Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Let it Snow, Let it Snow - My Way!

Snow that doesn’t stick is my kind of November snow. I think of it as confectionary sugar snow because most of it disappears, the way powdered sugar melts into a cake top that isn’t entirely cooled. After the cake loses its oven warmth, a light dusting – maybe through a pretty stencil – is just enough to perk up the presentation a bit . A case of less being more, like November snow.

My preferred dusting would work for skiers too. Even though little or no snow would have accumulated – outdoor temps would be cold enough to fill ski resorts with snowy trails.

Confectionary sugar snow eases me into the changing winter landscape. It reminds me that the view out my window is about to turn to monochromatic grays. That’s a pretty drastic change from summer’s multicolored gardens and fall-blazing trees. We try to brighten up the graying of city and countryside with a pop of holiday color here and there, but it takes a knack to keep the ornamentation from getting too kitschy, if you know what I mean.   

If I could plan the winter snow the way I plan out a course syllabus, I’d start with a (preseason) late November dusting followed by an inch or two, a week or so later. Just enough to cover errant oak leaves that continue to fall through the winter. Roads would still be passable  (like my course!). Make-up days would not have to be added on to the school calendar.

Christmas Eve – let it snow. There are carols in the air and the spirit of a blessed birth in our souls. Why not cover the outdoors  in a blanket as pure as the Christmas story as families nestle around fireplaces and into their warm beds?  Santa’s sleigh out-maneuvers  any weather. The rest of us can stay put. That is, if we are not essential  hospital or transportation workers. Added Christmas Blessings to them - every one.
Just after the holiday, most of us could make do with a Norman Rockwell kind of snowfall through late December. One that keeps the  landscape white, but the roads safe.  I like to think of that last week of the year as a designated “reading” week, up to – but not including New Year’s Eve.

January??? Wouldn’t mind a prolonged thaw while the mountains stay just frigid enough for snowmaking.  A true blue storm could pass through February's President’s weekend. A last hurrah for winter. Sort of a final exam on getting through the elements of accuweather.

Then I’m ready for an early Spring break from Winter's course.

If Mother Nature follows my syllabus , I'll give her an A+ !

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Unconditional Thanks

In the late summer of 1988 my father was diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer. He was only 68. He had not felt well through the summer and recently had gone through a series of tests and x-rays. He and my mother drove straight to my house after receiving the terrible news at a doctor’s appointment.

Mom and Dad walked in. Both looked tired, Dad more drawn than Mom. We went into the family room where Dad sat on the couch and softly conveyed the unwelcome news. Then he looked me straight in the eye and said something I’ll never forget.

He said, “I’ve had a good life.” One of the bravest single sentences I have ever heard.

A month or so later, we all sat around my dining room table for my family’s annual Saturday-after-Thanksgiving visit, since it was impossible to be two places at once on the traditional holiday.   When Dad brought a forkful of food to his mouth, he looked noticeably older to me than that afternoon in my family room.

My mind involuntarily jumped ahead a year. I felt like Scrooge when he foresees a vacant seat at his family table except that, unlike Scrooge, I could not change the future by remedying my selfish ways. Yet, I realized  I could change my mindset on the future the way my Dad had done a few weeks ago. I forced myself to focus on the present and the  three generations of my family seated around my dining room table, feasting on manicotti and eggplant parmesan, our annual “Italian” Thanksgiving.

I learned to give unconditional thanks on that extended Thanksgiving holiday . I learned to put aside regrets and fears, To simply be thankful to be sitting at a table as full of food and family as possible. Thankful for having arrived on this day together, through whatever, and hopeful.

By the next Thanksgiving and subsequent Thanksgivings I also learned that my Dad (and other loved ones) could be two places at once on Thanksgiving Day.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Moms Who Write - Part Two

Back from attending an afternoon football game with my son (score at right!) and an evening spent with my daughter and grandson. Terrific day!

Back to finishing what I started a couple of days ago in “Moms Who Write. "

I was saying Moms who are self-employed writers have been experiencing the occupation’s plusses and minuses since home telephones put them in contact with “sources” and customers. So too have Father – Writers. I add the Dads as I suddenly remember the vigorous  grad school "meetings" I had one semester – via live-time email exchanges -- with a writing prof, while he worked from home, tending to his young daughter.

Back to novelist Anne Tyler, who decades ago revealed the unpredictable work schedule of the write-at-home parent. She recalled one March, when she was ready to block out a novel.
“But the children’s spring vacation began,” explained Tyler. After vacation the dog got worms. Tyler didn’t get back to writing (and even then, only in “patches”) until May, when three chapters competed with a washing machine repair, tree surgery, five Jehovah”s Witnesses, two Mormons, etc., etc. With her two children’s summer vacation about to start, she knew enough to put the novel away. “Close down” her mind, plant herbs, and play with the kids.

It’s a gift to be part of a profession that can accommodate up and down family times. I hope the next generation of young Mom-writers, whose blogs I read today, can learn to juggle the way Tyler did - and succeed.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Moms Who Write

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I’ve been reading a number of blogs lately, written by young mothers torn between their desire to write and their role as a parent. The conflict reminded me of when my (now adult) children were both under three and I was trying to juggle part-time freelance work for local and regional publications. Bulky, noisy personal computers (with next-to-nil memory capacities) were just starting to become home “appliances.” The Internet was pretty much a long, rudimentary, and vastly detoured route to information and communication (pre-easy search engine days). Yet, with a computer purchased at Railroad Savage (a commercially unsuccessful model made by the manufacturers of Royal typewriters) I was able to find and complete enough work to put off going back to full-time teaching until my son and daughter were students themselves.

The writing did not interfere with me spending time with my children. It allowed me to put aside full-time teaching for ten years and spend more time at home with them while still contributing some to the household income. Writing moms are fortunate to be able to work from home, set their own hours, and slow business matters down  when home issues must prevail.
I wish I could remember the name of the computer that failed in the mass market. I do remember using it to write an essay for the Connecticut Writing Project newsletter; a piece I dug out of a trunk in my hallway this afternoon.  (The search led to some pretty deep cleaning- never a bad thing!).
I find it interesting that my 25-year-old essay raises pretty much the same questions I’ve been reading on young writer-Moms' blogs. In it, I wonder how many articles a freelancing mom can brainstorm, research, and write, sharing her day with a toddler and baby.(The blog concept really hadn't come into everyday play yet).
Researching the essay, way back when, I found that the overwhelming majority of writers with children agreed family life actually widened their experiences. Novelist and short story writer Anne Tyler, in her early forties then, said that since she had children she had grown richer and deeper. “They may have slowed down my writing for awhile,” she said, “but when I did write, I had more of a self to speak from.” Tyler admits not much writing got done until her children started school. Even then, she said she had to put up “partitions” in her mind that separated her writer and mother roles. She spent a lot of time learning how to close either door when ordinary life intervened or it was time to start writing again. She also likened the process to being like a string she had to learn  to tighten and  loosen, whenever necessary.
A string I'm tightening myself - until I can finish this up in my next blog, for I'm off to see my son - who's a couple of hours away - and my daughter and grandson on the return trip. 


Tuesday, November 13, 2012

A Friend's Next Chapter

A decade ago I would not have come to know Irene, a recent virtual friend and colleague. That was long before I had any inkling I’d write a memoir, no less have it published. But through the last few years one choice led to another: the choice to enroll in an MFA program and focus my thesis on surviving my husband’s premature death, the choice to move from high school to college teaching, the choice to publish the memoir.

Enter Irene, just after Staying Alive: A Love Story became available on Amazon and bn.com. As the managing editor of an online company that reviews and promotes independently published books, she had unique expertise in an area I knew nothing about: marketing. Within weeks the book was reviewed and Irene wanted to interview me – on her radio show.  She’d tape our conversation over the phone, me in CT and she in TX.

It took no time to realize I was working with a smart woman committed to promoting quality books in a growing independent publishing market. Now I was being introduced to Irene, woman to woman. First she called “just to chat” and prepare me for the phenomena of long distance radio transmission. We spoke the way women of similar ilk speak, easily and familiarly. She liked that the book portrayed my children and me as survivors, not victims,. This conversation assured me I would feel comfortable with her in the ensuing taping.

Irene tempered the daunting task of selling myself. We stayed in contact. I wrote for her blogging authors’ site.

When Irene was diagnosed with cancer we talked again. She remembered the story of my own bout with kidney cancer shared in my memoir. Over long distance, she continued to encourage me, professionally, as I did my best to encourage her to wellness.

After a number of extreme treatments Irene was declared cancer free. I was elated. Yet, the elation vanished yesterday when I received sad news from her family. Though Irene appeared to have won a battle or two against the insipid disease, she ultimately lost the war that escalated through her body.

After my interview aired, friends remarked Irene and I sounded like long-time friends. I wish that could have been so. Yet my one-year association with this great gal from Texas has had a greater impact on me than many I have had– for years. I’m a better professional – and person – for having known her.
If I hadn't gotten to know Irene the way I did, I'd be inclined to say Rest in Peace about now. Yet, having come to know her vim and vigor in getting important work for writers and readers done, I'm going to go with Rest in Perpetual Purpose, Friend.    

CLICK HERE for my interview with Irene.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

The Little Guy

My grandson Patrick has crossed a threshold. He has outgrown infancy and become a bona fide newborn. Just like that. From one day (#90) to the next (#91) – according to at least one source. (Experts have been known to disagree on the semantics of baby development – baby being the all-inclusive moniker for one-day-olds to one-year-olds). 

Actually the little guy (my terminology for my grandson from birth to, at least, marriage) increases his baby-bilities week to week – the usual time between our visits together. Currently, with more than a dozen of those seven-day spreads behind us, he no longer sleeps the entire time between feedings and changings.  Lately he gives Grammy his attention at least half the time she spends in his neck of the eastern Massachusetts woods . And he has left behind his wobbly infant helplessness , moving on to intentional newborn movement: a stretch to reach a bright toy, the examination of a familiar face, a grasp of a baby bottle. 
Best of all, he is developing a personality! He likes to laugh, especially at the monkey face that is positioned atop the frame of the baby-mirror in his crib. Try as I may to get Patrick to look at himself in the mirror, he fixates on the monkey instead – and chortles, loudly, as if he is watching stand-up comedy performed by the E-TRADE toddler (toddler being the generally accepted term for talking baby,   digitally enhanced or not).

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Cooking Up a Storm

Put a plate of home-made pasta in front me and I’m back in my mother’s kitchen. I can see her roll out a mixture of flour and eggs, flatten the dough through one side of her pasta maker , and  cut it into strands on the other. Then she’d hang the soft noodles on a tabletop wooden tree to dry ( just a bit ) before boiling  them ( just a bit ) al dente.
Up to about a week ago, Mom’s homemade pasta fit my narrow notion of comfort food: hearty helpings of homemade favorites that bring back the past. This week, through the arrival and departure of Hurricane Sandy, my notion of food as nurturer expanded. 
I wasn’t cooking up old family recipes as round-the-clock updates on Hurricane Sandy played on my small kitchen TV. I was cooking up a storm, trying to make perishables more edible, before the likelihood of losing power. Exactly a year ago I was one of 850,000 Connecticut households without electricity and heat for over a week, due to storm Alfred. I can't remember ever having gone more than a day or so without power before then. I was completely unprepared for the storm shutdown.
This year, I expected the worst. So, as Sandy moved up the coast toward New Jersey, I kept my kitchen in New England humming. By early afternoon I had roasted Brussels sprouts, mashed butternut squash, and steamed carrots. While the aroma of onions and garlic (being roasted with the sprouts) permeated the house, I mixed a batch of cornbread and, as if to challenge Sandy’s “slow-moving” system, put a small rack of spare ribs in the slow cooker – on high. I didn't want to get too cocky. Yet, what did I have to lose? If the power went, I’d at least have real food to warm on the outdoor  grill and share with whomever needed sharing.

The cooking kept me busy. Focusing on preparing the meals kept me calm.  I was prepared for just about any inland havoc the windy side of a hurricane could wield. That was a big difference from last year's storm.

Fortunately for me, northern Connecticut was spared. My lights never even flickered. Not so on the coasts of Connecticut, NYC, and New Jersey, all of which Sandy ferociously huffed, puffed and blew boats to land and houses and boardwalks into the ocean. There has been devastating life and property loss.

When there was no word from my cousins in Staten Island - an area being reported as the most severely hit, I feared the worst - until yesterday. That's when I saw the photo below posted on Facebook with the status: Cooking for Staten Island. The picture of my cousin's busy kitchen told me all was as well as it could be. It looks as if fresh clams are about to be shucked by the younger generation of cousins. One of the girls is peeling a potato.

Cooking for Staten Island

I'm guessing a generator powered the cook-in. The boys own a gas station!

 That said, the Island still requires a continued rescue and recovery effort, along with the hardest hit areas of NY, NJ, and CT. A dear friend of mine in NJ posted a much less comforting  status this morning:

I don't think anyone outside the area really gets how bad it is around here. And it's ongoing, with food shortages, gas rationing, thousands, maybe tens of thousands, people thrown out of work.

She urges those who want to help to DONATE TO THE RED CROSS.


Friday, November 2, 2012

Bad to Worse: My NY/NJ Cousins in the Wake of Hurricane Sandy

Morning after Sandy in Great Kills, SI
a nydaily news photo
Fortunately, my Brooklyn cousins  retained power after Hurricane Sandy. Cousin RK is housing her nephew’s family, who had to leave their New Jersey home. Another cousin who resides farther away from the city and coast, lost trees and siding. He  is making due with a generator.

CF, who lives on Long Island, had no house damage, but her power has been out  four days now. Trees are down everywhere in suburban Wantaugh  There  are no traffic lights, so driving is a problem, and gas and ATM machines are hard to come by. Thanks to having a gas stove & gas water heater, she’s been able to cook and bring hot food to her dad's house, nearby,while her mother-in-law resides with her during these difficult days. Yesterday CF posted:

Day three & counting. No power and a bit chilly. My heart goes out to those who lost everything. This is going to be a long haul. Patience and kindness is mandatory.

I am so proud of her resolve and focus.

My gravest concern, right now, is for my Staten Island cousins and their families, most of whom reside in the Great Kills area – an area that seems to be the forsaken child of the NYC rescue effort. Last night’s national news cast a Hurricane Katrina perspective on the lack of relief efforts in Staten Island.
The boys grew up in Great Kills, across the street from the  Marina. My aunt still lives in the neighborhood, the boys close by.This video, found on youtube yesterday, offers a look at the area the morning-after Sandy’s arrival and departure. It provides a disturbing visual answer to my question about how hard-hit their neighborhood was. I can even see the damage to the harbor side restaurant we celebrated my aunt's 80th birthday at earlier in the year.

I pray their families have relocated, that the gas station they own is able to serve the neighbrhood fairly and peaceably, and that they are all one step closer to recovery today.