Friday, May 27, 2011
I'll start with today, do a little retrospective (after all, gardening season started the second week of March when we planted the peppers seeds in the mudroom), and hopefully, within a week or two, catch up in the chronology.
With all the rain we've had this spring, we're in good shape compared to some of our country neighbors. The surrounding farmers have plowed and planted their fields late, and though we didn't get everything in as early as we'd like, we took advantage of the few sunny (or not sunny, but rainless) days. All that's left to go into the ground are peppers, a few more tomatoes, and the squash/cucumber patch. Pictures to follow.
Today's big news, though, is that for the first time since the year we got married (2005), we have a rose blooming. Our friend, Jamie, gave us a Golden Showers for our wedding, but it didn't make it through the winter of 2005/06. This year, for my graduation (MFA - University of Pittsburgh), our friend, Becky, gave me a Midas Touch hybrid tea rose. It's planted at the corner of the porch, south-facing, same place as the Golden Showers and the home last year of our most successful cucumber planting (picklers that, from four seeds, provided a shelf full of refrigerator pickles -- we're hoping for a larger crop with some new methods we're trying in the main garden).
Here's the Midas Touch, in various states from bud to bloom.
Thursday, March 10, 2011
I have other, nonacademic work to do, too. Seeds to start so that they'll be ready to plant when the ground warms and all danger of frost has passed (check). Tax forms to prepare (not yet). And a visit to my mother.
Today would have been Ma's 85th birthday. I checked the calendar more than a month ago, just as I did last year when she was still alive--to plan my visit to her. Last year, she was still alive, and I was recovering from surgery. I wasn't cleared to drive on her birthday, but Sage drove me. I was thinking earlier--what did I buy for her? And then I remembered. Books. I had stopped buying nightgowns and sweatsuits unless she specifically asked for them. Books, though, she enjoyed. When she was alone, when she could still be alone, she would perch her reading glasses on her nose (the same reading glasses she'd been wearing since the 1980s), settle into her chair, and read aloud. It kept her sharp, I told myself. Something to work her mind like the images scrolling by on the television couldn't. No way to passively read a book.
Today, I can drive, but I won't. The plan was to go and purchase an artificial flower arrangement and some accessories to make it into a birthday bouquet (something simple; something I could do in the car), go to the cemetery, which may or may not permit real flowers (I will check, but it would be silly to put them there today with more snow, more freezing weather on its way), and visit her there. Dad, too. He's there with her.
I haven't been there since the day she was buried. We've always said it that way in my family: so&so is buried in ________ Cemetery. Buried. Like treasure? Like a secret? Like a civilization and a way of life that may or may not be discovered in some future generation?
But I'm not going. I knew it as soon as my feet found the floor this morning. The pain that's been creeping into my "good" foot for days now, which may or may not be another manifestation of arthritis (which has already appeared in the ankle of that foot from where I broke it at 18; and on the instep, where I broke another bone right before Jade's first birthday; and is now throbbing at the heel, which I can't remember if I've ever injured, but it's possible). I knew it when I looked out the window and before I checked the weather report, that says more rain, which will turn to snow, and, don't you know, it's still winter. For a little while longer.
I knew it without words as the solid knot of guilt settled in my stomach. It's irrational guilt. Ma, and Dad, too--neither are there under the ground not far from the police barracks, just south of the interstate. Some symbol of them is interred there. Buried. We bury them and place a marker on top of the spot to anchor them to us, to say: They lived. Here lies a part of ourselves. Here, we can come to remember, to pay homage to our own existence. Without them, we would not be. But Ma, and Dad, too--they're not there.
As I make peace with my decision to stay at home, inside and out of the elements, to work and nurse my new pain, introduce it to all the other pains that will subsume it, rarely letting it have the spotlight of my conscious awareness, I reach for the old, pilled blue sweatshirt that somehow, though it's been washed several times since she gave it to me (She outgrew it--that's what she'd tell me, "Here, take this. I outgrew it."), still smells like her as I pull it down over my head. I could go today and visit the part of her that's buried and gone, or I could stay here, think of her, and visit with the part that still lives in me.
Happy Birthday, Ma. I have a feeling you'd get a real kick out of turning 85.
Sunday, January 09, 2011
I pray a lot today. I've spent a long time learning to be happy, learning about living my life in a peaceful manner, in harmony with the Universe. When I look up at the world and hear the hate that so often speaks the loudest in our public rhetoric, the emphasis on the superficial and the material that tops our list of cultural priorities, the narrow-minded hubris that strives to dictate so many of our personal choices, from whom we can love and to what way we can or must worship God, I get discouraged.
I almost forget that change begins with the individual, and I'm the only individual I can change directly. In order to be hopeful about problems so large, I must first tend to those little ones--those that originate in me.
Sunday, August 29, 2010
June 24 2 quarts sweet peas, frozen
June 27 2 quarts sweet peas, frozen
Total: 5.5 quarts sweet peas, frozen
July 11 2.5 quarts broccoli, frozen
July 13 4.5 quarts yellow wax beans, frozen
July 18 2.5 quarts broccoli, frozen
July 19 7.5 quarts yellow wax beans, frozen
Total: 5 quarts broccoli, 12 quarts yellow wax beans, frozen
August 1 9 pints Hungarian hot wax peppers, pickled and canned
August 4 2 quarts broccoli, frozen
August 7 1 quart butter & sugar corn, frozen
August 8 4 quarts butter & sugar corn, frozen
August 13 30 stuffed peppers, hot and sweet, frozen
August 17 2 quarts Silver Queen corn, frozen
August 19 3 quarts Silver Queen corn, frozen
August 19 4 quarts carrots, frozen
August 20 3.5 quarts carrots, frozen
August 22 14 quarts spaghetti sauce canned + 2 quarts to use fresh
August 25 5.5 quarts carrots, frozen
August 25 4 quarts refrigerator pickles
August 26 7 quarts whole tomatoes, frozen
August 26 28 stuffed peppers, hot and sweet, frozen
August 27 14 quarts spaghetti sauce canned + 2 quarts to use fresh
August 29 10 quarts whole tomatoes, frozen
August 29 4 quarts refrigerator pickles
Total....... Two days left, two days left, two days....
Tuesday, July 20, 2010
I don’t often make calls on that stretch of road, but I did Sunday evening. I was on my way to Pittsburgh, but only for one night, sleeping there and waking for an early morning medical appointment rather than hitting the road at dawn and fighting rush-hour traffic to get there. Short trip, easy as pie, but I felt melancholy, nonetheless. Didn’t want to be away from home, didn’t want to be in yet another setting where I couldn’t do what I’m doing right now (and likely not doing well). I can’t write, so when Amy answered, I told her, “I need to talk to another writer.” Bless her, she’s younger than I am, and though she might not agree, more disciplined, and she told me, “Just write anything and don’t worry about it. It’ll come back. Just get through it.”
I was doing well, not producing the straightest-line-as-I-can-write cohesive stuff, but okay. I was seeing the narrative, seeing the logic in the narrative, where it wanted to go, remembering where it had been, rearranging in my mind, slowly shaping and reshaping into a real manuscript.
And then my mother died. Everything about her life and her death is begging to be put on the page, and at the same time, I can’t manage more than a few notes in my Moleskine. Some writers would tell me I need distance. Fuck distance! It’s all here, all here now, and how it stubbornly defies my efforts to distill even a sentence of it has me floored. I wrote a little about God’s will, before and after, and that wasn’t easy, but Ma – you lived eighty-four years in such a way that never attracted a whole lot of attention (it wasn’t your way), such an incredible life, even though parts of it have made me want to scream, and I need to tell the world about you. I can’t. I try, and I can’t.
I’m beginning to think I know your life so well, and perhaps that’s the problem.
Monday, May 10, 2010
At first, I thought it was a squirrel: the darkish gray-brown undercoated in white. But when it fell from the trees above the stone wall, followed by a flash of feathered blue, I saw the angled appendage that wasn’t squirrel-like.
Too soon, it lay on the sidewalk; too soon, its body covered (rescued?) by another creature, unlike it in coloring, unlike it in size. The bird, a jay, was bigger. Not a squirrel at all. The angled appendage was a wing, broken. The jay did not swoop to rescue, but to attack. The smaller, squirrel-colored creature: a sparrow.
Later, I search. I find that jays are omnivorous, relatives of the crow.
Knowing this does not ease the sense that, in Shadyside, just one block from Mellon Park, where young men and women stroll and sprawl, books open, on the lawn; dogs strain on leashes, sniffing at something half a pace ahead; children tumble and laugh, framed by the cowboy sculpture on the rise, murder is committed on the sidewalk as rush hour traffic crawls slowly by.
Thursday, April 29, 2010
Monday, April 26, 2010
I’ve spent a lot of time today in awe that my body did not resist more rigorously the fourteen hours of driving, the four hours of sitting Saturday evening, and the additional get-up-and-go this morning (which included another two hours of driving) to get back to the city. I allowed myself to be fully aware of my body, what it was doing, how it was feeling. I couldn’t get to my apartment this morning to grab the bag of tortilla chips I bought last week. Bucket trucks blocked both lanes of traffic, and I don’t know the neighborhood well enough to scoot around the side streets efficiently; I had a meeting at twelve-thirty, and I didn’t want to be late, so I turned back, and after I got to campus, I walked the half a block to the 7-11 to buy another bag.
There and back, I practiced mindfulness: I am walking, I am walking. My right foot comes up, my cane with it. My right foot comes down, my cane with it. Now my left foot, up, down. I see the grass growing in the lawn of the William Pitt Union. The dandelions have grown tall, gone to seed. The seed has been blown away. They are in the beds of hosta, too. Purple petunias sprinkled throughout. The tulips are fading. The rain has begun again, just sprinkles. I left my umbrella in the car, and my hair has already begun to mat over my eyes. It needs to be cut.
Where is the pain? In my hands: the left, gripping my cane. The right, holding the grocery bag with the tortilla chips and a bottle of water. The water is half-empty already. I opened it and gulped as the cashier rang it up. I’m thirsty again, dehydrated-thirsty.
The pain is in my knees, acute as each foot touches the pavement, and then takes my weight. The pain is in my feet. I can feel each individual bone, especially those in the right. I can feel the inside bones of my ankles poking out. The right is not a bone at all, but it feels like real bone. I think about it. A steel shoe horn, hugged around my tibia. Now I feel the steel and each of the seven screws anchoring it to the bone underneath.
The pain is in my shoulders. My purse strap, slung across my body diagonally, cuts into the meat of my right shoulder. No pressure on the left—my messenger bag is in the car. But the pain is there, as if it were.
The pain is in my lower back, and I suck my gut in, tuck my tailbone. Keep walking.
I have so much “I,” where is the “Not-I?”
All day, all day yesterday, all day the day before I felt, acknowledged and acted, not in spite of, but with the pain. To resist is to say the pain is something
foreign, something I have to deny in order to function. Delusion.
And when Helen said to me tonight, “You look exhausted,” I realized that following through on the plans I had made this evening was more an assertion of the “I” than accepting that this body I’d been observing so closely had finally run out of steam. So I didn’t feel disappointment that I couldn’t find a parking spot I so self-consciously knew I couldn’t slide into, at least not then. But I did realize some regret that all the imagined conversations would not take place, that the good wishes to the soon-to-graduate would not be made, at least not in festive surroundings—although I’ve rarely imagined and found reality to be even close to those imaginings. “All I’d imagined” is usually a wish more than a truth. Saturday evening and the music my friends played wasn’t (it was better), though in honesty, meeting my friends for the first time, face-to-face, was exactly as I imagined, and that’s more rare, finding no slippage between the virtual and the real.
The regret of earlier has since faded away. I can email Renee and ask her about the challenges of being Evangelical Christian and tolerant of difference at the same time. Did I really need to engage Jason in a conversation about Warren Zevon, likely to prove my superiority in knowledge of the man and his music? And I did want to talk with Joel, ask where he grew up, tell him I’m very self-aware and know I’m often a mess, though a happy mess. Yes, a happy mess. I think I like that.
Thursday, April 22, 2010
I was at a weekend conference recently, and on Friday evening, a group of us went to a nearby Thai restaurant. The food and company were great, but settling the bill was a nightmare (the computer was down, the waitress paired some of us who should not have been paired, and "reimbursement accounting" is obviously not a concept taught in basic conversational English). Somewhere in the midst of the comings and goings of the waitress, the owner (I presumed) visited our table and commented on my jewelry, a turquoise-beaded necklace with a silver Ohm charm.
He said, "Buddhist, yes?" My response: "Backyard Buddhist." Which is about what I am. I know enough of Buddhism to recognize it as a good guide for the way I choose to live, though it's been many years since I picked up a book and studied any of the teachings of Buddhism. Guided only by the Four Noble Truths and The Noble Eightfold Path has been enough. Using the path as a lens through which to interpret my own experience is something Buddha would have appreciated, I think, rather than me spending the time trying to learn from other teachers. Experience is the teacher.
But I'm ready to return to the reading, and I will monitor my level of Resolution (adhitthana)) -- or not *grin*. I picked up a couple of books -- a primer by Desmond Biddulph and Darcy Flynn called Teachings of the Buddha: The Wisdom of The Dharma, from the Pali Canon to the Sutras -- and I admit I bought it as much because I liked the binding, the heavy, coated pages and the ribbon page marker as much as the comprehensive conveyance of The Teachings.
So, I've begun. Again. Let's see where it leads?
Wednesday, March 24, 2010
Monday, March 08, 2010
Maybe I need a reboot. A "hard reboot" would be good. Old techies would remember those...
Thursday, February 18, 2010
In the days before twenty-four-hour news and weather broadcasts, that's all he had - two minutes at the bottom of the noon, six and eleven o'clock hours. And then networks expanded to five p.m. broadcasts, ten p.m. broadcasts, then CNN, then The Weather Channel. If he'd been just a little younger or lived just a little longer and had his internet indoctrination, the fact that a current (local!) radar map was his at the click of a mouse might very well have had the same effect on him as it's had on me. I forget that I can look out the window, or (gasp!) walk outside. Instead, I make my rounds, attempt to synch the various and sometimes contradictory reports -- will it be 2-5 inches of snow? 3-6? or should I brace myself for the very confident amateur report of 4-8?
It's been a challenge not to use the weather to small-talk with everyone I meet (or pass in the street, stand next to in the elevator, or hand money to in the coffee shop). It's boring. It's the repertoire of the bore. When living in a city that's been very literally crippled by the month's record snow fall, everyone is talking about it, and it's hard to avoid. It feeds a weather junkie's habit, and my big, fat weather habit needs not one more snack.
But I know I can't blame my problem on others, not even the sky which, as I write, is once again emptying the contents of its maw down upon us (this time in the form of freezing drizzle). It's the end of February, or near enough. Ten days left, and I can continue my binge, wasting untold hours clicking "refresh" in my browser, developing imaginary friendships with the meteorologists on my television screen (example: I'm a little concerned that TWC's Betty Davis is losing her voice), and fretting because the hour-by-hour forecast has shifted forward or back (What?? It's not supposed to snow for another fifteen minutes!!) -- or I can make a decision to swear off now.
So, from this moment forward, I will limit myself to twice-daily viewing. Just so I know the travel conditions. Maybe a little more if I'm concerned about my kids. I mean, they're all over the place and I have to know their weather, too, right? If I call and tell them to be careful, I'm only exercising a mother's duty. And if I have my work done, then making my rounds of wunderground and accuweather is a hobby, not anything that's interfering with responsibilities. Everyone needs a hobby. It's also useful to know if there's a low front moving in. Explains a lot about the pain in my joints. So, for health reasons, I can check here and there. Yeah, I can control this thing. I've got it. I don't need to give it up altogether. Just reign it in. I can manage it, right?
Wednesday, February 10, 2010
So, I'm making a resolution to, if not to cease then to greatly decrease the frequency of my whining -- or, if it's a prolific day, lower the ratio of whine-to-upbeat expressions. That fair, I ask myself? Sure, I answer.
Wednesday, January 20, 2010
For the first three quarters of my life so far, I was afraid, not of people on the street, but of men on the street, of what I knew they could do and feared they would do. I dealt with it by overcompensating, acting tough. I put myself in the position of choosing before being chosen, attacking before being attacked. It didn't always work so well, but short of withdrawing completely, it's all I knew how to do.
And then my youth faded. My body skipped the middle-aged phase, donned only the disguise of middle age, while on the inside, just below the surface, the crone took the place of the maiden. Bones brittle, tendons taut, muscles fissured, joints swollen and slowly deforming. And I still won't let you know it, not if I can help it. I put a smile on the face others tell me doesn't look forty-ish (kind souls). I make a joke. I walk faster than my aches and fears and pains want me to, wait until I'm behind my own door so that I can strip off the costume, let the crone breathe and sigh and cry.
I think I understand now why distance is necessary.
Thursday, December 31, 2009
But, while I contemplated "who cares," I felt it was prudent to lock the door and let it sit. A short time ago and without any fanfare, I opened it back up. I did learn a few things, though, that I'll do my best to employ in the future.
One is that crisis makes better reading. Turn on the television and try to move through all the channels without finding some crisis-oriented "reality t.v." Betcha can't do it. What isn't as exciting is the resolution to crisis. Like when I go on a rant about something that's bugging me, but I don't write about how I make peace with it. I don't apologize for having strong feelings, and I surely don't apologize for finding serenity--I just rarely post about the latter here. I guess I see the IOCC as a place to do that, but it paints a very incomplete picture. So, if I feel the need to go on a rant, I'm going to try my best to follow it through. I have yet to experience darkness that wasn't followed by dawn. Though obvious, perhaps it needs to be spoken.
This past year has been filled to the brim, both with challenges and with blessings. I used to keep track of them here, and maybe, in this upcoming year, I can resume that practice. I'll try. God knows, that's all any of us can do.
Saturday, June 13, 2009
Following the Signs
Meditation on Being
Comments and constructive criticism welcome.
Saturday, April 25, 2009
The trip to the post office capped my academic work for the semester, overnighting a paper to one of my professors in lieu of traveling back to campus to get the job done. I still have to return on Monday, pick up my students' portfolios to grade, but by Wednesday at the latest, I'm free and clear for four whole months. It's nice being back in the country, not feeling rushed to do anything or go anywhere. I wore a pair of plaid pajama pants belonging to one of the boys out in public this morning--Mary or Tiffany had accidentally sorted them into my clothes, and I had no plans to give them back until I had a chance to wear them at least once--and my toilet consisted of no more than brushing my teeth, tying my hair into a quick ponytail, and finding my sunglasses. A younger woman could get away with this sort of thing in the city, but I'm too old now. Only in the country do I feel that I can be at home wherever I go.
The original plan would have had me in the city early in the week to write, to pick up my students' work, to turn in my own paper, then to wait for Christopher to take his last final so that I could load him up and bring him home, too, for the summer. My husband has taken over that task, so Chris will make it home as planned tomorrow. Me? "Life on life's terms" intervened. Monday evening, after dinner, while I sat, much like I am now, except upstairs in bed rather than on my front porch, laptop open, intent on my favorite mah jong game, my legs began to ache more than normal, my lower back tightened, keeping on, on, on up until...I sighed. George coated me down with Capzacin, I crawled into bed and prayed for relief by morning.
No go. From Tuesday until Thursday evening, the pain was acute, settling in on that right hip, the one I pulled the first time when Sage was three weeks old which left me, for weeks afterward, caring for an infant while my sciatic nerve shot pain the full length of my leg; the one I later pulled again two? three? days after Sage learned to ride a bike for the first time, the day he crashed, driving his eyetooth through the corner of his upper lip--though of course it wasn't his accident that destroyed my hip that day. I'd felt it pop out of the socket while I dragged the washtub full of clay from the side of the bank, dragging it rather than heaving shovels full of it because clay is heavy, and I am strong--I was strong. I needed a trench to transplant what I then thought were prairie roses and now am not so sure. They were so beautiful, pink, single blooms, with delicate thorns, found in the clearing in the woods on top of Hoover Hill. I couldn't lift the entire tub, so I grabbed one of its handles and gave a good, hard yank, feeling my pelvis move independent of my right leg, and *pop!* There it went.
So it was only moments after I'd replaced the brown bottle of muscle relaxers, of which I'd taken three? four? (memories muddy like the clay), swallowed down with a cold Rolling Rock, back on the shelf that Denny came in and said, in his trade-mark sarcastic way, "Whelp, I don't think he lost any teeth, but he'll probably need a stitch or two." And of course, Denny, being three or four Rolling Rock's ahead of me on such a beautiful summer's day, wasn't going to risk his driver's license to take Sage to the emergency room. That would be his response, had I the mind to tell him what I'd just done. Not, "I can't drive him. I'm intoxicated," but, "Don't think I'm going to get pulled over for DUI."
Sage was about eight seconds (nine? twelve? twenty?) behind Denny's entrance, one hand in Aaron's, one covering his mouth, blood seeping through his fingers, wailing at the top of his three-year-old lungs.
Sage had asked me, while I was digging, if he could go jump ramps with the other kids. "Mom, I'll wear my helmet. I'll be careful. I'm a good bike rider, huh? Right? I'll be careful, honest, I will." Sage, Little Man, Midget Magumba. He was the darling of the neighborhood. He spoke better than many kids years older than him, always asked funny questions, rarely ever threw tantrums. The boys had built little dirt mounds in the back yards behind the apartments. What could happen? He'd fall off the bike into the soft grass?
But it wasn't those little ramps he wanted to jump. The landscapers had dumped several loads of dirt near the entrance to the complex to build up the back yards nearest the creek. The "ramps" were taller than a good-sized man. When I realized he had come from the wrong direction, my first instinct was to check his arms, his legs for broken bones. Denny stopped me. "He didn't make it any further than the first speed bump."
Determining that Sage would not need anything larger than a dish towel to catch the blood (a tissue would likely have worked at this point--the blood had nearly stopped), I scooped him up in one arm, grabbed my purse and keys with the other, and tossed him into the front seat of the Caravan. I was no longer thinking about my hip. There's one chemical that is more effective than any pain killer known to humankind, and that is a mother's adrenaline. I didn't remember my hip until we were about four miles from the apartment, still three miles from the hospital. That's when the muscle relaxers, chased with cold beer, kicked in.
Just as a mother's adrenaline will kill pain in a heart beat, a mother's fear that she may do harm to her child causes a converse response. Whereas before, I'd sprung to action, now, all I wanted to do was slam my feet down on the breaks, not move another inch, lest I might, now high as a kite, hit another vehicle head on, side-swipe a mailbox (of course, on the passenger's side, where Sage sat), ram the tailgate of the truck in front of me. My foot off the gas but only hovering over the brake pedal, I inhaled deeply, tried to coral my thoughts into one place long enough to calculate the distance, the ease of travel, and the probability that I could make it the next three miles without killing us both--though I might think I deserved to die for such an idiotic move.
We made it there just fine, and though Sage required two stitches, his tooth was in good shape. The doctor praised the mandatory helmet laws and impressed upon me how much worse Sage's injuries could have been. Sage had given up the tears by the time we reached the hospital, and though I was oblivious to it, his inspection of them in the hand-held mirror the doctor offered began his fascination with having himself put back together. The years would hold many more such adventures. I was oblivious because it's difficult paying attention to doctor's instructions, mother's guilt, and a curiously quiet three-year-old all at the same time.
The doctor slowed, then stopped his speech to ask, "Ma'am, are you alright?" I could feel my lower lip quiver. As fuzzy as some of the details are of the day, as fuzzy as my head was at the time, I remember that quite clearly. It wasn't a good sign. My eyes filled, then overflowed, and the sobs began. While old doc was attempting to calm me, thinking, of course, that I was concerned for my son's safety, I threw my hand up, grabbing his shoulder, and cried, "I'm STONED."
Maybe it's not all that unusual for zonked parents to bring injured children to the ER. Doc called for a nurse, asked her to walk us both to the waiting room and to fetch me some black coffee, and there we sat. I know it was a couple of hours before I felt sober enough to drive. Sage, with his new stitches and a stack of story books, didn't seem to mind.
His birthday is in three weeks. He'll be nineteen. He lives about twenty minutes from here, and doesn't, at this time, have a working car or even a bicycle to come visit. We haven't seen Denny in quite some time, though the last time I spoke to him on the telephone, he's as sarcastic as ever.
I'm here, thirty-five miles from those apartments and six and a half years from any concerns over my mental ability to drive. Physically? That's another story. The seven mile round-trip to the post office nagged at my hip quite a bit, and the gardening I'd like to begin will have to wait. I've got two days off, to spend any way I like. I found an Anne Rice book on the shelves that I never got around to reading--Servant of the Bones--and it seems like a good guilt-free read about now. My house should fill up over the coming days and weeks with children home from adventures, people over for barbecues, music piped out onto the porch--life.
Sunday, March 22, 2009
I’ve been looking for ways and means to expand my spiritual life for awhile now, knowing that my daily reprieve and daily bread depend upon regular spiritual renewal. Along comes a book that amazes me with its simplicity and knocks my socks off with its depth of Love. That book is Finding Your Way Home: Words from the Street, Wisdom from the Heart by the Women of Magdalene.
“Magdalene is a two-year residential and support community for women coming out of correctional facilities or off the street who have survived lives of abuse, prostitution, and drug addiction” (111).
Magdalene was founded in 1996 by Reverend Becca Stevens, an Episcopal minister in Nashville, Tennessee who had the simple goal to “create a safe place for the women, a home where they could find love as well as space, and time to work seriously on recovery” (112). Magdalene is guided by twenty-four spiritual principles which are, Stevens says, “practical ways we can love one another without prejudice or judgment” (10). The ministry has grown from one house with room for five women to five houses—several of which have been donated by the community, outright or through fundraising events.
One of the principles, Proclaim Original Grace, states, “Our journeys all start and end with God, and everything we do is a step toward our return to wholeness. Because grace is our beginning, we are worthy of all good things” (19). Each of the twenty-four principles are described in several ways, facet-like, and then followed by the written testament of the residents, staff and volunteers of Magdalene.
The ministry is supported in part by Thistle Farms, a non-profit business producing and marketing bath products. It is operated by the Women of Magdalene, teaching them job skills, responsibility and a sense of unity and cooperation. Found on the website, thistlefarms.org, is this explanation to the question, “Why the Thistle?”
Considered a weed, thistles grow on the streets and alleys where the women of Magdalene walked. But, thistles have a deep tap root that can shoot through thick concrete and survive drought. And in spite of their prickly appearance, their royal and soft purple center makes the thistle a mysterious and gorgeous flower.
And now, three years in the making, they also have a book to help support their community, a book written by the women of Magdalene. The book is small in size—it could probably be read in one sitting—but don’t let that fool you. Like good literature, it inspires one to action. The principles that guide and heal the women of Magdalene are ones that can be used to guide and heal any life. As a person who already does her best to follow a spiritual program for living, Find Your Way Home is a wonderful resource for daily spiritual renewal.
To promote the release of their book, the women of Magdalene and Thistle Farms are launching a blog this week, The Voices of Thistle Farms. Please visit & visit often!
Tuesday, March 10, 2009
Today is my mother’s 83rd birthday. I made her dinner this evening: turkey breast, mashed potatoes and gravy, buttered corn, and my husband made a fruit salad (amazingly tasty for this time of the year).
I picked Sage up, and we went shopping. I finally got to see where he has been living—his first real residence away from home—and it wasn’t nearly as nasty as I’d made it out to be in my imagination. It wasn’t clean by the most generous standards, but I didn’t have to wade through the living area, and I could actually see the floor in his room.
We went to Lowe’s to get a few things on my list, then to K-Mart because it was right next door. Jade had her warm sweats stolen during indoor track season, and now that outdoor has begun, K-Mart was as good a place as any to find replacements. Joe Boxer’s were on clearance. What we didn’t find was a gift appropriate for an 83-year-old woman who doesn’t need anything else. I considered and rejected several books. She already has a “devotions” library. An abuse memoir would depress her. Anything that might have a sex scene for some reason I can’t fathom embarrasses her.
When we were near the end of our errands, at Martin’s to pick up a cake, we finally chose several plants for her garden. Green chrysanthemums. White tulips. Purple hyacinths. The ghost of the hyacinths still lingered in my car when I took Sage home many hours later.
Lately, I’ve been regretting not asking my mother more about her life. She has dementia, precursor to the Alzheimer’s that reduced both my grandmother and my aunt to children late in their lives. Ma’s memory is affected, and she’s losing her words, but she hasn’t yet lost her faces. Sometimes she’ll refer to my brother as my uncle, or my children as my siblings, but most of the time, she’ll merely lose our names, or forget who did what for her.
Last weekend, when I took her shopping, I had to admit that it hurt when she could only recall (and recount, over and over) what my brother and his wife have done for her, and then today—she seemed to have no recollection that it was me who took her to pick out and buy her new bed. It hurts, even though the truth of the matter is that I slip in and out, doing only what I need to do, whether it be taking her shopping, arranging her financial matters (usually without her direct involvement, so how can I expect her to acknowledge that?), or, like tonight, busy myself in the kitchen while she tries to engage one of my children in a discussion about the wonders of Depends.
Then I heard her tell me about my brother’s role in the purchase of her new porch furniture. She said something. She said, “I didn’t ask him. He just brought me what he thought I should have.” Then she told me that his wife picked the cushions for the chairs. And I wondered—when did she ever get what she wanted? When I took her to buy the new bed, who made the decision? I led her to the best mattress and box springs set in the store. I directed her to lay down on it. I chose the headboard, based, of course, on where the bed would have to be placed, assuring that the window would not be blocked. If I took a seat and let her roam the store, would the outcome have been different? I suspect we would have left empty-handed.
It seems it’s always been this way. My father named me. My mother wanted to call me Susan, but my father felt differently. Somewhere, she has notes that he’d leave for her before going to work with suggestions. What he wanted. Of all the notes she put in his dinner bucket, there aren’t any that say more than “I love you.” He made the decisions. My uncle and aunt named my brothers. I strain to think of one decision (other than demanding she not go to an “assisted living” home) that my mother has made for herself.
I want to ask her questions about this, but her eyes are shallow. They twinkle only when her birthday cake is placed in front of her, one solitary candle lit in the middle, and we remind her, “Make a wish!” She hesitates. She begins to say, “I wish I’m alive another…” Then her voice trails off, and she begins to blow. It takes three tries before she gets it right and the candle is extinguished. Another what, Ma? Another how many years? Does she get her wish? Just this one?
George asked me if I enjoyed the evening, and I said yes. I don’t know if it's the truth.
Thursday, March 05, 2009
And in thinking about it, of course I'm writing about it, too, trying to get at the roots of what attracts me to it. Then I find the prison letters.
It seems that between September 1983-January 1985, I was quite the prolific letter writer--mostly to men in prison, but to some military men as well. I say "seems" because the whole period is rather foggy. I do remember that my sister gave me the picture of one of the guys (rather, his mug shot--no idea how she got that) and asked me to write to him when her new husband expressed jealousy. She would never tell me why he was in Pennsylvania's roughest state prison. He told me it was for simple assault, the first time he'd ever had trouble with the law. Personal experience ten years later taught me that you don't get four years for that. I later found out he was a rapist.
And another, one I knew from the neighborhood. Last summer, he was arrested for raping a four-year-old girl. I wrote to him for over a year, and other than being overly obsessed with Ozzy Osbourne and being a horrible speller, he was just like any of the other guys.
There are two names on the envelopes of letters I have yet to read that I don't even recognize. I put them all in chronological order and have been reading through them off and on all day. Those should be interesting. Maybe I have an honest-to-goodness murderer in there?
Most of the folks I correspond with today are doing what they can to make their lives better. The guys (always guys) I wrote to when I was fifteen, sixteen years old (and why, I wonder, did my mother allow it??), at least the first two, never seemed to do anything with their lives. The first one--I googled his name and found an article from last year. He'd been arrested after leading the cops on a high-speed chase. Back in prison again. Wow.
I'm just thinking about this. I have a lot of friends today, but outside of my immediate family (husband, grown or nearly grown children), I can't say I have a "best" friend. Not a face-to-face friend. I'm wondering, then and now, if I've used these epistolary relationships to fill some sort of lack. Hmm...
Thursday, February 19, 2009
My word is "time." I feel like like it's cheating a bit. After all, time is scientific, time is historical (all the hubbub of time in relation to the birth of Christ), and literature, oh, literature!--always obsessed with capturing time, the ultimate act of ego.
And as I do my research, I look out my window, see the snow not falling but blowing sideways, trying to plan my trek back to the city, trying to nail down my schedule for the optimum driving conditions. Do I go tonight in the dark when it will be colder, but less windy? Do I drive back in the morning, when the weather forecast predicts a higher chance of precipitation, adding the pressure of arriving on time, regardless of the potential for hazardous driving?
Ah, hubris. What does it matter? If that line I chose holds any truth at all, I'm only fooling myself. The winter never really ends, and every moment is the only moment.
Tuesday, January 13, 2009
I've slipped into a level of acceptance about my age that feels almost like my old Harley boots--molded to my particular quirks, though still with an odd bump here and there. Comfortable, but not something I want to wear for days on end--which is okay, because I keep the ten-year-old me around to inject me with a good dose of silliness and novelty. My Ace brings her out in me with little trouble. The years roll off of me at the end of the week when I go home to him.
Which brings me to the odd part of my life. It hit me when I was wandering around this quiet apartment today. I'm a married woman, a mother, and yet I spend all this time alone, and when I'm not alone, I'm with folks that none of the most important people in my life have even met except through my anecdotes. I imagined this life a long time ago. I visualized, even, this life, but it was before children, before cleaving to a man I adore. We're all okay with it (I believe), even though it wasn't really part of the plan. It's just... weird.
Life sure is full of surprises.
Thursday, July 03, 2008
I don't want to go 'til it's too late
I'll be some old [wo]man in the road somewhere
Kneeling down in the dust by the side of the interstate
~Warren Zevon, Renegade
The clock is ticking. I’ve heard it, growing louder each day. I remind myself that time is a human invention, but the lines I see when I look in the mirror, growing deeper, transforming my face from who I think I am into who I have become, tell me otherwise.
Perhaps wrinkles are a human invention, too.Till later...
Tuesday, June 10, 2008
I've got a million and one pet peeves that I try not to let ruin my day. When they come up, I've trained myself to ask, "How important is it, really?" (Well, the situation in G.K.'s bedroom is border-line important - he may have grown the cure for the common cold down there by now, or a deadly biological weapon) But, today, after going 'round with Mary umpteen times and asking her to please not clean the 'fridge when I'm not here, it ticked me off. George was the one who told me, in his best Grapes of Wrath meets the Beverly Hillbillies voice - "Please, Ma, don't be turrible mean when I give ya this gawd-awful news that's a-weighing heavy on m'heart!" I laughed and laughed, then got more and more impatient for him to get to the point. He wanted to play. I just wanted to know what the hell was going on.
My macaroni salad, that tasted so good when I made it yesterday and that was on my mind the whole drive back from my Ma's, forty miles over the mountain, is now, I hope, in a covered garbage can, or my cats will have what I could only think about today. Grrr!
It's not that, though - not really. Sure, there was a good buck's worth of mayonnaise in it and the last of the Vidalia onions. But it wasn't enough to set me off. Neither was the five separate instances of road construction on a forty-mile (one-way) trip. I managed through that just fine. I just turned American Beauty up loud and sang along with Jerry and the boys - at least on the way over.
It's been awhile since my hometown has had this profound an effect on me. Maybe it's because an old friend is back in town. She related to me last week that she had to move in with her mother because she found herself homeless. Here I am, dressed well for a routine trip to take my mother to for some tests, driving my almost-new Toyota mini-van, have almost a full tank of gas at today's prices, and I see her. I'm reminded that most of the folks I grew up with - poor, white trash like me - are not doing so well. I see the buildings and landmarks of my youth in rubble, razed to make room for a parking lot - or nothing at all. Even the lot where the house I grew up in and my mother lived until a few years ago is covered in weeds and road trash.
When we dropped my mother off last Friday evening after the boys' graduation, my husband asked, "What month is this?" when we drove through the downtown, all lit up. Each lampost sported a shooting star in red, white and blue. Some sort of downtown pride campaign. But it's almost all gone, and nothing new seems to be taking the place of what once was. Back in the seventies, my hometown won some sort of small-town America title. Today, there are new facades on a street with vacant buildings, the interiors falling into decay.
And my mother is falling into decay with the rest of the town. Most of her friends are gone, but she still manages to find someone in the waiting room to talk to. I listen to her talking, realizing that she's not hearing anything that's said to her. All she's doing is waiting for an opportunity to recount one more physical ailment, no matter how personal. And she'll interrupt if the subject of hemorrhoids or amputated breasts comes up.
We ran into that old friend of mine at the hospital. She came in as we were leaving. Said, "I saw you drive by. If I knew you were coming here, I would have asked for a ride." Her old mother was driving her. Standing in the hall between radiology and the E.R., she showed me why she was there. She lifted her shirt and exposed a pregnant-looking abdomen. "I have to have a CT scan. Some kind of growth." She flashed a smile full of decaying teeth. I felt something unnameable then.
But I think I know what it was: shame. I'm ashamed of where I came from, and I feel, somehow, I shrugged my responsiblity, denied them my loyalty - refused to rot with all the rest. Like my macaroni salad (Damn it, Mary) will now.
Tuesday, June 03, 2008
Meme: A meme consists of any unit of cultural information, such as a practice or idea, that gets transmitted verbally or by repeated action from one mind to another (Wikipedia).
Found this on Exile on Mainstreet, who’s author found it somewhere else.
The top 100 or so books most often marked as “unread” by LibraryThing’s users.
Bold the books you have read, underline the ones you read for school, italicize the ones you started but didn’t finish. (I used pink for bold - bold doesn't show well, and I'm not changing my template for one post! I also underlined and bolded those I read first, then read for a class.)
Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell
Crime and Punishment
One Hundred Years of Solitude
Life of Pi : a novel
The Name of the Rose
Pride and Prejudice
The Tale of Two Cities
The Brothers Karamazov
Guns, Germs, and Steel
War and Peace
The Time Traveler’s Wife
The Blind Assassin
The Kite Runner
A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius
Reading Lolita in Tehran : a memoir in books
Memoirs of a Geisha
Wicked : the life and times of the wicked witch of the West
The Canterbury Tales
The Historian : a novel
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
Love in the Time of Cholera
Brave New World
The Count of Monte Cristo
A Clockwork Orange
The Once and Future King
The Grapes of Wrath
The Poisonwood Bible
Angels & Demons
The Satanic Verses (not once, not twice, but three times)
Sense and Sensibility
The Picture of Dorian Gray
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
To the Lighthouse
Tess of the D’Urbervilles
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
The Sound and the Fury
Angela’s Ashes : a memoir
The God of Small Things
A People’s History of the United States : 1492-present
A Confederacy of Dunces
A Short History of Nearly Everything
The Unbearable Lightness of Being
The Scarlet Letter
Eats, Shoots & Leaves
The Mists of Avalon
Oryx and Crake
The Confusion is this
There is Confusion
The Catcher in the Rye
On the Road
The Hunchback of Notre Dame
Freakonomics : a rogue economist explores the hidden side of everything
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance : an inquiry into values
In Cold Blood : a true account of a multiple murder and its consequences
Wow. I’ve abandoned a lot of things, haven’t I?
Sunday, May 18, 2008
I told a friend I would blog my speech, and I'll try to do it in such a way that the reception as well as the delivery is present. Let's see how I do:
(The Director of Academic Affairs calls me up as recipient of the Baccalaureate Academic Achievement Award - something given in lieu of valedictory status when graduate, four-year and two-year degrees are conferred at the same time.)
(My apologies for not properly citing Dylan in the above!)
Thank you, Dr. Mino. And thank you, my family - my husband, my incredible four teenage children, my mother, and the dear, dear friends who are with me here and in spirit today. And thank you, Class of 2008. You are my family, too.
We have come to this common place today in many different ways.
Some of you have come in the traditional way, straight from high school, from families where it was assumed that you would get an education that would form the foundation of your career.
Some of you have come because your children are growing or grown, or you seek an education so that you might be better able to provide for your family, or you’ve maybe wanted to enrich your own lives and expand your experience. Even when you’ve known that you’ve had your family’s best interest at heart, you may have felt selfish about the time you have had to devote to your studies.
Some of you have come because you’ve been downsized out of a job, or, like me, have disabilities which makes it hard to do the jobs you were trained to do. You may have felt frustration at having to take algebra all over again, or to write an essay for freshman comp.(Exclamation: "Yeah!")
If you’re a non-traditional student, you may have felt uncomfortable and out of place around so many young people. If you’re a younger student, you may have felt at times that you were sitting next to your mothers and fathers in class.
(Titters of laughter)
Sooner or later, hopefully, we’ve all discovered that we are peers, regardless of our differences. We share a commonality, and today, we all wear the same caps and gowns, and we’ve all taken classes together and learned a new language that includes such terms as “gen eds” and “OPRs” and “drop credits.”(A guffaw or two!)
We’ve had opportunities to study together, to join clubs and organizations together, to play laser tag together, and to sit and talk about our lives outside these halls together. We have participated, and it is my hope that we will continue to participate, to become part of in our jobs, our communities, and in our families. What we’ve learned from books and in lectures is only a portion of our education. That we are part of a larger world, and that we have a place and a purpose in that world is something I hope we will never forget.
Though our majors might be in the helping professions, in business or in wildlife, in information technology or a mixture of these and others, we have all shared the experience of being part of a small, intimate college campus where we are privileged to be more than just a name on the rolls. We are truly blessed to be leaving not a college today, but a family.
(This is the point, I believe, where I’m supposed to offer some encouraging words for our futures!)
I encourage us to think of the days and weeks and semesters culminating in this day as a starting point for our education, not as the end result.
I encourage us to think about our experiences and remember that the people who teach us are at least as important as the things they have to teach us.
I encourage us to remain teachable, even though we may be breathing a sigh of relief that this time is now behind us.
I encourage us to look at this very brief period of time as something that has shown us just how much more we have to learn.
Lastly, I encourage you all, as Henry David Thoreau would have, to “Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined.” The best way I have found to do that, the only way I have found to do that, is to put one foot in front of the other, and to keep on keepin’ on!
Congratulations, Class of 2008. Thank you for being part of my family!
Wednesday, May 14, 2008
I'm a little stir crazy not having anything to do. Oh, I have plenty of places to go - and "stuff" to take care of - but, well, maybe you know what I mean. The classes are all finished, the papers turned in, the grades have been recorded. I even have my speech written for Saturday. I hope you're not too disappointed. I used a Thoreau quote. I considered writing a feminist manifesto, but I found it difficult to draw together 80 other people in 3-5 minutes.
As soon as my last bio of aging assignment was finished Friday afternoon, I started digging around the Pitt site and found the library. They have a lot of the same database accesses that we do, and I downloaded and printed 3 articles on pedagogy. I'm mid-way through the second, and the third (saving the best for last), "'Feminist' Teaching/Teaching "Feminism"', is one you might like. I found it through Project Muse, but I can go back & save a PDF copy & e-mail it to you if you like.
I checked my degree audit, and my minor hasn't yet shown up on it. You told me that it would, so I'm not worried about it - just an F.Y.I.
I've only cried a few times, and I have managed not to sink into a deep depression. I know all sorts of good things are ahead, but - maybe you've felt this - it all went so fast, I feel like I didn't have an opportunity to savor any of it. I'd just like it to slow down a little.
My baby boy is 18 and is off visiting friends on his own in the evenings, playing music and doing car repairs. My baby girl is asking questions about politics and religion and trying to make up her mind in regards to what she believes, not adopting what we believe as the whole truth and nothing but the truth. I'm watching my oldest re-join the family, camping out in the t.v. room doing math and contemplating his future, comparing it to his peers and struggling to figure out where he belongs in the world. The next one in line - the roller coaster kid - he's psyched that he's got an honor cord, even though he's been kicked out of the National Honors Society (did I tell you about that? over a bottle of Sprite?), and he's weighing the short-term worth of traveling as a starving musician against the long-term worth of a college education. My husband sits back, watches it all and smiles.
I don't know that I'm ready to be where I am, Jackie, but ready or not, here I come. Thanks for listening this morning. May the clouds part and the sun shine on you today.
Peace & Love,
“I am writing in the garden. To write as one should of a garden one must write not outside it or merely somewhere near it, but in the garden.”
~Frances Hodgson Burnett