Wednesday, July 25, 2012


One book I have to reread every summer is All the Places to Love, a lovely, lovely picture book by Patricia MacLachlan.

How is it that when we come to Massachusetts I fall more in love with my husband.  His face changes, my face changes, we are calmer, we are more patient, we are happier, all because of a place.

His family has lived here for generations.  His grandfather was known in town as Doc.  His grandmother was the school nurse.  He grew up climbing this mountain and swimming in the lake and now our kids are doing the same.  I can hear their voices echoing across the lake form the top of the mountain.  It is the most beautiful sound in the world. 

If I were a designer I could have a grand time redesigning all the rooms and window treatments and furniture and floors.  But this house, "the camp," has gone untouched for 50 years and it will be awhile before it is ever redesigned.  Yet each little thing is precious.  A picture of a cousin, circa 1970, that has been on the fireplace mantle since then.  A jar of oatmeal that seems to never run out.  The recipes his grandmother taped to the back of the upper cupboards.  The clock that works but is never turned on because I, we, don't need or want to know that the minutes are ticking by and our time here is short enough.  (Also, it makes a very old, loud noise!)  Even thought there is a large living room with an old brick fireplace built by Grandfather himself, we spend most all of our time on the porch with the daybed and bookshelf and table and chairs and the antique rocker, up close and personal.  It isn't much but the view is breath-taking and when we aren't looking at each other, telling stories, we are looking at the lake and the trees and the birds and the fish and the beavers, not the floor or the chair or the window treatments.
All the Places to Love are here and all the places to be loved too. 

The kids are almost done their hike up the mountain.  The made it down and we can see them on the other side of the lake now.  We are helling as loud as we can and are waiting for their answer.  We are signaling each other with a white t-shirt and a tall stick - that's how far away they are.  Yet somehow they feel closer.  That's just the way it is in this magical, mystical, sacred place.  As if we own this piece of the world at least for a couple of days.  We love this place and it loves us back. 

We yell one more time - but really all we hear are the final exaggerated "eeeeee"s at the end  - "Charlieeeee,"  "Annieeeee", back and forth like rocks skipping in the water.  It is the most beautiful sound in the world.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Kids and Christmas in July

It's almost July 25.  Okay.  Back to life.  Back to being Mommy, or Mom, as they now say.  I have four kids who are easily bored, or rather easily sucked into TV Land/Kindle/iTouch - the Matrix!  But I have a plan for combatting the lazy, hazy days of summer.  The Dog Days. 
Dog Days were popularly believed to be an evil time "the Sea boiled, the Wine turned sour, Dogs grew mad, and all other creatures became languid; causing to man, among other diseases, burning fevers, hysterics, and phrensies." according to Brady’s Clavis Calendaria, 1813.[1] - wikipedia
We'll see if it works. 

1.  Keep a tight schedule.  This is a copy of our schedule.  You have to come up with one that works for you.  I don't really think anything on it matters that much.  I don't think the time slots matter, the activities, the downtime/active time ratio - none of it matters.  It is merely the fact that the kids have something to reference to see what they might be doing.  I haven't heard one "I'm bored!"  since I hung it up, which was last week.  I put it on the inside of the cabinet while cleaning on Saturday and Annie came to me frantically saying, "Where did the schedule go?"  so it's back front and center on the fridge.  (It is literally front and center because it is the first thing you see when you come in the front door.  Neighbors must think I'm some kind of cruel dictator.)  For some reason it is empowering them to be able to choose what to do, but at the same time to have some parameters.  Let me know if it works for your kids.  I told them we could make a list of things they wanted to do, too...

2.  Oldies are goodies.  I am collecting old toys from around the house, we're talking blocks and Thomas trains, and putting them out for easy access.  I am not kidding - this works.  Summer is a time to rekindle our love affair with the vintage toys that remind us of childhood days when nothing was going on.  (I'd show pictures, but I'd mortify my kids!)

3.  Plan a few surprises.  Back to the 12 days thing.  I am also finding their old project kits, activity and sticker books, games, including an old croquet set we bought two summers ago, and I am putting them in gift bags to open each day.  We haven't done it today yet, but I'll let you know. 

4.  Record your days.  A few summers ago we kept an alphabet list on the chalkboard to fill in as we went.  A-Z - and we filled it all in.  This summer I am planning on taking staged pictures that go with a theme.  A few years ago I did this in my school where I asked everyone, students and teachers, to take a picture of themselves reading in their favorite spot and to share it in September.  We made a hallway display that showed people reading in the coolest places.  I'm not sure if my kids will be up for that, but I'll suggest it.  Maybe they'll want to take pictures of themselves riding or swimming or up in a tree.  Pictures in motion would be cool too.

5.  Write.  I really want the kids to have a journal of what they did this summer.  At dinner we are sharing three word sentences (sometimes 6) of what our days are like.  It came from GMA's Your Three Words, and another friend of mine who taught me 6 word memoirs.  (The youtube video here is really for adults, but there are other versions out there.) It is so much fun!  Try it out!

And, in the interest of full disclosure, lest you think I have it all together or am super-organized and all that, this is what I should've been doing all morning...

Have a Summer Day!

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Footprint Friends

"We know how the story ends, What we don't know is what happened along the way." - The Map of Love
I know how my brother's story started out and was there along the way for most all of it.  I was there when his story ended too.  I saw it.  But through the course of the last few weeks, I have learned more about him from his friends than I ever knew.  Some stories I'm sure he'd never have shared and he'd probably be mortified that I know.  Yet knowing them makes our grief a little less and makes us feel closer to him. 
One of his friends can do a perfect imitation of his voice, something our family might never bother to learn but that made me laugh on the day of the funeral.  There is a sign hanging over the bar where he tended, which reads, "Dude, you've been waving me over for ten minutes for drinks and now you don't even know what you want... that means this beautiful girl here has to wait even longer for a drink... at least buy her one!"  That I can hear him saying.  Last weekend his friends got together and held a Surfer's Memorial.  It's one more thing I didn't know about him, just how good a surfer he was.     I want to thank those friends who celebrated him last Sunday.  Some things surprise me about him, but each one is part of the whole that was my brother, and allows me to color in the picture of what happened along the way.
I'm sure you've all heard the saying about some people coming into our lives and we are never, ever the same.  These friends leave footprints on our hearts.  Footprint Friends, his and ours, are helping us all to heal.  I think our friends are Stage Five in Life.  So, so important.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Stage Four - PFM

My brother (another brother) flies in the Navy.   He has been through years of schooling and has become a flight instructor.  He teaches new pilots how to fly, but at a certain point there is just too much information to learn, so when the newbies ask questions beyond the realm of knowledge they need to know at the moment, the response they get is, "The unofficial Navy explanation for why planes fly is PFM, or Pure Fucking Magic."   Funny, huh?  Magic. 

There is a lot of PFM in our world right now. Pure Fucking Magic. I know no other way to explain it. Symbols of my brother are all around us. A frog flag hanging on the way from the cemetery that reminded us all he was okay, a surfer magazine cover that reads, "All Good Kids Go To Heaven" that arrived in the mail the day after he died.  An ocean perfect for surfing. Sky lanterns that transcended over the ocean in front of our house on vacation. His name everywhere I look. A's, his initial, that formed around starfish when I was trying to make a new wreath.  Heart shaped rocks that littered the beach.  And countless other symbols that my mother has come to rely on, all of us have come to rely on, to show that he is still around, is still with us. They are helping us  go on.

There is a book that I read years ago, "The Year of Magical Thinking," in which the author talks about life without her husband after he died. I can't remember much else about it right now, but I might pick it up again. I assume that her life that horrible, dreadful year is surrounded by magic. By belief, by spirits, by the idea of heaven.  I know that that is one way that I will keep going. The fourth Stage in Life - Belief in Magic.

I had an argument with a friend a few years ago about garden fairies, the little gardens in which someone sneaks out at night and sprinkles glitter all over the newly toiled soil and newly planted flowers.  I thought it was too fake.  I spoke with my aunt about it and she was enlightening.  She said that we teach children to suspend their sense of reality when we create fictional worlds (she wasn't in for the glitter though!).  We teach them to believe that the realm of possibility is greater than just what we see in front of us.   We teach them to believe in fantasy - If we don't they will never "get lost in a good book."  They will never sense the pain of the characters, poor Lucy in The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, deceived by her brother because someone might think he was crazy.  We will never empathize with Harry.  We will never understand what Hagrid means to Harry or the joy that the children felt when Misty becomes theirs.  (I know I read this somewhere but I don't remember just where.)  If we don't allow for magic, we can never be good readers! 

Some families don't believe in Santa Claus, or fairies, or church, or God. Some people don't believe in Heaven or a soul or the spirit.  There is no magic.  I'm glad my family believes.  I have to believe. There is no textbook that lists the facts about Heaven, or none that will satisfy the unbelievers, but hey, if the Navy can use it, I think I can use it. There is Pure Fucking Magic out there and I believe that my brother lives on.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Loved Ones and Lucky Ones

I am hunting through the bag of trail mix to see if there are anymore salt-coated raisins that I love.  Someone has already gone through and taken all the m and m candies.  (Matthew!!!) I also look carefully for almonds, though there are thousands of other nuts in here too.  But really I'm looking for my Loved Ones.

Loved Ones are all that matter to me right now.  The only faces I am longing to see are my family's.  I know this sounds infantile, but I'm going through those LifeStages again and it is what it is.  I know I will see my husband tonight when he comes home, and I love seeing my kid's faces throughout the day, but I need to see my mother's face now to know that she is well, that she is still here, and I need my brother's voice to tell me that it is going to be okay, that I am going to be okay.  They are like the m and m candies and I am shaking the bag trying to find them in there.  

I once read that Anna Quindlen said that no one really grows up until they lose their mother. I have often wondered about this.   People also say (this is from some article or another on How To Behave on an Interview) that if you clasp your hands together, it represents holding your mother's hand, and means you are not very secure in yourself.   I am one of the Lucky Ones who still has my mother.  I am lucky also to have other siblings who keep me feeling part of a family.  They keep me knowing that our childhood really happened because it seems like a part of it just disappeared. 

Dunbar's number is a number describing the maximum number of human relationships our brains can effectively manage.  It tops off at about 150.  Companies have used this number to determine factory size and location.   Malcolm Gladwell also applies the same theory in The Tipping Point that the maximum number of intimate, or inner circle, relationships you can really have in life is around 12.   He says there are only about 10-12 people whose deaths would really affect you.   Those 12 m-and-m's out of 150 nuts, (who I love too!) but I need an m and m.   I feel like someone has eaten the m and m's and I am surrounded by nuts, literally and figuratively, who don't really matter right now.  I just want my Loved Ones. 

The bond of a Nurturing Family is the third thing that is keeping me going right now.  One of my previous bosses once said, "You can never be nurtured enough, you can never be nurtured enough, you can never be nurtured enough."  And she said it three times, just like that.  It is so true, and truer now than ever Before.  I suppose this should have come first in my Stages of Life that I've been trying to describe.  Really it did come first.  All our extended family, too, who held us during the First Few Days and the Funeral and the immediate After.   Thank you for holding us.   I just was so blinded that I could hardly see them.  Like a newborn who can't quite distinguish colors yet, I saw them only in black and white.  But I know they were there.  Nurturing Family, the Loved Ones, make all the difference in the world.

No matter how long it takes to find that m and m in the bottom of the bag, when you see one, you feel better and none of the other nuts matter. 

Friday, July 6, 2012

Sustaining Rituals

A few weeks ago, I took Annie for a bike ride with my camera along the route that I usually run.  It was less like a bike ride and more like a photo shoot.  Every couple blocks I would say, "Oh I need that picture..." and we would slow down and I would try to get a shot.   I finally got out for a run yesterday.  A good one.  I did not want to go.  I wanted to go back to bed.  But there is something about the rituals of life that keep us going.  If we didn't have them, we wouldn't know what to do in times of crisis.  So I swung my legs out of bed, laced on my running shoes, and started out the door.  I still didn't feel like running.  Someone told me not to run and cry at the same time.  It isn't good for you.  I wasn't sure I could do it.  I started with a walk, then a short run, and before I knew it, I was running past the old familiar houses that are part of my running ritual.  The streets whose ruts I know, the trees that shade me from the sun.  The ritual of running itself took over and I found peace.  I did not cry. 

These are all homes in Historic Haddonfield.   I use Historic not because it sounds so very proper and all, but because through history we learn about people and what has gone before.  I wonder about the people who lived here before us.  The lives that unfolded there and the stories they told.   These people dealt with death too.  And war and sickness.  One of the houses I pass belonged to my great-grandmother years ago.  I wonder about her and her home.  I wonder about how she coped with the same human feelings and emotions, children and family, care of a home, care of herself.  I picture her opening a window, making a bed, having a glass of water, tending a garden.  The rituals of life that don't change.  They keep us going. 
We made it through the first holiday without my brother.  Fourth of July.  Fireworks, parades, flags, barbeque, swimming, God Bless America.  It was hard.  Harder than I thought.   But the ritual kept us going.  Another burger.  A roasted marshmallow.   A piece of watermelon.  Comfort food and comfort times. 
I know there are stages to accepting a loved one's death.  I read Elizabeth Kubler-Ross back in high school.  Sometimes I wonder if I think, "It's okay," am I in Denial, or have I gone right to Acceptance?  I don't know.  I think I'm going through the stages of Life again.  Comfort is first stage, the kind you find in a nursery, soft food and Soft Socks.  Sustaining Rituals would be second, teaching and passing on our simple activities that make up our days.    The ritual of keeping house, making dinner, caring for the kids, working, even writing is becoming a ritual for me.  So I go for a run, I put on the coffee, I take a shower with the sweet-smelling shampoo my husband buys - it's a good ritual.  I run the dryer, the dishwasher, the vacuum.  I have no idea what comes next. I don't even know if these rituals really work for the long term. I only know that I am holding on to them now and they are enough.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

The Art of Water

You never know where you'll be when you get that phone call.  The one phone call that changes everything.  The report from the doctor, the news about your friend, the passing of a loved one.  I will never forget that phone call and where I was.  I was at my kids' Art and Music Festival and had just listened to a tear-jerking rendition of All I Ask Of You from Phantom of the Opera.  It was sung by two fifth graders, and let's just say I can't wait to see what they do in high school!  We walked down the corridor and were enjoying this art display called "Tapped."  I remember thinking that I would show the pictures to my brother, who loved water in all it's forms, salty, snowy, frozen, especially when frozen ice chips were all he could stomach and all he was allowed.  The salty and snowy had more to do with his passion for adventure, snowboarding and surfing.  Regardless, I knew he would appreciate this display.  I never got to share with him.  I got the phone call.  So I want to share the pictures I had been taking here for two reasons: one, because it is so powerful, and two, because whatever we do with art and creating in our own homes, it probably won't have the impact it does here.  Amazing.

Those are all bottle lids strung together. 

Plastic bags gag.

But I am trying to make a small impact at home.  So here is something I found that I wanted to share.  After a little research on the internet I found these wonderful Tap Fountains, from a company called Dream Farm.  They are these cool little stick-on fountains that turn your tap faucet into a cupless, bottle-less water fountain.  The price is under $5 too!  They came all the way from Australia... now that's kind of cool, but also not very earth-responsible. 

They are my answer to the countless numbers of water bottles that are clogging our earth.  My kids love them.   They fit right on the faucet, (size and shape do matter, but as you can see they fit this style), and they feel so much better and will do for a couple sips or a long drink.  We don't need to buy into the myth that we have to drink all these gallons of water each day.  If we drink when we are thirsty that is enough.  There was a report I heard about this on an NPR report on Sports Nutrition, by Gretchen Reynolds.   (As a side note, kids should not be prevented from getting a drink of water in school. It helps our brain function.  I don't think anyone can argue with that.)

Water does sustain us.  It keeps us going.   And the rituals we have associated with it.  I love watering the flowers.  I even like doing the dishes sometimes.   Making tea.  Making coffee.  Ice cubes.  Baptism.  The ocean.  A cool pool.  A hot shower.  Running through every sprinkler on a run.  Cleaning. Cleansing.  Inside and out.  Every drop of water is precious, nourishing to mind, body, and spirit. 

Monday, July 2, 2012

Soft Socks for Moms

The calendar has changed to July.  But I am living in days of Before and After.  Before and After my brother died.  Really I am living in During and, as everyone knows, the during phase of construction is always the worst.  Everything is all over the place.  Nothing feels settled.  I can't find anything where I thought I placed it.  Someone has come and moved everything around.  Nothing works.  Or at least nothing works the way it's supposed to.  June was definitely During.  I know somewhere in there my daughter graduated from elementary school and my son's baseball team won the championship.  We celebrated with friends in a rare night out at a restaurant on the deck.  We all went to a Phillies game.  These things kept me going.  We went to the shore and drank margaritas and ate clams and went on the log flume.   These things kept me smiling.
But now that is over.  I am done with talking, listening, crying, hugging and being held.  I don't feel like running today. I can't do it anymore.  Now I need to reconstruct my view of the world, get a new perspective that allows room for memories of him, if not for him.  
A few months ago I wrote about What Matters, where I tried to describe why little things make a difference when we are in some kind of pain or feeling down.  I tried to talk about why I want my son to have clean socks when he feels that it just doesn't matter.  I tried to say that little things do matter and lift us up and comfort us when we need them.  Now I need them.  I need soft socks.  Flip-flops will do. 
Actually the only comfort I want right now is food.  And the only food I want right now is peanut butter and jelly, and I like mine on toast, with a pickle or relish - salty, crunchy, sour-y, sweet-y all in one.  Ironically, I am not a peanut butter-and-jelly-eater, or at least I wasn't Before.   But now that is enough for me.  Nothing fancy, nothing gourmet.  Just back to basics comfort food.  Maybe I'm just hungry.  I think I could eat it every meal from now on.  My mother thrives on chocolate cake.  That is her comfort.
The cream on top would have to be chocolate milk.  To mix things up a little I made some for the kids today in a bar shaker.  Chocolate, ice, a few drops of vanilla, a little cinnamon sugar, and milk.  When you shake, it gets all frothy cold and bubbly.  Delicious.  Comfort.
The other comfort comes in being outside.  Breeze.  Sun.  Clouds. Sky.  Nothing to do.  Maybe some windchimes would be nice. 
Water.  Just from a hose is enough.  Drink it straight.  Water the flowers.  Hear the splash-spray of it.  Soothing.
Kids.  They are definitely some kind of comfort.  Making us laugh out loud when we least expect it.
What are some other soft socks for moms?    Cold dinners when we don't have to cook.  Paper plates.  A month of bathing suits only and no laundry.  A glass of wine.  Someone putting the seat down or washing the last dish that appears in the sink at night.  An uninterrupted chapter of a good book.  A friend calling just to check in.  Maybe a good haircut.  And of course, our homes.  My home is clean today.  I spent all morning touching things up and dusting and putting away.  It feels good.  I had a plan Before, a list of things to accomplish this summer and honestly, I can't remember one.  Something about the coffee table in the family room, but what color was I going to stain it?  I will get back to normal, or at least to After, for now we are just going on as is.  Struggling with the re-construction phase and washing our socks and eating peanut butter and jelly.