being the ghoul i’m not afraid of after all

More strawberries. I’m standing at the kitchen sink going through the latest large colander full from my husband’s efforts. I’d left them covered on my counter (instead of in the fridge) for two days and so a few of them have gone bad, a few of them have gone too soft or have mold. I think of myself as the kind of flibbertigibbet who’d just debate for a minute and then throw the whole batch in the trash. As my husband says, Kelly, it’s fine, we have so many more. But my actions sometimes show me different than how I imagine myself, because instead I stand there and pick through them, carefully winnowing the bad from the good, taking tiny nicks out of tender berries to remove the soft spots. I think how amazing it is, while alive the ability we have to know with the merest touch of our thumb the difference from a perfectly ripe berry, to one that has gone over to the decaying process; perhaps not something I could write a standard operating procedure for here, but if you stood with me at my sink you’d see what I mean immediately and you’d take your own small knife up and we’d talk about other things while we did the bowl full.

I am thinking of one of my character flaws, something so innate it’s like an ego-twin whose shadowy form has followed me most of my adult life. In comparison, giving up smoking or cursing would be much easier*; it’s almost hard to isolate or describe this thing I’m rolling about in my mind, and it’s certainly a bit humbling when I get my hands around it and begin to see it’s shape. I’m thinking of my tendency in my close relationships to account actions vs. words and, if I find them not in accord, to judge or resent these offenders for this “sin”.

The friend who airily maintains he only has a beer now and then but is clearly an alcoholic. The acquaintance who says over and over she’d love to see more of me but does not make the time and effort to do so. My mother who insists she’s independent and enjoys being alone, but who has been so quick upon widowhood to begin thinking about and searching for a new man (incidentally, I meet her boyfriend this afternoon). The friend who goes on soliloquies about punctuality and integrity, but has last-minute canceled on many of our plans together.

It is so very important I pause here and clarify, because the “sin” I respond to is nuanced. It’s not that I am lacking in quality friendships or obsess on those that are less quality. I do not judge my mother for dating on her own schedule (in fact, I have not once teased her in any way about it – which for me indicates a good deal of restraint!). I am realizing when I write this that my character flaw, as I call it, only rears it’s head when I am close to someone. It’s as if after giving myself in some way to someone the disconnect between their actions, their behaviors, and their words will begin to seem like a personal affront. They are asking me to listen to them, to care about them, to pay attention to who they are, and to bring my own integrity to the table – then asking me to look the other way when their repeated real-life actions contradict their heartfelt words. The words say, “I am like this, I care about that,” but their behavior belies this. They are my friend and want my friendship to include my honesty and intelligence, but then they want me to suspend these qualities so they can spin out their more comfortable concepts of themselves.

And yes. I know “they” are asking none of this. This is just how it feels.

As I write this I realize how very incorrect I am to allow myself to feel slighted by someone else’s difficulties or personal disconnects. Because no one who “sins” in my scenario is beyond my understanding when I focus and consider the individuals who offend me in this particular way. The women who say they want friendship but repeatedly do not nourish it – and there have been many – are often just very busy people. This is such a typically-voiced mantra in so many of the friendships I’ve had in the last decade (“Oh, I’d love to sew, I’d love to learn yoga, I’d love to spend more time such-and-such“) that I have at least learned to notice especially those who put time in to what they say they value – including Me. As for my mother, she is to some degree independent – everyone is – but more importantly, I would guess she does not give herself permission to self-identify as lonely (many people eschew that word or concept quite vigorously, especially when it’s true). Alcoholism? I am still sorting that one out.

As for the tacit agreement my friends and family at times seem to require – the requirement I do not speak up and say, “Yeah, you say that, but I notice this” – even behaving as my best self I am unsure what to do here. I love my friends all the more knowing in the particular ways they are human, they have flaws – but I also feel clumsy when I am honest with them, and I worry that I have hurt feelings when I’ve done thus. Sometimes I wonder if this is a part of being female; there are many unspoken codes about what you’re allowed to say, what you should say, the quid pro quo of you stroke me, I’ll stroke you (I believe women do this very much with regard to things moral!). I wonder if loving someone deeply, being interested and courageous enough to truly know them, and being able to understand down at the depths of my gut what it’s like to be human may not make up for when I unwittingly or deliberately break these rules.

Maybe people are more rugged than I give them credit. I myself have not yet encountered that person, that “monster” who says the things about me I want no one to voice aloud. There is no nemesis out there I will avoid because they love me and see keenly into me and “out” me for my unfavorable traits. My favorite and best-held friends have been those who have had the courage to speak out and tell me what they notice about me – even if it’s not praise. Those people are rare, I confess. Either it is something about me in particular that is intimidating – or uninteresting! – or many people truly do see it as a gaffe or impermissible to say, “I see this about you, do you see it too?” and merely wait for the response.

* Nothing would be harder than giving up coffee, however.

a berry bacchanal

Last night at a party a fascinating gentleman and I got to talking. Among other things, he told me a visit to a Childrens Hospital will make one an atheist, then and there.

The reverse concept occurs to me as I’m at my kitchen sink topping and washing the huge bowl full of strawberries my husband has brought in from our garden: I could become a believer based on this fruit. These berries are amazing. They are almost a pornographic depiction of the word “strawberry”, the word “fruit”. So tender it seems ludicrous they could stand their own weight in the bowl, yet they do. They are each perfect, not a blemish, rounded and shining, glossy. So fragrant it’s almost overpowering, yet one does not tire of them. Biting into one and I do not encounter the wooden stem and the flavorless sadness of the berries that ship to our stores; these melt in my mouth, they redefine the word red with their taste, they dissolve in a joyous surrender to being eaten. They grew just a few steps away from where I’m now washing and cutting them.

My mother will be picking up most of this to begin canning. Everyone is getting a good deal here; I insist I don’t like to garden – but I love the food that comes out of the garden, and I love to cook. My mother similarly loves to prepare food, especially in large batches. The only one that grumbles a bit is Ralph, who gets a workout on his back picking the fruit.

I cut and cut and cut the tops off, honing my ability to save as much as possible of the prized flesh. A selection of perfectly glossly dark red berries go in a bowl for tonight’s dessert (including shortcake made with eggs from our hens, yay!), the rest in a large bag in the fridge, added to the ones frozen previously; “putting food by”, experiencing the earth’s bounty.

this day 1949

Today in my inbox I received a newsletter from Naomi Aldort:

“It is fine to find ways to nurture yourself away from your child. But, when not available, enjoy the ride. If you knew how close the end of this period is, maybe it would be easier to relax and enjoy each moment. Discover that time for yourself, is time with your child. Being with your child is the way your nurture yourself; it is a treat available for a fleeting moment; it is the gift you chose to give to yourself by bringing this child/ren into your life.

Being with the joys of mothering now is fulfilling. Fearing that you are missing something (or needing a clean house) is painful. When the children become independent, you will find that your interests have changed anyway, or that you can pick them up further than where you left them. These former skills may or may not be relevant to you any more. Life moves only forward. Attaching to the past hurts and separates us from the happy moment of now and now and now. Without the wish to do something else, you love the moment fully and peacefully. Enjoy it. Like the rest of life, it is a passing ride that gives no second chance.”

Today I accidentally lived my life this way. I was out on the bike with the kids from 11:00 in the morning to 3:30 in the afternoon. We went to the bank then the market where we bought my mother* a bouquet of local sweat peas, a pie, our farm eggs. We had lunch in our favorite deli and went to my parents’ to visit and do chores. We dug potatoes. We went to the store for supplies to make a birthday cake for my mother. We walked our garden. We bought her gift and had it wrapped. I was in parallel with my children. I waited on their schedule and timeline as I would a guest. I didn’t snap or order around. Well, not as much as I usually do. They in response were agreeable, helpful, and took excellent care of our groceries and packages. Ralph was home almost before I knew it as our birthday cake was ready to be assembled.

The days I am very busy with my family and with my parents. Daily I visit them, cook for them, listen to my mom, and I talk a lot too. I sit in their living room. We go long stretches not saying much, then the conversation will liven up around something frivolous (the movie I saw last night), or something less so (this week my dad was classified hospice and has had oxygen, intense pain meds, and inhaler, a bed and wheelchair delivered). I mop the floors, do the dishes, wipe the counters. I listen as my children run around in the garden. Eventually we go and I say goodbye and tell them when we’ll be coming back.

* It’s her birthday! 59 years old.

getting over that hump

It’s 5:12 PM and I’m irritated. I’m irritated because it’s taken us a bit longer than I’d thought to walk across the bridge. I’m irritated that despite the sign on the Public Market proclaiming hours until 6, they close down an hour earlier, and I can see the two cars pulling out and away and: I’m irritated because I was counting on some meager produce earnings from the Market to get me a bus pass because (Irritation #3) the kids and I ended up on an overly-ambitious walk (made so because of duration coupled with the amount of exercise we’d had previously this day and our lack of food and water and means to get them). Accepting our loss at least today of lettuce-money now I know that if I want to catch a bus home I have to grab the kids up and cross the street in front of blasting log trucks and wait in a chilly wind God knows how long before a bus comes along and at at that point I’ll have to beg off on 15 cents I don’t have to complete our bus fare (and the drivers around here might even say No – I’m serious). In this moment I notice the kids have found and are enjoying the very, very poor excuse for a playground that is alongside the Market and I know they won’t like abandoning the “park” for this half-assed bus plan but neither should they have to walk all the way home and you know what? It’s my decision, my responsibility, to figure out what to do.

I give into the moment and sit in the grass and let the children play. They don’t know it, but it’s a dismal day, the kind of grey soul-swallowing bleakness that gave Aberdeen such notoriety the Kurt Cobain set (many of them not raised here) often cite. Alongside the river and I’m walking and I know how to dig in my feet and survive, burrowing down into my jacket and being as patient with the kids as I can and hoping for a more promising tomorrow. After all, I have things to look forward to: friends coming over for dinner. The cough syrup nap at night (sadly, still necessary). A day closer to the weekend, where Ralph and I try to enjoy our time together.

This morning the first thing I did to try to make myself feel better than I had yesterday was bake a rhubarb cake and do the dishes. Housework is soothing; I’d enjoy it in perfect bliss if it weren’t on a Rinse-Repeat cycle many times daily (ironically: it was having children that made me overcome my dislike of housework). We did have some excitement yesterday: the first hatchlings in our incubating chicken eggs. One died (in my hands – second bird in a month?), two have survived – we now have ten living entities in this house. I know cats and rats and chickens don’t count for much by some yardsticks but feeding and cleaning up for them kind of does, especially along with my much more messy and complex (but it must be said, far more rewarding) human younglings. Our cat Harris is pleased with the chicks; he offers his nannying skills regularly although we repeatedly defer.

Tomorrow: city park free lunch program (at my son’s request), a date with Jasmine, and Try #2 for gardening proceeds.

out by the ole potato patch

Today we didn’t do much outside the house, at first. I caught up on many emails. At 2 PM we went to the official opening of the HQX Community Garden:

The Proverbial Old Train Track Shot
I love taking my kids to the garden site. Did you know that the very existence of train tracks means kids can entertain themselves – for hours at a time?

Courtesy of Mlle. Fisher
My mom has been painting garden plot signs for anyone who asks. She does something custom according to what the “customer” wants and what she feels like doing. It adds a lot to the congenial atmosphere of the place.

We had coffee and cookies and people fussed over my bike. It is re-invigorating shopper’s lust within me to trick it out further (DLG and Wide-Loaders, anyone?). Yes Laura, I realize I need to get pictures of the damn bike. And my car, come to think of it.

Afterwards I biked to the Silver Pony, an antique store in Hoquiam, with the intention of doing an interview and feature in my next zine. This is a really great shop, and I browse there often and buy there every now and then.

Grays Harbor Miscellany

black thumb would be my pirate name

I’d been saying easy come, easy go with my gardening efforts but I won’t lie: it was a bit of a disappointment to view – on the morning before the last frost date for the area – the crispy terrain in my backyard covered with ice. My broccoli starts reproachfully eyed me with their mouths open in frozen death screams. Well who knows, maybe something will have survived.

Another rather silly thing is that I’m actually one of the charter members of the Community Garden this year, and I can’t really grow a thing. I’m going to be helping the grade school kids with their own garden plot. So that’s even more excellent: planting tender flower shoots, say, only to find them next week brown and sad and dead. “Hey kids, failure is a natural part of life so let’s learn about it!”

I’m really hoping I get some help from a Master Gardener.

it’s sprung!


vintage ad 1958
Originally uploaded by sixtiesbooks

Yesterday I put this year’s first load of clothes on the line and they were dry within hours. Today, walking (to check out a house my mother is interested in), biking and gardening all while wearing a new (gifted) spring skirt, t-shirt, and sandals – it just feels amazing. Ralph built up two garden beds and we have runner beans, cherry tomatoes, broccoli, sunflowers, amaranth and a handful of other flowers (gifted from Abbi) to put in beds tomorrow, not to mention seeds to start (peas, carrots, lettuce, onions, beans, and more flowers). The kids are in spring spirits too, having their first dirty-feet day of the season and staying up late.

Tonight: first bonfire of the season, including sleeping bags, quilts, and snuggling.

rainy Easter exploits

My husband has been lying in bed sick, or under some general malaise, since early this afternoon; it was left to me to prepare Easter dinner (BLTs with homemade white bread, deviled eggs, carrot sticks, olives, fancy pretzels, hot tea), pick up tomato starts, entertain the children, do the preschool’s laundry, tidy the house, and make these:

Happy Onion Day!
Please excuse the crappy Photo Booth shot; these turned out as beautiful as the tutorial indicates.

Happy Easter, all!

i totally feel like i’m going to puke

Because I’m hosting a “little” get-together on Friday and it is the first time I’ve invited more than a few people into my house. Suddenly I realize I feel like my house looks freakishly bare (it is), I need to go buy more dishes (I do) and build a firepit (I don’t, I’m just weird), and I know there’s no way I can figure out stuff for the attending children to do (P.S. my own children play games like, “Guess Whose Clothes These Are?” which is my daily ploy – and it works! – to have them help me with laundry folding and putting away).

I’m just hoping a willing host family, a clean house, and lots of good food is good enough for my friends; I’m sure it is. P.S. I think I might reserve the services of some kind of clown / balloon-blowing / stripper person in the yard and hope we don’t have rain and if just one thing goes wrong I will hide in a closet crying.

Lily Of The Garden
It’s summer in my mom’s yard which is a beautiful time of year. Ralph and I were married about this time (early September) and had the reception at my parents’ (which is the house of my great-grandparents); I remember the quasi-unruly garden being in full bloom and lovely. I remember being caught on tape revealing I was wearing Friday panties (or whatever day it was).

Tonight, this was odd: my brother is going for a trip until late August to visit friends and his girlfriend (in CA) and he kindly accepted a dinner invitation at my house. This evening after we ate I thought perhaps I’d been smoking crack when he actually hinted for a hug before he left. I assume now that he’s planning on dying in a train derailment or perhaps he’s eloping, never to return.

In some ways I think my children have brought a lot more demonstrative love to my family. After all they quite frequently hug, kiss, say, “I love you,” and “I’ll miss you” which is definitely not how I grew up talking with my family. In fact my brother’s own hug request was after my children had hugged him, kissed him, said, “Come back soon,” and “Have a good trip,” not because I trained them to say those things but because we say affectionate things to one another in my family and they feel genuine and deep affection for their uncle. Even their grandpa, and propriety forbids me from writing out all the ways that mean old man barely deserves love (just kidding, I ruv roo daddy!).

Taste Of Sunshine
She is biting with the side of her mouth to avoid her loose front tooth. That thing is crazy-assed loose.