Category Archives: Family

The Secret Life of Holes

The notorious "double hole"

The notorious “double hole”

This weekend my husband and I decided that the little barn needed a bit of sprucing up – specifically, a plant, larger than my perennials, to take care of a bit of naked lawn.  I don’t know why it didn’t seem naked until the little barn was built but, there you go – sometimes you just have to trust your aesthetic sense and go with it.

We spent the morning wandering around the local nursery debating the strengths and weaknesses of dogwoods, cherry trees and hydrangea.  The shrub expert there, patiently answered our questions and showed us various plants until he introduced us to the dogwood that we fell in love with and decided to adopt.

Of course adopting a tree requires a bit of preparation, namely, digging a spacious hole for it to spread its roots in.  The first task was to decide exactly where the hole should be.  We took turns holding a 20 foot board (I’m a visual person) in various places in the yard, standing back and seeing where the new tree should live.  We finally settled on the perfect spot and set about the chore of digging with optimism and shovels.

The hole needed to be about 24” deep and as I got closer to my goal, I was astounded that I only needed my husband’s muscle and the pry bar a couple of times to remove some nasty rocks.  This is the New Hampshire, the granite state, after all.

We took a break in the early afternoon to go for a walk and check out a local trout stream for next spring.  I decided that I still had enough energy to finish up the hole so that it would be ready for the delivery of its esteemed occupant.  At exactly 24” I hit a rock that I thought should be removed and called over the pry bar expert.  Right square in the middle of my beautiful, deep round hole was a rock the size of Vermont.

We tried to remove it.  We really did.  But when the pry bar sings that particular ringing song that means it has hit something immoveable and you can’t find soft soil around even the perimeters of the bottom your hole, even true stubborn New Englanders know that it is time to let the earth be what it is and to re-examine expectations and move the damn hole.

Our tree will find a lovely spacious new hole in the ground to wiggle its youthful roots in when it arrives.  It will grow into its home, spread out so that it too becomes a part of that secret world that hides underneath the sod.  We will enjoy its blossoms in the spring and its shade in the heat of summer.  It will be wonderful, albeit, slightly to the left of perfect.  After all, this is New Hampshire, the granite state.

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After the election – Sleeping with the (political) Enemy

The morning after the election there were no high-fives in my house; no tearful hugs, no shared feelings of either elation or defeat.  Instead there were consolatory foot rubs, a decided absence of gloating and a tiny bit of tip-toeing until we figured out exactly how high emotions were running.

Like Shiela Heen who wrote “Sleeping with the (Political) Enemy” for the New York Times earlier this week, the love in my life sits on the opposite side of the political see-saw.  Our first forays into political conversations were polite affairs – each of us patiently listening to the other side, trying hard to understand how this person who we loved, who we respected, who was quickly becoming an integral part of our life; how this person could hold such a different view of the world than our own.

This polite conversation eventually turned into heated discussion, and if I am honest, some arguments, hurt feelings, a good amount of posturing and a decided lack of polite listening.  This was all new to me.

Political discussions before this lovely man walked into my life had been with my friends who sit on the same side of the political aisle as I do.  We mostly talked about how important it was that our candidate won, how the “other side” was obstinate, wouldn’t compromise and so on.  I listened and read media that slanted in my direction.  I filled my time and my head with a world of people who agreed with me.

Ms. Heen wrote “When you marry across the divide, you have to give up things that provide the like-minded self-satisfied comfort. As tempting as it is, we can’t demonize those on the other side as idiots who are out of touch, because they’re liable to reach out across the dinner table to touch you (and rather sharply).”

Funny thing, my sweetie walks on the same side of the political aisle as most of my family.  I’ve learned to deal with them by never bringing up politics and by smiling and holding my tongue if someone insists on putting it on the table.

Like Ms. Heen, my partner and I are “closely aligned at the foundation by love, continued attraction, and from sharing the weight of that gift bag of irritations that comes with any modern marriage. But we continue to part company on most pages of the party-political catalog of how-best-to’s and should-or-shouldn’t-be-able-to’s.”  We agree that there are problems that need to be solved.  We just don’t agree on the best way to get there.

So how is it going?  Sometimes we agree not to talk about it.  Sometimes we can’t help ourselves. It is during those times that I try to remember our common ground and to listen carefully and keep my voice calm.  We most likely will never agree on some basic ideas but we can remember that this is the person that we love and that they deserve our respect and our acceptance.

The election is over.  New officials will take their place at the table to converse and compromise.  They will try to fix the economy, create new jobs and take care of our planet.  I hope that they can remember the common ground; that they can accept and respect their differences and work together to find solutions even though they will never agree.

Stupid Cat

Jack in his Carrier

See how happy Jack is going to the vet.

It starts while I am on the phone with my son chatting about the wedding that we both attended over the weekend.  I hear that awful cat wretching noise that means that somewhere, I have partially digested animal bits to clean up.  Yes, Jack has left the remnants of his last meal up and down the basement steps and his lovely sister has participated by leaving a sympathy vomit on the porch.  Yay!!

Fast forward to bedtime where Jack spends the entire night trying to snuggle as close as he possibly can to me and then wretches every hour with loud anguished dry heaves.  Sympathetically, I push him off the bed each time anticipating sleeping in the mess but nothing appears and Jack returns cuddling his furry self up against me for the next round.

The doubt begins – Does he have something caught in his throat?  Has he swallowed a needle left from hemming the wedding dress? Has he ingested one of the pins that he insists on pulling out of the pincushion and leaving on the floor?  And the big question – Does he need to go to the vet?  I have big to does at work in the morning and he is still eating and wanting to go out although he missed his morning ritual of attacking the bath mat and throwing himself against the tub while I shower so I decide to wait.

This morning he seems better but it’s the only window of opportunity to take him to the vet without sacrificing everything I own so off we go.  You can see a picture of how happy he is about this up above.

The vet charges me $60 to tell me that he seems to be getting better (duh – didn’t I just say that?) and she can take an x-ray if we’d like (me and Jack, that is) to the tune of another $65 to see if there is pin or needle inside the cute kitty.  “What will happen if we don’t?”  I ask.  Well, he’ll either get better or he’ll get sicker and we (me and the vet, that is) will know there is something there.  “Let’s wait”, I reply and take Jack home.  Upon release from the dreaded carrier, he runs out back and begins stalking chipmunks.

So far, so good!

Casualties of the Bittersweet Wars (Almost)

This is the arch after the birds have been saved and the bittersweet (at least temporarily) defeated.

I am at war with bittersweet.  This weekend I ripped it out of three blueberry plants, tore roots out of my raspberries and almost killed an entire family of robins by chopping it out of the archway that is the entrance to my garden.

To be honest, the first bittersweet vine in my yard is one that I planted.  Years ago, some friends had made me a beautiful arch for my birthday and decorated it with grapevines and tiny white lights and autumn leaves.  It looked incredible as the twinkly lights invited me into the garden.  The grapevines eventually rotted away and left the bones of the arch.  These are made from old iron fence posts and black plastic tubing.  It was not the most lovely feature in my yard.  I planted trumpet vine gifted from a friend’s garden on one side but it was taking a long time assert itself so, on the other side, I planted the bittersweet.  It grew like a weed.

It grew larger than the arch – it grew across the arch barring entry to the garden.  It grew 12 feet high and then bent down to grab me every time I walked near.  All of this rampant growth required me to arm myself with the clippers weekly and hack away at the aggressive tendrils.  The vines bloomed and fruited with those incredible red and orange berries that just scream AUTUMN! Then the birds ate the beautiful berries (I did make wreaths out of the lovely vines and berries and placed them in tempting spots for the birds).  Through their efficient digestive systems, the birds dropped the seeds all over my yard, planting dozens of vines wherever they perched.

Which brings me back to the present.  This summer I have been watching as a pair of robins nested in the bittersweet on the arch.   I hoped that the bird that Jack ate on my front step was not the mother robin (turns out he chose a different bird family to decimate).

And then, this weekend, I attacked the bittersweet and in a fit of irritation with the efficiency of Mother Nature, forgot all about the nest and hacked down the branches where their home was built and scattered 5 baby robins across my lawn.

Horrified, I did the best that I could to carefully lift the babies back into their nest and prop the remaining bits of bittersweet branches up against the fence where they were in direct eyesight of that feline terror – Jack.  I felt guilty and sad and worried as the parents screamed at me and finally, later that day started feeding their family again.

This was by no means a permanent solution.  The nest was wide open to any and all predators that might wander by including my sweet, adorable kitties with their sharp claws and large teeth.  I let the parents have their temporary home overnight.  The next morning, my partner and I cut the nest out of the wilting bittersweet and carefully placed it into the trumpet vine that remained on the arch.  Then we got out of the way and waited for the parents to once again find the constantly moving nest.

The picture you see here is of the vine that now holds the nest.   The nest is in there (really!) and Mom and Dad robin have found their babies and are busily feeding them in their new home.  All seem well despite my efforts to wipe out the entire family. Thank goodness for the persistence of good parenting and partners who understand the importance of averting crisis!

This is my partner in crime, having helped save the bird family and finished his martini, he is scoping the magazine pages for our next great meal – what a guy….

A Quiet Evening

I love normal evenings.  Last night art group (BPAG) was cancelled due to sickness and although I almost always love seeing my art friends, it felt good to just be home.  It was cold and showery so I got the pellet stove going, heated up the last piece of quiche (thank you Rosemary for the eggs!) and sat in the comfy chair to finish my book.

My son stopped by on his way home from work. His hands and clothing were still dirty from his day at the farm.  He wanted a recipe for chicken that he remembered eating when he lived at home.

I had my evening good night talk with Steve on the phone and settled in again in front of the fire – one cat on the back of the chair and one in my lap.

Normal – quiet – comfortable.  What a blessing normal can be.

Patience

Well –

Ladies and gentlemen, this week’s lesson is about patience.  And wait, before you stop me to remind me that my word of the year is trust, not patience, let me explain.

At the turn of the year, each member of my art group selects a word for herself to use as a guide or a beacon through the coming months.  Choosing a word allows us to set some intention for the year by reminding us of what we value, and what we would like to emphasize in our lives as we move through our daily chores.

My word for the year is trust.  Trust is an important concept for me and a difficult one.  It means that I have to give up the control that I hold onto tightly.  I have to let go of control of situations, control of other people, control of information.  It means that I have to move out of “fix-it” mode and trust the process that is life.

Patience.

I’m having a conversation.  I have to leave in 35 minutes.  There is some information that I want to get before I go.  I sip my coffee and look out the window at the sunlight on the snow.   I am feeling impatient.  I just want to ask the questions and be done with it like filling out a form.

I say “Beautiful morning.”

I wait.

The conversation moves along at its own pace. Sometimes we are quiet.  Sometimes one of us says something.  I laugh.  Information is revealed slowly like the pulling back of a curtain. Instead of the one word answers I would get by drilling with questions, I get small stories.  I get a smile.  Instead of demanding, I get sharing.  Instead of resentment I gain some trust.

At the end of the conversation I am late to work but before I leave, I get a hug.

Trusting the process is about patience.  It’s about letting yourself be in the moment and allowing yourself to really feel what is happening.  It’s about trusting others enough to let them love you.  In some ways, it’s easy.  Relax, stop worrying and enjoy the ride.  In other ways, it’s one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done.  Relax, stop worrying and enjoy the ride.

More Singing Lessons

My singing teacher’s name is Tony.  Tony has a brilliant smile, an easy laugh and he says to me “Who told you that you couldn’t sing”?  He tells me I have a pretty good range.  He laughs when I make a mistake and tells me to try it again.  I say “I have trouble remembering tunes and singing without the piano”.  He says “You mean acapella?  Who cares?”  He tells me that even though he ‘s going to give me some exercises to help, the most important thing is singing and connecting with my audience (audience?  Oh my – slight anxiety sets in).  What’s not to like about my Thursday evenings since I started singing with Tony?

After my first lesson I sang all the way home in the car.  According to Tony, lots of his clients practice in their cars; it’s private and the acoustics rock!  I sang when I got home.  I got out my tinny electric piano and sang with that, I sang in the shower and while I ground the coffee.  I sang to the cats and got out some old sheet music and sang with that.  What a blast!

And then my sister came for a short visit.  We sat outside to have an apple and enjoy the autumn afternoon.  The trees were glorious, blazing with color.  I said: “Hey – I’m taking singing lessons”.

Her retort was quick, automatic and completely expected.  “Do you think anyone can help you”?

And this, my friends, is why I called Tony in the first place.

Runaway Bunny – A Eulogy

Sometime in the spring I looked out of my kitchen window and saw a rabbit.  Rabbits are an unusual sight in my area.  I just don’t see them that often and having one grazing in the middle of my lawn in the middle of the morning, is just plain odd.  I stealthily moved from my window view to the front door, opened it quietly and slowly snuck out into the herb garden.  From there I could see it was a small rabbit, greyish, with tiny ears.  It took a look at me and went back to eating.  I moved closer.  It stayed where it was and continued with its breakfast.  This rabbit was used to human company.

After an entertaining hour where my son and I tried to capture the rabbit (I do have a garden and rabbits are voracious vegetarians) where we tried to corner it in the woodshed, capture it with a rake, and toss a tarp over the elusive thing, I gave up and decided that I could use the company in the garden more than the occasional leaf of kale that he ate.

One day during the summer, my sister and I caught him.  We snuck up on him while he hid under the tomato plants.  She distracted him from one side of the bed and I grabbed him from the other.  As I held him, I felt his heart pounding wildly while he snuggled into my chest.  It felt like he wanted to be close to me while trying to overcome his fear.  His fur was rough and hard as though he had had it spiked with gel.  Along his backbone the stiff hair was beginning to fall out, leaving soft black fur that was pleasant to stroke.  I held him for a short time and let him go near the broccoli where he nibbled on the leaves.

I was worried that he would destroy my garden.  I expressed my fear to my son who replied that it was time to either “shoot him, or name him”.  We started to call him “RB” for Runaway Bunny.

All summer as I weeded and harvested, RB kept me company.  He stayed at a cordial distance, always close enough so that we could share each other’s presence and far enough to be sure never to be caught again.  I talked to him in the morning as I visited my plants and I looked for him in the evening when it was his habit to nap under the peach tree.

My son left for college and I continued to check in with RB every day.

Last week there was a chill in the air as I sat in the yard enjoying an apple with my sister and a friend. The leaves were in full autumn color and it was a glorious sunny day.   Jack, my black and white yearling cat was crouched, tail twitching.  He was obviously on the hunt.  He darted across the yard and from a cloud of dust and leaves, emerged with RB in his teeth.  Jack had him by the throat and was carrying him like a lioness carries an impala, furry bunny body between Jack’s front legs.  I tried to catch Jack, to rescue RB, but he was determined that RB was to be his prize of the day.

Jack finally let go and RB ran under a tarp in the yard where I was allowed to pick him up.  His fur was thick and black, the spikiness had been shed over the summer.  He lay limp and resigned in my arms.

I put RB in a small cage, fed him some of my kale and started to look for a home for him.  RB died the next day.  I don’t know if it was a physical injury that I couldn’t see, if his heart gave out from the trauma of the attack, or if he just lost all hope in the tiny cage after a summer of freedom in my garden.

I wrote to my son to let him know that RB had died and that I was feeling sadder than I had imagined I would.  He wrote back “That’s too bad about bunny but he was kind of a miracle anyways.  Just think of it as a good story”.

Yes, he was kind of a miracle.  My first summer as a single parent, my son involved in his own life, planning for college, and this little furry being appeared out of nowhere to keep me company.  He kept his distance, allowing me to feel the quiet of my new life but he was always there to remind me that I wasn’t alone.  He visited with me in the garden because it was what he wanted.  He chose my yard, my garden, my company.  He was a reminder to me that a life lived in freedom is a life worth living even if it is dangerous and perhaps short.  I’m glad I let him go that day earlier in the summer.  I’m glad that he got to live like a wild bunny for the months that we shared.

I am sad that he is gone and I will miss him.  He and I shared a slice of our lives this summer.  And of course, he gave me this story.

Time Suckers and Procrastination

1.        That slippery slope

Last year I took my TV and stuck it in the closet.  I figured “out of sight, out of mind” and since it was a time in my life when I felt strongly about modeling healthy behavior and since I had a lot going on in the evenings, it was easy to forget that it was lurking a few feet away behind a couple of flimsy louvered doors.

Instead of tuning in to one of the two channels that I actually get with the rabbit ears on the top of the set (yes, there is no cable in my house, no microwave, no automatic coffee maker), I knit socks and listened to music, I worked hard on a journal that I was writing and painting in.  I cooked.  I read.  I wandered about the house a bit but my mind was mine.

I did miss movies though and thanks to my then 17 year old son, found out that I could watch them on my computer.  It’s a tiny screen but if you sit close enough, who cares?  A couple of nights each week, we would sit together and watch a movie and then turn the computer off.  He taught me how I could stream them, which increased the number of viewing options I had exponentially.

One evening as I sat waiting for him to come home from an evening out, I decided I was tired and didn’t have enough energy to be creative or even to concentrate on my book so I went online and selected a movie and watched it by myself.  When it was over, I started an online Scrabble game just to pass the time; an occupation I had discovered during a time in my life when mental distraction was necessary to my sanity.  When I heard the door open, I closed the computer before I could be “caught”.

The number of evenings when I was too tired to be creative started to increase after that.  I was still secretive about my watching habits.  If no one knew, it didn’t seem to be quite as dangerous a transgression and after all, the TV was still in the closet.  I wasn’t watching every day and what the heck, I was tired at night.

From a friend, I found that a couple of TV shows that I had watched could be found on the internet.  This was getting dangerous.  The number of shows and movies that caught my attention could now easily entertain me every night of the week if I allowed them to.  Luckily, summer came and the afternoon sunshine turned into early evening sunshine.  The porch was open and the frogs were singing their sex songs.  I was being entertained by nature and my computer use stopped.

It is now fall again.  The evenings are getting dark and sometimes I have to light a fire to keep the house warm.  The computer is out on the table in the living room because it’s my only source of music at the moment.  I have watched a couple of movies at night.  I haven’t yet taken out my knitting and my journal is hidden deep in the case I use to haul it around.

Before the cold gets too deep and the nights too dark, I have a decision to make about my time.  I know what I want to do.  I know what would make me feel good about myself.  I know that time wasted is never returned.  I know that what you practice, you become.

I know that sometimes I am too tired to be creative and that watching movies can be fun.

Decisions can be made day by day as long as my practice is intentional.  More on that in part 2.

Singing Lessons

I am a closet singer.

Well – let’s say I’m an in the car with the radio turned up high singer.  I’m a shower singer.  I’m a singer on the beach with the wind blowing.  I’m a singer in the garden when no one is around.  And if my closet was big enough, I’d definitely be a closet singer.

My mother loved to sing.  I learned show tunes from her, standing by the piano listening to her wash that man right out of her hair.  My grandmother once admitted to me that the real reason she went to church every Sunday was so that she could sing.   I have four sisters who sing.  They have lovely voices, all of them.  Christmas carols at our house were sung with sweet harmonies.

I was the one who couldn’t carry a tune.  It became a joke.  Every time I opened my mouth to join in the refrain, a comment would be made.  As a young girl, I had a short stint in the church choir.  I remember being asked to sing a little more quietly, please.  I’m not sure if my voice was that bad or my enthusiasm so high that I wanted to belt those hymns out at the top of my voice.  Even then, I was trying to channel Janice.

Yesterday, I set myself up with singing lessons.

I am thrilled and terrified with the idea of learning to sing or as my teacher put it “finding my voice”.  I know where my voice is – it’s been cowering in the corners of my house behind the spiderwebs, coming out only when I’m alone.  It stays tucked into the glove compartment of my car bursting into the light during my commute.  It’s time to introduce it to my teacher and maybe later to my friends.  It’s time to teach it some table manners so that it doesn’t embarrass me in public.

Yep – I’m nervous about introducing my voice around.  It opens me up to the same teasing that I got as a girl when I sang in my family.  It’s possible that someone might ask me to sing a little more quietly like they did in church that day.

I set myself up with singing lessons.  It’s time to shake things up in my life; make some changes; take some risks and say yes to opportunities that arise.  What’s the worst that can happen?  I go back to singing alone?

What’s the best that can happen?  I told a new friend my singing story the other day – he said “I like it when you sing.”