I Think I Can

slice of life updated

All summer long I put it off. All summer long I wasn’t sure I could. All summer long I didn’t really want to know if I couldn’t. But this afternoon I decided it was time to try. The water looked calm enough. The breeze was soft. There weren’t too many people or boats in the bay out front, just a couple of kayakers. There weren’t too many beachgoers on the sand to witness my possible failure. It felt like a now or never moment. So I put on my suit, picked up the board and paddle and made my way down to the beach. As I  waded out a few feet and lowered the SUP to the surface, I wondered if my leg would be strong enough to steady me on the wobbly surface. I thought about all the things I took for granted this time last year, things my leg cannot do right now. Wouldn’t it be great, I thought, if paddle boarding was still in the can-do column. I climbed on, got on both knees, and considered which leg to put forward first- the good one or the one that hasn’t been working so well. I thought about how now so often I have to plan for the possibility that the leg not might not work quite right. I thought about how it could be a lot worse. And then I stood it. It wasn’t hard. I steadied myself and that wasn’t hard either. I began to paddle out into the bay. And I grinned as I went. Paddle boarding is definitely in the can-do column.

what remains

the roundish roots now tender, ready to peel and eat

have left behind ruby water

that begs to be considered

before being discarded without thought

and so i stare at it, knowing a splash on my shirt will be a forever stain

and yet wondering what else i could do with

this hot bold liquid that remains

behind- below the basket that held the contents that bled into water and colored it so

too beautiful to pour down the drain

and yet i do

 

Garden Memories and Wishes

My life as a gardener has ebbed and flowed. There were seasons when nearly all of the vegetables eaten and flowers filling vases came from no more than 50 yards from the back door. I’d spend early mornings and late afternoons weeding, watering, and proudly harvesting. Carrots, potatoes, eggplant, beets, lettuce, radishes, beans, and snow peas. And of course tomatoes and zucchini. So much squash. My collection of recipes featuring summer squash grew too. Moments in the garden created sweet memories.

One year I tried my hand at growing cantaloupe. Never again. One day I spent hours ripping out dozens of rose bushes because I  could not take one more minute of beetles and fungus and fight. I’ve had my share of gardening failures. I’m still searching for a low maintenance rose that can tolerate the heat and humidity in my area.

I’ve grown peonies and tulips and limelight hydrangea, phlox, dahlias, daisies, and Black-eyed Susans in my father’s memory. Along the way, I’ve learned tricks for keeping the deer at bay and thwarting even the most determined rabbit’s efforts. One October I planted dozens of apricot beauty daffodil bulbs and another I peeked over a bank at the edge of the yard, only to discover a tangle of pumpkin vines growing on and around the brush. After tossing the weeds that were the reason for my visit to that spot, I climbed down the short hill and picked three tiny pumpkins. My daughters, still small then, squealed with delight when presented with surprise pumpkins from their very own yard.

Growing plants and tending gardens hasn’t been part of my life for a few years now. I pull the most unsightly weeds at the edge of my patio, fill a few pots with annuals each spring, and call it a day. My houseplants have met with a variety of fates. Orchids, which I’d never kept alive for long after their blooms fade, are thriving. I’m not really an orchid person but suddenly I am the proud owner of five or six, maybe more. They  sit on a ledge at a southeastern window in my home, so far surviving on my inconsistent care techniques. My theory is misery loves company and they’ve bonded over my lack of orchid understanding and are determined to convert me. Secretly I’m a little proud though. Really though, I’m more of a bunches-of-tulips-or-peonies-cascading-over-the- edge-of-a-vase person. But I try not to mention that in earshot of the orchids.

This summer, visits to beautiful gardens have me wishing for one of my own again, wondering if perhaps I should clear a spot, pick up a trowel, and add a little beauty  around the land that slopes away from the house and patio. Maybe a few bulbs, a peony or two. Nothing much. It’s not my land. I’ll save my lists of must-haves, sketches of small flower beds, and big ideas for later. But the idea of planting and tending something, just enough to create some new garden memories, is growing.

l

mornings in summer

slice of life updated

the first decision- to linger in bed with my book or pull back the covers that hold off this morning’s chill

the thought of a steaming cup of coffee, around which i can wrap my hands and heat my fingers convinces me to sit up and stretch

the trick then is to move with soft feet so others do not wake

though the creak in the third stair and dog waiting at the landing make that goal challenging- every day

coffee in hand i head to the porch in front where the sun rising beyond the still glassy bay heats the air

and the stars from the light that dance on the water’s surface delight me now just as they did when I was small

the beach is empty and boats are mostly still and the day’s breeze has yet to wake up

neighbors next door sit in rockers on their porch, holding mugs also and talking in hushed voices

the cat wanders in and out from the porch door that has swollen just enough to prevent it from closing fully

my eye wanders to the screen that needs replacing and a tuft of fur- dog or cat – drifting across the painted porch floor

book or paper in hand, i choose my seat depending on the sun, looking for just a little more warmth

small, unimportant decisions and slow movement

mornings in summer

The End of the Roses

slice of life updatedIt’s Tuesday. Thank you Two Writing Teachers.

 

There is a loop I walk on summer days at the beach. It’s a route  I’ve taken several days a week for the last thirty four summers.

My walk takes me through neighborhoods, along a stretch of marsh that is dotted with osprey nests and cattails, and past small coves and tangles of raspberry brambles growing wild.

And each summer, when I take this walk for the first time in the season, I marvel at what remains the same and what has changed.

My walk takes me past a beautiful clapboard home, painted white, that faces the Sound. I’ve never known who lives there, but I imagine they are city dwellers who escape to the Connecticut coast for the summer. The gardens around this house are simple- hydrangeas mostly and a lawn that stretches from the road around the house to the rocky edge of the water.

There is a simple white rail fence on the road side of the property where for many years lush pink climbing rose bushes lined and leaned against that fence. And every time I walk past, I imagine the owner watering, pruning, feeding and training these gorgeous bushes. I imagine her cutting a few to take indoors. Year in and year out, I see the roses and take in the faint scent in the air as I walked by the rose fences.  A few summers ago I noticed some were gone. They were not replaced. This year only one remains. It’s spindly with almost no blooms. Not long for this world I imagine.

The pea gravel driveway in front of the white clapboard house is crowded now with dumpsters and construction equipment and pick up trucks. New owners I imagine. I imagine whoever tended the roses is gone now. I imagine the last rose bush will be gone soon too. I imagine the new owners aren’t rose people.

A Circle of Learning

slice of life updatedIt’s Tuesday and I’m writing. Thank you Two Writing Teachers for the writing nudge.

 

I miss the noise, the mess, the piles of laundry, the skinned knees, bruised feelings and grumpy faces. The chocolate faces that scrunched up as I wiped them clean with wet washcloths.

The smiles that revealed missing teeth. The sleepy eyes. Even the stinky diapers. Well, maybe not those.

The first steps and first dates and last days at home as we filled the car with what you needed for dorm living.

The nest is empty. It’s real now. Your visits home are brief- just long enough for the house to come to life and dishes to pile in the sink. You leave before I get too used to the fullness and rapid-fire updates and happy banter. For the best. Somewhere in my aching heart I know it is. For. The. Best.

I’m leaning in… to knowing that we’re now in the season of short visits. You’ve spread your wings. I’m finding my steady.

There you are cooking for yourself, paying your own bills, folding your clothes, changing your sheets. You are, right?

For so long you were the one learning how. How to walk and talk. How to play and read. How to get along. How to dream. How to shovel snow and load the dishwasher and roast marshmallows. How to plow through hurt.

Now it’s my learning turn.

The Thing About Spring

slice of life updated

The thing about Spring is

-birds sing even before first light

as if to say “Wake up, don’t miss a minute..” and the cardinal lands on the front stoop railing next to the pot filled with geraniums just as red and for a moment is still, reminding us to pay attention.

-trees unfurl leaves, filling hills and horizon with green, bright and lush…

-peonies burst and their scent rides the breeze, filling the space around an overflowing vase on my counter with a perfume better than anything that comes in a bottle…

-mowers rumble over lawns and along strips of grass next to roads and the just-cut-grass smell tickles noses…

-sometimes the sky grows dark with heavy clouds and wind blows and rain cascades from above and when the storm subsides everything looks new again and you’ll see a rainbow if you remember to look…

The thing about spring is the newness, like starting a book nobody has read yet.

 

I Kept My Thoughts to Myself.

slice of life updated

For the second time in as many weeks, I lay back on the hard, white surface, staring up at the riot of blooms painted on the ceiling, meant I suppose, to distract or cheer up. I shivered, feeling only cold.

The technician covered me with a thin  blanket- more white- and placed headphones over my ears and something in my hand that she told me to squeeze should I need anything at all.

Yes, now that you mention it- a working leg please. Answers. A plan.

Keeping those thoughts to myself,  I nodded and smiled as she adjusted the straps that were holding a cage-like contraption over my legs and belly.

I began to glide slowly into the hollow part of the machine as the woman whose name I hadn’t caught because I was too distracted,  disappeared into her booth.

The familiar clicking, knocking, and beeping began, so loud I could feel the vibrations in my jaw. The country music began too, doing its best to fill my ears with sound rather than noise.

I closed my eyes to concentrate on my breath and still my mind, the way one does in a yoga class. And it was hard, just as it is in a yoga class. The what ifs and the what’s next and the why me thoughts ricocheted inside my brain as the knocks and beeps and clicks and whirs continued all around me.

Straining to hear the lyrics above the racket, my thoughts wandered to country music… how the songs almost all tell stories, how the stories almost always are sad, how the lyrics are precise and the words cleverly arranged, how the writer in me appreciates and could learn from the craft in the words. How I wished I had my notebook and a pencil so I could jot down my wonders and questions and observations while listening. Country music lyrics as mentor texts. To pass the time, I pondered the possibilities.

And then the machine stilled. The music stopped. I felt myself sliding back out to open space, face to face once again with the floral scene overhead. “All finished,” the technician told me as she helped me off the table.

Not really, I thought. But I kept that thought to myself and once again just nodded and smiled.

I’m just beginning. Just beginning to wonder what a study of song lyrics might do for narrative writers. How could we weave country music into small moment writing? What might that do for reluctant middle-school writers? I tucked my wonders and ideas in the back of my brain as I replaced the hospital gown with my street clothes and walked down the long, quiet corridor towards the  exit. My friend who’d come with me asked a question or two about the procedure and remarked that the machine was loud enough to hear outside the exam room. Yes, I almost said, and there was some pretty good noise inside my head too. Instead, I nodded and smiled and kept that thought to myself.

Kind Gestures and Thoughtful Acts

slice of life updated

Call them what you will- random acts of kindness, moments of goodness, thoughtful gestures. I’m pretty sure they always take my breath away just a little.

Mostly, I hope to be the one who sees the opportunities to practice them.

In the last twenty four hours I’ve been the recipient of several.

*

Yesterday morning as I lay on the surface of the MRI machine, waiting for the test to begin, the technician, who was readying equipment and finishing paperwork, paused and came back over to where I lay shivering to ask me if my feet were cold, if I wanted a blanket to cover them.

“Yes,” I said, “I’d love that.”

He halted his other preparations in order to find something to cover my legs and took an extra moment to tuck the blanket around and under my feet.

“Thank you,” I said, grateful.

*

My longtime childhood friend was in town this weekend seeing her son who graduates soon from UVA. We planned to meet at the men’s lacrosse game to watch and catch up. As I stood in line to purchase my ticket, a stranger approached me and handed me a ticket.

“We have an extra. It’s your’s,” he said, walking away almost before I had time to understand what had happened and say thank you.

“Lucky you,” said the woman standing behind me in line.

“Yes. I am.” I thought as I stepped out of line and walked towards the entrance to the field.

*

This morning, on her way to  an exercise class, my doctor called to share the results of my recent tests. It’s Sunday. She didn’t have to and she shouldn’t be working.  But, as she explained, she knew I was anxious. She wanted to assure me that there is no tumor. That the problem may require surgery, but that it is fixable. As she talked and answered a few questions, I could feel my shoulders begin to relax.

*

Kindness, goodness, caring, connection. May we all be the givers and receivers of these moments.

 

 

 

Excuses, excuses

slice of life updated

I could tell you I’m too busy to write.

But the truth is I’m preoccupied.

I could say I have nothing to write about.

But really, I could write pages and pages about what’s been going on and what is on my mind.

I could make it clear that I don’t want to bore you with my woes.

But I know that writing often helps me process.

I could say writing will help my worrying.

But I am afraid to admit the worry.

So I don’t write. I stay quiet and away.

In a few hours I’ll have the second medical test my doctor ordered as she gathers clues to explain the progressive weakness in my left leg. She has said that this is fixable, not progressive. And yet, until she has results, confirmed by tests, I hold my breath. I wonder if I will play tennis again, or walk down stairs without having to think about keeping my leg working.

And through it all I think about our student writers who sometimes say they don’t want to write or have nothing to write about and I wonder how many of them are also preoccupied and fearful to put down the thoughts and feelings that must be filling their brains. I am reminded that when I write I experience what children in workshop feel. And I know it’s better to write than not and that it will all be okay.