The nattering and chattering of birdsong surrounding me as I sit beneath the cover of the Monterey Pine, sipping my morning coffee, thinking about how everything seemed to flow too fast yesterday, today trying to capture my calm as if it were a fish and I need only cast my line into the brook to snag it. The air, cool with the morning wetness, the sun not yet fully awake behind the white duvet of clouds shielding it from hiuman follies. I too sit protected, sanctuaried away from all that, as if in a cloister communing just among the birds and the hustle-rustle of spring leaves dying to be born on newfound branches.
I’m feeling really uncomfortable in a good way. I’ve run across a bunch of projects which I see are almost finished–among them, a white knitted sampler afghan, 17 of 20 squares done, which has lain dormant in my “handwerk”, sewing closet, for nigh on about ten years or so. And to give myself a kick in the butt and get it finished I joined a knitting circle sponsored by our local Petaluma library. Six or so women gather in the morning once a week on Wednesdays to chat and encourage each other to knit away, and get stuff done. So today I dream about wearing heels and walking in a street with soft tar, my high heels getting stuck and sinking into the tar, requiring my extra effort and extra energy to pull each foot out and keep walking forward, ahead to my destination, which in the dream is apparently a bus stop, where I’ll await my bus to Brazil via New Brunswick. (New Brunswick is where I went to college at Douglass. The Brazil part? Maybe connotes fun, and Carnival to me, not sure.) Anyhow the tar part of the dream makes sense to me since inertia had set into the knitted quilt project, and even now seems somewhat daunting and overwhelming. Inertia is defined in physics as “the tendency of a body to maintain its state of rest or uniform motion unless acted upon by an external force”. For this project that external force would be me– and require my knitting three more squares, crocheting an edging around all twenty blocks, blocking each one individually to size them equally, and then sewing all twenty squares together– a bit like pulling a shoe out of tar.
On the other hand, by knitting in a group I have a sense that I will get the project finished. I notice about myself that I want to succeed and finish the blanket so that I can show it to my group and receive their oohs, aahs and their congratulations. Somehow this also reminds me, since I’m writing my novel alone, will I ever get it done?
Further, my knitted blanket project is demonstrating to me a very important fact: if I want to complete a project, I don’t need to achieve perfection. Although I strive for it I may have to live with a lesser result. Amen. In square number 18, the one I just finished this week, I had confused one row with another and reversed the stockinette pattern for a series of rows with the inadvertent result that it actually still looks fine if not better, but it’s no longer the perfect pattern that was called for. I could have ripped out the six rows and redone it, but figured heck, what is my goal here? Perfection or completion” and so I opted for completion. The square will function very well as part of the blanket. It will warm the body it covers, and at the same time will remind me, the creator, that nothing human made is ever perfect, a touch of humility which actually makes me feel less daunted (anxious) about the task of overcoming the inertia built into the long dormant project and finally putting an end to it by completing it. Lessen learned. I’m a social being and I surely ain’t perfect. Amen.
January 5, 2015- Journal entry. It feels really funny to be writing 2015 already. On the other hand, it feels so normal. Enjoyed our walk along Lynch Creek with Bob and Gigi, our standard poodle. There’s an encampment of folk who live under the 101 bridge over this creek, and they were playing quite a series of drum patterns, bongo-like rhythms drowning out the drone of tires crossing the highway pavement above, the whiz of air swirling from cars moving north and south, a sworm of vehicles zooming to their destination at speeds of 65 mph and more and below them this group of people, guys probably young, who even had a section of bamboo fencing installed so you couldn’t really see them, drowning out the noise of their movements, the drumming a noise made by fingers on stretched animal skins, far more pleasant than the noise of rubber tires on asphalt. I wanted to give them a thumbs up or a Bravo but feared starting something. Like what? They wouldn’t wade the creek–now a foot or more high from the rains, and come over begging money would they? They were fellow human beings making the best of an intolerable situation, having no home, homeless, or roofless as the French call it, a less harsh condemnation of their circumstance since homelessness conveys a sense of soullessness, for what is a home except a product of our soul. a place to hang our soul, a place hugely protected by our forefathers and the Constitution makers. If we don’t have a home, we don’t have a soul. Yet roofless conveys merely a sense of open-aired housing; one is not souless; just roofless. But these guys had a roof, the curved arch of he highway overpass. Yet it would be 37degrees that night. We were done with our several days of freeze warnings on my iPhone. but I wondered how they would get through the night. Would they build a fire? The pink-blue sky and the brown green of the neighboring fields signaled the sun was about to dive below the horizon. i pulled my scarf tighter around my neck and put on my gloves as we walked Gigi back to our Volvo.
Something happened yesterday. It jolted me. And like a lancet pierced my emotional cloak to dig up the feeling I sometimes experience–that as a woman male society expects me to be invisible, my needs non existent. ( For example, give up your birth name upon marriage). In that moment I connected to the truth that most of our mothers and grandmothers have been marginalized over the centuries–their work and consciousness debased. And it sickened me. My stomach recoiled. We’ve been “just housewives”, just “mothers”, “just quilters”, “just nurses”, etc, As long as our efforts have been seen as detached from bringing home the bacon and relegated to just frying it, our careers are viewed as unimportant up against the man’s career who is the one earning the money in the family.
What happened was this: Bob and I applied for a line of credit using our house as collateral. A safety net. Just in case. Or if we ever get serious and remodel the room above the garage in order to rent it out. I was checking over the papers since we were to sign them with a notary later that afternoon. The form listed my husband, Bob, as signer, with his occupation and number of years, and me as co-signer- with no occupation or employment listed next to it. Granted, the loan was based on his salary, but i bristled at the alleged non-existence of my career, my work. Why should I be any different from a man who wants and gets recognition for his career or profession? I still consider myself an attorney even if retired, and certainly still a writer even if I make hardly any money at all at it. It’s not a hobby for me. It’s an occupation.
So I filled it in with a pen– Attorney/writer, 42 years, and initialed it. And I felt better for it. Move over Quicken Loans. I’m a woman and I’m here. Get used to it.
So my hubby and I went to the 3rd Annual National Heirloom Festival yesterday at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds where fecundity flourished. Seeds galore and becoup info on why to oppose GMOS-gene modified organisms. It is a mantra I intuitively agree with, along with nine other countries, like Italy, France, Germany, Greece, Luxumbourg, Austria, Hungary and Poland which ban Monsantos GMO corn. In fact, Monsanto has abandoned it’s GMO crop push in Europe. It’s interesting how those against GMOs connect it to being anti mom’s apple pie.
I spent a great deal of time by the Santa Cruz County based Mountain Feed and Farm Supply who had a huge display of fermenting veggies. And for a mere 20 dollars you could own one of the gizmos to get you on your way to fermenting every food morsel in sight, as long as it fit into the half gallon Mason jars, whose top had a strange looking tube sticking out of it. ( Wish I had taken a photo.) Click here they look like this. Anyhow, I asked the young woman why I needed that little contraption when I had already successfully made traditionall “Jewish pickles’ using only salt brine, a crust of rye bread, fresh cukes placed in a clean crock, topped with gauze, and a platter held down with a cleaned flat rack. “Oh You don’t,” she said, “Go ahead and continue doing what you do. This is just for people who are afraid to begin fermenting food. It’a a beginner kit. You’re obviously past this.” This made me feel great. “Will do,” I smiled back feeling part of the fermenting nation. But she got me thinking I really should upgrade my system. I mean using an old crock pot insert and a flat rock? I was better than that. Maybe I did need that five gallon crock all set up with weights for holding down the pickles in the brine, and a water seal lid, imported from Poland, no less, the very land of my ancestors. At $140.00 it was still tempting but way too large, although it was the size my grandfather, Constanty Lupinski might have used in his Polish deli/grocery store in Irvington, New Jersey in the 1930’s-50’s. I wasn’t ready for that much fermenting, “Do you have anything smaller?” I asked. “Yes, but we’re out. You can pay for it now, and we’ll ship it for free.” “I’ll think about it,” I said. I sauntered on. Well it didn’t take me long to get pulled in at the Architectural Ceramic Design station. Wow, Here was a bevy of rainbow colored, hand-hewn pottery. and amid all that sat several fermenting crocks–all in various colors, from red to yellow to orange. “People are getting back into fermenting,” Alan the potter said. No kidding, I thought. Gee I was one of the forerunners of a trend. I puffed out my chest and took in all the simply devine colors. (hint: click on the website to see them, you’ll see what I mean). Plus the feel of the items is light, yet you know it is handmade. “I used to work in a beauty salon,” said Donna his wife and potter partner, “I know how to throw and blend colors.” It was apparent to me she was expert at it and putting all of her color energy into the pottery business as I looked at her lovely long but natural grey hair. Okay so I bought the red,orangey one. My grandad would be proud. And I even found a recipe for pickled apples which is a good thing since our golden delicious tree gave us five bushels this year.
All in all it was a a good day yesterday and I feel connected not only to my own heritage, but to so many others, (mothers and fathers) who also used the process to survive way before refrigeration was a gleam in anyone’s eye.
How different our daily lives are from that of our mothers. You only have to go visit the vintage kitchen exhibit at SVMA to see that (Kitchen Memories: Kathleen Thompson Hill Culinary Collection thru Dec. 1). There you will find a collection of unique kitchen tools which now qualify as antiques (by definition items over 50 years old) but which rained commonplace in my mother’s kitchen– from the handheld eggbeater to the retractable clothesline,
And then there’s the hand coffee grinder made of wood which my grandmother used daily but now sits unused on the top tier of my kitchen cabinets.
My husband recently splurged on a Cusinart coffee maker which provides us with up to 12 cups of coffee with the press of a button. The beans stored in the device get ground automatically. All you need to do is empty out the gold mesh strainer containing the previous day’s grinds, and pour in the requisite amount of water, whose level you can determine from a see-through section of the container. And if you should forget to empty out the previous grinds because say you’re still in a fog from your night’s dream in which you won the lottery, well, never mind, the apparatus detects it and beeps away at you, and stays on strike until you change it. The
first time I used it, I had done just that, and so responding to the rhythmic beeps of the thing I figured out intuitively what was wrong. I blurted aloud to the machine, as if it were alive and talking to me with it’s beeps, ” How cool. You are a coffee maker for an idiot; anyone can use you.” And like I said it’s actually my husband’s machine; I’m primarily a tea drinker. He didn’t take offense, though which I surely did not intend, my words flying from my mouth as an accolade in amazement at this “smart” coffeemaker. And that’s how he took it as I proceeded to dump the grinds from the basket and re-push the start button. I could hear the heating element processing the water. All systems go. The coffeemaker was actually my husband, Bob’s latest toy of which he seemed inordinately proud, since he had plucked it up at Big Lots during our stay at our daughter, Kiva’s apartment in LA. She in turn had been chauffeuring us around her favorite bargain haunts, Big Lots occupying place number two on her “go to” list of best LA deals. The first spot won by the Goodwill in Inglewood where she lives. (That fun experience the topic of another post).
It seems our generation craves machines which make our lives simple, and men involve themselves in purchasing culinary items, ones which are user friendly, and don’t require much thought or effort to use. Presumably then we can direct our minds toward more lofty levels, such as oh I don’t know…just loftier thoughts. Okay, like fantasy football for my husband, and morning newspaper reading on my ipad while we await our morning brew. How different we are from our mothers.
Now that my kids are “grown” adults, can I step into a new role as Mother? And if so, who gives me permission to create this new role? These questions float a nebulous cloud in my brain as I sip my first cup of strong breakfast tea. The November air a chill on the morning, brings a freshness from the overnight falling rain, the sky a clear blue, “sky-blue” in fact matching the crayola crayon I remember from my childhood.
What prompts the question? The holidays, to start, Thanksgiving. Both son and daughter live and work in LA, a seven hour drive away or an hour by plane, My daughter, Kiva loves the holiday and dearly wants me to come and visit, to celebrate in the festivities, to eat the delicious dinner she and her chef boyfriend will prepare, to meet their new two puppies, and to see how she fixed up her yard, and living space. I love my daughter and her company and talking with her as an adult is a special treat, but this time around I want to spend time gathering up my various writing projects, prioritizing which ones I really long to pursue, etc. etc. and the expense and hassle of getting on a plane for a four day visit just doesn’t appeal to me now.
At first she doesn’t seem to ounderstand why I want solitude at that time and I am reminded how very much we love one another’s company. There is nothing quite like it. She makes me laugh with joy and gratitude when I sense how much she wants me to come and celebrate with her. She says things like, “You have plenty of time to be alone on other days.” and “You should budget your time better.” I agree that I should do so. But still I WANT THIS TIME FOR MYSELF. Just this once, and a trip down south would be disruptive–although probably also refreshing and lovely. When I mention the hassle of the travel part, she says, “Oh, that makes sense.” So she gives me permission to be myself. But is it primarily because I’ve given it to myself to begin with? Talking witn my friends, Karen and Cheryl over coffee the other day, we all agreed that having given our all to raising our children to adulthood– the countless birthday parties, plays, cello concerts, track meets, graduation ceremonies we attended with gratitude and love in the past– finally we have EARNED OUR RIGHT to our own time, even around the holidays. But the thing is, I know I am so looking forward to my being with my daughter when she comes up over the Christmas holidays, only a month or so away. She’s younger. I hope she doesn’t yet mind the hassle, and schlepping of all the travel part.
As a mother, how do you spend thanksgiving with your adult children who live a distance from you? Am I being silly or selfish? I’d love to know what you think.
Being a new mother with my eight week old son and unhappy with my newly acquired weight, I decided to “woman up” and take responsibility. I’d get back into my pre-child size 10 clothes pronto and regain my fitness by attending an aerobics class, which in 1978 was the current exercise mania. But I had to take Aaron with me because there were no family members who could take care of him while I exercised, or even went to the store for that matter. My younger sister,Barbara, lived close to me but she worked daytimes, and besides for some reason which now escapes me, we had had a falling out, and were not on speaking terms. But that’s another story. In any event, I shlepped Aaron to the class, where people in leotards mainly ignored him. But he looked around and seemed to enjoy the scenery of the group, mainly young women and only a couple of men, swinging their legs into the air, and hopping around the room to the sounds of Staying Alive (U tube), and Fever written and sung by the Bee Gees, from the movie Saturday Night Fever, a huge hit from the previous year, starring John Travolta in his hip-swinging days. The staccato shouts of the nubile instructor clad in tights and a red leotard propelled me into a disco fever. But when she proceeded to instruct us to do knee bends and squats, I proceeded to lose it. My left knee chimed in: you’re going to regret this; it caused me to scream out. My left leg crumbled out from under me and I fell to the floor. The instructor hovered over me, gave me a hand up, but it was my clear my time in the class was over. I could not stand on my lag without wincing in pain. Apparently, my upper leg muscles lacked the strength necessary for squats. So I must have overextended my knee way past my foot resulting in a pulled tendon or something, such that I could hardly walk. Leaning on Aaron’s carriage for support, I limped to my car, put my baby son in the car seat and drove home using my right leg. I remember thinking, is that why God gives us two? Two legs that is, for klutzes like me? The next day the doctor diagnosed a bad strain, handed me crutches, and told me to rest my leg. Duh. What else could I do? But rest was out of the question. Now, I had a baby and crutches. Plus, before i left the class, the aerobics instructor had told me that i should not bring my child to the class in the future, citing insurance reasons or something. Was she just jealous that I had such a lovely son? No more aerobics unless I could get a sitter. Hemmed in, alone and disregarded is how I felt in that moment of my new motherhood. And yet I had given birth to this wonderful child. The world in Northern Virginia, just a stone’s throw from the nation’s Capitol was not set up to accommodate mothers with children who wanted to work out. In 1978 that was still years away. And I began to wonder if my fitness and weight loss would similarly be years away– if not altogether out of reach.
During my first birthing experience I learned an invaluable lesson. The takeaway was Elaine, you are not entirely in control of your body, no matter how many Lamaze classes you took; Mother Nature had the ultimate power over it. Of course I knew this in my head. We all do. We all know we are eventually going to die. But for the most part that knowledge that Mother Nature is our ultimate boss is a cerebral knowledge. The knowledge I gained about Mother Nature’s power over me was a lived-in-the-body, all cells aware knowledge. It permeated my bones. It was not filed-away brain info. After giving birth to my wonderful son, ten plus pounds left me, but not being able to fit into my pre-maternity clothes surprised me no end. Pre-maternity I wore size ten jeans. After Aaron’s birth I moved up to a comfortable size 16. I felt bushwhacked. Totally caught off-guard. What was going on? Call me naive if you want, I confess that before being pregnant, I remember casting judgmental glances at so many mothers and thinking, gals, why don’t you do something with your bodies. You look so matronly. So puffed out. Now I was part of that club. All very humbling.
Okay, so much for the negative side. I learned fat cells are there to preserve humankind, and once there, they stay, blown up or shrunken. They are there for good. Several weeks after the birth I experienced an “aha” moment. I began to feel that I was admitted to an exclusive club, a club filled with people who are connected to the awesomeness of their bodies’ ability to create another human being through all the discomfort and pain. It humbled me and also cautioned me to take very good care of my body. I also noted that most men do not come into an awareness of their vulnerability to Mother Nature until middle age when they begin to see signs of their thinning hair, and increased paunch. We women are lucky. We are given secret info, a heads up on whether spirit or bodies are ultimately in control here on earth. Men don’t get that information early on by and large. I began to wonder is that why they get so depressed and forlorn in middle age when it finally hits them that they can’t “jump the hurdles” like they used to at cocktail parties, and are filled with a longing and a sadness so etched in my memory from reading that short story of John Cheever called O Youth and Beauty.
Since I was almost 35 years old for my first birthing experience I was considered high risk back in the day– 1978 was the year– almost ancient history in the medical world. Anyhow, because of that, I chose to go with a well-reputed physician in Washington D. C. instead of one in Fairfax County, Virginia where I lived. This doctor was associated with Washington Hospital Center in D. C., the same place they took President Reagan when he was shot. So it was a well-equipped thoroughly up-to-date hospital, where I thought I’d be better tended if complications from my “age” arose. I asked Dr. X ( he shall remain nameless) if he, himself personally would attend me at the birthing, and he gave me an unequivocal nod. So I relaxed. But here’s what happened: my wonderful husband, Bob, and his cronies at work agreed that since I was normally always late for social events, chances were I’d also most likely be late for my first baby’s birth. What kind of male logic this involved, I can’t guess, because they were wrong. I was actually a week early. So when Bob decided to take a business trip to Toronto during that week, using that male logic as a basis for his absence, my coach, i. e. Bob who had taken Lamaze classes with me in preparation for the experience, my coach, was duly absent, and stuck in a blizzard in January in Canada. Duh, what do you expect around that time in Canucks-ville? Add to that mix, the following: at 6am (5am Toronto time) when I called his parents house where he was staying during the business trip, his very sleepy mom answered, ” Who? Who is calling? Who? Elaine, who? Oh Elaine.” Finally she handed the phone over to Bob who said he’d try to get a flight out. Would be nice, I thought as the contractions tightened my abdomen.
Coach gone, my neighbor, a lovely Navy wife with three kids of her own took pity on me, and drove me with my two pillows and prepared suitcase in hand bumpety-bump bump in her MG sports car to the hospital, a distance of 15 miles, or so, as snow fell down all around us. Once there, the receptionist directed us to the ongoing Lamaze class. Did I appear that calm? The contractions and consequent pain were already contorting me. That I remember! After further discussion and wincing, she directed us to the maternity/delivery ward. Once there, another surprise awaited me. Doc X was not going to deliver the baby. One of his partners was on call and would attend. Silly me for not understanding that. Plus, here’s where it got even more challenging. Since it is a teaching hospital associated with George Washington Medical School, a resident and an intern would be doing all the pre-delivery work, which might have been okay with me except the one assigned had no bedside manner seasoning and told me point blank,”Ah, so you are planning on a natural birth are you? Let me tell you that you’ll be experiencing some of the most horrible intense pain ever, so I do not recommend it.”
Of course, by then I was already experiencing difficult prolonged pain every five minutes which was made worse by Bob, my coach, missing the event, and by my neighbor who in trying to help me with the controlled breathing began to hyperventilate and needed attention herself. She said it was because the experience was bringing back all her birthing memories/nightmares. Plus, add to that; periodically they were giving me updates on Bob’s whereabouts. “He’s made it to Buffalo where he’s hoping to get on a plane” and comments like, “Does her husband even want to be here?” I was beginning to wonder myself.
Somehow during the 12 hour process, which is apparently very normal for a first birth, they shot me up with demorol. It only made me drowsy and hardly capable of directing my focus to a natural birth. My neighbor was encouraged to leave, since her hyperventilating was not helping me, and the word was that Bob was now only a couple hours away. At some point thereafter, I remember hearing Bob’s voice saying,” Is that my wife?” He was referring to the moaning noises coming uncontrollably from my room. Someone answered him, “Yes, that’s her.” “Oh”, he said sounding surprised, and weak. Well, miracle of miracles. Bob had arrived precisely 30 minutes before the actual birth. By then the “natural birth” was totally out the window. In the last hour or so a female Doctor administered an epidural, which by then I approved with alacrity, since I could no more control my body’s pain by deep breathing than I could control a speeding train by blowing on it. I begged for anything to stop the pain. She took awhile to get the needle in my back because she said it was very muscular, an unintended consequence of my yoga practice, we figured out together, but once it took, and I could no more feel the pain, I relaxed and smiled as Bob held my hand. But the epidural also took away my ability to push the baby out, and so the doctor used forceps to help pull him out. And blessedly for us, a healthy seven plus baby boy entered our world. All’s very well that ends very well. But nothing in the process went according to my plan. Again, the universe was telling me something.