Category Archives: domesticity

Friable cloth

Curtains I made 25 years ago did not survive the wash today. Hot water and bleach were perhaps a mistake. These were upstairs hall curtains and filtered a lot of morning sun in a quarter century. The muslin was friable! Some had shredded in the wash and some disintegrated as I pegged the cloth to the line.

For some reason, their ruination did not bother me — quite the opposite, in fact. It nearly felt as though something sacred was taking place as the fabric fell apart in my hands.

What the ragged cloth did with light was extraordinary.

Hanging laundry on a line satisfies a person in a way that most chores do not. Cannot. Is it because it hearkens back to our mothers in the same way that certain recipes do?


Support

Obvious supports in my world: down spout, lattice, spouse.

img_5038-1Quiet is a form of support. Also: refuge and sanctuary.
img_4837“Do you hear that, K?” I asked a few times this weekend. “That’s quiet. We’re listening to QUIET!”

img_0743Getting organized is support. I forget that.

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Calendars are fickle forms of support — fierce task masters in one mood and stalwart and reliable friends in the next. But, if you think about it, a grid is neutral really. Maybe time is, too.

I cannot live without a paper calendar — electronic won’t do. I prefer a teacher’s big-sized version (though no more academic years for me! too confusing!). These are wire bound, with views of both the months and the weeks. I need both.

Life without this form of support is unimaginable to me. Three people in my immediate circle do not use them. Two of them are millenials and before you assume they simply have a generational aversion to paper, let me say — they don’t really seem to use the calendars on their phones, either. Huh?

Technology is support, except when it isn’t. When technology isn’t a support (or a form of education and entertainment), then it is a Medusa-like fiend.

My laptop froze twice over the weekend — big time scary event when the last save of the manuscript was three weeks ago. More frequent saves to the external hard drive are in order! That’d be routine forming a safety-net. Support.

Having dog walker, Rafi, help out (especially when K is away) is an expensive but welcome support and since it’s the only time our Finny gets to be social, it has additional value.

Getting groceries delivered is a decadent support that I’ll sheepishly admit to enjoying. It adds minimal expense and subtracts a fair bit of selection pleasure and skill, but eliminating grocery runs, sometimes for three weeks running? That’s support. And there’s my Peapod truck now — so bye!

Where do you find support in your life?

 

to submit to something

Last week, a PBS News Hour interviewer asked our new poet laureate, Tracy K. Smith, why she wrote poetry. Her answer? ‘Because it forces you to submit to something’.

The evocative phrase has lingered.

What do you submit to and why — and if enduring something is different from submitting to it, is there a way to convert one to the other? Maybe reverence is involved. Silence? I might cleverly suggest that karma dictates what we endure, while our gifts and aspirations determine places of submission, but that seems facile. Oversimplification is not what’s called for here.

An examination of distractions, might be, though.

TV-viewing habits are ‘up’ right now, starting with a disastrous re-boot about a week ago, after which I was left with sound but no picture (well, and another entry in the annals called, “Only When K is in China”).  I submitted (wrong word!) to watching a little local, live TV in the kitchen now and then. There was a mood of nostalgia and curious forbearance. I read more.

Next came a four or five hour power outage, leaving me with no TV whatsoever. It wasn’t like I was dying to watch local news or catch up on reruns of ‘Get Smart’, but if the reboot was a nudge, the subsequent power outage was a kick in the shins. I wanted to read the synchronicity for the fullness of its message — to submit to it.

The power outage was precipitated by a dramatic shorting wire out front. It was a real emergency.  After hearing a loud crackle and seeing a lightening-like flash, I went to investigate, thinking I’d be reassuring myself that it wasn’t electrical.

reddressblur_deemallon - CopyInstead, I was greeted by a series of violent flashes up in my neighbor’s maple tree. Ill-positioned wires had heated up the bark, igniting it in two places. I dashed in to take shelter behind my neighbor’s front door while she called 911. Children and nanny clustered ’round. “It might’ve used me to go to ground,” I said in slight panic.

Soon, the zapping melted the wires, leaving one end dangling from the pole nearest our driveway and draping the other along the road like a venomous snake playing dead. A teen-aged boy emerged from across the street. I quipped, “You can tell E. is home alone,” but then as he approached stuck my head out to holler, “Stay back! That wire might be live!”I could tell my neighbor thought me a little hysterical. Perhaps because I cussed out her landscaper last week? No matter. Thanks to my electrical engineer father’s pragmatic warnings about current and conductivity over the course of my entire childhood, I knew mine was not an overwrought assessment of the danger.

Firemen arrived, police set up yellow tape, etc.

Once the wires were severed, it was safe to return home and await the restoration of power. Then, two thunderstorms rolled through.

As if it wasn’t enough for the elements to cut off my power, the first storm filled the house with a preternatural dark. I donned a ‘miner’s lamp’ and carefully climbed the garage-attic ladder to fetch our camping lantern, although I’m not sure why, since my last solo attempt at lighting it nearly set the Sangre de Cristo mountains on fire. I wasn’t likely to give it another try.

I gathered a few candles for later and made myself a tasty chicken salad. I wondered if our hot water heater held enough hot water for a bath (it does). Soon sun flooded the back room again and I read Smith’s memoir “Ordinary Light.”*

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Not long after, the canopy out back set up a noisy rattle, signaling imminent rain. The display made me wonder: when had I stopped submitting myself to summer storms?

The metaphors swirl, still — restoration of power, providing ground, a live wire, electrical storms rolling through, sudden, zapping current.

The repair guy arrived at the height of it. Seeing him up in his metal bucket, head in the trees and handling electrical wires was unnerving, but I had to assume he knew all the safety precautions. As the sky pulsed with lightening, the power came back on in three waves. The fridge resumed its humming. I padded about, resetting the digital clocks, glad to be capable of that at least.

 

*I’ll refrain from commenting until I’m done. How my opinion of Plum Johnson changed between when posting and finishing her memoir!

 

The power of stuff to undo us

The Weight of Things, Part I

Look at the lovely Rosenthal platter — that flourish along the scalloped edge; delicate blue flowers draping off the rim. I have service for eight plus another smaller platter, a casserole, a tea pot (squat and round) and coffee pot (tall and slender), plus matching sugar and creamer, candlesticks.

They were a wedding gift from my mother.

Recall this: Mother is back from a trip to Germany with her second husband. They are seeing the world! While on the continent she buys an entire set of china for her daughter who, at the age of 33, is at last engaged to be married.

When Mother hands Daughter the crumpled brochure, Daughter doesn’t bother to hide her dismay. Are the dishes too feminine? Is she inclined toward blue these days? Such a fraught exchange!

They’ve been here before. A history of thwarted choices gives Daughter an unhealthy sense that she’s entitled to sour incivility. So many items ticked off! How much did Mother spend, exactly?

There will be a cost to Daughter’s wounding response and she knows it. It’s no longer a gift-giving occasion. It’s all about Mother’s hurt feelings. Daughter’s cooing and back peddling will be accomplished with a combination of guilt, annoyance, and compulsive, middle-child diplomacy. Of course the dishes will be beautiful! It took a second, is all! Of course, it was a generous gesture!

They’ve been here before, too.

Does it matter that I love the dishes now? That as I wash off the residue from last night’s dinner, I do so with care, knowing how inconsolable I’d be if the platter broke — my mother dead and gone these 22 years past. Stuff has the power to undo us sometimes.

The Weight of Things, Part II

We’ve purchased a shed in the sorry acknowledgement that our belongings have outpaced our capacity for sorting, disposal, or storage. The garage is packed: sports equipment, gardening tools, lumber, Christmas decorations, craft booth panels, two table saws, bikes and chairs. There’s beer brewing equipment, scuba gear, coolers, kayak paddles and beach chairs. At least three complete socket wrench sets, possibly more.

img_3262Now picture Son moving to Parts West with two suitcases. His entire apartment is boxed up in the garage, too. Now what? Most is too heavy to ship.

Too heavy indeed! Here are the pots and knives Mother purchased in such industrious cheer — the dish towels and extension cords, an array of spices! He’ll make curry and roast chickens! He’ll eat on Mexican dishes while looking at the spectacular skyline. Oh that view, Mother exclaimed, that view!

And then there was the dreadful pick up eight months later. Utter disarray.

Seeing these things makes for uneasy recollection. For some reason it is the contrast between the early optimism and the later despair that gets to me the most. I don’t know why. The hard questions arise, prime among them — how could I have missed so much?

I know how — because I wasn’t even looking.

It’s a little better now — maybe you can build up an immunity to memory by repeated exposure to triggering belongings. Things have resumed their status as objects. They are once again problems to be solved — sell? donate? keep?

The iron skillet is coming in the house, but — anybody want a waffle iron?

 


Did I create a monster 

When we invited Finn into our lives, I wanted to raise him to be unafraid of the vacuum.  With all that shedding black fur, I knew I’d be vacuuming A LOT.

And so, for months I made sure that I never startled him with the cord, or bumped into him with the canister, or acted anything but super casual-cool about the noise. It worked! Look — there’s a dog relaxing on the couch while his human runs the vacuum — I was so proud.



But then one day he tossed the star toy down next to the canister and fool that I am, I flung it across the room.

You can guess the rest. Now every single time I start up the vacuum, he thinks it’s time for a game. It. Just. Took. One. Time.

(Noticing the speed of conditioning makes me fearful about how I dismiss a few less than exemplary moments of parenting (once? It just took once?)). But never mind. I can’t go there today. It’s sunny and 80 degrees out and I have the afternoon to myself.

Don’t you just hate posts about blogging?

Posts about blogging often have a Catholic air of contrition about them: “Bless me Father, for I have sinned — I have not posted in six days.” Ach, indulge me as I cast before you a post about blogging!

img_2353Earlier this week, I published a few paragraphs about K traveling to a city in China very close to North Korea. It was freaking me out, etc. I thought maybe I could institute a practice of sharing his absence in real time because of our barky friend, Finn — but then thought the better of it. Why advertise vulnerability? (Since K’s now en route from Beijing to Newark, it’s public again).

[By the way, I don’t need my husband to be within Seoul’s radiation range to care about nuclear escalation — (in fact two others in my indivisible group and I have an appointment to speak with Representative Joe Kennedy about this next week). Let’s just say that the possibility of immediate personal harm amplifies concern].

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Then I started a post about housekeeping. Part nod to the need for discrete tasks with tangible results in a world spinning out of control and part nostalgic lament. (And yes, I really am picking detritus out from between the floor boards with a fowl pin!)

The house is tidier than ever. The raking more thorough. It’s hard not to wonder: what was so impossible about keeping a neat house while the boys were growing up?

Not wanting a question so fundamentally unfair to myself to linger unanswered, I considered an exercise in prescriptive memoir. Let’s document the positive!

I have a terrible memory, but this warping of recollection in the direction of personal failing is something else. It hurts.

But then it all felt incredibly disingenuous and anyway, in the process of rereading journals to “build my case,” I kept finding stuff that highlighted my missteps. Whoops! I got jammed. Really jammed.

I consulted my dear Byron Katie and got a little unstuck.

I’m tired of taking sides.

And anyway, wouldn’t a disordered lament make me more vulnerable and therefore be more interesting than some tidy, upbeat chirp of a post, which corrective or not, is ultimately self-congratulatory?

Messy then. Less messy now. So what.

I’ll leave you with a few of the pictures I scared up. I’ve made no attempt to span the years or to be thorough in any way (you know me better than that!)

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End of day

We are both zonked: Finn from playing with his buddies and dog-walker Rafi; me from chopping rock hard snow and revamping two chapters.

Just made a few more machine-pieced components for the Pale Village quilt. It’s time to iron for a while and watch comedy — maybe I’ll finish watching Mike Birbiglia’s “Thank God for Jokes” on Netflix. In this show there’s a hilarious riff about the schism between “on time people” and “late people” (‘How do on time people feel about late people? Well, we hate you is all’).