present moment — and a mother’s day give-away

snowI’m still waiting for the last snow bank to melt outside the back door.  My guess is it’ll linger, grainy and gray, for another week or so.

I suppose I could get out there today and attack winter’s last frozen carapace with a shovel. If I got that mound of snow and ice all broken up and spread out on the flattened, spongy lawn, it would probably disappear faster.

Instead, I look at winter’s grimy remains and see an invitation to pay attention. The lingering, slowly dwindling snow bank reminds me once again: nothing lasts.  Even the harsh, seemingly endless winter I complained about and struggled against for months is finally on its way out, its last vestiges vanishing by the moment.

On this windy, chilly spring day, it’s too early to do much of anything productive outside.  And so, I walk around and survey the wreckage: the old front gate, broken off at the hinge, the fallen tree limbs, the cache of dead leaves in the window wells, the skeletal remains of the Christmas tree on the patio, the dead hydrangea blooms I never got around to pruning in the fall.   [continue...]

Laurie Colwin — my mentor in the kitchen & on the page

photo copy 2 - Version 2I once bought a black speckled canning pot, two boxes of Ball jars, and twelve pounds of dusky Italian plums in memory of an author I loved.

For years, I’ve suspected I was one of a few remaining Laurie Colwin aficionados, a smallish but loyal band of readers of a certain age and sensibility who still hold her close in our hearts, afford her books prime space on our shelves, and continue to make her signature dishes in our kitchens.

So it was rather wonderful, though a bit startling, to discover in the pages of the New York Times this week that I’m not alone after all. That in fact, in the more than twenty years since her death, Laurie’s following has only grown, attracting “a new, cultishly devoted generation of readers,” many of whom are in their thirties or even younger.

Turns out, Laurie Colwin is bigger than ever. Her books, never out of print, are selling briskly. Some of her most zealous disciples today were toddlers when she died in 1992. Somehow, knowing about her expanding fan base gives me hope — not only for this new generation of readers, secret romantics, and home cooks, but also for the survival of such humble institutions as tea parties, afternoon picnics, and family dinners. [continue...]

Motherhood Realized

motherhood jacket imageFlying to the west coast recently, I found myself seated on the plane alongside a young couple. They appeared to be about twenty-four or so, the same age as my own older son. She, five months pregnant, was immersed in a how-to book about mothering newborns. He, sweet but distracted, played a video game on his computer.

I couldn’t help but watch them with tenderness, these two innocent parents-to-be with so many joys and challenges and unknowns in their future. The young woman spent a long time bent over a page of diagrams showing, in step-by-step detail, how to swaddle a baby. At one point, she summoned her husband’s attention to the page as well. She went through the motions of blanket folding in the air, concentrating intently, referring back to the directions. It was clear she wanted him to take the swaddling lesson as seriously as she did.

“We have lots of time to practice, honey,” her husband said, before turning his gaze back to the screen on his laptop.

Shyly, she turned then to me. “Do you have children?” she asked.

I told her I did, two sons.

“Did you swaddle them?”

“Yes,” I answered. “But not for long. That only lasted for a week or so. By the time I got good at it, they didn’t want to be swaddled anymore. And then I had to learn something else. That’s pretty much the way it goes all the way through motherhood — just as you get one thing figured out, your child is on to some new stage, and you’re trying to keep up.” [continue...]

Otherwise

heart of stoneLong after most of my friends in their fifties had given up running, I continued.  Not every day, and not very far, and not for very long.  Better, I thought, to save my knees to run again another day than to push myself to go another mile or another twenty minutes.  For the last few years, I’ve run less in the hope of running longer.  If I was careful, I figured, I would run right into my sixties.

Even so, there wasn’t a morning that I laced up my sneakers and headed down the road with the wind in my hair, fresh air filling my lungs, and my beloved border collie Gracie trotting at my heels, that a line by poet Jane Kenyon didn’t cross my mind: “But one day, I know, it will be otherwise.”

“Otherwise” is Jane Kenyon’s hymn of gratitude to her life just as it was on one blessed, ordinary day — gratitude that is burnished by her own profound awareness of life’s fleetingness, of change, of mortality.

The lines of this heart-breakingly prescient poem always give me pause.  Jane Kenyon died of leukemia at forty-seven. Her “otherwise” came tragically soon, a stark reminder – as is every untimely death or freak accident or life-changing diagnosis – that our very existence here is fragile, unpredictable, not to be taken for granted.

And yet, I suspect I’m not alone when I admit that most days it’s a challenge to maintain that perspective. Perhaps it’s human nature to weave ourselves a thin, protective mantle of denial about life’s one and only absolute truth: nothing lasts.

Waking up in the morning, I set my sights on the beginnings of things, not the endings – I run through my to-do list, ponder the essay I want to write, wonder where I’ll find the hour I need to exercise, think about the talk I’ll give next week. Before long, I’m preoccupied with bills to pay, emails to answer, the dishes piled in the sink. The preciousness of life is rarely uppermost in my mind as I deal with what the day hands me; too often, instead, I find myself succumbing to frustration at the way things are:  not what I’d planned, not quite up to my expectations, not this, not that. [continue...]

Dear Older, about these cars. . .

sport-fury-brougham“We must always change, renew, rejuvenate ourselves; otherwise we harden.” ~Goethe

This is the second in a series of letters between me and my friend, author Margaret Roach, on the challenges (and joys!) of aging. I’m Old (just 55) and she’s Older (facing 60 this year). And since we’re surely not the only ones buying wrinkle creams, we decided to share our exchange with you, too.  Be sure to read Margaret’s letter to me here.   

Dear Older,

Oh Margaret! You would have to bring up our cars.

Well, I’m not going to lie about age here.  Yes, my Acura is ten years old.  And she’s about to roll over 170,000 miles – that’s a lot of trips taken, a great deal of life lived, many bridges crossed.

Buying this car was the first thing Steve and I did in 2003 when we left the suburbs of Boston and moved back to my country roots.  If we were going to make our home in a place where the last snow might not melt til mid-April, I wanted a car that would carry me through our Northern winters without too much anxiety on my part.  “Good in snow” was my top priority when we went out shopping for new wheels.

It’s worth remembering that gas cost $1.54 a gallon when we arrived in New Hampshire to embark on this new life.  “Good mileage” was on my list, but it was somewhere below good visibility, comfort, and safety.

Jack was eleven and Henry was just starting high school when I began driving the kids around rural New Hampshire in my brand new silver MDX. (Family trips we took in our Toyota Sienna minivan – plenty of room for two parents, two boys, one dog and gear for all, and already showing the wear and tear of four years of hard daily use.) The Acura was the nice car.  My car.  And, I’ll admit: it was and is the only car I’ve ever loved.

A little back story:  I’m not a natural behind the wheel.  I shudder to recall my first solo forays on our rural roads after I got my driver’s license in 1974.  The car: my parents’ 1970 red Plymouth Fury sedan, graciously bequeathed to me.  The most notable feature of that car was its size.  Huge. I have vague, unsettling memories even now of drifting around curves in the road, wondering if I was going a little too fast, fighting to hold the car on the pavement, straining to sit tall enough in the broad, slippery seat to see out the windshield.  [continue...]