Beat the storm 

There I was clearing off the windshield while the radio filled the interior: the mayor of Boston asking people to stay home. I would have stayed home, I love staying home on days like this, but it was the final day of the Carrie Mae Weems show in Harvard Square and I had a plan with a friend. 

The last two Louvre photos feature stacked chairs that were at the ready for a closing presentation. The peony prints were art in and of themselves but were also tribute specimens that the artist collaborated to develop in honor of W.E.B. DuBois. She also created a garden. 

The garden is in Amherst and already on my summer wish list of day trips. 

It would have been nice to meet the artist but it was also nice to have a fairly urgent reason other than my own impatience not to stay.

I will spend part of the afternoon curled up with Finn and the heating pad listening to her speak on YouTube. 

If I weren’t posting on my phone I’d insert more links. She is easy to find. Really worth finding. So are some of the reviews of her work. 

Two miracles 

This African violet has not bloomed in years. Possibly decades. I probably shouldn’t write about how I’ve almost relinquished it to the compost heap a few times, but I nearly did.

But look at it now! It’s not just the surprise of its beauty, it’s the timing. What better winter than this one to process sun and soil into a deep purple flower — long after all expectation of it had vanished.

The other miracle was the how the vigorous telephoned protests placed by an engaged and vigilant public made the GOP back down on their lovely first proposed legislative act of eliminating the independent ethics committee. Wahoo! Way to start the congressional term right!  This successful protest pierces the grey winter sky with a shaft of light.

PS. That Pinocchio figurine was photographed by me and double exposed with the type using the Diana photo app. I’m pretty proud of it.

Into the fire

It’s been a year of ongoing and difficult personal challenges, leading me to write recently, “Disappointment is a savage thing.”

No one died. No one’s getting divorced. There’s health insurance, shelter and food to spare. But in my immediate circle, there were dark episodes of depression and panic, costly failures, intricate interventions (virtually all arranged by me and often at a distance), unendurable delays (mine and others’), and the ongoing challenge of being in relationship with a sister whose need exceeded both my willingness or skill to satisfy and for which I was routinely and caustically criticized. She declined a lot this year.

There were weeks of the early summer when I just wanted to die — when it seemed the only way out. This was before the election.

No wonder, then, after flipping open my calendar yesterday to start my version of Peggy’s thoughtful year end ritual, I quickly abandoned it. I knew what was coming and didn’t want to go through it again.

I didn’t want to count up the hours of “nightmare telephone calls” with my sister (which at some point I started tracking if for no other reason than to be able to go: “See? See what this is costing?”). I didn’t want to track yet another month with little progress finishing my novel.

The idea was to note one thing learned for each of the previous 12 months. I wondered how all these bumps in the road could have taught me anything except that I’m a survivor with a scrappy will to live — something I’ve known for decades. Well, here’s something I learned.

During the grim month of June I discovered that the critical distinction between being suicidal and having suicidal ideation was something I could lean into with resilient faith. What a surprising solace!

(I also started chanting more, a huge boon to resilience and one of the prime blessings of 2016).

“Why a surprise?” you ask.

Because the last time I weighed such a distinction, it was on behalf of one of my children. Then, even if observed positively by a professional, the difference between thought and plan afforded no relief whatsoever, nor should it have. At that difficult juncture (several years ago or I wouldn’t be writing about it here), I dwelt in the acute awareness that relying too optimistically on the line between suicidal thoughts and suicidal plans (or relying on it at all, actually) could end tragically.

This Christmas break, as we navigated our way through a swamp created in part by collectively-made bad choices, it was a matter of some celebration to compare then and now.

(That might be a way of saying it wasn’t THAT long ago, but it’s also a chance to point out another of the year’s big, big blessings — his solid self, marching toward his unknown future).

[Sometime I will share the writing that came out of the very awful year when a horrifying number of teen suicides took place in my town].

And there was the other child this year, too. Didn’t see THAT coming.

(This son packed up and moved to LA a few days ago — and there’s his solid self, marching toward his unknown future. A third major, major blessing).

And during it all, unfurled the deeply disturbing political freak show. It was both relentless and traumatic and continues to be so.

I have spent most of my adult life woefully under-informed. Not this year. (I should’ve noted the hours logged reading the news, too.”See? See what this is costing?”). The campaign was like a gory car accident that there was no driving past. We couldn’t bear to look and we couldn’t bear to look away, either.

(Having a circle of friends with whom I could stand shoulder to shoulder and gasp in unison constitutes a fourth and ongoing blessing).

Too bad we aren’t talking about a couple of car fatalities, huh?

The ascendancy of Trump and all that contributed to his rise were the most savage disappointments of all.

The summer’s political reality had a way of amplifying my personal distress. ‘What ever happened to decency and morals and caring about what is true?’ was something many of us asked ourselves each and every day. How can the news STILL be talking about emails? The virulence of sexism and racism: exposed. The allergy to educated points of view: spreading. The corporate hey day: on steroids. The demise of democracy — in process?

In light of all this, instead of a painful annual review, I fed the fire. After ripping out the few remaining pages of my Daily Notebook, I inscribed weaknesses or attitudes that don’t serve me. They are ash now.

I get to start the year in a fresh notebook and maybe, maybe I did something to prepare for all that is to come.

Is there any way to prepare for all that is to come?

Happy new year, all! I mean it. Stay strong, in hope and in courage, with everything you have. We shall need us.

(Having a circle of blog friends I will count as the final blessing — and it’s also a big, big one).

I have arrived. I am home. 

Reading Thich Nhat Hanh yesterday, I came across the lines: “I have arrived, I am home / in the here and now. / I am solid, I am free / In the ultimate I dwell.” Last night K and I walked the labyrinth over at Boston College and the first of the lines stayed with me, adapted a little:  “I am here. I have arrived. I am home.”

I passed on the opportunity to gather with others at the State House and chose this more solitary act instead. It was too cold to watch every heel/toe/breath but I sometimes sent a prayer heavenward: “get him out peacefully”.

All that urgent yearning and: “I have arrived. I am home.”  Such contrast!

December 19 — can we call it the “new longest night” of the year? “I am home. I have arrived.”

Today, my sister and I shopped for our holiday dinner at a little Salem market called Steve’s which she insists on calling Frank’s, a fact that would amuse you if you knew my husband’s family. Anyway, bringing my bags out first so that I could return and get her bags second, I repeated: “I am home. I have arrived. I am here.” Crossing the tarmac with plastic rattling — such an ordinary moment and one that I might normally on some level rush to get through! Instead, those grounding and life affirming words: “I am home.”

On the second trip out, imagine my delight when, just after repeating, “I am here,” I looked up to see a banner half a block away reading: Where You At?

“I am here. I am home. I have arrived.”

We had liverwurst with wasabi and mayo on pumpernickel for lunch and I left in time to miss the 3:00 school and shift-change traffic. It was a “yes” day.

And just now, I finished a Pussyhat for a friend marching on Washington next month. They’re supposed to be knit and I plan to also knit a few when my pink yarn arrives, but in the meantime, this one was constructed out of a cashmere sweater, polar fleece, and wool felt. (Pussyhat Project).

Don’t ask me why or how, but it feels like “moving on”.

Done, done, done

A ditty from a prompt in class this week. “Peas and the rice done, done, done” comes from a song sung by bondmen and women during the age of slavery.

Speckle, spackle lint
Globe, orb, light
Star prick, potato cut – Fie!
Cookie cutter, duster buster —
Done. Peas and the rice,
done, done, done.

In the dark, we tag along in
ignorant clumps. Safety
in numbers? One arm
finds a rail, a toe stubs
rock. “Ho there!”
A single organism, we turn.

Out on the deck early, a
powdery blue sky offers its
solace — beauty
that can be referred to again

and again, lasting and constant.

Except it’s not
lasting. Or constant.

Look how swiftly the clouds
cover the setting and
glorious moon — in the short interval
it took you to dash inside for your camera.


What happens when the shifting
markers of beauty verge
toward extinction, not merely sway
and decay with time?

“Ho! There! Ho!” No one
corrects course. The inevitable crash
sparks discussion, as if pinpointing the
cause of the wound trumps all other action.

In this season of cold, shattered bones and
bruises are nothing next to damnation.
Who knew lying would win
the hearts and minds of so many?

Sprinkle, dash, salt and mire.
Blood stream, character, impossible glow.
Peas and the rice, done, done, done.

Catastrophic, relentless capture
of the future: too swift to
block; too pervasive to illuminate.
It threatens to be so cold, there
are warnings.

The party lanterns bob and strain on the deck
rail, hanging, forgotten, so long
past their June flings. Remember June?

The moon hangs like a darling,
punctuating the morning with
soft, ridiculously sweet loveliness.

Just above the eave – “Ho! There!”

She runs inside for her camera, but it’s too late. The grey fuzz of
cloud shoved by a cold, cold
wind has changed everything.

She missed the moon
but caught a dream of power — a friend gathering her skirts to make an entrance. Stately. Invested. Prepared. She will
study everything, consider all the
players, account for the force of history. Seventy years of wisdom coming to bear.

Such a dream!

Mighty beech. Singular gate.
Ho there! The icy air seeps
through the window frame.


In the kitchen, you watch the
tiny grain moths zig-zag
against their doom.  Slap. Slap.

The dog pants beside the fire.
Dots and dabs of light on the festive tree
blur after you take off your glasses,
offering another version of pretty.
Remember Wallace Stevens
trying to decide which to prefer:
the blackbird’s cry or just after?

As if calibrating how much reality you can stomach is anything like weighing
the relative beauties of music and silence!

We slide into a
Bosch painting – celebrities being eaten by plants,
destroyers appointed to protect, eggs sprouting legs. Babies cry all the way
from Aleppo. We are
cursed and lack the explaining mythology.
Stab, slice, potato cutter — fie!
How quaint a cut to the finger. Apply pressure,
glue and presto — no more blood.

There goes the moon, behind its periwinkle
shroud. Time feels a foe this season.
Arctic air whips up its icy announcements
and someone, somewhere takes it as proof
that everything is as it always was.

Who will measure the cold and with what instruments
after they round up the scientists?
They’ll say: ‘Study moles and circuits. Or lumps of coal.’

“Ho there!” How about darkness? Make
a chart that nobody will believe
and store it somewhere in Canada.

The money will disappear along
with the truth, so button up.

“Ho there! Ho.” We smile and drink. We bundle up. We exchange
sweets and trinkets while frigid air sweeps down from the north.

So, go ahead – dream of power
or dream of extinction. Dream of
capturing the moon with your

bare hands. But when you wake,
with thermal underwear and corrective lenses on, gather your skirts and make an entrance. Somewhere. And speak.

“Ho there. Ho” Peas and the rice
done, done, done.

A crowd gathering on the mantel

These creations have a way of taking over. Are they gifts? One or two. Do I plan to sell them any time soon? Nah. Never mind — they demand to be made.

I machine stitched that pink and white kitty head and soft mauve body (below). She’s going to be a gift for the girl I babysit one day a week. I love that her ears are different colors and that her face has that triangle of pink. Soft, old wools help. I was hoping she would wear that pink satin skirt (to the right), but she has other ideas. More sporty.

Today we went to a Big Box store primarily to buy nuts for baking (yes! Christmas IS happening) and (somehow) managed to buy $450 worth of other stuff while we were at it (not counting booze).

A case of wine and bourbon fell out of the hatchback and landed on my foot in the parking lot. Incredibly, five bottles survived the crash and luckily, one of them was the bourbon. Ironically, fifty dollars worth of wine met the pavement while I was making sure they hadn’t overcharged us $16 on a package of meat (still agog at the $500 total. I mean, seriously — batteries, men’s shirts, and frozen shrimp notwithstanding).

Last weekend, we gathered with K’s cousins. It was a surprise birthday party for two 60 year olds. Yes, it’s come to this — gag gifts for extra hair and bad joints, jokes about Medicare, and actually wanting to be in bed by nine. Here’s C with H. She moved to the West Coast at the end of the summer and C is moving there at month’s end.

Everything will be LESS this year. Less cookies. Less shopping. I may not even bring in the nutcracker collection this year. Fortunately I gave up card writing more than ten years ago.

This doll no longer looks quite so forlorn. I added more hair, closed up the sides of her head, hemmed her cowl. She’s being shaped and auditioned on a bottle, with a chop stick for stability. I am considering keeping the bottle, instead of creating a cloth body with gravel at bottom for ballast the way I usually do. These are not kids’ toys, after all.

These two felt doggies (below) are whispering behind the curtain. I’d love to know what they’re so giddy about.

I gave the Red Bell Pup to my sister on Wednesday. Her cat may think it’s for her.

Tomorrow, we get our tree. “Less” will govern there as well. We have high ceilings and have typically had gorgeous 8-9 footers gracing our living room. Not this year. I’m thinking small — not table top small, but maybe six feet, max. It’s not just that I continue to feel done in, anxious, and lost. It’s that LESS truly feels like enough.

Festive salad and Salem visit

Lost my mojo. In fact, the campaign and election were disturbing enough to convert me from a “woman who yells” to one who cries. I still feel off, but miss my blog peeps, so here I am with a modest offering of food. This delicious winter salad has four ingredients: romaine, slivered radicchio, thin-sliced red onion, and pomegranate seeds. Topped with a mustard/garlic vinaigrette on the tangy side. The red bits look festive, don’t you think?

Good thing it was tasty because for some reason the frittata bombed. Came out like a rubber mat with inclusions of goat cheese. Seriously.

C acted the good sport and came to Salem with me today. Removed a cruddy rug. Got the AC unit down to the basement. Moved the bed and the exercise machine. We shopped for food and wine. Pictures were hung, curtains put up, and a few decorations fetched from storage.

This was AFTER C. bagged up another five bags of leaves for the neighbor who hired him, making a total of 28. Whew! It was the last leaf pick up in our town. On our side of the fence, it went pretty painlessly. The guy I thought I hired never showed and I’m glad because being outside and raking was one of the sanest and most grounding activities of the last few weeks.