of gardens and grandmothers
a podcast with Margaret Roach
(and a book give-away, too)

unspecifiedIt’s just after 5 a.m. as I type these words, still completely dark outside. But my friend Margaret Roach and I have already said “Good morning” via Skype with a blitz of typed messages. (It’s way too early to talk out loud and risk waking my husband, recovering from a week of flu in our bedroom down the hall.)

Margaret reports she’s having trouble sleeping these days, too. Combine post-election angst, the unusually warm November days,  darkness descending suddenly at 4 pm each afternoon, and a moon that demands one’s full attention, and it’s little wonder that we’re each feeling a bit out of sync with our normal routines.

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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…]

Dear Older (Love, Old)

sonata - Version 2This is the first 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). Who knows where it’s going, but since the subject keeps coming up, and we’re both writers…well, you get the idea. Listen in.  

Dear Old(er),

Yesterday afternoon, I spritzed on a bit of Sonata, and then I drove downtown to the lawyer’s office and signed my last will and testament.

I can tell you, seeing those words next to my own name at the top of the page was pretty strange – about as stark a reminder as I’ve had that, yes, the day will come when I won’t be here.

It’s funny how I can get so caught up in the minutiae of  my everyday life – the emails that need answers, the dishes in the sink, the bills on the desk, my annoyance at someone I can’t change or at something beyond my control – that I lose sight of the big things.

Such as the fact that although time and space are infinite, I am not.  No matter how I spend it, my own time will run out. There aren’t too many absolute truths in life, but this is one: nothing lasts, not even me.

Which is why I got up this morning and helped myself to another generous spray of Sonata, the nicest perfume I’ve ever owned (handcrafted at a tiny perfumery in Maine using all natural ingredients) and the only one I’ve ever loved.

The perfume was a Christmas gift from my dad.  Five years ago.  As you can see from the photo, the bottle is still full.  Yep. In five years, I’ve allowed myself to use my favorite perfume exactly twice.  Both occasions were formal weddings, so I felt they justified a bit of extravagance:  dressy necklace, expensive perfume. [continue…]

Time in a bottle

photospent most of yesterday morning in the kitchen with my son Jack, windows open to the September air.  In ten days he will move to Atlanta to begin his new life there as a student.  But for now, the two of us find ourselves home alone together.  (Henry left last week to return to his alma mater, St. Olaf, where he’s helping out with the fall musical; Steve has been away for a few days on business. And so, it’s just two of us here, a rare mother-son combination that hasn’t happened for years and may not recur any time soon.)

All summer, I have mourned the end of summer.  Back in June, my family laughed at me for regretting the passing of time before the time I’d been anticipating had even arrived.  (Yes, I know, it’s crazy.) The days were still getting longer, they pointed out, and already I was imagining how I would feel when they began to grow shorter.  The lake water was perfect for swimming, and I was wondering how many more swims we would have. A piercing awareness of the preciousness, the transience, of everything is, I suppose, both the blessing and the burden of my temperament. It is also the price my family has to pay for living with me.  I am always reminding them (myself!) to notice, to appreciate, to be aware of all that is and of all we have.

The truth is, I write so much about inhabiting the moment largely to help myself remember that it’s where I want to be: simply present.  My tendency, always, is to live with a lump in my throat.  I experience the pain of endings even as I cherish the tenderness of beginnings.  I allow every joy to be shot through with a thread of sadness.  And I see in all that lives, all that has passed;  in all that is, all that one day will no longer be.

And so  I sit in my garden amidst the wildly blooming nasturtiums and feel the fleetingness of their splendor.  I adore our thirteen-year-old dog all the more for knowing her days are numbered.  (When she placed her head on the bed this morning at 6 am and pleaded for a walk, I swung right into action – because, of course, I can so easily imagine the future, when there will be no need to be out taking a hike at dawn.)  I fill our basement freezer with strawberries and blueberries and raspberries picked at the height of the season because I am always conscious of the season’s inexorable turning.

Hanging out with my soon to be 21-year-old son yesterday, I reminded myself to simply enjoy the moment, without layering on the fact that in a few weeks he’ll be in his own new kitchen a few thousand miles away and we’ll be texting instead of talking. [continue…]

A go-to cake recipe, and (final) Magical Journey readings

lemon cakeI long ago lost count of how many times I’ve made this lemon cake.  The recipe, clipped from the Boston Globe in the pre-internet age, is pasted with rubber cement into a notebook of recipes I began keeping the year before I got married in 1987.  The pages are all loose now, held together with a rubber band.  But I know exactly where the yellowed, glaze-spattered cake recipe is, should I ever need a quick refresher.  In fact, as I realized while creaming the butter and sugar yesterday morning, I don’t really refer to the recipe anymore. I know it by heart.

Years ago, when the dad of one of Henry’s classmates was dying of cancer, I made this cake every day for nearly a month.  [continue…]