Finding Friends in Odd Places


So if you read my last post, you know that we are in the midst of having our kitchen renovated. Finally, after 20 years of planning and 10 years of yearning and 2 years of sheer desperation, we are having our kitchen renovated.

Huzzah!!!!

Naturally, being the overly dramatic Italian woman that I am, I have shed some tears over past memories. But now that the new clean, white, wide, sturdy cabinets are in, I’m feeling a whole lot better.

The process isn’t finished quite yet, as I have no counters and no sink, but it still looks a million times better than it did two weeks ago.

I’m delighted with my new space.

But the best part?

The guys who did the work are now three people we consider to be friends.

It’s funny. The crew who did this fabulous work are all blue collar, red voting, conservative GOP guys. One is a retired cop.

To get to our house, they had to turn in just past the rainbow flag. They parked their cars by the shed with the huge “BLACK LIVES MATTER” banner. They maneuvered past our cars with their “Millionaires Can’t Buy Bernie!” stickers and their “People’s Party” magnets.

The Chauvin trial was on TV while they were here, and I was watching it the whole time.

Should have been awkward to say the least, right?

But these three men were kind, thoughtful, funny and open minded. I gave them coffee, offered them lunch, laughed about getting in their way. They cleaned up every speck of dust they created, thanked me for letting them use the bathroom, and helped with more than one little issue that cropped up during the week.

We shared our opinions with honesty and respect. We laughed about our differences. At one point, I handed out cups of coffee and one of the guys said, “Jeez, who knew socialists could make such good coffee.” I kidded them that if they used the soap in my bathroom they’d turn into commies.

The man who owns the construction company brought his beautiful German Shepard with him every day. He told me that she’d be happy to stay in the truck while he worked, but I have a fenced in dog yard and two excitable young dogs. So every day for a week, that Shepard came into the yard and ran and played and chased with my dogs. The payoff, of course, was three tired and supremely happy dogs every night.

And on a few of the days, that same man brought his daughter with him to my house. At first he was hesitant, and promised that she’d only be there for a short time and that she had a backpack full of things to entertain herself. He said that she wouldn’t bother me.

Welp.

That wonderful young lady and I spent the better part of two full days together and it was the best part of my week. We went outside on a nature hunt. We painted. We sketched. She came with me to my violin lesson. We shared music, and played video games and ate lunch together. She was a shining light who brought me so much joy. I taught her how to say “I love you” in Russian and we hugged each other as we said it. She asked her Dad if she could come back to see me soon, and if I could be her babysitter once or twice.

With our arms around each other, we looked at her Dad, my contractor and simultaneously begged him “Please????”

Life if such a funny thing.

I am just about the most opinionated old lady around. I wear my heart and my thoughts on my sleeve. I regularly yell at the TV when the speaker says things that strike me as wrong.

But in my house, in my kitchen, surrounded by kind and loving humans, all of that political stuff falls away, and friendships bloom.

If only we could find a way to spread that into the wider world, huh?

Good Bye, Horrific Old Kitchen


So here’s the thing. We moved into this house 31 years ago this month. Back then, this was a reasonably nice 5 year old house with a cheaply made interior. The kitchen was basic, functional, not particularly beautiful. The countertops were laminate, the cabinets made of particleboard. There were plastic “lazy susan” shelves in both corners.

It was way better than the run down apartments we’d rented before, and more up to date than the kitchen in the one decent house we’d lived in earlier.

We had finally had our first child, and were awaiting our second. We had finally, finally, finally finished graduate school and scraped up enough money for a downpayment. We bought this house in a relatively rural small New England town.

At the time, I fell in love with all of it. I fell in love with the fact that this soil, these trees, this average American house, was all OURS.

To embrace an overused cliche, we definitely set down our roots here.

We have lived in this house long enough now to have replaced the floors, updated the paint, renovated the bathrooms and tamed the yard. We’ve turned the cellar into a cozy playroom. We’ve raised three kids here. We take care of our three grandkids here.

It’s a nice house.

Except that the kitchen has gone from basic to disgusting. The cabinets are filthy and uncleanable. One shelf is actually held up by a book. The laminate counters are cracked, peeling, burned, dirty and faded.

Don’t even get me started on the floor.

Or the 35 year old kitchen light that was cheap when it was bought way back when.

So.

At long last, after having saved for years, our kitchen is about to be totally renovated. New floors, new sink, new lights, brand new paint job. Brand new white, shiny cabinets and drawers and a specially designed spice cabinet just for my giant spice collection!

Finally, after more than four decades of marriage, I am about to have a trendy, fashionable kitchen with white tile backsplash, brushed nickel appliances and even a special slide out drawer for trash and recycling.

This is a life changer for me!

So you would imagine me dancing the happy dance all around, wouldn’t you?

Well. I am dancing. A lot.

I have danced my way through pulling apart every drawer, every shelf, every cabinet in my kitchen. I have danced through donating a dozen boxes of “what the hell is this” and I have danced through weeks of reorganizing junk drawers and plastic storage items.

But now everything is empty.

And now my inner sappy-soft-hearted-ridiculous old woman is breaking through.

Last night my long suffering husband found himself faced with a wife who was finally getting her one big wish. A brand new kitchen! And that wife was sobbing and moaning, in spite of the updates ahead.

“Oh, honey,” I sobbed to poor Paul. “There are so many memories in this old kitchen!”

“This was the corner where our baby girl sat and played ‘LightBrite’ on the day we passed papers on this house!” Our Kate was only four, and the house was cold and empty. But we signed the contracts and we came here and set her up at a little table to play as we looked through our new house. On that cold April day, that kitchen looked like the most beautiful place I’d ever seen.

“Remember when we had the little picnic table here?”, I asked as I wiped my nose. “I can see our three kids here having lunch.” One of my favorite pictures of them was taken in this spot, at that funny plastic table. I could close my eyes and picture the neighbor kids here, too. Chrissy and her brother Nick, grinning with my kids. And sweet Alex, our dear Alex, who died far too soon. This corner was where they laughed and snacked and argued and grew. And were I watched over them as they did it all.

Paul wasn’t sure what was making me so weepy, but when I turned to the cracked plastic of the spinning corner cabinet, he understood.

These two words, written in Sharpie on our old shelf, brought both of us back to the days when our kids were young.

I could remember the night when I wrote those words. The kids were just old enough to come home from school by themselves, and to spend two hours at home before I got here. One day I came home with groceries and as I went to put them away, I realized that most of what I had bought the week before to provide lunches and snacks for school had been eaten by the home-without-Mom crowd.

So after complaining and griping at the kids, I put the food into the cabinet and wrote the words on the shelf. “School food!!!!!” was strictly off limits to the crew. It became a source of argument, negotiation and many jokes for the next several years.

I had forgotten all about it until the moment when I was emptying everything out for our renovation.

And I was suddenly pulled back to all the meals, all the birthday cakes, all the brunches, all the holidays, all the batches of virus busting soups of the past three decades.

And I cried. A lot.

Tomorrow these old, busted, broken, dirty cabinets will be torn out and tossed into the dumpster. The floor will come up and the appliances will be moved. In a couple of weeks, I’ll step into the kitchen of my dreams.

I’ll be happy. I’ll be delighted!

But I will always be a little bit nostalgic for the crappy old place where I cooked a million meals for the people I love so much.

For the First Time, I Do Not Want to Be Just Like My Mom


My mother was beautiful. She was elegant and stylish. She always looked immaculately put together and ready for anything.

She was a wonderful cook, and was able to keep 6 kids and our Dad happy, well fed, and healthy on a very tight budget.

Mom was an artist, and could paint and draw in ways that left me amazed.

As the oldest daughter in a family of six children, I grew up very much in awe of my Mother. She was fiercely opinionated, always outspoken and she never backed down from a conflict. I remember her as the champion of young girls in town when one historically snowy winter had her contacting the principal of the local Junior High School to demand that her daughters be allowed to wear pants to school. “I will send my daughters in skirts when all the boys have to walk to school with bare legs, too.”

She was my hero.

By the time I was old enough to understand the concept of time, I wanted to grow up to be exactly like my Mother. I wanted to be smart. I wanted to be artistic. I yearned to know how to cook and I was determined to become a mother myself.

So much of my life has seen me happily copying my Mom. So much of it has seen me wanting to echo her strength and her resilience.

But something has changed in the past few years, and it has shown me that my mother can still teach me lessons even as I reach the age of Medicare.

Mom is 91 years old now. She has overcome cancer, pneumonia and even Covid 19. She still lives in the house where she raised all of us, where she cared for our Dad through several illnesses, and where she watched as he died.

Most of her children are still around her, still sharing meals in that same kitchen, still watching TV in that same room.

Along with my brothers and sisters, I try to take my turn visiting Mom, and doing what little I can to help take care of her. She has a lovely woman living there as her Home Health Aide. She watches TV, and naps in her favorite chair, with her sweet little kitty on her lap.

I come to visit, bringing home made soup or a pasta dish. We chat and smile and watch a bit of TV.

Then I get back into my car and head home. And I think, for the first time in all of my long life, “Please, universe, please don’t let me be just like my Mom. I don’t want to live as long as she has.” Please don’t let me follow in her footsteps as she gets to the end of her path.

I love this life. I have had a wonderful, joyful, hilarious time on this funny planet. I am in no real hurry to leave.

But please, dear Universe and gods and goddesses and fates, please don’t let me live so long that I am unable to cook my own dinner. Please don’t let me live to be a woman who can no longer sing, or swim in the ocean, or pick my own herbs, or write a blog post, or read a good story. Please don’t hang onto me so long that my children worry over who will weed my garden and who will wash my hair.

Life is a sacred gift. Each of us has our turn on center stage. Life is a fabulous blessing.

I am eternally grateful for the life I have been given.

Please let me squeeze lots more laughter out of it. But please, please, send me on to the next big adventure before I am unable to remember the pleasures that came with this one.

I Think Spring is Going to Kill Me


I love spring. I really do. I love the smell of wet earth and the sight of the first few robins. I love Easter, and stale Peeps and the first time we roll out the grill and make some burgers.

But I’m realizing that there are certain parts of the spring ritual that are not really designed for the elderly. Especially the elderly like me who have the kind of memory issues that make us forget the arthritis in our spines and the nerve issues in our necks.

Today was a beautiful day out here in North Central Massachusetts. It’s been a pretty dry and pretty warm March. My crocuses are open and the daffodils and tulips are poking their heads up through the straw that I put over them last November.

Today was the first day of this year when the leaves piled on my gardens were thawed enough to rake. It was the first day when the soil was unfrozen, so that I could scrape back the mud and find the emerging shoots.

This was the first day of the miraculous rebirth that comes around every year. Hurrah! Time to get out there, old Nonni! Grab that rake, sweep up all those mouldering old leaves! Find the thyme plant and the phlox and the yellowish tips of the sprouting tulips!

So out I went, with my grandkids in tow. Five year old Ellie grabbed her child’s rake. Three year old Johnny grabbed a trowel. Almost one year old Max sat happily in the grass, but it was obvious that he wanted to taste some sticks and dirt.

With one eye on the baby and one on the barely surviving stems of my two year old hazelnut trees, I started to rake. And I raked, baby, oh did I ever rake. I sang songs to keep Max distracted while I raked every old leaf off the newest flower bed. I gave simple directions to Ellie and Johnny, who were simultaneously raking, arguing and pretending to be superheroes.

The sun was shining, the birds were singing and it felt fabulous to work hard in the springtime air.

Until it didn’t.

One of the funny/not funny parts of getting older is the way my body can alert me at the exact moment when it has had enough. Like a tornado siren on a summer night, it suddenly shrieks out of nowhere, shocking me into the reality that these old bones are no longer thirty. Every tiny nerve ending reacts simultaneously, which means every muscle seizes up and every joint freezes.

I went from Happy Farmer to Sobbing Zombie in about three seconds.

OWWWWWW!!! My thumb was screaming. A blister! And all the skin came off!!!!

YOWWWWW!!!! My lower back was shooting lightning down both legs and I was bent over at a ninety degree angle. I wanted to drop the rake, but my right hand was cramped into a claw.

Why was my calf cramping? And who applied a vise to my achilles tendon?

I took a breath. And wheezed.

Turned my head to look at the kids. My neck cramped.

The next few minutes are a bit of a blur. Step, ouch! Bend, ouch! Lift 25 pound baby, ouch ouchie mcouchums!!!!

I convinced the “big kids” to come inside with the promise of a cookie. Do. Not. Judge.

I am very happy to report that today is a rainy day.

Huzzah.

There is no reason for Nonni to drag herself out there and scoop up the mountains of moldy leaves. Today is a day for the heating pad, the ice pack and the play pen.

Spring is a time of wonder and joy. It is flowers and baby birds and rainbows.

It’s also a time to check the mirror and look at the wrinkles before getting carried away in the garden.

Photo by Sandie Clarke on Unsplash

I Do It For the Joy


I take care of my grandchildren every day. I have done it for the past 6 years.

I know that this makes me look a bit ridiculous to some. I know that people think, “She’s giving up the best part of her retirement!” and “She’s letting herself be taken advantage of!”

I know.

I have many friends who tell me, “I am willing to babysit once in a while, but I’m not giving up my hard earned freedom!” They tell me that now is the time to focus on myself. Now is the point in my life when I should just have fun and do whatever I want.

Even after six years, I don’t know exactly how to answer them. I feel a little sheepish, honestly. I feel a little bit lame, a little bit silly.

At the not so tender age of 65, and dealing with a couple of minor health issues, it really can be a challenge to take care of one, or two or sometimes three children under the age of six. Sometimes I have all three for two days in a row, and when they go home, I am truly physically beat. Muscles in me hurt in ways I had never predicted. I’m often asleep by 8 pm.

But why does that matter?

You see, I take care of my grandchildren because every single day with them brings me moments of pure joy.

We older adults don’t often get a chance to dig in the dirt just for fun. We aren’t often asked to dance “really fast” in a circle while holding hands. After six decades of life, most of us don’t experience full on belly laughs that make tears pour down our cheeks.

I don’t know how to explain it, I guess. But I like the feeling of playdoh. I like fingerpaints. And I love walking around the yard with people who are amazed and delighted by a pile of deer poop or a pile of fungus on a log.

I watch my grandkids because I want to.

I just plain want to be with them.

Sure, it helps my daughter and son-in-law. Sure, it gives the kids a chance to leave the house in this pandemic year.

Whatever.

I don’t take care of these three beautiful, happy, loving humans because I want to be a martyr. Or because I want my daughter to feel indebted to me. I don’t do it because it helps them to save money. Or because I feel any sense of guilt or pressure.

I spend my days with these wonderful kids because the people I most enjoy on this lovely earth are people who are very young.

I really, REALLY prefer the company of kids to that of adults. I am good at this nurturing thing. I am! I am delighted to spend my time in the company of people who tell me directly, “Hey, can you be really silly right now?”

There is nothing in life I’d rather do with these wonderful years of hard earned freedom than to spend them with people who make me laugh, who tell me dozens of times a day that they love me, who grin from ear to ear when I sing a ridiculous made up song.

I do this for me. This time spent with my grandchildren is the gift I am giving myself. Nobody needs to think that I’d be better off going out to lunch or shopping or sitting at home with a book. The thought of those things makes my skin itch.

I do this because nothing else in the world would give me this level of pure joy.

Today I had all three kids, and it was busy, and stressful and fun and challenging and exhausting. At various times today, I wiped soup off the wall, wiped a poopy bottom, held a tantruming three year old, stopped a five year old from bossing her brother off of his bike and tick checked three little heads of thick hair.

I also said the word “hug” to a not quite one year old, and received a hug, a series of pats on the back and a heartfelt, “Awwww”. I was asked for snuggles three times, and watched a movie with a sweaty three year old on my lap. I got a kiss and hug from a sweet kindergartener who threw her arms around my neck and said, “Oh, Nonni! I love you so much!”

I would not trade one second of today for all the rest in the world. Not for a week on a private Caribbean island. Not for a billion dollars, or a chance to sleep in, or a month of travel in Europe.

I do what I do every day because joy is fleeting. Children grow too quickly. Life is made for love. I do this because this is what I want.

THIS is my best life. And I am so happy to be living it.

The House Holds It’s Breath


The house is sad.

Sitting in the kitchen, listening to the sound of the humming refrigerator, I’m struck by the absence of life. I’m surrounded by echoes. I feel the sadness on my skin, and in my ears, a pressure of all that isn’t here.

There are no voices. No kids are arguing over whose turn it is to wash the dishes. No teens are singing along to transistor radios. There are no TV jingles reminding us to buy the right floorwax.

No smell of dinner fills the house. Pans are not rattling, silverware isn’t being spread. The microwave doesn’t beep.

Mom is asleep again, snoring in her favorite rocker, her little gray cat curled in her lap. I’m careful not to wake them, even though the sun is shining on this warm October day.

The house is sad. Its walls have soaked in nearly 6 decades of life. All the rushed mornings were here, in this kitchen, lunches packed and handed out, breakfasts eaten and cleaned up, bodies large and small clomping through from room to room, elbows crashing, chairs scraping, “have a good day”s called out and back.

All the dinners were here, someone setting the table, someone yelling for napkins. Mom at the stove and the oven, putting steaming dishes in front of us as we gathered around this table. Kids talking about school, complaining about homework, reminding Mom and Dad about upcoming field trips and practices. Math done at the table, the tv on in the living room, someone taking a bath.

There were arguments here, too; shouts, tears, anger and guilt. The walls and the floor held all of it in, wrapped it up and kept it contained. There was pride and competition and sadness. And there was joy, celebration and a lot of silliness. There were kids giggling as Dad made Saturday morning pancakes.

Now all is quiet.

I look down into the front hall. The front door, now closed and silent, used to swing open hundreds of times each week, neighbors and friends and kids and relatives swooping through it and up the stairs, into the sound and the light.

That’s how I remember my childhood and adolescence. I remember it with all of my senses. I recall our life here as noisy, delicious, bright and warm. I can feel myself standing at the kitchen sink, looking out into a winter evening, safely coated in the warm yellow light of the house. Everyone I loved was inside these walls with me. There was nothing outside that could hurt us.

I remember our family life as always busy, always moving, always crowded to the point where sometimes I’d go into the bathroom just for a minute of solitude. There was often music, sometimes an old musical on the record player, sometimes the theme songs from the TV. Best of all, sometimes the music was Dad’s off-key crooning of “Where the Buffalo Roam”.

I smile as I remember it. I look into the dining room, feeling the press of voices at every holiday and birthday, feeling the vibrations of sound against the bottoms of my feet. Seeing the table covered in dishes, wine glasses, coffee cups and plates of food. I hear adult voices arguing about politics and sports, waving hands and trying to out shout each other.

But today all is quiet. Even the refrigerator is still. The house is sad.

I think it’s waiting. Old photos, dusty books, long forgotten toys in the backs of closets.

All of it makes me sad. I know that the house feels it too. This structure that has only known one intertwined, passionately emotional, typical and special family.

I can feel it holding it’s breath. Waiting for the change that has to come.

We’re waiting, too. We feel the very same echoes in our hearts.

We are all sad.

“Suburban House” by beautifulcataya is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Waking Up in 2020


It is the sound of the wind that wakes me up. A cool breeze flutters the dark blue curtains that fall across my window.

My first thought is that it’s morning. After having woken up three times in the night, it’s a relief to see daylight.

I roll over. I slowly orient myself. “It’s late summer….it’s Sunday morning….there’s nothing much on the agenda for today….”

Suddenly it slams into me: it is early fall of 2020.

The blankets feel heavy all at once, pressing on my heart and my chest. I drape an arm across my eyes as the waves come flooding over me. Trump against Biden, and only a few weeks left. The lies being told and repeated and told again. The violence in the streets, the rage, the injustice, the impotence of trying to make a point to anyone who will listen.

These thoughts are quickly chased out by fear of the second surge of Covid that is expected in the next few weeks. Will schools be safe? Will we have to go back on lockdown? Will the supply chains dry up again?

Will this ever end?

Are we facing civil war? The rhetoric on social media scares me more every day. The people marching in our streets with guns in their hands, insisting that they have to protect us all from enemies who come from “the other side.” The images are terrifying.

Will the economy continue to slide, and what will that mean for us, for our future? Are we heading into a depression, or even another deep recession, like the one that ravaged this small town just over a decade ago?

I roll over again, pulling my knees up to ease the pain in my back and in my soul. I’d like to stay here all day, rolled up like a pill bug, shielding myself from the reality that is 2020.

It’s the same every day. It’s the same every time I wake up. I stay in my restful place for maybe ten seconds, and suddenly I’m drowning in helplessness and frustration. Every action feels futile.

Everything I know is out of my control.

But I don’t stay in my bed. I refuse to be that far down. I push myself to my feet and stand in my window, holding the curtains back. I force myself to see my own small piece of the universe.

The woods are glowing. Wet leaves sparkle in the breeze. The air smells of the earth and a hint of the coming frost. There’s a cardinal chirping out there, and from overhead I hear a hawk’s piercing call.

The thumping of two tails on my bedroom floor tells me that my dogs are up and waiting for their hugs and scratches. I smell coffee, and picture my husband in his blue robe, knees up and feet on the scratched coffee table, checking the news on his laptop.

I am healthy and safe. There is more than enough food in our house to feed us for months. My children are safe and healthy. My grandchildren are joyfully oblivious to the wide world, and are happy to have so much time with both parents.

This reality, my small piece of reality, is where I absolutely must keep my focus.

I can’t change the outcome of the election. I can’t force Trump to stop lying to us. I can’t force people to see those lies for the blatant gaslighting that they are.

I can’t cure the virus, or keep the schools safe and healthy. I can’t give 50 million Americans jobs or make Europe let us all back in.

What I can do is enjoy my cup of esspresso, scratch the soft spots behind my dog’s ears and give my husband a hug.

I can tell my children and grandchildren how much I love them, and I can call my Momma for a chat. I can send letters and cards to friends.

That is my world for now.

The challenge is to convince myself that it is, in fact, enough.

I Stand on the Bridge


I find myself standing on the bridge between the past and the future, and it is a tender and poignant place to be.

I stand between youth and old age.

At the age of 63, it is of course natural for me to find myself in the middle of life’s journey.

But for me, the juxtaposition of what has been and what is coming is feeling profound right now.

My mother is 89 years old. She is 26 years older than I am.

Mom still lives at home, in the house where she and our Dad raised six kids. She is still there, still in her kitchen, where I learned to make sauce and meatballs. Still sleeping in the bedroom where she and Dad slept from 1962 until 2008 when Dad died.

I go to see her once a week. My siblings go at least once a week, too. Some more often. We are Mom’s supports, her cooks, her money managers, her cheerleaders as she heads on down the path toward her next step.

As my very wise sister put it, “Mom is quietly folding her tent.” She is gently withdrawing from her life, seeing fewer and fewer friends as her memory and her body fade.

But she is happy. Perhaps happier and calmer than at any other time in my life. Mom, once a power woman in control of all around her, has learned to accept help with grace. She has been willing to wear her LifeAlert, to have a home health aide and to welcome one of us every day (although she doesn’t often remember whose turn it is on any given day to have dinner with her.)

Mom is showing me how to exit gracefully, just as Dad did when it was his turn.

I am watching her. I am learning. I am coming to terms with some thoughts of my own about my life going forward toward that “rainbow bridge.” I am so lucky to have a model of how to go with humor and humility.

And.

As I stand on this tender bridge, I look back toward my youngest child. My son Tim turned 27 yesterday. So you can see that I am almost the ‘median’ point between my mother and my son.

I look at him, my sweet, kind boy. I see that life is spread out before him like a banquet. He plans to marry his sweetheart next summer. They are thinking about children, about careers, about their hopes and dreams for a future family.

I see him, and I see his Dad at the same age. I see myself. I see our worries and our joys and I remember what it was like to be young, in love, ready to move into the future with courage and hope.

My Mother often talks to me about those years before she married my Dad. She talks about how happy they were to sit under the trees on Boston Common, planning how many children they’d have. She talks about what it was like to hold his hand as they walked through the city sharing their dreams of a beautiful future.

And I stand on the bridge. I hear her thoughts, and I hear Tim’s. I know that it was my Mom and Dad’s ability to dream and love that lead to my family, and lead to my marriage and then lead to my beautiful boy and his wonderful partner.

I know that Tim and Sweens will marry, have children, face challenges, encounter unexpected joys and find ways to keep recreating their hope. Just as Paul and I have done. Just as my Mom and Dad did for all those years.

And I know that one day it will be me who is facing that final chapter.

I just hope, and pray, that when that time comes my children will look to me as a model of how to move on. I hope that they will think about Grandma, and remark on how like her I am.

And I hope, and I pray, that when that day rolls by, there will be children of theirs who are busy falling in love and planning their next steps and thinking about babies of their own.

Is This Healthy? Or Am I Kidding Myself?


The thing about summer is that all of the veggies are amazing.

Right?

It’s July now. So I can drive up the street to the local farmstand where I can buy fresh, buttery lettuce, fresh peas, tomatoes still warm from the sun, cucumbers that are as crisp as breadsticks.

I can run up to the weekly farmer’s market and get garlic scapes, fresh spring onions, tender, fresh kale.

I can go home and microwave some beets, then cool them and mix them into all those fresh, tender greens with a bit of goat cheese.

Holy delicious.

I am the healthiest eater in the world from June through October.

But does all that delicious green goodness buy me extra time on this earth if I refuse to touch salad in the winter?

I mean, I try. Every single year, I try to eat salad in the winter. I buy grocery store lettuce (bitter!) and grocery store cukes (flabby!) and grocery store tomatoes (tasteless!).  And they sit in the fridge until they begin to liquify, at which point I give up until the following summer.

So am I still healthy if I sort of stock up for six months? Can I still call myself a healthy eater if I only eat roasted carrots, beets, potatoes through the fall? Is it still a good veggie side dish if it’s roasted butternut squash with butter and real maple syrup?

My theory is that New Englanders learned to eat a whole pile of greens all summer (I DO!). And then they learned to preserve summer veggies like corn and tomatoes and beans (I DO THAT, TOO!) so in the winter they could eat pig fat while telling themselves “Well, at least we have veggies put up in the old root cellar.” (YUP, THAT’S ME.)

The early New England settlers managed to survive without eating hothouse tomatoes. They didn’t die of scurvy just because they refused to eat hothouse kale.

And I won’t either.

Right?

By shucking the corn and taking the peas out of their pods all spring and summer, I am earning my way into ‘healthy eater’s heaven’, aren’t I?

I love summer food. The peaches, the cherry tomatoes, the ripe berries all over the yard. I love it. I could forage all summer on the garden delights that surround me, as long as I could get a free pass to eat pork and butter my bread all winter long.

What do you think?

Am I delusional, or can I really save up my health points before the cold New England nights set in once again?

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Worth The Effort?


What is it that gives a person “worth?” I’m old enough, and self aware enough, to know that worth is not measured by money.

Hey, I was a teacher! I’m married to a therapist. Money has never been our goal.

But what is it that lets us move through our days with a sense of self-worth?

At the tender and transitional age of 61, I’m struggling with this question once again.

You see, I used to find my sense of worth from my work. I have always worked, and had a purpose.

When I was only 22, I was a Russian interpreter. I took new immigrants to the doctor. I sat in therapy sessions, helping patient and doctor to understand each other. I helped with surgery, translating what the doctor wanted the patient to do during cataract surgery and cardiac catheterization.

I even helped to interpret at a baby’s birth. I was valued. I felt my worth.

Later, I became a speech pathologist, a job I held for 20 years. I helped families learn how to communicate with their disabled children. I helped those children to find their voices.  I was valued. I knew that what I was doing was helpful and important.

And after many years I became a teacher. I taught fifth graders. I was a fun teacher. I was funny. I made learning interesting. No matter what, I will always know that I was very good at my job.

I felt so good about myself in those years. I felt worthy.

Then things changed. I lost my teaching job, and moved into retirement.

And this is where the question of worth has reappeared. When I have my granddaughter in my arms, I know that I am the most important person on earth. Ellie needs me. Ellie loves me. I am NONNI.

But it’s summer.

Ellie is home with her Mom and Dad and new baby brother. They are close by. I see them almost every day. I love them all more than I could ever express.

But.

Now I have no role. I have no job. I have no way to measure my worth in this lovely world.

So, dear blog readers, I guess I’m fishing. (Phishing?)

Now I wonder, is a gray haired lady still useful if she isn’t physically able to manage her garden by herself? Is she still worth keeping if her husband works hard every day while she stays home and cleans things?

Does it count that this house has NEVER been this clean? Or that the closets are completely organized?

What do I do with myself on these long days? How do I define myself?

Is it legal to actually have three months of vacation while everyone else is working?

I swear, in September I will be back to working hard. I’ll have both two year old Ellie and three month old Johnnie. My arms, my heart and my day will all be full.

But.

What about now? Do I earn some kind of Donna Reed points for the incredibly clean kitchen cabinets and the very fluffy towels in the bathroom? I was raised by one of the first feminists. I know that just being a “homemaker” isn’t an actual role in life.

But what else do I do while I’m waiting to go back to Nonni extraordinaire? How do I feel good about so many days where nothing is actually accomplished?

Sigh.

I have to admit. I think I’m nuts. I hate the fact that I do this to myself.

On the other hand, if anyone needs any alphabetized spices, come on over.

 

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Poor useless Nonni