Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Oh Boy!

Patrick Lawrence is truly the man of the hour. In particular, the 5 A.M. to 6 A.M hour a few days ago, when he went from there in his mother’s womb to here in our arms. What a wonder to see him under wraps then, and now so tidily swaddled – like a present  wrapped in soft flannel.

Those of us waiting his arrival tried to guess the day he would be born. I sensed he would be a July baby – even though his due date was August 4! He just carried so large in his second and third trimester. Weighed in at 8.2 pounds at birth. A friend who is an ultrasound technician tells me he would have tipped the scales at over 9 pounds if he went full term! I share Patrick’s Mom’s relief that he did not!

I wondered who he would look like – what combination of Mom and Dad would he sport from head to toe. Minutes after birth, I could see the resemblance to his father in the scrunched up features of his tiny face. And then, from a slightly different angle, his mother’s hairline and the thick fuzzy “do” she wore so well in her very first portrait, wilder than bed hair, yet so naturally beautiful.  He has long, long fingers, too, like his mom’s baby hands, already reaching out to touch air, hair . . . whatever’s out there waiting to be touched.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Call Waiting

There’s a lot of bashing of busy-ness these days – most recently in a New York Times  opinion piece which spoke to "multi-tasking busy" and "over-scheduling busy". Habits that often lead to "you-can’t-think-straight busy."

Yet, for me, busy works. I was raised by the Idle Hands is the Devil's Workshop adage. And I saw my Mom's busy hands always at work: cooking, cleaning, sewing, knitting and crocheting, reading, doing a crossword puzzle.
Mom wasn’t in-and-out-of-the-house busy. More a keep-yourself-occupied busy.

Lately, keeping myself occupied has been more necessary than usual. A week ago, my daughter's obstetrician told her that, even though she would not be full term until August 4, she probably would not make it to her next regular appointment – in a week – before giving birth. “It can happen anytime,” he told her and then she told me.

Em lives an hour away. Since her move a few weeks ago, I’m up in her neck of Eastern Massachusetts every few days, which leaves me back  in my neck of Northern Connecticut every few days – waiting, at a bit of a distance. Milton ends his sonnet “On Blindness” with the oft-quoted line, “They also serve who only stand and wait.”  He seems to have been speaking from the point of view of a person with a disability. There’s a peaceful resignation in his words.  Serving as a mother (at a distance) who is waiting for her daughter’s first child to arrive leaves little room for repose.

That said, Sunday, the day after I had been up to eastern MA and fives days after Em's doctor gave her the sooner-rather-than-later signal, I waited. And as I waited I

·         Answered morning emails

·         Paid bills

·         Went to church

·         Visited Em’s Grandmother

·        Returned home to do a wash. Didn’t want those clothes piling up – just in case I had to hustle east.

·         Weeded

·        Mowed the lawn. Didn’t really need it, but I could be otherwise engaged in a day or two.

·        Measured and set aside the dry ingredients for a blueberry buckle (my mother’s recipe). This way I would just have to add the milk, butter, and eggs tomorrow morning, when the kitchen would feel cooler.

·        Measured and set aside the dry ingredients for another blueberry buckle, after I realized I had enough blueberries. This way, I’d only heat up the kitchen once for two buckles.

·         Read the local  paper

·         Texted back and forth to my daughter

·         Texted forth and back to my son

·         Downloaded the NY Times on my Kindle.

·         Ironed. Which I rarely do. Wanted to be sure I could dress without a fuss, just in case . . .

·         Watched the Sox lose to Toronto

·        Turned on the oven. It was late  but what the heck. The ingredients were all measured out anyway. I needed something to do.

·         Mixed, stirred, folded and poured.

·         Cooled the buckles. Wrapped 'em.

·         Resent 9 rounds of Words With Friends

·         Went to bed and awoke to 9 newly returned rounds of Words With Friends

·         Got a call. “Things are starting to happen.”

Good thing I baked those buckles last night.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Baby Thought

When I was at a book convention last week I stood in a number of lines for autographed children’s books. Figured I would pick up as many  stories as I could for baby Patrick, due any day now. 

One is a brightly illustrated book about getting oneself to Noah’s Ark from a cute snail’s point of view.  The author wrote, “Follow your dreams Patrick,” on the title page.  The next tale raises a question about where God Lives. This author personalized the book by writing “God Bless Patrick.” The last book, Sometimes I’m Afraid, offers kiddie advice along with delightful illustrations  meant to calm a child’s fears about childhood worries, like the dark. She wrote, “Patrick Love” – the way someone not so Irish might enscribe, “Patrick My Boy.”

I mentioned that I would be a grandmother very soon to all three writers as they autographed their books. The last, Annie FitzGerald, who -- unlike the others -- looked rather grandmotherly herself, whipped out a sketch pad and said, “Now let’s see what Patrick thinks about that."

In seconds she produced a sketch that allayed any concern anyone might have about Patrick’s feelings during his first encounter with darkness, in his mother’s womb.


Thursday, July 19, 2012


 Considering the dandelion gone to seed on the cover of my memoir, it should not be surprising to those who have read the book  that, while writing, an important comparison occurred to me. That is - that the inevitable flight of the seeds from " little yellow flowers on everybody's lawn" is not so unlike my paternal grandfather's  ocean voyage across the Atlantic. The family account immortalizes how he, a six-year-old in the early 1900s, held fast to his older brother with one hand and, with the other, waved good-bye to his mother and father who remained rooted to the rocky Italian soil.  From Old World poverty to New World promise they sent their youngest son across the ocean at a great price – never to see him again.

This led me to wonder about how this new land inspired my mother’s father,  a man who shined shoes, to give each of his four children a nickel every time he heard them sing God Bless America.  Something assured him, through the hardship of youthful departure and obstacles of assimilation, that his trip would improve his life and provide descendants like me with opportunities he never had.

 When Grandpa the shoe-shiner sailed back to Italy in the 1950s to visit his mother, his two-way ticket entitled him to a cabin instead of the steerage quarters of his first trip to America.  In our home movie of his departure, he waves as proudly as the captain of any ship.  On his way to Italy, I’ve been told over and over again, he would pass his younger brother on the high seas traveling to America for the first time – on a west-bound liner. 

  I never saw my mother’s father again. He took sick and died in Italy. But I did get to see the rope burns his brother suffered when he was rescued from the wreck of the Andrea Doria.

 Though I can remember once thinking the dandelion was too pretty and too much fun to be called a weed, I thought I had outgrown my childish notions of dandelion flight. Even my mother’s intent to cultivate the little yellow lawn flowers had lost some of its comic edge after I discovered dandelion seed packets in the herb section of the local Agway .Still, every spring and summer, I’m reminded of the seedling’s natural, inevitable departure from the parent plant and my grandparents’ voyages from their mother country. Like Grandma in her housecoat, I add a touch of cicoria to my salad fixings among other bitters (arugula for one) and sweets (dried cranberries and strawberries).

Friday, July 13, 2012

Dandelions? Fine!

"Dandelion" by J Frasse
Speaking of weeds, my family has an unusual connection with one in particular - the dandelion. It began over fifty years ago, when my mother asked the manager of the Enfield Garden Center for the seeds for “those little yellow flowers on everybody’s lawn.” We had transplanted our Brooklyn roots to northern Connecticut. What did any of us know about dandelions?

In Brooklyn, anything that grew through sidewalk cracks was revered. Backyard gardens cramped a few tomato plants, a row of lettuce leaves, and a row of radishes together, in about half the space seeding instructions recommended.

The lushest spot on the block was the corner fruit and vegetable stand. Baskets of beans, bananas, apples, and artichokes slanted towards short women in housecoats who had a knack for squeezing and snapping the produce for freshness.
Grandma wore one of those housecoats. She also knew more about dandelions than any of us. In Italy her mother would serve the green –raw and cooked.
A few months after we moved, Grandma and Grandpa traveled to Enfield from Brooklyn to visit us in what they called “the country.” Grandpa, a barber, first snipped his son’s and grandson’s overgrown hair onto our under-grown lawn. A lawn speckled with a yellow flower here, a yellow flower there. Then we all headed to the Warehouse Point Trolley Museum for a nostalgic ride.
Grandma would wait out the ride on a webbed lawn chair Dad kept in our ’55 Plymouth, or so we thought. By the time we got back to her, she had filled the car’s trunk with jagged dandelion leaves.
More comfortable with Italian than English, she called the bounty, “Cicoria,” Washed, the leaves filled one macaroni pot a day through her week-long visit. Steamed, the bounty shrunk, resembling seaweed. And, like the lion’s teeth for which the leaves are named, those toothy greens did bite.

I find myself a third-generation dandelion lover. Early on, it wasn't for the taste but  more for the sunny bouquets my preschool daughter would pick and offer saying, “These are for you, Mommy.” Or the sight of my five-year-old son’s puffed cheeks as he prepared to send a matured fluff ball of seeds into the air. Some of the tiny parachutes of white down would settle a short distance away from the parent plant; others would float out of sight.

In time, I too, developed a taste for the bitter green.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012


Last weekend was too hot to weed. Weekend before, I was too involved with Em and Ry’s move.  Before that, I barely found the time to plant my meager veggie garden.  But I did get a few plants into the ground– a cuke vine,  three tomato and  two pepper varieties, a squash mound, an eggplant mound, and a strip of herbs . That was just after Memorial Day. After this weekend, the designated end of the Fourth of  July holiday (even though was really July 8), I finally weeded.

Nice thing about weeding an overgrown vegetable garden is that sometimes you’ll find a hidden fruit of your labor – or nonlabor, as is the case with lapsed cultivation. Like so --------> That's one of four yellow squash bulbs that lay amidst  leaves as wide as my outstretched palm and the remainder goosegrass. I figure I'll be bringing Em garden-fresh squash in a few days. Can't let them grow too large or else they'll be seedy.

Nice Italian pepper came into view after the clearing out too - and some promising tomatoes. I may not have weeded often enough, but I did water just about every morning through the record heat. Before the afternoon sun could evaporate the water off the leaves almost on contact.

Flowers are appearing on the cuke - and the eggplant, well, some interior growth looks fuzzy and a tad purple A good sign for God's Little .08% Acre, I think. Even the doggie looks pleased.

How does your garden grow?


Friday, July 6, 2012


So, I was talking about Em and Ry’s new house, which got me thinking and then talking about my old house.  That’s been happening a lot lately -- the past  sneaking into the present. Comes from watching both my children face the same kinds of decisions their parents struggled with forty or so years ago: what job to take, where to live, when to ask for advice, when to take it, unsolicited.

Early on their road to home ownership Em and Ryan considered a Bigger House (raised ranch) on a Busier Road. Price ran almost 50% higher than the cozy 1940s cape they’re in. Speed limit difference between the two locations was about the same too. I was glad  they opted for smaller (and slower), using the same reasoning Em's father and I used in 1982: smaller homes don’t require two full-time incomes to maintain. McMansions do. Puts a lot of pressure on a family. Em told me her realtor remarked she wished more  buyers would think about that.

They went with a small community bank too. One couple’s Occupy (just off of) Main Street Movement – in a real rather than symbolic way.  The occupy being an embracing of sorts.

I can’t help but look at the photo of the Mr. and Mrs. in front of the homestead, a day after moving in, and think of Charles and Caroline Ingalls, the bearded husband and  wife (with child!)  in Little House on the Prairie. The photo just begs the word homestead. Not just a house, and even more than a home – a homestead. Brings to mind the acts of government and, in this case, a young couple and local financeer, that wend a sensible route to home ownership, similar to the way Homestead Acts have made owning a home more middle-class friendly in our nation's history. There’s something very reassuring about the way the front windows of this homestead reflect a rosy sunset from across the way.  

Thursday, July 5, 2012

House Call

Em and Ry’s house is a very, very, very nice house, I posted  on Facebook last week. I wasn’t surprised when a couple of my friends replied by asking,              “With two cats in the yard?”

 “No, but a beagle on the porch and two poodles across the way,” I wrote back. Occasionally status threads go as anticipated.

Married nine months ago this week, my daughter and son-in-law are homeowners now, with a mortgage to pay and a baby on the way. To think I thought this was going to be a quiet year. Quiet may be out of reach for some time. Quietness, I have found, is highly overrated.

The getting married part was long planned – Em and Ry were engaged for over two years. The couple’s move to an apartment - about an hour east - just a month before their wedding, surprised me.

Baby was hoped for. Now, the newlyweds’ move to a house, just before baby-makes-three, makes sense. I  didn’t like the  splintery outdoor stairs to their second floor apartment over a gift shop, even  before Em was pregnant. I disliked each step more and more as she got bigger and bigger.  

Some refer to the new house as a “starter home.” In 1982, some referred to the home Emily and her brother eventually grew up in as a “starter” too. A Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young kind of house.
Larry and I had a five year plan for our small ranch (surrounded by tall pines). Before we knew it, the single-digit plan became a double-digit plan. That plan involved turning the garage into a family room and adding a new garage to that.
Renovating a garage in 1987. . into a family room
In time we started looking at bigger homes. One, across town, caught our eye: two floors, kitchen that opened to what designers called a Great Room at the time. The stuff of family magazine spreads. When I mentioned the house, which we had decided to bid on, to a friend who lived in what seemed to be our prospective neighborhood, she said, “ Yeah – and the neighbors are nice – which is a good thing since, sitting on your back deck, you can hear your neighbor ‘toot’ around here.” She wasn’t talking trumpet practice. The development had been built on former farm land. There wasn’t a tree taller than five-foot-me in sight.

The next day or so we were raking our perpetual pile after pile of oak leaves, which, by the way, fell year round  in our treed lot (surrounded by tall pines). All we could hear were birds. That is, until we began to hear the sounds one doesn't hear unless all one can hear, at first, are birds. We could hear the rustle and light thump of our children jumping into piles of leaves here and there. We could hear the tinkle a soft breeze plays off a distant wind chime.  
Larry and I looked at each other as if to ask, Are we crazy? We  both knew a tinkle beat a toot in any yard. Within a day we removed our bid for the house on the other side of town and extended our ten year plan for our "starter" home to fifteen. By the time that deadline rolled around we had raised the roof of our starter home – and got the added space sealed just before the quirky April Fool’s Day Blizzard of ’97. You never know, do you?
Yet, we did know that it would take a lot less time to grow a home (not an expression we would have used fifteen years ago) than it would to grow the pines and the privacy we had  grown accustom to on our wooded lot.