making room

A few weeks ago I phoned my son Jack in Asheville. “How would you feel about me taking over your bedroom at home and turning it into a writing space?” I asked.

I’d hesitated for weeks before raising this idea. But Jack didn’t hesitate in his response. “Oh, that’s fine,” he said, “you can do whatever you want with my room.”

Although we have a tiny office on the first floor of our house, I’ve never written a word in it. The desktop computer is my husband’s and his in-box sits beside it, overflowing with not-urgent papers and clippings and instruction manuals. The window above the desk looks out to the driveway and whatever vehicles happen to be parked there. The counter is a repository for checkbooks and bills to be paid, stamps and envelopes. And the chair, just the right height for Steve, is not very inviting to me. The office is a perfectly good place to write a check or Google driving directions, but it’s not a space my muse has ever chosen to visit.

Most of the words I’ve produced over the last ten years in this house have come from a stool at the kitchen table, where I look out to a view of fields and mountains and sky. I’ve spent countless hours perched there, staring out the windows above the sink while trying to pull my thoughts together. As a mother, as a wife, as a cook and homemaker, and also as a writer, I’ve always been drawn to this room, my own home base, whether I’m chopping something, stirring something, washing something, or writing something. Soups and emails, jars of jam and blog posts, thank you notes and books, all have come from my kitchen. More often than not, several of these things are coming together at once, which means that the written work can easily be shifted to the bottom of my priorities list. No one actually cares if I write or not, but dinner does have to appear on that table every night.

And yet, as summer turned to fall this year, I found myself longing for some other kind of place, a place not in the middle of the action but away from it. A place in which some new work might begin to take shape, privately and quietly. A place where there is nothing that needs to be chopped or watered or cleaned or stirred, where books of memoir and poetry would be easily at hand, and where my laptop and notes and papers don’t have to be put away at the end of the day so that placemats and napkins and silverware can be laid out in their place. [continue…]

an oasis of silence

We need to recover an oasis of silence within the rhyme and reason of our active life, for it is in the silence that we meet the face of God. ~ Max Picard

It is still dark as I type these words. The sliding doors of the guest room at my parents’ house in Florida are open to warm night air, the rolling sounds of distant traffic, the first low laments of mourning doves. For the last week my mom and I have been alone here together. Our plan when we arrived was to spend these precious days taking walks, reading our books (I ambitiously mailed myself a whole box from home), exercising, making healthful meals and enjoying each other’s company.

We’ve done some of that. But in all honesty, we’ve been distracted from our modest intentions. The drama playing out in Washington has overshadowed too many waking hours. Instead of immersing myself in the novels on the bedside table, I succumb to the pull of three or four different newspapers and magazines on line.

In years past, my mom and I would spread craft supplies out on the table and create home-made cards and tiny hand-sewn books with leather covers. This year, we’ve been sharing articles and posts from our Facebook and Twitter news feeds. And watching Colbert and Saturday Night Live clips. And making phone calls to senators and representatives. And signing petitions. And donating money. (And, as I mentioned here last week, not sleeping all that well.)

A few minutes ago, when I switched on the bedroom light and reached for my laptop, this quote about silence was the first thing I saw.   It arrived at the top of an invitation to a contemplative retreat. The words leapt out — an oasis of silence. I wanted to sign up immediately.

[continue…]

a hymn to October

img_0911It is one of those late, mild, autumn days that feel particularly precious in New England. We love them even more because those of us who live here know the rhythm of our seasons all too well. There won’t be many more afternoons like this one. In just a week or two, the landscape will be entirely different, scrubbed and bare, gray and frozen, far less hospitable. As I type these words, the world beyond my kitchen windows is bathed in molten sunlight. Bright yellow leaves drift down from the maples nearest the house, so that even the ground seems to glow and burn with light.

img_0895As always in October, I find myself thinking backwards, aware of the special resonance this month has had for me for as far back as I can remember. As a child, I loved October because it was my birthday month. I associated the brilliant change of season with the big change for me of being another year older; the two went hand in hand, just as did chilly mornings and knee socks. I remember brief, gasp-inducing October swims in icy waters; fried dough and ferris wheels and charcoal birthday portraits on gray paper at country fairs; the winey, intoxicating fragrance of Concord grapes ripening by the roadside. The Octobers of my childhood included pumpkins to carve, Halloween costumes to make, and so many leaves to rake into piles under my father’s instruction that my hands would sport blisters before the work was done.

img_0928Earlier today, a wooden crate of Macoun apples at the farmer’s market made me suddenly miss my now-grown boys as they once were.  How I would love to relive our old apple-picking and pumpkin-choosing traditions. Autumn was always a good time to be a mother. The truth is, having children gave me permission to be a kid again myself, to spend hours  with my sons stirring pots of applesauce on the stove, gathering acorns, and pressing the most perfect red leaves between sheets of wax paper tucked into our fattest books. [continue…]

downsizing, 10 things my mom taught me
& a Mother’s Day offer

IMG_8557In a few weeks my parents will say good-bye to the antique red house surrounded by woods and fields that has meant “home” to our family for nearly forty-five years. At eighty and seventy-nine, my folks could have chosen assisted living or even a simple condo for this next chapter of their lives. Instead, in good health and always game for a project, they’ve built themselves a small, fully accessible cottage on a pond just eight minutes from where my husband and I live now. Still, this move calls for a major downsizing. And as anyone who’s helped an elderly parent move knows all too well, letting go can be tricky emotional territory, for both generations.IMG_0433

Our old family homestead is a charming Cape built in 1765, with many original details intact but enhanced by a spacious later addition, designed by my parents and complete with a porch, master suite, spa, and a generous living room. Filled with the antiques and special pieces my mom collected over the decades, each nook and cranny of the house is cozy and welcoming and uniquely beautiful. My mother’s special touch is in evidence at every turn – a collection of birds’ nests displayed on an old glass table, a row of white ironstone pitchers on the mantle, a small, antique oil painting propped amongst the gardening books, a wicker chair in a sunny corner.

The new, small cottage has a different feel altogether – spare and clean and open, with white walls and simple, modern lines. A few of my parents’ favorite things are making the move with them. Most of their furnishings and possessions, however, either won’t fit or just don’t “go” in their new, downsized quarters.

IMG_8581Months ago, at my parents’ request, my brother and I did a walk-through of our childhood home, looking for things we might want for our own houses, taking measurements and promising my parents we’d get back to them with our lists. I don’t know about my brother and his wife, but Steve and I found it hard to return to our own fully furnished house and see places where a mahogany table or an old pine bookcase might fit. I stuck my list of “possibles” in a file folder and let it sit there.

Now, though, the time of reckoning has arrived. [continue…]

expectations

IMG_8239Before we can change anything in our life, we have to recognize that this is the way it is meant to be right now. For me, acceptance has become what I call the long sigh of the soul. It’s the closed eyes in prayer, perhaps even the quiet tears. It’s “all right,” as in “All right, You lead, I’ll follow.” And it’s “all right” as in “Everything is going to turn out all right.” This is simply part of the journey.
Sarah Ban Breathnach, from Simple Abundance

I was pretty confident I would be a kind of poster child for hip replacement recovery. I’m relatively young, not overweight, in decent shape for someone who’s been slowed down by advancing osteoarthritis for two years. In all that time, despite encroaching pain, I did my best to keep exercising. I continued my daily yoga practice, albeit a modified practice using blocks and a chair and bolsters. I waited a full year to see a highly recommended surgeon at one of the country’s best orthopedic hospitals. I scheduled my surgeries for 6 weeks apart at the end of 2105, so I could begin the new year with two new hips.

And I figured that if I followed instructions to the letter, did my physical therapy religiously, and didn’t push too far or too fast, I’d soon resume my old, normal life. Some people had warned, “This is major surgery.” But others said, “It’s no big deal.” Those were the ones I chose to believe. I was nervous, of course. But this had already been a long road. (I wrote about that here.) And within a few days of my second surgery, I had myself convinced I would negotiate this little patch of rough ground easily and soon be back on course with my life.

Yes, that’s called an “expectation.” And you’d think I’d know by now that getting attached to an expectation is a good recipe for disappointment. [continue…]