to the fourth. Expect to shred a few leaves—it’s best to weave crowns while sitting in an abundance of leaves, with an abundance of time, say, while sitting at the playground.

When a dozen leaves or so are joined, measure the chain of leaves around your head or a child’s head and stitch in place with the last stem. Or make continuous leaf-chains and drape them around your neck, over the fence posts and swingsets. Admire your sweet folly: we are celebrating the temporal here. Bright leaves are here for the joy of a few days.

I look up and the bright leaves turn to rust, with no leaf crowns this year, no sitting for long hours in playgrounds. Instead I arrange rides to soccer practice and art lessons, and hope for an occasional afternoon at home with children, with a pot of warm popcorn. We catch up on homework and music practice. In my childhood we took to the streets after school, meandered the long way home, applied ourselves to puddles and bicycles and roller skates and games played in quiet streets while leaves sifted down. So much is required of these children, these days. They expect more of themselves, too, than I expected of myself as a child. I don’t know what I think about it. I do my best. I fail to do my very best, to manage my patience, to organize the time. I worry. I wish they played more, outdoors. But that would be another chunk of time to manage, another set of transitions each day. When the sunlight changes in springtime, the playground will be popular again, for another year or two if we are lucky.

What other skills will grow rusty from disuse? Someday I will not need to remind these children to brush their hair, to pack their lunches. Will they remember leaf crowns? Will they look up one day and find the golds and reds have gone to rust, without much notice?

I found a bag of large oak leaves browning behind the couch. “Anyone know what these leaves are here for?”

“THERE are my leaves!” she shouted. “Oh wait, MY leaves were bright red and yellow…” We talk about the effect of being stuffed in a bag for a week, behind the couch, poor girl. The sky darkens early, but we can still see. We walk the leaves to the compost and wish them a good winter. We pick some of the last of the summer wildflowers, still hanging on in the yard, and return indoors for a vase. We start the kettle for tea, pull out the homework, and settle in for the evening.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

angel

Central Park, last month.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

more than one student in my family


Madeleine's copy book for Botany-- not for school. This is her copy for home.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

revising, reworking

Learning the art of revision is the opposite of whipping off a blog-post and sending before I even spellcheck. I like both, slowness of school work and speed/immediacy of blog-posts. I LOVE the results of revision in my serious-writing for school, but I worry that I spend so much time reading, and comparatively less time writing than Before Grad School. It’s just a slice of two years, I remind myself. I can do it and it will fuel my writing for a long time.

When I look at my for-school-serious writing last year, my essays fall into three categories: I wrote about my life as a kid, my year as a personal assistant to a blind woman, and about a sailing trip. After months of revision, the story about the sailing trip grew to perhaps 40 pages of stuff, with lots of repetition and multiple versions of each scene—in other words a mess. But the story kept nagging at me so I kept writing and rewriting the scenes that troubled me. Suddenly this one proverbial “three-hour tour” began to address how hard it is to live here in this geography we’ve chosen. The story “On a Halcyon Day” became a cautionary tale, a sort of “don’t ever even think about living here” tale. I’m almost ready to give that story a final overhaul—a writing friend suggested I might pull some sections of “Halcyon Day” to form another essay or two about life in Gloucester, life in my neighborhood. Those will be cautionary tales, too. I’m reckoning with the culture of New England, which will always be alien to me, and a little sad.

One of my favorite readers of ALL the versions of my Halcyon Day story is a fellow Hoosier and a fellow student, from some similar back road near my hometown. I knew she was finishing her masters degree and I invited her to visit our beautiful shoreline. She did. And now Emily is moving here. Didn’t I just say “never live here, turn back now, woe to all who enter Cape Ann, the beautiful but unaffordable set of rocks jutting into the Atlantic?” For a year I’ve been saying that, loudly and over the course of dozens of pages.

Before she met me, she’d never heard of the place. I will be thrilled to have a writing friend who understands my workload and courses. But I’m struggling against some ghosty sense of responsibility for the corruption of the nation’s youth. “Come here and you, too, can be bashed against these rocks for a winter.”

Reminder: Emily is made of more iron than appears to the eye. And the ocean is a soothing companion in winter. And the light here can’t adequately be described. Perhaps she will thrive, this brave friend of mine. She will certainly make my life easier, just by knowing my circumstances.

We’ll figure this out, somehow, the shift from long-distance writing friends to nearby local friends. She loads up the car Saturday and will be here by Sunday night, moving into her new place, and sharing a home-cooked dinner with my family. And maybe we’ll have a cup of coffee on Monday, and unpack a few boxes. We'll start the revision process, I guess. I like revision, though it's a boatload of work. I love the results and the process is life-giving, often. Explosive sometimes. A curiosity, in any case.

Between now and then, my children need to carve pumpkins and design costumes, and I need to find a sitter for parent-teacher conferences, and to finish reading another book for school. Then another.

Friendship, changes, holiday season, recover from my own travels (Connecticut last week, then New Hampshire for the weekend), soup season, homework. Much to think about. A few things still to unearth. Much to do. First another cup of coffee, with the book I’m reading, in the window.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

householding notes: neglectful home-owner repents for a day

The washer is repaired after a burning-plastic smell that turned out to be… burning plastic.

The vacuum cleaner shop in town has held bags for my vacuum ALL ALONG. And they didn’t tell me. I had to find that out, myself. The guy at the counter believes I can reform my life if I just vacuum. He may be right. (He found me ridiculously amusing, but then, the guy works with small motors all day.)

My eight-year-old son repaired the flushing mechanism of the toilet, then used a flashlight to watch what happens inside that back tank for an hour (after I explained that the water in the tank is clean).

I spent the morning pouring boiling kettles of water down the bathroom sink, alternating with some mysterious white powder—only a dozen kettles later, the sink is draining perfectly.

I hauled in the giant terra cotta planter full of herbs, rooted out the faint-of-heart and surrounded my sturdy rosemary and geraniums with thriving parsley plants, mint, cilantro, and a stray violet. Inspired, Madeleine pulled out her tiny herb garden kit and seeded her planter with basil, oregano, chives, plus one leftover start of parsley from outdoors. The garden soil cleanup will be well worth it when we have green things for soup this winter! I’ve been the lamest gardener ever, my poor yard ignored while I study this year. But herbs love neglect. And they smell wonderful.

Speaking of wonderful, the last of the farmers market tomatoes made the most welcome Andalusian Gazpacho, ever.



a blip from earlier today:

The washer repairman leaves my washer in good working order, and I place the house back in good working order, as well. I lift a bundle of aprons to their hook—an apron catches the case of my son’s crosscut saw from his workbench, the saw falls onto the edge of the cat’s dish, flinging the smelly catfood somewhere. I pick up the crosscut saw and find a can-shaped lump of food stuck to the underside of the saw’s case. How likely is that? If he knew, he’d handle the saw as it were an alien. First I clean the smelly mess, then the case of the saw, then put the saw in its slot on the workbench, then the bench is shoved back to the kitchen wall under the window. Then the mat with the catfood. And the whole kitchen smells like foul fish.

Where is the cat? And why hasn’t he eaten? Oh. The repairman was here, and my cat is Invisible to Strangers. Thus: fish smell.

Perhaps it’s a good day for that new “odor-removing” candle I bought last week. I purchased the smallest size—I hope that was not a mistake.


Being a grad student is much, much easier than chores. I spent an hour at Starbucks, recovering with a stack of books. Many thanks to the working washer, drain, toilet, vacuum, herb gardens.

And the odor-reducing candle worked like a charm.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

constellations

I close the window against the cool night air, pad into the bedroom to find my wool slippers, the warm pajamas. I wish for chocolate, but there’s none here today, either.

Scott and the children have been away for four days—four days without cajoling anyone to do anything. My ambitious plans frittered away to the quiet, to reading a little in the big chair, to picking up a little, here and there, in the messy house. I went to a yarn-spinning retreat for a day, learning the ins and outs of my tiny spinning wheel, learned how very dirty Milo’s fleece is, still, after five washings, learned what to do to redeem that wool. It will take time.

At another point in my life I’d still be spinning that yarn two days afterward, but other deadlines call. I tuck the wheel and the wool in the back of my closet. I write, I read, I organize my mail. I read a new magazine. I finish a letter I’ve been meaning to write for a long time. I sit and enjoy the music for the first time in months, with a copy of The Best of Creative Nonfiction Journal. I pick up a friend at the airport.

What will go, when they return? Quiet will go. Lack of schedule. The absence of need. The absence of urgency. I will be happy to see them, to tuck the little ones into bed, to love them in person instead of by phone. There may be tears of frustration and exhaustion. Or they may go straight to bed.

I remember driving home in the dark, the first nights of fall, cool enough that frost bloomed on the windows of the car. I’d turn my face to the stars, breathe out a haze and draw still more stars, more constellations with my finger on the window, in my back seat, listening to my brothers sleep.

I draw no constellations on my bay window tonight, but I turn off the green banker’s lamp—I keep peeking to see if that noise is my car, pulling into the drive below. I keep imagining I hear their tired voices. I keep peeking to see if the full moon is still so large, or if it has tucked behind a cloud.

It’s hard to say if I miss my family—the quiet evenings are so delicious and long. But I keep finding myself making them up, hearing them in every movement from the street. I keep hoping the children stay asleep enough to go to school tomorrow. But I’ll keep company if they stay home. I’ll have quiet another time. I’ve enjoyed it deeply. I’ll be okay when it ends.

That sound is not my car, whew. Not yet.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

blend in

When friends tell me they are traveling through the midwest, I always suggest a detour through Farmland, Indiana. My hometown is not too far from the main highways, and the quaint downtown is an icon of life without traffic lights, in a small village in the beautiful flat middle-of-nowhere.

And the travelers return to me, describe their reactions as their eyes grow wide. Did they stop at the Thrift-E to meet Bob-the-butcher, as I suggested? Was he serving ham salad that day? Did he offer a sample? (None like it, anywhere, and Bob refuses to share the recipe.) Did my traveling friends see the old wooden floors, aisles sagging a bit with wear, and the long pull-strings on the florescent lights?

More often my traveling friends stop by the upscale coffee shop, where the owners roast the beans themselves, and customers can sit at a polished bar with a latte. My friends bring me back a bag of my favorite Columbian. And everyone steps in The Chocolate Moose for a fancy ice cream—it was a practical “drug store” when I grew up. Now it’s for out-of-towners, mostly, and special occasions. The travelers didn’t know such places exist outside of movie sets.

Then we parse their astonishment. Didn’t I tell them it was a small town? Yes, but they didn’t expect it to be that small. Most people describe themselves as being “from a small town.” They think they know what a small town is. And then they drive through my small town—so small the definitions change. So odd it’s undeniable. I have a great affection for the place. But then I moved away 25 years ago, and affection is easy from the distance of a thousand miles. (It would be even easier with Bob’s ham salad.)


Thus my New York sojourn leaves me baffled, mystified. The city never ends. The weather outside is slightly cool, perfect, thus the trains, the buildings, even the Starbucks in Manhattan are ALL MASSIVELY OVERHEATED. Do city people hate themselves? Or do they just dislike me and want to punish me? Everywhere else I go in the world, J.Jill is a nice brand of clothing (I packed ALL J.Jill except for my Ex Officio travel pants), but in NYC I feel underdressed, careless, and every change of clothes is sweat-through after even a short ride on public transportation, or a short moment in an office building. The convention offered a free mini-makeover, which I accepted, but eye makeup makes me look dreadfully old, as though I’m trying Very Hard, and my eyes sting and turn red the next day. My hip Haiku bag is very summery, and it’s fall now. Blah, blah—in Boston, would I care about any of these things? In New York it’s fall and everyone is wearing tall black boots with low heels. And I kind of wish I was wearing them, too. (I outgrew my tall black boots with low heels when I was pregnant, and I miss them terribly.)

Haven’t I shrugged this slight discomfort off, the last ten times I’ve been in New York? Did I even notice it?

I really can’t blame Farmland, Indiana for my fashion-discomfort, or even for the piece of hayseed in my hair. I didn’t blend in well there, either. Is "blending" a skill I'm missing? Or is the real skill in feeling "at home" in the world? If only the real, real skill was missing the things I love so dearly, like Bob-the-butcher's ham salad, and that set of brick Victorians at the no-stoplight intersection, Main Street Coffee, Farmland in the autumn months, the perfect months for wearing flannel shirts and jeans and having no one notice anything, ever, at all.

Monday, October 06, 2008

the blog is on!

report

I'm in New York! Things are going well-- BUT some snafu keeps the magazine blog from updating. Rats!

I'm making notes throughout the day, and perhaps we'll get the posts online later in the day.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

professional experiment

I’ve taken a one-day magazine assignment to do “live blogging.” And now I realize this is a mistake because I’M DREADFULLY BORING.

I’m going to take a shower, sort my clothes and start to pack, while I consider my boring self. Writing has been such an enormous adventure for the past four years—how do I say this without sounding a) naïve, b) naïve like a fluff-head, c) like a clueless housewife who doesn’t get out much? Or worse, naïve-seriously-naïve.

Monday I will be live-blogging in New York. First I will carry my laptop (my most valuable possession) around the New York City subway system in a simple messenger bag, trying not to radiate the word “victim,” trying to look like I carry my most valuable possession every day and I never worry about it, and trying not to break my shoulder. Next I will walk into a hall full of well-dressed skinny women who are about to master the world, and I will subsequently remember that I’m from Farmland, Indiana and I’ll check to see if I’m wearing bib overalls and pigtails, or if my forehead reads “hayseed.” (It might. No way to avoid my wonderstruck-face.) Third I will say I’m headed to the green room for my press pass. Fourth I’ll figure out what to wear without sweating—jacket? No jacket? Fifth I’ll remind myself to eat something healthy so I don’t pass out. Sixth I’ll try to talk professionally, calmly although I’M SO EXCITED I COULD BUST. Seventh, I’ll try to feel EVERYTHING and write from the heart, which is what I’m hired to do.

The trick: how do I bring my whole life experience, in all its seriousness, to bear on a day blogging in a posh hotel? We all know I’m not dumb. How do I sound not-dumb while writing on-the-fly?

If you are a praying person, or a meditative person, ruminate with me and remind me who I am, that my story is worthy of attention. (It is worthy of MY attention. It’s my job to voice my experience as best I can.) Writing is a form of prayer, and what I need to do is to pray, and pray deeply, and to listen for the rumble below the crowd noise, feel the solidness of the earth even though real soil may be far, far below the floor. I need to listen for what others need.

Shaking off the nerves, packing a suitcase, remembering where I’ve come from and who I am, wondering how on earth to write this, for these people, tomorrow and Monday.

And maybe for you the day after.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

not exactly a normal day in the life

My son saws away at Old MacDonald on his new school viola. Madeleine interrupts her reading to tell me about the new “book groups” in her class, and how she chose which book to read but she will probably finish the book TONIGHT. What do book groups DO? She and I talk about taking notes and writing down questions as you read: she’s ready to be a grad student, too. The dishwasher is filled after a dinner for three, grilled tenderloin and asparagus, red peppers and potatoes. I wish we ate so well every day—good to have a break from the rains, so we can cook outdoors again. I ignore the beach gear, still stacked to one side of the porch, poor lonely toys.

Brownies bake too slowly—my kids’ dessert project now seems a worry, since the oven does not seem to be working. Whether or not we eat them with a spoon, the scent is… just like baking brownies, very, very good. The autumn air smells almost as good, through the open windows.

Today is a normal writing day in my student life, meaning I type out quotes from my library books and erase the pencil markings, revise my book-annotations, assess where I am in the reading and writing assignments. I do my magazine work for just a few minutes—the past week has been hellish, responding to political blasts from readers, but today seems relatively tame. I make several fresh attempts at writing an essay on election years and existential nausea. I do the thing I rarely do—rip out the meandering attempts and shred them into the recycling. The thoughts still need to churn awhile.

Then I get an email asking me to cover a women’s conference in New York, for a magazine, to blog about my experiences while I’m sitting in on the conference. The speakers include movers and shakers in the world, coaching on life choices, career choices, vision. My only worry: what will I WEAR?

Madeleine now recites the creation narrative of India in Sanskrit, “in the beginning there was neither existent nor non-existent.” Brendan moves into bath time, singing a song about Saint Mi-cha-el, hero of the brave. Madeleine moves her Sanskrit to the oven door to check the now-incalculable brownies.

You know me: full-time student, part-time slacker mom, typing while my children settle into evening. Scott arrives home late, and I stop to talk him through his late dinner, which he must grill himself. Slacker-wife. Celebrity blogger. Grad student who just finished one volume of Proust. Fashion plate, ready to be photographed… NOT. My curls peek out of an up-do this evening, pulled aside earlier in the day. Lipstick long worn-off. Let’s see, must buy a smidge of mascara and a new lipstick, must do that hand-washing, must ignore the beach-gear for other callings. Must think how to pack.

… and what to take, to read while I travel next week. Playdates to organize, Sunday school to teach, and I really, really need to get in a walk or two while the weather is still good. Tomorrow.

A good day, though, today. The brownies finally harden up, and they taste just fine, served warm with milk. Madeleine writes me a letter in code. Brendan tries to sing while brushing his teeth. No one wants the day to end except maybe me. My daughter’s note, Dear Mom, I am fine. How are you? I quickly write back in code, I am ready to sleep. She takes the pencil and writes, I am, too, followed by an exclamation point. I am, too.

Friday, September 26, 2008

nearly proof that I am reading...


Just add coffee.

Oh, and maybe I should open the book.

Just me and the laptop, in the bay window with the rain.

And Proust.

The Madonnas of Leningrad: rave and review

She is packing Belgian Delft porcelain, each painted with a different scene, when she notices a spot of red in the pattern, painted in the doorway of a house, and wonders if that has a religious connotation. In the next Delft teacup, she sees a small dot of red in a koi pond and wonders why she’s never noticed a touch of red in any other Delft teacups. By the third teacup she packs, she’s marveling at this new reality—then she realizes she’s been packing china with a nosebleed, without sleep and without a break, for days, and of course she’s hallucinating those droplets of blood into the patterns because she lives in an altered state. She is a museum docent in The Hermitage, packing artworks for removal to a safe place, assuming Leningrad will endure beyond the World War. She later describes these red droplets and her confusion to her boyfriend, shaking her head over her confusion. Then the war begins in earnest and confusion is an ongoing state. A sane woman becomes prone to visions occasionally, and most of these visions feed her soul.

I’m a nonfiction writer; I love reading fiction. This “love” is a small word—I am enthralled, transported, barely able to focus on life in the everyday world, while I am reading an engaging novel. My continuing quest is to discover what makes good fiction so satisfying, and to discover ways my nonfiction might approach that level of readerly satisfaction. I don’t think it comes close, most of the time, and I should say, “at least not yet.” Some nonfiction reading brings about the same trancelike absorption.

Debra Dean’s The Madonnas of Leningrad blends a number of devices I love: a past narrative that tangles into a present narrative, a tour guide persona (I’m a sucker for tour guides and educators), children’s blank-faced confusion over who their parents really are. I’m a bit nervous about magical realism to any degree: I am a nonfiction writer and I stick to the truth doggedly. But magical realism makes complete sense within the context of altered physical states such as starvation, post-traumatic stress disorder, and ultimately Alzheimer’s.

What I love? Disorientation, rendered plausibly again and again. Subtlety within this frame—the narrator is losing track of distinctions between present time and an exotic past as a pre-WWII tour guide in The Hermitage. Is she “lost” momentarily because she is starving? Because she is shell-shocked? While she is lost and shell-shocked, all she sees is beauty, and in some way she is able to conjure beauty for others, entirely from memory. What I love also is elegance in story line.

What might I learn from this gorgeous novel? Paintings in the museum reflect personal realities for the narrator, and the stories within the paintings become inextricable from the narrator’s life. The absence of transitions between paragraphs about the past and paragraphs about the present—this is a technique absolutely perfected in this book. The narration itself reflects the disorientation of the main character, and how her past and present layer over one another. When I might “use” this in my nonfiction, I don’t know, but it provides a lovely way of knocking the reader off-guard. Dean also creates a fog of questioning: what is real? Of the available realities, what is the MORE real? What happens when the “real story” is implausible to others? Sometimes the real story, in nonfiction, is so nearly unbelievable.

In review of The Madonnas of Leningrad, Debra Dean’s work manages to be both rich in its lavish descriptions of art and restrained in its drama. She avoids resolution of questions about the main character’s life: was that real? How much was real? We all experience the same questioning of our own memory and of others, and yet in Dean’s book, it is this very “palace of memory,” no matter how faulty, that powers a young museum docent through Leningrad’s three year siege, and a pregnancy that seems miraculous in the face of starvation. The descriptions are tangible, realistic and stable through the first half of the book, with few foreshadowings of an “unreliable narrator.” By the time the unreliability is notable, I’m already absorbed into compassion for Marina, for her confused daughter, for her grieving husband.

Monday, September 22, 2008

my fall-winter-spring reading list

My two years of MFA studies includes reading (gulp) 62 books while writing and researching. I’m currently halfway through, working on books 40 and 41, leaving (gulp) 21 more titles for the rest of the year.

I just finished:
The Madonnas of Leningrad (37) by Debra Dean
Bewildered Travel: The Sacred Quest for Confusion (38), by Frederick Ruf
Emerson: The Mind on Fire (39) by Robert Richardson

All three are excellent reads, fiction, questing and biography, and I will say more about them soon.

My next set of required reading includes:
Swann’s Way (In Remembrance of Things Past) (40) by Marcel Proust
Cape Cod, Henry David Thoreau
Father and Son, Edmund Gosse
Hunger of Memory, Richard Rodriguez (very excited about this one!)

By spring I also need to read
In Praise of Folly, Erasmus
Love in the Ruins, Walker Percy

And the books I’m choosing for myself continue to shift, but here is a sketch of possibilities:

Acedia, a memoir by Kathleen Norris
My Grandfather’s House nonfiction by Robert Clark
The Virginia Woolf Reader(42)
Through a Screen Darkly a memoir by Jeffrey Overstreet
Dark Alphabet poetry by Jennifer Meier
How to Cook a Wolf cooking-writing by MFK Fisher
Unveiling (41) a novel by Suzanne Wolfe
Home a novel by Marilynne Robinson
Leaving Church a memoir by Barbara Brown Taylor
Force of the Spirit by Scott Russell Sanders

Far from making Denise a dull girl, the reading habit is a joyful one. Required reading "feels" different from my chosen readings, but it's also fun to stretch my tastes.

Any can't-miss reading selections to add to my list? I can't promise I'll get to them, but I have a little window open for suggestions...

Thursday, September 18, 2008

a visiting yarn-goddess-in-training


She pulls out a big crazy ball of yarn with fringes and way-long needles, claiming the object "doesn't know yet what it wants to be," and I see kindredness. I don't knit freeform, but I make yarn for no reason at all, for "something, someday." We've talked about spinning before, and now she is here. I run get the spindles. She puts down the knitting.

Time to play.

I place a length of fiber in her left hand and give the spindle a twirl. And we name things. But she's a natural-- it all comes easily.

Spinning employs its own language, just like any sport or craft, and we find a way to talk like beginners: the roving, the draft triangle, slip and airy-ness. When the weight of the spindle tears the fiber and the whole thing falls on the floor, we pass on the age-old joke, "that's why it's called a DROP SPINDLE."

I hope I look that happy.

What I love? She is not content, yet, because there is more to know. Madeleine asks to ply a length of yarn and my guest gleams "I want to do that, too." Typically I'd say "it's not a beginner-thing, it's an intermediate-thing." But look at her. Like I'd tell her she's a beginner. (I don't think so.) She spins enough to fill the spindle, so we can "ply."

Then we wind the stuff around her hand. When we find both ends, we gently remove the pile of yarn from her thumb, from her pinky, and she spins them together: voila, 2-ply thick-and-thin yarn.

Good fiber artist, she asks "what do I do to make it stay spun?" Hah! We wet it gently, hang it from the door to "set the twist," and let it dry. She's been through the whole process in a little over one hour. (Savant!)

While the yarn is drying, I pull out the tiny spinning wheel-- kids want to take turns spinning pencil roving into yarn. I'm good with that.

My friend with the spindle-talent takes a brief look, but she doesn't need to know any more today. I'm good with that, too.

She returns to knitting her Blue Thing. But now she knows how.







The yarn goddess goes home and pulls her own bag from the closet, spins her own stash of fiber, with her own spindle.













And then she spins some more.
This makes me very happy. I can't say why. I will be happier, too, if I play with yarn more this year, and weave and spin my life together, the words on the page and the stuff winding onto the spindle. Both are necessary; both are good. Both.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Day Three of MY school year


First a morning phone call opens my afternoon by hours and hours—a play-date, first for one child then for the other, too. I won’t need to go pick them up at school. Next my heart opens to the clean-up chores of the morning: they packed their own lunches, as is our habit these mornings, so I easily forgive them a few trails of toys and socks and the barely-made beds. I give a few minutes to the nagging chores, sweeping up dust, shaking rugs, giving the stove a once-over. So now the house is opened-up, too, to the sunlight still emerging. Not bad—that’s all I need to be pleased, today.

A meeting gets canceled. The morning is mine.

And the sky is opening, too, with breaks in a sometimes-stubborn Cape Ann fog. Perhaps it will clear in the coming hour—the Boston news claimed the fog cleared hours ago, there. Perhaps here, too. I could wash harder and deeper, but instead I sink into the chair with a stack of books, my glasses, a pen, the journal that is so full I must turn it upside down and search for empty back-sides of paper. A new journal would require a trip. No trips today except inward, at least for the next few hours. In late afternoon I’ll go set up my Sunday school classroom for the coming year, but I’m not thinking about it yet.

Day Three of solitude in a new school year. Day One evaporated in random noodling, walking, untangling of thoughts, stupor. Day Two I revised the drafts of graduate “homework,” book annotations for six titles, crafted a stellar dinner (chicken and vegetables in red curry sauce, over jasmine rice, with Brendan’s surprise side dish of handcut waffle fries). I finished the evening with my magazine work and some Virginia Woolf.

Each hour I shake off more of this stretch of busy-ness, travel, tending people. Each hour of quiet seems miraculous.

I don’t mind fullness—I don’t. Last week was filled with laughter, tourist-behavior, and every afternoon filled with beach time, playground time, “extra” children fitting in the backseat, the farmer’s market, sunlight, pots of popcorn, grown-up “play-dates” with Emily and Anastasia and Suzanne and Jennie. Lack of sleep, giddiness, finding the best chowder, the best coffee, the best escape, the secret stash of spinning fiber in the back of the closet for Anastasia to try. We baked bread. We crafted noodles. We made soup. I love all of it—but I love fullness knowing I’ll get to this set of days when the layers (of responsibility? of noise and distraction? of intuition for others? layers of what?) slowly peel off and the stories I’ve been turning around in my head find their way onto paper.

Even a quick clean of the frig speaks of goodness. (I know I said the place was clean enough. But. Something smelled evil, and now it is gone. And I found a scrumptious leftover for lunch, in exchange for my effort. Just like yesterday.)

The sky opens, blue and full of seagulls. Time to make the second cup of coffee and find a pen, and to sit in the sunny window.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

"try to remember that song about September"

The first full week of school finds me not at my laptop at the kitchen table after breakfast, but hosting a dear houseguest. I’ve been itching to sit and focus for the months of summer break. But… on the other hand… If I were in the Rockies, I’d claim “May” my favorite month of the year, or perhaps June, for the Indian paintbrush, the fairy primrose, for pale green aspen leaves. In Indiana, October could last forever and I’d be pleased. On the Massachusetts coast there is no better month than September, warm sunny days and cool night breezes, children waking to claim they are freezing and scrambling to find socks. Then the heat rises to blazing, slowly.

So Emily and I drove children to school then we headed to the beach. Because she is a sojourner from Someplace Else, we ignore the books we packed and climb toward tidepools, where the baby crabs cling to fronds of bright seaweed, and the sea mussels and barnacles vie for space along the rock walls. Tiny fish chase shrimp, and I wonder if I’ve ever really observed the life in these little pools. It’s all new. Hours pass.

I wouldn’t give myself this permission if it were just me. But I have a guest! My excuse! I crave the wind and warmth more than I knew. I will store up these outdoor hours for the long winter ahead.

Emily asks me if I always swim in the ocean and I say noooooo. Often the Atlantic is just too cold, no matter how hot the day. When the water is just barely tolerable, I think of you people who’d love to be at the beach, and I walk in as far as I can bear. Each September visit could be “the last good beach day of the season,” and I remember June will be slow to come.

The morning is not enough. We pick up Madeleine and Brendan from school and return to the beach for the late afternoon. Kids don’t want to go to the beach again, until I announce I’ve invited another family, until we get into the water to play Frisbee, when the complaining stops, as if it never existed, until the sand fort is built. Scott picks up pizza after work, and joins us, and we wrap up in layers, chilled from swimming in the storm-tossed ocean. We drive past another beach full of surfers, and can’t take our eyes off them, except that we are falling apart. Protests about shivers and hunger and tiredness threaten to undo drivers, parents, neighbors within earshot but children finally howl toward bed, bickering, pushed past their limits. The house is full of mushy sand-filled clothes, wet bathing suits, stray sandals.

It seems each day of September begs, “what is this day ‘for’?” I envision what must be completed this grad school quarter, the pages of writing, the stacks of books. (Excellent books! List, soon!) On the other hand is what my favorite Capon names “Kairos,” or “high time.” A Guest in September shifts the weight toward “high time,” and we throw off my list of to-dos and become tourists, meandering narrow streets of shops toward a great ocean view, diving in the water while it’s warm enough that we won’t die, watching surfers until weariness makes it “high time” to go home.


That was Monday. Tuesday brought clouds and errands and window-shopping and car repairs, a delectable pot of chicken soup and a warmed-up batch of chicken-and-noodles, a pot of popcorn, and not much done but the production of happy kids. (Brendan has claimed Emily as The Best Basketball Buddy Ever.)

Today the balance could shift! The coffee is brewed, no errands in sight, my books are right here!

But then the September sun shines so sweetly on the harbor…

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

unlabored day

The contrast between my childhood life and my children's lives is never more vivid than the days before school-- we don't do back-to-school shopping, not really. Not like the ugly mall trips to try desperately to look like some back-to-school ad in a magazine. (It's important to confess that the mall trips were ugly because of me, and my Very Particular Tastes, which drove my mother to the brink of madness. But a mall trip wasn't an everyday occurance, so all five of us packed in the car, with our needs for sneakers, lunch bags, notebooks, my brothers five inches taller than the beginning of summer, battling for giant bags of food from the McDonald's drive through...)

We just don't do that, and I'm not claiming "my way is better," but it's calmer. The weather won't change to "fall weather" for a few more weeks. Let them wear summer clothes. The kids' school is blissfully unpretentious, full of kids who wear second-hand clothes, full of kids who don't fuss over fashion much. This is a stroke of luck: nothing is at stake on the first day of school, not like was for me as a kid. We've no pretense that a change to "cool" clothes will remake us into cool people, no pressure, a blessing.

Most of the clothes we need live in the attic, in the "next size up" boxes I sorted in June. Madeleine hates jeans and won't wear them, so we purchased a pair of gauchos and a pair of "yoga pants" last week. REI's Labor Day Sale is better than the miles of malls-- Brendan found a pair of Keens for fifteen bucks, marked down from $45. Madeleine found the stinking cutest pair of J-41 maryjanes, also marked down, and her first real purse (which she carries to bed, she loves it so). In Scott's absence, we choose three pairs of shorts for him, to replace all the missing ones while he swims at the beach. I'm all set for clothes and shoes (from my summer shopping trip to REI), but I snagged a neoprene/wetsuit shirt for swimming in the cold ocean water. We grabbed two Luna Bars for a snack, at the checkout, and when I got in the car I phoned Baja Fresh to order of burritos-to-go.

We drove straight to the beach to meet Scott with our bag of burritos, the sun still hot at four in the afternoon. Kids dove in, Scott pitched ball, Madeleine and I eventually finished our books, unwilling to let go of the last day of summer vacation until the bugs chased us indoors, for our dessert of chocolate milkshakes, and for the early bedtimes that will characterize the coming weeks.

Finished the biography of Emerson-- a good read but looooooong. 24 books to go, this school year. Today is for making lists of packable lunches, breakfasts kids will not refuse, fall cleaning chores. Tomorrow, blessed houseguests. Plenty to do-- I am trying to do it slowly, to savor a little.

Monday, September 01, 2008

girl's weekend

Schooner Fest. Tall ship tours. Knot-tying and spinning demonstrations, and a lesson on how to put a ship in a bottle. Sun, wind, iced coffee and vanilla crème soda. The Guys left for something sports-related for the weekend, a long trip involving trains and buses and schedules, and Madeleine and I meandered, here in town, happy.

We asked her favorite family to meet us for our favorite Mexican dinner, then walked to The Lighted Boat Parade, ate Fried Dough, settled in for a long and spectacular display of fireworks.

I whispered to another yawning adult, remember how we watched fireworks for ourselves, once? For fun? Not so long ago? Daughters shoved their empty Fried Dough plates into our hands, demanded we carry their purses, stuck their feet into our faces, were ornery and fidgety, and we undertook the long walk home slowly.

The girls had a sleepover on the futon in a pile of stuffed animals and pillows and sleeping bags.

Then I awoke to their voices. “We have to leave REALLY SOON if we’re going to see the start of the schooner race.” Eight a.m. Really soon? They leap from bed, grab the phone. Our guest proposes a full day of sailing, to see the schooner races from the starting line. I packed a bag, snacks, and my giant tome about Ralph Waldo Emerson.

If you MUST read a giant tome about Ralph Waldo Emerson, may I suggest having your lunch served by two eager ten-year-olds, aboard a large sailboat leaving Manchester Harbor? With a vigilant, gleeful captain at the helm. With extra sunscreen. We didn’t need our extra layers. The captain bought us a dinner of ice cream, on shore once again. And bedtime came extra, extra early.

The nights are cool, with one more day of laziness and then school begins mid-week. Happy end of summer to you. May your day be so unlabored.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

day in August

6 a.m.
Wake for beach walk, stumble to find shoes, make coffee, brush teeth. Morning needs a jacket, today, and a turtleneck. Skies clear, beach full of people exercising in a group. They compete in relay races, and I slooooowly walk with my thermal cup of coffee.

7 a.m.
In a few hours I won’t believe I ever needed a jacket: the sun is already warming the living room and kitchen and I’m wishing for a better cross-breeze. But the kids’ bedroom door is closed, and so it will stay for another hour or so, while they sleep in for the last week of summer vacation.

Coffee, with Robert Richardson’s Emerson: The Mind on Fire. Breakfast, too.

10 a.m.
Arranged a series of paper grocery bags in a semi-circle around Madeleine on the bedroom floor: “Books,” she marked on one; “Art Supplies to Sort” on another. “Goes somewhere else” and “Don’t Know,” and the worst offender, “Treasures.” Behind her we placed a plastic grocery bag for trash. She asked me for help and I loaded the “Books” bag with the bookish content of her shelves, then I left her to get started. The first “HELP!” came five minutes later, with the contents of the shelves dumped unceremoniously, everywhere.

That’s how she started. I stepped in at her call, every 20 minutes or so, while I cleaned the kitchen. At noon I moved the Books bag to the front, and placed all the books in a sensible order on the shelf. We added all the American Girl books from the living room, and files for paper dolls, magazines, art supplies. A few toys. A basket for special post cards and letters. We decided 35 pencils and pens might be overdoing it, and sorted down to 6. Ditto with many other things. One diary, though eight were started. A place for the library books.

Finished with an orderly shelf by 12:30, with the exception of one mixed up bag of Treasures. (Often stuff labeled “treasures” gets ignored, then a new set of treasures collects elsewhere, then whole years of treasures are forgotten…) We’ll figure out treasures tomorrow, when we can spread them out on the dining table for a few hours.

Brendan, if true to form, will envy Madeleine’s shelf and will organize his own, probably needing no help from me. We’ll see.

1:30 p.m.
When told to “go outside” so I could mop the floor, kids whined for their books and slinkies. They offered to sit in the car while I mopped. Um, okay. They then complained about sitting in a hot car until “we almost DIED.” Hmmm.

2 p.m.
The heat is just right for one of the last beach days of summer. Water, warm; sun, high and clear. Shadows from our bodies showed the water to be full of tiny jellyfish—which glow a little in the dark, but otherwise are clear little orbs. So far none of us sports a rash, though children were (gasp!) scooping them up by the handfuls from the shore before I noticed. Wish us luck.

I packed two books, came with two moms and seven kids, and I didn’t read a page. We leave at 5 p.m, too hungry to continue.

6 p.m.
Gorgonzola and Walnut Tortellini (thank you Trader Joe!) with a fresh tomato-kalamata pesto, and edamame and red peppers on the side. It was a speed dinner thrown together from findings in the refrigerator, from the remaining bit of garlic in the basket next to the stove.

Scott is home from his first day of teacher training, full of stories, ears tired from listening.

Quiet evening, all of us worn out. Candles light the evening—it’s dark by eight, again! It really is Fall! The braided rug is returned to the clean floor. Man and boy leave to rustle up dessert, on the rare day we’ve run out of ice cream. I hope I stay awake for their return. I’ve been reading Proust in the evening, perfect before bed lyrical reading, but I think I will skip him this evening.

School starts in one week. Kids are thrilled, claiming even to miss homework. I’ve been doing homework as fast as I can: books 1-32 were completed in spring. Five more are complete and three more begun of the next 25. I’ve drafted an essay-- on cooking and eating-- for a new anthology.

It’s a good day in August. Happy end-of-summer.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

writing retreat in search of location

The outside air suddenly smells of soap, though my car is parked in a lot in the woods, near the ocean—an SUV pulls up beside me, the doors open, and many apparently very clean people tumble out of the apparently just-shampooed car. Vacation—they must be on vacation and fresh from their showers, and ready to meet the outdoors.

Lest I think THEY are the crazy ones, showering for a day in the woods and salt air, it’s me who is typing in the driver’s seat of my car, unable to decide exactly where to settle in for a few hours of writing. I could let myself into Jane’s house—she’s away in Canada, as she is each summer, and she is tickled when I “break in.” But. But she’s gone for months at a stretch and I don’t have actual permission this time, either. And that’s just enough to put me off, today. I’d be embarrassed for her extended family to walk in on me, not know who I am or why my feet are up on the coffee table in the sunroom. Still—I might. Is there a table in the backyard? Why would that be more comfortable? It’s still Jane’s space, without actual permission, without a proper schedule, without a cell phone number for her anywhere. (Okay, the number is somewhere. I just don’t know where, or if she has reception, or, or, or.)

I DO have permission to use Barbara’s studio, three days per week during the school year, but the calendar has read “summer” for three or four months, and again, I don’t have permission to unlock that quiet place either. No schedule is set yet. In the middle of the school year, if Barbara walked in on me, she’d ask if I’d like a fresh glass of water, and she’d apologize for being in her own home.

I am the same, I suppose. When I lived in an apartment inside a college dorm, I gave keys to each of my staff, and I felt that odd mixture of delight and slight discomfort when I’d find an empty peanut butter jar on my kitchen counter, and the bread wrapper still open—maybe the dishes would be freshly washed and a sticky note would read “thanks,” or maybe I’d just find fingerprints as I heard footsteps out the back door. There is not enough “home” in the entire world, and whatever the discomfort, those fingerprints were the shape of my affection and respect for those godlike young people on my staff. I provided some thing they needed, a small token in exchange for their courage and heart, working for me.

Today I’d walk my too-heavy laptop bag to a picnic table with a view, a ways down this path in the state park, but somehow I packed no food, no water, and more important, no coffee. My other alternative writing haven is the downtown coffee shop, with a view of Sandy Bay. I’ll need to manage interruptions. I’m gearing up for that, while listening to Latter Days by Over the Rhine on the CD player one more time. And typing.

You know, don’t you, that you are being used as a warm-up for other writing? Today, at least. I’ve been asked to contribute an essay for a book on spirituality and food—with a stack of caveats: if the essay is accepted, if the book proposal is accepted, if, if, if. I’m not even sure I can write “on assignment,” but some deep part of me is permanently in love with Robert Farrar Capon’s Supper of the Lamb, and again, my affection is ever-available, keys to my heart given out and I’m hoping I find Capon’s fingerprints on my counters and the peanut butter jar open, hope I can hear his footprints scurrying out the back door as I smile and wish him luck.

(He's in his nineties, and on his third marriage, but if I found his fingerprints and heard his step, you can bet I'd be chasing him as fast as I could run.)

Okay—to the coffee shop. With Capon. The Bean and Leaf has a bathroom, water, soup of the day AND coffee. WiFi is probably not a good thing, but I’ll deal with it. Wish me luck, too. Are my fingerprints on your counter? Did I finish the peanut butter off good? Go check. I am sneaking out the back door, now, a little bit more at home in the world than I was before. See the sticky note next to the dishrack—“thanks.”

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

how I spent my summer vacation

The smell of home is the smell of cinnamon and a splash of vanilla extract in the French press, along with Black Mesa, a dark coffee I purchased numerous states ago, while traveling. I begin the day with my stack of books and my laptop, at the kitchen table.

My family is home now, “put” now, and putting the long summer to an end. Scott begins school in a week, and children begin in September. We will concentrate on the school “to-do” list after we unpack suitcases for good. I am home now, too, craving routine. But still savoring family adventures and my own adventures: New Hampshire, Arizona, New Mexico, Maine, and a point on the map of New York State that measures 580 miles away, by car.

In my reading travels, I just finished a book about Leningrad in World War II, and three volumes on Hell, Purgatory and Heaven, and I’m knee-deep in a book about travel of all kinds, underworld and otherworldly. In the next month I will host guests from Pittsburgh, from Indiana, and my children clamor for a pilgrimage to New York City.

Meanwhile the salt breeze blows, and a paint crew sets up to beautify the neighbor’s house, just a few yards from my bedroom window. Kids sleep because they are in love with their own beds, despite the racket of ladders and scaffolding. Scott sleeps because we are both sleep-deprived after a week of late-night conversations, Olympic coverage, sleeping in the guest room of dear friends on the rim of Lake Chautauqua.

Chautauqua: Days of sun, sunscreen, sunburn, swimming, boating, whiffleball, Frisbee on the endless green lawn, carefree days filled with “what do you feel like doing now?” Madeleine and Jakob form a natural pairing of friends—their eyes sparkle with inventiveness and they talk books, hands gesturing as each describes a plot, or they swim and they tease one another merrily. Brendan and Simon seek whiffle ball equipment, or life-jackets, or flotation devices, and they seek the neighbor boys to play a game. Parents play some, sit back some, take turns ducking out to read a book in the shade or take a nap. There’s been no hurry for days and days—a true vacation. I can’t remember cooking at home this summer, though I know I have done so. I can’t recall that interminably long stretch of July, wondering if I’d live through everyone else’s vacations and my own student life. I just remember this sated sensation of the last month, of being filled for the long stretch of autumn and winter.

Satchmo crowds me, purring loudly and trying to shove me away from my keyboard—he is the strangest cat I’ve ever owned, chomping me on the elbow when I don’t move fast enough to suit him, pushing the laptop cord out of its socket, strange feats of strong love.

I began writing with my coffee at the table, and I end in the evening, tucked into my favorite antique bed, with a jazz saxophonist playing out his bedroom window, the neighbor boy—he’s pretty good and it’s just one more grace of open summer windows, an evening cool enough for air conditioners to be silenced. Kids are watching yet one more evening of Olympic coverage on television. And I’d better get to my homework. I’ll read about travel, tonight, while finishing my laundry and reading to the sweet salt breeze, complete with saxophone through my bedroom window.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

tiny wax kittens make friends

My daughter is a multi-talented girl, and she sculpts critters from modeling beeswax. I found these kittens on the CD cabinet, ready for a romp.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

swing as a verb


Photos from a friend. See posts below on The Swing.

Friday, August 08, 2008

staggered edges of a double life

A quiet moment emerges, a rare stretch of minutes when the children do not bicker or whine or remind me what I already know, that we are out of milk and cheese and apples, which reminds me of ten errands necessary, which reminds me of the state of our end-of-summer bank account, which reminds me of too much everyday reality… I’ve been avoiding everyday reality, or taking it so slowly that the impact seems less. I’ve been sleeping and sleeping, with my waking hours filled as Brendan practices his new finger-snapping skills (I worry about neural pathways, and whether he will snap through every stressful or boring moment of his life, surely bringing the rest of the family to our very last nerve… or maybe it’s just me.)

Nonetheless a quiet moment emerges (see me now untangle and tame those frayed edges) and I rush to the laptop—can I write? I know, I know that writing and sleeping are not conducive to interruption, that it’s better not to start at all if I will only be stopped a few minutes in. She is at a friend’s house. He is working with tiny plastic beads that melt when a hot iron is applied, crafting pieces of plastic trash with nice designs—who invents these things? Weave me a lanyard anytime, but decorative bits of carefully arranged plastic?

The naked footpads slap the hallway, as he brings his amazing double-snapping fingers in to show me, asking if I can also snap both sets of fingers without stopping. His dark-bright eyes throw merriness directly at me. His smile exposes several half-grown teeth, interspersed with several gaps where teeth are still “lost.” Corn is an impossible meal this summer, apples must be sliced. How, how did he ever get so pretty, this boy? He snaps his way out of the room, happy to get back to the un-ironed beads.

I arrived home in the wee small hours of Tuesday morning, and in the dark I didn’t even look at the window boxes on the porch—I knew the plants were all dead, knew I’d forgotten to leave instructions to water. Still in the dark I found myself staring at a spatter painting held onto the refrigerator with magnets, adoring a vase of wildflowers left for me with a note, sleepwalking into their bedroom to smell them, to turn off Brendan’s radio headset and stroke his face. I stared out the window at the fishing boats as the clock turned to 4 a.m.

I love this place and these people, love my friends and my church and many of my neighbors. And I’m not ready to be back. My head and heart whir with the conversations, stirrings, tears, landscapes of the past fortnight, which seems like a month or a year instead of just a two weeks. I’ve been traveling.

Reading a book called Bewildered Travel: The Sacred Quest for Confusion. Perhaps my extended state of disorientation is related to my reading…

Emily’s bracelet still graces my wrist, and each time I glance at it I mouth the word “sentimental” with a little edge to it. (“Sentimental” is an insult in the world of writing, believe it or not.) The coming year requires hard work, and likely I will lean hard on my closest writing-friends from this MFA program. I don’t know when I’ll see Emily again, or two other irreplaceable friends who write, who critique and help and pray for me to see beneath the surface of my writing. But I listen to their words and critiques because my attachment is sentimental first, then solid, then life-changing, as good friendship is. I can’t wonder too much when I’ll see them next—I’m too close to tears already.

The bare feet slap my way again, without finger-snapping—he’s built “a rainbow circle,” and he wants to show me, where I sit typing on the edge of my bed. I will find the iron, I say, if he can make just one more project and find me the instructions, so I don’t destroy my iron. He promises he will, as he carefully carries his plastic collection back to his work space. He places the plastic project down flat, then snaps both fingers while whistling and dancing to The Star-Spangled Banner.

We’ve been full of sleepy kisses and hugs since my return, these children and I. They are bored and fussy just like every other child in mid-August, but they missed me, missed my cooking and my craft projects and my singing along to the stereo. Last night they asked me to pick lullaby music and sing while they drifted to sleep. In my more cynical moments I’ve hoped beyond hope that they don’t think of me only as a grouch, as a boss, as the person who makes them pick up their things and hurry up. I’ve hoped they hear more than my hypersensitive hiss “I need quiet to think, you two! Let me hear my own thoughts and stop talking!” I’ve hoped they remember me singing, dancing while chopping vegetables, kissing the tops of their heads, sprinkling cinnamon into the sauce for salmon. And for a joke, I bought a little pouch with a cowgirl on it that reads “The Boss Lady Says So.”

Today I will need to find the car keys (here somewhere, I know) and take Brendan out to the bank, and maybe for a scone at the tea shop. I’ve not left the neighborhood parking lot since I arrived home from Santa Fe. I suppose I can’t put it off forever. Perhaps I’ll also open the mailbox, another traveling adventure, and maybe even buy some milk. After we iron the plastic. After I unpack five or six more things, slowly. If I unpack my suitcases, will I be forced to arrive? Maybe I should read my book instead, while he hums and arranges bright colors, before he asks me for “an-dult super-bision” with the iron.

Thank you, dear friends and readers, lest I forget this is a letter to you. I would not be in an MFA program, nor believe myself a writer, without your encouragement. Ask me questions if you’d like. I’m still a little dazed, but the more I write about this amazing experience of grad school, the more I sort it out and emerge from the fog of what seems to be a double life. I’ll need your support in the coming year—I’ll need everything everyone can give me.

Another cool rain, this one with thunder. Time to find the iron. Oh-- he's found it already. "Okay, mom," he says and plugs it in. The breeze scrubs us all clean as the thing heats up.

chilly thursday midAugust

Favorite things:

A cool, overcast day in August, high temps not even reaching seventy—I had to find pants, find socks, find a sweater, ah.

A cool overcast evening in August, when the skies are dark enough to suggest “bedtime” at eight p.m., and no one argued because it was DARK.

A sliver of an opening in the cloud cover, to show the half moon.

A mug of Good Earth tea.

A bowl of brown rice for dessert, with butter and brown sugar.

A lullaby CD by The Innocence Mission.

One week ago I was swinging on a high hillside, watching the sunset over some mountain range far to the west of Santa Fe. The rest of the evening filled with a circle of readers (my reading went well), a new film of Dante’s Inferno illustrated by Victorian paper puppets, and a return to the circle of readers to hear just a little bit more. I missed Sara Zarr’s reading (rats!) but heard a prologue to Jeffrey’s new novel (yay!) and several other powerful pieces of writing—chapters of books, poems, stories of junior high cruelty, love letters, people read every kind of thing. Too wired, I walked to the koi pond, where other conversations continued late into the night.

Two weeks ago was my first night returning to Santa Fe, a good night to say hello, move into my room. For the opening meeting, a double rainbow stretched across the peaks outside the classroom window. Then listening to the high desert night sounds outside my window.

I haven’t really “returned” yet, haven’t finished my unpacking, haven’t found a routine that makes sense yet. Kids are home and we are on no particular schedule, pausing from our books and projects to hug or find food. I’m sleeping a lot—strange, given that I slept so little for those two weeks away. I’m still holding it all close, this writer’s MFA residency. I am puzzling it.

I will write more (thank you for the nudge, Lisa!) soon.

Friday, August 01, 2008

day nine, two days to go

Good food, good company, exotic locales and the time to talk books with adults who love literature—there’s much about a writing residency to love, and love, and love. Late nights, bottles of wine shared on balconies, laughter. The classwork is challenging, the friendships rich.

Add to all this goodness a week of spectacular weather, most days clear and sunny.

Add to this a room with a terrace.

Last night after dinner I sat on the terrace with my roommate—the first stretch of open evening we’ve had. I looked up the hill above our terrace, where I saw a woman on a swing, in a huge pine tree, legs pumping as she swung the big arch, again and again. I’d not been up that hillside, didn’t know about the swing. When she stopped swinging and disappeared, I threw on my shoes to run try it myself.

Add to all the beauties of a writing residency: one long sunset with a rim of mountains, one classmate playing guitar on the hillside, one long session to swing from the tall pine until my hands grew too tired to grip the ropes.

And then a reading night, around the circle, wonderful, and a movie of Dante’s Inferno done in Victorian paper puppets. Add a few more glasses of wine, good conversation.

Today is my last set of classes for this residency, and I pack up this stack of books to send home. Perhaps by the time the books arrive home, by the time I arrive home, I’ll be ready to break away from this beautiful place. But for today I remain blissfully spoiled, and if there’s time, I’ll get to that swingset again.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

day ten or seven or the fifth from the end

“Today is Thursday,” begins my morning orientation process. Day Seven of my third writing residency. Three days left with my writing friends, five days left of travel. I’ve been away from home a total of ten days.

The next set of orientation notes follows—I’ve never been good at holding schedules in my head, so these notes help me find my way through the days:

Today—read manuscript for workshop.
It’s the “final” day of workshopping my classmates’ manuscripts, and I must read Kevin’s essay at breakfast—which means I must find enough concentration to do his essay justice. Yesterday I plugged in the iPod, took my morning coffee to the deck of the dining hall and faced the hills, to read for an hour prior to classes. I will do the same today. After this prep, I’ll be in classes from 9 a.m. until dinner.

Today—love my dear friends.
My close friends Brian and Jill are onsite for the Glen Workshop, held alongside my MFA residency. They leave early, tomorrow. I’ll see Jill in a few weeks, but I don’t know when I’ll have the next excuse to see Brian. I already “hog” all the time they can spare, and I suppose I’ll be even more over-the-top about pursuing them today.

Toda--, find my three best pages to read aloud.
Tonight, a small writer’s circle convenes. It’s an “invitation only” event, but each guest must bring material to read. Last year this circle sealed my confidence in my writing—this year, I need to figure out how to excerpt pages from my very long essay, and that will take some concentration, too. Can I think it through at lunch?

And after the writer’s circle is a movie with my classmates. And after the movie (or during?) is the bottle of wine on my desk.

Friday-- pack up my stack of books and ship them home, to lessen the load in my suitcase. Friday I read in worship, which means I should look up the passage from the book of Job.

Saturday-- meet with my faculty mentor to sketch out my writing and reading for the coming year, and begin my goodbyes with dear classmates, especially Emily, who graduates at the close of this week.

The next step of my morning orientation involves packing my bag for class, insuring I arrive with my books and papers, the Dante books, the essays I’m reading and excerpting… I’ll want to look at the schedule one more time, to make sure I’m not missing anything. When I look at the schedule, I remember the stack of articles I’ve brought for others, the bags of sea glass for Emily, for Gina.

And the step after that involves washing my water bottle for the day, choosing clothes, washing my face for another day of gorgeous weather, hot and dry and sunny. I will write a note to my son at summer camp, and then I’ll be oriented, ready for coffee, reading, breakfast, class. Ready as I’ll be for goodbyes, for gift-giving, for another day’s goodness.

Tired. Very, very tired and emotionally stretched from days with too little sleep, too many written words, such late nights filled with

concert snapshot

Last night Over the Rhine played an intimate concert, and while introducing a song Linford mentioned his dream that people would dance in the aisles. As an aside, Karin said, “once a couple cha-cha’ed to this song in our living room, just like that vision.” Two people started laughing in the audience and Karin said, “oh that’s right! Those two are right here!” The band started the song and those two people rose and danced, the loveliest thing to happen in the aisle of the church, in the middle of the concert, their happy faces focused on one another as they mouthed the words of the song.

I keep it as a snapshot, these two beloved friends twirling happily, the love between the dancers and the band, my admiration and joy for all of them.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

San Isidro


Purchased this tiny painting/icon at The Spanish Market.

early morning, day four of grad school residency

Dear Amy,

Thanks for reminding me that you are waiting for word about how things are going. It’s easy to sink into a constant state of “overwhelm,” and it’s also good to step out and describe.

I’ve been traveling since last Sunday, really, when Scott and I drove children to camp, returned the two hours home, and ate dinner at a favorite restaurant. Monday morning was extended several time zones as I flew to Phoenix to be with my brother.

And on Thursday I arrived here in Santa Fe. The forty-minute plane ride was uneventful but the two hour shuttle ride featured a broken air conditioning system, so the passengers were struggling to drink enough water in the canned heat of an enclosed bus, in the midday sun.

Even covered with sweat and lugging suitcases up terraces, I’m elated to be at my third “residency” for my MFA program in creative writing. The suitcase full of books is emptied on the shelf above my desk in the tiny dorm cell. A row of lightweight summer dresses goes quickly onto hangers, for the hours of heat, and another row of warm pants is good for the cool evenings and mornings. I brought way too much stuff, still coasting on a plane ticket with “grandfathered” luggage rules. If I CAN bring two suitcases, then of course I WILL bring two suitcases. I’m thinking I’ll mail books back home at the end of the two weeks, though, and pack everything else into one giant suitcase, to make my life easier.

And my roommate comes in, my roommate from last year, whose company I enjoy. “We have a terrace!” she says, and the door flies open to the outdoors. The altitude is too high for mosquitoes—the door stays open all the time.

Thursday is a day for unpacking, learning new names (twelve new students), for orientation meetings, for reminders about altitude sickness. I eat healthy, drink water, and I still get a stomachache that won’t quit. I lie awake all night, wishing I’d packed any bland food—the cashews, the apricots, these are no help.

Friday is another quiet day, necessary. Students switch faculty mentors after the first year, so I met my new mentor after breakfast, when we were both feeling our lack of sleep and the sad absence of the usual quantities of caffeine. Describing myself in these conditions, giving an interview, in the morning—these are challenging tasks. It goes okay. My fellow students and I have our first craft lecture, and I remember I’ll be sitting in classes for hours this week, despite the stunning weather.

A friend and I walk into town on a beautiful sunny day, eager for the flower-filled window boxes on the terra cotta homes, and the buzz of tourist season. The sun is hot but the day is irresistible, clear, sunny.

Friday night, after faculty readings (spectacular, as always) and finding the late-night gathering of classmates, I slept well and woke relieved.

And Saturday is more like the rest of the writing residency, classes beginning at 9 a.m., ending at 9 p.m., with breaks only for meals, for one hour of reading, and for one hour of Frisbee in a big courtyard.

My manuscript was “workshopped” in the afternoon, and I’ll tell you more about that experience tomorrow.

I’m ruminating every step of the way, how different it is from last year, how at home I feel in this group of peers, what an honor it is to learn from these people and to talk late into the night, to recognize my friend Allison’s warm laughter from across the courtyard, to hear my roommate say she hears my own laughter from our room on the other side of campus, as she arrives at the little party in her pajamas, laughing herself.

This morning many students left half an hour ago for a big festival downtown, and I’m thinking I’ll walk in and join them. Or I might sit here and bang out the next story (not a bad idea). While I’m deciding, I’ve put on sunscreen, checked the weather, had a good sneezing fit. If I go into town, I might find cell phone reception, to talk with my children while they are between weeks of summer camp… with that, it’s time to put the shoes on and go.

More tomorrow. Just know I'm so glad to be here that I'd even read Augustine and sit in a classroom for much of the day. But first, for the morning off, in Santa Fe.

love, Denise