Saturday, November 27, 2010

Thursday, November 18, 2010


One butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cubed. Two butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cubed. Cecilia asks me if I’d like a different chore and I say no, I’m in a groove now. The French knife takes off the fat end of the squash, a perfectly round bowl of seeds and pulp. Slippery skin the color of cream, tough, and firmly affixed to the fruit of the squash. First I scoop the seeds into the compost bowl, then I try to skim off the skin with the knife, then the vegetable peeler. Beneath the pale skin I find veins of green that run the length of the squash. I peel deeper to the pure orange flesh, then slice off the bottom of the bowl. Slices, then squares and all the gold bits go into the large pan.

My daughter and Cecilia’s daughter laugh over their enormous pile of sweet potatoes, the peels to one side of the cutting board and the odd-shaped nuggets on the other. Cecilia sautés another five pounds of minced onion, along with a few pounds of celery and God knows what else. We discuss the price of organic squash versus the price of Trader Joe’s perfectly-good squash. She asks about my house-hunting and my teaching. I ask how her job is going, how her masters degree is coming along.

When I return to the thick stem-end of the squash, the squash nectar beads in a pattern along the cut end, clear orbs each catching the light. I lift the squash for a closer look and the pattern of bright droplets stays in place. Like lace, I say to the girls, or like dew on a spider web. They touch the droplets then taste their fingertips. They shrug and it's time to cube more squash. 

But for just a moment, I saw it, the blessed secret of the butternut, the waters of creation, like lace.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

sorely tempted

And so it was that I looked upon the beautiful pink orbs, nestled in an old oblong china dish from Grandma Fern, and I weighed the likelihood that anyone in my family would notice the tomatoes missing.

No chance at all. I live in a world where the fresh food goes unnoticed until the packing of school lunches, the quiz in which I ask, “did you pack a fruit and a vegetable and a protein?” Yes mom, yes mom, yes. No mom, the apples and bananas are all gone. Scott buys them little disposable cups of fruit cocktail, and I would rail against the waste of money and plastic, but I’ve seen them open the wee cups and sip the juice, first, before tucking into the fruit. My children do not drink liquid unless forced, so I concede to the little wasteful cups. I too am fond of the papaya chunks. God alone knows what preservatives rest in there. I close my eyes to the issue: they drink, and they eat fruit. And they leave me the perishable items which don’t pack well.

Dear God, the tomatoes! The last tomatoes from the last farmers market of the year, heavy, not orange or red but pink, art-worthy tomatoes. Heaven forbid that they go bad, waiting for someone to find an appetite. On Sunday I sliced one for a sandwich of grainy bread, goat cheese, and basil. I ate two such sandwiches, leaving half the tomato next to the cutting board with a knife. No one touched it, despite my announcements. I found a container and sealed it away tightly in the frig, but it can't last, there.

I’m allergic to fresh tomatoes. If I stop at half a tomato, two sandwiches, the sandpapery sensation will be mild, like I burned my tongue but not badly. If I continue to nibble tomatoes, red fissures form as the result of my rich tastes, followed by blisters and several days with a wounded tongue. Cherry tomatoes, so easy to snack on, must be rationed, first, then hidden behind something else in the refrigerator so I don't grab another handful.  

Andalusian Gazpacho is the tomato glorified, pureed with fresh bread and a touch of garlic. Not a Mexican gazpacho, not spicy, this soup is not home to any other vegetables, no peppers, no cucumbers, no onions. Just tomato, olive oil, a splash of vinegar, a pinch of sugar, and a few ice cubes to chill it. I remember the first taste of it, how ugly the color, how the soup stood up in the bowl at The Walnut Street Café in Erie, Pennsylvania. The restaurant didn't last a year, but the memory stays.

Today the whole glass of sweet gazpacho sits before me, two and a half pink tomatoes’ worth to be drunk slowly, rolling the summer in my mouth while watching the boats in the harbor. I walk back to the kitchen to scrape the blender clean, remembering not to stick my fingers under the sharp blades. Sorely tempted to find that one last spoonful. The blisters rise; I have accepted it.

Too often my solo meals consist of peanut butter from a spoon, or a handful of trail mix, now that green beans are not in season. Inelegant non-meals, anti-meals. The late summer lettuce is long withered, and I don’t know how long the fresh basil will hold out in my windowsill. How much more should I take the price of life and endure it? How much more ought I pour love into a glass and drink, despite the cost? Drink, while the season lingers for one more moment.

A toast, then, to the fall harvest and what comes next. A toast to the passing of summer fruits. I will remember these tomatoes for the next few days of sandpapery tastes and stinging, my last late-summer extravagance. I will not repent this tall glass, well worth the expense.

Friday, October 15, 2010


"Lately I’ve been thinking, and I need to get this down quickly--that grief splinters…it splits off into fragments,… and that each of those fragments then has a life of its own. Every day is a new way to grieve, and this morning, very early, I was sitting in the attic window watching the rain and I tried to imagine even one of those splinters--could I hold on to even one? Could I contain it for a day, an hour? – and it struck me as a story that could be told in science fiction. A woman loses her brother, or her brother is lost, and every moment of every day for more than ten years she rises and begins to grieve, and the grief leaves her body in something like a cloud and goes about its business. "

Haven Kimmel, The Solace of Leaving Early, page 185

to wake up: same story told a different way

Dear Reader, don't you already know everything about me? I rewrite, rewrite, rewrite and it all must seem terribly repetitive. 

On the other hand, I like the odd twists I find in all the variations of the same story. So. Here you go.

If I grew up half-asleep to food, it’s because I grew up half-asleep to all my senses. I possessed no means to comprehend subtlety of flavor or construction of food. We opened cans. We ate in quantity. We liked our foods packaged, so the results were the same every time. Sloppy Joes, Hamburger Helper, Campbell’s Tomato.

I remember the first whiff of basil, age 25, still one of the most miraculous scents on earth. I remember the first taste of asparagus, age 20. I remember the first fresh bagel when my school drama team produced Fiddler on the Roof. Tabouli, that marvel of lemon and garlic and mint and bulgar—I asked the waitstaff, “but what IS it, in this dish?” French onion soup, amazing. The first cheese I liked, age 22, backpacking in Tennessee and just starving for protein. Smoked mozzerella, heaven.

Where had I been all my life?

The answer is quite simple: I’d been in my home on a side street of Farmland, Indiana. The food we ate was the food everybody ate, food from the television commercials, processed foods designed to make people’s lives so much easier. None of it was much better or worse than anything else. In a beautiful little town of tree-lined streets and quirky people, we lived by eating what the television told us. The television told us things all the time, and so it was always on at my house, and the constant noise level droned, a constant level of activity throbbed, a lack of quiet, a lack of social skills, a television-induced haze. No activity was much better or worse than anything else.

One Sunday a month my extended family of aunts and uncles would meet for a giant noonday meal at my grandmother’s house, fried chicken and mashed potatoes and gravy, peas in cream sauce, or chicken and homemade noodles and apple pie. Grownups would eat until the meal required recovery; clean-up would require hours, practically until dark. No television could be watched unless there was a very good reason. It’s not that we didn’t notice the qualitative difference between the food in grandma’s kitchen and the foods in our own—we’d practically wrestle over the rights to certain precious leftovers. But no kid expected her own mother to produce such ambrosia: that’s what grandmothers did. That’s why grandma’s meals were special. She didn’t eat foods from boxes or cans. But then, she was retired, and she lived alone, and she obviously prepared for hours, which is something no mother could really do. Not really.

When I left home I went directly to college, where the food was different but not necessarily better. Nothing was much better or worse than anything else.

After my freshman year of college I took a summer job in the Colorado Rockies. My boyfriend taught me to forage for blueberries and salad greens. My roommate crafted vegetarian Dagwoods for me, introducing me to avocado, sprouted grains, hummus. I met adventurers who questioned everything about why we wear what we wear, why we live how we live, why we eat what we eat. I took a course on backpacking cooking, where I discovered a recipe for Wheat Thin crackers, and it occurred to me that every food in a box was developed from some recipe devised by some person in a kitchen. Even the local restaurants featured their own blends of iced tea. Without a television indicating what was “normal” food, I made the break from my sleepy world: some person in a kitchen could make Wheat Thin crackers, and that could be me. I was no cook, but I loved to experiment. I’d find whole wheat flour somewhere. That could be me.

When I returned home to my mother’s house I tried the experiment: homemade crackers are utterly delicious, almost precious, and not much harder to bake than cookies. I returned to college, with a jar for alfalfa sprouts and a keen determination to eat more whole foods. To eat whole foods, one must commit to curiosity. Still years away from my own kitchen, the curiosity arose.

What did I wake up to? Thinking back, I woke up to the great experiment that is eating, first, and I woke to the oddity and wonder of how food is crafted, what kinds of lives people live in their kitchens. I still thought my grandmother’s skills were untouchable—she cooked without measurement, by texture and scent, and those skills cannot be easily taught. But I possessed the recipe for homemade Wheat Thins, and if that recipe could be mastered, who knew what else I could learn? If blueberries really can be found, for free, under the leaves of low shrubs in July, and stonecrop makes an excellent salad, and honeysuckle nectar can be sipped, what else does the world hold for the person with eyes to see and ears to hear?

I woke up to the world, to every good thing. I woke up to myself.

Monday, October 11, 2010

wear armor

The finished essay takes on a different tone than this snippet. But it's fun to re-enter the writing fury of my early drafts. 

Driving over the bridge toward Cape Ann, you should cover your heart or wear some sort of armor. Do not be deceived—it’s a dangerous place. You will likely be assaulted by some corner of your heart you never noticed before. The sea will call you. The waves will not let you sleep. The gulls will charm you with their constant voices. The smell of salt is not for inlanders—perhaps you should pinch your nose and not let the air in. But you can’t prevent it. Within minutes of arriving you will no longer be satisfied to be near  the Atlantic, if you could be close enough to see it with your own eyes.
    Do not adjust. Remain firm. Do not swoon.
    It’s hopeless, isn’t it? We come here from suburbs and dry places, brown places, conquered flatlands with orderly grids of roads. This place is madness, full of siren song and rough granite. Lash yourself to the masts and plug your ears with wax.

How do I say what I didn’t know? I was a 28-year-old series of Chinese boxes. I’d never paid rent, never shopped for an apartment, never paid an electric bill. I came from the Midwest, a flatlander easily lost. I owned a car with stickers from Erie, Pennsylvania and license plates from Washington state. I’d never been A Neighbor—I’d been THE Neighbor, running college dorms for six years, and managing a small conference center over the winter. I’d been living in one sort of Christian community or another for ten years.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

youth group

I am searching my files for stories to workshop, and as I search I find the most interesting little fragments, like this one. I wish it wasn't so hard to tell stories of churches and leadership without the modern-day shadows. I found my way into a good church, truly good, though made of sinners like every church.

As a teenager I followed rumors of a new preacher in town, a man with long hair and bell-bottom jeans, a man who played guitar on the church lawn and played loud music from the parsonage. A cute boy named Dale could sometimes be found at that church, so I showed up, sat down, sang for an hour before I remembered Dale—he didn’t come. But I didn’t leave. I wore bell-bottomed jeans. I had long hair, too. And I loved to sing. Adults spoke to me as if I was interesting, as if they knew nothing of the long history of my family in this small town. Adults cared about me, even though they were not my school teachers or my relatives. I stayed. The place felt miraculous.

I didn’t say a sinner’s prayer or make a public conversion. I’d attended local Vacation Bible School and the children’s Good News Club, and I liked this Jesus character as long as the church members actually loved, instead of hating people who go to movies or wear makeup, like the Baptist church down the road.
I was testing this new group of people, to see if they believed for real.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

a possible plan for my blog

Dear Reader,

I have grown into a slothful blogger, and the more I focus on writing for publication, the more I neglect my faithful following here on this blog. It seems WRONG, doesn't it? To shortchange you, worthy reader?

At the same time, my files are so full of little fragments, false-starts but interesting ones I could follow up later. Today I'm thinking I'll post some fragment of writing every few days, and perhaps you can think of it as a prompt for your own memory, or a writing prompt. God forbid that anyone important should stumble onto a blog of unfinished thoughts and think that's all I can manage.

But then, that's kind of what blog posts are, no? Thoughts in progress? 

Tell me what you think of my idea.


growing up to food

A piece of my cooking writing was just published, and I'm musing over the irony. A fragment found in my files:

I didn’t learn to cook as a child because cooking was too big for mere mortals, and a person needed to be legendary to don the apron and set her hand to the rolling pin. The people of my household ripped open bags of chips, served with chilled glasses of CocaCola, and when hearty food was needed my mother crafted biscuits and a skillet of sausage gravy. She liked breakfast foods. She liked to fry chicken. She liked to make potato salad—and that was about it. That was the short list of what my mother liked to cook. My father liked to cook popcorn—that was his short list. Everything else came in a package or a box, or was topped with Velveeta. 

I hope to launch a website with links to my writing, very soon, and it will boast my full name. Soon!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

the quest for home

In June I found THE house that will suit our needs best, located in the town where we hope to live. Ipswich is not far from where we live now, but the streets are safer for bicycles and roller blades. The high school art and drama programs thrive despite economic times. Our kids could bike or walk to school in Ipswich, or walk downtown for an ice cream.

In July, we gathered our house-buying team and placed a bid for the house. We were outbid on the same day, by people with a large chunk of cash and no property to sell. In August we found a buyer for our condo so we could be ready to look for another property. But every house we saw seemed a poor comparison.

Two weeks ago THE house came back on the market— the other buyer’s sale fell through, even with their large chunk of cash. We placed a bid 24 hours later. The bid was rejected: that decision took a week. We placed a higher bid one week ago, with a lower percentage of downpayment. And we were outbid again, after another week of waiting, holding our breath, begging for our friends’ prayers and good intentions.

I just heard last night, after a long day of teaching and parenting. My husband is numb; I am angry. But like the last time, no one lives in that lovely house yet, and anything could happen. We will watch and wait, ready in case of any change.

And we will look at other houses. We’ve already seen twenty, thirty maybe. All seem to be too small, or too expensive, or nothing to write home about. I’ve seen every sellable 3-bedroom house under the price of $400,000 in the city of Ipswich. I lurk on the real estate sale listings and Zillow. I feel like I know the city intimately, just from its real estate.

But the house we want is under agreement to be sold to someone else.

Who are they, these competitors? Do they want this home as much as we do? Surely they must. The last owners left an old-fashioned shingled mailbox on the post of the front porch, with a note reading “welcome” inside the box. Ragged rose vines climb over the entry of the sagging porch. Sweet old bird feeders hang from the trees and window boxes of faded pansies rest on the upstairs windows. Will these new owners clean the dear fishponds, or fill them? Will they keep the small planting shed my daughter has claimed for her office? Will they love the neighbors— Mary and Dave, Ellen and Doug— the way we would? Or will they live like everyone else in New England, distant strangers?

I was hoping to meet the neighbor across the street. Her Concord grapevines climb the trees of her yard, vines fruiting far up into the sky. I would love to grow grapes. I picked a few bunches that hung into my parking space, though I should’ve asked permission. I invited the neighbor kids to help me eat up all the raspberries, ripe and falling from the canes, by the driveway of my dream home. We ate until our fingers and our smiles were stained crimson. Surely those berries were a sign of fruitfulness, goodness, perfection. Surely we fit there, better than anyone else.

Some days I forget my long love for this condo where I live with my family, and it becomes merely the place I am stuck, the baggage I carry. I used to be so good, here in this condo with a view of the harbor. I have grown to resent every crack in the wall, every sill that needs paint, every scratch where we’ve been careless with our furniture. But mostly I resent our condo’s smallness, how we have no privacy. The ugly tree in the backyard needed to come down. Now all we see is the chainlink fence where the abutting neighbors hang their laundry to dry. Kids played in the parking lot for years; now the neighbors passed an ordinance that there is no bike-riding in the parking lot. The older neighbor kids are teens now, set loose on the city or focused on video games. Our kids have no one to play with here, and not much reason to go outside.

We moved here to nest babies, our treehouse above the sea. We have no more babies. We have kids who should be on bikes and on foot and exploring. For five or six years, we said, and my daughter is thirteen. We’ve been waiting for house prices to go down after all those years of rising. Now is the time. We watch and wait. Watch and wait.

I’m going to sit and watch the sun on the harbor for a few hours, this morning. Some ship across the way makes a sound like a distant helicopter—the same sound has been droning for weeks, all through the night, masking the crickets and peepers and gulls with the sounds of industry. But the sun and breeze, I would miss these even in the lovely dream house with the shade trees and the yard.

I will ignore the class planning still ahead of me, and the nagging “what’s for dinner” question. Leaves are tipped golden against the green, down below at the street level. God knows what we need, and today I need to give up for a few hours, and wait.

And perhaps I should eat breakfast, too. I’ve been living on coffee, holding my breath. Note to self: eat breakfast and wait.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

note from the first day of school, only two weeks ago

The children run down the stairs to wait, while Scott hauls a teetering stack of school supplies down after them. Half a minute passes and thunder claps with a downpour. I’ve already poured the coffee and washed the table, ready for them to leave on the first day of school.

No child-drama this morning, thanks be to God. They must’ve worn themselves out with last night’s bedtime drama, tears and requests for water and the insistence of a light turned out, a light turned on, the door slightly ajar but not too much ajar.

The girl bursts in the door, remembering her violin for orchestra practice. She tells me her pants are already soaked through, but she smiles under the bright pink hood of her raincoat. She has new shoes, and she loves school without reservation. The boy would rather stay home with his comfortable books, and he is glum about change. But I bet something will spark his whimsy today, and he will bring me a story or two.

On my desk I find an origami water lily and a carefully forged signature of Minerva McGonnigal. I tuck Minerva into the collection of odd papers near the phone, and the water lily will keep me company.

The wash of rain is heavy, steady. I watch the bright edge of eastern sky disappear to gray, feel the wind wash through, and rush to close the windows. Not just a passing shower, then. Fruitful rain.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

uncommon August

Most years I dread August. Beastly-bored children languish and lash out at me, at each other. No one willingly packs for the beach because they’ve just been to the beach. We lock ourselves in with the air conditioner blasting, with dark curtains over the windows in our third-floor southern-exposure condo. And even with the air conditioner on, we feel as though we are roasting. We avoid any chores that increase indoor heat, so the laundry waits. We avoid cooking. We melt. That is August for us, most Augusts.

But now I am writing in the middle of a three-day cool rain, a steady downpour again this morning, a rain we need. I traveled to the Glen Workshops for the first week of summer in Santa Fe. My excuse was to see the graduation of the last of my writing classmates, but I went to find respite, to be with friends. When I returned, my family was house-sitting in a spacious, gorgeous home with a pool. Dear friends visited. Then I attended a three-day yoga retreat in the Berkshires, which helped with my achey back. We are now home again and it feels like I’ve vacationed for the entire month of August.

I can’t recommend rest enough. I can’t remember the last time I felt so deeply rested. This is the nicest August I can remember since my college summers in Colorado. 

Now I’m off for my first day of teaching, in this fall semester. It’s work I enjoy. I wish you good fall beginnings, too.  

Saturday, July 31, 2010

unfinished note from mid July

Each evening, I gather stalks of spearmint, and the last of the raspberries, and a handful of nasturtiums. The spearmint leaves, I stuff into a large pitcher of chilled water. The raspberries freeze on a cookie sheet. The nasturtiums fill a small pear-shaped vase for the table. For tomorrow. Before bedtime, I gather the frozen berries into a bag. I pour lemonade and juice into popsicle molds. The mint tea tastes mild, but it will taste even better tomorrow.

In the morning, I fill the old glass milk bottle with fresh water and two packets of hibiscus and passionfruit tea, and the tea trails red streamers through the pretty bottle on the windowsill as it brews. I hate to cook when it’s hot, and none of us likes to eat much. We live on cool drinks and ice.

Children are home for the summer-- home in earnest, now. Little League play-offs finished two weeks ago, and the first flurry of playdates has passed, along with our summer ambitions for projects and gardening. We slow to the molasses-pace of hot July days, days mostly too hot even for the beach. Children sleep late in the morning, then adhere themselves to the furniture—they adhere themselves with books, books, books, and I find it hard to complain about their love for reading. Brendan devises new self-powered competitions each week, races between marbles or plastic baseball caps or fantasy baseball teams, all on the living room floor. Madeleine takes up a sewing project or two, as long as it doesn’t require too much concentration. Brendan decides he will become a professional smoothie maker when he grows up, as well as a professional ball player. Madeleine cares nothing for growing up—but the paper dolls she designs look more like teenagers, these days, long necks, narrow waists, modest bustlines, short skirts. The child could not care less about her own hair, but she is picking clothes more carefully.

In the quiet hours while the children become reading-fossils, I am working to buy a house: filling out forms, gathering facts, checking with mortgage people and real estate people, making notes for Scott while he works.

I know we need to get ready to show the condo. We puttied the crack in the windowsill, Brendan and I. Madeleine left her chair to clean and organize the kitchen cabinets, which she loves to do because she can stand barefoot on the counter and examine the dark recesses. I will organize a top-to-bottom deep cleaning, soon enough, but today we remove the surface dirt from the stove and counters, and from Brendan’s workbench.  

At some moments, I convince myself the whole house-buying process is a house of cards and surely all this work will be for nothing. At other moments I remind myself this is what financial life feels like for so many of us, and what it felt like for our parents and our grandparents. We will stretch ourselves and our resources and our hopes as far as we can. I continue to juggle my jobs as part-time nanny, part-time professor, freelance writer and summer mom.

I slip outside to water the poor withered lettuce plants, and the breeze cools the porch. Off with the air conditioner. We open the windows and doors to the fresh air, instead. I offer the kids popsicles, mango and lemon, and decide which glass of tea I’ll drink first, mint or hibiscus. 

Thursday, June 24, 2010

self-portrait with pans

lucky me!


I've been writing for some publications this spring! I'm investing much more time in revision and polishing, and volleying notes with editors. Although I'm happy about these opportunities, I feel frightfully out-of-touch with you, beautiful readers.

So. I'm writing. If you know my full name, go ahead and Google it (don't be shy). I'm still not comfortable with my full name being here, on this blog, while I write about kids.

Anyone want to help me set up an author website, with links to my published stories? Like, anyone want to do ALL THE WORK for me and then let me okay the final result? I am SO swamped with work.

Meanwhile, it's a frightfully-hot day. The air conditioner is chugging, and fans are blowing. Girls have spread sewing materials over the entire living room, and Brendan is brainstorming his next sewing project, jealous of tools and feats of engineering-- the sewing machine is officially Madeleine's, though we all use it, just as the toolkit is officially Brendan's. Fear not, though, egalitarian parents everywhere-- Brendan also begs me to attend Knit Night with him, so he can work on his yarn projects. Merry is sewing right now. My favorite three-year-old will arrive in a few minutes. We can all hover near the air conditioner.

I hoped to post a photo of my new old-fashioned peasant blouse, but when I flipped on the laptop camera I screamed and ran at the sight of me: I look just like my mother. Time to go work some hair and makeup magic, now, even if I am entertaining kids all day.

Happy summer. I wish you a cool swim.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

cold and rainy June day

The misty rain comes as a surprise. My messenger bag is still stuffed with swimsuits and sunscreen from last week’s heat wave. I fill it instead with warm slippers and a sweater for the high temperature of 55 degrees, an illustration of June in New England. Perhaps the child and I will build a fire today while I’m babysitting.

Can my children’s school possibly end for the year? For their sakes, the time is ripe for vacation. No longer do they wake eager—they barely wake at all, sleepwalking through the grim mornings. The days stay light until 8:30 or 9:00, and a good night’s sleep seems impossible. Gone are the evenings when Scott and I had a few hours to ourselves. The blond ones grow taller, though not as tall as they would like.

A Wednesday passed yesterday, and I forgot to pick up Merry! I catch myself after thinking it: she is gone, graduated from eighth grade, away on her class trip and then moving to boarding school. She began spending one afternoon a week with us in her fifth grade year, four years ago. How strange, this leaving.

The children are ready for long lazy days with books, sitting in the window, playdates with friends. I will still be providing childcare for my favorite three-year-old, a few days each week, and I’ll be working for a travel agency, organizing trips. Organizing from my home? I can’t say yet. I hope so. Kids are growing more independent, but I can’t leave them for more than a few hours at a stretch, yet. A working summer will feel odd, but it might also have its benefits. Kids will need to leave their reading chairs to come with me to the office, now and then, and kids will not be left alone by a three-year-old in my care. They will need to build with blocks and race marbles and cars.

News: when I started writing, I sketched a story about baking a pie for my friend Hank. Recently I adapted that three-page story into a history of how I learned to cook and how I learned to eat. The story will be coming out in an anthology of spirituality and food writing, coming out in September. It’s been fun to work with several editors, to get the best out of this story.

I’ve also been working on two magazine stories, one on afternoons with Merry, and one on my current roster of work: juggling three paid jobs, two freelance jobs, and my unpaid work. At some point I’ll need to work up an official website with links to my stories. Soon? We’ll see.

Sorry I’ve been a sleepy blogger! I am posting this boring piece, written far too much in the passive voice, because my brother checks my blog approximately every day, and I’d better throw some news out there.

And now it’s time to pack up my messenger bag to go play with the little one on this chilly wet day.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

on beginning a semester asking 18-year-olds to write about love

A rant scribbled in my notebook in Starbucks, last September at the beginning of my first semester of teaching. 

If love is so great, and love is what everyone wants, then why doesn’t everyone run out and give as much love as they can? If God has provided everything we need in this big gorgeous creation, and endowed us with God’s likeness and spirit, why do we fail to love? How could we? What prevents us from love?

A drop of oatmeal falls cunningly between the wires of the spiral notebook of my journal, and I can’t easily reach it without destroying my journal—my only journal handy here at Starbucks. Already I’ve drawn quizzical arrows, corrected spelling and in short I’ve broken the spell of that intense question from the class I’m teaching. In all likelihood I’ve broken the spell because I can’t bear another round of another day of confession of my sins of omission. How do I not love thee? Let me count the ways.

The oatmeal gives me something to do. I think of the box of tea to buy, here at Starbucks. I think of the beautiful faces I dropped off at the school door. I think of school’s opening assembly. I don’t know my own work schedule yet—I hardly know anything.

How do I reconcile love and parenting—brush your teeth, brush your teeth, brush your teeth, are those shoes too small? Really? That seems impossible—they are still so beautiful, so perfect for you. Except they are not perfect, now. Did I take time to kiss the girl-foot, before it grows into a woman-foot? Not today. Brush your hair. Pack your lunch. Don’t tease me for making a wrong turn, I need coffee… Three hours later the coffee has grown cool, and the brew I’ve chosen is bitter and dark against my favorite oatmeal second breakfast.

I love Starbucks. I love oatmeal. I love the classical music playing this morning. In order to love these students I need to go to Staples for a giant sticky pad, on which to write Shakespeare, Donne, Browning, I Corinthians 13.

An informal baby shower emerges in the small circle of cushy chairs: three couples, two infants. Packages of baby gear are sorted one-by-one. The group talks excitedly in a mix of English and some Asian dialect—I hesitate to guess. Rattles are demonstrated. Baby bottles.

How mercilessly easy it is to love infants—simply put aside all else, and pretend you exist only to make the child healthy, whole, settled. Only live for that smile. I cross the “l” accidentally and spell “smite,” good heavens. How they smite us with love, these small and delicate creatures! How motherhood smites the self for a few years, until there is nothing left but the stump of Jesse. How blessed are those of us God gifts to grow again, smitten, decimated, and ready for what’s next.

Monday, May 10, 2010

snapshot from a year ago: some things different, some the same

Culling files on my computer, I found this abandoned post from last May.

Every few minutes I get up to restart the clothes dryer or answer the phone, to restart the music and try to figure out who turned it off? I’m the only one home—it must’ve been me. Where did the coffee go? I must’ve finished it earlier.

I’d like to be slightly unconscious because I am writing but in truth I am fussing, futzing, worrying, fretting over this thing and that thing. It seems like a month since I’ve started a new story, too busy revising my thesis to consider much else with my writing time. And the writing time shrinks in this month of May, full of school events and little league evenings and a precious few beach days, a few walks to keep me from becoming stiff, a few trips, blessed ones.

In July I will read a portion of my thesis aloud, on the day of my graduation, and I’ve known for six months what I will wear (a perfect dress, waiting in my closet), where I will stand, what I will read. The afternoon will be hot and rainy, as all August days in Santa Fe’s monsoon season. I was thinking yesterday, how I entered this masters program shaking and feeling certain I didn’t belong with these amazing writers. I was thinking how I leave shaking in a different way, knowing I belong but now I will need to live up to this masters program, to live up to the hope others invest in me.

And of course I am also shaking because I’d hoped to teach part-time at the college level, and the nearby colleges are eliminating adjunct professors just now, trimming budgets. I will need to work, but how? What?

I can’t worry because my thesis needs a little polish, and I have five more books to read, and kids will be home from school in two weeks. I must worry because we need a bigger place to live.

Meanwhile I found an ad on Craigslist: a woman is seeking a yarn-spinner to make two pounds of fiber into yarn. Two pounds of fiber fills two grocery bags, and might be enough fiber for a sweater. The fiber is dog fur, and several web-based companies offer to process “chiengora” dog fur at $10 per ounce—I might be able to do it for less, I can’t say yet. If processed at $10 per ounce, or $160 per pound… what grief brings a pet owner to this level of commitment?

I miss my mother. It’s her birthday next week and I miss her hard and furiously.

Funny, the teaching job worked out like a charm. The thesis was fine, as such things go. I've since edited half of those pages, cutting one essay by a third, and adding to another by a third, so those 100 pages offered good work-in-progress. And the dog yarn? I've spun two batches of it, and I hope to spin some more soon. The woman knit fur-mittens and felted them in my washer, thick firm mittens with a gorgeous tan haze like mohair. 

Friday, May 07, 2010

spring schedule

I chaperoned the middle school dance and the 4th grade trip to the wildlife sanctuary. (Wildlife sanctuary/Middle school dance= synonyms?) Wowed 3rd graders with my looms and spindles. Nurtured a toddler through a crisis over a puzzle piece. Introduced kids to chicken biryani and cheered when my kid snagged a grounder at second base.Taking my other kid to a wool festival to pet sheep. BRING ON MOTHER'S DAY!

Also: Edited a story and will submit it by 9 a.m. Wrote a fan letter to a writer who is new to me (read Valerie Weaver-Zercher's Philo-Lilac in Orion, this month, swoon! I'm sure some of you know her in person, but you really must read her.) Decided that I can start the new job next week, because a day off is okay, today. Really.

Have I mentioned this is the most beautiful spring I can remember? Early, warm, and such an embarrassment of green.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

patience, dear readers

I started to post a story last week, from my graduate thesis-- then I realized the thing was too intense and involved too many people I haven't checked with. (Sorry.)

I've been asked to finish an essay for an anthology of food writing, and I'm revising like crazy. I print a big stack of pages of all the ways I've rewritten this story, and I cut and tape and color code; then I rearrange, cut a lot of subplots, ask myself what's really important in there, and generally obsess, at length. That's what I've been doing in my writing life, besides filling spiral journals.

Will post some smaller snippets of writing, soon!

Lilacs are starting to bloom, and the sun is hot today, so off I go to the beach. Meet me there? It is surely time to soak up some sun.


Thursday, April 08, 2010

view from the floor

Some days the ease of my former life is almost impossible to remember, from my place on the living room floor. Once I hiked 200 miles in a summer, when I lived in the Rockies. I’ve never truly been an outdoorswoman, not like some people, but I hiked twice a week after work that summer, and I kept a log—it was easy. I curled up in bus seats in Colorado, in Indiana. I stretched out on airport floors and slept the sleep of the innocent, my head propped on my bag. I slept in the back seats of cars hurtling across the continent, happy with the funny curves and indentations and a bundled up sweatshirt as a pillow.

Another summer I climbed in caves with children and swung from ropes in the trees. I grew lithe that summer, unburdened by a desk life. Even when I nursed babies in my late-thirties, I preferred to sit cross-legged on the floor, because I loved the floor, loved being near the floor. I could settle anywhere. I propped my knees to one side in a cushioned chair at Starbucks, then shifted my knees to the other side, later, or dangled my feet over the arm of the chair, close to the fireplace.

Three years ago I broke a bone in my foot, a stress fracture, while walking. When I was working to recover, I damaged a tendon in the other foot, causing a nasty bump called a ganglion. I climbed trees, still, with my children. I played Frisbee at the beach, using the waves for resistance training. Then a year ago I slipped on a ledge of granite while hiking, slamming my hip against the stone and my face against a tree. I’m afraid as I write this that you will see me as an old woman—I am not. I have never been an athlete, but I’ve been the kind of person who could rise to an occasion. I’m learning to throw a football, for my son. I’d hoped to coach a softball team, someday.

In the morning, each morning, it seems I’ve grown into a hard pickle of a woman, or perhaps a turtle with a knotted shell on my back. I lumber to the living room and carefully lower myself to the floor with a book behind my head, like the therapist showed me. Then I loosen each clenched muscle group, starting with my neck, lowering vertebra by vertebra to my one hip, then the other. Sometimes I feel a vertebra untwist, loosening all the muscles with it, and it reminds me of pregnancy, of the occasional movement of a baby heel or elbow across the expanse of my abdomen—not only is the movement amazing, but the muscle release feels profound and I find myself once again at ease for a moment. When I rise to walk again, I wiggle my neck and shoulders, relieved. Sometimes the tension has returned by the time I sit down for my cup of coffee. Sometimes the bones of my spinal column continue to shift pleasantly throughout the day, letting go in ripples as I’m driving the car down the highway.

I am trying to take long walks again. What feels like a good walk may require days of recovery. All of me feels heavy, slack, bittersweet. I am learning again how to sit, how to walk, how to stand without stiffness. I will never again sleep in the backseat, it seems, or fold myself up into a chair with a book. I will need to pay attention. It is not much—some people suffer so much more than this. Still I want to listen to the cravings of my youth: I wish I could sit on the floor. I wish I could sleep on the ground. I wish I could move without worry.

When I am resting my back on the floor, I concentrate on breathing, and I pray, sometimes for an hour, sometimes more, the strangest and most urgent prayers. My eyes water when a muscle lets go, and tears fall into my ears, or tickle down my neck. I unpickle, unturtle, and pray to be more yielding from head to toe. Beloved floor, I wish I could sit here, cross-legged in the sun. Maybe someday.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

one for pussy willows, another for forsythia

One vase for pussy willows, and another for forsythia branches.

Sun streams in over the living-room-turned-infirmary, Lincoln Logs, board games, adventure books propped open and blankets, handkerchiefs, half-finished cups of tea. The boy agrees to a bath, if the water is hot enough, if he can use the eucalyptus suds, if, if, and all the requests are granted. I leave the half-emptied dishwasher, the sink full of dishes, the table a wreck of medicines. My first hour alone in days, and while I’m not truly alone, this is as close as I will get, this week.

I am on day seven of antibiotics, myself.

“Can I come out?” he shouts. I tell him to soak another five minutes. I just sat down. As close as I will get.

So, a quick note: I’ve been working to establish a writing routine, and jumping into a hundred fresh starts of writing. I’ve also been struggling and moping, adapting to the questions raised by freelancing, and I’ve been researching houses to buy or rent. I’ve secured a teaching job for the fall semester. I still need to dig out from the housekeeping neglect of the past two years, and I’m working at that bit by bit. I’m caring for the world’s most delightful two-year-old, two days a week, and she reminds me how good it is to live in the present tense, to shake off worry, to play when the weather is fine.

The five minutes has passed and soon the boy will emerge from the bath, breathing better I hope. I’ll check in with the doctor and I’m sure we will need to make an appointment, which will mean leaving the sunny house. I’ll finish unloading the dishwasher and with some luck we can both settle into some reading.

At least we have sun and pussy willows. The forsythia will bloom tomorrow, I’m guessing.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

provision and grilled cheese

Note from a few weeks ago. 

I arrive home from a day of childcare. I call him from home, and he tells me our daughter’s team is neck-and-neck right now, so he can’t talk long. I hear the crowd sounds subside as he walks from the gymnasium.

“Can you please pick up one Chinese entrée?” He hesitates. We are short on funds this month, since my job ended in December. “Teething. My gal howled for 45 minutes straight. I am covered with snot and I smell like a diaper. My head hurts like I’m teething.”

He laughs and says yes I deserve Chinese food, yes, one entrée.

“It’s been a long time since teething,” he says, “She’s on the court now, and we are up by six points.” He tells me he doesn’t have the phone number for the Chinese place—I remind him Madeleine added the number to his cell phone. He’ll need to ask her to find it when the game is over. I agree to cook our own rice, to save a few dollars. Because every few dollars is a few dollars, right now.

I enrolled in a masters program three years ago, to pursue my love of literature and writing. I didn’t foresee any problems paying off my student loans—I’d graduate with a degree, I thought, and the parenting gap on my resume would look less glaring. I’d work, finally, in an area I love. When I completed my degree in August, I found adjunct work at a terrific college, a few minutes from my children’s elementary school. I taught two classes, my introduction to grading papers and teaching eighteen-year-olds in a classroom. I loved the work, and it took all my time until it ended at Christmastime.

And now I am free to do the thing I studied: I’m free to write. But I’m not free, as long as we struggle to pay bills. In some ways I am lucky: I knew my job would last four months. I haven’t checked in on my friend Dave’s job search. He thought he had his high-paying job as long as he wanted it. I haven’t checked in on Pete, who used to commute halfway down the coast for his work week. Lauren is happy to work on a consultant basis for awhile. These are people who earned serious money, and my adjunct work is small potatoes in comparison.

Are we all struggling? I assume most of us are.

I step into the shower to return to my own scents, to comb the toddler-gunk out of my hair. When I emerge from the shower, the family arrives. He doesn’t bring me Chinese food, not even one entrée. Kids needed to be home, he says, and I can see it’s true. He starts the grilled cheese sandwiches without asking. I eat mine with a bowl of tomato soup, then go to bed at 7 pm to sleep for eleven hours. It’s been a long time since teething.

Now they’ve gone to school for the day, and I have no childcare duties. Time to write.

Friday, January 22, 2010

the just-right thing

A toddler chalkboard easel. A size 2 wetsuit. Wooden playclips for building forts. A small trampoline with a handlebar across the side—the children spent hours jumpin on it every winter day, and used it as a “bunk bed” though it’s only eight inches off the floor. They hung by their knees from the handlebar, ignoring the manufacturer’s safety warnings.

Wooden train tracks.

The attic fills with toys-once-dear, artifacts of earlier years of my parenting life, the silken capes, some of them hand-dyed with marigold petals as a kindergarten project. Thick books with cardboard pages, so critical for everyday life—just a few months ago, it seems.

Now our living space fills with musical instruments, a violin, a keyboard, woodwinds of all kinds, ocarinas and pan pipes. The shelves fill with chapter books—never enough to satisfy the hungry readers—and always a few really good books we parents nudge children to try. Someday they will. A few picture books still linger, though they gather dust. My son needs a shelf just for his baseball collections, and my daughter crafts more paper dolls than we can house. Nowadays her paper dolls look more like contemporary teenagers and less like Laura Ingalls Wilder. Our handcrafted cloth dolls might need to be tucked away in tissue paper soon, to protect them from dust and teenage experiments.

My daughter laughed when I showed her the tiny flower-print cap she wore for her first few months, when she had no hair. Newborn pajamas seem impossibly small. She is in middle school now.

As winter sets in I notice the differences between this year and the last: we didn’t visit the playground this fall, too busy with swim lessons and play dates and my teaching schedule. My son still loves to return home at the end of the school day, but gone are the days of building little cities on the floor, and pushing small cars along handmade roads.

I love these kids’ ages, now more than ever. Madeleine crafted tuna salad sandwiches for my dinner, yesterday, because I had schoolwork due. Soon winter will arrive in earnest and Brendan will commandeer the snow shoveling. Twelve years from now my children could be parenting their own babies, and suddenly twelve years doesn’t seem long at all.

Saving these toys happened by accident—I thought I sold the trampoline years ago. A friend offers $20 for the easel and the bottles of tempera paint. A mom at school gives me $10 for the wetsuit. But I scrap the plan to sell the wooden barn, the dollhouse. I can pack away a few boxes and hold them for a decade or maybe more. And tucked in beside the useful toys, I’ll enclose the tiny pajamas and hats, the special dolls. Why? I don’t know. I have two small boxes of my own belongings from childhood—nothing I’d pass on to anyone else, really. I loved my room as a kid, my quilt with the birds embroidered on it, and only a few other things. I kept a teddy bear my friend Cheryl gave me in eighth grade. My son sleeps with it—he asked me one day how old the Teddy is, and when I answered, “your bear is 33,” he paused for a moment and said, “Let’s just say she’s two.” I have a hard time wrapping my head around that many years, too.

I keep the tiny purple and white alarm clock I spied at a store when I was ten years old. I nagged my mother each visit to the store, reminding her there was only one alarm clock like it. I couldn’t find a price tag for it. Then it disappeared from the store shelves and I grieved and pouted. When I found the tiny clock atop of my stack of presents under the Christmas tree, I was like Clara in the Nutcracker, making everyone confirm that the clock was perfect, its ticking was perfect, its alarm bell was perfect. “Three dollars and ninety-five cents,” my mother muttered to my dad. “Maybe we didn’t need to get her all those other things,” my dad quipped over his Christmas cup of coffee. I wound the clock dutifully through high school and college until it stopped ticking.

My little purple and white alarm clock sits on my son’s workbench, now. I keep opening the back to see what I can learn, to “fix” it for another few days, until it stops working again.

Each year I bring out “new” tools from my early adult life: the alarm clock, which the boy might learn to fix. My daughter was delighted to find I have a full set of calligraphy pens and inks, which I set aside for just this time. In the springtime, I will offer them some juggling toys I bought at Pike Place Market, in Seattle, in 1987.

I will choose carefully before packing “the keepers” from my children’s childhoods—we can’t keep much, so it’s best to sort carefully now. The rocking horse my father made, it stays. The travel mattress for toddlers goes, and the nursing pillow. Soon I will make one more pass through the bags of kid art projects, to see which pages offer a snapshot of who they were, when they were smaller, the “alien people” whose bodies were round, and to discover which of the paintings no one can identify any longer.

Keeping mementos is a very odd practice. Can anyone say why we do it? We want our children to know they were loved, I suppose—but they already know that in ways far deeper than a rocking horse would show. We can't keep much, so how do we choose?

Perhaps we keep things to remember who we were, when our children laughed and rocked for hours, singing, how we sang, too and glanced at one another over our coffee cups, happy to have chosen just the right thing, happy for our children to be completely and utterly satisfied.

Sunday, January 17, 2010


I keep getting spam on one particular post in my archives. Any idea how to deal with that?

Friday, January 15, 2010

2010, here we are

I generally do not indulge myself in post-holiday depression because I am so often overcome by post-holiday euphoria: my children go back to school, my husband goes back to work, and I get the house to myself once again, the happiest circumstance. Now I can get work done.

Or so it’s been for the past few years. Last January and the January before, I threw my efforts into my graduate work. January 2007, I was applying for grants, freelancing for a magazine, working part-time for my blind friend on the weeks she was home from the hospital.

In May 2007, a friend offered to buy me a laptop so I could work while in grad school. We took my acceptance letter to the Apple store, to get an education discount. I said to my friend, we can return it if I just don’t open it. He pulled out his pocket knife for the UPC symbol on the box, for a rebate of some kind, and the deed was done. I was going to school, or else.

My blind friend entered the hospital for an extended stay, the same month. I was writing a story about her the morning she died in December 2007. Then came January 2008—behind on my reading for the first quarter, I determined I’d not get behind again.

In January 2009, I prepared my critical thesis and kept reading.

In August 2009, I finished grad school and packed my children up for a long road trip, following one travel extravaganza with another. From the passenger seat of the car, I phoned to accept a job offer, teaching a course for first-year students at a nearby college—for one semester. The semester ended in December and I spent the first days of my kids’ Christmas break grading papers.

When I look through my own papers, I find ticket stubs from Santa Fe and Cincinnati, and New Hampshire. My bedside is awash in student papers, literary journals, spiral-bound notebooks, and knitting projects.

We had a lovely Christmas. It snowed at the beginning, and snowed again at the end, and in the middle we stayed home most of the time, cooking, preparing, singing and enjoying our new gifts.

Now they go back to school and jobs and I am not a student anymore, not a teacher this semester. I am freelancing, or I am unemployed, or I am just catching up with myself. I am frustrated that I’ve gotten so little done this week: I’ve attended a school party for my sixth grader, applied for a state grant, organized a list of literary contest dates. I’ve written each day. I’ve begun to clean house and restore order to our lives.

I’ve not made resolutions nor lost 20 pounds. I’ve not cleaned the icons off my desktop. I’ve not won literary awards nor found a well-paid job. I’ve written a few email thank-yous, but not nearly enough for the gifts I’ve been given in the past year.

I will need to shed another skin to enter this new 2010 life of mine. I need to make my own deadlines, like a grown-up, and keep them. I will need to make inquiries for magazine stories.

A friend needs a babysitter for two days next week, at a pre-grad school rate of pay. Her father smiles as he says, “You will sleep well when you are done!” The two-year-old laughs and prances all day, then she naps. When her mother arrived home at the end of the day, the child pointed at me and announced, "Mama! She SINGS!" And so I do. It’s a happy match.

Catch up soon.
The sky looks like snow, and my feet won't get warm. I've been writing more often by pen and paper, but I will return with posts, soon.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

It's been a MONTH since I posted! Forgive me: busy season. I'm just warming up.

Pale blue-and-white striped flannel, floor length. Not too heavy, no real signs of wear. I pulled the crumpled robe from the donation box for the thrift shop. A little blue-and-white striped ruffle around the collar, but nothing too “girly”. I looked out the windows to see if anyone was watching me sort the giant box of cast-off clothing. I slipped one arm in a sleeve, and the other. I tied the belt and smoothed my hands down the front, and did a little dance. The flannel seemed brand new. I walked back into my apartment to the full-length mirror. Perfect.

I’d not owned a bathrobe as a child—bathrobes were Extras, and my brothers grew too fast for my family to buy Extras. Why buy a robe when a hooded sweatshirt makes a passable extra layer? In a pinch, my mother’s ratty terry robe would do for a dash to my bedroom, as long as I brought it back to its assigned hook in the bathroom.

My mother was happy to buy me a giant plush bathrobe, in emerald green, for my first Christmas in college. My dorm room was drafty, I said, and I’d been craving this bear-like robe. The inch-thick pile felt exotic, heavy, satisfying. When I returned to school I flaunted my prize, strutting down the hallway. Dust balls collected around the hem within minutes, and lint, and talcum powder. I couldn’t wash my hands or face while wearing the robe because it was too big and got in my way. So I couldn’t wear it to the bathroom, or from the shower. The cuffs bunched under my wrist when I tried to write at my desk. The robe wasn’t functional for anything but sitting, so I cuddled in the emerald fur robe to read in bed. Each time I moved I left a scattering of emerald fur where I’d been sitting. As a final insult, when I walked the dorm halls in my fabulous robe, my neck ached from the weight of it. On cold nights I threw the robe over my blankets, glad for the heaviness. I packed the behemoth around for another year, unable to part with the idea of coziness and warmth, and then I bequeathed it to someone who admired it, a sad parting from my bathrobe dream. I bought long underwear and dressed in layers, instead.

Years later, my first fulltime job required me to live in a college dorm, a life I relished. As May finals approached, my dorm residents began packing their rooms up to spend the summer at home. A tall box labeled “clothing donations” appeared in the lounge across the hall from my apartment door. Every day the box filled a bit more, until the box overflowed and clothing piled up around it.

Students offered their final goodbyes. My days were filled with meetings and year-end celebrations. No one picked up the box. On the third day, I told myself I was “sorting.” I folded stuff, starting with the pile outside of the box. I paired shoes and tied their strings together. I buttoned shirts. And then I found the robe. After I tried it on, after I saw its perfection in the mirror, I hung it on the back of my bathroom door and stroked it. Then I went back to the thrift shop box, folded all the clothes neatly against the wall, and gleefully found a good pair of jeans in my size, also. One day the stacks of clothing were gone, along with the donation box, and I forgot about it.

When students returned in the fall, I wore my perfect bathrobe to answer a knock at the door. Deb McMahon paused for a moment before speaking. “I gave that bathrobe to be donated to the poor,” she said.

I blushed and stammered, then smiled at my student friend. “How much do you think college residence directors make?” And we laughed, though she looked skeptical. “I donated some of my things to the poor, too, to make up for the robe that was clearly meant for me. But if you want, I’ll find the charity and send a cash donation for the robe.” She agreed the robe was flattering to me. She’d already bought herself another. She decided she could live with my thievery.

Last year I asked my husband for a new robe, a flannel one, for Christmas. The pattern I wanted was out of stock, leaving animal print and lime green polka dot options. On a whim, I pointed to a different ad: a blue chenille robe with giant pink, yellow and green chenille coffee mugs down the front. Warmth, I thought. Coziness. I opened the gift on Christmas and lifted the blue chenille from of the box: heavy. With sadness I tried it on: cute, in a giant-chenille-barn sort of cute. The robe was cute when I was not wearing it. Enormous cuffed sleeves bunched under my wrist when I sat down. And it made my neck ache. Back into the box it went, with its adorable chenille coffee mug designs. I hated to see it go. My worn old blue and white striped robe would need to “do” for one more season.

This year I jumped on the winter clothing catalogs early, chose a flannel robe in a nice pattern, and found a discount coupon. I demanded that Scott order the robe in October, while it was available. On Christmas when I opened the package, I spied the fabric pattern—beautiful. I ripped open the plastic—soft, very soft. And I slipped in one arm, and another, tied the belt. I walked to the mirror to check it out. Perfect. When I wash it, the flannel will become even softer and fluffier, even more “just right.”

Today I carefully fold the blue-and-white-striped flannel robe to put it in the box I’ll take to the thrift shop. The outside collar is torn and frayed. The inside collar stains will not wash out. The belt loops hang by threads and the belt will not flatten. I picked that robe from the giveaway box 20 years ago, half a lifetime ago, on the other side of the continent. I packed that robe for my job in Pennsylvania, where I lived in a drafty farmhouse for the winter. I wore the robe through my newlywed year, and through the years in the unheated summer home. I wore the robe when I nursed babies, and for ten years since. I remember, now, the flannel quilt kit I gave my children for Christmas. The quilt includes four layers of flannel, and this robe might not be fit for the quilt top, but it would make a fine filler. I pull the robe out of the thrift shop box. It simply resists donation. Such a good robe.

I will send something else to the thrift shop in its place.