::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.

–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.

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.

So much was done.

These two: mostly brothers from way way back. They were two of the quietest small boys in their kindergarten, just sitting near each other, mostly in silence. They had some big plans recently, things to finish up in advance of Jonas’s departure. Such as the above world map, painted on Jonas’s wall. They had traced it out using  a projector earlier this year and then got down to brass tacks and painted it, over the course of 8 hours in one day.

The next day they walked from our house to his house, which are 31 miles apart. The result was a lot of blisters, but they were hardcore (being 16 and 18, respectively), and so they ran the last two miles in the dark (with flourescent shirts and headlamps). There is no limit to what these two can do, obviously, and they also made videos of both adventures which, annoyingly, are not on YouTube so I can’t share them.
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~tiny whales on a bowtie! little Magrittes for a lover of apples!~

SONY DSCThen, there was the preparation to leave, which included the usual packing up and organizing, but also just for fun, finishing up an online AP class right down to the wire, and for extra extra fun, wisdom teeth extraction! I have a whole poem about the waiting room experience, vis a vis listening to classic rock and all the most important news (everything Tom Brady), all. morning.long.

These ties and bowties are from a few of his fans. I sent out a little invitation to participate in a tie/bowtie send-off and they came through! I presented them to him while he was recovering from the teeth surgery— little colorful packages and notes of encouragement. Think of all that love, living in his closet this year.
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This love note was written on our steps on the morning of his departure, a little art from a friend who came in the night for a last goodbye. I got teary then.
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I made his bed in his dorm room. No top sheet, his forever preference. His room overlooks one of the quads, so green and shady.
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~science building~

Leaving him, I felt awestruck. And as the week has progressed, the adjustment is settling in with the just three of us. Mostly the part that is hard is that I can’t read him every moment, to know how he really is. But this is the new life! Moving forward and on his own, the same way it was strange when he went off to kindergarten and there were whole parts of his life that I was suddenly no longer part of. Letting go and trusting, just some of the biggest themes of parenting.

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~library!~
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~a history classroom in the library~

Here’s a poem about our golden boy who still lives at home…


 

Last Summer Sleep

Your arm was extended in repose,

golden wrist and hand limned in that ray of early September sun.

The rumpled nest of quilts

were pooled around your sleeping form,

and I watched you

breathing in and out—

that beautiful line of your elbow and arm rising up to meet your wrist,

like Adam’s casual response to God’s outstretched forefinger.

 

God was making all the effort.

And Adam was like,

“…whatever,”

lounging back in the nude,

a bit laissez faire, if you ask me,

in the face of God’s intensity of *capital-C* Creation.

Like He was on some sort of cosmic merry-go-round

and if He didn’t put out his finger just right in that exact moment,

really quickly,

—and despite that terribly awkward position—

He might have missed the golden ring.

“Dammit, Adam, could you at least sit up? And put out your finger! Come on man, make an effort!”

 

There you were,

enjoying that last delicious sleep of the summer.

Your face was relaxed,

captured so perfectly between

teenage man-boy

and baby,

depending on how I shifted my gaze.

 

Your hair was perfect,

even in sleep.

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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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writing from the heart

 So this writing practice, going on for 38 non-consecutive days now, has been a highlight of this winter/spring. Mostly poems are what happen when I write, even some that I have shared here. Sometimes the writing opens these doors into the past, just by giving time and attention to even one small aspect, more details come and memories that I didn’t know I had. But a lot of times, what I am writing about is the present. And I think about how the photography and poetry are just two different manifestations of the same impulse: to show you something ordinary so you see it or think about it differently.


Knitting update:
The Birthday Knitting has slowed to a crawl. I am knitting the Gaptastic Cowl which is SEED STITCH, easy, slow, and boring at best, and I have now ripped it out twice. But the third time is the charm. It’s a beautiful gray yarn (like the photo in the pattern), so very squishy and yummy, and I am not upset about the ripping out part. With so many things in life that cannot be redone, why not relish those opportunities to make things exactly how you envision them?
Last week I had the pleasure of visiting the alternative education program and, as always, I found myself completely moved by seeing/participating in alt ed in action. I was there to ask them to work on writing content about their program for our high school’s website. As is typical in most alt ed programs, it was mostly boys, about 15 boys, 3 girls. (We could talk about why traditional education seems to be failing our young men…).

So we sat around this table together, 7 students, 2 teachers and me. I introduced the idea of having them tell the story of what their program is, outlining the Description, Philosophy, and Rationale, instead of having the program director write it. And I don’t know what they thought of me, but I was completely floored by them. I had written some guiding questions to get them going and shared those by reading them aloud. They had questions for me, articulated their thoughts, asked intelligent questions of each other and of their teacher. There was a high level of comfort with the process and each other. What it felt like was engaged learning at its finest, youth empowerment before my eyes, and the level of engagement felt more like a college or private school classroom than a public high school classroom. I able to reflect back to them what I was seeing and how impressed I was.

IMG_0409Yet my heart broke when the students expressed frustration at how they are perceived: as delinquents, drop outs and problem kids, pregnant girls, drug users. But here they are: showing up for an education that has not been easy, and in a public school institution that has failed them, and now they have this second chance. Do the students know how lucky they are to have landed in this program (and some who come, don’t last it’s true)? That what they are getting IS different from regular school and wow, it’s freaking awesome.

As I was leaving, shutting the door, I heard one student say: “This is exciting! As long as we can write from the heart.”