Wednesday, September 30, 2009

My Heaven - or a taste thereof

- as in The Public Library of Multnomah County - MultCoLib familiarly - and oughtn't we all be familiar with our favorite library? - because this is the month I allow myself again to read. 

And I will read:
and interspersed with those

  • a handful bound in buckram by George Sand (The Country Waif, The Haunted Pool, Countess of Rudolstadt, Indiana)
  • and one by Pearl S. Buck (This Proud Heart)
  • also Greenwillow by B.J. Chute which I read over and over when I was in high school and look forward to now with much fondness
  • plus, The Garden of the Finzi-Continis - if it's not too wrenching a read and if I can bear wrenching . . .
  • and They're a Weird Mob - about an Italian travelling in Australia

    And then more books about hand language and body language and the language of dance which I will largely skim.

    I don't know.  Do you think that will do?

    My online library account tells me I also have waiting for me on the hold shelf:
    But I don't think the others I've put on hold:
    are going to come in on time ...

    (At least I've finished up my uber-nerdy read which has been allowed in a non-reading month under the rubric of Necessary Research for Writing Projects so I can plunge right in-

    - yes, yes, Fritz, don't worry -  I'm using "plunge" merely as a figure of speech.  Never fear.  I will be seen and functioning during this coming month - I might even make bread tomorrow!)

    Monday, September 28, 2009

    Shots in the Dark

    I asked Eldest, who was driving, to swing by Old Towne - "I want to get a couple shots in the dark for this next little blurby I'm doing - I think I'll call it 'Snatched from the Spoiling Hand of Time' - yeah? - because that was such a perfect evening last Friday night - wasn't it? - and I want to remember it for always."

    But I find now, coming to write, a distaste and a reluctance to burble on about how perfectly lovely everything was - a mother and two daughters and a friend of ours - all abandoned for various innocent and temporary causes by the men in our lives - out together at the movies.

    Because I hear, murmuring in my ear, words my next younger sister, who is living sometimes reluctantly a life that sounds adventurous and free-wheeling to me, words she wrote to me a while ago (and I give you her words with her permission):
    I just wanted you to know that I repented of my evil ways. Because I haven't been reading your blog and it isn't because I'm forgetful or don't care, it's because I'm selfish. And so I decided to get over myself and read because I really do love and adore your writing. I get chills with the way you put things. It's just that I get a deep, piercing pain inside when I read your blog posts because you are living the life I have always dreamed of living. Every detail- the biking, the delighful just-right kids, the eco-friendliness, the not - quite - liberal - not - quite - conservativeness, the rainy days and broken pipes and fuss of married life-- everything. It makes my own life seem abysmally empty. Pointless. Hopeless. Damn, now I'm getting choked up... but it's silly to shut my sisters, two of the three dearest adult people to me in all the world (mom is the other), just because I chronically covet their lives. So no more silliness! I sure love you!
    We've talked since, my sister and I. How I - who had always wanted to adventure and succeed - mouthy and ambitious - want to scream sometimes now at the softness and sweetness of my life as it is. How she - who loves to cook and make a home - warm and generous and cozy - must find her life in a wider field, going back now for a nursing degree so she can go to Africa with Doctors without Borders.

    My sister, who is taller than most men and exudes power and verve, who plays Pied Piper to all her nieces and nephews with her nonsense and highjinks, is sending me the revision of her novel to read this week. And I am not going to covet that accomplishment, because I'm going to do it myself (in a month coming soon actually) - but it is sometimes an act of will to avoid the coveting.

    I do want to remember that happy Friday evening - the shiny bits that made it glow - how Eldest decided (in something suspiciously like a snit) she'd just stay home instead and take a nap (because she'd had to cancel with friends). How Middlest and I nevertheless put on lipstick and earrings, laughing together into the mirror. How our friend called in the midst and responded to "Well, we're just on our way to - hey! what are you doing tonight?" with "I'll be ready and waiting at the corner!" How Eldest, happily zoozing away on the front room couch, didn't actually wake up until after we'd stood her on her feet, stepped her feet into her shoes, slipped her arms into her jacket and walked her out to the car.

    And how our friend in a new sea green scarf, waiting as promised beneath the overarching branches of a tree, ran across the street to the passenger side, laughing, "Perfect timing!"

    How we knew nothing about the movie we went to see except that it was about a young woman who cooks her way through Julia Child's cookbook, starring Meryl Streep and that actress who was in Enchanted. Probably there would be no car crashes or spattering blood. And there would be Meryl Streep. And that was good enough. How we laughed and talked louder and louder as we coasted down toward the river and turned a corner, as we trotted across the crosswalk and up to the ticket kiosk. How the glow of the theatre lights filled more than just the evening sky.

    And the movie was delightful ('Julie & Julia' movie review: ) Especially the Julia bits - her love of life, her greed for life, a life she lived without examining it over and over, and the lusty tenderness between her and her husband. And at the end, Eldest and Middlest, fired up with culinary ambition, invited our friend to come back up to the house where they would make roasted pepper dipping sauce for the fresh French bread I'd picked up after picking up the farm share that afternoon and peach crisp from the last of the peaches.

    Which we did, I mopping the floor while the girls cooked and my friend copying out recipes and regretting she couldn't bring the poison dart frogs from her classroom to lap up the fruit flies lining up in a starving breadline along the door of the kitchen cupboard now that the canning of peaches is over. "I think they'd just climb right up (meaning the brilliant frogs) and lick the flies right up - if they weren't too uncomfortable in a new environment, that is." Instead, she has to order wingless fruit flies by the packet to feed them -"Expensive to breed them that way, I guess," - and so keeps looking regretfully at all this free fodder for her stock going to waste.

    (Delights! who wouldn't want to remember them all?)

    But it is embarrassing - the ease of my life and how simple and surfacey and self-absorbed. Also embarrassing that sometimes all that easiness makes me miserable. That weight of feeling I ought to be savoring every blessed moment. When I don't. The unbearble burden of good fortune. I know - ridiculous. I should just shut up.

    Because good fortune is so often ugly and smug. Misfortune, at least the bearing of it (patiently or fiercely, comically, gallantly, even foolishly) is always so much more endearing, if not inspiring. And sad things are so often beautiful in themselves.

    Another friend of mine said this past summer, "Everything you write is so . . . sad. I mean, I knew all those things, we've talked about them . . ."

    "Probably because I always laugh when I talk. And I don't know how to write in the laughing."

    "But I never realized how sad you were . . . I mean, you always manage to tease out this beautiful thing in what you write. I don't know how, but you'll find beauty in what you're seeing, but getting there is so sad."

    So, I was grieving last year. But it is also true that this is a world of loss whose beauties sting us because they cannot last. Because they are always about to go. And if we force happiness to stay it becomes just pudgy comfort and smugness and self-satisfaction. Or at least, that's what I told my friend and she nodded, not entirely convinced.

    Julie and Juila was almost too perfect a fit for the spot I find myself in right now. Women trying to find themselves. Which tells me that I am, as usual, so average, so ordinary - which fit I chafe at. So predictably right in the smacky center of the target audience. The ideal consumer of this product. Every other 30-ish, 40-ish, 50-ish woman who loved this movie certainly saw herself in it, too.

    I have some larger claim I would contend - Julia and her sister, as played in the movie - are so much like the women of my family - the fluting and burbly voices, the unexpected earthiness hand-in-glove with a gentility we can't shrug off, the swooping enthusiasms, the oversized height. The sense that "You don't fit in and so after awhile you don't fit in," which unites my sisters and mother and aunts. "Freaks of nature," my lovely, lengthy sisters call themselves. And I am patted on the head as the shrimpy, nearly normal one. But we all walk around the world like giraffey aliens, not quite catching the accent, always giving ourselves away as not-from-around-here-are-you?

    Does everyone feel like this? Or almost everyone?  Look at our movies this week - if so many of us feel like Aliens, where are the Others who go about glorying in their legitimacy and making the rest of us feel so monstrous?

    Somehow all this roil and boil of thoughts made me shout out laughing when I read this book review this weekend:

    Dyssemia isn't a recognized condition but a term coined by Nowicki and Duke, both psychology professors at Emory University, to describe the inability of certain people to understand and follow the unwritten rules of nonverbal communication. These are the folks who stand too close, talk too loudly, reek of perfume or body odor, or display facial expressions that are at variance with their words. Clearly, such folks could benefit from a program to help them overcome these difficulties, and the initial chapters of this book might help readers decide if they have this problem. That is, if they pick the book up in the first place for the title, with its fabricated word, doesn't offer a clue about the subject. However, the remedial program isn't really a self-help program at all. Readers are instead instructed to find a "mentor" not a close relative or fellow employee to coach them. The authors don't explain why anyone would consent to spend large amounts of time with a relative stranger whose manner is off-putting. Not recommended; a better choice is Gordon Wainwright's Body Language (McGraw-Hill, 2000), which reviews the literature and presents awareness exercises. Mary Ann Hughes, Neill P.L., Pullman, WA Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
    Obviously, Mary Ann Hughes is one of the lucky Others.

    Fellow Dyssemiacs, come stand by me! Maybe together we can figure this strange world out. And if not, at least we can get our greedy fingers into some of life's delights anyway!

    Thursday, September 24, 2009

    eye take time to bee on bike

    Usually I rush by with the windows rolled up and the radio on - noticing maybe the flash of color - pretty! - which tells me the autumn crocuses have bloomed again by the old steps on the way into town.

    Being on bike, at the end of this fourth day of carfree commuting (that's CARfree, not carefree), this fourth day of 10+ miles a day, I'm more inclined to look into the matter a little more deeply.

    And the matter is not just a wash of pleasant pinky purple, but shaped and tipped individual petals with delicate pistils and stamens. Buzzing this particular late afternoon with all kinds of provident living.

    Including their neighboring bergenias, whose vigorous leaves are gathering in winter stores from the last sunshine, bottling it away for the spring blooming six months on.

    And all this I might have missed . . .

    Wednesday, September 23, 2009

    poet's eggs

    "My year's almost up," I told Eldest. "Then I can quit."

    She looks at me, "But will you?"

    "Do you want me to?" I ask.  I think she does.  I think she'd like me to concentrate on her this last year.  Concentrate at least on running everything smoothly here at home.

    "I don't think you will," says Eldest.

    Smart girl.  Wise answer.  But is she right?

    Back in my dark November, darker February, when I balked at sitting myself down and writing another post - I coaxed and held out promises to my sad and stubborn self, Come on - just a few more months.  Keep faith with me.  Just until the end of our year.  Then you can quit.

    I'm coming up on that year in just a few more weeks. Have I done what I set out to accomplish? - to keep sane, keep my head above grief's water - by noticing something outside myself and cooking one memorable meal each week . . .
    (which meal fell by the wayside somewhere in January - sorry, Starving Family - at least if you have not been memorably fed, you have scavenged sufficiently and good news! as I get happier, the meals do, too!)

    Of course, my goals for this blog shifted just one or two posts in. It dawned quite soon that blog-writing could be made More Useful.

    That Blogging was, in fact, not just Therapy, but a shortcut to writing a quirky, more immediate life history - One Year in the Life of  - before Eldest goes away to college - a series of snapshots of what our life was shaped like here in the Year 2008-2009.

    Really an invaluable source-text into the lifeways of turn-of-the-century techno-rural Pacific Northwest for generations to come.

    But there is no need, after all, for Year after Year in the Life of . . .

    And, why the eggs?

    Because I love the eggs. It's true they do not inspire a passion in me like their lustrous great-aunt the Eggplant. But looking at them comforts me. Taking pictures of eggs is, in fact, a form of meditative yoga among the techno-rural of my particular latitude and longitude.

    Because, for reasons I do not entirely understand, looking at eggs and handling them, hefting their light weight in my cupped hand, makes me feel that my life is not actually slipping away like so much sand through Time's long fingers. Eggs are the secret sharer to that poem by Anna Kamienska which also comforts me in a way too deep for me to explain.

    "A Prayer that Will be Answered"

    Lord let me suffer much
    and then die

    Let me walk through silence
    and leave nothing behind not even fear

    Make the world continue
    let the ocean kiss the sand just as before

    Let the grass stay green
    so that the frogs can hide in it

    so that someone may bury his face in it
    and sob out his love

    Make the day rise brightly
    as if there were no more pain

    And let my poem stand clear as a windowpane
    bumped by a bumblebee’s head.
    (translated by Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare Cavanaugh)

    This regular posting has helped me show up to the page each morning - not the windowpane itself perhaps, but a way to get to something solid, even if almost invisible, something that may stand.

    Here in these posts there is less at stake for me than in my other writing and so I can play with approach and narrative shape.

    And there is - RESPONSE - regular connection with outside voices.

    And really, this is a way, my dear Eldest, of returning me to the family life that centers in our kitchen. Because I had lost courage a bit.

    Besides, it doesn't have to be a choice, does it? The grid of calendars and outer life, or the personal orb of writing? Can't there be a harmony between them both? An inter-suspension of disbelief?

    There is, of course, as always, a story behind these eggs.

    The day I walked through the farmer's market, on my quest for better-not-bitter Eggplant, no one else wanted to leave the car to come with me - except YoungSon. This is not because he loves me best. It is because he had a quest of his own. Peaches and - blue eggs, Mom! We have to get some.

    In fact these particular eggs were being sold by a couple of young guys that -

    "Wait. I know you."

    "Yeah. From the farm." It is one of the apprentices from the Island Farm where I volunteered last year. He reminds me of his name.

    "That's right. I was thinking . . . Dylan? like Dylan Thomas, the poet?"

    "Close, close," he laughs and his shorter friend laughs with him.

    "And you've started your own farm!"

    Last January, I had heard from the other apprentice who is renting the old farmhouse and its acreage with him. She had emailed to see if I wanted to take that beekeeping class we'd talked about. Not me, not then, but she is getting honey already, he says.

    "And you're still writing?" Because he is a poet. We had talked poetry last year, weeding the rows of beans, thinning the carrots, and he had invited me to his first reading.

    "Yeah. In fact, I have another reading next week at noon at the bookstore just - " he nods across the street.

    "Are we going to get the eggs, Mom?" pipes up Son

    "Yes. But first - "

    The poet - whose healthy face and kind manners would have made my grandmother exclaim really a beautiful young man jumps up - "What can I help you with - ?"

    "Actually, if you could just step aside." Because, in truth, he is blocking the light that had been lighting up the cherry tomatoes.

    "Oh. Here. Let me clear off this junk."

    "It's okay. Won't even show up in my picture." Actually, I want the junk. My esthetic requires the bright light and color shining out of clutter and random necessity. I want beauty before it's been neatened. But he has cleared it mostly already before I can stop him.

    Still, these are poet's eggs we bring home with us. His friend opens up all the cartons and lets YoungSon choose the dozen with the most and best colored eggs.

    These eggs, my dears, are the material manifestation of possibilities and of doing your dreams.

    Only YoungSon gets to crack them open once we get them home. They make a batch of cookies, some banana bread, cornbread, little pancakes to accompany dinner one night when stirred into crystallized-ginger, pear & dried-cranberry oatmeal left over from breakfast. And there are still three of them left in the refrigerator.

    Proof that it is possible to function on the plane of signifier and symbolism and still nourish a family.

    Tuesday, September 22, 2009

    at the food bank

    "Hey, you're dripping wet."

    "Hey, Nathaniel."

    "Hey, Em. Long time no see."

    "Hey, Hooper. Yeah, Erin called me in to cover the desk today. I guess Marty . . ."

    Erin walks in, "Well, look-ee, here's my reinforcements."

    "I am here. Sorry, the swim went late this morning."

    "No problem. You heard Marty's at her sister's?"

    "I heard she was out of town."

    "In Boston. Eating lobster. I told her, I don't want to hear about it!"

    "Lucky lady."

    "Did you see this?" Erin points out a note on the bulletin board - many exclamation points, "55 families in one day. That was two weeks ago - an all-time record. And we were short-handed that day - just Marty and Hooper here and Nathaniel, of course."

    "Of course." We both look up and smile at Nathaniel who grunts with pleased embarrassment.

    "Shouldn't be so busy today. It's always worst when school starts up. People use up all their money on school clothes and supplies."

    "Hey, look who's here!" It's Bernie who manages the warehouse and drives the truck. "You're the other one whose bike was always in my way." Erin, who manages this HELP pantry and the Food Banks throughout our county, rides a lovely old Schwinn, the color of peaches and cream.

    "Am I in your way today?"

    "Nah. You're fine."

    Once last year when I drove the car for once, Bernie had exclaimed, "Hey, no bike! Got a new car, huh?"

    "No, not really. I just usually let my daughter take it."

    "I thought you just didn't have a car."

    A little later an older couple come in, staggering a bit under the weight of their boxes - tomatoes, eggplant, Asian pears, Concord grapes.

    "Are these donations?"

    "Yes." Their voices are very quiet, but quietly pleased.

    "Oh, bless you."

    "Can you use some really giant zucchini?" she wants to know.

    "Oh, I think so. They could be grated for zucchini bread, couldn't they?"

    "Oh, yes. Or like hash browns."

    Then she brings the zukes in. They are enormous.

    "Or we could use them for playing softball?"

    "We do live by the old nuclear plant."

    Says Bernie after weighing this latest addition, "297 pounds of produce we've taken in already this morning."

    A few minutes later, "Who brings in all this beautiful - ?" a woman waves her hand toward the fruit and vegetables.

    "Just generous people in our town. Wonderful, isn't it?"

    "So wonderful. You can't find such good things even in the grocery store."

    Later, coming in with a food box, I hear Bernie talking with another of our clients, "Ah, that's too bad."

    "Yeah," she says, a pretty young woman with dark hair in long loose ripples. "He's like the only dad I've ever known."

    "Yeah, he's a great guy when he's not doing the stuff."

    Meanwhile, I try to move the abundant calf liver we have in the freezer, "We also have some really nice liver - but I wouldn't want to give it to you unless it's something you can use? Liver is packed with nutrients, you know."

    Half the people I ask decline, but the other half accept like they're being offered a delicacy. Which, of course, they are.

    "Can he have some candy?" Bernie asks a young mother, tall and lean and blond, with a handsome little 4-year-old. Bernie holds out the candy jar.

    "Sure. What do you say?" she prompts her son. Then I hear her a few minutes later, "But are Reese's Pieces an all-the-time food or a once-in-awhile food?"

    "All-the-time-food?" tries her son.

    Her laugh is delightful.

    "Okay," he says and tucks the little sack of candy into their box. They fill sacks with carefully chosen produce. "A plum is all-the-time," he says triumphantly - at the same time asking his mother.

    She rubs it clean for him and then leans over the box of cucumbers. He smacks his lips and takes a bite. A little juice dribbles down his chin.

    "What a lucky boy to have you for his mother." I wish I'd taught my children so well.

    She shrugs, smiles, "I'm lucky. Both my boys really like fresh fruits and vegetables."

    "I don't think it's only luck."

    "Are these zucchini?" she picks one of the green clubs up, hefts it.

    "Yeah. You could probably grate it for zucchini bread. Or like hashbrowns?"

    "I wonder if I could make latkes from it?"

    "Oh, maybe so. It would be worth trying."

    We talk recipes for zucchini - "my stepfather makes a zucchini lasagna." Then for the eggplant. I tell her about ratatouille. She tells me her recipe for mango pico de gallo.

    "Just coming in the door, those grapes smell like something - flowers, jello - really wonderful." She fills a sack with Asian pears.

    Once the line of clients clears out, I notice the latest of Nathaniel's galaxy of superheroes pinned to the board - though these are not heroes but villainesses.

    "THE BAD GIRLS: Firefly Lady - Python Lady's nemesis; Black
    Panther Woman's archrival Vanessy, leader of the Junk Yard Girls; Midnight, a girl from Nighthawk Man's past - HA-HA-HA-HA-HA . . . "

    "So, Em, what have you been up to - besides the swimming?" Hooper asks. He and Nathaniel come sit down in the chairs behind the desk while we wait for more business.

    "Not much. Drying pears. Canning peaches. Today I'm making tomato paste balls."

    He wants to know how, then, "My mom would have liked that. She was always putting things up like that." His mother died a year or so ago. "You remind me of her," he says again.

    "I like the picture," I tell Nathaniel.

    "Oh, you've got to see - " says Hooper and they show me . . .

    . . . the guardian spirits of the pantry shelves.

    "Dark Spear is on the good side.
    'My spears are deadly. I don't take back talk. And I'm a woman named Jinla.'"

    "Nighthawk Girl. 'You don't want to mess with me.'"
    We have superheroes on our side.

    Monday, September 21, 2009

    it begins

    Eldest has a list of things she feels Must be Done before she goes away to college in a year. And the first is:
    1. Can peaches with Mom to take to college next fall.
    So, this weekend we take the first step on the downward path.

    And why peaches?

    Why can them?

    It's not like we bottle fruit religiously around here. Every other year usually. Usually, applesauce and tomatoes. Lately, tomato paste balls in olive oil stored in the fridge.

    Dried pears because the boughten ones are almost always sulphured.

    Grape juice as we run out of it, when I also make grape & red wine vinegar jelly. And there are still jars of catsup and salsa down in the basement from a year or so ago.

    Once in a blue moon, apricot jam. I used to make raspberry freezer jam but decided that was gilding the lily and so just freeze rasp- and blueberries naked these days (yes, of course I mean the berries - why do you ask?)

    Fresh fruit is better nutrition by far. Bottled peaches are for me no necessity nor staple, but more a ready-made dessert, lucious in a light syrup half-honey/half-sugar, ready to keep company with hot tapioca or honey custard freckled with nutmeg.

    Okay, there's a reason right there for canning peaches.

    But,"Why?" I ask my daughter.

    "I just think I can face anything if I have home-canned peaches under my bed."

    That's good enough for me.

    Eldest and I have canned peaches together before. In fact, a few years back she asked me to teach her how. I'd done it twice, I think, before. We pulled out our trusty Ball's Blue Book. Its pages warped with steam and sticky with syrups. And stood beside each other for an hour or two, talking, skinning and slicing ripe peaches, rubbing each other's shoulders.

    I remember how it was standing for hours next to my mother - jabbering away at her while dipping the fruit in scalding water, fishing it out, easing the hot fruit into a sink of cold water, slipping the skins off, halving, quartering, filling the boiled jars with lovely fruit, lowering the rack full of heavy jars into the bubbling hot water bath, reaching in with the tongs to lift each bottle, setting it down with its sisters on a heavy towel, and then waiting for the plink as each lid sealed. My mom used to bottle bushel baskets and boxes after boxes - peaches, cherries, applesauce, pears - until I was eleven and we moved away from the orchards of the Intermountain West where it made some kind of sense to spend the time and money to can your own.

    When I came back to that region of the world as a college student I assured my roommates one Saturday there were orchards - yes, very close-by, loads of them. We borrowed a car and drove. Past strip malls and gargantuan malls. Past developments of identical houses. And more developments. Industrial parks. Medical plazas. More housing developments.

    No orchards.

    "Is that enough?" I ask my daughter.

    We've put the peaches in pint jars. They hold just over one peach each.

    "Yeh, I just need to have a few. Like if I'm ever homesick."

    They're letting such babies into colleges these days.

    "Well, I've still got more peaches." And what am I going to do with them all?

    "The rest of us like peaches, too, you know," says Fritz.

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