::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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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.

holding on/letting go

I wonder what Billy Collins would think about the fact that I had to muscle my way around a rack of paperbacks to access the Poetry section in our local bookstore. Like the Poetry section was small to begin with and then they parked this rack of trade paperbacks in front of it, the implication being …

SONY DSCWho buys poetry anyway?

SONY DSCI was there to buy a book of poems for someone who has cancer. The efforts of the bookstore to hide the poetry and to thwart my intent were in vain, and I came away with the right book of poems in my hand.

SONY DSCI don’t really know this person well enough to choose a novel for them, or even nonfiction, but I know that words can be a lifeboat. So I went for poetry by Billy Collins because the first time I read him, it was during the course of one bath and I was surprised to somehow find myself in cold water, in the almost-dark, and turning the last page of the book.

SONY DSCIt was total poetic gluttony. I was a little ashamed that I didn’t show more restraint, and quite wrinkly.

SONY DSCI hope it was the right choice of book.

SONY DSC{oh my goodness, look at him.}

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SONY DSCI wrote this poem before I knew for sure he was going away. But I already knew. Holding the poem was like that feeling of knowing you’re pregnant, but when you can’t tell anyone yet.

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here’s a portrait of the two of us.

~Curator~

Since this has been my life’s work,

the work that I have strived for the hardest,

loved the best,

the work that has brought me to tears and frustration,

baffled and inspired me,

this work of wonder and miracles

(sometimes all in the same five minutes)

it’s no surprise that I’m terrified.

You were difficult,

pushing every limit,

imperious,

enamored with power

so early.

You may have had some notion

coming here

that you would be a boy prince.

It’s possible that you faced this disappointment

every morning when you woke,

expecting a room of courtiers and satin slippers,

but getting us regular people instead,

the make-your-own-bowl-of-Cheerios sort.

So you really made me

the parent I have become.

As a small person,

you were the Zen master who

switched the tender backs of my knees

every. minute. of. every. day.

to be sure I was fully present,

paying attention,

alive in each moment,

because

YOU

WERE.

Sometimes I just wanted to space out,

tune out.

Have a thought.

But you were there to help me elevate my practice:

work to art

work of art

art of work

heartful work.

I don’t take credit for who you are,

because you were yourself

right from the first moment.

Your eyes were wide,

taking in the panoply of adoring grandparents

and one uncle,

all present at your birth.

You arrived into all this love

and have kept your

eyes wide open

ever since.

But I will take some credit

for the short life you have lived

which has been imperfect,

full of mistakes,

hurt feelings,

the wrong things said and made up for,

angry words,

funny,

loving,

ridiculous,

morning Mom Songs,

zesty word play,

and

“numbers like roads

since there are so many ways to get to each one”

great books shared,

poetry,

debate,

ideas,

Invisible Poker,

“You never forget your first Miss Hannigan,”

amazing and wonderful adults,

laughter,

warmth around the dinner table,

and lavender footbaths

when you were at your worst.

So:

You.

You who made my dream job possible.

My best work and my life’s work.

I’m sending you out,

out there into the big world

of salmon pants and tortoiseshell glasses,

the world of big ideas and some very smart people,

your people,

who will expand your mind and feed your heart

(I won’t say soul because I don’t want you to vomit)

and they’ll finish the work I started.

The waves of panic

hit my heart with your old familiar relentlessness,

mostly in the small moments alone in the car

or late at night

when I can’t keep them away.

Because I know you are ready to go.

Postscript 3/9/15 on the Occasion of his Acceptance:

You’ve outgrown us.
–And I thought we had two more years,

but it’s now.

You’re going.

Just this week,

when we had that kerfuffle about your missing boots,

via text message,

I thought:
This is how I know we’re done here.

Birthday Girl

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SONY DSCWell, Alice, my birthday was the one that just happened! This is a reference to Frances the Badger, from the series by Russell Hoban, who told her imaginary friend Alice: “That is how it is, Alice. Your birthday is always the one that is not now.”

I made lemon curd for a crowd: it was 8 full eggs plus 8 yolks and 3 sticks of butter, plus tons of sugar and delicious lemon juice (12 lemons/2 cups).
SONY DSCThere were beautiful tulips and some roses too. Inspired by my reading of the Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up (mentioned here), I asked each guest to write down a few things: a favorite book title, favorite poem, favorite movie, and a memory of a time we were together. I was even gifted a mixed music CD! Some read their poems aloud and shared their memories—so fun to hear all those good times spoken about, sharing such good company with some of the women I admire and love the most.
SONY DSCI also asked each guest for a skein of yarn. To be turned into somethings or a something… to commemorate the occasion of turning 40, a grand and grown-up birthday.

SONY DSCOne theme of memories emerged: experiences that we shared outside and in the kitchen. Now I have this beautiful collection of cards and poems to read and re-read, new movies to seek out, and books!
SONY DSC SONY DSCBooks, memories, yarn, cards, chatting, and a delicious meal catered by my dear family. I was surrounded by love all weekend. What could be more perfect?

Oh and wait. Here is something incredible: two friends brought two skeins of the exact same yarn, in a different dyelot, but the exact same colorway (luscious purples)—even purchased in two different states! Unbelievable!SONY DSCHere’s a poem from today, while I shoveled:

Andy Goldswothy,
where were you today
when I was shoveling
still more snow ?

Each shovelful
flung airborne,
was a moment for your team
to photograph.

(Just out of curiosity,
did you get any snow down your neck
or sprinkling your face
when it was blown back?)

The dusk was falling
and the quality of light
was soft,
muffled,
grayish-blue.
And because it was so cold,
the snow was tiny,
granular,
crisp.

The sound of the snowflakes
as they sailed off the shovel,
was
hush hush
shush.
Like plunging your hand
into a barrel of cool, dry lentils.
Or barnacles whispering.

When I waded over to the wood pile,
it was too hard to walk
in the drifts.
So I crawled.
And this was better,
but the snow
kept sneaking into my mittens;
the worst feeling besides
taking off a boot
when your sock comes with it.
(Later, this happened too).

Being in the snow is the same
as playing in the water:
a short-cut directly to joy.

Andy, if you come to photograph
me and the shovel,
be sure to bring the sound equipment.

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holiday bliss

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Holidays have come and gone, as well as the waves of various familial configurations. There were quiet moments and louder moments, games played, food shared, lots of reading great books, some very brisk walks, great conversations, and waking up during the daylight! There were a lot of trips to the grocery store, my other home, and visits with friends in the aisles.
SONY DSCWe have continued to tame our office space which has been the staging area for incoming boxes. Unpacking lots of books, deciding which ones can stay and which should move on. We have a lot of very beloved children’s books that are keepers.
SONY DSC One of the books that has inspired me this year has been Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. You may have read this review in the NYT. I read the review and felt like it was a book that would be best enjoyed in the company of friends, so I put the call out on Facebook and soon had more than 30 folks near and far who wanted to participate.
SONY DSCI created a closed Facebook virtual book group for us, so those who were far away could keep an eye on how it was going. But what I loved most was the idea that there was space for us all to participate and find support in this work of cleansing our homes, finding the sparks of joy that we wish to cherish, hearing the stories from each other of what is difficult or easy about the process.

I love the way it has rippled out to touch other members of the community: “Oh, I heard about that book group from a friend and I already ordered my own copy!” Or, “I didn’t come to the meeting because I was helping my mom clear out her barn of 38 old tires!”

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These photos of my dishtowels and napkins are a direct result of something a friend posted in the Facebook group. She shared her photo of her own dishtowel drawer and they were all rolled up and so lovely in their colors and patterns and textures. The dishtowels looked delighted with themselves! It was 8 pm and I had just sat down on the couch, ready to put my feet up and knit for a bit, but I saw her photo and it literally made me get up off my bum to bring some beauty into my own drawers. (What a gift that social media can be a vehicle for this type of positive peer inspiration.) It quickly became evident that the napkins were crowding out the dishtowels, so then I had to organize a different drawer to make a new home for the napkins… and in the process had to re-home some other random items. More ripples.

SONY DSC SONY DSC{We can never get enough of this guy, my brother.}
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SONY DSC{Um. What exactly is going on with that knife?}
SONY DSC SONY DSCSONY DSCHope you and yours enjoyed a wonderful holiday.

Tomorrow: waking up in the dark again.

every day, progress

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SONY DSCMr. Crafty made a beautiful stained glass geometric lamp for our new home. The term for this form is… wait, hold on while I ask him again…

…”a great dodecahedron compound.

Per his correction, below… “a dodecahedron, great-dodecahedron compound.” Because he is a math geek and artistic like that. It is so beautiful that I will probably flood this blog with many pictures of it and its amazing shadows.
SONY DSC The lamp will hang over our dining room table. Above, you can see our wood stove, a Rais, which was a score on Craigslist. It has a little bun oven up top, with soapstone inserts, and a cute place to store some wood below. The stove is slowly making its lumbering way towards its final resting place in our home. It’s pretty close now.
SONY DSCSONY DSC SONY DSCThe mudroom is “porpoise” gray, a California color in a Ben Moore Natura eggshell base, if you are a paint geek. The white in our main living space is Ben Moore Simply White.
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SONY DSCLook at this amazing bed and desk combo designed and created by my dad, Jake and Sylvan, for Sylvan’s room! So beautiful and functional, for the boy who always has lots of projects going. Lots of details and a lovely finished product.
SONY DSC SONY DSCThese two photos, above, are of our downstairs, Garden/Grandparent Level (GL) bathroom. Currently it’s our only full bath, with shower, sink, and toilet. And now this very nice hand towel holder.
SONY DSC SONY DSC SONY DSC SONY DSC SONY DSCToday we had a fantastic sojourn away from our all-consuming house project. Like getting a day away from the very demanding but wonderful baby! It was the annual lakeside celebration of two birthday buddies whom you may remember from previous years. It was the usual mix of hammock snuggling, gorgeous and talented (NICE, too)  young people, delicious food and company, and this year: waterskiing! Sylvan, on his very first time out, got up on the skis! (Perfectly imaginable if you are familiar with Motion Boy, the Natural Athlete.) I got a great video of him on his first run, but I was enjoying the moment when he got up on the skis and not looking at my camera display, so for the first few seconds you get a really fantastic view of the wake of the boat.

In case you are wondering, there are actually two copies of The Time Traveler’s Wife in the picture in the hammock, and yes, someone is reading aloud from it. It is one of my favorite things, to see some of my most favorite books make the rounds between these beloved young people.