On reaping what we sow.

I made the best dinner of all time today: smoked salmon chowder (see Epicurious for recipe; then double most of it, use chicken instead of veggie stock, and add fresh dill).  It was freakishly, awesomely delicious.  I’m not sure why, exactly, but the fact that the potatoes and garlic were harvested from our garden a week or two ago and the leeks and dill just tonight might have helped.  And let’s face it: the fact that the smoked salmon was from one of the monsters my nephews and brothers-in-law caught fishing on Lake Michigan in August wasn’t bad either.  I thought the meal would be a festival of the goodness of local eating — hence the name of the post — but it’s way more than that.

While we ate, we had music playing in the background: a mix of songs from my iPhone. One song was from my acapella group in college, and Ezra kept asking: Mama is that you?  So when one song featured a solo of mine, we turned it up and I told them yes, this is me.  The rest of the time you can’t hear me because I’m blending in with all those other beautiful voices, but I’m part of the music.  But they were so thrilled to hear me sing solo that we found the other track of mine: Cats in the Cradle.  I remember the day I earned this solo in group auditions, being near to tears myself and apparently bringing others to the same point.  It was just such a poignant song to me, as one in a long line of kids who didn’t get what they needed from their parents, and as someone who assumed that patterns perpetuate themselves.  But to hear my own nineteen-year-old voice singing those lines, remembering the anguish inside me, while looking at these gorgeous, robust, whole children of mine AND their beautiful, engaged papa…well, it brought me to tears again.

It’s a strange thing, when you spend a lifetime with a sense of unfairness, to discover that sometimes, even if only for a little while, there’s a reprieve.  Sometimes the universe rains down the kinds of goodness we had mostly decided was a myth.  And sometimes it rains down all kinds of goodness at once.  Tonight was one such night: a veritable flood of goodness.  The beneficence of family and the earth and water; the originality and specificity of these small boys; the good flavors and great good fortune of our food and time together.  The voices of dear friends from long ago making music that still moves us all to dance.  A friend of mine once said that the universe has lessons to teach us, and if we aren’t listening, it will keep beating us about the head and neck until we do.  This was more of a massage, really, a kind, persistent, and powerful reminder that it’s safe to relax, to trust in who and what we’ve chosen, to reap what we’ve tried to sow.  I can’t imagine a greater mercy.

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On recovery.

It’s been a long week for all of us, including flu shots and incipient molars as well as a host of other, more significant challenges.  Friday comes and we’re pretty much beat.  More than beat, we’re beaten down, a little, by circumstances and the persistent tiredness of not being able to see what comes next that might fix the things that need it.

So what else is there to do, really, but head out into the evening garden for potatoes?  The fingerlings have gone untouched so far, since they were planted late and we harvested the yellow potatoes earlier and are still working through them.  But I wanted fingerlings, specifically, to go with the local lamb burgers and sauteed kale I was planning, and the boys surely needed some kind of existential shift.  We all did.  So out we went, with pitchfork and hod, and I dug and sifted while the boys pulled the bright beads from the soil.  Some were serious potatoes, but most were the kind of thumb-sized beauties that gave rise to their name.  Every time one came to light, Ezra would shout with joy, and he had a hard time taking turns with his brother (assisted, no doubt, by said brother’s stubby one-year-old arms).  Two-thirds of the crop is still in the ground, since the bugs found us shortly after we hit our stride, and we had enough for dinner, anyway.

While we were out there, we brought in a massive bunch of kale, a smaller assortment of late zinnias, marigolds, and bachelor’s buttons, as well as a few carrots whose impressive tops made us pull them just out of curiosity.  (Our fridge is full of carrots already.)  And of course, the raspberries have been loving this frost-free October, putting forth nearly as much ripe fruit as they did all summer, and better.  It was an evening to remember.

Every time we bring in flowers, Ezra helps arrange them in a vase, and then he says, in a tight, excited voice: “We have to have a celebration!  To celebrate these flowers!”  And indeed we do.  Three-year-old vision is sometimes so impeccably clear.

Best of all was Ezra’s request, at dinner, that we give thanks (which we do sometimes, but not often enough).  We held hands, and I spoke my gratitude for these sweet men, for this good food and the land on which it grew.  A few bites later, Ezra wanted more: Papa gave thanks for our family, and for all the love, and for the many people who grew the food we eat.  And then, Ezra himself spoke a bit later:

“Thank you for the good Ezra-Mama-Chi day and for whole-family-day tomorrow.

Thank you for the fruit and flowers that grow all around us.

And for the vegetables that grow all around us.”

As I write, my heart spilling over, my eyes rise to the prints on my desk, gifts from my artist friend Kim Crichton: “Grow.”  “Nurture.”  “Sow.”  (You have to see the images to really get them, but when you do, you’ll see why I’m all weepy over all this together.)  From a day when it seemed like nothing could come together, I all of a sudden see that in this moment, everything has.

On wading in: Day 30.

This is the last post of my September commitment, an exploration of a month-long journey to “wade in” to the currents and eddies of my life.  It’s hard, producing something every day that you’re not plain embarrassed to post; it’s hard finding meaningful ways to look at your life when you’re tired and scattered and worn down.  But like most writers, I find regular practice does in fact support more and better writing; like most mindfulness practitioners, I find regular commitment does in fact sustain clearer vision and deeper breathing.  No news here.

I thought I’d like to sift back through the posts of this month and pull together their various tools or insights, the images I liked the best, the ideas you seemed to like the best.  But then I realized that that would feel like more dodging — the kind of subtle, artful dodging I’ve come to understand as my most pernicious habit.  I’d do it under the guise of critical review, or summative reflection, or some other noble impulse, when it’s also really a way for me to avoid saying anything new.

So here are some things that have been sticking with me, in the ways that my “wading” approach to life encourages:

Our favorite farmer at the market comes from Somalia and spent years in the Dadaab refugee camp before coming here.  She participates in the market through a program called Fresh Start (formerly the New American Sustainable Agriculture Project), which engages new Mainers who used to farm back home in farming here, offering land and lessons in climate and crops.  Every week after we buy what we need, she sneaks around from behind her stall and tucks into our bag, or hands to one of our small boys, something extra: a pepper, a head of broccoli, a delicata squash.  It is a gesture so kind and familiar that every week it breaks my heart open a little.  And I want to ask her — someday I will — if during those brutal years of flight and transition, and even now in the difficult journey of her life, if she hoped to feed a family like mine.  Because she feeds us.  She is our farmer and she gives us nourishment.  I love her strength and power and generosity, and I am grateful for it, for her, for the funders and organizers and smart people who made it possible for someone kicked off her own patch of earth to nourish others from a new one.

Also, just today: my boys and I raked the driveway leaves (drier than the fog-ridden lawn-leaves) into a big pile and jumped and tossed and buried each other in the heap for a lovely warm half-hour.  Then Ezra wandered up the driveway a bit to gather a new handful and began to scream.  I turned toward him, running already, as he bent over, batting at his face and clothes and screaming, screaming, screaming.  Just a few weeks before, he’d noticed a yellow-jacket hive in the maple over the driveway, but it had clearly been there all summer and we had never had any problems, so we let it be, hoping for an early frost.  But all of a sudden, they swooped in on this tiny man, stinging him four times on the face and neck and twice on the hand.  One sting, on his eyebrow, actually drew blood.  He was sobbing and shaking in full-blown panic — of course!  — as I batted away the remaining bees and hauled him down the driveway toward safety.  It took nearly an hour for the tremors to subside completely, and an hour more for him to externalize enough to look out the window and explain that those yellow-jackets were the ones that had stung him.  His left eye is still swollen shut, but he’s back in the saddle now, and I can’t help but marvel at the resilience of his being.  A massive, painful assault, out of nowhere, in the middle of a joyful morning’s play, and he can squint his way back to a recognition that maybe they thought he was a danger to their nest.  I am astonished all over again at the courage of a human who hasn’t yet lived for four years on this earth.  (Or maybe, I suppose, that’s the ticket.)

As we leave September now and head into October, things pick up speed: our fifteenth anniversary; many, many family birthdays; various programs and projects I’m working on will move ahead more quickly.  But I want to carry this month of transition, of intention, of courage and hope, with me into the rest; I want to remember that time is both more finite and more elastic than I pretend; I want to choose more often the life-giving activities that make more of me and of us.  I want to develop my capacity to know what I’m avoiding and to look at it in clear light; I want to dive in more deeply where and when I can.  (There, I should add, is my one pleasure at releasing this commitment to daily posting: some of these ideas need longer exploration and more research, and there’s been no time on this schedule.  But soon, soon.)  Thanks for reading along on these daily posts!  I look forward to hearing from you as it all keeps unfolding.

On wading in: Day 20. Throwing up my hands.

It’s another round of giving up (a fun feature of this daily practice is that you get to experience these little cycles WITH me), with the usual surprising corollary of finding greater peace, usefulness, and happiness as a result.  Apparently life works better if you don’t overthink it.

Yesterday as I’m running out the door to the first session of my public humanities reading group, I notice my neighbor’s dog (who I’ve never met) alone on the sidewalk across the street.  I ask her where her people are and she runs across to me, dashing up the stoop to lick my hands.  I scratch her ears for a second and then take her gently by the collar to bring her back to her house.  I’m met halfway by her owner’s son, who hadn’t realized she was missing until just then and who came running out concerned.  We all felt lucky — I got some dog love; Scott got his mom’s dog back; the dog got more attention than usual.  Win win.

I head downtown to the aforementioned session, arriving about twenty minutes early. As I’m pulling into a parking space, I see a friend I haven’t seen in ages and I shout hello out my window.  (She’s really more of an acquaintance I’d LIKE to be friends with, but we never have the time to see each other.)  She was hovering near her car (parked in front of mine), looking indecisive; as I asked about her new baby, she said that she was in a quandary because the new baby was in the car screaming and she had to run into the library to pick up her two elder sons.  I offered to stand near the car to make sure nothing happened, so she could negotiate the many flights of stairs/elevator and the boy-collection in peace.  And she did and was grateful.  And I was grateful that I could help, that I was early enough not to worry at ALL, and that I could finally do something nice for someone else.  A problem with living a pretty isolated life, as we seem to, is that there are few opportunities to spontaneously give.  These felt good.

And today, in line at the massive and wonderful Common Ground Fair, someone behind me was talking with her mother about how she forgot sunscreen and was worried her daughters would get sunburned.  I turned around and offered my tube of sunscreen, which she looked confused by at first, but then accepted, gratefully.

Why are we confused by kindness?  Why do we often struggle with what to do in even simple situations like these?  How have we become a people who can even CONTEMPLATE cutting food stamps, health care, and other support services for the very people most in need?  What is it that happens in our heads to move us from “gee, I have some sunblock — want a squirt?” all the way to a conviction that it’s okay to starve people, to make them watch their kids suffer?  I know the dangerous machinations of the intellect — heck, in college I was famous for my rationalizations about skipping class: if I hadn’t done the reading, there was no point in going because I wouldn’t understand it; if I had done the reading, there was no point in going because it would just be repetitious.  But seriously: when we start thinking that it’s okay to just think with our heads, that we can SOLVE things by rational processing (or irrational processing) alone, we’re in big trouble.  And guess what?  We’re in big trouble.

So it’s a nice little reminder, in my own quiet life, that giving up on control, throwing up my hands at the chaos, is a GOOD thing.  It slows me down, trips me up, and pushes me right back to ground level where all I have is my basic humanity. Too tired to rationalize, and without much hope of doing it right even if I wasn’t, I end up simply responding to humans as humans.  (And dogs as dogs, apparently.)  That feels, I’m embarrassed to report, like a kind of progress.

One of the ways you know you’re living with the right people

backlit paperwhite

This morning was a hurried morning, as they usually are.  Potty training isn’t making life any easier yet.

Malachi surprised all of us by sleeping tall paperwhitewell from midnight to 6, so he awoke confused and starvacious. Ezra announced he did not sleep enough, which was why he was sad and grumpy and unable to use his big-boy voice.  There were Cheerios everywhere and Sunbutter on my sleeve and coffee splatter on Len’s work tie.  In the midst of all this noise and hustle, the sun rises above the neighbor’s trees and beams directly in the eastern window, backlighting the newly-unfurled  paperwhite so that it glows, transformed, a fierce beacon on a fragile stalk.  Ezra and Len and I stare amazed for a moment before I grab my phone/camera; then Len grabs his and Ezra starts grabbing at our waists for us to lift him up to see. Malachi, strapped into his high chair, spends some time trying to owl his neck all the way around and then gives it up, content to eat and watch us watching.  Where else, I ask you, would I find people so willing to let their lives be altered by such a brief moment of beauty?  Who else would see this and drop everything to stand in its light, breathing more quietly while we wait for the sun to shift?