The Eye of the Beholder


It was a day today. Just a normal day.

It was a Sunday, in northern Massachusetts, in the last week of October.

It rained all day and the wind kept sweeping back and forth across our yard, seemingly intent on scrubbing away all signs of summer.

The yellow leaves swirled through the air like dancers and the newly empty trees bowed to the left and to the right.

I sat in my comfy rocker with a blanket on my knees. I watched the weather and smiled.

It was perfect.

Like every other adult in the world today, my days are packed with responsibilities. Taking care of my grandchildren and one of their friends, shopping, cooking, entertaining friends, helping to look after my elderly Mom, dealing with two young and energetic dogs……

All of it is good and all of really does bring me joy.

But I am exhausted. I’ve spent the past ten days or so fighting off a visit to the doctor. Refusing to go on medications that make me feel worse than I did before. The nose is stuffy, the lungs are wheezy, the aches are chasing the pains across my spine and I have a mystery foot ailment that has me limping like an old sailor.

I needed one day to myself.

And my dear friend, Mother Nature, has complied. It is cold. It is too rainy to work in the yard. Too cold to clean the garage. I had some new friends here for dinner last night, so there is no need clean anything.

Today has been spent reading a very cool mystery novel (The Nowhere Child). It has been spent sipping tea and eating mini cannolis brought by our friends. Dogs have been snoozing on my lap.

Even my workaholic husband has been reading, snoozing and playing games on his phone.

Perfect.

As I sit here now, I am looking out at a gray, dreary dusk. The rain pours down. The wind keeps blowing.

As I sit here, the light of my house shines in contrast to the cold night ahead. I am safe. I am sitting. I gaze out into the golden glow of the leaves that remain on our beech and oak trees. I can see the last bright sign of life from our “Burning bush”. I know that winter is heading our way.

But all will be well.

Because every now and then, a day will come when my body tells me to simply sit down and shut up. I’ll pour some hot herb tea, grab a good book, and fold the fuzzy blanket over the dog on my lap.

Life is good. Especially when we don’t expect it to be.

“Oh, What is to Become of Me?”


I’m a mess.

I’m an old, cranky, Nonni of a mess.

I don’t seem to know what in the world I want anymore. Nothing satisfies me. Nothing much makes me say, “Hooray”.

OK. Except maybe the incredible blood orange cosmo that my dear friend Patty brought me on Friday. That made me say lots of happy words.

But the older I get, the more I seem to be turning into a toddler.

Let me explain it this way.

You know when a toddler demands that you give them a waffle with butter and syrup. So you make said waffle, put on said butter, smoosh on said syrup and present it. The toddler immediately screams, throws themself to the floor and yells “NOOOOOOOOOOOO!”

Well. Yeah. That’s how I feel.

I had a very busy week with my best beloveds. They were both sick and I spent a lot of time making soup, urging them to eat soup, cleaning up the mess of the soup. We watched more episodes of “My Little Pony” than anyone should have to endure. I rocked, I soothed, I brought them to the doctor.

The house smelled of Vicks. I smelled of snot and drool.

I got to the weekend feeling pretty tired.

And it was a busy couple of days, too. Taxes were due, groceries were needed, laundry was piling up.

This meant, of course, than I spent most of Sunday chanting the international call of the teacher, “Snowdaysnowdaysnowdaysnowday.” I checked the “snowday calculator” every 15 minutes. I prayed for snow, even though I really hate snow.

I pictured myself spending a lovely, quiet Monday. At home with just the dogs. Reading. Eating a healthy salad while listening to classical music….

And the snow day was granted by the universe! I was elated!

From 9 to 11, I was just delighted.

Then I realized that I was eating chips out of the bag while sprawled in the recliner in my flannel pants. I was watching “PitBulls and Parolees”. I got up in disgust and made myself vacuum and dust. I went into the attic to put away the Valentine’s tchotchkes and take out the ceramic bunnies and eggs. I semi-decorated. I paid the bills.

It was noon.

I shoveled some snow. I checked Facebook and Twitter. I ate M&Ms.

More “PitBulls and Parolees”. I felt bloated. Bored. Stupid.

Now it’s almost dinner time.

I’m making a cheater’s pizza. You know, where you slice a loaf of garlic bread in half and slop on some toppings.

I tell ya.

There’s just no pleasing this old toddler of a granny.

I can’t wait for the kids to get here in the morning so I can make pancakes that no one will eat, get fingerpaint all over the walls, blow toddler noses 342 times, and then complain about how tired I am.

Do you feel bad for me yet?

“You know you missed us. Ellie will be a pitbull, and I’ll be a parolee.”

Three Little Words


I wake up thinking of three little words.  Those simple, familiar words that can make my heart sing.

I haven’t heard those words in such a long time. My heart is cold, and heavy.  I yearn to hear them, just one more time.

Time goes by, day after day slipping past, one exactly like the next.

I go through my routine, day after weary day, barely thinking as I carry out each monotonous task.  I make the coffee, butter the toast, wrap in my heavy coat and scarf, and head out the door. My husband moves through his parallel routine, the two of us barely speaking as the grey light of dawn leaks through the heavy curtains.

I endure the familiar, frustrating commute, my nerves frayed and ragged.

The day drags on, and my heart is increasingly heavy.

I gaze out the window of my classroom.  I draw in a ragged breath, and I sigh.

I miss those words.  I miss them so much.

There was a time when I took those three little words for granted.  A time, not so very long ago, when I barely acknowledged them.

Those three magical, familiar, comforting words.

I shiver, pulling my sweater close.  Oh, what wouldn’t I give now to hear those three delicious words?  I wouldn’t take them for granted now! I wouldn’t ignore them, or take them as simply my due.

No.

If I could only hear those precious words spoken softly today!  If I could only hear them again, my joy would be boundless. I would fill the room with laughter.  I would throw my arms wide and embrace the world!

If only I could hear those beautiful words again.

“Hazy, hot and humid.”

That Winter Moon


Winter-moon

There is something supremely magical about a mid-winter moon.

It shouldn’t feel like magic, I think. It should feel like a threat.  Like a dangerous, biting creature that waits to pounce. The wind is howling, carrying plumes of snow across the yard.  It feels dangerous out here.  The moon rides high and distant, looking down from far, far above.

But in spite of the icy bite, in spite of the shivering icy fingers that reach for me, I can’t help noticing the magic that shines from that frigid silver face. Magic seems to shiver in the air under the trees.

On a night like tonight, in the darkest part of winter, there is powerful magic in stepping outside when the moon is high and the stars are crisp.  The silver of the moonlight is like dust, sifting down and coating the darkest needles of the pines that surround our deck.  The light is cold and distant, but it reaches into the dark woods, lighting the crust of snow that lies beneath the trees.

I lean on the deck rail, looking out into the forest, seeing the moon’s glow spread out below me. I see  mysterious tracks winding around the trunks of the trees.  Are they coyote tracks? Or deer? Or are they simply the tracks of my dog as she takes her morning stroll?

I don’t know.  I can’t tell from up here, but it doesn’t matter.  The silvery, shivering light of the nearly-full moon is flowing down onto the snowy woods, and the dark shadows of the animal tracks only serve to prove that magic is everywhere on this icy mid-winter night.

There is something magical and strong in the silvery light of a mid-winter moon.

Perfect.


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Today was a perfect day.

I didn’t plan to write about it, but as the day draws to a close, the perfection of it all demands to be heard. Words are bubbling up in my brain so quickly that if I don’t write them down, something up there just may burst.

It was that kind of day.

This was the first weekend of the school year.  I came home on Friday, after a mere 2 1/2 days of teaching, completely exhausted and thoroughly exhilarated.  It’s still early, I know, but I get the feeling that this is going to be one of those years when I just fall in love with my class.  I can’t really explain how or why it happens, but there are certain collections of children (for lack of a better word!) that simply reach right out and touch my heart.  This group seems to be that way.  Already.

So I came into the weekend with a lot to do, but a happy soul.  Yesterday was mostly errands and chores around the house.

Yesterday was also the sixth day in a row where the temperature went almost to 90 degrees and the humidity was nearly the same.  It was an uncomfortable, breathless, sweating, nasty day to be shopping and cleaning, but I did what had to be done.  In the evening we weathered a tornado alert and a huge, torrential thunderstorm, and I went to be praying for the stickiness to dissolve.

And we come to this morning.

I woke up at 7 to a cool breeze.  I went into the living room, trailed by my faithful doggies.  I stepped onto the deck and into a world of golden beauty.  The trees were drenched, but as they dripped, the sun shone through every drop, as if they were coated in diamonds.  The breeze blew, and a shower of sparks came down through the woods, lit up from within with a rainbow of incredible fire.

Paul woke up and we started the day with a long soak in the hot tub, breathing in the cool, crisp scent of almost-fall, and drinking our coffee as the steamy water eased the kinks out of our backs.

I had a lot of school work to do, but I was excited to be doing it.   Right after breakfast, I jumped into those tasks. I scored some math tests, prepared tomorrow’s math lesson, read some student folders and started a vocabulary sheet for our first science unit.

As the day went on, I realized that I was also determined to enter the upcoming week as fully prepared as possible.  I did all of the laundry, thinking that I would need enough clean clothes to see me through to Friday.  I washed the floor and cleaned the bathrooms: I knew I wouldn’t be doing that on a Wednesday morning any more!

And I cooked.  The coolness of the day, and the adrenaline of the new school year, combined to push me into full on Italian-woman mode.

I boiled six eggs for easy breakfasts; they were local eggs, but were two weeks old!  On Friday I picked up 2 dozen fresher chicken eggs as well as six beautiful duck eggs.

I marinated tempeh for this weeks lunches: we’re trying to cut down on the meat, but I am determined that its still going to taste good! Marinated tempeh in spring roll wrappers it is.

And I cooked down ten fresh and gorgeous tomatoes, adding spices and wine and homemade meatballs. Dinner for at least one night this week!

When everything was done, and tonight’s dinner was still waiting to be started, I sat outside on my deck, turning my face to the sun.

I am acutely aware that very, very soon, my afternoons of sunshine will be gone.  My garden-fresh foods will disappear under a layer of ice.  My casual soaks in the hot tub will be replaced with a frantic run between the hot water and the house.

Everything comes to an end.  Even this wonderful summer.

And so I am stocking up on everything I need to get through another long, cold New England winter.  I am stocking up on love for my class and on jars of fresh tomato sauce.  I am freezing fresh and local peppers and corn, and making refrigerator pickles out of those crisp and delightful little cukes.

And I am writing down the memory of a perfect September Sunday, so that I can pull it out in February, when the winds are blowing and the noses are running, and when winter feels as if it will never ever end.

 

Home


Whose tracks are these?

Winter nights

Sometimes I am just so incredibly grateful for the safety and predictability of my life.

It has been an unusually cold, harsh winter.  It has snowed  nearly every two days for weeks. The piles of snow in the yard now cover every bush and plant and tree stump. The pine trees in the woods behind our house are bending over in the wind, covered with mounds of icy frosting. Hungry birds cluster at the suet basket, desperate for food.

When the wind blows, my bay window fills with a screen of snowy crystals. I shiver as I watch them swirl past.

I am safe inside.  I have a solid roof, sturdy walls, a furnace at the ready.

Sometimes I am just so happy that I can stay right here.  On days like this, in months like this one, in winters as cold as we are seeing now, I am so happy that I can stay on my couch, my coffee cup in hand.  I am acutely aware of how lucky I am to have flour and yeast and eggs and honey as I mix up a batch of bread dough and let the warm smell fill my kitchen.

But on days like this one, as I stir my soup and hug my dogs and wrap up in another woolen sweater, I am also intensely aware of all of the people in my world who aren’t as lucky as I am.

I look out into the icy blue woods, and I think of people in my state, in my town, who are huddled somewhere tonight just praying that the cardboard box will keep out the vicious wind.  That tomorrow the soup kitchen will have something really hot to keep them going one more day.

I’m thinking of children, hungry tonight, and cold.  I’m thinking of young mothers, heating ramen noodles in tiny apartments, hoping that the heat will stay on for one more night.

I stand at my window, watching the world as if I am once again inside of a snow globe.  I think of my three young adult children, financially still fragile but protected by parents who will never let them be cold and afraid.  I feel my good luck in my bones and in my heart.  A part of me that I never earned, but which I cherish.

I am so grateful for this humble home.  So incredibly aware of how lucky I am today to be here. Warm and safe and at rest.

And I am so aware of my responsibility and my sense of duty to those who are not as lucky as I have been.

In the “richest country in the world”, in the “greatest country that has ever existed”, I stand at my window, looking out into another winter night.  I wonder what it is that we need to do to make sure that every single child has a warm bed tonight.

 

Winter nights


Scary, cold and far too dark.

Scary, cold and far too dark.

When I am coming home from work on winter evenings, the sky looks far too cold.  All of the warmth and all of the colors have drained away. The bristling arms of the trees reach into the night sky in desperation. The wind aims for me, and the blackness of the woods is such a threat.

I hate coming home on winter nights. I hate the darkness of my driveway. I hate the brittle sound of icy branches clicking together over my head as I hurry toward the house. Like the fingers of giants they clack and snick and I can only think of icy blades above me.

On winter nights, I hate the sound of the wind in the trees behind my house, moving and sneaking through the frozen wetlands and coming too close. Coming for me.  

When I come home on winter nights, I am in touch with all of the ancients who came before me.  I know that they feared the darkness and the cold!  That fear comes back, no matter what I tell myself.  I am safe in my car, with my XM radio and my down filled coat and my automatic garage door opener.  I am a modern, civilized, safe citizen of a well developed world.  What is there to fear, really?

I am not sure.  But whatever it is, it breathes on my neck as I creep slowly down the drive and peer into the woods that surround us.

When I am home, though, and safely enclosed within the walls of that house, I have no fear of the winter night.  When the fire is lit, and the oven is on, when there is music playing and the dogs are sleeping on the couch, I feel secure and safe and supremely protected.

My kitchen window.

My kitchen window.

When I am safe inside, I shake my fist at the frigid night.  I fear no clicking branches, no shadowed forest, no creeping silent predator.  When I am inside, looking out, I welcome the winter night because it reminds me that I am sheltered and secure.

Tomorrow, though, I will have to step outside before the sun has risen.  

All bets will be off when I do.

OK. THAT was a great day.


Ahhh. Perfection.

Ahhh. Perfection.

Its December in Massachusetts. Its cold out.  Its gray and dreary and bleak.  The playground is a huge expanse of semi-frozen mud, all of which clings to the shoes of my students and transfers itself to my classroom.

The kids have colds. They are tired, they are coughing, the faucet flow of ten year old noses has no end.  I am the queen of sanitary tissue disposal.

We’ve had freezing fog, for God’s sake. The roads, the leaves, the walkways, my windshield, all frozen and slick and unlovely.

I am in a dead-of-winter mood, and it isn’t fun.

It also isn’t even winter.

We have a seriously long spell of this crap ahead of us.

Sigh.

When I fall into these moods, I lose all sense of reality, and I begin to believe that nothing will ever change.  I start to think that every day of my life has been this gray and cold. I start to believe that every day of my life will continue to be this gray and cold and bleak and grim.

When I fall into these moods, I become convinced that freezing fog is the hallmark of my life; it seems to me then that I have never been warm, and never will be warm again.

So you can imagine my surprise and delight when I scrolled through a series of old photos, and found this one of me. It was a few summer ago, and I was camping on the beautiful beaches of Assateague Island with my daughter, Kate.  We had nothing to do except swim and read and sleep.  We had nowhere to be except the water’s edge.

I remember that the beach that day was nearly empty. The sky was a perfect blue, and the sun was so bright that it looked like a fantasy.  The water was welcoming and safe, and just cool enough to soothe our sun drenched skin.  I walked into the surf and spread my arms to embrace the perfect warmth of the moment.  I breathed in the salt, sank into the waves, floated in absolute peace until I felt myself to be a creature of the sea.

OK.  So I guess that life does have its moments.  Because THAT was a really, truly, great day.

Monochromatic days.


My Dream Yard.  Really.

My Dream Yard. Really.

The thing about winter is that it just drains the life right out of me.

I know.  Thanks to global warming, we haven’t really had a good old fashioned New England winter in years.  We’ve been lucky in terms of snowfall, I know.

But it doesn’t matter.

It isn’t the amount of snow (although with good old Nemo we have plenty of that commodity, thank you).  It isn’t the freezing rain that’s falling today or the freezing fog that is blanketing the yard.

It isn’t really about those things.

It’s about the lack of color, don’t you think?

I remember, many years ago, commuting along to work as I did every day.  Looking out ahead at the gray highway, the gray skies, the dark gray branches of the leafless trees.  I remember feeling absolutely desperate for a glimpse of something vividly blue or red or green. Something alive.  When I got to work, I dug through my cabinets until I found a big poster of a Caribbean beach and I hung it where I could see it a hundred times a day.  I yearned for the aqua shades of water and the emerald green of the plants.

It got me through to spring, and those first few precious green sprouts.

Today I am sitting in my living room. Once again a captive of the winter days.  Looking out at the gray sky, gray trees, gray fog.  The snow is sodden and heavy and colorless.  The only hues that I can make out are the dark gray/green needles of the pines and the dark gray trunks of the trees.   My brain is overwhelmed with the boring sameness of everything I see.

So what can I do?

If I were rich, I’d get on my private plane and fly myself to Barbados.  I’d pluck the blossom of a big pink plumeria and I’d gaze deep inside of it to fill myself with energy and life.

If I were rich, I’d take off right now and take myself to Sidi Bou Said, on the coast of Tunisia, where the houses are blue and white and shining in the sunlight.

If I were rich…….

What can I do, seeing that I am so completely and absolutely not rich?  I can open iPhoto, and scroll through my pictures.  I can look long and hard at this:

SONY DSCAnd this:dsc00919.jpg

And this:

SONY DSCAnd I can remind myself that time goes on, even when we wish it would slow down.  Time moves forward, in a way that we cannot stop or change or impact in any way.

Time goes on.  And before we know it, we will be seeing the color and the vibrancy of spring.

The trick is to keep believing that spring will come.  And that we will be here to see it.

 

 

January; the blue month


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For as long as I can remember, January has always been a very blue month for me.

Blue, as in the color of the icy dawn and the frozen dusk. Blue, as in the color of the shadows that dance under the trees. Blue, as in the songs that are sung when the heart is heavy and slow and plodding in our chests.

Blue, as in, “How much longer can this dark weather go on?”

When the kids were little, January always meant ear infections and bronchitis and pneumonia and fevers and endless nights of rocking and crooning and soothing as the silvery moon moved slowly across the sky.   January meant snowstorms, and ice storms and being stuck in the driveway for an hour while trying to take the crying baby to the doctor’s office.

January lasted at least a thousand days, with wet woolen socks on the hearth, and one more batch of soup on the stove.  January dragged its heels and refused to move and never, ever wanted to give up its icy grip.

Now that my children are grown and gone, January has become the month of rising in the dark, driving to work in the dark, coming home to a house that is empty and cold and so very dark.  January has become the month of worry.  Are they warm? Are they well? Will this flu hit them, and will they tell me if it does?

January is the month when every ounce of energy is taken up just trying to recover from the holidays, just trying to look toward spring.

January is more wood to chop and stack and bring into the house. More wood to load into the stove, more ash to sweep, more blankets to pile on the beds. More soup, more stew, more woolen mittens.   January sucks the soul out of me, and drains me of all of my reserves.

In January, in New England, there is no extra energy for fun or laughter or silliness.

In January, I am blue.  As blue as my lips, my fingernails, my mood.  As blue as the drifting shadows that dance under the pines, waiting for the next fall of snow.