My Favorite Time of Year

I have fallen in love four times in my life and three out of those four times it was at this time of year.

There’s just something about the way things feel  now, as if all of Life lies before us.

I just wish I could stay here every year, with the days still lengthening and nothing dying or going away.

Robert Frost says it for me in his poem “A Prayer in Spring”:

It appeared in 1915 in his collection A Boy’s Will.

It goes like this:

 Oh give us pleasure in the flowers today;

And give us not to think so far away

As the uncertain harvest; keep us here

All simply in the springing of the year.

Oh give us pleasure in the orchard white,

Like nothing else by day, like ghosts by night;

And make us happy in the happy bees,

The swarm dilating round the perfect trees.

And make us happy in the darting bird

That suddenly above the bees is heard,

The meteor that thrusts in with needle bill,

And off a blossom in mid air stands still.

For this is love and nothing else is love,

To which it is reserved for God above

To sanctify to what far ends He will,

But which it only needs that we fulfill.

That line about the bird, it has to be a hummingbird don’t you think? Some miraculous creature like this one?

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This is what I’ve been looking at for two days: the view out my bedroom window.

I hurt myself with that road trip Tuesday and Wednesday and the corkscrew that is now my back was twisting hard, trying to screw me straight into the floor.

I have a crookedness that has come upon me in the last five years. I looked like a straight little birch tree as a girl but now I;m changing and when it hurts it really hurts. It hurts especially when I don’t go to the Y and stretch the muscles symmetrically.

I looked out at this window at the clouds barging around the sky,

and the odd goose zipping past.

and the robins with their small clutching toes perching on Verizon’s big daddy of a cable and don’t the squirrels love that cable too!

They wobble on it with their bunched up bottoms and look like the Flying Wallendas, startling everyone below with their acrobatics.

And me, I lay on my back.

Then I hung off the edge of the bed to give a break to that that reverse cervical curve we all have as people forever holding the old bowling ball of a head forward to drive or squint at a screen.

I lay on my tummy and remembered my babyhood.

I lay on my right side and tried to reassemble in exact the detail face of the man who has been sleeping beside me all these years.

But when I lay on my left side and looked out this window, well: THAT’s when I began feeling better.

I sometimes think all we ever really need is a view of the sky.

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Rollin’ with The Punches: My Hero

If you had to write a composition about what you had learned when you spent a week with 20 teens in a tropical work camp I bet you’d have plenty to say: About what it’s like to share quarters with a million lizards say, not to mention a thousand palmetto bugs, who clung to every vertical surface in such numbers you came to think of them as wall art.  

You’d maybe mention the speed with which blisters can bubble up on hands that wield rakes, or the moist beauty of the rain forest breathing quietly beside you.

But the biggest thing I learned on my church’s Mission Trip to Puerto Rico I learned from the presence of Judy, the tall cool blue-eyed Minister of Youth and Parish Life, who led us all week and worked like a dog herself. The 20 kids and the three other adults worked like dogs too.

 I worked more like a Persian cat, or possibly a goldfish.

 I SHOULD have been hacking and chopping like everyone else and I knew that, but Judy had said it was enough that I was helping lead parts of our meditative 90-minute sessions every night. And I think it was this exemption from much of this hard labor that let me notice something I might have otherwise missed.

Spared so much of the grunt work I saw what the kids were really doing all week long: They were watching Judy, who just kept on smiling –

  • When the plane was stalled on the tarmac for an hour.
  • When the luggage didn’t make it onto our connecting flight at JFK.
  • When we finally threaded through jungle darkness at 3am to settle into a temporary housing in a tiny bungalow, all 25 of us squeezed in to two tiny rooms.

I took one look at the ‘wall art’ that first night and slept fully clothed.  Not Judy. Judy showered, which meant she stood under a limp rope of cold water falling from a raw pipe, then donned her high-necked nightie and gathered us to read a Psalm together.

The kids saw how she reacted to things. All week long they saw her roll with every punch. She did this even on our big ‘night off’ when we drove 40 minutes to get to a dank and smelly harbor where we waded through a slimy tide to heave ourselves into kayaks fashioned out of what looked like leftover model airplane parts, so that we might paddle through a dark tunnel of vegetation and arrive in a glowing lagoon.

Straight into this tunnel we propelled ourselves. “Don’t let me tip over! Don’t let me tip over!”  I silently prayed as the bony roots of mangrove trees knuckled our heads like playground bullies.

But who actually fell in to the blood-warm swamp because the guide with his limited English said, “Quick, paddle right!” when he meant “Quick! Paddle left”? Judy did – and surfaced laughing, even while what she called her worst nightmare was being played out, as her six-foot self was being unceremoniously boosted back into her craft. 

From underneath.

By the hands of four well-meaning males.

So what did I learn afresh at this work camp in the tropics? That much as you might HOPE the young people in your company are listening to what you are trying to tell them, really they are doing something much more important:

Really they’re just watching you with their clear eyes, taking note and remembering how grownups react to things.

This isn’t actually us but it gives you the idea:

This was us – er. this was they. (I was just the one taking the pictures.)

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Accepted Students Month

I just drove 450 miles to bring Cameron here to one of the colleges where he was accepted so he could see if his future lay there.

It was Tuesday morning when I pointed the nose of my old red car west and fetched him off the train from the other school he was also looking at.

It was just a quick three-and-a half hours and there he was, right on the platform.

We loaded up on bottled water and sandwiches at the station and coasted south to this second college – where he was immediately welcomed by current students and absorbed into campus life.

I, meanwhile, spent a fantastic evening with these two and their baby, all three of whom have come to feel to me as much like my own kids as those with whom I share genetic material.

That little family and I ate in a made-over church, now a restaurant called Terrapin.  Talk about wonderful food!  Even their baby got into the spirit of fun, though you can’t tell by this shot:

(But what is that where the wackier the parent acts the more the child looks out at the world with that Jack Benny deadpan? ((No I don’t mean that. This little girl was just playing the straight man here; as far as I can tell she normally smiles unstoppably. She could be the Hair Club President with all the happy smiling she does in a day. (Remember that Hair Club For Men ad where smiling Sy Sperling with the gorgeous waves reveals at the end that really he’s bald as an egg? I loved that ad.))

Anyway then yesterday Cameron did various other things finding-out-about-the-place things while I took turns observing the creative ferment in the Campus Center and sitting in the car – which I well know how to do as a diehard Vacationer in Her Driveway. These are my feet sticking out the window.

Finally Cam got to where he felt he had seen all he needed to see he said and sensed all he needed to sense; and so, at 4:00 pm, with a fresh wind out of the west tossing the new leaves, we made one last stop in the College Book Store and bought a T-shirt with the name of the school emblazoned on the front.

“This is the place!” Joseph Smith said when he first saw that old Salt Lake in Utah. If I helped Cam get any closer to feeling that about the school he will go to in the fall then I’m more than happy.

“We shall not cease from exploration and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.” T.S. Eliot

Adventures in Travel

I say take public transportation whenever you can. Whether you’re at the bus stop, the train station or the airport, you’ll see the great spectacle of life passing before you.

On the bus or subway, the dramas are especially vivid, each one as fleeting as a 30-second ‘improv’ sketch as people get on and off at the various stops.

I think of the man the subway, peering into his daily planner, a panicked look on his face. Because I was squished up against him, I thought I knew why he was frowning: the words “Send flowers, Mom’s birthday!” appeared scrawled across the page devoted to today’s tasks.

“Did you forget?” I just had to ask. “Oh GOD!” he answered. “But I can still call, right?”

I think of the young woman swaying with the turns as she rode the bus in Cambridge Massachusetts.  Over one shoulder she sported an M.I.T.  backpack and just under its nylon strap, high on the round of her right deltoid, a vivid tattoo of  the Infinity symbol, and how nice THAT was, to ride along with someone on such intimate terms with the boundless.

On the train things are different, since you have time to really notice things.

One thing I notice, after that initial rocking interlude when the train is pulling out of the station, is how fond people are of carving private space out of public space. Young people especially think nothing of travelling with bedroom accoutrements, meaning pillows and even stuffed animals. When they can, people of every age will stretch out across all three seats for a snooze.

And then we come to air travel, which feels different from the other two modes of moving.

With air travel folks get much more sociable: Last week I saw a little boy on the Jetway talking to his toy plane as we all waited to board.

“He turned four yesterday. This is his first time flying,” the child’s mother said to the stranger standing behind them.

“Really? Only four and you’re a pilot already?” the stranger said with a look of pretend astonishment.

The child looked up at him, looked away, then looked up again as if deciding he just had to say it:

“I’m not FLYING the plane. Look at me; I’m little!”

Meanwhile, an older guy with a big front porch told everyone he had just bought his ticket last night.

“Get out! What did you pay?” the woman beside him demanded.

“$200,” said the man.

She gasped. “I paid twice that!”

“I’m sorry darlin’!” he replied, all but taking her hand to express his regret over life’s unfairness.

Of course once you’re on a plane other dynamics manifest themselves.

Sometimes people not on the aisle try to get on the aisle by asking you to switch seats, if you have that lucky spot. My advice, if you wish to remain there? Pull out some paperwork and scowl importantly into it.

Sometimes you get next to a person who just can’t stop talking. That’s how I learned you’re not dying unless you have seen a vision of ’the pastoral scene with an angel.’ Who knew?

And sometimes two people who have never before met find themselves laughing their heads off and leaning in toward one another to say things you’re pretty sure have nothing to do with flight information.

In short, we all act very human on our public conveyances, and I love watching us do it. In fact I love it here on earth generally. Maybe I’ll get the recycling symbol inked on my arm so I can keep coming back forever like that four year-old pictures us all doing.

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Birth Control Rx: Cough Strongly After Sex?

This is a clip from National Geographic where two British historians talk about birth control methods that might have been used on the Titanic. Washed up on the shores so to speak and God bless the historians; they are so meticulous.
I’ll let you get right to the link which you have to click on – this is not on YouTube but rather on National Geographic’s own site.
Let’s hear it for these two young British women talking in such a calm and enlightened way about how ’this is a con-dom,’ as they pronounced it, “which was tied on with a pink sort of ribbon.”
They tell how another birth control method of the day was “coughing very strongly after sex . To expel the semen.” Then they both laugh ruefully.
I also know from stories in my own family that some women also douched with Lysol to prevent conception. (Lysol! One elderly family member told me she was sure that’s how her older sister wound up with the uterine cancer that necessitated her early-in-life hysterectomy.)
People have a thousand opinions about abortion but I think virtually everyone sees it as a very poor last resort.
And isn’t it strange that all these years into the modern age we still don’t have a truly safe and effective method of birth control?
Anyway here is some guy’s ‘con-dom’, made of sheep intestine and tied on with a sweet pink bow. (There’s an ad first but it lasts only about 20 seconds.)

Happy Birthday To You

Today is Shakespeare’s birthday and also the birthday of my third and final child, who was christened with waters from the river Avon where old Will lived. (My pals Jacquie and Lew brought some over in a tiny vial when they were in England the months before we dunked him.)

Old Will is the guy who brings me to Cambridge MA once a month to participate in readings-aloud of his plays, in their entirety if you please, by a group so ancient and venerable Longfellow’s daughter belonged to. it: Grave Alice herself, or was it Laughing Allegra or ­­Edith with Golden Hair. They’re the youngsters from Longfellow’s “The Children’s Hour,” a poem whose first eight or ten lines every schoolchild in America once knew by heart back in that golden age when we all walked to school, uphill, both ways ha ha.

I rarely feel grave when I’m with these people. In fact I’m sometimes smiling so much I miss my cue. Except when I have a part that you’re supposed to sing because of how obvious it is that this one set of verses were written as song. The Wind and the Rain from the play “Twelfth Night” that’s one. Also Full Fathom Five Thy Father Lies, which I had to sing when I drew the part of Ariel in “The Tempest” (Also, hilariously, Where the Bee Sucks There Suck I.)

Terrified at the prospect of having to sing  alone, in public, I got right to work scouring the internet until I found a CD with the songs of Shakespeare, played that sucker in my car for two weeks solid until I had both tunes memorized. Where the Bee Sucks There Suck I, I’ll never forget i,t and when my turn came, well, I got through it but only because one person sang along with me.

At our last meeting we read Henry V which I missed because of the recent death in our family. I was to play the part of Mistress Quickly, a bawdy sort of wench who gets off more double entendres than Charlie Sheen did in the original Two and a Half Men. Choice role!

They’re all choice roles; everyone thinks so: We did an in-group survey the summer before last where we were asked to reflect on what the group means to us. One person cited “the Bard’s poetry and jaw-dropping use of the King’s English.” Another spoke of how “totally engrossed” he becomes in whatever character he is assigned to play: “I try to figure out where I have seen this person before and what kind of a person he was/is and what I think is going on with him. That exercise is, in itself, diverting. Then the challenge of trying to pull it off in the actual reading occupies me fully. Added to that is the double enjoyment of the fellowship and of sharing in experiences which meant so much to my parents.” (His parents! And this man is in his 80’s! ) And a third person said he treasures “the warm, mutually-supportive, endlessly-interesting people who open their homes to each other and feed each other.” (I should have said that we also feast hugely once the reading is done.) “I love Cantabrigian Yankees,” he went on, “who are gracefully frank – or discreet as the case may be – and appreciate pleasure, including the pleasures of disputation. I love that we all are committed to a project of a ritual and aesthetic revelation of the noble and evil heart of mankind.”

Well said ! So here’s to that great old figure who it believed was born on April 23, 1564 and also died on that date in 1616. And here’s to the great-in-my-mind new figure who, even as a little boy, had a fine sense of theatre himself. (He’s the one in the pink.)

And now…  Where the Bee Sucks There Suck I, just so you can appreciate the challenge. (I transformed myself into a youthful person for this performance. (We really good actors, we know how to do that. 🙂 ))

‘You’re Born, You’re a Kid, You’re a Grownup…’

You could be sad on a dark day like this, cold and wet as it is, but only if you took the short view.  

Of course it’s hard not to take the short view with a three-day blow coming in and so many of last year’s dead leaves still carpeting the earth, some even still clinging to the branches, waiting on this  wild strong wind to shake them loose and return them to the mother.

But if you take the long view you see what’s happening under those dead leaves. Violets right there in the woods! And is that poison ivy peeking out with shiny face?

It all starts over. Any child will remind you of that.

The other day I spent a few hours walking around a pond with two young children who have just witnessed their first death, that of Uncle Ed as we all called him, though he was grand-uncle to them.

“I’m sad,” the little one, who is four going on five. We were walking along picking up rocks and winging them into the water

“Why are you sad?” I asked him.

“I’m sad because Uncle Ed died.”

“Ah I’m sad about that too!” I said. “But lots of people think we go right to Heaven when we die and see all our favorite people. The ones who died before us I mean.”

“And lots of people think you come back as a baby.” he said.

“That’s right! Lots of people believe in that. They call that reincarnation.”

“I think this is what happens,” he said brightening. “You’re a baby, then you’re a kid, then you’re a grownup, then you’re an uncle and then you die. Then you start again: baby, kid, teenager, (I forgot teenager)  grownup, uncle!”  I didn’t have the heart to interrupt and point out that his own actual uncle is a young guys in his 20s. “I think you come back and come back  – again and again!”

“Wouldnt that be wonderful!” I said and suddenly those lines from Birches came into my mind where the speaker in that Robert Frost poem says, “Earth’s the right place; I don’t know where it’s likely to go better.”

The right place for love and the right place for letting go,  I thought .

I’ve been having a hard time with that second part but I find comfort in company like this, meaning the company of Frost and these children.

Here are the children from our day together:

The little one is the one with all this talk. The big one just said “TT, well your brain never dies. We know that!”

And then I thought of this poem, also by Frost, that wrote itself on my own spongy grey hard drive back when I was a girl and read poetry the way other people eat. It’s called In Hardwood Groves.

The same leaves over and over again! They fall from giving shade above
To make one texture of faded brown
And fit the earth like a leather glove.
Before the leaves can mount again
To fill the trees with another shade,
They must go down past things coming up.
They must go down into the dark decayed. 

They must be pierced by flowers and put
Beneath the feet of dancing flowers.
However it is in some other world
I know that this is way in ours.  
All I can say is thank God for the young, who see things the rest of us miss.


Dumb & Dumber

Some people are bigger dopes than me even.

Yesterday when my iPod fell out of my bra and into the bucket of polyurethane I went right to the internet and asked the universe about my dilemma, and – sure enough! Here was some poor schlub looking for help with the same predicament on Yahoo Answers.

“Don” posted this first:

I dropped my iPod in some paint yesterday, and I need to know what would take the paint off. I was quite pissed when it happened, seeing as how the iPod is less than a week old.

Then under ‘Additional Details’ he said,

Also, I forgot to add, it is the iPod classic, not an iPod touch. . .

There were a few suggestions for him on good old YA: One had him carefully wiping the whole outside with mineral spirits which seemed sensible. But my hands-down fave was the one that said, “Pour paint thinner in a container, and soak the iPod in there until all the paint is dissolved.”

Was the guy who wrote that kidding? He was, right? Wasn’t he just messing with poor Don or have electronics really changed so much that you can do this?

I don’t believe it.

I also don’t believe that if I leave the iPod out in the sun the cloudy tornado that now lives on its screen will dry up and go away. My pal and fellow blogger at The Freelance Retort says it will but how can it? Because I didn’t ‘just’ drop it in water. I dropped it in a petroleum-based goo that never dries but just goes on resisting the circular stains from your drunken guests’ cocktail glasses.

Here’s another picture of how it looks now, a lot like yesterday’s with the black cloud in the middle only this one also act as a recommendation for the podcast Stuff You Should Know from How Stuff

While I was stripping sanding staining coating sanding coating etc. etc. I was listening to these podcasts, about beer and sweat and whales and the so-called the Lost Continent of Atlantis. I listen to podcasts day and night now and am getting very, very S-M-A-R-T -when it comes to things other than living in the real world, anyway.

BUT! Of the two beds and two bureaus I’m rescuing from 60 years of dried cracked varnish and – yup! – water rings, one bureau is finally done!

Note can of powerful chemical finish-dissolver standing ready for the next piece. I no longer have fingerprints. 🙂

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Death by Drowning?


Remember ‘Don’t say ain’t, your mother will faint, your father will fall in a bucket of paint. your sister will cry, your brother will die, your dog will call the FBI?’

Well I fell in a bucket of paint Wednesday night, or rather my IPod did. Can you imagine? My IPod Touch that cost so much? That I put a mirrorlike screen protector on so it would shine like crow’s bait in whatever dark place and never get lost? “NO NO NO NO NO!” was all I could think.

And I hadn’t even said ‘ain’t’. All I did I had done was to try for that last run down the mountain that smacked me into the tree. All I did was take my little craft out on the sea even though I should have known better with those storms clouds gathered on the horizon.

In other words what I had done was keep working on that darned refinishing project even though my back hurt and my hands were cramping up and I had to kneel to get at the bureaus chest and lie down to get it its undercarriage.

It wasn’t exactly paint, it was polyurethane.

I had on my carpenter’s overalls and had tucked my iPod into the chest pocket, dummy that I was, then for extra safekeeping worked it into that inner corner of my bra where I keep my Bluetooth. Nothing ever falls out of there.

And I was tired at the end of this nerve-wracking hour of applying the final finish. Nerve-wracking because you have so much in the piece by then: the hour of stripping, the sanding, the rubbing in of the stain, the rubbing off of all excess stain, the first coat of poly, the gentle roughing up with fine sandpaper, the second coat of poly, the even gentler application of sandpaper or even fine steel wool and finally finally, finally that last coat of Minwax Glo Satin

That’s what I was on that very last coat. And that’s when I leaned too quickly forward and plop! In it fell, into a gooey three-inch-deep polymer bath consisting of a chain of organic units joined by urethane links.”

I gasped and grabbed it out.

Maybe its holster will have protected it! I thought. I looked at that mirrored plastic screen protector, now gummy and opaque and quick peeled it off. And …. the IPod kept on playing

And wonder of wonders the IPod is still playing these 36 hours later though it now has the image of a dark tornado imprinted on its face. Now every time I look down at it I say Oh yeah I remember: Don’t take your little boat out when storm clouds are gathering, DON’T make that last run of the day when you’re tired and the light on the mountain is failing, and especially DON’T regard as secure any pouch or pocket above the waist unless you are absolutely SURE you’re not going to be bending over.



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