AS A FOOTNOTE AT THE TABLE

I wonder if the longstanding tradition of morning cleansing of marble steps at the front door in many inner city neighborhoods of Baltimore has survived the stresses of two-income families or single-parent households? Who knows when it started or in how many other locales it’s also practiced. This has been a custom of row houses, connected to each other – blue-collar communities, in fact – and not of detached suburban housing. And that makes the foremost difference.

These poems consider what women do and preserve – though not always exclusively. Yes, I’ve known women who bale hay or decipher monastic manuscripts, and I’ll also admit men can know nothing of bearing children or nursing. Yet, somehow, many women seem most at home around the kitchen, even if it’s nothing more than a teacup or a picnic. Even her garden, should she be so inclined, seems to extend from that table or the alchemy of her oven. And that goes for flowers, as well as vegetables and berries. (Remember, though: not all mothers and daughters can stand to be in the same kitchen at the same time, though they both be masterful cooks.)

Looking back on Baltimore, I remember my next-door neighbor, each morning in season watering the black locusts between our houses and the street. Maybe she did her stoop, as well. But the trees, which seemed to have always been there, were beautiful and timeless, as if spreading their own table.

Returning 1

~*~

For the poems, click here.

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A FLICK OF THE LEO MANE

Just a taste of what’s popping up. In case you were looking for a prompt.

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  1. This shift in my wilderness destinations, from mountains to ocean. When did that happen?
  2. The ripening of peaches spurs trips to our favorite pick-your-own orchard a half-hour to our north. More trips will follow for apples.
  3. Maybe I really am an “advocate of living-up-the-world-in-your-own-village,” as one comment chimed.
  4. I do like the concept of transitioning, rather than progressing, with all of its assumptions.
  5. Overheard at Walden Pond: “No, they won’t even get in a car anymore. They ride their bikes everywhere.”
  6. The Wiggly Bridge for hikers beside the York River. One way to get over high tide.
  7. Home Depot workers call their pesticide section the Wall of Death.
  8. So many field notes from spiritual aspiration and practice springing from a muse of fire. The one that’s sometimes scorched me.
  9. My life as a failure. There’s no autobiographical novel to be written on my last 30 years.
  10. A bumper sticker I’d like to create: I’D RATHER BE READING.

~*~

Downtown venting, here In Dover.
Downtown venting, here In Dover.

 

WAY BEHIND IN THE YARD AND HOUSEWORK

In the cardio aftermath, I was generally laying low, apart from my immersion in some serious revisions of my previously published novels.

And then? I looked at the window and saw an outburst of green – on the trees, especially. I had a sharp sense of having lost a big chunk of time.

We had some hard storms this winter, and some major branches came down from our trees. We were lucky they missed hitting roofs, cars, or outdoor furniture.

Still, it’s meant a lot of cleanup, and there’s more work to be done with a chainsaw.

The gardens, too, are behind schedule. I never got to the beach to collect seaweed, back before the seasonal out-of-town parking ban kicked in. Hauling those buckets and extracting the collected bags from the car trunk takes exertion, beyond what’s considered safe during recovery. I mean, I’d hate to take a nitroglycerin pill at the beach while working alone.

Nor did I get to some interior painting and picture-framing, as planned this winter. Some? There’s a lot.

We are watching some big changes downtown, especially where the city is carving away a hillside to extend our riverfront park and open space for new housing as well as open direct access to a hilltop park above, which is also being expanded and developed. This development, which crept up on me while I was recovering and not heading down that way to the indoor pool, will greatly enhance the central focus of the city.

Downtown is also undergoing the razing of an old retail block to make room for a five-story retail and worker housing structure. It will also eliminate what’s been an annoying traffic obstruction.

Glad I’m back in action. Wonder what else I’ve been missing.

Me at the compost bin at the far corner of our lot. Every year I empty the finished compost, which gets worked into the garden beds, and reload it with more leaves and the like to start over. Producing a full bin of compost takes at least five times that volume of raw material.

BIG DIETARY CHANGES, OH, BOY …

Yeah, it seems everyone these days is on some kind of restricted diet. Just try throwing a party or inviting others over for dinner, you soon learn all about it.

My cardio incident has had me essentially eliminating eggs, butter, and cheese from what I eat – three glorious mainstays that now get in only as gingerly applied additives or, for the cheese, in low-fat and fat-free versions. And it’s red meat no more than once a week. Look up the Healthy Heart stuff if you want. I’m trying to be stricter than that, at least for a while.

Simply reading the labels on most prepared products is a horror story. Do you know how many bad fats show up in cookies or doughnuts or, oh my, just about everything snack like? And forget fast food along the highway. No, I’m not stopping at McDonald’s for a salad and having to inhale all that lovely fry-vat grease in the air. At least around the corner there’s sushi. Or a bagel with jam or jelly, no cream cheese, though lox might pass the test. You get the point.

My cholesterol levels weren’t bad before, but since the stent went in, my medical professionals want them even lower. Well, I pushed the profile down sharply in five or six weeks. It can be done.

I’m considering this as perpetual Lent of a Greek Orthodox sort, with a few tradeoffs like red wine thrown in. OK, mine’s not really that strict – I’m not vegan – but I am applying many of the lessons we gleaned from observing a strict Advent back in ’16.

Among the negative tradeoffs is caffeine, which my primary care physician wants cut down to a cup a day, max. I’m there now but do miss the second big mug (café au lait style, heavily laced with one-percent milk and sugar) as well as the midafternoon pickup. A substitute instant brew found at the natural foods store is surprisingly satisfying, apart from its lack of kick. The lingering question is do I shift to decaf, which strikes me like cheating but cuts out the caffeine? Any suggestions?

Well, the caffeine reduction is essential if I’m to address another issue. Will spare you the details, for now. Maybe forever.

At least the garden’s kicking in. A sorrel sauce on the asparagus almost has me forgetting mayonnaise, melted butter, or a runny egg or two atop the spears. Do I cheat with the fresh whipped cream when the strawberries hit in a few weeks? I’m already planning on that low-fat mayo when the tomatoes finally flood us in August – you don’t need the bacon to create a great sandwich, especially if you use basil instead of lettuce.

I hate to sound grumpy. This getting older does have its downsides, doesn’t it?

BRACING FOR THE NEW YEAR

Much happened in my life in the past year that I haven’t mentioned in the blog. My attention was largely focused on the new novel, which underwent three major revisions, completely changing its focus from, first, what Cassia discovered about her hippie father to, second, what she discovered about her Greek-American family through his photos to, third, finally the way she emerged from the emotional loss and grew stronger and wiser as a consequence. Now that What’s Left (the third title, by the way) is finally released as an ebook (Cheers!), you can tell me if it was worth three years of angst, fasting, and flagellation on my part.

One personal accomplishment was my reading the Bible straight-through at the beginning of the year. I started with Everett Fox’s extraordinary translation of the Five Books of Moses and ended with David Bauscher’s translation of the New Testament from Aramaic, while covering most of what’s in-between in the New Jerusalem version. Wanted to hear it all afresh. My notes from the experience will probably fuel an upcoming series, likely at my As Light Is Sown blog.

Also on the religious front, I attended the entire Holy Week (what they regard as Passover) services in the Greek Orthodox tradition. Outwardly, it’s about as far as you can get from my quietist Quaker aesthetic, but again, it was a powerful way of hearing the story afresh. With the shortest service running about an hour-and-a-half and the longest well beyond that, the closest comparison I could come up with would be Bach’s St. Matthew Passion (nightly) or Wagner’s Ring Cycle, which runs shorter in time and isn’t repeated the next morning. It was a miracle the priest and psalmists had any voice left by Easter. And the final services border on chaotic, wax-dripping celebration. Well, that’s the short take. My one regret is that I’ll never again be able to experience this for the first time.

In late spring, I felt called to assist our neighboring Indonesian immigrant community as a number of Christian refugees face deportation to a land where they fear profound religious persecution. As many of us have found, accompanying them to monthly immigration appointments an hour from home has been a life-changing experience. The vigil outside the federal building has been the biggest ecumenical gathering in the state, with clergy and laity blending together. I’m getting teary simply typing this. A last-minute federal court stay has us hopeful, but nothing’s certain as we await the final rulings. I am so proud that my Quaker Meeting has stepped up to this challenge, supported by at least a dozen other congregations in our corner of the state. Whatever action we take, we cannot do alone, but we feel God’s Spirit leading.

At home, our garden flourished, especially with an unprecedented fall in which the first frost didn’t strike until November 8 — a full month later than normal. We still had our own tomatoes up to New Year’s Day.

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MAY WE GROW OLD GRACEFULLY

Just a taste of what’s popping up. In case you were looking for a prompt.

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  1. Somehow as a Subway Hitchhiker (at least in my imagination and dreaming) I’ve settled in a small city in a cluster of small cities amid moose and deer and the occasional black bear. As well as the eagle, overhead. Here, with my city farm, as we garden.
  2. Always the Outsider – even when I’m the Leader.
  3. This slow process of learning to trust each other again.
  4. Yet some Wants are also Needs! (To be loved, accepted – even as a writer – even successful or victorious in some manner.)
  5. My Wall is an aspect of Control. (Even if it’s so classic it’s trite.)
  6. Sometimes it seems we don’t play. We don’t play enough.
  7. The pathway is not straight but strait. Not even like a tightrope. No wonder I’m so often off-kilter.
  8. In the beginning was the Plan and the Plan was (as I paraphrase the gospel of John). Yes, simply was. And all we have to do is step into it! As if it could really be that simple.
  9. This is hardly a Literary Life. How different my work would be had I led another existence. Something with more time for serious reading, teaching, refined social circles. Rather than laboring out in the field.
  10. So comforting, this thick terrycloth bathrobe that reaches to my ankles – not a given, at all, when you’re tall. Nice way to round out the year.

~*~

Set for winter. We burn about three cords of firewood to help heat the house each year.
Set for winter. We burn about three cords of firewood to help heat the house each year. As they used to say, “Half your hay by Groundhog Hog,” meaning the amount you’d need left to get through a full winter. It applied to firewood, too.

ANY NUMBER OF WAYS

he could die now flattened by wheels electrocuted, biting a live wire poisoned or simple disease or drown all the complications, amassed *   *   * somewhere, in the limbs what had riled him so early? Blue Jay squawking could be confused for squirrels (What was the opera, anyway? Certainly not Cinderella with her matching fur […]