Oh, here’s my Sunday post on Monday. Or, was the post last on Tuesday my Sunday post, and I’m now early for next Sunday’s post?

Does it even matter?

I am all wonky and discombobulated, even though I’ve been back home for several weeks now and feel as if I should be back on track with everything.

I am not.

I am still grappling with what season it even is. (Kari made me feel better about this, though I saw her post late because: wonkiness.) Cane goes back to work this week. We tried to cram as much summer into last week as we could, but we couldn’t make it feel like high summer, much as we tried. Leaves are falling. Everything looks like late August (brown, dried up). We can’t hold off the mental shift toward school and the school year. We went to many of our favorite Portland places, but I ended up napping every single day, and then migraine hit me over the weekend.

I can’t get back into the rhythm of food. I have not gotten to eat enough of what I think of as summer food. (We couldn’t get the usual ingredients in our small Louisiana town and I could not cook in a construction zone.) I went to the store and bought far too much, but then we ate out far too much or I was too tired to make meals.

I don’t want it to be fall yet, but I also deeply dislike living in limbo, on the cusp of things. It’s not summer (not mental/emotional summer, anyway) and it’s not fall and I don’t want it to be fall.

I want to feel some kind of normal again. I want to be able to stay awake for an entire day. But last week Rebecca Solnit posted something on Facebook that I’ve been keeping it in mind as I’ve drifted off to sleep more than one afternoon recently:

“If you’re sick or injured and healing or growing a new life inside you or just worn out, please notice that that thing known as ‘doing nothing’ is when you’re doing the utterly crucial and precious work of growing and healing and restoring.”

(I recommend clicking through to read the whole thing.)

Maybe I’m growing a new life of some sort, or maybe I’m just worn out. There’s been a lot this year, most of which I haven’t written about here. In most of the stories, I am a supporting character, not the main character. I find the whole “it’s not my story to tell” tenet hard to wrap my mind around. Maybe I’m not the main character, but I’m still a character. I’m still in the story, and what I think and feel and do within the narrative is mine.

I’m wondering if this–being full of stories I don’t feel free to write freely about–is why I’ve been finding it hard to write here. A comment to my last post prompted me to write a personal response to the commenter, and in writing it I realized that I’d left out important things that might have allowed me to write a post that is more true. Maybe more worthwhile.

But I’m going to let the original post stand. I’m not going to change what I am and am not sharing in a public forum. I might have every right to give my story away, but that doesn’t mean I should.

Last week, I was watering our garden in an effort to stave off the effects of the high heat we’ve been living in. I was in a hurry. I was impatient. I was anxious. I yanked the hose, and I broke off two large branches of a shrub I’d once given up on. It had been all wonky, growing a few measly branches on one side, with the other side of the bush bare. I moved it to its current spot, almost daring it to live. If it died completely there, I figured it was no loss.

It’s not only lived there, but thrived, filling in beautifully. It’s a story that has given me some joy. And then, in one quick moment, I broke off two full branches, returning it to a state of bare lopsidedness.

I was so glad that it was me who did that, rather than Cane. Because it just made me sad. I was glad to be angry with myself, rather than him.

Cane suggested putting the branches in water. Maybe they will sprout roots and we can replant, he suggested, get a new plant out of it. I think that’s not likely, but I did it anyway.

This morning, as I sat here writing these words, the branches were right in front of my face and I noticed something that stopped me:

The branches are flowering. My broken branches. Sprouting tiny little flowers. Not the roots we hoped for, but flowers we didn’t even know to hope for.

Isn’t life often like that? There’s almost always a gift of some kind in discomfort. In wonkiness, in broken things. Maybe I’ll dream about those when I take my nap later today.


I am continuing my adventures in pie:

This one is whiskey-peach. It both looks and tastes better than the last one. My bottom crust is a little too dense, but the top crust is lovely.

I’ve also been consuming books. A few highlights from last week:

Pie is comfort food, and these were comfort reads. They did not stretch or challenge me in any way. Books by women a lot like me, most likely mostly for women a lot like me.

Now this one–this one is a different kind of story:

I cannot figure out an elevator pitch for it. It’s academic, it’s poetic, it’s fierce. It’s about cooking, food, and women. Maybe I’m starting to wake up again.


One day last week Facebook memories sneaker-punched me with this post from 2016:

I was in the middle of a very lovely morning. I was baking a pie, waiting for my tea water to boil, enjoying some alone time in the house on a sunny, late-summer day. What I’m saying is: I was in a good place. And yet, as I looked at my little girl and remembered saying good-bye to the 18-year-old version of her, my eyes were filling with damn tears, remembering how it felt to send her off to the other side of the country for college, ending an era of our life together.

It was awful.

Facebook has been letting me know that many other parents are doing the same thing again right now. I know that everyone’s experience of this common event is their own. I know that part of the difficulty for me was all wrapped up in my life circumstances at the time, the distance (geographically and culturally) she was going, and the fact that I did about a hundred or so different things wrong as we made that transition. (OK, maybe only one or two things, but they were important ones.) Still, I cannot see how, even in the best of circumstances, this event can be anything other than some kind of wrenching.

It’s a big deal. No matter what your parenting experience or relationship with your child, if they are leaving you to go live somewhere else, it’s the end of something profound.

Yeah, it’s the way things are supposed to be (if you’re lucky). Yeah, there are all kinds of other good things awaiting both of you. Yeah, it won’t always feel so hard. Yeah, you won’t cry in the grocery store forever. Yeah, yeah, yeah, all true.

That doesn’t erase or mitigate what’s hard. It’s not either/or. It’s both/and.

I sent a screenshot of the memory to my daughter and told her I was cursing 2016 Rita for ruining Today Rita’s morning, and she replied, “Today Rita can tell her not to worry, she moves back home for years lol.”

I laughed out loud. She’s been back home for more than a year now, waiting for another country to tell her she can live within its borders with her husband. So, I get to see her all the time. It’s wonderful and I’m so grateful for this bonus time, but living with 2023 Grace didn’t keep me from missing 2016 Grace. My daughter now isn’t the same Grace that left in 2016, any more than 2016 Grace was the toddler in that photo from 2001. I’m not the same Rita, either. 2023 Grace and Rita are both, in many ways, in a better place than 2016 Grace and Rita, so the feelings were not at all about wanting to go back in time. I like where we are now. They were about remembering how hard that time was, and how much I loved who we were to each other then (and how much I have loved all the versions of us we’ve been together), and how no matter what good things I have now, I don’t have some of the ones I once did and never will again. That is why I sat in my kitchen and let those tears come (as if I could stop them).

I’m not going to prescribe what any other parent should do; what’s right for one is not right for another and the things I would do differently if I could have a do-over on that transition might be the the very things that would make someone else’s experience better.

I’m just here to validate that this kind of loss–like all kinds of deep change–is hard, probably no matter how you do it, and no matter how many good, healthy, positive things are wrapped around it. Don’t let anyone make you feel like you should be feeling something different from whatever it is you’re feeling and doing whatever it is that helps you get to some other side. There’s no wrong way to grieve, other than to try to keep yourself from doing it–which is why I let myself go ahead and cry in the kitchen for a minute or two, even though the pain is old, even though my life is now pretty dang sweet. I hope all the parents who are fresh to this particular circle of parental hell can do the same.

(The pie turned out kinda ugly, like the way I cried when she left home. Still tasted good, though.)

Of dreams and time warps

For years, I’ve had a recurring teacher-anxiety dream in the late spring or early summer. It goes like this:

In the dream, it is somehow, improbably, late August. There is only a week or two left of summer break, and I am bewildered and a little panicked: Wasn’t it just June? I’d think. Where did the summer go? I can’t remember any of it. How, I’d think, can it possibly be late August already?

Then I would wake up, and it would still be late spring or early summer, and I would feel relief wash over me. The season was still just beginning. It was all still ahead of me.

After a week back home, I feel a little bit like this dream has finally come true. How is it late mid-August? I keep thinking. As I see the obvious signs of a summer winding down, it’s all felt very Rip Van Winkleish to me, like my time in Louisiana was a dream, some time out of time that wasn’t real for me, but was for everyone and everything else. While I was sleeping/away, the rest of the world kept spinning. Now, I’m awake again and hardly recognize where I am. Hardly recognizing where I am might stem, in large part, from our garden; when I came home, most things were either overgrown or dried up remnants of the plants they once were.

And so, like Melanie, I will not be rushing to fall. I am not yet ready to get cozy inside with sweaters and candles. I need some time with dirt on my hands and sun on my face. For sure, I lived fully while I was away. I had a memorable and in many ways rewarding 6 weeks. It just wasn’t what “summer” means to me. There were very few unstructured days, and even less time outside (because it just wasn’t safe to be outside, especially for me.) It wasn’t summer at home, which I have a whole new appreciation for.

In a NYT newsletter Saturday, Melisa Kirsch wrote about how time away from home can help you see your home’s absurdities. For her, time away makes her question everything about home and realize how much of what she has there is unneeded.

Boy, that’s not me.

Time away–in a place where it was too hot to go outside, where we didn’t have any furniture to sit on, where we lived out of a suitcase for weeks and weeks–has made me realize how much I appreciate what I have here. How much I appreciate a comfortable, functional home and being able to live the summer months in it.

So, I am busy cramming as much summer as I can into these last weeks of it. I was home for only one day before my daughter and I got in the car and drove north to visit my parents in the place that I really think of as home. Every cell of my being was craving big water and cool, marine air. It was actually pretty warm there, too, but low 80’s felt like such a relief after weeks of temperatures above 100.

While there, we picked blackberries in my parents’ yard, and then I had to buy a new book:


And then we came home and I made pie! (Excitement because it is much more common for me to get jazzed up about a creative domestic endeavor and read about it and then not actually do it.)

This book has unlocked the mysteries of pie crust for me. Lebow is a literary writer as well as a renowned pie-maker, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. Not many dessert cookbook writers quote Richard Hugo or aspire to write “a tart book about sweet things” or craft such sentences as, “Pie can be critiqued as nationalist shorthand.” Come for the pie instruction and recipes and stay for the writing/ideas.

Once home, I spent every morning out in the yard, watering, pruning, and (sometimes) pulling up. This resulted in some bare planters I couldn’t stand to leave bare, so I went to the nursery.

The pickings were slim, and about half of the things I brought home were pretty severely root-bound. I mean, will that basil really grow? Is it too late for it? I don’t know, and I don’t really care. I had to tear out our entire herb garden, and I just really wanted to put something back in it.

Even though we have only one more week until Cane goes back to school, I’m planning to eke out as much summer as I can in the days that remain of it. I’m going to savor what’s still growing, and maybe make another pie, and sit outside as much as possible. Things are still blooming here, and the sun is still shining.

What I did on my summer vacation

Do any teachers still assign this as a first-week-of-school writing topic? I certainly hope not.

No matter what kind of summer you have, it feels an impossible prompt to write well to. I can remember summers that slipped by like dreams, days upon days of the same old wonderful same old, and others full of flat tedium; how to pluck any kind of narrative out of a span of days with no conflict, no rising action, no turning point?

Of course there have been a few summers with big, memorable events (big travel, big purchases, big life changes)–but those, too, are hard to write about. How to capture what a big event really was, what it really meant?

Early on in our Louisiana adventure this summer, I realized I could not write about it while living it. There were practical problems–no easy internet or time–but it was more about knowing I needed time to process the experience. From the very beginning, my summer was an “all of the above” kind of thing: big travel, big purchases, long days that quickly became a new same old, same old comprised of tedium, joy, pain, boredom, and wonder. I have not worked so many full, hard hours in such a long time, while also living through so many hours in which I felt like I was just killing time.

I was having big, tangly thoughts and feelings about all kinds of profound things–aging, mortality, the meaning of life, family, our country and the ramifications of its history, existential crises of various kinds–and I knew I wasn’t ready to share any of them in any public kind of way.

I didn’t trust my impressions to be lasting truth, and I didn’t trust my conclusions to hold water. Not when I was so exhausted and disoriented and mind-meltingly hot. (Good God, but the heat was relentless.) Not when I knew there were things I just couldn’t know in such a short time (and might never be able to know).

I’m still not ready. I might never be. These kinds of things tend to slip away if we don’t capture them when they’re fresh. I’ll try to write more about it all, but no promises.

What I can share now, in addition to these few paragraphs, as a way to get back in the habit of writing here, is a poem I wrote the last week of July. It’s only a few weeks old and I haven’t gotten back my usual equilibrium, but I think it is true.

When a PNW girl spends the hottest July of all time working in rural Louisiana

Every time she walks out a door, 
she gasps. 

She’d tell you that it feels
like the air is getting sucked 
out of her, except she’s busy
wiping the fog from her glasses. 

She is not used to this. 

Is anyone?
Isn’t it the hottest month on record, ever?
Isn’t the ocean off Florida now warm 
as a hot tub? 

But no one around her is alarmed. 

“What can you do?” they shrug.
“Gotta work,” they say, smiling.

She is a frog dropped 
in a pot that began warming long before her
legs touched its water.

“We’re like the coral in the Atlantic!” she wants to scream,
but she fears 
she’d get no response other than words
about the work ethic Here 

(to distinguish it, she supposes, from
There, where she’s from). 

What’s a girl to do? The day’s work, that’s what.

She picks up her paintbrush when she hears the church
bell chiming the hour.

She pushes closed the front door 
that keeps swinging open, 
knowing she’ll do it 
over and over again as the day wears
on, as if 
she can somehow keep the heat from coming in. 

She’ll dream of going home, as if home
is some other place, not Here, 

as if Here is some place she can escape from.