Sharing the Load

Canadian wildfires more than a thousand miles away filled Wisconsin’s northern skies with haze. Following another warm summer day slightly diminished by the loss of blue heavens and the company of pesky mosquitos, helping a neighbor harvest their lavender field made a small part of the world all okay. At eight in the evening, thanks to Canadian smoke particulates, the July sun appeared a gentle gold surrounded by a flaming ring. With humidity and heat lifting, the air felt just right to stay outside

She knelt next to the plants, cutting the flowered sprigs with a curved knife. I gathered handfuls, wound the end with a rubber band, then handed each to her husband to trim and load for moving. Their collies laid between the rows, noses resting on paws. A hawk screeched above as it circled the field. We talked about nothing much scattered with deeply important stuff.

We have other jobs that claimed the day, but like all plants lavender has a time to be harvested. They had already completed hours in the field and hung hundreds of bouquets in the barn to partially dry. In a few days the lavender would fill a roadside cart for customers. Sharing the work, an hour went by quickly. Mosquitos called an end to our time.

Some kind of magic happens when friends share the work of their days. Weeding each other’s gardens, making a meal, washing dishes together, sanding another’s wood project, painting a room, harvesting lavender. Formality slips away. The need to create conversation slips into comfortable talk. We move in each other’s space naturally, slipping into the dance steps of our real lives without practice. That’s where memories are made.

po5suB6RT2ueQjZaTMEn4Q

Barbie, Midge, Robin and Me

The father of my best friend Robin owned a tool business franchise which provided two young girls with opportunities to fill bins in his wonderful red truck, to bake cookies he could share with customers, and access to dozens of interesting empty boxes.

Robin attended 95thStreet School and I went to parochial school, but we had matching pencil boxes in our desks. Most kids found a source for cigar boxes, but we had decorated paper boxes not needed in his truck into unique containers with compartments for pencils, color pencils, scissors and such. We didn’t know each other’s school friends, but we shared something deeper: hours of playing with Barbie, Midge, Skipper and Ken in wonderful houses, stores, airplanes and schools constructed out of even more empty boxes.

When the weather was cold, Robin’s basement became a town for an afternoon of play. Her Barbie had a flight attendant outfit, mine had a tailored suit. We shared a plastic pseudo-Barbie car that took one to the airport and the other to an imaginary office. Neither of us knew anyone who worked in an office or flew on planes so eventually the story turned back to all the dolls sitting at little box desks with one Barbie, attired in a skirt and sweater, called teacher.

Robin had an older sister and we both had moms so we knew real women weren’t built like our Barbie crew, but we didn’t know flight attendants, nurses, doctors, brides, or girls who wore wonderful ballgowns. Our parents didn’t buy us Barbie’s plastic house or bedroom furniture, but Robin’s dad shared tape and scissors and boxes to build furniture and a variety of workshop towels to make blankets. We stood next to him in his wood working shop as he made small frames and blocks that could extend our Barbie furniture building. We learned how to sand.

Our Barbie phase lasted less than a year, a simple time when we creatively explored, built and did what kids are supposed to do. Parents helped feed our play then stepped back. And we did okay. And I wish I could say thanks to Robin’s father and all the other parents who stepped out over the years with camping trips or garden planting or an evening at the opera to expand the world beyond the girl toys of Barbie and her crew. And those who do that today as  they parent another generation of kids.

IMG_5720

Choosing Joy

For me, 2017 has been filled with genuine worry over the direction of our country. But when I think harder about the year, I realize that political angst has dominated my assessment. And that’s just one aspect. One that I’ve allowed to overshadow the many good things that occurred in 2017. So I want to consciously recall some joyful moments.

Women’s March – St. Paul

January – Women’s March in St. Paul

I marched with my husband, son, and 100,000 others. I was so proud of Greg who was on crutches and still in a leg brace, but determined to be there. I felt hopeful knowing that I was among the thousands of cheering, singing people who share my values. We still have power. It may take a while, but we can create change.

 

 

 

Cooled lava lake on Big Island of Hawai

February – Big Island of Hawaii

I was fascinated by the Kilauea Volcano and how alive the earth is beneath us. The volcano was erupting not far from this cooled lava lake. Even though most of it looks like a moonscape, within decades, nature will assert herself and vegetation will grow just as it has in the surrounding hillside.

 

 

 

 

 

 

March – Pottery Class

Years ago I was a passable potter. In March, I took a class to see if I could reclaim my skills. I’m pleased with these pieces, but I still have a lot to learn/remember.

 

 

 

March of Science – St. Paul

April – March for Science

It was so energizing to be among 20,000 others who were also distressed by the Trump administration’s refusal acknowledge climate change or participate in global accords.

 

 

 

 

Youngest niece’s high school graduation

May – Youngest Niece’s High School Graduation

I returned to my alma mater in Ohio to cheer my youngest niece, who graduated with honors and a full scholarship. She is accompanied by her accomplished sisters. I’m proud of all of them.

 

 

 

ShrinerFest 2017

June – ShrinerFest 2017

My siblings and I recently began this tradition to keep in touch with family members who are scattered around the Midwest. We converge in Chicago for a summer weekend.

 

 

 

 

It’s no secret that I love flowers and gardening.

July – Garden in Full Bloom

Annual zinnias, snapdragons and nicotiana are mixed with perennial yarrow, bee balm, balloon flower, and blackberry lily.

 

 

 

 

 

 

August – Rockin’ with The Patience Band

My husband (on left) jammin’ with a bandmate at a summer performance.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hancock Shaker Village

September – Hancock Shaker Village

Our trip to the Hudson River Valley in New York included visits to many historic mansions, art galleries, and epic gardens. The Shaker Village, so different from the opulent homes we saw, was fascinating and appealing, but just as removed from my real life as the Rockefeller mansion.

October – New great niece (not pictured)

Our family welcomed a new niece in late October. I figure now that I have two great nieces, I qualify as a really great aunt!

 

 

Berkeley Rose Garden block from my son’s apartment

November – Berkeley Visit

We visited the Berkeley Rose Garden (Wait, what? Roses blooming in November?!?) just blocks from my oldest son’s apartment. As we climbed the hills, the air was sweet with eucalyptus.

 

 

 

 

 

December – Italian feast on Christmas Eve

This is turning into a tradition. Our sons request (no, insist) that we make calzones, fagotch, and some other Italian dish. This year it was Mike’s carbonara made with the pancetta Greg cured. Dee-licious!

 

 

 

 

 

The Secret Life of Jewelry

Every morning, I indulge in a small ritual—choosing what jewelry to wear. What I reach for depends on my mood and what clothes I’m wearing. It’s an expression of my taste. But I’m also choosing talismans. The pieces I wear don’t offer magical protection, exactly, but they do offer a tiny bit of power—to keep people close to me.

Many of the earrings, rings, and necklaces I have were gifts. Slipping them on reminds me that I’m loved. Or if I wear something that belonged to my mother, grandmothers or aunts, I am drawing on memories of them to give me strength.

I’m not alone in assigning secret meanings to my jewelry.

When I visited the Victoria & Albert Museum’s Jewelry exhibit in London last fall, I learned that since ancient times, whether jewelry was made from bones and shells or wrought from gold and precious gems, it has had meanings that go beyond adornment and self-expression.

Seringapatam Jewels at the Victoria and Albert Museum in England.

Often the additional meanings are obvious—to show status and wealth (crown jewels), to express love and affection (wedding bands), as a sign of faith (the cross for Christians and the Star of David for Jews). Jewelry is also worn for protection or in remembrance.

The ancients thought certain stones and gems protected the wearer from illness and evil spirits. For example, rubies are supposed to confer health, strength and fearlessness. I didn’t know that when I chose a wedding band with rubies in it. I just liked rubies—I wasn’t hoping to feel more powerful.

Wearing jewelry as keepsakes is the meaning I most relate to.

After my mother died, I began to wear her wedding band on a chain as a way to keep her close. Not every day, but more intentionally, when I specifically want to think of her.

The opal ring my husband gave me, when I was depressed about turning 60, reminds me of his enduring love and how well he understands me.

An inexpensive craft fair ring with chips of peridot and garnet in it reminds me of my father and a sunny day when I visited Dad and Mom in Florida. Their health was still good and we were carefree.

The oval garnet ring my sister gave me when I became a mother brings to mind our strong bond.

garnet

So many of the pieces I love and wear often—the bracelet my sister-in-law made for me, the necklaces a friend has sent me over the years, and the earrings my sons have given me—remind me of some of the special people in my life. Wearing these gifts is a secret source of joy.

3 gifts

 

Secrets of a Successful Writers’ Group

Several years ago, Lisa, our writing group’s founder, tried to quit. She feared the realities of her treatment for stomach cancer (belching, gas, occasional gagging, and a backpack of liquid food that connected to a port in her stomach) were off-putting. She was also discouraged, because “she wasn’t contributing anything,” meaning that she didn’t have any writing to share with the group.

WordSisters

The WordSisters a few years ago — Brenda, Jill, Elizabeth, Ellen, Lisa, and Jean. Rose is behind the camera.

The other five members of the group listened, but as she talked, it was clear that thinking about writing gave her a break from thinking about her health, and she still enjoyed our company. One member suggested that we could all chime in with our own bodily noises if it would make Lisa feel more comfortable. We swiped away tears and laughed ourselves silly at that suggestion. Lisa agreed to stay involved in the group.

We support each other as writers.

That moment exemplifies the basic philosophy of our creative nonfiction writers’ group and why we’ve been together for 13 years: we meet to support each other as writers. Sometimes that goes beyond reacting to each other’s writing.

Besides giving each other feedback about writing projects, we also provide moral and tactical support:

  • Celebrating our publishing victories and sympathizing when someone’s work is rejected.
  • Sharing our grant proposals and writing award applications, even when we’re competing for the same grants and awards.
  • Offering support when a member’s personal life is trying.
  • Organizing our own writers’ retreats.
  • Launching a campaign to get Lisa published when she didn’t have the energy for submissions.
  • Attending each other’s public readings.
  • Organizing several extra-long review sessions to provide feedback on book manuscripts.
  • Recommending marketing and promotional ideas, most recently for Elizabeth’s House of Fire book launch.

Most of all, we believe in each other.