Sunday, November 24, 2013

Carrying the Women

Daffodils and Tulips
My whole life I have carried the women of my family in clay pots.  When the first of us came to America from Holland, she carried the tulips of her family, the narcissus of Christmas and the daffodils of spring.  To me, the daffodils have always signified hope.  Hannah waited until her Scottish husband brought her home to the house by the sea in North Carolina, and began to plant, hiding the bulbs behind the house so the sea winds could not tear at them and we could enjoy them if we ate outside.  As a child I imagined her long fingers gently splitting the bulbs, and replanting them so that the colors were present to get us through the winters. 
Every daughter was taught to carefully place chicken wire over the bulbs in October and November so the squirrels would not dip their little paws into the ground and gobble up the nutty goodness of tradition.  We were shown how to coerce the bulbs into throwing forth a green shoot, then another, then to sit back and await the gloriousness of flower in the cold, then warm sun.  These same flowers had bloomed every year for a very long time.  I don’t know how many generations before Hannah, and at least eight after her.  I don’t know the names of all my female ancestors, but I do know Hannah’s
            When the fury of Hurricane Hugo shook our tiny island, my grandmother knew in her bones that this was the storm that would rend our family to shores away.  She was like that.  Before she packed the china and crystal, she dug up bulbs and replanted them in terracotta pots, which she then distributed to all the women in our family for safekeeping.  I was in California going to graduate school, and got a box in the mail.  When I talked to Nana, she told me what she had done, and why.  She was right.  Hugo tore apart the house, the land and the shore my family had known since Hannah.  I cried for poor Hannah’s house, my Nana who died that next winter, and resolutely vowed to make sure that the women in my family always had a home.
            This year, as I work the earth, still in California, I think of my mother, dead just two months.  My tears warm the bulbs, coaxing them to bloom, so I can see my mother’s smile once again. I miss her terribly, and suddenly understand about hurricanes and tradition.  I think about what it must have taken for Hannah to arrive in a new country with nothing but remnants of the earth in her pockets, trying to weather the storm life had thrown her, just as I too am trusting the earth to show me hope.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Open letter to those who don’t know what to say:

Dear you:
My mother died.  The most important, essential and primal person in my life has died.  She is not coming back, and this private silent grief is not something that can be understood unless you, too, are part of the Adult Orphan Club.  Don’t ask me how I am:  I’m horrible, and it is ridiculous to expect a different answer.  Many of you have not said anything, acted as if nothing happened, handled it badly, or acted as if I should be better now.  Let me let you in on my truth:  I will never be better and I am shaky all the time.

So if you don’t know what to say, don’t say anything:  instead hug me when you see me.  Whisper “I am so sorry” in my ear.  Grasp my hand, leave cookies on my porch, send me flowers, a card, or a text checking in. Come over and help me paint new color on my walls, mulch the garden, sit quietly with me over tea, and most importantly, let me cry if I suddenly need to.  Don’t try to comfort me.  You can’t.  If I talk about her, listen.  Ask about her occasionally, but don’t be upset if I have tears running down my face as I tell you. Mostly, understand when I don’t want to talk, or be around people, even you, at least for now.

In short, there are a lot of ways to tell me that you love me, without having to uncomfortably address my mother’s death.  Say it any way you know how. Trust me, I can hear you.  I will be listening.  But don’t do nothing.

And when I get to where I can emerge, be patient with me. On the day I get married, tell me she would be proud.  When I publish my first book, know that I will set one aside for her, even though it will never be read.  Maybe one day I will have a whole shelf of books that she will never read, yet there they will be.  Daffodils and narcissus will bloom every year and every year I will tell you they are her favorites, and the story of the terra cotta pots.  Nod as if you have never heard me say that before.  I will show you the picture of her on her trike when she was four.  Admire it as if you have never seen it before.  Tell me she was beautiful.

Because she was.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

A Little Daunted

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When one makes a proclamation that one is going to revamp one’s whole life and make it pretty, it feels good.  Because it is what you want to do.  And you make plans before suddenly realizing that lofty hand waving grandiose manifesto you promised others and yourself might be a little bit harder than you thought. 


About that.

I have been looking around and taking steps but have not done an actual full project until today.  I have called people and made appointments and bought materials for projects and slept.  A lot.  My agreement with Sean was to do four things a day 1) do something to take care of my body 2) do something to improve my house 3) work in my garden, and 4) write, everyday.

Three days last week I did all four.  I was exhausted from feeling like I had to to do all four. For two days I did three, and for two I did two.  I started to feel guilty about this until I realized that I was looking for the dancing monkey treats that Seth Godin talks about.  The familiar Atta Girls that I am used to getting;  The ones that I as an overacheiver have been conditioned to look for, and feel cheated when I don't get them.

I gave all that up.  I am now doing what I feel like doing to move forward.  It is okay to do nothing but make phone calls and schedule appointment and count that towards what you need to do.

As part of the appointment making and and resource gathering, I have been sucked into  . . . er, doing research on Pintrest in terms of how to do some of my projects.  One of them (from Food 52)  I have had in my head for quite some time.  Today I decided to do it.  

The counters in my kitchen are butchers block cutting boards.  I have been careful to not cut on them instead using a mobile boos block, and still had managed to spill a couple of things and once, tragically, left a basket of strawberries out on a hot summers day. Remember:  I have lived here for five years, so it isn"t THAT bad.  I had gotten kosher salt, lemons and white vinegar at the grocery store.  I took pics.  Here is the before:

You can see the brown water and coffee stains as well as the bright pink fruit stain.  I first spread salt and lemon juice on the board and let sit for a bit.  I then cut another lemon in half and began to scrub the salt into the stains.  I then wiped off all the salty lemon with a tea towel.

 Here is the after and before round two :  all stains are lighter, and the condition of the board is better.  Unfortunately the rest of the board is so clean that the lightened
stains stand out a bit (erk) The second treatment was to sprinkle white vinegar and baking soda on the stains and let sit.  The soda foams and dries and extracts the stains.  A new tea towel wiped away this.

Here is the final pic.  No berry stains, and all rings are much much lighter.  I wiped in mineral oil three times to allow for the wood to moisten after all the drying bleaches.  It shines and is beautiful.  

One project down.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

And so it has ended, And so it begins

I used to think I was a winner.  I worked hard and achieved things and was well liked.  I didn’t take into account the things that are out of my control.

In the past eighteen months I have lost, and lost badly.  I have lost a career that I worked towards for ten years before working in it for thirteen due to the vindictiveness of one woman in power.  I lost a young woman who became a dear friend, and who would have become a lifelong friend to uterine cancer.  Finally, and finally, the biggest blow of all, my sweet little twinkly girl, my mother.

I have not properly grieved for any of them.  I was in school, I had things to do, I was busy, my portfolio needed to get done etc.  All the things we tell ourselves in this go go go work ethic world.  We are allowed three days for mourning.  That is all.  Three days.  I bought in.  This was pointed out to me by a man I call “fucking Sean,” because he is always right and I find myself kicking the wall and uttering those words when I realize it.  I pay him to be my spiritual advisor.

Nine days is not enough for me to heal from these three major losses.  I look around my house and realize that the detritus of failing to heal, failing to move on, failing, is all around me.  My mother’s death, while expected, natural and part of the way of things, is also heartbreaking, devastating, and new chapter in my life. I know I need to make some decisions.  There are projects half done, undone, not ever started, and it is overwhelming.  My excuse before was that I did not have the money.  I do not have that excuse anymore. The money I inherited is a gift that will allow me to get healthy.  I have to see it this way and not as something that I don’t deserve because I didn’t work hard enough, and am choosing not to work super hard right now.  Because the truth is, I am not sure what to work super hard for.

So.  I have decided that my focus is on finishing these projects.  It is time for me to live the life of a grown up and that means throwing out the habits and objects of my childhood that no longer aid me in my life. It will be small steps and small changes.  I know that this is the only way I can move right now. I will be taking before and after photos of my garden, my home, my patio, my storage and my body.  This journey will be intense and real and as a writer I will have to write about it in addition to getting the novel done. I hope you join me on this trip. 

Friday, July 26, 2013

Neighborhood without the Watch

It is impossible not to hear a lot about the Trayvon Martin case.  The easy argument is one of racism.  That is, that the White Machine has once again perpetrated hate against the black man.  And okay, maybe some of that is true.  I don’t know what is in George Zimmerman’s heart.  But, I am all too familiar with the history that has brought is here, and the class lines that we can’t seem to transcend.  Maybe this is ultimately about race, I dunno.  But the thing I wish is that George Zimmerman had truly emphasized the word “Neighborhood,” when instead he chose the word “Watch.”

What I mean is that it ustabe that there was a neighborhood watch built into the neighborhood.  In Bewitched it was Gladys Kravitz, in my small town it was Kathy King, Lily Bainter, and Miz Jule.  These good women were the bane of the children who lived on my small island back home.  They knew EVERYTHING, and everybody.  When I failed algebra, I heard about it nine times before my daddy said a word.  Mr. Paul down at the Hardware store TOLD me that I would be working for him until I understood it.  He didn’t ask my mama if that was okay.  It just was what would happen.  In short, I knew I was both safe and watched by my community; my neighborhood.

If some stranger wandered over to our town, he would be greeted and asked who he was and whom he was visiting.  He would get a ride to that person’s house, especially if it were raining.  At the very least, a phone call to the person or family member would be made.  Especially true if the stranger were kin to one of us.  We made sure that both visitor and community member were safe.  We didn’t wave guns about, we waved concern and care in people’s faces.  We didn’t run after people shouting.

It is this last that makes me question George Zimmerman.  He was running after a kid in the rain, while being told by police officers not to. How exactly was he frightened for his life?  I don’t understand.  But I especially don’t understand his choices.  There were so many other things he could have done, most of them much more peaceful, and probably they would have come to his mind if he were truly connected to and participating in his neighborhood, not just watching it.

Thursday, June 27, 2013


Here is the thing.  I remember a time when I did not understand homosexuality.  But I never remember a time when I thought that homosexuality was less than or bad.  I just thought it was really different form me.  In high school, I babysat for a couple down the street.  The husband finally came out to his wife, and then she acquired a female lover.  SO there ended up being four adults and two children in a four bedroom house.

I am sure he was gay.  I am not sure about her.  I think she was trying to keep her family together.  They had two amazing kids Wendy and Michael.   I have no idea where they are now, because I am ashamed to tell you that I was a teenager and insensitive.  The last time I talked to Ted (the dad) I made Aids jokes. (Yes, this was in the late 80s).  It was like a John Hughes teen movie where one of the characters just doesn’t get it and tries to be cool. Even now I face palm when I think of it.

The point is, I still didn’t think being gay was a problem.  Even when I was so mad at Jim Higgins that I called him a fairy.  I was six, and thought boy fairies were stupid.  I just don’t get why loving someone is wrong.  It is so hard to find someone who loves you, who you can love back in just THAT way.  To limit it, or to say that you can only love THESE people, and definitely not THOSE people, is somehow denying life and the universe.  No, seriously.  If we are put on this Earth to love each other and make our a world a bit better, then deciding love is wrong, is in itself wrong.  Granted it is a big assumption to think we are put here to love one another, and to make our world a better place.  But it is the only one that works for me.

It doesn’t make any sense that there are those who don’t know any gay people.  Or if they do, they just don’t know it.  So it confuses me when I hear a DOMA advocate speak.  Finally, I sat down one day to really try to understand what the DOMA advocates were evangelizing.  I learned in grad school that if you have an opinion, you better be able to back it up, or you will get crucified.  (I went to a really tough school).  Basically what it comes down to is two things.  1. People who are married want to make that status sacred, and 2. Religion (what the “Bible says’).  So breaking this down even further, 1. Fear that being married won’t be sacred, and 2. Faith. 


Legally sanctioning emotion doesn’t work.  You feel what you feel when you feel it despite what the law says.  I know a lot of law abiding gay people who wouldn’t be gay if they could help it.  And I know many would not change it, despite all the crap they experienced.  I may not know much about the law, but what I do know is to legally sanction one emotion (love) through the use of another emotion (fear) is about the worst idea I have ever heard.  

My 91 year old mother says about the overturning of DOMA that it is something that my generation finally got right.  

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Portrait of a Family

Catherine Cole
September 19, 1981 - March 17th, 2013

Her mother stays strong,
not because she feels strong,
because she has to.
No one else can do it better,
Or understands her more

Her husband (not her father)
Stays quietly strong, and stands by
Waiting. Watching, doing the small stuff.
It is all he can do, until he needs to do
Something else

Her father does what he always does.
Harangues, and scolds and tries to motivate
Not understanding that this time
That isn’t even close to real
But he doesn’t know what else to do

Her brother wishes he could sell everything
to be close to her
but he has a life, a daughter of his own,
and really, what could he do
His mother is already doing everything.

I stand by, and sign for wheelchairs,
Buy Girl Scout cookies, and jamba juice just in case,
Once egg salad sandwiches because she craves one
I walk past strangers crying in the driveway,
who were not expecting me to need my car just then,

There is nothing to say, no way to help
Until the end
When her mother shatters
Into bright glittery shards of grief
And we quietly begin to pick them up.

Only then, will it change,
The Family, never again the same
Her husband, not her father,
Will still be quietly waiting and watching
And doing what is needed.

On Mother's Day, her best friend will drop off flowers
a dying request, an attempt to comfort 
To let her mother know.
It will happen again on her birthday
Year after year, until she falls.