5/5 Creative Challenge: no. 3

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And that was it. Closing ceremonies, tears, picnic surrounded by wildflower meadows, fish pond, a surprise gelato cart, picnic blankets pulled together under a shade tree, funny muddy kids, and our good, good people. Our new people. We love our people, and what a comfort to know we’ll return to them in September. Already, we’re plotting sleepovers and cocktail nights, meetups at the river, and more. God, I love summer.

The main thing is, I don’t have to pack a lunchbox for 79 days.
The main thing is, we can sleep as long as want, wake up to cat attacks, full sun, lawnmowers growling, the sprinklers already off for the day, grass still misted, warm breeze pushing in the curtains.
The main thing is, we did it–another year down, this one especially fretful, at first, until we found our place and our thriving and our new friends.
The main thing is, nothing but salad for dinner.
The main thing is, we have a sweet, gold Westfalia that needs to be washed, vacuumed out, started up, and stocked. (I remember once my brother inherited an ancient shell of a car that’d been stored in our grandparents’ pole barn, and when he started the engine, dozens of acorns blasted out of the tailpipe in a cloud of blue smoke — precious squirrel cache annihilated just like that.)
The main thing is, despite a niggling list of freelance assignments piling ever higher (thank you, thank you, friends and universe), she’s old enough to disappear inside chapter books while I earn.
The main thing is, hammock time.
The main thing is, school is out, summer is in, we have chickens in our laundry room, and the family is coming over to swing hammers and sling lemonade, Coop or Bust.

5/5 Creative Challenge: no. 2

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Mama, can you stay right in this aisle? she asks worriedly, knobby knees and legs dangling over the edge of the library chair. Of course, I reassure. She tucks her chin down and is swept away by Ellen Tebbits’ difficulties with woolen underwear. I scan the shelves and once again slide out The Mysteries of Edward Tulane, skim, nod yes.This will be our next out-loud book.

My favorite day is library day. We know the shelves so well, make a beeline for our favorite sections, and in minutes our cloth grocery bag is stuffed with pounds of books. At home, we heave the bag onto the dining table and feel rich. We snuggle under a blanket feet-to-feet, or wiggle into the hammock.

She’ll cry out with delight or surprise at a plot twist and recount it for me. I admire this. Unlike her, I turn into a growling beast at the slightest hint of libris interruptus and I will not break the sanctity of the storyspace by “telling you what it’s about.” She, on the other hand, wants to share like a gossip. I encourage this with murmurs and exclamations. Oh? … Mmmm … I think I remember that bit …

I hope fervently that she’ll always want to share remarkable events, surprises, slights, questions. So far, she does the same with playground news. Sometimes she comes home troubled. I don’t think I should tell you, mama … but I need to tell you …

So we talk about honesty, and being a good friend, and how sometimes someone will ask you to keep a secret in your heart like keeping a yucky, spoiled apple in your pocket. If a secret makes you feel bad, or worried, or scared, your trusted grownups will help you. We talk about Ralph S. Mouse’s confession of the wrecked motorcycle, and being forgiven. Patrick’s betrayal of the secret Indian and cupboard, and Omri’s wrath. What it must feel like to hide behind a curtain as the powerful Oz, when you’re only a humbug.

~~

We cleared out her cubby today, fuzzy slippers and spare mittens hauled home, the back corners swept clean of small treasure debris — stones, leaf skeletons, bits of colored beeswax, bottlecaps. She takes me to her desk, tells me she’ll miss it. In twenty-four hours this magical, trying, testing, thriving year will arrive at summer intermission. Strawberry lemonade, cooing doves, the sulphur of early fireworks, flipping our pillows to the cool side.

We walk underneath the maples. Oh, I love the way this kind of tree makes the light glow … We stop for $1 ice cream cones and she makes me eat most of hers. Too sweet. She likes the cone part best.

5/5 Creative Challenge: no. 1

I’m participating in a creative challenge by the new-to-me and very lovely writer/artist Christina Rosalie. There’s only one thing to do, to soothe the itch in my fingers that begs me back to the writing board every day — write. This will be a fun kickstart. And maybe it will finally force me to store my 3,233 photos somewhere other then my phone, for the love of god.

The 5/5 Creative Challenge has two pieces: five snapshots that represent your day, five minutes of writing words that represent your day. You can find more detail and read about Christina’s recently PDX-transplanted family on her blog. Meantime, here’s my first go …

She always asks me back for one more hug. Mama, mama, huggie. She still says that word, even now at seven-almost-eight. (She still loves her own freckles, still eats noodles with her fingers.) I escape her bedtime room, leaving daddy on the floor in the dark to talk her into dozing. Out here, the dishwasher is shushing and through the patio door I can see a stray fork on the picnic table, forgotten when we cleared dinner. It’s warm enough to eat outside, most nights, now.The juniper are stamped out of the dusk sky. I keep thinking, in two days it will be summer vacation and we will wake up at 9:00 and sometimes eat popsicles for breakfast. In front of me are packets of wildflower seeds, waiting. For mulch, for me.

Our first CSA bounty arrived from the valley, smelling of mud and honesty: small potatoes, carrots, lettuce, kale, garlic, a massive onion, a little treasure box filled with dark red strawberry gems that we sliced, sluiced with cream, and ate immediately.

By the kitchen door is the blue laundry basket piled carelessly with towels and the crumpled picnic blanket from our weekend day at the river, with friends from out town. I miss them. I miss their girls and the full, right feeling of a flock of children wandering through my house, someone needs to pee, someone is hungry, someone won’t eat that, someone is bored. I love all of that delightful mess, like a mother hen. The oldest made us meringues from scratch and they tasted like toasted marshmallows. Which reminds me, somewhere we have weird vanilla taffy candies from Chinatown. It’s 9:49, see. This is when I scrounge the back corners of the pantry for hidden sweets and wonder if he’s fallen asleep in there, on her floor, again. The cat (the fat one) scratches on the glass to be let in for the night.

This is how I deal.

News today. Hard news from a dear friend, and what can I do except … love. I’m sitting in one of my favorite spots in town, with a complementary bowl of gazpacho at my right hand, and a mason jar full of cold-extract coffee to the left. There’s sad-hopeful music streaming, and outside it’s all sun and blue. There’s a river sliding by, 90 degrees in the forecast, and white slashes of snow still on the distant peaks. Everything is lovely. And hard. The world is not nice or beautiful or fair. It isn’t.

But it is. It’s just … glorious and sad. Shake your fists at it, and it smiles gently. Carry on. Order a Slip n’ Slide, make quinoa salad, read a book that makes you believe that good things can happen.

We can teach children to be kind and respectful. We can be generous. We can ask for forgiveness, and (best and most magical of all) we can grant it. We can ask someone how they are, and mean it. No — how are you, really?

We can be moved by David Foster Wallace’s assertion that This is Water — and we can think about why, if he knew this, he hung himself in his backyard, leaving a note and his unfinished novel for his wife to find, after she’d cut him down. And then we can thank him for the wisdom he left despite the pain he couldn’t overcome.

This morning I had a disagreement with my child about naked mole rats. Yeah, I did. She declared them “cute.” I declared them the exact opposite of cute, they’re not cute, how could she say they’re cute? “They are the cutest things in the world, mama. I feel sorry for them and I think they are CUTE.” Agree to disagree. Exchange eyerolls and smiles with the spouse, the dry wit born of parenting.

There’s something in here about perfect imperfection. Ugliness inside beauty marked with flaws. I could dig out an analogy around the ideal design of a veiny, fleshy, naked rodent with huge, yellow teeth and squinty eyes crawling along on the same planet as whiskery teddy bear hamsters and rosy-cheeked human babies, and truly good people with truly hard circumstances.

I’ve faced a lot of ugly in my life so far, in varying degrees. I’ve had my tongue slashed with bitter disappointment. Shockwaves have rattled my chest. I’ve been tossed into the darkest slot canyons of the heart. I’ve skinned my fingertips, crawling out.

There is a deep, clear sweetness in the aftermath. We can soften. We are so fortunate — our arms are built just so, right and left coming together, forearm over forearm, palms up. A cradle beneath a sky of loving eyes.

My first word was “gentle.” Let us be so.

Finding summer.

I’d entirely forgotten these things.

Hammocks. Popsicle-sticky wrists. Sun hats and the red, sweaty band across your forehead, later.

Watermelon. Lemonade with crushed ice. Nothing but cheese and crackers for dinner.

Grasshopper chirring and the hiss of a breeze in high branches, teasing. Somnolent wind chimes in the neighbor’s yard.

The smell of wet pavement in the sun. The rippled edge of book pages turned by soggy fingertips.

Struggling and twisting into damp swimsuit straps. Cherry pits in the grass.

Singing into the electric fan – every word vibrato (Mister Roboto).

Flipping the pillow to the cool side. Again. Citronella candles. Night noises through window screens.

~

It’s been a long time since I stepped both feet into summer. So glad to be here.

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A month. Then two.

Hi, you. It’s been awhile.

In a month, seventeen boxes of books get unpacked.

A room filled to the ceiling with boxes and furniture is transformed into a home office/guest space.

A yard pushes up surprises: columbine, lily of the valley, forget-me-not, day lilies, painted daisies, hosta, daphne. Wild roses and strawberries.

The eight-months-missed touchstones of home emerge from boxes and find new nooks. Our artifacts. Our us, in objects. The small stone jaguar from the Yucatan. The sonogram. The flower pot decorated with buttons and crayon scrawls. Grammy’s desk.

The typewriter collection comes out of storage for the very first time. (Platen count: nine.)
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Paid work gets tackled every day. Kindergarten races toward the finish line. We meet the sweet neighbors who live with their 90-year-old mother named Violet. The first water bill arrives (xeriscaping and water barrels are in our future). I cut an inch off of my own hair. Mainly to avoid auditioning curly-hair stylists. Two bummers about moving: new dentists and new stylists.

The kid writes a song about fleas on a dog’s knees that get blown away by a breeze onto the trees–and sings it to me whilst strumming our out-of-tune ukulele on Mother’s Day.
~~
In two months, a fence gets half built. There are 260 linear feet to cover, in total. Half is good.

I realize it’s my first summer without a daily office job since the kid was born. Longer than that. I buy a wading pool and a stack of bubble wands and make a huge list of fun-but-educational games and at-home science experiments for an enriched summer experience and … yeah. I know. It will be popsicles and mayhem.

I help launch a family dream.

Our coffee ritual transitions from warm to iced–we unpack the espresso machine and the cold brew kit. The fence continues; the neighbor offers beer and sends her kid out to help.

We take our picnicking skills for a test run, sandwiches and potato salad and gritty sand in the wrong places. Crawdads. Lifejackets. Sunscreen protests. Aloe vera. Inexplicably, my head is too big for my old sunhat. Can an adult outgrow a sunhat? The lake’s water is rimmed in a wide band of bright yellow, rocking in the small, lapping waves. It’s pollen from the pines, blown across the water and pooling at the edges. I don’t realize how vibrant and beautiful and strange it is until I look at the photos, later.
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We glance at the boxes still stacked against the dining room wall. We studiously ignore the Chaos Pit otherwise known as our garage. The (now gutted) second bathroom fades to a vague future dream and we forget what it’s like to have a bathtub. Almost.

The kid’s kindergarten graduation ceremony happens. I don’t cry.

The next morning, I drop her off for the last day. Through the classroom window, I see her toeing off her velcro sneakers and sliding on her indoor slippers–a preschool routine for four whole years. Goodbye, soft-footed mornings. I cry in the parking lot.
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We think about adopting a kitten. We discuss our chicken coop dreams, sketch plans for a treehouse, talk greenhouse strategies. We stare at the mistletoe infection in our junipers and mumble hopeful predictions and go inside.

I finally have lunch with a new friend.

We welcome a hamster into the mix.
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A 34-year friendship is shored up with a visit. I make her look at mountains every single day. I make her break her cleanse with beer and a cheese plate. (I once force-fed her an olive. We were eight. A story for another time.)

Dance recital rehearsals are incessant. They are a flock of little girls, skinny and pudgy, knock-kneed and swaybacked, awkward and graceful. They match only by merit of their identical pink leotards and ballet slippers, gauzy skirts above playground-bruised shins. They are certain of their own beauty.

We count nine months since we hightailed it to our new life. It is vibrant and beautiful and strange. Knock-kneed and soft-footed. Awkward and certain. Stories unpacked. Pushing up surprises. Wide open.
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Found, no. 1

The previous owner of our new house left a few things behind.

There was a random handful of items that could be labeled “The Stuff People Usually Leave Behind, Mostly In That Little Cabinet Over the Stove.” The cheap tealight votives. Bottle of lemon extract. Expired green tea.

Then there’s a teeny, tiny sake cup. Not much bigger than a thimble.

Did she ever drink from it? I imagine her on a blind date. She’s 51 and hasn’t dressed up in a long time. She keeps pulling at the front of her dress because it’s too tight and gaps open between the top two buttons. Her paper napkin is wadded up in her left fist and her orange chicken is sitting untouched in a puddle of cooling, sweet goo. She keeps her ankles crossed.

Her date talks without stopping, shoveling forkfuls of rice into his mouth. A single grain is stuck to his chin. She can’t stop staring at that grain of rice. She wants to reach over the table and flick it away. She brushes her hand across her own chin, in a hopeful gesture of telekinesis. She can’t hear what he’s saying. There’s nothing but that grain of rice, bobbing up and down with every chew.

He finally gets up from the table. He hikes up his pants as he strides toward the men’s room. She is filled with relief. He’ll see the rice in the mirror, surely, and it will be gone when he comes back. She shifts in her seat and passes her wadded up napkin from her left fist to her right. She glances around at the neighboring tables, exhales.

The waitress fills the water glasses from the large plastic pitcher, but it’s mostly ice, and a piece escapes mid-pour and slides across the Formica, coming to a stop at the bottle of soy sauce. Next to the soy sauce is a little sake set, empty. It looks like it’s been there a long time. Maybe it’s decorative. She picks up the tiny sake cup. It fits loosely, upside down, over the tip of her index finger. She let’s it hang there, and wonders at its size. She’s never tasted sake. It must be very strong, if this tiny cup is a serving.

Beyond the dangling cup, she sees her date walking back from the men’s room. He takes long, obnoxious steps and swings his arms in a way that makes people in the booths lean away from the aisle. From yards away, her gaze narrows on his chin — on a small, white pinpoint. The grain of rice still hangs there. Without thought, dipping her hand below the table, she drops the sake cup into the side pocket of her red patent leather purse. As her date rolls up tableside, she rises, pats her hair, slings the purse over her shoulder, and thanks him for a lovely time.

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