Following serendipitous breadcrumbs

Saturday morning Mel posted a photo of her reading pile, which got me to Googling one of the books in it, and I learned that it was written by Brooke McAlary–a name I thought I recognized. Turns out Brooke is a writer I used to follow long ago, when I was writing a different blog and she was just starting hers. It was in the early 20teens, before Pinterest, Instagram, podcasting, etc. ad nauseum left old school blogging (what we do around these parts) in the dust.

I stopped following when the blog became more of a commercial enterprise than a personal journal, but Saturday I stopped by her site to see if she still writes a blog, and yes, she does. I poked around in it a bit, and was especially pleased with this post, which reminded me more clearly about both why I originally followed (a strong writer exploring issues I care about) and why I eventually stopped. Brooke writes about going back to look at old posts she’d written and finding that most of them “just felt… small. Like returning to my primary school as an adult. What once felt big and unwieldy and hard to navigate simply felt outgrown.”

Boy, can I relate to that.

As I know has been true for so many of us, the last few years have brought profound shifts in how I see and understand the world and my place in it. I am still working to find some sure footing on what feels like unsteady ground, and often, when I look back at the place I used to be, I feel some feelings that could easily turn into shame.

Why didn’t I see…

Why didn’t I understand…

How could I have said…

Why did I…

Brooke seems to be coming back to writing after an extended absence brought on by a health challenge–something I can very much relate to–and I especially appreciated these words of hers, about looking back at her earlier writing and feeling some cringe:

“To allow ourselves to grow and change is such a gift. I wish I did it earlier. And while this is not the day to dig into this thought, I think self-compassion might be one of the biggest gifts I’ve received from spending much of the past couple of years being unwell. I’ve had to let so much unravel. And it’s in the putting back together that I can really question what old stories to bring with me, and which ones get left behind.”

And then I went looking for another writer I used to follow, and I must’ve gone a few other places, and somewhere along the way I found a simple list-ish way of giving a quick update on the week that is much like Kate’s lists of -ings that she regularly shares. Even though I have a million tabs open (per usual) I somehow lost that particular breadcrumb in my morning ramblings through the Internet forest. It was a simple, short list of -ings that I wanted to copy here.

I wanted to use it because I like connecting with others here regularly, but I’m just not in a place to write much these days. I had a good week–a really good one–but I seem to be in a fallow time when it comes to writing. My days have been full of PT exercises, skating, and mundane homemaking. That’s the surface of them, anyway. Under the surface, lots of shifting and dot-connecting that I don’t feel ready/able to write much about.

So, here’s my modified, from-memory list:

Listening…to The Love Songs of W. E. B. du Bois by Honoree Fanonne Jeffers. I wish I had the print version of this book because it moves around in time and there are so many characters; sometimes I wish I could turn back to an earlier part of the book to remind myself of what came before. But: the narration is so good. The book is big, painful, beautiful, and beautifully written. Jeffers is a poet, and it shows. I can’t remember if an audiobook has ever brought me to tears, but this one did this week. I’ve also been listening to the Lori McKenna mix on Spotify.

Reading…A Headache in the Pelvis by David Wise Ph.D., Rodney Anderson M.D. This was recommended by someone, somewhere in my chronic pain journey, and its explanation of pelvic pain is helping me connect the dots of all my various kinds of pain and their root causes. After years of feeling hopeless and maybe crazy, this book–along with several other key things over the past few months–has me feeling hopeful and seen. I can’t express yet what that means.

Feeling…joy in my pain-full body. I skated 4 of 5 days last week after a break over the holiday, and it felt so good to move that way. To feel how much I had missed it. On the ice, I feel strong and joyful and free. No longer having the body that I had when I was a child, I can’t skate as I did then, but I can still feel in my body some of the ways I once did–and it’s such an unexpected gift. I can’t stop marveling over it. (Trying to tell my physical therapist about it brought me to unexpected tears this week, too.)

Planning…to paint our second bathroom. In early February, my daughter will be visiting her husband in Sweden for an extended stay, and that seems like a good opportunity to paint our second bathroom. It’s a room that’s never gotten much love, but it could use some. OK, a lot. I truly dislike the floor tiles (they don’t fit with the rest of the house and always look dirty, no matter how much or with what I scrub at them), but we’re going to work with them. Maybe a different paint color will transform them. It could happen.

Wondering…what it means to be a poet (or anything, really). In the context of a conversation this week, a co-worker of my daughter’s said to me, “You’re a poet, right?” and I wasn’t sure of how to respond. Later, she and I debated my answer to the question. Since I rarely write poetry now, I don’t really think of myself as a poet. She says that, since I have written and am still capable of writing poetry, I am one. Which has me thinking about the labels we attach to ourselves and how we use them. Am I still a teacher? What about a librarian? Am I still a grand-daughter, even though I have no living grandparents? Was I a skater all those years (45!) I didn’t skate? If I’m not the things I used to be, what am I now? (Is this a question we need/get to keep answering until we die?)

Trying…a new way to keep the house clean. We have 6 rooms/zones that are regularly used. That’s one per day, with a 7th day to rest. It’s only been a week, and I haven’t been perfect in this, but so far I like it.

Making…a Sunday dinner habit. Or tradition. Or ritual. Something. We began having nice Sunday dinners in the lead-up to Christmas, a Swedish advent tradition that we adopted. When advent ended, we didn’t want to dinners to. It’s the one night a week that Cane, Grace, and I are all together around the table. Tonight, we’ll be having Ditalini with Chickpeas and Rosemary-Garlic Oil, by candlelight. If the dinners don’t have to end, the candlelight doesn’t, either.

Taking…photos of things that please or interest me. From this week’s camera roll:

Photo of an old tree with many branches and deep grooves in its bark.
This tree is the old woman I want to be.

A hand-crocheted sweater with varied flowers in it.
My daughter began teaching herself to crochet earlier this year. She followed patterns to make the flowers in this sweater, but everything else is her own creation. This delights me in so many ways.

An old, grand house almost invisible behind overgrown branches and brambles.
This house is almost lost to the trees and vines and brambles growing around and–in some places–into it. I always wonder what the story of such places is and wish I could write them.

Hoping you all have a good week. I’d love to hear about your -ings, whatever they may be.

This week brought to you by the letter P

Most Friday mornings, I start my day at an early morning patch session at the ice rink. “Patch” is something most rinks don’t offer any more, as it is a time to practice figures, which have not been a part of international singles skating competitions since 1991. The US eliminated them from their national championships in 1999, and so most young skaters do not learn or practice figures. I was a young skater in the 1970s, so figures and patch were part of my skating practice back in the day, as they were for most of my current, fellow Friday-morning patch skaters.

(If you’d like to learn more/get historical, this video segment from 1976 Olympic coverage dives into what figures are/were. They are so, so much harder than Dorothy Hamill made them look. I wish they were still part of competition.)

As we were ending last week, a fellow skater and I were commiserating about our mutual difficulty with figures. “I have a love-hate relationship with patch,” I said. “I love how quiet it is. I love the focus and precision it requires. I appreciate the core workout. I hate how frustrated I get.”

“That’s because you’re a perfectionist,” our patch coach said, who was standing near us.

The words did not feel like a compliment, and the slight sting I felt from them is part of why I’ve been paying attention to perfectionism (and its impacts) and experimenting with practice and play over the past week.

We’ve been having a bit of a discussion here about creative practices, particularly about the issue of a singular creative focus vs. engaging in multiple kinds of creative play/work. I’m pretty firmly in the camp of favoring a multi-faceted approach. That’s probably because it justifies my desire to dabble in so many different things, but it’s also because, like others who’ve commented here, I think creativity in one area contributes to progress in others. That’s something I definitely saw this week.

I finished my little embroidery exercise, even though there are things about it I don’t like and couldn’t/wasn’t willing to fix, and even though doing so required me to stick with it long after the fun, discovery part of it was gone. I love a steep learning curve, but I got to experience a different kind of pleasure by seeing some subtle things about technique that I likely wouldn’t have if I’d quit and moved on. (A good insight to apply to both skating and writing.) Honestly, I don’t know if I would have finished it (I’m itching to start a new one) if it weren’t for Kate telling me she wanted to see how the rain chain would look when it was done. I discovered in new ways this week how peers or partners are another important P when it comes to creative work.

One of the great joys of life with my daughter back home is the time we spend skating together, and I realized this week that I don’t do nearly as well when I skate alone. On Thursday, I went to skate while she finished her work shift at the rink. My plan was to practice what I’d worked on in class and my private lesson, and then give her a ride home. I lasted only about 40 minutes on my own, and then I took myself off to Starbucks with a book and hot chocolate. (I stand by that choice, btw.)

Instead of going home after she was done working, though, we decided to skate together. Nearly two hours later, I’d had a breakthrough on an element that I’d been struggling with, and I’d laughed a lot. It’s just so much more fun (and more productive for me) to have someone else tell me what they’re seeing, and to learn from watching them. I don’t have any photos or videos of us skating, but I did catch this shot of her driving the Zamboni right at the end of her shift. (I am so in awe. When I was a kid the Zamboni seemed like a magic machine, and now I know it’s actually a pretty complicated one. And it’s huge, too! And you have to drive it with so many people watching you.)

Because I’ve been focusing/thinking about practice and play and letting go of perfectionism, I signed up at the last minute for Jena Schwartz’s Dive into Poetry, a month-long guided poetry writing group. I’ll let Jena’s words explain what the experience is about:

“This is not a class; we’re not here to study the difference between a villanelle and a sonnet or to deconstruct the Romantics or to compare Beat poets to contemporary giants of the spoken word. We’re here to practice, to play, to enjoy the gifts certain poems may have for us, to discover our own voices in surprising ways, and to revel in the ways that poetry is everywhere and everything.”

See all the P’s in there? Practice and play and poems. My perfectionism has played a major role in my not writing poems for many years. (So has my chronic pain, which I’m realizing from the pain management class I’ve been taking–but I’ll save that P for another time.) Jena’s groups are incredibly supportive and generative, and so I decided to sign up for this. (I did the Dive a few years back, but I wrote only prose. No poems.) For the month of November, I’ll get three prompts a week, each of which is an invitation into writing poetry. There is a Facebook group, where we can share our work and engage with other Divers about it.

The whole thing is about playing and experimenting and exploring. To be an active participant (which I think is important, especially given my recent thoughts about the value of creatively playing with others), I have to get over myself and share work that I haven’t had time to perfect. (My writing process requires germination. Even these blog posts are rarely a one-off creation.) Because we get assignments, I feel more freedom to play than I would if I were generating poems on my own, with a goal of publication. I have no big expectations around what I will write; they are just exercises, explorations. (Like my little embroidery houses. Like my doodles on ice.) I just want to play, and so that’s what I did for our first assignment. One of our options was to write a poem about why we like writing poetry, which I chose because my first, gut-level response was: I don’t.

Why do I like to write poetry?

I mostly don’t, because it so often fails
to live up to my expectations, does not flay
a story to its core, my language a finger
pulling the skin of an experience’s tunicate bulb
down to its perfect, pearly heart.   

Sometimes, I get a little lost 
because it feels so good to run my mind 
over the fabric of words, 
some coarse as burlap or soft as flannel, 
others a taffeta crinkle, a gauzy whisper,
a velvet caress, or a flour-sack smile. 
I gather them like some Midas with his gold,
touching every line into gaudy shine.

Sometimes, all I do is splash around
in sound, damming my juddering glottals up, 
zhuzhing a line with exuberant sibilants,
wooing my readers with strings of labials and liquids.
Mmmm. 
Those times, it becomes too easy to let 
fricatives ssssh-ssssh-ssssh over whole stanzas
in waves, washing complicated truths away. 

Too often, I tumble down Google holes–
delving into, say, the differences between 
sibilants and fricatives, or various varieties of bulbs–
which is its own kind of pleasure, sure, but
not the kind I’m really looking for. 

I want to get lost in language only if it shows me the way.

I want a poetry that takes me deeper in as the words spool out.

So, that’s what’s been doing around here. Looking forward to another week of progressing through play. Oh, and puzzling. That’s a P to please my inner perfectionist. So satisfying when the pieces fit precisely where they are supposed to go.

Jigsaw puzzle in progress, with image of an autumn scene.

chit-chat: on creativity

After seeing Sarah Kain Gutowski share Twyla Tharp’s The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life on Instagram, I decided to check the book out from the library. It’s a read I am digesting in small bites, in part because it makes me uncomfortable–but also because it’s the kind of book that is going to be most helpful if I give myself time for the ideas to marinate. I chafe against some of Tharp’s words; it is because she is so intense and absolute at times. For example, about the dancers she works with–who can be divided into two categories, “acceptable (great) or not (everything less than great)”–she looks for evidence that their work habits are as “exacting” as her own:

“Do they show up on time for rehearsal? Are they warmed up? Does their energy flag when rehearsals break down or are they committed to pushing forward? Are they bringing ideas to the party or waiting for me to provide everything? These are my personal pop quizzes to gauge other people’s involvement. I don’t want them merely involved. I’m looking for insane commitment.”

The (perhaps) insane commitment of artists came up in a conversation with a writer friend this week, who is reading Patti Smith’s National Book Award winning Just Kids (2010), about her relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe in the late 1960s, when they were young and poor in New York, before either was known or had known artistic success.

“She gave up just about everything for her art,” my friend said. I asked what she meant by that, and she talked about Smith going to New York with nothing, by herself, and living with insecure housing and food.

“I’ve never done that,” I said. “And I never will.” My friend agreed that the same is true for her, which might have something to do with why neither of us has been or will be (as it’s really too late for both of us) a Twyla Tharp or Patti Smith.

I’ve come to realize that I am perfectly fine with not being that kind of creative. Tharp seems to believe we all have one, true creative calling (our “creative DNA”) and cautions against being distracted from it by other creative interests. If there is such a thing as creative DNA, mine is to be the opposite of a specialist. Tharp has a creative autobiography exercise, and the answers to mine are all over the creative map. Hers (because she shares it with readers) is not. I assume my creative DNA is why, although I have a kind of time for creative work now that I haven’t had since early adolescence, I’ve felt a bit creatively paralyzed. There are so many things I want to do–write (poems, essays, blog posts, hybrid forms)! sew! embroider! knit! collage! blog! cook!–that I have been doing (almost) none of them. I’ve been feeling time scarcity, even though I have a kind of time I could only dream of even six months ago.

True self-care takes more time than I ever realized, which includes running the household in healthier ways than I’ve been able to manage before. Also, I feel the clock of my mortality tick-tick-ticking. I know it’s ridiculous and futile and counter-productive to fixate on that (so I don’t), but time does feel finite in ways it never did when I was younger. How best to spend the minutes I have, knowing what I know about creative processes and resources necessary to develop new skills? Namely, time for repetition and failure. It is so challenging to get through the stage where your taste far exceeds your skill, especially when you’re a recovering perfectionist.

Tharp would have no patience with any of these thoughts/feelings. In response to a common fear that our work will never be as good as the vision in our minds, she offers: “Toughen up. Leon Battista Alberti, a fifteenth century architectural theorist, said, ‘Errors accumulate in the sketch and compound in the model.’ But better an imperfect dome in Florence than cathedrals in the clouds.” I think I will credit her (as well as Kate, through a recent encouraging comment) with my decision this week to revisit an old impulse to honor/recreate modest homes and just start stitching.

In-progress embroidery of a small house
I did a quick sketch, working from a photo, and decided it would be fine if the lines are wiggly. I did not trace the sketch, but just drew it freehand on the fabric, a scrap remnant from the bottom of a trimmed Ikea curtain. I’m using only one color of thread, as my primary goal is to improve my stitching and experiment with line. I’m encouraged by seeing that my technique has gotten visibly better as I’ve progressed. (I started with the rooflines, and the latest parts are the door and porch railings.)

I’m not sure of how to best use my minutes, but I’ve been spending a lot of those available to me lately on getting our house in order. Literally. In the last 18 months, my son moved in and (sort of) out, Cane moved in, my daughter moved in, and our beloved (and surprisingly space-hogging) Daisy moved on. My son isn’t living with us anymore, but some of his stuff still is. There’s been a lot of transition and purging and shuffling of things and changing the purpose of rooms/closets. I’ve become a fairly minimal person, but our house is only about 1,100 square feet and it is accommodating the “stuff” needs of several adults.

I’ve long been a fan of productive procrastination, and I’ve decided that my organizing/house projects are that. Or, they are simply necessary to making space for creation. I waste so much time looking for things, and I can no longer afford to buy things we already have simply because I can’t find them. I mean, maybe I can–but I really don’t want to. It’s wasteful in multiple ways. Physical clutter and disorganization truly bother me, and I don’t do my best work when distracted by it.

So, while I’m avoiding making any real decisions/commitments about creative work, I’ve been thinking deeply about what we need and how we live and what makes sense for us now and how to best use our home. I’ve donated several carloads of stuff, and for the first time since we sold Cane’s house and moved his things here, the garage is clear. (Or, it was, for about half a week. Then the rain came and we moved the outdoor furniture into that space.)

For kitchen organization, I’m still finding the Adachi book I referenced a few posts back very helpful. The equipment guide from What Good Cooks Know (America’s Test Kitchen) is also helping me think through what we really need. Our kitchen space is tight, and we’re determined to make it work without costly renovations. Two weeks ago we found an old free-standing pine cabinet that cost significantly less than similarly-sized pantry cabinets at Home Depot, and the combination of adding that to our storage and paring down our kitchen things is changing my life in the kitchen. It’s allowing us to have more space for the things we’re keeping, which means that extracting a particular bowl or pan is no longer like playing a game of kitchen-cabinet Jenga. It’s calming, and I’m cooking more often than I used to.

Our kitchen projects aren’t only about function, although they are the primary driver. Our laminate counters had become stained and our cabinets are getting pretty chippy, so we’ve been making some aesthetic as well as functional changes.

Here’s what the kitchen looked like when I bought the house:

Bland kitchen counter and cabinets, with white cabinets and beige countertops, walls, and short tile backsplash.

Perfectly functional, but blah as blah can be. This is how it is looking now (still in progress; we need to paint the cabinets and finish tiling on the wall you can see on the left side, around the stove):

Same view of kitchen, with dark butcher-block counter tops and colorful tile backsplash that fills wall behind sink.

The danger with any productive procrastination activity is that it becomes a way to forever-avoid some larger task, and I know it could be possible to organize/tinker with this house in perpetuity. But that’s honestly not what this feels like. It feels like clearing a lot of psychic and emotional clutter, as well as physical. It’s its own kind of creative task, and it all goes in the mix. I don’t know yet if any poems or other written works will come out of it, but I like to think they will. (I’ll be OK with it if they don’t.)

In the meantime, knitting dishcloths gives me something almost-mindless to do with my hands in the evenings when I’m too tired for much of anything but watching tv or listening to an audiobook. Currently deep into Gabrielle Zevin’s Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow, a novel that is a long meditation on creativity, creative partnership, and story-telling. Highly recommend.)

Traffic Jam

I know, it’s been a little quiet in this space.

Sometimes it’s like my head is an interstate freeway, where my thoughts are speeding cars, and my hands are exit ramps, and this blog is a small town at the end of the ramp where the cars travel slowly and sometimes come to a stop.

(That’s a weird metaphor, isn’t it? Oh well. I’m going to run with it for the rest of this post even though it’s not the best one I’ve ever written.)

Although my life seems–no, is–slower than it’s been since 1977 or so, my head traffic has increased. There are so many more cars on the road. Just the ones about food alone have kept me from getting here in a while.

We don’t grow much food, but I want to grow more, which means I need to learn how to grow more. In the last month we’ve had a bounty of home-grown tomatoes (3 kinds) and basil and cucumbers. We also have a few other herbs (oregano, thyme, and parsley) we’ve grown for a long time, and we tried some onions but they never did much. Cane grew a plant full of hot peppers that were beautiful, but I can’t eat them because of my geographic tongue. (Yeah, it’s a thing. Who knew?)

(We have a little pear tree, too.)

Truly, there is nothing quite like the sharp, earthy scent of the tomato plants when I go out in the morning to pick some for our breakfast.

(Taken this morning. We still have fruit ripening. In October.)

I’m sad to see our bounty winding down (much as I am also relieved that somewhat cooler temperatures have finally arrived) because the food we grow has so much more taste than the produce I buy. The other night I made a salad with our tomatoes and basil and some fresh mozzarella and it caused a traffic jam in my head with thoughts about time and health and money and sustainability and simplicity and leisure and privilege and gratitude and nourishment.

That salad nourished not only my body, but also the parts of me that crave beauty and art and purpose. Lately, nothing fills me up more than working in my kitchen in the late afternoon with sun streaming through the windows as I assemble pleasing tableaux of shape, color, and texture on both our cutting boards and our plates, preparing food to feed people I love.

cutting board with chopped tomatoes, onion, and parsely

I’m not saying anything new here, even to myself. But I’m knowing something in a different way–the way we know things from living them rather than from reading about them.

But speaking of reading, I’ve been reading lately about anti-inflammatory diets, something I have time to do now that I’m mostly not working. When I had my big episode of back pain this summer, the only thing that brought me relief was a strong course of steroids. It relieved not just my back, but my knee, my feet, and the psoriasis that plagues my ears and scalp. Usually, any kind of medical mishap sends me right into migraine, but I didn’t have any around that event. One of the many medical people I’ve spoken with suggested adopting an anti-inflammatory diet.

This week I started Googling “inflammation and ____,” filling in the names for the various diagnoses I’ve gotten over the years (endometriosis, PCOS, migraine, fibromyalgia, geographic tongue, psoriasis, vulvar vestibulitis and vulvodynia, thyroid nodules, plantar fasciitis) and one I haven’t been given but is in my family and I sure do recognize in myself (autism, as it manifests in women)–and damn if inflammation isn’t connected to just about every single one of them–as well as heart disease, cancer, and diabetes, common by-products of long-term inflammation. (It’s not connected to fibromyalgia, a condition we know very little about, and which I’ve always considered to be a diagnosis given when doctors don’t really know what the hell is wrong with you but want to acknowledge that your pain is real.)

This reading/Googling/learning took me to a place where the traffic gets all snarled up with vehicles carrying all kinds of things–memory, trauma, work, achievement, health care, anger, grief, regret–but I’m going to let all those cars stay on the freeway for now. Back to food:

I found a book recently, The Lazy Genius Kitchen by Kendra Adachi, and while there are very few self-help books (any?) that have changed my life in lasting ways–especially those in what I think of as the “life hack” sub-genre–this one might be the rare book that does. Adachi takes a set of principles (that I guess she developed?) and applies them to our ways of being with food and food preparation. (She previously wrote a general book about how to be a lazy genius in general, and it appears to be a whole thing.)

I have struggled with food ever since I left my parents’ home and became responsible for feeding myself. (In college, if the Domino’s pizza guy was at the door and didn’t have a name for the order, it was assumed he was there for me.) As a child of the 70’s, I grew up eating a lot of processed/packaged food and never learned how to cook. (The latter is more about being a child of my mother than of the 70’s; it was always clear to me that cooking was a chore for her, and I was grateful that she didn’t require me to participate in it.) When I was married to my children’s father, he did all of the food prep, including shopping. I didn’t have to be truly responsible for food until I got divorced in my mid-40’s–and then I had to feed not only myself, but my children.

I felt kind of like a guerrilla fighter in the kitchen during those years. I was definitely an irregular soldier with limited resources fighting small-scale battles, doing whatever I could to meet my objective (end everyone’s hunger with as little complaint as possible while spending as little money as possible). I never had time to think deeply about food or figure out what I didn’t know about how to feed a family or manage a kitchen.

In spite of a kind of shiny, glib cleverness in the Lazy Genius book that might usually put me off, I really like it because its approach is all about figuring out what your values and priorities are and making decisions from there. (Again, not anything new, but somehow hitting me in a new way.) AND it has some really useful hacks I’ve already put to good use.

(Detour: Years and years ago, I was sitting in a teacher inservice about some [likely now-debunked] theory of learning styles, where I was told that learners could be divided into those who need to know why, those who need to know what, and those who need to know how. And one other that I can’t remember–but it was probably connected to another one of the 5 W’s. I immediately recognized myself as a why learner [bummer, as the majority of people apparently are what learners–the quadrant I cared least about–which meant I needed to tone down my deep teaching dives into the why of everything because I was losing my students who didn’t care about/need to know why] and if you are someone who both struggles in the kitchen and needs to have a good why for doing what you do, this might be the book for you.)

Adachi talks a lot about aligning our priorities with the season of life we’re living, something I much appreciate. During the season in which I was a financially-struggling full-time educator and single mom of two tweens (and later, blended-family mom of three particular-eater teens), I could not do food the way I’ve been doing it lately. Just. could. not. No self-help book in the world could have given me the resources I needed to feed my family an anti-inflammatory diet with mostly whole foods and few preservatives.

I am grateful that I now can, but I am also angry, sad, and regretful on behalf of my younger self (and my last-year self) and all of those who currently don’t have what they need to nourish themselves, in all meanings of that word. (Oh, look, here come the speeding capitalism trucks that look like they’re going to plow right into all the other cars on this freeway and flatten/scatter them. Let’s just pull over and let them go by us right now, shall we?)

Oh, hell. I seem to have lost anything resembling a path. But it’s been kind of nice to wander around blog town for a while again.

In conclusion, I have no real conclusions–yet–which is why I’ve been mostly staying in the traffic and not taking any exits. And this is just what’s been going on around food–or most of what’s been going on–but the more I think/write about it, the more I think that food is about everything. Food connects to all the big problems confronting us right now, and a lot of the littler ones, too. I have this feeling that if I could just figure out how to do food–or, at least, figure it out better–I’d know how to do a lot of other things as well. (And maybe use fewer dashes and parentheses while writing about it. Maybe.)

At any rate, thanks for being here. I’d love to know any of your thoughts/tips/wonderings/challenges about food. It’s nice to take a road trip with friends.

(Hummus, local tomato, and avocado on Dave’s [whole grain] Killer Bread]–sandwich inspired by a recipe for a chickpea salad sandwich. And yes, I even shelled the chickpeas as recommended in the hummus recipe. Because I could. Because that’s the season of life I’m–gratefully, amazingly–in, apparently.)

Things I didn’t know I loved until I couldn’t do them

Going to the grocery store

Watering the window box flowers

Putting one leg into my shorts while standing upright on the other

Sitting up in the car

Cooking dinner

Driving myself anywhere I want to go

Standing and looking out the kitchen window at the neighbor boys playing in the street

Taking a shower

Gulping a cold drink on a hot day

For four days, I couldn’t do much of anything without acute pain. I spent most of my hours in bed, flat on my back, longing for my ordinary, everyday life. All I wanted was to throw a load of clothes in the washing machine, run to the store to pick up food for dinner, water my flowers, wipe down the kitchen cabinets. I craved these things, the ways I have of keeping order, making beauty, caring for myself and others.

What a gift, to see how much there is to love about simply existing in our bruised, broken, shattering world.

Becoming a unicorn

In my first post-hiatus post, I wrote a bit about returning to ice skating. I didn’t say all that much about skating or what it really means to me because…well, I suppose because I felt a little shy about it all. Confused. Excited and afraid of looking foolish. Protective. Not really sure of what it means or what it will be. Not unlike the way you can feel at the beginning of a romance.

I mean…c’mon. I am 57 years old. When I was skating–really skating–the Cold War was still in full swing. Jimmy Carter was president. I’m too old to be the parent of many of today’s competitive skaters.

But you know those stories about high school sweethearts who break up and live separate lives for decades and then meet at a reunion and fall in love all over again? I’ve never done that, but I imagine it to feel much as I am feeling about rekindling my relationship with skates and ice and other skaters. I imagine it feels wondrous and improbable and–more than anything else–delightful.

Y’all: I am freakin’ full of delight. On a daily basis.

I know you might not know that from reading my posts, and I’m probably never going to not feel all kinds of angst about the world’s slow burn (both literal and metaphorical) on so many fronts, but I am also, simultaneously, full of delight. Because, what are the chances? Who would ever expect, after 45 years, to fall in love again with the one who got away? Who would’ve thought that existential dread and pure, hope-filled joy can exist in the same being at the same time?

I’m here to tell you: It can. Life is weird. Heartbreaking and wonderful and funny and surprising.

Sometimes, I tell myself that everything that went wrong in mine can be traced back to the time I quit skating, even though I know that’s a little ridiculous. I was 12, and life pretty much turns to shit for everyone when they hit 7th grade, but I hit 7th grade right after I lost a thing that made me feel strong and beautiful and whole. (I think 7th grade–and all the years beyond it–could be a whole different experience for everyone involved if we could all have a thing that makes us feel strong and beautiful and whole.)

It’s all so mysterious. Why would moving and jumping and spinning over ice be a thing that makes a person whole? I don’t know. But skating–even in the wobbly, starting-all-over-again-as-an-almost-beginner way I’m doing it–still gives me moments of feeling strong and beautiful and whole, and I’ve lived long enough to know that’s no small or unimportant thing.

To be clear: Like any love–perhaps, especially, a late-in-life one–it’s not all rainbows and confetti. Every person who’s lived a good chunk of time carries baggage, and unpacking mine has meant coming to new terms with aging and mortality and the passing of time and dreams.

In the past two months, I’ve become grounded in the reality that my body has changed and is changing. That I am going to get old and die. For real. Not in some abstract, “some day” sort of way, but in a concrete, wow-I-can’t-do-things-I-could-do-just-a-few-years-ago sort of way. In my head, I’ve still been mostly the same physical being I was in my mid-30s or so. Sure, I’d gained a few pounds, but I could still do all the same things, right? Ummm, not exactly. Now, in both my head and body, I know I’m not the same physical being I thought I was. (If you want to know how old your body really is, take up a sport you haven’t played since you were a tween. You’ll know, too.)

I know this might sound kind of grim–and I’ve had my moments of feeling fairly terrible about it all–but it’s really not. It’s becoming the foundation for a kind of gratitude I’ve never felt before. Yes, I’m going to die, but I’m not dead yet. A thing I thought was lost to me has come back. (What else might this be true for?) My body has deteriorated, but not so much that I can’t embrace this opportunity. The ladies I skate with tell me I’ve come back just in time; I’m still young enough to regain many of the skills I once had, but if I’d waited even a few more years that might not be the case. For the first time since–well, since about the time I quit skating, really–I’m feeling more gratitude than resentment toward my body.

Speaking of the ladies I skate with, I have discovered that there is a whole world of adult skaters. This did not exist when I left skating in the late ’70s, but now the US Figure Skating Association has a program for you if “you are an adult who became a skater or a skater who became an adult.” I’ve had a hard time knowing which kind of adult skater I am. A woman I take lessons with is 73 years old, and she didn’t start skating until she was 55! She can skate circles around me in our dance class, but there are things I can do that she can’t because of the skating I did when I was young. Still, I don’t really feel like a skater who became an adult, either. I’ve joined two Facebook groups for adult skaters, and I see post after post from people wondering if they can come back after 20 or 25 years away. These are people who skated and competed for years as children and teens, and they are in their 30s and 40s now.

I skated for only 18 months (albeit fairly intense ones), and I did it 45 years ago.

FORTY-FIVE YEARS.

How is that possible? How is that a real thing? How have that many years of my life passed? How is it that my body has retained enough muscle memory from so long ago that I have moments when I can do things without knowing how, exactly, I’m doing them? But why are there other, far simpler things that I can’t do? How can I be thinking of skating–really skating–after more than 4 decades away from it? What does “really skating” mean, anyway, now? What can it mean? How can a thing I did for such a short time feel and be so important? Both back then and now? How can age be something that is both so concrete and so amorphous, with time simultaneously expanding and collapsing every time I step on the ice?

At times, this has all felt like mind-fuckery of grand proportions–but in a good way? Or at least, an amazing, interesting, isn’t-life-weird way. I don’t know the answers to any of these questions, and for once in my long history of questioning almost everything, I am not impatient to find them. I am figuring out this romance as I go, and I know that–this time–I get to form answers that will work better for me. This time, there is no such thing as “too old” and no reason to do any of it other than love. What a freaking amazing gift! To get to rewrite a painful story and give it a whole new ending. To heal my relationship with my body. To get to skate just for the love of it, and to have found it again while I still can. I haven’t yet come across anyone with a backstory quite like mine, which has me feeling that my relationship with skating is a bit of a unicorn. A beautiful, rare, magical thing.

I think I might start farting glitter any day now.

(That is, of course, not me in this video! I couldn’t do half those moves, even without a unicorn costume on.)

I would love to hear about anyone having an experience of returning to a lost love. Or about a lost love you’d like to get back to. Hoping mine can help you believe that it’s not impossible.

Don’t blink

I spent some time this week working on a post about skating, but I’m not ready to hit “publish” on it– probably because I spent more time skating than writing, and when I wasn’t skating I was outside, soaking up sun and spring color.

Yesterday we carved out a new section of garden and began planting it. In the house, we put away candles and the little lamp we’ve kept on the dining room table to light our morning and evening meals. It’s been weeks since we’ve turned it on. “Candle and fire season is done,” I said, moving a basil plant to the spot where the candles had been and opening the front door to let in fresh air.

The world’s first green is still gold, but the tulips have already begun their wilt, and the willow’s blossoms are turning into leaves. It’s high spring in our part of the world, when the grass needs mowing more than once a week and branches transform from bare to blossoms in two days. If you blink, you miss it. Sometimes, writing is a way of seeing more deeply and clearly, but sometimes it’s a way of blinking.

I didn’t want to blink this week.

What was worth seeing deeply in your part of the world this week?

On the edge of the cusp

The morning light shining at the end of the dark hall, a pull to the garden.

Birds twittering, chittering, beating, swooping. Tomatoes swelling on their vines and branches laden with pears. Dusty lavender dotted with bees. Trumpets vines blaring red siren songs to the hummingbirds. The holes where rats come into and out of our yard. (Who does “our” contain?) The hot noon hour when, from the bedroom window, changing out of my gardening clothes, I watch two of them run up the branches of the blueberry bushes and eat our fruit. Brazen. 

Watering the hostas. The ones with pale, thin leaves are fragile, always wilted, their edges constantly crisped. We vow to buy only the ones with thick green leaves now. I consider reserving my water for the strong and letting the needier ones wither to papery remains I can toss without compunction into the compost bin.

The compost bin loaded with thorny sticks, dried up blooms, bristly thistles I pull from the vegetable box: Things I deem weeds, or overgrown, or dead. The sickly sweet scent of rotting kitchen scraps–cantaloupe rinds, probably–wafting upward. I shut the lid. 

Hermiston cantaloupe slices I present to my son at dinner, telling him that I don’t buy the other kind now, the ones shipped here from faraway places, so the time to enjoy these is now. “I don’t like how hard and tasteless they are,” I tell him, speaking of the ones we can buy during other months. “I like cantaloupe firm,” he tells me, and I mumble words about nature and carbon and footprints because I can’t find the right ones for what I feel. I know he’s only expressing a preference for texture but I despair a bit for the future just the same. He’s acclimated to his time, which isn’t mine. He’s never eaten watermelon with black seeds. He’s never spit them out at his cousins, laughing, while sitting at the kids’ table in his grandmother’s kitchen. 

My grandfather cutting cantaloupe on a summer morning as he readies for work, the light shining through the sink window’s short curtains. He sprinkles his melon, soft and vivid as the Hermistons I offer to my son like jewels, with salt. Paul Harvey’s voice is tinny through the radio, and my grandmother is still sleeping in their bed upstairs. I like not needing to say anything, having him all to myself, being cared for only by him, who makes me a piece of toast in the toaster that now sits on a shelf in my mother’s kitchen. He dies of a heart attack at 63. The night he dies, I sleep in that bed with my grandma, in his spot. 

I sit at my kitchen table and read a piece my friend Sharon is writing about grandmothers and canning and writing. About preservation and sustenance. She writes that she cans with words, not food. Then I read my friend Bethany’s piece about doubting the purpose of writing, she who writes multiple books through decades of mothering and teaching. I consider my history, the jars of applesauce my great-grandmother sent to our suburban house every fall that she made from apples grown on the farm, and how three generations later I am only just now, well into a sixth decade of living, beginning to learn how to grow food. I consider the tomatoes ripening in a bowl on the table, the literal fruits of my labor. I consider the one book of poems I cultivated, now nearly 20 years ago, and I wonder if the writer in me is a pale hosta. Maybe she is. Or maybe she is a rat, scratching at survival through blog posts and Instasnippets. Maybe she is an invasive, drought-resistant perennial with deep, woody roots. Maybe she is none of those things and all of those things. Maybe she is everything in the garden–the hostas and rinds and rats and tomatoes and trumpets and weeds and bees, being fed by whatever they can find there, wherever they can find it. It’s a conceit that brings comfort, here on the edge of the cusp of autumn, these brief weeks of both harvesting and fading. 

******

This is another bit of writing that grew from exercises for my class on the braided essay. One exercise was about a journey (my trip down the hallway and into the garden), and one was about using sensory images of a place (or series of places), and I was feeling behind (my own arbitrary and self-imposed deadlines, as the course is self-paced), so I combined them.

I appreciate assignments that require me to pay close attention to my life. It’s been a pretty nothing-special week, on the surface of things, one that I might easily forget. I like that the simple act of listing concrete things I notice took me to a place I wasn’t expecting, and cemented memories I’m sure I’ll return to in the future. (Maybe that, alone, is reason enough for any of us to write.) Time is feeling quite non-linear these days, so present-tense seemed right for the entire piece.

Everything I needed to know about house-staging I learned from writing

OK, not everything. But maybe the most important things?

Cane and I have spent the past few weeks staging his house before putting it on the market. He bought the house three years ago, and if the house had been a metaphor for a manuscript, it was one that would have never made it out of the slush pile. I didn’t see much potential in it, but he did and has slowly turned an unloved rental that had been stripped of any charm into a sweet little cabin/cottage that’s still kinda wonky, but now in a good way. Staging it to realize its full potential has been a labor of love, a project that flexes a different set of creative muscles for me. (It was also a crap-ton of work, as all serious creative endeavors are.) At some point I started thinking about overlaps between the staging process and the writing process, and I realized that things I’ve learned from writing were guiding my actions as a would-be home stager:

Read, study, imitate. I don’t know any good writers who aren’t also voracious readers, of all kinds of texts. And writers read not just for the experience or information of a text, but also to learn how to construct it. We look under the hood of them to see what makes them run, so we can better understand how to build our own vehicles. As a novice house-stager, I gave myself a how-to crash-course primarily by “reading” other staged homes. I stalked Redfin listings to study the photos and dissect the features of both those that appealed to me and those that didn’t. I followed house design hashtags on Instagram and did the same thing, noticing particularly those things that were different between staged houses and those designed for different purposes. Cane and I binge-watched Unsellable Houses, an HGTV show about Seattle-area sisters who transform houses that haven’t sold (even in the hot hot sellers’ market of the past few years). They smash some of the conventional staging wisdom I learned from more conventional sources, and it was instructive to think about how they break the rules and why.

Keep your purpose at the forefront. Even if I’m just writing for myself, I have a clear purpose, and that drives everything about what and how I write. When composing a house, the same principle applies. A house (or any space) is a text of sorts, and what we choose to put in or take out should be driven by what we’re trying to say and why. Cane’s house is a funky little old thing with some features that would be definite negatives for many buyers. It’s also a (now) charming piece of history. (It was originally built as temporary housing for shipyard workers during WWII.) We know that no one is going to buy this house entirely with their head; we need to appeal to emotions. “What’s the story we’re trying to tell?” is a question we asked ourselves repeatedly as we made decisions about what to put it and take out. Closely related principle:

Know your audience (and yourself). The importance of knowing both yourself as a writer and who you’re writing for can’t be overstated. I’ve never aimed to be a writer for the masses (clearly), and we haven’t staged this home to appeal to the masses. That’s partly because it’s just not in us. We don’t know how to do that well, and we wouldn’t really want to even if we did. (We think it would destroy the best parts of this house.) If we had different goals for this project, this aspect of ourselves could be a big liability, but we’ve told ourselves multiple times that we don’t need a lot of people to like the house; we just need a few who love it. We talked a lot about who these people might be, what they might care about, how they might live. Once I realized that I was never going to be a big best-selling writer (for a multitude of reasons), it gave me permission to be the writer I am. We staged this house to be the best version of both ourselves and it that we can create, rather than trying to make both of us be something we aren’t—and we think it’s turned out all the better for having made that choice. (For more on these ideas, check out the work of Seth Godin.)

Draw from a variety of sources. Also, everything is a source. When I’m writing here, I draw upon all kinds of material: memory, experience, other peoples’ stories, poetry, memes, photos, songs, video, etc. Even if I’m working on something that is composed only of words and is based primarily on my own life, I typically cast a wide net and catch everything I can in my first drafts. Some staged houses look as if everything in them came from the same place, but the houses I see that create longing (for me, anyway) have a different kind of look. They’re more layered. There’s a richness you can’t get from a single Ikea run. Much as I usually avoid such places as Target and HomeGoods, I did use those for staging materials. I also used thrift stores, vintage shops, and my own house. I used things in ways they weren’t originally intended to be used. (A shower curtain hides a hot water heater, and an espresso-machine pitcher is a toothbrush holder.) It’s not unlike using a line of someone else’s poetry as a kickstart to your own, or pulling a passage out of a failed draft of something you wrote a long time ago and using it in a whole new way in a new piece.

Edit ruthlessly (and start with more than you need). When I’m writing a first draft, I throw in everything that might work. I try to write without any internal editor whispering in my ear. The real writing—and joy of writing—comes in revising and editing. Although I really know nothing about sculpting, I imagine it to be somewhat like that: first drafts create a block of text, and I carve and shave away at it until its shape emerges. My process for creating a space works much the same way; I am not a person who can start with a finished vision and simply execute it. I have to see how things look before I know if they will work, and I have to try out lots of different things. I brought many things to the house knowing I might not use them. Some of them I really love, but if they don’t advance the purpose, they don’t make the final cut. Also: Less is often more. (Is this last sentence redundant? It might be. I have a problem with overstating points I want to be sure are clear.) I bought rice and beans and flour to fill the jars on the shelves in the kitchen, and then I realized I didn’t need to do that. The purpose of the jars was to help a buyer see how the shelves could work, and the jars alone did that. Adding contents to them would add visual clutter that wasn’t necessary and might detract from the purpose of staging by being too specific. (I’ll spare you a detailed description of my paralysis in the dry goods section of the grocery store, wondering if my choices were screaming “white people food.”)

Three is a magic number. Or, repetition is a friend. And, the magic is in the small things. Lots of people have the same big ideas, and we can all pour out words that express them. What elevates a piece of writing for me, though, is how they are expressed. For me, good writing is like poetry or song; it uses balance, repetition, refrain, and rhythm to create something that is more than the denotative sum of its words. These principals helped me in understanding why something was or wasn’t working visually, and gave me ideas for fixing something that felt off. In writing I pay attention to sound, words, sentence lengths and structures, and metaphor, and in staging the elements were color, size, shape, and texture. As with a verbal text, I had to be careful about how I applied these principals; too much repetition of obvious sounds is sing-songy, and some extended metaphors can become tortured. I had to think about how to avoid that in the visual text of the house’s rooms.

Consider both the whole and the parts. Cane and I generally agree when it comes to design decisions, but we never did agree on a curtain that hides the hot water heater in the kitchen. When he lived in the house, the curtain (sewn by me as a birthday gift) was a gingham-checked number in a bright red, white, and blue. It was totally him, and it fit the kitchen—but I didn’t like it for our new purpose. I thought the red wasn’t the right shade considering the palette that was emerging in the other rooms of the house, and that it created a different feel that (to me) was a little discordant from some of the things we want to say about and through the house. It also didn’t work with some other details in the kitchen. He thought I was over-thinking it. Maybe so, but I think it was my writer-brain taking over. I remembered the writing instructor I had my freshman year of college who helped me understand that each sentence has to lead to the one that follows it, and each paragraph has to do the same. I began to see the house as a novel or essay collection or epic poem, and each room as a chapter or essay or stanza. The details in the rooms were like sentences or paragraphs or lines, and I wanted each part to work not only on its own, but also as parts of a cohesive whole. For me, the original curtain brought to mind the advice that writers have to be willing to kill their darlings.

Collaboration improves the work. And, know your strengths and weaknesses. In my first post-college job I was an editorial assistant, where I learned that nothing we published was ever edited by only one person. “No one can ever catch everything,” my boss taught me. That, along with a writing group I was once lucky to be part of, helped me understand that although the things I write are of me, they are not me. They are a thing in their own right, and their meaning comes from an interplay between my mind and that of readers. To really know if a piece is working or not, we need readers! While there’s definitely a stage in composing where I need to work alone, a finished piece requires feedback from a good reader and further refinement. The same was true in staging this house. Cane is my trusted reader and co-writer, and everything we design is better when we both contribute to it. (It’s also more fun.) We aren’t doing this alone, though. We began with a consultation with our realtor, who knows far more than we do about staging houses to sell, and we’ll be working with a photographer who can do a much better job of creating the images that convey the story of the house than we can. (Sorry I don’t have any of those photos yet to illustrate this post!)

You need a good hook. Many readers—especially now, with our reading habits shaped by online texts—aren’t going to stick around if we don’t grab them in the first few lines. Same with a house. We spent as much time and money on the front yard as we did on the inside of the house. We wanted the story we are telling (cozy, comfortable, down-to-earth, clean cottage/cabin) to be clear (and compelling) from the very first view. We painted the exterior, added a window box, painted the Adirondack chairs, added a trellis, moved/removed/trimmed plants, and added flowers. A lot of flowers, in the same palette we used in the interior.

It will be another week or so before the house goes on the market, so it could well turn out that all this wisdom of mine is bunch of romantic rubbish, but our realtor was fairly wowed when we asked her to give us some feedback this week. It was satisfying work, in a way that I haven’t felt for a long time. It’s worn us out and we’re glad to be finished with it, but it feels like a good kind of tired—which is a welcome change. I’ll let you know how it goes. (And if you know anyone in Portland in the market for a funky little cottage, point them our way. Listing should be live in a little more than a week.)

Mid-summer snapshots from home

We spend every day of the week working to get Cane’s house ready for sale: scrubbing, sanding, painting, polishing, digging, planting, spreading, trimming, hauling, carrying, loving the life we’ve had and the one we have and the one we’re building all day long until we’re so spent we can’t love that way any more.

For breakfast I take my favorite stoneware bowl into the backyard and fill the bottom of it with blueberries. The ones dessicated in the heat dome still cling to their bushes, but all around them are dusk-blue bulbs of sweet bombs that will explode when I bite them. Every single time I taste them I am grateful for the owners before us who planted them, for gifts from people I’ve never known.

Neighborhood boys spend hours in the street, shooting baskets, propelling scooters, laughing and shouting and sometimes crying (the littlest one, mostly). The neighbor across the street puts out a “children playing” sign, though none of the children playing are hers, and I love that as much as their shy smiles when I wave as I drive by to go work on the other house.

The lavender I planted two summers ago has quadrupled in size, and all day every day the bees work it like a factory. The trumpet vine’s blousy instruments blare bright red, a siren song for the neighborhood hummingbirds. The patio is a full, busy place and I try, repeatedly, to capture the wonder of it with my camera, but I fail every time. I’ll have to be satisfied with snapshots of memory.

Friday afternoon I reward myself for painting the tediously twirled iron porch railings by filling the planter boxes Cane built a few days earlier. We choose a stippled coleus, dusty Daisy Millers, red begonias, potato vines, and Sweet Alyssum so sweet it feels a little wrong to stuff them in around the edges of those edgier plants but I do.

Our neighbors two doors down have been fixing up their house all through the pandemic: new windows, new siding, new plants, new paint. They are a young family, and it made me happy to watch their progress until I saw a For Sale sign go up this week. I thought of the boys who will no longer play in our street, and then of our own labor on Cane’s house. “Why do we wait until we’re getting rid of a house to do all the things to it that would help us enjoy it more while we have it?” I ask. “Next summer,” he answers, “let’s pretend we’re moving and do all the things we put off doing.”

We paint all the floors and have to stay off of them for three days. There’s plenty to do in the yard, but I have to keep hydrated to keep migraine at bay and now there’s no bathroom I can access to relieve my bladder gone weak from childbearing and aging. We drive to an antique mall and use theirs, then walk through as if we’re there to shop, in our paint-spattered clothes and dusty shoes. We spy a quilt we weren’t looking for that will look perfect in the bedroom we’re staging. It’s new, but made from vintage fabric, with hand-stitching. It feels like a metaphor for us and we buy it, happy at the idea of incorporating it into our home later, and I feel less guilty about coming there only to use the bathroom and pleased at the gift of serendipity my bladder has given us.

We go to the neighbor’s open house and realize they’ve flipped it, that their labor was never about making their home nice for themselves. Not really. Everything old has been stripped away, replaced by vinyl floors, white cabinets, new appliances, subway tile, white paint in every room. We see the ghosts of features that still live in our house, built the same year as theirs. From the backyard, we see our bedroom window across the fence tops. Later, I stand in the bedroom window and for the first time in three years really see their backyard, the side of their garage. Later, I appreciate even more than I usually do the things that make our house home: the old oak floors, the worn brick fireplace, the floor tiles from different eras, the blue I painted the laundry room walls, the kitchen cabinets installed before I was born, with their large doors that extend to the ceiling. We talk about how it makes us love our home more, somehow, having seen that other one that’s supposed to be what everyone wants now.

We drive to my childhood refuge, Bellingham, where my grandparents lived and I spent summer weeks when weeks felt more like months than days. My last grandmother died just over three years ago, and I haven’t seen her beloved house since it was sold to a young family who’d been renting a house in her neighborhood because it was the only one they wanted to live in until a house came on the market that they could buy. I wonder how it will feel, to see it and know I can’t go in, but then there we are and I see the front door wide open, a pair of chairs on the front porch, and a badminton net in the front yard, and I remember how happy it made my grandmother when families with “young people” moved to her block. I remember my grandparents sitting in folding chairs on that porch more than 40 years ago, drinking coffee and reading the newspaper and waving to me as I rode laps around the blocks on my bike, and in that moment on the street, knowing all I could take away with me now was a photo, all felt as right in the world as it once did when I pedaled around the corner and saw them sitting there, a touchstone I could return to again and again, even as my bike ventured further and further away from their home.