::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:

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.

we are all squirrels here

Mr. Squirrel likes to have resources stored away. When I was nursing, there was nothing he delighted in more than taking a peek at the freezer stash of milk bags. Sure, he liked to see them all in there because it meant he could feed our boy from a bottle. But the real thrill was knowing that there was a stash saved up. He likes pesto and blueberries in the freezer, he likes wood piles, he likes the physical evidence of our survival for the future.

I mean, it’s great! But not really my kind of thrill.

This Squirrel, by contrast, likes to make things. Yes, sewing skirts again! These are # 8 and #9 Barcelona Skirts by Amy Butler. They are modified, of course. I started making 19″ versions a while back, something shorter and more fun. And also thrifty, because as you can see here you can get two skirts by cutting your fabric yardage down the center crease!
  
They are lined, and with a contrast color zipper in back. Notice this beautiful roundy blue and white print? It was a tea towel given to me by Miss Joanie, way back. And I knew upon sight that I would never use it as a tea towel — the pattern was way too pleasing and it would need to be something to wear or carry. Also because: Miss Joanie Magic.

And more inspiration came from B., who had whipped out her own new skirt of this lightweight denim with an offset contrast band like the one at left. Mind-blowing idea. This is a friend who has an extremely busy life and is unbelievably talented at everything she does (and yet pretty mellow about all of her excellence) and she recently embarked on a new adventure of her own…and I was thinking, wow, I could be sewing too.

But because I’m me, certainly talented in my own right but not very spatial or numerical in my intelligence (unlike B.), I needed a lot of mathematical support from Mr. Squirrel the Math Teacher about how to cut out the contrast fabrics. I COULD have figured it out on my own, but I might have needed to construct a paper model to have it make sense to me.

And after years of feeling really irritated by the strangely shaped, awkwardly sized, spiraling, knotty, or otherwise unusual pieces of wood that do not fit nicely with their straight and narrow compatriots, and generally tossing them behind the pristine woodpile, I have come up with a solution. We now have a Fly Your Freak Flag Woodpile, pictured above, for those punk rockers, those iconoclasts, who are curvaceous, funky, and nonconformist. They seemed to want an organically-shaped woodpile made in their own image and I think they are much happier in their own place of prominence than being tossed away and shamed to the back of the woodpile.

And this, below, is one way that my big boy, out taking the world by storm now, shows his mother that he cares. He created 21 Drive To School Playlists for me; each one is just about the right length to get me to or from school. Who is lucky enough to get a mixtape from their own teenage son?!

This girl is, that’s who.
#4 was pretty great, ending on the perfect Pirates of the Caribbean “pump up” note as I pulled into the parking lot. (“It’s been emotional” is a dialogue clip from the movie Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, a cult fave around here and one of my favorite parts of parenting a teenager…sharing the best cult classics in books and movies.) For me, Alejandro will always be his pump up song, because it was what we were listening to as he tied on his tie in the car on that icy, frigid New Hampshire morning, so that he could go have his interview at the school where he is now attending. It took at least three tries to get the tie right.

And #7 also has its charm, particularly the juxtaposition of the first and second songs, somehow perfectly summing up the boy and teen.

SummerSpace

SONY DSCAs promised, if belatedly, more photos from that idyllic evening on Penobscot Bay…SONY DSCSo I’m waiting tables this summer, a new experience for me. And because I like to keep people happy, it’s immensely stressful work because there are so many factors outside of my control. People have been fabulous and patient (new restaurant), and generally lovely. I’m a service person, through and through; it’s something that is a deep part of who I am. SONY DSCI have the house to myself for a few weeks and am enjoying a quiet life and very rare trips to the grocery store. I’m also building a quilt. Sylvan’s Turning 13 Quilt! It’s been two years since I have sewn anything!!! It’s amazing to be back. And I am exploring a new-to-me sewing machine, a true machine, an old Singer from the 1950s which glides smoothly along and is an absolute pleasure to work with. The part that makes me crazy is the placing each square part: it is always impossible (can’t have two same fabrics touching, need an overall balance, etc) and I spent about five hours getting it right (enough). It’s so nice imagining my cozy boy snuggled up inside it…that’s what carries me through the agony of placement.

SONY DSCSONY DSCBut here it comes with a new sense of reality: we have the date when Jonas will be heading off to school. I was typing it into our digital family calendar: “Take Jonas to School.” And then a tiny and very very  mean voice in my head added: …AND LEAVE HIM THERE. (Then I cried.) This happens to all mothers! This isn’t a unique event, in fact it’s absolutely mundane. Every day, forever, mothers have been sending off their children into the big world, and let’s take a moment give thanks for our extreme good fortune that I am sending him off to boarding school and not to fight in a war or to make a new life in a new country. This is how it was always going to be, it’s a part of the job that I signed up for, and this is one way I know I have done it well. SONY DSCSONY DSC—–

6/19/15

The Last Ride

Sometimes you don’t know when it’s the last time

so the occasion slips by unnoticed.

The last time you fell asleep in my arms,

cried in front of me,

needed a reminder to take a shower.

 

It was our last ride to school this morning.

Our playlist was two songs framed around

a biology concept litany,

timed to the length of our commute.

First, “Lilac Wine” by — surprise, I never would have guessed!– Miley Cyrus.

Then cell respiration,

photosynthesis,

acronyms,

words and vocabulary,

a few

of which I recognized,

like hearing another language.

Your voice, reciting,

next to me in the passenger seat,

and me,

just listening to the sounds of your words.

 

Sharing the space with you,

our proximity

was fleeting.

Once, you were the listener:

drinking in all those words and stories spoken

by me to you,

and you were the one making sense of a new language.

 

The final song of our last ride,

“More” by Usher,

is one of your classic pump-up songs.

(More is what you always wanted: more of the world, more time awake, more of everything, stories, time, dessert, information, from your babyhood right to this moment.)

“More” delivered us right to our usual parking space

under the windmill.

Your timing was impeccable.

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Summer Report 1

Summer is just rolling right along in typical breakneck fashion. Here are a few images of what we have been up to. 
Photoshoots on the porch with these rockstars. Dang.

Oh! And THE PORCH.

This porch sometimes impedes my ability to motivate myself to do anything productive. Because you sit out there, screened from the bugs, enjoying shade and pleasant breezes and the songs of birds like this one that I recorded (hermit thrush).

Remember last summer? No relaxing porches for us!

Three hands were needed to tie this hand-made bowtie.


Oh and our anniversary! Sixteen years together! We celebrated with a beautiful dinner at Salt Water Farm in Rockport. We enjoyed lovely company as we overlooked Rockport Harbor—and I had a delicious piece of halibut, so beautifully cooked and presented (no photo, what on earth was I thinking?) in a broth of sorrel with shaved radish and chive florets. Our well-informed server reminded me of Kevin Kline in French Kiss (except with no mustache)—trailer is here.

Well, but it’s still Maine (this was late June), and here I am waiting outside in the blowing, chilly downpour for a concert to start. Silly me, I thought when I finished this Birthday Knitting project (yarn from Madrona, pattern is the Gaptastic Cowl), that I wouldn’t be able to wear it until the fall. Foolish!
(More on this fabulous summer moment later… It needs its own post.)


My Mother’s Day gift this year was a bouquet CSA from Goldenbrook Farm. I get a beautiful, organic bouquet each week for 24 weeks—especially perfect this year when we don’t have much growing around here. These bouquets last! So usually by second week, I am re-making a smaller bouquet, and enjoying our fresh one too. Our farmer and friend Susan is a talented arranger and I am loving the colors and this gift that keeps arriving each week!

{In other news: I am waitressing—trying something new at 40!—at this awesome new restaurant here in the midcoast.}