Can’t Cook, or Clean, or Do Laundry

I still can’t cook, or clean, or do laundry. That’s what the surgeon still says, God help me.

It’s been some summer I’ve been having, as full of twists and turns as the classic Wild Mouse ride that almost yanks your head clear off the celery-stalk of your dear little neck. (Or wait, maybe it’s more accurate to call those twists and turns ‘ups and downs’ in honor of all the Big Boy roller coasters out there.)

The story is, I had one of the tendons in my shoulder repaired in mid-June and it’s kind of sad, because even all this way through August I dread the nights for the pain that they bring. When you’re moving around as you do during the day, see, you’re sort of ok, in part because your movements pump the healing blood up into the site, a badly needed thing since, as I understand it, the shoulder doesn’t have much of a blood supply on its own. Most nights, by contrast, I’m so sleep-deprived I keep thinking I’m the parent of a newborn again,

Ah but the mornings! The mornings this summer have been lovely. This is the view from the guest bedroom, a view I relished every morning as I sat sling-bound in my rented recliner chair. fullsizeoutput_5127

So an undeniable upside has been having the time to look out the window at Nature.

A second downside, however, is I can’t near do near enough walking, since walking any real distance makes the pain in my shoulder worse. (Now if I were a NUN, gliding along on the roller skates my sister Nan and I always suspected the nuns in our convent school had hidden under their robes, it probably wouldn’t hurt much at all.)

But the upside there? I’m getting a LOT of reading done.

A third downside is that I can’t blowdry my hair. Oh, I can wash it, sort of, using my one functioning arm. I just CANNOT lift both arms in the way you need to do to blow it dry. And without blowdrying, my hair looks like a stainless steel  scouring pad after months of use when it loses its integrity and just splays out in runaway coils. I shouldn’t complain about that, I know, because now I get to go to this walk-in salon where I can get any one several operators to style and blowdry my hair FOR  me – and really only once did I get a stylist who gave me a definite Phyllis Diller look.


Fourth downside, and I’ll stop here, I promise:

I can’t wear the contact lenses I have relied on for nearly 30 years. I just can’t get them IN, where I need both hands for that operation and I can’t get my dominant hand anywhere near my eye. I’ve never worn glasses in my life until now and frankly I’m not doing so well with the whole progressive lens thing. But the upside here if I’m honest?  What I’m really doing this summer is getting a whole lot of binge-watching in, and God bless the invention of TV!

So here we are…

 I slept poorly last night, natch, but again this morning I woke to a matchless summer dawn.  Below, the view from my office-that-is-an-office-no-more since I’ve left the column-writing game but is instead just an airy upstairs room that anyone at all can relax in. In fact you guys should come by anytime! I have a fridgeful of eats from the Prepared Foods aisle and I can show you my newly mastered trick of tucking in the top sheet on even a king-size bed using just my own little toes.

(Click on the video if it looks askew. It plays right when you do.) 


Good Times on The Year’s Best Holiday

a turkey knows when it's doneBack in the day, we used to get a free local turkey from my husband’s work for Thanksgiving and for some reason the thing was always huge, more like a pterodactyl than a domesticated fowl, so huge that one year we had to tie the oven door shut and brace a chair up against it to hold the beast inside. I remember too the year when, taking some bit of turkey-roasting advice I saw in the paper, I cooked our bird breast side down for the whole time, only to extract, at the end of six hours, a roasting pan containing something that resembled a skeletal sunken ship, a sort of scaffolding of bones perched over a world of turkey fat and what could just barely be described as meat. If memory serves, that was also the year the whole roasting pan shot out of the oven and onto the floor.

Ah, but does memory serve us very well, or are you, dear reader, not yet at the age where you tell a story about something that happened to you only to be wryly advised by a family member that no, actually that whole thing happened to her? Anyway, isn’t it better sometimes if we look ahead rather than looking back?

Who is to say?

I know my sister and I still love looking back at the Thanksgivings of early childhood in our household of five grownups, four of whom were female and all of whom could be seen laboring away in the kitchen for a whole week leading up to the big day. Our grandfather meanwhile, as the sole male among those aunts and great aunties and our mom and our pretty Aunt Grace, sat in his easy chair smoking a cigar and reading biographies of the great men of American history. Though come to think of it I do remember hearing about that one Thanksgiving eve, when he did what he had said he would try to do and actually brought home the turkey  –  still attired in its longjohns as you might put it, in the form of hundreds of soft under-feathers that took forever to pluck out.  “How did you ever manage?” my sister and I squeaked in delighted horror as young adults which we were when we first heard the tale. “Ha!” she replied. “Well, the first thing we did was pour a few stiff drinks!”)

That ease-taking grandfather is gone now, as are the ancient great aunties. Gone too is our merry Aunt Grace, and also our funny and irreverent mom. I have my own children now and they have children themselves and I write this from a house that at 10am bears no scent at all of the cooking of a turkey. We are to eat at the home of one of our daughters, and our duty is light duty: We’re bringing the beer and the wine and I am to make a salad (which is funny all by itself since really who eats salad on Thanksgiving? I mean, besides me and my strikingly slim, pure-foods-only sister-in-law?) Oh but wait I am almost forgetting! I am also to do the gravy because our daughter confesses herself shy about pulling off a good gravy and for sure I feel ready for that task. We’re going over to her house at 1:00 but I have already set out my full-length chef’s apron, as well as the special lump-defying  flour and the steel spatula for prying up the pan drippings. I have a pocketful of chicken bouillon cubes too in case we need to make gallons of the velvety stuff,  so I’m pretty sure I can do the task justice. Really all I need do is close my eyes and I can see – see  as if they were standing before me – the literal gravy-making movements of all those hard-working women in whose kitchen I spent one happy childhood.

Wasted It

We recently had a day so lovely it took my breath away when I opened my eyes to it at dawn. The stand of trees across the street made me think God had taken up needlework, so bright were their colors. They looked like crewelwork where the thread is thick and the patches of color really sit down and stay a while.

“Let me be a kid child again in endless days!” was all I could think throwing back the covers and hurrying to the bedroom window. “Oh, Time let me play and be golden in the mercy of your means! ” was all I could think, recalling that wonderful line from “Fern Hill” by Dylan Thomas.

But I didn’t do that. I didn’t play and be golden on that matchless day, because….

I had errands.

Errands: the curse of all adults at the stage of life some call Maintenance of the World.

I sometimes ask myself what I used  to do with all the hours I now spend bringing stuff to the cleaners. I try to wash by hand to save the trip  but it doesn’t always work. I wore a brand-new shirt Thursday that said to Machine-Wash- Cold-Delicate-Cycle-Line-Dry and I heeded all those instructions except maybe the delicate cycle part and alas, when I drew it from the fragrant tangle of its freshly shampooed brethren it was half its former size, darn it all. My dog would look good in it if I had a dog.

So there was the dry-cleaning – and I did bring things to the dry cleaners, including my winter coat which turned out to have a nice piece of dark chocolate still in the right-hand pocket.

Then there’ was refueling the car with ever-more-costly gas. I did that.

Then I drove to my son’s new apartment and took the base of his great-grandmother’s old dining room table off the back porch where he’d left it for me. In some lapse of sanity the day before I had decided I would refinish it for him over the weekend.

It’s a little jaunt over to his place and back  but it was early still when I got done and the light still billowed and bounced. The light felt to me like this big soap bubble that had alighted here on earth and somehow taken us inside it. A great iridescent bubble, like this.

But I wasn’t really inside the bubble because really I was inside my car.

Then inside the food store.

Then the bank.

Then another food store.

I wanted to go to the cemetery where lie some people dear to me. That would be the one time of the day when I did get outside in the air for more than ten minutes.

The sun was lowering in the sky by then. It was after 5:00.

A funeral bouquet on a grave looked like more needlework , Natures’ work aided by man’s.

I got down on the grass; lay right down next to the grave that is freshest for me and looked up.

If the one who lay beneath me could still talk and if he could see me wasting a bright bubble of a day like this one, I know he would have some tart advice for me about slowing down and looking up more.

I looked up just as the light was failing and saw this, a view that managed to make up for all that day’s wasted opportunities.

And now if you have the time, the Welsh poet’s c as read by Anthony Hopkins:

A Nice Day

Mothers Day was good. I didn’t dine out like this crazed person. I had way more fun than any poor sap forced to sit up straight  in a restaurant for two hours. What I did rather was to lie in the bed until 8,  just watching my dreams go by. (Did you know Bob Dylan came to my house for dinner? And he LIKES burned broccoli?) Then I wrote about my mom and I worked on the week’s column which has to go out by noon today. I read a book about Robert Frost. His poor father died at 35 of tuberculosis. (At 35!)  Once, so desperate to find healing, he resorted to a folk remedy: went with young ‘Robbie’ to the stockyards and drank down two whole cups of fresh blood collected from the slit throat of a just-slaughtered calf.

He died anyway,

Instead of blood I drank my signature blend of mint tea and lemonade that my grandchildren call ‘TT juice’  in honor of my name. (To Old Dave and these two little boys I am and always will be ‘TT.’) Then I went to the market because I had offered to make dinner for those grandchildren and their parents, who had had kind of a tough week. We traipsed over to their place where I broiled up salmon, scallops and swordfish, roasted a small orchard of asparagus, tossed together two fat corsages of that funny hydroponic lettuce, baked a pound cake, sliced up strawberries the size of hand grenades and made for the little guys a platter of gooey grilled cheese sandwiches and a couple of bowls of buttery pasta.

The rest was the usual stuff:  kitchen chaos,  super hero action, ear exams, and a little shirts-vs.skins….

Later as we sat in their living room we could just hear Chris’s murmuring voice as she read the boys from the night’s book. We talked quietly for a while when she came back down and by 10pm we four were  back here in our own beds.

It was a nice day all right, topped off by the fact that our two new housemates gave me a bouquet of gorgeous individually picked flowers as well as a fresh tower of brand-new snap-together Tupperware for all the food we make between us every day. 🙂

I Got Life

Today it’s cold but it’s gorgeous here by my ocean, all penny-tasting and heavy in the hand like that fat drop of mercury you once broke your mom’s thermometer to get. I’ve got this ocean anytime I want it, just 8 short miles to the east. And this little pond too, captured just as the sun came up this morning: I’ve got this pond.

Outside my bedroom window I’ve got a tree that a boy named Roberto said he’d  help me plant in the spring of 1990 only he took off instead and I had to plant it myself, dig the hole, hoist that hefty root-ball and all 6 feet of trunk in the air, then feel it bonk me on the head when it slipped from my hands. I was sore at him that day. Said to myself “This is your tree, for good or ill, and it is ON ITS OWN now, to prosper or not.”  Today it reaches past the second-story windows so yes I’ve got this tree.

This is Roberto on the left and behind him Stan who I have been looking for without success for 15 years at least. They feel lost to me now, though I think of them often. The boy on the right is not lost to me however. That’s Chris, former State Champ in wrestling who  lives in Park Slope with his new bride Claire. Today is his 40th birthday and as a present he asked me to get him two more Winchester High School Wrestling Team T’s because after 23 years his two are finally wearing out.

So I’ve got  Chris and I hope now Claire, and a double-armful of all the great kids David and I have raised and helped to raise, and a growing edge of grandkids too. I’ve got food and a bed and enough wrinkles around  my eyes that they almost disappear completely when I smile. And memories and a glad heart,like the saucy young star of the musical “Hair” here who is also clearly thankful for some dandy things himself. Happy Thanksgiving to all – and may you too dance on the dining room table before the day is past!

Mossy Thoughts

They’re calling it an end-of-summer heat wave but it doesn’t feel like that to me. Whether temps shoot over 90° in the days or not, the nights are cool. It was over 90° here yesterday but just 65° at night and a simple window fan made me feel as cool as moss by a forest pond.

I love moss and admire its short not-askin’-for-much root system that lets it take hold wherever it finds itself. I love too the way it sports that jaunty green-velvet jacket. At dawn today I looked out the window and saw an earth that looked springy and fresh and a far cry indeed from the parched and yearning thing it was so lately.

I live near the ocean, if 8 miles can be called near, and when the wind comes out of the east and the clouds roll in, the blood-heavy smell of it fills every corner. You feel manacled almost, tangled about the ankles in seaweed, with small sucky things fixing on your limbs.

It’s fine to feel that way on those east-wind days; it’s just another way to feel. But it’s not how I feel today. Today the sun shines and I mean to set short roots in my own forest floor and be happy for what is…. And, in that cheery spirit, this short hopeful verse by Colorado poet Reg Saner about moss:

Green Feathers

Five minutes till dawn and a moist breath of pine resin comes to me as from across a lake.

It smells of wet lumber, naked and fragrant.

In the early air we keep trying to catch sight of something lost up ahead,

A moment when the light seems to have seen us Exactly as we wish we were.

Like a heap of green feathers poised on the rim of a cliff?

Like a sure thing that hasn’t quite happened?

Like a marvelous idea that won’t work?

Routinely amazing

How moist tufts, half mud, keep supposing  almost nothing is hopeless.

How the bluest potato grew eyes on faith the light would be there.

And it was.

Good Day Sunshine

I was in Macy’s Children’s Department last week trying to buy clothes for the family baby and  getting pretty steamed up about what they want for a pair of shorts no bigger than a dinner napkin. But then when I got to the register the man seemed so pleasant I cheered right up, even though there was a hang-up with his register. I busted into my just-purchased sack of chocolate-covered coffee pellets and the two of us were sharing them when he thanked me for being nice about the wait.  “So most people aren’t nice? “ I asked him.  “Are you kidding?”  he said, rolling his eyes. “You wouldn’t believe the stuff some people say; the stuff they try to pull!”

Then just now I was at the new Dunkin’ Donuts near my house, formerly a Starbucks, and sad as I was to lose contact with barista Carol the bunny keeper, I have to say this new DD seems pretty great. “All my life I’ve wanted to work at a Dunkin’ Donuts!” the young woman behind the counter said to me. “I’m just two weeks in!”  “And what’s your take on things? Are people mostly nice?”  I thought I might as well ask. “People are awesome!” she said unequivocally.

So which is it? Or does it depend on whether or not the one you’re asking has a tummy ache that day? Or whether the weather is fair or crappy? Today “fair: doesn’t come close to describing the weather we are having  and it’s got me loving MY job all right even though I can’t type to save my life and never could.  Plus the days are growing ever longer and now two actual doves have taken to perching on the window sill of my office here and peer benevolently in at me all morning long. And what’s the nuisance of having to type slowly and laboriously compared to a thing like that?

Awesome Weekend

Can’t let the day pass without saying it was one of  the all-time an awesome weekends. At the start of it I came across two  people I love tossing a football around on the town common…

Then I talked with Mel and Vera who the day before had become citizens at Faneuil Hall Boston where the Sam Adams that isn’t a beer got everybody worked up about freedom for the colonies. “Four Hundreds people there!” said Mel who is from Brazil. “So beautiful ceremony. I cry!”

Saturday David raked leaves and I walked and wrote and made entertaining entries in my diary.

And yesterday? Well yesterday was such a lovely day even the panhandlers at the intersections where happy. One held up a a sign saying on one side “Happy Easter!” and on the other “Just Smile, People.”

As described , Annie began cooking in our kitchen at 9am and Dave stayed behind to support her. Me I went to the Mt. Auburn Cemetery because that’s what the Irish do on holidays: they drag the dead into it.  Not really. I went because Carrie and Chris  wanted to go hike around with their two little boys and admire the views.

So …. we read the inscriptions and jumped around some,

then came home,  looked for eggs, feasted grandly, played some Wiffle Ball out back and came back in when the sun went all tawny to eat some eggs and watch that classic film “Annie.”

Full tummies, tired muscles and relaxin’ on the couch to end the day ah!

Coming Clean

I distorted the facts to decorate the walls of that pity party I threw myself the other day when I whined about how I haven’t met with the kind of commercial success Joyce Maynard has seen. I’m re-reading that post this morning and see that I made it also sound like I’m some unselfish Mother Teresa who, rather than crassly selling her books, simply gives them away. As if I didn’t have a website devoted to marketing my own books never mind that its shopping cart is kind of cobwebby these days…

I’ve been looking back to 2005 over the last hour in search of the column I wrote about my day  teaching in that Brooklyn middle school and though I haven’t yet managed to unearth it I did come upon a letter that reached me that year. It came from a deployed soldier who received some of those books I sent out into the world via Operation Paperback and reading it again just now makes me wonder why I am not grateful 110% of the time for the privilege of writing every days, whoever sees it on whatever battlefield of life. This from one James Burt, rank unknown to me, who at the time was embedded with an Afghan Army unit: “Thank you so so dearly for donating these books to our library here in Kabul, Afghanistan.  They are both books that I would not have fully appreciated while I was younger, but they are truly awe-inspiring in their poignant insight and humanity to me now.”

This is he, sometime during that mission. I’m going to try to find him and get back later.

It Does Make You Ponder

a ‘bed’ aboard the Mayflower II

You and I spent the day in a warm place with full tummies. Be glad. When those poor voyagers landed in the New World they smelled to high heaven and no wonder. The inside of the Mayflower was so tiny you wouldn’t try putting 120 people in there for an hour never mind two months.  One person died on the way over possibly because  of the food,  “The bread musty and mouldy, the  beefe and porke of such a loathsome and filthy taste”  that people “were constrained to stop their noses” to get it down. Liquids would have helped there but “the beer was sharp and sour and the water corrupt and stinking” enough so that the only way they could get that down was to mix it with wine – which had to also taste terrible.

You and I ate pretty good today and now we get to crawl into our nice little beds.

Here’s the typical bed in the Plimoth of 1620. (Note firewood stacked under it.)

and here’s what they had for insulation:

It was December when they got here and within a year fully half their number would be dead. Not the cheeriest note to end on but it does make you ponder.

11:23 on a Thanksgiving night in the first decade of the new Millenium. Rain and a touch of snow comin’ in. Peace in this house and a sweet old cat beside me. I know I feel grateful.