Peering Past the Red Velvet Rope

While vacationing in the Hudson River Valley, my husband and I toured Kykuit, Rockefeller’s lavish summer home; Val-Kill, Eleanor Roosevelt’s modest cottage; and the Hancock Shaker Community’s very plain dormitories.

Mindful of the red velvet ropes and little fences that kept us from exploring/trespassing, we craned our heads around doorways, peered into corners, and tried to imagine the lives lived there. Despite the tour guides’ colorful stories, sometimes it was hard to breathe life into those rooms. Occasionally, my mind drifted, and I entertained myself by imagining what a future tour guide would say about my home after I’ve achieved some unspecified (and as yet unattained) notoriety.

No doubt, future tourists leaning across the velvet rope blocking entrance to my office will say, “Ooooh, that’s where Ellen used to write! There’s the honey locust she used to look at while she wrote, and there’s the sad clematis on the too-big trellis—remember her blog about defensive landscaping?” 

The tour guide might add, “To preserve historical accuracy, we left the pile of mail on the loveseat. Family stories mention that she used to let it ‘age’ for up to two weeks before she dealt with it.” Visitors will chuckle and some of the more avid ones will lean in to snap photos of the mail pile.

“And over there—a see the cat bed on the radiator? Her cat, Pinky, kept her company on cold Minnesota afternoons. Maybe he was even her muse as she struggled to revise her blogs and essays.” The tourists will jostle each other to take pictures of the cat bed.

The guide will probably point out, “Some of the furniture is antique—like the Mission style oak desk. Supposedly Ellen refinished it when she first moved to Minnesota years before she moved here for good. It was the only desk she ever used.” One of the visitors will probably sigh in appreciation. “We believe that she might have been sitting in that beat-up office chair when she received the call about winning the MacArthur Genius Grant/Nobel Peace Prize/Publishers Clearing House Sweepstakes.” More clicking cameras and cell phones.

“Next, we come to the music room, where Ellen’s husband composed his opus . . . .” The tourists will dutifully shuffle across the hall to oooh and ah.

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Had I Prepared My Daughter?

Photo by Uncle Scott

My 14-year-old daughter was half way to Wisconsin Dells with girlfriends for a birthday party when my gut tightened.

The party was a sleepover. She’d be gone for a couple of nights.

Maybe it was the distance that was the source of the fear. Maybe it was because it would be a couple of nights. Maybe it was her age. Maybe it was how beautiful she is. Maybe it was her innocence. Maybe it was her growing independence, her getting out into the world. There would be more days away from home. There would be longer distances.

Had I prepared her for an unwelcomed glance or touch? Was she prepared if that would happen? How would she respond?

I could almost hear her nervous giggle.

What if it became an unwanted advance?

I put myself in her place. My body froze. That’s what I knew how to do.

It helped when I thought of how differently Jody and I had raised our daughter from how I was raised. Even from a very young age, she was taught that her body was hers. She was taught that she had every right to expect privacy. She was taught that it was okay to lock the bathroom door. She was taught that it was okay to lock her bedroom door. She was taught that she had every right to expect respect. She was taught to say, “No”.

This calmed me.

If my daughter wasn’t respected she would recognize that. She knew what respect was.

That’s what Jody and I had given her. Her ability to recognize a danger signal by showing her acceptable behavior in our home.

This calmed me.

I realized that Jody and I had taught her a lot of things. We taught her love, and therefore she will expect love. We taught her kindness, and empathy, and to be herself. We taught her to dream. We taught her to travel domestically and internationally and to do so safely.

We’ve also taught her that it is okay to be alone, to feel pain, and sadness.

Most importantly we’ve taught her she can always come home. We are home.

She will travel far.

 

Looking for a Good Book?

WordSisters is adding a new feature—a completely idiosyncratic mini book review/recommendation that will appear every now and then.

The bookThere Your Heart Lies by Mary Gordon

What attracted me? I’ve read several of Mary Gordon’s novels (The Company of Women, Final Payments) and think she’s a good writer, but I haven’t read anything of hers lately, so I was curious. Also I was pretty sure that Mary Gordon wouldn’t have written a romance novel, which is sort of what the title sounds like—a bit of misdirection.

The premise – When Marian, a woman in her nineties, is diagnosed with cancer, she shares her secret past with her granddaughter, Amelia. Marian is closer to Amelia than any of her other relatives, and Amelia is caring for Marian while she sorts out her life after college.

Amelia envisions that the secret past she is about to discover will be quaint and charming, perhaps involving flapper dresses and smoking. Instead, she learns her grandmother volunteered as an ambulance driver and nurse during the Spanish Civil War along with her idealistic Communist Party friends. Marian’s time in Spain has far-reaching consequences, which affect Amelia.

What appealed to me – Marian and Amelia are likable characters, and I liked the idea of their close connection. Marian’s story dominates the book and her reactions are often surprising, which made her more interesting. Amelia is less well developed but still a believable character (Gordon could have done more with her), has her own coming-of-age moment.

The plot takes some unexpected turns (that’s good), and I learned a lot about the history and politics in Spain that resulted in the atrocities perpetrated by Franco’s fascist forces as well as those committed by the resistance fighters. Aside from Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls, I knew very little about the Spanish Civil War, so Gordon’s novel illuminated that time for me.

What books do YOU recommend?

6-pound Lament

I wonder what combination of tricks will help me lose weight this time?

I know Weight Watchers works if I just do it. In the morning I have good intentions and I’m determined to succeed, to once and for all lose the 6 pounds that stand between my clothes fitting comfortably and not. Disappear my Buddha belly. By evening, I am ready to sabotage the die-ette and eat some crackers (1 point), a piece of cheese (2 points) or a Dove ice cream mini (3 points).

Whenever I diet, I am setting myself outside my normal eating patterns and entering the Land of Crave and Denial, a place I’m sure to sneak out of or completely bust out of eventually.

Because I know I’m going to want what I can’t have, I’ve ruled out other diets like Atkins, Paleo, etc. There’s no way I’ll succeed by banishing whole categories of food – bread, pasta, sugar, fat, which in my mind equal toast with butter, pasta with anything, sugar in my coffee, ice cream, dark chocolate, salty nuts, potato chips, and anything fried.

I don’t want to diet, and yet . . . there’s this shelf of a belly, the same six pounds I’ve gained and lost for 30 years. Which is stupid. Why do six pounds or a piece of cheese matter?

There’s a body positivity movement afoot to accept your weight and quit worrying about a perfect shape. I admire the young women who feel sexy and at ease in their own bodies and proudly disregard their muffin tops and big thighs. But I am of a different generation, one that was taught from a tiny age to aspire to a perfect figure. Anything less than that and you are made to feel like a less valuable person. Which is also stupid. But I can’t get it out of my head, can’t stop mentally shaving off the extra pounds to see my perfect shape, or more realistically, my pretty good shape.

It’s not that I’m huge. I weight 20 pounds more than when I married and looked good objectively (or is that as an object . . . something set on this earth for other people to look at?)

I’m trim, but not thin. My extra weight isn’t a health issue. For now. But I dislike how I look. I wish I looked different. I’m not aspiring to lose 20 pounds. Just six so my clothes fit better. So far, I’ve avoided buying larger sizes. That’s the line I won’t cross. But if I gain any more weight, I’ll have to.

Besides eating a lot of fish, salad, fresh fruit, chicken breasts, veggies and walking for at least 45 minutes every day, I have all kinds of tricks like—

  • Every day, I can have a planned cheat, like one sweet thing a day—a cookie or a Dove ice cream mini.
  • I don’t eat low-cal chocolate or cheese. They’re a waste of calories and I’m only going to eat more of them until I have the real thing. Instead, I eat small amounts of the good stuff—like one Dove dark chocolate Promise, not five. It really does satisfy my chocolate crave.
  • Have a 4 o’clock snack – a little hummus or a small piece of cheese and 2 or 3 crackers to tide me over until dinner.
  • Drink some ice water or herbal tea at night instead of a mojito, a beer, or a glass of rioja.
  • When the chip crave overwhelms me, I eat and enjoy a 1 oz. bag of chips fromSuperAmerica. A setback, yes, but better than a big bag of chips.

All of that works until it doesn’t. Until I don’t want to do it anymore. Until I crave more salt and sweet. Until abstinence sounds too pathetic and silly. Really? I can’t have a cookie? I really have to feel bad about caprese salad with creamy fresh mozzarella, ripe tomatoes, basil, and good olive oil?

Which is why I have those six pounds to lose. Again. Which is stupid.

An excellent article, “Losing It in the Anti-Dieting Age” by Taffy Brodesser-Akner inspired me to reflect on my uneasy relationship with my weight. I highly recommend it.

What We Don’t See

First off, my love to Beverly Cory and to those who loved her. I didn’t know Beverly but she could have been my friend or my financial advisor. The financial advisor Jody and I work with is also our dear friend and aunt to our children.

While volunteering for Richfield Police Reserves, near the 8-mile mark of the Woodlake half marathon, I positioned the police car to block the street. I turned on the squad lights, indicating that the intersection was closed. Half marathon runners could run safely up 71st St E.  Many would shout out some thanks as they went by. I’d wave in acknowledgement.

With the police car doing most of my work, my mind was on what I was hearing on the police radio.

The speed of information and the rapid coordination of agencies astounded me.

 

A person had been robbed at gunpoint. Police chase ensued. Car crashed into swamp. Man fled into nursing home. Perimeter set up. Command post opened. Swat team deployed. Help requested from nearby agencies. Police dog on scene. Request for another police dog. Photo of suspect received. Witness identified suspect. Snipers placed on roof tops. Squad cars, armoured vehicles, and helicopters surrounded the area. Area on lockdown. Evacuation of White Pine Living Center begun. A methodical door-to-door search of the center. Buses on site for residents and staff.

Though it was peaceful at my post, with runners yelling their appreciation, my heart rate increased, my blood pressure rose, and my breathing quickened.

In Mendota Heights, attention had turned to the office building.

Dispatch continuously fed the command center with information: persons who could possibly still be in the office building, the vehicles they drove, and their physical description.

Intensity continued at the senior center and at the same time increased at the office building.

A door-by-door search of the office building begun. A robot deployed. Beverly Cory found. My heart sank.

Long after I took off my Police Reserve officer uniform, I couldn’t stop thinking of Beverly and what might have transpired in her office. I don’t know what did. When I change into civilian clothes, I become a member of the public. I receive news the same as you.

One thing that I knew for sure, is that the police would work 24/7, and use all the resources that they had available to catch the murder suspect. I felt safer knowing that. I also knew that the police were doing a job that I could not possibly do.