::abroad::

IMG_1934I was recently privileged to be in France for a week with 21 teenagers and 2 other adults. It was amazing to be in the company of young people traveling, some of whom had never been abroad or on an airplane before. It had been over twenty years since I had been to France, and that trip did not involve any time in Paris.
SONY DSCI came back considering a few things.
SONY DSCFirst, if you walk 22k steps in a day, it’s fine to eat as many pains au chocolat as you want. Also gelato.
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Second, as we traveled in the south, we were in rural areas where there was certainly poverty. It seems that poverty in France has been on the decline in the last 20 years. But I wondered, as we passed through rural villages and run-down farms, where they were keeping their rusted-out cars, old lawnmowers, piles of tires, trash and plastic garbage in front yards, and why there were no dilapidated homes with tarps on the roofs? SONY DSCI know what rural poverty looks like in Maine. Rural poverty looks very different in France and I would like to understand the cultural reason for that.
SONY DSCThird (ha!), there were so many examples of third places in France, both in the bustling metropolises and the small villages. Third places are defined as those which are not home and not work/school, yet are public and accessible to everyone. These are places of connection.
IMG_1985I have been thinking a lot about the role of third places in sustaining a healthy community, as I have been transforming the high school library where I work into a thriving third place for our students.
SONY DSCSONY DSCSONY DSCSquares, cafes, plazas, fountains, parks with blossoming orange trees, promenades, benches, seating designed to feel together or alone, these are all spaces that are designed for people to occupy. Mostly outside. Every day between 5-7pm there were groups and pairs, (sometimes singles), walking, sitting, chatting in these public spaces. No one appeared to be in a rush. Sometimes they were reading!
IMG_2285This is definitely not a concept in midcoast Maine, particularly the outside part. Sure we have fabulous hiking trails, beautiful coastline, some amazing parks and beaches and ponds. But are they designed to promote daily socializing and connection, on your way home from work? It felt extremely Mediterranean. And also very civilized.
IMG_2176Finally, the light was no joke. Oh blah blah, you’ve already heard about Paris the City of Light. But it was completely the truth and not just in Paris. It was amazing to capture a few fleeting moments, with the light painting everything. And shutters just mugging for the camera.
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SONY DSCI have a whole series of French children, with their scarves, charming coats, and Mary Jane shoes.
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I have many photos of beautiful windows, flowers, colors, peeling paint, and rusting latches.
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I have a significant number of photos of other tourists taking pictures, because I was annoyed when they were pushing me while we were inside Versailles, and finally decided to quietly protest by taking their portraits as they took photos and selfies (with selfie-sticks) and looked at their phones and posed for each other. It was a relief to enter the gardens, which were stunning. And no one pushed me.SONY DSCI could only imagine that the Sun King was appalled.
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Marching Forth


It’s always true. When you just get outside, something magical will always happen.

I almost didn’t go out. There was the knitting. The couch. The warm wood stove. The sharp wind.

But all of this amazingness was OUT THERE! I was thinking a lot about some special friends in my life while I was walking. Wishing so much Carrie was with me to admire this beauty.

{Are you freaking seeing this? For real?!}

Parenting from afar is new for me. (Oh sure, there’s still plenty of parenting to do right here at home. Don’t worry.) The hardest part about faraway parenting is striking the right balance: giving enough space, but also wanting to stay connected. Communication often happens digitally via text, by phone or FaceTime, sometimes inconsistently, and occasionally with urgency and all-caps.

As in (text):
MOM!
Or recently, when there was a very important message to deliver and all other forms of communication had failed, on his Facebook wall:
JONAS!!!! Call home.

I will always take his calls and I will always answer his messages as soon as I see them. When I don’t hear from him, I assume everything is fine.

I’ve been listening to Hamilton on repeat, as everyone in the world has. Loving it, just like everybody. I have to skip a couple of songs though, if I don’t want to get the twinkles in my eyes. This one, about his children: “Philip you outshine the morning sun, my son.” Sends me right over. Also, the terrible song where Hamilton’s son Philip has been shot in a duel and his mother is holding him as he dies in her arms. Any mom’s worst nightmare.

Worse than Eponine’s death in Les Mis! Any mom’s second-worst nightmare!

One of my favorite lines is one of King George’s, when he is singing to America:
“I will kill your friends and family to remind you of my love.”
I’m knitting a new sweater, with some yarn I got with a birthday gift certificate to my local yarn shop, The Cashmere Goat. One of the best presents to get! So far, not much ripping out, but it’s no doubt in the future of this project somewhere. It is one of Kate Davies’ yoke patterns: Asta Sollilja. The beauty of modern times was that I got digital access to all of the patterns as soon as I had ordered the book online. I am delighting in reading about the history and cultural significance of yoked garments.

But really. This:

dreamy

It was a three-day weekend for my birthday! Surprise snow day on Friday added an element of restful leisure to my life — so grateful for that!

~winter cheering up quilt is coming along~


There was time for weekend chores plus some low-key add-ins: a spontaneous dinner with friends, and a lovely afternoon snow-shoe in all that blue and white sparkle. We wended our way through a wooded path that hugged the ocean’s edge; I was on some of those old classic snow shoes, all wood and cat gut (or whatever… don’t tell me!), with such great fishy-shaped prints!

Here’s what I’m reading: Travels in Siberia by Ian Frazier, for book club. And to keep the Russian theme going: City of Thieves by David Benioff about the siege of Leningrad. Good winter reading.


It’s not that I’m feeling old or morbid or anything. I’m 41 years young! It’s just that I read perhaps the most succinct and exquisite eulogy this week, about someone’s pet hedgehog. It was a beautiful piece of writing. After reading it, I truly felt I knew something about who this creature was. 

Eulogy for Myself, After Clare’s Eulogy for her Deceased Hedgehog

February 6, 2016

I don’t know many other people who loved getting into bed so much that you would sometimes shriek with glee.

You hated stepping on Rice Krispies, were indifferent to historical dates, and would rather have had another natural childbirth than vomit, but you loved red shoes, enjoyed hanging laundry on a clothesline, and watching the snow fall.

You always hoped to see an owl sitting in the tree outside your bedroom and, though it happened rarely in your life, swimming and playing in tropical waters was an immediate short-circuit to joy.

One of your special talents was knowing the exact moment when a loved one drifted off to sleep, but you incorrectly estimated the amount of yarn needed to either cast on or off in most knitting projects, almost every time.

You remembered musical tunes, not lyrics, and provided your family with great amusement singing along to the words you thought you heard.

Being a mother was your life’s work: the most difficult and most rewarding thing you ever did. Your work outside of the home called upon some of the same skill sets you learned as a mom: listening with all of your senses, helping people find things, communicate with each other, to love books, to be kind, and to clean up after themselves.

So long, you lover of hedgehogs, chubby baby feet, and pillows of verdant moss. We’ll toss a Rice Krispie on the floor and think of you.

Fondly.

in which reading my own blog gives me personal insight

Apparently January represents an annual low-point for me. If you’re bored of the same old story because I have written about it before, feel free to give this post a pass.
January 22, 2012
January 21, 2011

Everything is exhausting and nothing is possible was a title I considered for this post. And I don’t know why I get surprised by the same old things every year: such as in August when summer has just run me over with its chaotic festivities, impromptu parties, house guests, and I am really ready for the form and structure of the school year to begin.
So this list was something I came home and wrote out. And the whole top part of the list is things I am not doing (Things To Not Do list), but basically the bottom line is this: I cannot currently do anything that is not in direct support of my home or family. Non-essential things are out. Obligations like I should be writing or meditating every day, or I should feed the birds because I was given a new bird feeder. Giving those up too. And not cleaning any bathrooms, planning meals, or picking up Sylvan every day.

There is not much I can eliminate from my work life, though I have some ideas about how I can  create better form and structure about how I focus my time. There are many important and wonderful things that are part of the work I do and sometimes it is hard for me to say no, and it is also hard for me to say not right now. I usually need Saturday spent entirely at home.
There are plenty of home chores that I will do joyfully like laundry and vacuuming and cooking, not so joyfully shopping, haranguing the 13 year-old, transporting the 13 year-old, etc.

I’m saying yes to a regimen of daily self-care, such as good long sleeps, reading long books about Siberia, exercise, and making things. Also, speaking of Siberia, we have been working on this puzzle of the world, and I have a renewed respect for just how large Russia is! {No wonder Putin thinks he’s so important!} And really there is just a vast expanse of pinkness that is Russia up there, with no words at all on the puzzle pieces which means tiny places too small even to make it to the map.
But it was the “On This Day” that reminded me of the Fabric Therapy post. And I realized: I never even used that fabric! I bought the backing and binding and everything and never used it. It was actually color and fabric and retail therapy, not so much sewing therapy…
So I flipped over my To Not Do  list and started sketching some ideas out. Happy foxes! Little Red Riding Hood! Bows! Tiny toadstools! Pink and blue and gray and white! Cheerful! 
Does this pink and blue parfait of sweetness match anything in my house? Not a bit. Here’s my color scheme for my home: the things that I find beautiful and like to look at. Boom! So simple.
Also: let me heartily recommend the joys of an electric mattress-warmer (Mr. Crafty for the win!). You can buy them with controls for both sides of the bed so that your spouse can have their side at whatever temperature they want. As if you needed an incentive to spend more time in your cozy bed reading.

–throwback–

~I have rekindled my admiration of moss because of Robin Wall Kimmerer’s book, Gathering Moss: A Natural and Cultural History of Mosses~

Sometimes this time of year makes me a little weepy. And it’s often related to hearing music. No, not the silly stuff from the radio that I like to torture the family with, but the music that captures something haunting and quiet and dark and lonely (e.g. the Huron Carol and Balulalow). One time I was hugging a friend after the winter school assembly and I just burst into tears.Here’s a story, something that I was told. There was once a group of 6th graders, in early December. A teacher, not their class teacher, asked a little flippantly, “None of you still believe in _______[insert your choice of childhood mythical figure], right?” The class became still except for the one child who fled the room in tears. There were most likely others still holding onto the magic, even though they knew or suspected. I remember pretending to believe because I didn’t really know how to make it known that I didn’t. I remember feeling a little embarrassed that I did know, but that they didn’t know I knew. But in this class, they were all fiercely protective of each other’s belief. And how lucky to hold onto that innocence for so long! But also, how lucky to be held in such a caring and protective group of peers.The teacher left the room to go after the child. And soon, another adult came in. He asked what was going on in the silent room. Jonas answered: “Something terrible has happened.”That night our family attended a beautiful holiday concert: candlelit, in a church, with 16 extremely talented high school chamber singers. I remember that we were not sitting in our usual area of the church (back left), but up in the front right that year. Most years I usually find some water leaking out of my eyes during this concert; it just happens. On those terrible wooden pews, too narrow for anyone’s adult-sized bottom, with our two boys leaning in, listening to those voices in the glow of the candles, I was aware of the moment. Jonas was not still a believer, though he hadn’t admitted it yet. That day a threshold had been crossed.But it wasn’t the obvious loss of innocence that moved me that night. It was what happened after, when Jonas stepped forward to speak for the group: stepping into a role, assessing the ramifications of what had happened immediately, and then responding. Hearing about this gesture broke my heart open a little bit because it was about growing up and also into something new.The same sense he had when I spotted the rat’s tail hanging out of a crack in the ceiling in our old house. He and Mr. Crafty were on the couch, reading. And I was about to head to bed when I saw the long pink tail hanging down like the most horrible mistletoe you ever saw, a pink shoelace. Right in front of me. “This is my worst nightmare happening right now,” I whispered to them. They both looked up, took in my scream-whisper and my freaked-out attention on the pink tail. Jonas got up immediately and steered me by the elbow, hustling me out of the room, and back into the safety of the kitchen, “Come on, Mom, let’s go. Dad will take care of it.” Mr. Crafty got up to figure out what the heck to do. Both of them proved their heroism that night, but in Jonas it was something new, and again, a very quick sort of assessment and responsive action, with a fierce protectiveness. (Mr. Crafty, of course, is my longtime hero, proven many times in our long association.)Sometimes the growing happens right in front of our eyes.

~in the darkness~

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I’ve been thinking a lot about mistakes and accidents lately. These unexpected events that happen all of our lives, wild cards of chance or fate or karma or just one moment of our own inattention or thoughtlessness. Ugh. They’ll just keep happening to us, like change, until we’re dead. I’ve had my share.

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{the naughty face on the right is the very same one he’s always had}

In those moments, just after the thing occurs, there’s the shock of it: “Hold on! Wait! Time out!!! Just seconds ago, I was going about my life! I had plans for this day that were not about calling insurance agencies! Or sweeping up the pile of spilled salt in the hectic middle of the making a stir-fry!”SONY DSC

SONY DSCBut these are the easy ones, right? The mistakes and accidents  remedied with phone calls or a dustpan are the ones that are inconvenient, but fixable with time and patience for banalities. (For the phone calls, pro-tip: have your knitting handy for all that time spent on hold.)SONY DSCBut the ones that are the hardest are when I know that my mistake has hurt another person. There’s shame and embarrassment, disappointment in myself, and the physical response for me is sort of a clenching in my heart. It literally takes my breath away. As a person who prides myself on attending to details, thinking of others, anticipating what will be needed, and sometimes verging into perfectionism, it can be hard to forgive myself. Because it would be one thing if I was mostly oblivious all the time, but I try very hard to pay attention.

But not always. In that awful moment when we are feeling the clenching heart and the waves of shame, we have an opportunity to be present with our own darkness (like Brené Brown describes in her new book Rising Strong), a choice to be there for ourselves at our worst, even before we get back into our head and figure out what to do next. Brown suggests articulating your inner monologue, prefacing it with the story I’m telling myself right now, for example: “The story I’m telling myself right now is that everyone will be disappointed in me.” Because if I frame it like that, I have the option to consider that it might not be totally the truth. Sometimes the stories we tell ourselves sound really silly/crazy/ridiculous when we speak them out loud.SONY DSCFamily portraits will be coming in the mailbox soon for the holidays. I treasure them! I love looking at the babies growing up, the teenagers trying out their new noses for 2015, the choice of outfits (matching? not?), the way the resemblances to parents and siblings come and go. But look at some of these holiday photo outtakes in this post. They’re not polished perfection for a postcard (ugh, orange shirt), instead they are a portrait of the 99% of who these brothers are with each other: silly, goofy, teasing, enduring, annoying, annoyed, and yes, finally, and always, loving. SONY DSC

sunday quiet.


Now we’re into November and you know how I feel about her. I’ve been doing things this fall, soccer games and new job and all that. Soccer is so emotionally draining to watch and it is about the last sport I would ever want to play. There’s so much anticipation of goals and then at the last minute… doesn’t happen. Such a tease. The merry-go-round of the week just keeps whirling along and apparently eating dinner every night is *still* a thing.

And you know what that means: going to the grocery store. And thinking about what to make. I don’t need a housecleaner or a chef, I just want a meal planner and personal shopper. And I love everyone and I love my community, I really do, but sometimes I count my blessings in NOT seeing anyone I know at the store. (And in case you’re going to tell me to shop at a different store, that idea is right out because I like the set-up of my store the best). Other times I see lots of friends and it’s like a party, my main way of socializing. Shhh, don’t tell anyone, but I have discovered a great time to shop is Sunday mornings between 9-10: only the heathens are there and it’s very quiet.
Above, we have the toothpick bridge that Sylvansanity made with his group, Rainbow Bridges (“Cross Water with Color”). Every time a rainbow appears in LA (where they are head-quartered), Rainbow Bridges donates $1000 to cancer research. They also have a non-smoking policy on their job site because the health of their workers and clients, as well as the community, is of the utmost importance. It was a great bridge and it held quite a bit of weight. If you are wondering about the hole in the middle, it was so the bridges could have weight hung on them to test their strength.

Someone gave me flowers for the library and the morning light was just perfect on them.
  

Being Thirteen and a Boy

Being thirteen and a boy
means your whole body is transforming
before my eyes.
You are visibly taller when you stagger down the stairs each morning,
hair aloft.
In last year’s school picture,
you still had a slight curve of cheek.
Now it’s all chiseled.
Someone said boys go through about five noses
before they arrive at the keeper.

And let’s talk about your brain!
Suddenly you know math facts!
6×9=54 BOOM
Suddenly you retain math processes,
and none of us are feeling tortured by your homework.
You even remember your homework!

Just this week you rediscovered baths
after eschewing them for years:
a warm bath after soccer practice isn’t so bad.
Tableau on the bath mat:
3 matchbox cars
Gumby
Poky

You remembered to hang up your towel.