Stopping by Woods

(Thanks to Tammy B’s 10min10day inspiration; it’s no accident.)

It’s salt I taste, definitely, and it has seeped softly into my mouth through the meeting of my lips. The tracks of tears I barely register. Beauty has that effect.

The birch stands amid a cluster, not too tall. I have pulled off the road on my way up the mountain pass in late autumn. Oregon offers just what these trees need: moisture, shade, space, the perfect medium. Now the leaves, deciduous and dropping their gold on the ground below, lift and fall with a gentle breeze. Sunlight is muted; the road remains empty—but for me.

It has rained earlier, the remnants drip from the serrated edges of the triangular leaves. The sound is swallowed by the soil. So the flash of wing high in the branches strikes me, drawing my eyes upward along the papery trunk. Some bark, beginning to peel, curls against the surface.

But the red wing, the upright crimson perched on a branch, holds sway. I cannot look away. Attention-getting red without artifice here; I happened along at just the right time.

I have stopped only to stretch my legs, for my trip is a long one, now lightened by this moment, this serendipitous pause. I will let tear traces linger.

Discovering Joy

Moving is cathartic—and chaotic—in equal measure. By the time we had to actually leave our house behind, nineteen years of our lives had been sorted and either boxed, sold, or booted. When we actually arrived on the West coast, we unpacked very little. Those boxes remained mostly closed until the time when we found a more permanent residence.

Once that happened, however, what we’d actually kept surfaced slowly. (Remember, chaotic? The Marie Kondo admonition to keep what brings joy? Nothing was bringing me anything toward the finale.) As I put things on shelves and in drawers and closets, I paused to ponder: Why did I choose this?

Not about my son’s first stuffed animal, though he never loved it as much as his dad and I did. We bought it shortly after we first moved to the Jersey Shore, pregnant and euphoric.

And my son’s first “big boy” sneakers? No surprise there, either. (Oh, what he’ll discard when we’re gone.)

Then I began to notice what was missing, two precious items in particular. I kept telling my husband that I knew I didn’t get rid of them. And he gently reminded me how I was using the “scorched earth” approach as the days dwindled on our deadline.

Hanukkah arrived and the menorah we’d had forever, an heirloom from my husband’s childhood, remained MIA. Yes, we had a backup, but it was NOT the menorah of our family celebrations.

The second item was a Lenox bowl given to me by a dear family at the end of a difficult year for their children; we had gotten through it together. No way had I carted that off in my daily loads to Goodwill. And yet…could I have?

A month ago, right before my son and his wife joined us here, my husband found two unopened boxes in the shed. They had been at the bottom of a stack, and we had assumed they were empty.

When I heard,”Trish, look what I found!” a shout from the shed, I popped up from my chair, fingers crossed. The prodigal precious items were there, and now here, where they belong. Home.

Panic Button

Procrastination, even when I consider myself a fairly industrious person, plagues me. Have you ever watched the TED Talk with Tim Urban? There’s a short version that I show students—they love the arrival of the panic monster, the instant gratification monkey, too, in the abstract—but the complete talk is worth your time—14 minutes of head-nodding entertainment.

That’s what I’m doing today, usually I’m procrastinating about this, my blog post, but not today. Today I have a different goal; I’m delaying this: to create a model for my students, a book trailer using Adobe Spark for the first time. The students start their end-of-marking-period projects tomorrow, and I’ve discovered that things go much better if I have done what they are going to do.

I have a pretty good YouTube walk-through to share with them, and which I’m using myself. I’ll undoubtedly find out where the weaknesses lie.I have read all the nonfiction selections they’ll be featuring, so I have to use a YA text unfamiliar to them. (Maybe they’ll even be enticed to read it?!) I’ve chosen Mark Aronson’s Rising Water The Story of the Thai Cave Rescue. The students will also connect the text to a social justice issue, to their study of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). Aronson’s book deals with “undocumented, stateless” refugees in the telling of this harrowing yet hopeful tale.

So procrastination…I find myself nearing the end of this little diversion, big sigh, knowing that Monday, my deadline will arrive, and I must get started. Urban says that when there is a deadline, procrastinators do just fine. Granted there is some discomfort as the panic monster prods and pushes in the eleventh hour. But the work does get done—unlike the procrastination that cripples people, the “what-I’d-like-to-do-sometime,” the dream-deferred, kind.

In that life-on-hold version of delay, I wouldn’t be doing what I love despite moments of not-quite-yet. Grateful for that, I’ll tackle Adobe Spark now. (Does anyone have some tips?)

Mayonnaise Memory

Mustard, Queen of Condiments

Can we talk condiments? I’m a fan of mustard, not realizing my tastebud enchantment until I moved to Philadelphia, land of street vendor plump, piping pretzels (at least in 1969). There I discovered the joy of bread, salt, and no-frills mustard, its slender thread winding between salt crystal mountains, the perfect pretzel “yellow river.”

Since then, I’ve explored mustard’s many guises: dijon, spicy brown, honey, whole-grain. Did you know that there is a museum in Wisconsin devoted to mustard that features over 5300 hundred different types? Makes sense I guess with all that cheese it’s famous for.

So a recipe for 5-minute mayonnaise that arrives in my inbox shouldn’t inspire a blog post: I’m a mustard-girl, except…I have mayo-lovers in my family—aficionados who will slather gobs of the stuff on everything. It makes me cringe, but it’s true.

homemade mayo, courtesy of flicker (not mine…yet)

My mom used to make her own, a rich yellow concoction. (She also made sandwiches for our school lunches that featured her homemade bread slathered with Skippy and, yup, mayonnaise!) I’d watch as she settled the triangular-shaped NuTone blender into the inset motor, a part of the kitchen countertop—the very latest invention! She had eggs in there and added oil. That’s what I remember. It turns out that that’s pretty much it.

Currently, our pantry has a back-up bottle and an opened jar at the halfway mark in the fridge. But when they’re gone, I’m taking this recipe out for a spin. (I might even eat some.)

Head-to-Toe Happy

Clothes may not truly “make the man” (or the woman), but they can make the mood, much like the “dust of snow” Robert Frost thanks in his poem. Today I’m dressed in happy from head to toe.

Let me start with the toes. My super thin knee-high socks take me to Hawaii. Against a pale yellow background, bright red plumeria bloom and sheath my legs in silky splendor. I remember the day I bought them after a spinning class in T.J.Maxx. Spinning and sox, the perfect Saturday morning.

Not to be outpaced, my shoes are my most comfortable. Those socks slide smoothly into my softest Clarks, chocolate brown, a treat for my feet! I ordered them online—always a gamble—but I hit the jackpot.

My pants, deep brown wide-wale corduroy, are my very faves. They fit but have enough give that, should I want to indulge at any point, they’re willing to accommodate. I bought them at our local consignment shop, “Cheap Thrills,” for six dollars. The size looked right, and I just loved their texture, Gloria Vanderbilt notwithstanding.

As I reached into my drawer to pull out my golden sweater, full cotton, sunflower yellow, the stripes of bees, the daffodils in the breeze—soon I hope—lightly cabled, my heart lifted. Yet another purchase post-spin from Maxx with the Lauren label. (I’m not a snob, but sometimes certain names, tried and true, just work.)

The day has donned, and I am ready to meet it. Happy!

Hold the Salt

(Today’s effort is courtesy of Tammy B’ s terrific creativity email. Disclaimer: She bears absolutely no responsibility for the way it turned out!)

Six slimy slugs slide silently, skirting the sundial’s center, spreading slime, sensing spring, satisfied. It has been a long winter. Fortunately the Oregon rain makes them shine, their backs glistening as it christens them. An added advantage is it keeps the humans inside. Bliss, this!

You know what humans bring, yes? Salt. Despite what gardening wisdom tells them, we mostly two-legged creatures ignore the warning: nothing will grow here—ever—if tainted with salt, sodium hydrochloride. Terrestrial molluscs are generally pretty nondescript, meaning, as “pests, ” they most slide unobserved.

Banana slugs are the exception, their yellow mottled skin shouts loudly to the naked eye. Twenty-nine species of slug exist here; 15 of them are exotic. Here’s the thing, most of the slugs, though unsightly, do little real damage. They shoot their love darts, their hermaphroditic attempts at progeny and slither away to a refuge, their home, at the end of the day.

More about slugs? I think not. Suffice it to say, facts are poetry, too. I’m storing my salt in the cabinet, hoping those slugs on the sundial make it home safely.

Choosing Wallpaper

Rehearsal dinner, Sebastopol, California, October 19, 2020….photo by Eric Levine (father of the groom)

Whatever I do, and despite the proliferation of folders that threaten to eclipse the very reason for my choice until Saturday when I file those screen shots away, setting the desktop photo is all important to the way I start each day. How about you?

Currently this is my wallpaper—and why not? It takes me back to the night before my son and daughter-in-law were married. That night, though not the main event, joined a flood of memories that will forever remain unforgettable.

This photo, though, speaks volumes. Just this morning after the kids left for work, I went into their bedroom to check on the dog and cat, to find Alex’s cowboy boots lying side-by-side on the rug. How do some people effortlessly combine styles? When she emerged from the car, boots-on-the-ground first, followed by a silky dress and fluffy sweater, I was smitten—much like my son, I know! And here she is.

That smitten emotion? Look at her nephew, one of the twins, the one that can’t take his eyes off his “meemaw.” While his brother capers for my husband, the photographer, his eyes are 100% focused on his aunt. Eye-play doesn’t stop there. The youngest member of the crew, three-year-old “G,” sends her gaze toward her brothers, always. On their farm in Sebastopol the three embody the musketeers,”All for one and one for all,” especially since the pandemic has kept everyone home.

Love and life, captured in a moment: this is wallpaper I approve wholeheartedly.

A Good Start

“What, mom?” my son asked as I heaved a huge sigh late Sunday afternoon.

“Just Monday.”

“I hear you.” And of course he did! He was beginning a new job, starting with a new company, taking a reduction in pay to become established in a whole new state with so much uncertainty. Furthermore, in his journey to become a professional landscape architect, he is taking the “alternate route.”

In New Jersey (Is this true elsewhere? I don’t know.), a teacher jumps through lots of hoops in order to become certified if she or he has not attended college for a degree in education. I vaguely remember doing so myself. I do know it involved teaching three years in a fully-accredited school in a foreign country as equivalent to the student teaching required by a program. So like mother, like son.

Lots of study and an intense apprenticeship to finally test and become legitimate, that’s where he is now. He has spent the last month doing all those things a house sale requires, all the cosmetic repairs and moving, and Craig’s-listing what had remained. And saying goodbye to a raft of friends, his people for the past ten years.

Arriving here, he got a one-week reprieve. I watched him devote time to studying plants of the Pacific Northwest, sustainability issues, and DRAWING, DRAWING, DRAWING. What an amazing skill set to develop.

Now we were both facing Monday. I was worried about him because—mom.

When he got home, he recounted his experience in hardscaping that day, “It snowed at one point,”—coming from New Orleans, this is notable. That they laid barrier and gravel, grading and shoveling, “not too bad, though,” he conceded.

Then he began talking about his fellow worker, and enthusiasm, muted but present, emerged. “He’s a cool guy. Only 26 but knows his stuff. He’s married to someone older, I mean old enough that he has a stepdaughter his own age.” I’m processing this as he concludes: “He also is a body boarder and comes over here to Newport a lot. We’re gonna get together.”

Those words, those words, with those four words, my heart warms. In a new place with all that remains to be seen, there’s a glimmer of rising friendship on the horizon. What more could a mom want?

The Ides of April

I’m planning for the 15th of April—all thoughts of tax day aside. I can’t wait to email my friends and tell them to come over. Oh, I have missed our impromptu, hey-are-you-free? dinners when what is served doesn’t count even close to who’ll be there enjoying whatever the menu may be.

It’s going to be an atypical Thursday on the Oregon Coast. I’m calling my order in now. The sun will stream warmly through the big picture windows, and the winds will sigh gently outside. The six of us will gather and gaze at the ocean as we catch up—and we have plenty of that to do!

Although we have had a few opportunities to gather outdoors on our patio, they have been fraught even though socially distanced. Those six feet were not enough to allay the deep-seated concerns of reality: One of us is over eighty; one is undergoing chemotherapy for lung cancer; the rest are all over 65.

But on April 15, with everyone fully vaccinated and under the most recently issued CDC (an acronym I never though I’d use without pause)guidelines, we will truly enjoy each other’s presence, the gift of physical proximity restored, and celebrate our ides with joy.

Perfectly Normal

It’s a true neighborhood park, small by park standards, set in the center of a ring of houses. All the front windows gaze out at this green space—the hub of a misshapen wheel. It boasts open grass, a cluster of playground equipment, trees concealing a small winding bridge that crosses a running creek, dips and rises, assorted park benches and a dedicated volleyball court with its net and characteristic sand.

When we arrive on this blustery day, the sky mottled, sooty with scattered with intimations of blue and white, the grass fairly dances under the feet of young adults in a group doing their best to keep a volleyball aloft. They are laughing, joyful without jackets and several of them bare-legged, as we snuggle further down into our zipped coats against the cold to eat our picnic lunch at one of the tables.

An older man—I take him for a dad—is surrounded by a crush of small kids, all engaged in keep-away, or is it football of a makeshift variety—at the edge of the equipment. Soon they’ll abandon the game, and their catch-me cries will echo through the trees.

At my back, the volleyball court hosts serious training session. A young man is set up on a crate and being coached…looks like a serve is the focus today. In the course of our lunch, the pair will depart, leaving the game to the young people who gleefully move over, ready after their warm-up on the grass.

As the group passes, we engage is small conversation. This is small-town America as I like to imagine it, ruddy-cheeked and happy, outdoors and vibrant, resilient and, dare I say it—normal. I’ll savor it.