a white dress, a blue room

I’m standing by the clothes dryer ironing; my son is telling me a joke he wrote. It doesn’t really make sense. But he laughs, his face flushed with pleasure. He steps up to me – he’s almost as tall as I and will be taller this time next year – and puts his arms around me. He kisses me frankly. Then pulls back and looks, peering: “Also – I put three potatoes in the oven to make baked potatoes.” His tone is half-proud, half cautionary, as if somehow I’d be alarmed to find the oven on if I went upstairs.

His father taught him how to bake potatoes. You scrub them up really good, wash them dry them. Coat in olive oil and coarse salt, then stab ’em with a fork. An hour at 400 degrees F. They really are sublime. But Nels, he’s really proud of himself. In fact the kids have settled so thoroughly into veganism and it seems like everything is more peaceful, is more funny. It seems we eat less food but enjoy it more. We certainly spend less on food.

Today I finish up the hooded sweatshirt in a bamboo french terry – set it aside for washing and air-dry, it will be a gift for my daughter in the fall. I steam-press linen for a dress shirt for my son – a gorgeous cerulean blue. I cut out a pattern and catalog it; hanging it up for next week. I will be ordering a pink jean zipper for stretch jeans. I will be overdyeing some gorgeous fleece yardage for my Halloween costume. Yes, I start early. Because some years I get an awful lot of Halloween costumes.

This evening I am finishing up a meeting with a sponsee; sitting in my car with her for privacy. A client arrives – a bride-to-be. She wants her tulle-overlay dress converted to a strapless dress. This means? Cutting into a wedding dress. She is a relaxed bride so there is something very thrilling about it all. Instead of sending her away, I have her sit with me while I whip-stitch the remains of the overlay to the inside of the bodice. The result is gorgeous and she’s very happy when she leaves.

I’m exhausted. My pain level has been very low today, with about 1000 mg of ibuprofen, an acetomenaphin – and this evening, half a hydrocodone. For now I am trying to be patient and trying not to worry about the future. I have a pile of laundry on my bed that will need to be put away before I can sleep in it. I need to drink some water.

A hot shower, and then falling under covers.

 

Supply List

the thaw-out

My mother delivers my son home, including a rather handsome cork bulletin board. Nels’ penmanship has shifted – without any teaching or coercion on our part, without schooling of course – and his hand is taking a stately, yet arcane bent. He has taken to concocting recipes for sweet beverages. He posts a grocery list.

Supply List

“Help Wanted

“I need soda-water for my
next recipe.
“Name: Nels
“Reward: a free orange Navy

“Not urgent”

I am dying, here. Not urgent. Thank you. I didn’t want to have to pick up at midnight and head out for soda-water! My son’s father would, though. He is that tender-hearted for the family.

I am having lunch yesterday with my mother. She is dieting. She is trying not to drink. We talk about these things a bit. I tell her a week and a half ago on my drive home from work I was hit with a craving for fried chicken, which I haven’t tasted in about a year and a half. She tells me she sometimes craves hard alcohol, when she sees someone drink in a film. I say, “Now that? That hasn’t happened to me.” She then says, “Well, I think you were never addicted to alcohol.”

I tell her it is completely not okay to ever tell anyone what they were, or weren’t, addicted to!

She says, “You didn’t drink that much.” As if she knows!

We alcoholics are treated abysmally. If we drink and people know we drink, they hate or pity us. Not a day goes by I don’t hear people speaking in belittling, pitying terms about an addict or alcoholic – I heard it today, at work. We all know the words they use.

But if we stop drinking, if we get clean and sober, we are patently ignored (by most). We are told we never had a problem in the first place.

It’s hard to imagine someone telling a cancer survivor that she never had cancer in the first place. Insulting.

I’m going to pause for the few people reading here, who remember the personal hell I went through when I got sober.

I know people don’t mean to be condescending, but what they mean, what they intend, is half the story. The other half is: those of us who’ve experienced the agonies of addiction. How do we feel about it? What do we think? Stop belittling our experience! It is real. I lived through it. I help others who are battling the disease, every day. Every day!

Today, though, something else is on my mind. I’m passing a kidney stone and I’m feeling sick, feeling low. Suddenly set back and I can’t work the way I used to. The weekend I worked, a few things here or there. Today, I am tired. I feel it in my face, stepping into work and feeling as if I’ve had a few slaps to the noggin. I come home from a six hour shift and I take a hot shower and have dinner and I park on the couch for a bit and watch a terrible British exploitation film. I try to do a little handsewing.

What I struggle with isn’t the pain. But the nausea, the fatigue. And worst of all: what do my kids think? Who wants a sick mother? I tell myself that the way I am ill, and how I handle it, and being loving and matter-of-fact and grateful, is good for the kids. It helps them. Maybe a little today, maybe a lot tomorrow.

I drink my last quart of water for the day. I take my potassium citrate. Ralph will start a fire. I’ll curl up next to someone. Maybe a cat on my lap! The evening will transpire, as it often does, in peace and quietude.

Frenemies

Me

no mama drama

Me
I adore my new(ish) job, but there are decided quirks. For instance, budget problems are major issues amongst personnel and almost every day I’m there, someone is sniffing out “so… what exactly are you doing today?” All the more depressing considering my predecessor was gloriously underpaid and while “appreciated” (as in well-liked by all coworkers) – quiteunappreciated when it comes to working conditions.

So for me – even though there’s plenty that needs to be done, and lots of cleanup I’ve been messing with, and little training at navigating databases and lawful requirements – well still, many days I’m facing some direct or oblique form of, Is There Any Possible Way We Don’t Need You Here?

Now I am a patient woman, a competent worker, and a confident person, so I don’t get too excited if I think someone trying to get me to justify my contribution. Still, it is a bit depressing. I find my mind wandering to people are accustomed to living this way for their food and board, daily. Work is a trade – my best hours for your rate of pay. Where do we get the idea we’re lucky to have a job? Give me a break.

At two o’clock today I zip up my coat, pull on my wool cap, and bundle into my scarf, ready to brave the elements for a lunch break. A storm hit the Pacific Northwest this morning; now the Chehalis River is flooding and deadfalls are crashing to the backroads. The wind is lashing torrential rains against the grey little buildings squatting outside, cheerful lights flickering within. My coworkers take a moment from their clerical exertions to watch the storm. The joke they’ll see me blow across the street if I step outside.

But I need hot food. I’m going.

My husband and children are home, safe inside the house.  I’ve sent Ralph a grocery list, so he can get us a few things should we need them. The power might go out; we need to be as reasonably well-supplied as possible. We’ve got a fireplace and plan on putting it to a maiden voyage these days.

At four-thirty: home then, and caring for the family. It’s getting dark, but the road isn’t as wet as I’d feared.

Ralph cooks most meals these days – funny that! – but while he’s taking a nap tonight, the house is quiet. I enjoy making up our meal: mashing up garbanzo beans, mixing up herbs and spices and breadcrumbs for falafel cakes to fry. Pita, fresh out of the oven. I let the kids help – first putting away the clean dishes, then washing their hands and squeezing lemons, snipping fresh parsley, placing the hot bread in a cloth-covered bowl.

Tomorrow I have the day off; the storm seems to have died down. My car is out of commission – some kind of horrendous leak somewhere, we are still troubleshooting – and the bank account is, predictably, overdrawn.

But – so what? I’ve got safety, warmth, and a lotta love.

and a new fireplace!

First Fire

a hot meal for a weary evening

My children are the bright sparks in my life, when things seem to go amiss, to seem dull or muffled. Last night – while my husband and my daughter were deep in their separate studies – my son and I made a simple meal: pasta covered in homemade marinara and golden, bubbling fresh mozzarella – green beans – garlic toast – roasted garbanzo beans – homemade dill pickles. I was tired but Nels chirped alongside me, happy and full of energy. He set the table, and clearly took a great deal of pride in helping dinner along.

I am well aware my children’s experience of this house are on another plane entirely from that of their parents. Nels regularly calls our house his “dream home” and he knows every inch of it – from the two warm attic spaces to the beloved modern kitchen to basement, a basement yesterday he praised high and low for its functionality and usefulness. He is tending a small garden outside and has strong opinions about the landscaping in our very private, very small and lovely backyard. He is quick to give a tour – whether the place is in good shape or not! – to almost anyone, and show off to friends.

My daughter is doing well in her studies, gliding effortlessly into college and digging into hours of homework per night. Today she took herself to soccer practice, came home and played games with her brother, and is finishing up schoolwork as I write. Ralph and I are still flummoxed as to tuition and scholarships: she is too young for many of the academic merit scholarships available, even though she tested so well! Well, there’s a wrench for every nut, as they say.

The beautiful summer has turned into a warm, balmy fall. Our large maple tree is dusting the deck with leaves the color of leather and loam. The days are getting darker and with that change: more introspection, sadness, but also a time of reflection and rest.

Wrapping up in blankets and holding one another a little closer, now and then.

Fathers Day 2015

healthy & hale

Today the children and I wrap a few presents for their father, and tidy the house for his return. He’s out meeting with someone he’s mentoring. Once a week, even with his schedule, he makes this time. I’m impressed by him. As always.

He shares the dark chocolate bar in his gift, with the children. They adore him.

Fathers Day 2015
Another beautiful sunny day – with that crisp bite of beachy air that I frankly am not willing to live without. I bake honey cornbread, first melting a stick of butter in the cast iron, and whipping the batter into a lightness. Yogurt and coconut flour additions: nutrition, growing children. I simmer beans on the stove while I instruct my daughter in dressing roasted chiles. We’ve an antiquated pressure cooker and can go from dried beans to tender in forty minutes – but I like the old-fashioned way, when I have the foresight.

My body is fatigued, more so that seems reasonable. I am continually amazed at the energy of my children – and it must be said, my husband as well. A few errands in the day, out to a volunteer gig this evening, then home for dinner where I feel wasted. I lie on the couch and, with my son, watch a full video game walkthrough – an impressionist, creepy 2D puzzle-play.

Evening falls outside and the house seems to settle. There comes a point when we know the work of the day is done. My daughter comes in and puts her arms conspiratorially around my waist – she asks if we can host her beau at our house for the day, tomorrow. I am on a one-day-at-a-time program: somehow finding the means, the methods, to care for my family (and others) as we await payday. There is a curious comfort to such methods; life is simpler. I don’t have the burden of making plans, and can set aside these ambitions.

Darkness now, in earnest. The evening rituals of hot showers; time for vitamins, brushing teeth. A last glass of water, perhaps. I’ve been having nightmares, small bouts of terror that wake me minutes after I fall asleep. For many months I’d been spared these episodes – but the last two weeks, I am terrorized more nights than not. My husband has noticed and asks: What’s going on? But I tell him: the whole point, is that my conscious thought can’t figure it out. I endure these unpleasant episodes as best I can. I am nothing – if not patient.

Baking

Baking

Melting butter and chocolate in the double-boiler; a cake cools on the counter. In the living room: four teen/preteens stuff themselves on our couch and take to lunch with alacrity.

It isn’t so much that I want to be with the kids, goofing or playing. But providing them with a date, an event, food, a movie, a drive through the countryside: this, it seems, is my vocation. I can do maths and work and produce and write and all that but what I like best is making a home for these young people, their boundless energies, their optimism, their love of one another and of music and play and the physical world. I get completely irritable about the bullocks that grownups are up to and find the conversation of children immensely refreshing.

My studio is alive again – that is to say, a mess. Painting scarlet shapes on blood-red canvas, on wine-hued twill. Another project, another design. Washing dishes, leaning against the counter while my son is asking me something about his homework but I’m thinking of design: topstitching, how many underlayers for the quilted effect? Will this new project work out or be an awkward failure?

Outside the warm weather has changed to a more typical spring chill. My husband mows the lawn; the cats sprawl on furniture not even purring – dead to the world. Likewise, my children fold their lanky frame into corners of the loveseat or bed, chewing through another massive pile of library books their father has provided them. As the children grow into adulthood, my eldest especially, their babyhoods are more on my mind than ever. The age I think of my daughter most is when she was two; she so little resembles that blond, cherubic little presence but in other ways she is astonishingly similar. The same strength, the same scowl, and the same beautiful crooked smile. Her babyhood flowed through my fingers like sand, as much as I tried to enjoy every moment.

the impossible

“Mom,” my son says to me, quietly, from the passenger side of the car.

I know what he means. We’re just passing someone outside, a man with a cardboard sign, asking for money. It’s cold, and fizzly-drizzly rain. I am tired. I am hungry. I slept about half my normal hours, the night before. I have a working weekend ahead of me.

“I don’t have any cash, Nels,” I tell him. He is quiet, we turn the corner – there is another man, with another sign. My son asks, “Can we get some?”

I ask him, now: “Well – do you want me to buy them a couple burgers?” and he says Yes. His eyes are bright and his spirit is calm.

I am so hungry my stomach cramps and I feel lightheaded. Even if I was to head straight home, I’ll still need to cook. I resign myself that our outing will take as long as it takes.

I pull into the drive through of a fast food restaurant; even the thought of a burger – I haven’t had a fast food burger in many years – causes my stomach to clench.  As if reading my mind my son says, “I know you’re hungry.” (I’ve said nothing to him.) Then he laughs, “You don’t eat fast food, mom!” Almost like he’s chiding. Like he’s teasing.

The drive-through is packed. Moving slowly (for fast food). As if on cue, comedy of errors, I realize my car engine temperature is millimeters away from THE DANGER ZONE. I curse, switch the ignition. Then in the next several minutes I have to turn the vehicle off, then on, as we inch forward. I raise the heat in the cab. The engine temperature falls to normal.

By the time we get two burger meals – fries and a Coke apiece – and pull into the street, and wheel around the corner back to the parking lot, one of the men my son had indicated, is gone. The other is huddled up under a sign asking for a ride to the HOSPITEL. We pull up, ask if he’d like a meal. He takes the food but tells us, “I cut my hand… I need a ride,” waving a napkin bright with blood. His eyes are a clear, watery blue. I tell him, “I hope someone finds you a ride.” He smiles and thanks us. A block later as I look back I can see him fishing around, the comfort of a hot meal on a cold night.

We drive through town, and my son sits up straight, our dinner groceries on his lap balanced alongside the cheerful white paper bag full of hot food. He holds an ice-cold Coke in his left hand. He asks me about the man, How can he get to the hospital? I say, “Someone else will help him.”

And I tell him what I was taught. “I was taught, you don’t have to help as much as someone asks, you have to help enough. Ask if you’ve done enough. Think about that man who wants a ride. If everyone who passed him helped him the little bit we just did, what would happen?”

“He’d be clean, and have warm clothes, and medicine, and food. Maybe a home,” my son says. I can see his mind working, as he pieces this together.

I am tired, and I am hungry, and I feel tender, and sad. My children are as compassionate as they were at age two. I am feeling overwhelmed with a love and a sorrow, like balancing on a riverbank.

My son asks me now, “Am I trying to be too generous?”

Then I tell him another thing I was taught. “I was told you can help as much as you want, after you’ve taken care of yourself and your family.” I tell him: “I have food for my children, so we can buy food for these men.”

It isn’t until Hoquiam, a couple blocks from my house, we find another man who might want a meal. I’ve seen him many times on the street – I don’t know if he’s friendly, or what. But I’m a hearty enough soul. I pull over and, after we get his attention – and he spies the bag my son holds out. I ask, “Want a burger?”

He is eyeing us, then: “What the hell,” he says cheerfully. He takes the food, and the pop, and thanks us. In the rearview mirror I see him dive into the bag.

My son puts his fingers through mine.

They’re cold, from the Coke.

and miles to go before I sleep

I’m standing in the classroom, stirring a fragrant broth loaded with vegetables, shredded chicken, garlic, spices, and pasta. The classroom I am borrowing is a somewhat-converted Home Ec facility: the stoves serving as counterspace, now, and counters cleared of kitchenware and hosting physics experiments and water testing equipment. Sinks and cupboards full of scientific equipment and rinsed Tupperware. A fridge housing God-knows-what. A dingy space but, as far as classrooms go, a fairly cheerful one. The teacher here loves his job and it shows in how he attends to the children in his care.

I come out every Monday to lead my son’s class through either a bit of arts-and-crafts – or, as in today’s case, cooking. I’d set forth volunteering to cook during Phoenix’s inaugural year, in the sixth grade. Parents who actually spend time in the classroom are as rare as ever. I think it’s because, although schools serve at our behest, they still feel like foreign territory.

This week’s Monday, however, the hot plate I’d purchased for my son’s class proves inept at getting a good boil of soup on; thus my return on a Thursday to finish the job – borrowing another classroom. A lot of driving back and forth to this rural little school but it is worth the effort, time and expense to support my children. The drive is a pleasant one, too. Often on the trip I come across a herd of about thirty Roosevelt elk – I’m so used to it I give them only a cursory glance. Until I think it through and realize many people in the world would be in awe at such a sight.

Finished now, I tidy the kitchen space, thank the resident teacher, and carry the large tureen through the hallways – carefully, arms out ahead so I don’t slosh on myself or the floor. I’ve the soup – which the kids have been looking forward to since Monday – and two loves of day old bread donated by a local deli. The class is happy to eat what they helped prepare – children will dine in a much more democratic fashion when included in the cooking work.

It is a cold and soggy day outside; as a few other classes filter out for a wet recess, I talk with my son’s teacher about her pregnancy – her first. I’m tired, but content to have a job to do, a simple one at that.

***

Tonight, finally – the last work of the evening, making a pan of homemade double-chocolate brownies at my husband’s suggestion. My son stands on a stool, putting clean and dry dishes away. “Mama, I love you. Who wouldn’t love you?”

“Oh… lots of people don’t love me. Don’t even like me.” The moment I say it, I know he will be shocked.

Sure enough: “What? Who? Who doesn’t like you? Mama?” Nels is amazed.

“Oh…” I tell him. Thinking of a few names. Then I say, “I can’t tell you. Because actually – I don’t know for sure.”

“Who wouldn’t love you?” He is less distressed than confused.

Then, when he sees I am still not forthcoming:

“Can you tell me a little bit, maybe just someone you guess might not like you?”

“No, Nels.” I am firm. “It’s not my business anyway.”

“Oh. … then can I have some cake batter?”

We finish up in the kitchen – I place the batter in a pan in the oven. Nels finishes the dishes. 

Today was a good day.

Uszka

the universal lens that corrects all vision problems

Uszka

Christmas Eve day. A lovely day with the children, doing a little bit of shopping and cooking. For dinner I made borscht with mushroom-stuffed dumplings (barszcz with uszka – a Polish Christmas Eve first course), a basic goulash, and a winter lemon poppyseed salad; Ralph made pierogi. In a few minutes: a last course of fresh cherry pie.

Barszcz, Uszka

My mom put the kids’ stockings together and I put hers together. We had a little set-to at her house this evening.

WaitingTomorrow: gifts, and a regal Christmas dinner – Beef Wellington!

 

Jon-Won Kitten / Cupcake Party

on hospitality

Jon-Won Kitten / Cupcake Party

Today is less peachy-keen than yesterday. Still very low levels of kidney pain – most of the day, non-existent – but I am fatigued, and suffered a good deal of nausea rising in the later part of the day.

I do the best I can: rescheduling an appointment, making a few more. Laundry (a neighborhood gentleman came over and helped inspect our dryer), dishes, and food – cupcakes and chicken sandwiches for our later event. Drive to the bank to make a deposit.Thankfully, the deposit gets there before the check for rent pulls funds.

Put the house in order; light candles. Cut out three layered t-shirts; return pattern to envelope and filing system. Fold clothes and make a pot of hot, strong tea.  Drive the rainy distance along the river out to pick up my children, and one other young one, at the bus stop. Put a call in to a friend.

The sandwiches, the tea party: a few visitors today, one very special. My friend E., my daughter’s best friend A. – and the kitten new to A.’s home. A kitten almost identical to our own Pip, but of a fluffier nature with a hard, round, low-slung belly.

You can see why it was pretty important we make it a real Occasion.

Jon-Won Kitten / Cupcake Party 

A. and her kitty leave a little after 8; I tidy up. It’s 9 PM – my makeup is fading; my body feels ill. My son collapsed at six PM, clothes and all, in his bed – lights on. His early bedtime somehow leaves me feeling lonely, sad and ill. The early sunset isn’t a great help, either.

I remind myself that just because I am not feeling well, does not mean those in my home are similarly afflicted. It is so important to give them all the love I can.

No matter what!