The Plot

A rain-free Saturday so I went to check out the plot I’d signed up for at our city’s community garden because there’s not enough sun at my place and I like the idea. Community. And dirt. It’s windy with gusts moving clouds through the sky so fast that one moment it looks like it’s about to rain and the next, the sun is bright.

My plot is in a lower field that right now is very very very wet. Please note puddle behind me. (thanks, Judith, for the great snap!) And it’s wet where I’m standing too. Lucky I wore my rubber boots because the water is over my ankle in places. When I’d imagined my little garden-to-be I envisioned a nice raised bed in need of a little soil and compost. Ha! It was a shoulder high weave of thick weeds. (to my right is the plot before) After attempting to yank and pull the plants out, I recalled the joys of lasagna gardening. I went home and retrieved cardboard and all those newspapers I was telling you about. I filled a few bags with the leaves I’d raked against the hedge in a bern and drove back to the garden. I spread the paper and a layer of leaves, (I should have brought more – please note the exposed cardboard still left to do) and then compost and some soil. There are more layers to add but it looks good, don’t you think?

Navigating the wheelbarrow full of mulch and soil through the thick puddles of mud was a challenge. I had to pull, not push, the wheelbarrow through the worst of the muck. It was quite a sight. Especially when one foot got stuck quicksand style and I almost landed on my ass. So close! I knew it was time to quit. Still, not a bad days work, eh?

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Friday and Plans for the Weekend

Friday’s are lovely. While I hate to hurry the already quickly passing days along even more, I’m always glad to see the weekend. My job is great but days when there is no claim on my time are the best. This weekend is one of those. It’s even supposed to rain freeing me up from garden guilt. The grass is almost up to my knee but it’s wet so there’s nothing I can do about it. I guess I have to read the Mueller Report. (free download at B&N btw) I’m kind of joking. I do think it’s important to read it for ourselves rather than trust a 4 page assessment so I will give a shot between the blackened lines.

I’m also reading a book my friend recommended written by someone she knows who lost her brother to addiction who came back to speak to her. I never stop wondering and looking for insight about my own addicts and losses so I read on although I am not completely drawn in to her story. Death and beyond (or not) interests me and who am I to dismiss any of it? Light energy is certainly a recurring theme in religions and supposed reports. I’ll take light.

On my longer drives for work I am listening to Rachel Cusk’s Outline and find it beautiful although I sometimes get distracted by the different accents the reader adopts with mixed success. I find Cusk’s writing evocative of Virginia Woolf who I read obsessively in my late teens. I’d tried reading Outline when it first came out but didn’t have the appetite for it – nor would I for Virginia Woolf right now – but listening to it while driving through the streets of Connecticut is lovely.

Knocking on my guilt-door on weekends is always the New York Times. I never get all the way through it and have the magazine sections piled up from months. I keep thinking I’ll cancel and then decide I must support the important work of journalism while it’s taking a beating so I keep at it. And I do like seeing that blue bag at the end of the driveway on Saturday and Sunday. When I’m done with the newsprint I use it to start my fire in the wood stove when it’s cold and to layer over the weeds in the summer.

Forecast is rain all weekend and since I already cleaned my closet it looks like I can read. Are you reading anything good?

 

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A Waking Ramble

In moments of almost-waking what a stream of images I recall! Sometimes a kind of story line with drama, emotion and characters. What’s going on in there? Where is this stuff coming from? Our subconscious is wild. Don’t worry, I will not tell you about my dream. Other people’s dreams are not interesting.

I did clock some hours with a therapist who found dreams rich fodder and asked me to remember and tell her mine. During those months I got pretty good at recall and would write them down but I am lazy about trying to interpret them. I just wanted her to do it and give me my insights. We are the author of our dreams, she would say. In fact, I rarely remember mine and since I stopped seeing her, I don’t much. But there’s no doubt, there’s a lot going in the night and it’s not a bad idea to cultivate value. At the very least, the freedom and imagination.

As if I were in a new exercise regimen noting my slimming and strengthening body (that’s next!) there are changes I see in just 4 days of this practice. Room has been made in my psyche that was previously filled with mostly thoughts about work or worry or food. I don’t want to jinx a good thing so I’ll stop there.

But the richness of slumber and how to roll into wakefulness without shutting out the crazy creativity, imagination, memories, spirit of those sweet hours of being checked-out of this world. Where do we go when we close our eyes to sleep?

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First Dog Walk of the Day

Our little black pup Rufus, sleeps in Molly’s bed. As I’ve already told you, I don’t share my bed easily although when my daughter is away for the night I allow him to sleep at the foot. He tries to sneak under the blankets because Molly lets him snuggle under hers but I’ll have none of that, thank you.

I’m on morning dog-duty. By 6:30 or so I hear the double scratch and thud of his paws hitting the wood floor as he jumps off her bed. That’s my cue to get up fast and open Molly’s door before he leaves a puddle by the door of her bedroom. He can be a little bratty like that.

Thus I get out in the early hours of the morning. And a little bit out of myself as well. I appreciate stepping  into the breaking day. I look at the morning light, the new growth, taste the air and in a sleep daze, watch Rufus explore the same old shrub. This morning, off in the sky to the South I saw a large bird that glowed white in the sunlight or maybe it actually was a white bird. Perhaps it was an egret.

This morning I was wearing pajama bottoms with ducks on them, my bare feet stuck into really ugly old UGGS, a belted black jacket and a scarf wrapped around my neck although it was not cold after all. My hair was unbrushed but there are just 3 houses facing a wood on the street we wander down and all of us neighbors have seen each other in every mood, hour and season over the years. I don’t feel self-conscious. A perk of getting old.

Rufus knows the morning jaunt is a short one and turns back towards the house after taking care of business. By then, the kettle is boiled and I make tea.

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Spring View From My Windows

It happens so fast. Only days ago my three bedroom windows framed bare branches and sky and just across the way, houses and flashes of car passing between them were still visible. This morning in the early light, all that has changed. Blurred by a range of new-leave-greens, I barely make out the houses. I watched the woody limbs of my trees grow thick with buds and now the Maple tree closest to my window drips spider-like flowers. The cars in the driveway will soon be dressed in pollen.

The privet hedge is filling in and I remember the daunting task of pruning the damn thing. It’s messy, exhausting work taking a full day and then more to pick it all up. I don’t hate it and always feel accomplished and strong when I’m done although my arms ache for days after. The lush length of wall it creates between the street and our yard is worth the effort. We sit on our porch in privacy, summer into fall.

There’s an insidious ivy that pops up everywhere and creeps over everything. I imagine it will swallow all of this when I am too feeble to yank out the vines. The patch besides the driveway is mostly cleared of it after a day of pulling it out this weekend. I transplanted day lilies, hosta and other tough perennials in the bald spots hoping they’ll spread and beat out the pesky stuff. People buy this plant – I see it for sale at the garden center. Don’t: I have plenty – come and get it!

When I climbed into bed last night, it was cold and rainy and I kept my socks on. This morning, I kick off the blankets and open the window. The sky is clear and the day promises to be warm and sunny, speeding up this Spring business even more. Not only the view but the sounds are changing too. The almost comforting white noise of highway traffic will muffle and breezes will become audible in the rustle of leaves. I’ll miss easily watching the birds in the bald branches but they are such vain things, wanting to be noticed, they’ll sing louder to let me know they are there.

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Cleaning Closets

It’s easier to get up early now that the weather is warming up and the light starts breaking by 5:45. That’s when I woke this morning, limiting myself to only one hit of the snooze button. The winter cold disappeared last week so when I sit up in bed I don’t have to pull blankets up around my neck and can’t see my breath.

I used to get up and out of bed to sit downstairs and write, settling in at my desk with a cup of tea, then hammering away at the computer keyboard. I didn’t want to disturb Rob by writing in the room. I am happy to stay put in bed now, fluffing up the pillows behind me and even turning on the light if I need to.

I sometimes miss having a man I love beside me in life – but not so much when I wake up in the morning. Certainly I miss the good times, when the guys I loved were healthy and their breathing or sleep-twitching didn’t seem suspect. While it would be nice one day to fall so in love again that I want to share my bed, it’s hard to imagine actually liking someone so much I’d want them in my queen snoring beside me every morning.

And share my closet? How did I do that for 20 years? Especially with Neil. He loved and had more clothes than me. I spent part of the weekend purging and organizing my closet. I have before and after photos but they’re not loading so you’ll have to believe me that I had a lot of stuff plus more in there. It’d been years – or forever, I can’t remember which, since I pulled everything out. Then I washed the crevices and even vacuumed the ceiling. If I really had my act together, I would have painted but I decided not to get crazy. Why did I think I had to keep plastic bins of tax papers in my closet? That shit’s now in the basement! Get moldy, I don’t care. Twenty-two years of sharing my limited closet space with tax returns and supporting documents. Marie Kondo, I need you! Did you read her book? I didn’t find it compelling enough to get beyond a few chapters but the gist of it is helpful and I still swear by her folding techniques.

What got me into the closet was the need to swap out seasons. I always prefer the winter to summer swap. I have way too many of both seasons’ clothes even after purging the no-spark-joy pieces. Maybe I need to read another chapter or two. Yes, I still have the book years later even though it doesn’t particularly spark anything for me except maybe guilt. It’s a book I may want to look at again so I kept it. Along with the other hundreds I have all over this tiny house. That might be where Kondo-san lost me.

I did purge some clothes channeling the Queer Guys. Have you watched that? I’m a fan. I want them to remake my life. Although I don’t think I’m that much of a mess, I did add my capri length pants to the Goodwill pile because I heard their voices in my head chastising all of us older women who still wear them, not too. They’re right: it’s not a good look. Be-gone! Besides, they were a little tight. The thing about all the clothes hanging in my closet now is that they all need ironing. Cotton and linen. The need to iron is the only downside to what is otherwise for me, the preferred seasonal wardrobe change. I have to now allow for ten extra get-ready minutes required in the morning but I’ll take it over woolies and cords.

What do you keep in your closet?

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Launching a Daily Practice

Years ago I blogged weekly, then it became monthly. Like in many things that feel good but require discipline – meditation, writing, exercise – my practice has become slapdash. Laziness is the only reason. My alarm goes off at 5:30 AM just like it did when I diligently got up to write the first draft of my memoir for more than a year without missing a day. Yes, I did do that, I remind myself. Now I hit snooze and seize an extra 15 minutes of slumber – about 3 times before getting up – now with only enough time to get ready for work.

There’s another reason why I posted less: self-doubt. Is this interesting to you? Am I being self-indulgent sharing on here? Do I think I’m Karl Ove Knaussgard or something? I’ve abandoned many drafts with this kind of thinking, wrestling with why should I blog? Why I should even write anything, anywhere – period?

Yet I like knowing about my fellow human’s day-to-day lives – moments, glimpses, meanderings. What are they thinking and talking about, what are they eating? Reading? What’s the view from their window when they woke in the night, the encounter on the street they live on? Who do they live with? What we each do with our time on this planet fascinates me. As my own time grows shorter, even more. So what the hell.

Here’s the thing: my aspirations and illusions are few but I like writing. The process helps me think and when it’s good, I feel as if I’m wake-dreaming or something. And in this space I have both my beautiful solitude and a community, connection. And I want to get my writing muscle back and I know that exercise is the only way. So I’m going to do that here by making myself accountable to this space and you.

I’ve become less inclined to raise my hand to challenges, less willing to push myself out of my comfort zone. And every time I hit ‘publish’ it’s a little bit of that jump off the cliff. In that spirit, as well to get my writing discipline back, I’m going to (try) to blog daily. Not long pieces, just something every day. I haven’t figured out the particulars yet, morning or night and what and all that. We’ll see.

I am inspired by a wonderful author, blogger and champion of other writers Cynthia Newberry Martin who wrote about one true thing about herself every day for a year. She too wanted to push herself out of her comfort zone. I looked forward to and loved reading those daily posts and remember the pleasure and interest I took, years later. (Check them out here.)

So now I’ve written what I’m committing to, I’ve dilly-dallied and edited all day, anything to avoid actually posting this. But I’m ready to close out an Easter Sunday of rain and clouds, flashes of sun with a glorious finale sunset – by going ahead with a promise and ‘publish’. Thanks for reading.

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Marking the Years Together

Last week I celebrated a decade birthday. Yes, Medicare sign-up is just around the corner for me. I’m good with that. And because I have no (knocking wood) aches and pains, I am not moaning about aging.

Birthdays give us an opportunity to be seen in the spotlight just briefly enough to be fun. When complete strangers find out it’s your birthday they acknowledge you. They take a second look, maybe give you a piece of cake, a pat on the back, buy you a drink. Even if only for a moment, there’s a fuss over you. It’s your day. I wager most of us like that.

Personally, I appreciate these milestones – a launch into what’s next in this adventure? Yes, yes, I know death is hovering even closer now, but we don’t know when we’re going to croak anyway – and as the inevitable approaches, I worry about it less. Maybe when my number comes up I’ll be clinging like a parachutist to the edge of the plane changing my mind about the leap, but for now I’m okay with imagining the end. That too is part of the great mystery of nature and spirit. Certainly another, ‘what’s next’? Don’t get me wrong, I love life. Even through the shit times, I have loved life. Now things are good for me so I’m very glad to hang around sharing the joys and more reluctantly, the sorrows of this planet. I’m happy to mark my birthday and I love how my community, past and present, rallies round to cheer.

Facebook sucks in many ways but I enjoy the cyber-celebration. No buying booze or making food or cleaning the house before or after and nobody feels like they have to buy you a present. Friends from across the decades and oceans reaching out with a wave to say – hey! I see you! I remember you! I love you! Who doesn’t like hearing people tell you that they care about you, that they miss you, that you’re important to them? It’s like a little mini version of a memorial service except we get to hear it all. Every message and greeting I received made me remember time spent with each of you, wherever and whenever that was. All precious memories and connections.

Of course I wish we could beam up into each others lives to share a cup or a glass and a proper catch-up. When this is possible and happens, I cherish such celebratory meet-ups more than I love a party. To really talk rather than the too-short chat possible at a party. I like parties too but prefer the one-on-one where it’s quiet enough to really look at and listen to each other. To hear about joys and sorrows, share memories, to remember why we decided to stay in touch in the first place. To spark, for an hour or two, that fire again.

Truth is, there is more of an urgency because with the passing years, days seem to disappear and losses come faster. It shouldn’t be so hard to see the ones we care about but distance and schedules and inertia get in the way. I am grateful for what seems an incredible and rich abundance of people I love and feel loved by. Here’s to all our birthdays – to celebrate that we were delivered into this world and then, remarkably, connected, came to like and maybe love each other. What magic!

Thank you for reminding me on my birthday about all this love – for the gift of our connection somewhere in this incredible journey we’re on. At the end of the day, at the end of the night, it’s all about that connection, all about shared love don’t you think?  I’m grateful for and nurtured by yours! XO

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In Praise of Rivers and Walking (Dogs)

We were dog-less for at least a year after beloved Tetley died. Without a dog, I rarely wandered around the neighborhood, particularly not in winter when I’m inclined to be a slug. Now we have Rufus. We think he’s a chihuahua-scottie, pretty darling and an easy, sweet dog. While sometimes I complain, I’m grateful he gets me outside even during a recent cold snap. Walking behind his jaunty strut, him pulling a little too much on his leash, it’s hard not to smile.

Molly and I have worked out an informal labor sharing system. I do morning, she does night walks. Either one of us tries to get a good long one in during the afternoon. The morning one is a quickie to just take care of business. I throw a big coat over my pajamas and let him sniff around the street while I yawn and wake up, thinking about my dreams, clearing sleep from my lungs with deep breaths. These days, the sun is just about rising and the morning planets hanging around on the Eastern horizon give me their last twinkle before fading into the day sky.

The good long walk is when I get home from work, if it’s still light enough. I need it as much as Rufus does. My favorite walk is along the river because there are no cars and because – river! I love rivers – the sense of always coming from and going somewhere. As I write, my cheeks are cold because I just got back from a jaunt on this sparkling, bracing winter day. The long way takes about 40 minutes if you factor in Rufus’s pit stops and smell checks. Today I took pictures.

The mouth of the river leading into the Long Island Sound is not very far, so high and low tides are quite noticeable. The tide was out when I got down to water and I thought about hanging around to hear what I suspect might be some nice cracking sounds as the incoming tide shifts the ice around. One very cold winter,  I lived a block off of Riverside Drive in Manhattan and heard, from blocks away, the ice cracking on the Hudson River. Strange and alarming, almost like little bombs going off, and then exciting to be reminded of the force of nature even in that metropolis. Today I settled for the crack and crunch of a little frozen puddle beneath my shoe.

I like this walk as much for the industrial stretches as the glimpses of bird life, rose bushes and a well placed bench. It’s real like this diverse city. The Norwalk river is a working one and there are even a few barges. Not like the monsters that travel the Ohio River – another river I once lived near and am fond of. There are stone lots and an asphalt plant, stretches of the river are blocked by huge piles of dirt and machinery. Some people think all this is ugly and I guess it kind of is, but I think it more interesting than an endless view of condos even as I enjoy the benefits of their lovely open walkways. I like the grittiness. And I’m not alone. I don’t know if this huge machine works but Osprey come return here every year. See the glimpse of last year’s nest where the antenna is?

There’s also a rowing club along this stretch. I’m sometimes tempted to try this. I like the way sculls move through the water, swifter and more elegantly than my little sea kayak. In the warmer weather this stretch is often filled with rowing kids – white and wealthy judging by their private school swag and the fancy cars waiting to pick them up. It seems a shame that the neighborhood children who live by and pass over this river daily don’t get to do this stuff. To see their city from the water, sometimes making that exit into the salty mouth to the sea. What a great way to ignite imagination and a sense of possibility. Too bad it’s mostly a rich-kid sport. I think about this when I pass the big boat tent and docks. Today I didn’t see a soul.

Up river there isn’t much ice. I’m not sure why. Deeper water? The tides are not as apparent as down river. The pathway stops here so Rufus and I leave the riverbank, cutting up through the grounds of an historical museum. One day I’ll go inside but it’s never open when I pass. There’s a well maintained herb garden in and a very old cemetery. I like to read the fantastic early American names. Here it turns pretty and feels like New England. I salute these old souls as we pass through. I think about time and the land and the river. They were digging up the road nearby here not too long ago, revealing cobblestones and trolley lines. From my car I never would have seen these details, this glimpse of the past.

Back to the streets we cross the busy one to the quieter roads of the neighborhood. Sidewalks disappear when we get off the main drag so I have to stay alert. But that’s the thing about walking: I pay attention to everything. The weather, the seasons, the neighborhood. I chat with people who have other dogs or want to meet Rufus – he is very friendly. Like the tides, a great ice-breaker.

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Where We Are

A question constantly hovering in and out of focus in my life has been WHERE? Right out of college, my focus was a place to live as an artist – where could I work as little as possible so I can make my art? I ended up in Kyoto. As I crept towards thirty, my diminishing egg count led me out of Japan in search of where I might find a man to have a family with. This led to an interesting, adventure filled quest. I can tell you, years in NYC did not  lead to success on that front. It took a few more years until the ‘where’ of raising a family – with the man I met and married in Sarajevo, would pop up.

The first year of Molly’s life, we moved 4, yes, 4 times – from her birth in Italy, 2 different parts of Croatia, arriving in Connecticut just days before her first birthday. We came here mostly by happenstance and here, I still am.

This year I enter my 6th decade and guess what question has been popping up? I am not alone in this: the topic is a hot one with my peers. Where to grow old? It’s happening so we let’s figure out if we’re in the best place to do that the way we want to. As much as any of us have control over this. This is certainly something of a first world problem and I say that only with some snark. Here in our wealthy nation, there is only a paltry social system and many of us do not have generations of family to absorb us with love and care. So how much better are we, really? It’s a lot to burden one kid with though I know she loves me, I hope not to need much besides just that.

So I think of the practical stuff: can I continue to afford living in the wealthiest corner of Connecticut? Mine is a charming old and drafty house but still and probably forever, owned more by the bank than by me. The guy who came to clean my ancient oil burner the other day, wished me luck that I might get another year without it breaking down. ($8K for a new one?) Will this house still work for me as I get creaky? Like the bedrooms and one bathroom at the top of the stairs. Yeah, I can’t believe I’m even thinking about this stuff – but there you are. (Are you too??)

Anyway, is this where I still want to be? Mostly I think yes. Although this span of Connecticut is crowded, the landscape suits me. There’s a good mix of accessibility of urban and nature joys including the Long Island Sound minutes away. I am not a mountain gal, I need to be close to a where salt water meets sky.

But wait a minute! Am I really ready to give up the notion of myself as being worldly and adventurous? There’s something about anyone who has ever led an expat life – a longing, an itch even – that never really goes away. Adored friends who live very far away and places across the world that somehow still feel like home – I want to see and spend time with them all again. For me that includes Jenny now in Australia, friends in Kyoto and cafes in Italy. Granted – those places are gorgeous and easy to love – but both also felt almost weirdly familiar when I lived there. I felt like me there, as if I had history there – even before I really did.

What’s that about? Why do certain landscapes, places feel like ours? I am not a desert person but my dear friend Paula feels a spiritual connection to the Southwest. When we drove across country in our early twenties, I witnessed her recognition, her joy when we got to Taos New Mexico. As if she’d arrived home although it was her first time there. I could barely breathe in the arid heat and while impressed by the beauty, was happy to get back on the road and our journey further West. And when we arrived in the San Francisco Bay area where we spent the summer, I fell in love with it. The light made me feel like I was in the South of France and every breath of air flavored with eucalyptus and brine, felt nourishing. I’d live there – at least in my memory of place.

But in the end (pun sort of intended), as we move in and out of our days, we’re all always here aren’t we? I find that a comfort – don’t you?

Did you search for your place or did you just land there? Where’s your ‘where’?

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