Tonight I carefully slice into a red bell pepper, then a green one, and finally a cheerful purple onion. I cut a quarter wedge from each of these and slice as thinly as my patience will allow. I am exhausted, and I am trying to prepare a new dish. So I move slowly; but I do move. I heat up two types of tortillas (microwave under a damp cloth napkin) and wrap them in heavy foil packets into the warmed oven. Having pickled a jalapeño (while the others roast in oil and salt), I dice it finely and add to the marinade hosting thick tempeh slices. I halve cherry tomatoes into a bowl and gently combine them with a little oil, salt, sugar: set aside. I fry up the seitan chick’n strips – having pre-baked them dry and chewy in the oven – and add the peppers and onions and more pickled jalapeño. The kitchen warms brilliantly with the fragrance of peppers and onions and the family cheers a little. Finally: I slice avocado, bring out the lime cashew cream, and the purple slaw, my husband prepared earlier. We don’t set the table as my work is spilled across it, but join one another convivially on the couch to watch a quaint baking show before we go our separate ways again for the evening.
I’ve been singing “Twenty Four Hours from Tulsa” over the last day, to myself. The Dusty Springfield version, of course; there is no other version. While I’m sewing or working her voice pierces my heart. I can sing as dramatically as I like, in front of my children. In front of no one else, in fact. Maybe I’ll grow a little less shy, or perhaps my children are just the most special people in my heart, and who can know the unvarnished Me.
Tonight feels very special. The day was a quiet, reflective one – populated here and there by debilitating nausea while my kidneys work stuff out.
My work goes well. I am constructing, slowly but steadily, a tailored wool blazer. The weather outside is crisp, sunny – and has that wild edge, the verge of a storm. In the afternoon I head out to the kids’ school and help my son’s class make a fall craft – grating crayons, pressing the colors into wax paper, cutting out fall leaves. It’s a simple project but the children take to peeling and grating crayons with alacrity – and every one of them enjoys sprinkling the flecks on translucent paper and watching the resultant blooms under my old steam iron.
Tomorrow the children and Ralph don’t attend school or job – so tonight, while they are off at a meeting, I clear up my sewing work, sweep the floor, set some essential oils out in the diffuser, light a new candle for my shrine, put away laundry, and lower the lights. I am feeling nauseated and dizzy, but I pace myself so I can get the house ready. The cats pad in and out of living space – peeking into the master bedroom where Ralph’s floor-refinishing equipment provides new terrain.
Today I only talked to a couple people outside my family, and the classroom of children. This felt nice and reflective. A little different, too, than most my days!
Ralph and the children return. He brings bowls of vegetables out the fridge, kneads masa. Tex Mex puffy tacos with Chile Con Queso, rice, fresh tomatoes. I am secretly working on a Christmas present for him which I have to carefully hide so he won’t discover it. The thing is, I could trust my kids to never ever tell.
They don’t grass up.
I made an error, recently. I relied on two entities who were sending checks. Both of them, insurance entities. Both of them insist the payment is on its way. They’ve told us this a little while now (months; weeks resp.). So far in our post office box blows tumbleweeds.
I counted on that money (that was my error). I bought the things our family needs. Now we are in a tight spot.
It’s easy to let a mistake slip into feeling sorry for oneself; into self-criticism. I can be patient with this a while.
But I also know an antidote to this, or at least a spiritual balm. An antidote to self-pity, to self-recrimination: work. Or as my friend John used to say, “chores”.
Not mindless work for the sake of doing it, but the work I should do no matter what. The work I’d do no matter what because it has to be done.
I have rice to cook, for an event I am helping with tonight. So. I saute up fine-minced garlic in olive oil and coconut oil. I set aside broth to simmer; season rice with pepper.
Dishes. Laundry. Yoga; coffee.
Breathe in; breathe out.
My son will wake soon. He will then be the next thing I get to attend to. I don’t know what our plans are for the day – our reduced circumstances have cancelled our road trip – but I do know I bought him lychee yesterday and he loved them as much as I thought he would. I do know I bought him a fifty-cent creampuff at a bánh mì shop and he saved that for this morning.
I do know that he and I will be provided for in some way – whether I can see it, or not. I often can’t.
Domestic life. Comforting. We are always shopping, preparing, cooking, cleaning, storing. Then: cleaning out the fridge. Four people (and four critters) eat a lot of food; half the time we are making up an extra plate for a friend, or my mom.
A late-night walk for the pooch; a mail run.
Kitty Josie helps me with my latest – a new coat for my son. It is my first project constructed by my newest sewing machine – a 60s-era Brother, pink and ivory. What is better than a “new” vintage machine? NOTHING!
“I’m so thirsty,” my son says. “I could kill a cow for its BLOOD.”
You know. Not its milk or anything.
“A gallon would be fine,” he continues.
“Of water,” a suddenly docile young man amends.
Today is rough. Several responsibilities, and I’m feeling off, and tired, and anxious. You know a few years ago, for about fourteen months, I had this prescription for Klonopin and took it nightly. A small era in my life but sometimes I miss it. It’s hard to relax. Sometimes.
But I don’t get bored of “chores” (housework, errands, cooking, appointments) on days like this because these so-called menial tasks are bookended by some brief but really unsavory ones. Since I get to do shit I don’t want to do, and deal with shit I occasionally wish wasn’t happening, anything short of physical agony or emotional bankruptcy is still pretty cool.
My daughter burns some homework; symbolic of her Spring Break:
Later she emails me: “Google up ‘bigfin squid nope’. You won’t be disappointed. Or maybe ye will.”
Yeah, so. Days like today I cling to kindness: the kindness of friends, who support me in so many wonderful ways. I cling to humor: my kids have got it right, a lot of times when I simply don’t. I cling to the knowledge I tried to help others. Today I helped facilitate a meeting with about fifteen young addicts and alcoholics. Statistically, something like three of them will get and stay clean and sober. Today I tell them, “You’re the lucky ones. No one’s life is over yet! You know why you’re all young, right?”
And I wait to see if they get where I’m going with this.
I often think I somehow had more energy when I was drinking. It seemed I could get up in the morning, take quantities of coffee, and put to use intense reserves of power – cleaning, cooking (a great deal of cooking, wonderful dishes), writing, sewing, active parenting, and constantly hatching up those plans and dreams – taking future trips into all the great things I’d do or become.
I haven’t had a drink in almost three years and in that time I’ve stepped on a path of spiritual practice. I’m sober which is a rare way of life, at least in the country I’ve been raised in. For me, it’s a life more vibrant, more unexpected, and altogether more wonderful than I could have dreamed Life to be.
Still – now it seems I get less done, I have less to show for myself, my parenting is no longer “supermom” and is instead much more the role of a mentor, much more about unconditional love and steadfast faith. Admittedly the house is still relatively tidy and the meals are delicious but a great deal of that is courtesy of my partner – who has more strength and joyous energy than any person I know. You ever watch our big dog Hutch running, bounding with his big muscles and exuberant body language? That’s Ralph. He can run and run and run – figuratively, and literally.
I have changed, though. It is said alcohol numbs us somehow. I think that is true, and I’ve spent years now studying, and I try to observe rather than analyze. I see the end results of the drinking lifestyle in those who’ve come to see they have a problem, and want to recover – those like me. I see the desire for “numb” in the social media posts and the casual conversations of those who still drink – they drink to relax, to feel better, to “reward” themselves after a hard day, to believe they are enjoying themselves. I don’t know who’s really enjoying themselves and who has that deep pit of awful in their belly, and a head full of angry scribbles. It’s not my job to know, it’s their job. Here’s what I know: many never figure it out in this lifetime. All I can do is be here for those who want help, and love all people unconditionally. That job keeps me busy enough.
Leaving drinking behind changed my life – second only to having children. I would have told you the quantity and frequency of my alcohol consumption didn’t have a significant effect on me – but I would have been wrong. This is the great mystery of living in denial. We believe we are okay. We believe other people have the problems. We are blind to our own selfishness.
Now that I’m not taking alcohol or mind-altering substances, I sure get to experience more reality! This reality keeps unfolding before me and it’s amazing, exhilarating – and often, exhausting. My feelings are stronger than I knew; my body aches here and there and I seek to “fix” it but my doctor says it’s because I’m getting older. Even my kidney disorder, one I was born with – this mysteriously had a near-complete “remission” from symptoms from about age 17 to age 34 – which corresponds to when I was actively drinking.
This morning I put together a cake for friends; I cuddle my at-home child when he wakes, briefly, from a distressing dream. I’m folding up tattered towels and washing dishes in soapy hot water. I am writing emails to a few dear friends who are struggling. In a few moments we are going for a swim, and then taking lunch. I am traveling out to Wishkah to cook alphabet soup with a classroom of sixth grade children. I’m letting my dog in the car although my daughter groans and rolls her eyes when she has to share a seat with him. I am meeting up with a friend in the evening; I am holding space for her. Tonight I hope to put my arms around my husband, and pet the cat who jumps on my lap the moment I sit down.
My life changed because over time I began to Want What I Have. Even now my feelings and my aches and pains, I get a little friendlier every day, a little more peace, a little more clarity.
It took a long time getting here and I hope I can stay here a bit longer.
From an essay Phoenix penned this year:
What is a hero? A hero is a girl or boy, straight or gay, who has done something good for themselves or others. No doubt heroes are all over the planet. Heroes range from a fearless gladiator to bees who bake Japanese Sparrow Wasps to death. A lone wasp first visits the honeybee’s hive and attacks a few bees, then smears the hive with a chemical stored in the Sparrow Wasp’s body. That signals the wasps to attack. Almost all of them come at once and prepare to slaughter the honeybees, but the bees come out and start flapping their wings to create an intense heat. A couple degrees more and the bees can die. In fact, some bees die in the process but the others just push them aside and keep going.
Our next paycheck arrives paid Monday, the 10th. I am so close to meeting my somewhat ambitious goal: to enter the next pay period without debts (this means: bad checks floating around out there, or bills we were supposed to pay last pay cycle but pushed up to the present one).
I am so close. About $100 off. But, who knows? It might happen. I am patient. Ralph is owed reimbursement for some services; perhaps that money will come in before Monday. Donations come in here and there from readers and friends online. Sometimes I get an Etsy sale or some goofy thing.
I’ve learned that managing the family’s money is exciting – it really is.
These last two weeks I have been exacting and working very hard to accomplish my goal – employing some goofy and some practical measures (we decreased our energy bill by $75 this month), selling a thing or two, performing the kind of small but meaningful money-saving operations that are my calling as the at-home worker [Queen] bee – and lastly, benefitting from a few donations from readers. Bless you, readers.
Our dog’s medical expenses – severe salmon poisoning and hospitalization last summer – have been significant in this last six months’ 20-30% shortfall. Hutch’s standing debt is intense, equal to that of the four human Hogabooms. But his debt, unlike ours, could be catastrophic. As of the end of this month, if we don’t pay the remaining $1600 balance, we will receive the sum total of deferred interest in one fell swoop and then begin getting charges on that amount – the typical Damoclean-assery of credit card companies.
This is distressing – but, what can I do? Hell, I am impressed we’ve paid down the additional $900 that was involved in the experience. I don’t regret caring for our dog and keeping him from a grisly death. I am proud of how we care for our animals, even if the learning curve can be a bit distressing at times!
I took over our family’s accounting and finances a few months ago. It turns out, I love it. It is difficult to do the family thing on one income; it seems it is harder even than it was predicted to be, twelve years ago when we made our decision to live as a single-income family (I even remember where I was when Ralph and I did decide!). Not only do I have no regrets, but it seems the experience keeps teaching me more about gratitude, about planning – and about laughing a little when plans go awry (as they usually do!)
Today, life is exciting. It’s not scary, it’s an adventure. Now and then anxiety gets the better of me; but there again, too, I am patient. Patience pays off where almost nothing else does.
I think that’s a bit heroic – don’t you?
My children are so genuine in their expression and so grateful in their demeanor, it does me good to spend time with them. Today before I drive to Aberdeen for a commitment, I make them breakfast: two rashers of bacon, hardboiled eggs, slices of ripe plum. They thank me warmly as if I’d made them a feast. Later, I come home to a series of polite notes on my dining room table, letting me know of their whereabouts. I am in a minor agony over all this because they keep growing older and I keep thinking I’m supposed to be doing more than I’m doing. A warning: worry becomes habitual if you do it too much. I did my fair share for years and it’s a hard habit to loosen.
A large package arrives in the mail; Nels co-opts the sturdy cardboard box and makes a den and thus labels it: “Resting: Sandcat.” With his large mane of blonde hair and his button nose and freckles and his delicious breath (Sandcats give many kisses) I am in a small private heaven every time he climbs up near before running off again. Later, we have an argument and he retreats to his den. I put my hand in the door and he pulls it to him and purrs.
As the children grow older it seems it takes more work to feed them and a little more money to clothe them, but then again they do more of the work involved in these things. Phoenix especially is quite helpful in household work, pet care, and cooking, enough so that her father and I have to devote a little concentration to make sure Nels gets the opportunity to learn.
Yes, the children are older and I’m more settled as a mother than ten years ago – but I’m still Me, easily distracted, often unfocussed. I will suddenly realize they don’t know how to do something that I could have taught them months or years ago – not that it bothers them much; they ask to learn something when they think it will be useful to them. In this way they teach me a great deal, and I am impressed by their steadfastness.
Phoenix brings home a few new friends today and proudly gives a tour of our home and my sewing studio. The children ask after homesewn garments and Phoenix runs to me with pricing requests. I think on these and voice them aloud and Phoenix nods judiciously: “That’s a good price.” One girl, upon hearing how much I’d charge to sew up an Adventure Time Finn backpack, moans aloud, “Do you know how poor I am?” Later, I take the opportunity to talk to the children about one of the precepts in my faith tradition – “do not take what is not offered” – touched on more than once today, including how my son had opened the package delivered us even though it did not have his name on it.
It is odd to think of teaching, or leading, or imparting lessons to my children; on a daily basis I rediscover how little I know.
Today marks night three of Ralph’s job-related visit to Boise, Idaho. This is the longest in our twelve years of marriage we have been apart. I predicted that I would be fine, but who knows with me. I can get frightened at night – anxious, or depressed. And given that I have a chronic, progressive disease that has everything to do with my mental and emotional states, this is no throwaway matter.
But, as it turns out, we have a lovely time together. Family life changes swiftly, and subtly. The kids and I develop touchingly modest habits, spending more time in bed and on household chores. I make up simple dinners, according to the personal preferences of each member. I don’t set the table, instead letting my sewing project lay out a bit longer. Rather than our customary baths, the three of us shower together.
Without adult assistance, however, the sheer volume of effort required to feed and care for the members of the family is thrown into sharp relief. By way of illustration: Nels informs me that he is eating more, to prepare for the summer “and all that slip-n-slide work.” Now, emerging from his shower, naked and brown like a little tree frog, he chats me up about this. He lists the following foods, all consumed today and most handmade by yours truly:
Fruity Cheerios cereal
2 tomago hand rolls
A PB & honey sandwich on home-baked farmhouse bread
Cheesy broccoli collard soup
Pasta, chicken, and cauliflower (at his grandmother’s house)
Homemade whole wheat pita with spiced tofu
A serving of Top Ramen
A slice of raspberry rhubarb pie
He tells me: this summer is going to be wonderful. “I can tell,” he chirps, “by the way Spring is working out.” A minute later he is planning to turn into a Venus flytrap, three times as big as me. But he can’t touch me, or he might smash me. “Maybe I’ll touch you a little,” he reconsiders. “With my lips.” A kiss – and the sweet scent of raspberries, the flash off his braces within his grin. I am in a heaven I get to live daily.
My son is his typical, mercurial self. One minute sweet – the next, raising the devil. He seems to have no sympathy for how much work it is for me to keep the home without his father’s help. Around the house he leaves his cereal bowl, a bandaid wrapper, pages of notes from today’s Dungeons and Dragons game, several jackets in little heaps. I am driven mad by his carelessness. And yet, even so, later in the warm and rainy recesses of the afternoon I find him assiduously cleaning up the grass cuttings he had tracked in after walking the dog.
Phoenix is a marvel. She has been performing about twice the housework typically to her day. Tonight she glides into the living room and throws herself on the shabby green living room chair. Her body is long and willowy, clad in a floor length skirt and a small cotton bralette, barefoot. I tell her, now, “I am proud of you. You have been working hard.”
She sighs, ” – and I am exhausted!”
“Yeah,” I say. “Me too.”
“This is what it would be like, if Daddy suddenly left.” And with that, she stands up and pads into the kitchen. Her brows beetled less in irritation than in her rapier-like acuity. But her tone has a bit of severity: You’d better watch it, mama.