Uncategorized

Up For Air

True winter temps (below freezing, but not below 0º) coincided with a lingering respiratory infection over the past week. Thankfully, both seem to have subsided for now, making me feel as if my head has breached the surface of a very deep pond. I can breathe again, and I have the energy to attack things that I haven’t gotten to in several days.

Today that means a series of phone calls I have been putting off for too long; pursuing car repairs, medication, and a misplaced peacoat at the dry cleaner’s. The medication call takes a half an hour, while I start to make my request, they take my details, and then I get transferred to the “correct department” where I repeat my information EVERY SINGLE MONTH. No one can give me a direct line so I can save time and not have to repeat myself. For this foolishness, I am charged $250 a month for the generic version of my medication. No wonder I put it off for as long as possible.

I would like to see some study done of the toll on patients of having to deal with insurance companies, and its effect on patient outcomes. It has to be significant.

Both boys are back at school, so my days are once again full of driving. T is scheduled to get his license next month, so some of this may fall to him once he’s legal. We’ve discovered that the car he takes he test in must have a hand brake accessible from the passenger seat. Neither of our cars do, which means we’ll be renting a car for this purpose. More money out the window.

As I write this, there is a pack of coyotes howling and yipping nearby. It is their mating season and they are out early, the sun having set not long ago. The proceedings have all the feel of a Beltane fire, and it would not surprise me to look out the window to see canine figures dancing against flames in the woods.

Coyote: Photo by Alan Emery on Unsplash

The coyotes are frequent enough visitors to the area that the dog doesn’t bother barking back at them anymore when he is in the house. His body language is alert, but he only listens now. If he sees them, it’s a different story. He encountered one a week or so ago in broad daylight. Both creatures stood their ground several yards away from each other, the dog barking in warning (to us, or the coyote? Hard to tell). I couldn’t see the coyote, but I knew something was up when the dog refused to be distracted by the shaking of the snack bag. I sent my son out with the leash. He secured the dog and chased the coyote away.

Uncategorized · What I'm Reading

Sunday Reads 11.24.19

There’s nothing like hanging out on the couch on a Sunday morning reading a book or the Sunday paper with your coffee or tea. What I’d like to do with this occasional series is showcase some of the books I have read and enjoyed. Some will be current, and others with be old favorites of mine that might deserve a new audience.

I’m no book critic or professional reviewer, and that’s not my intention here. I’m merely sharing titles that struck me and hoping that you enjoy them as I did.

This week, I’m sharing a book I first read in my twenties. Composing a Life is a study of the improvisations of women’s lives and the shifting of experience to accommodate childrearing, career, or creativity. Using her own story and those of some of her friends, Mary Catherine Bateson, an anthropologist, looks at how women adapt to different stages and roles.

I relate to this book more and more now that I’m older and have seen more of these phases as a woman trying to balance childrearing, a career, a ridiculous commute and trying to find time to write for myself. Now that I am in my 50s and looking back on what I was doing in my 20s, 30s, and 40s, I can see places where I had to adapt, particularly around parenting when there were a lot of expectations and not a lot of answers.

Some of both partnering and parenting has evolved since this book was written, but women still carry an outsized share of the physical and emotional burden. As much as it might not seem so when we are in the throes of it, parenting is just a few chapters in the long book of most of our lives. Now that I am approaching the end of my active parenting years, I am already thinking about the next stage, the next step, the next improvisation.

Other things that caught my eye this week:

I have a couple of projects that I am researching. The first is a story that takes place during WWII. I was trying to find out more about Lyons, France at that time and discovered traboules. I can do something with these for sure.

Another thing I am looking into is a possible family connection to rum-running in Connecticut during Prohibition. It’s gotten into the family lore, and it’s certainly possible, but my mother vehemently denies it. This is a story of rum-running in the area. It’s given me a good starting point.

Uncategorized

We Need a Little Christmas?

Husband is kind of creeped out by toy soldiers / nutcrackers.

I had a little time between pick ups this afternoon, so I ducked in to a Home Goods near campus while I waited for T. This is always dangerous. In fact we have a brand new Home Goods much closer that opened last month and I’ve been avoiding it since I don’t want to spend more money right now.

Of course, they are all set up for Christmas. Yes, they had a few tables that still had Thanksgiving related merchandise, but most of rest of the halls were fully decked (seriously, you know how hard it is to get past another person’s cart in an aisle because that place is so stuff with stuff?). It made me think about how often recently I’ve seen people complaining about others decorating for Christmas already when we haven’t had Thanksgiving yet.

Yet, wandering around amid the festive tchotchkes, the trees painted with faux snow, and the holiday dishes and linens, I didn’t feel annoyed or rushed, I felt happy. Now, I’m not going to be one of those super-early decorators, but I am on their side. These are dark times, and for those of us who are uplifted by whatever the season means to them, bringing out the spirit early offers a little reprieve. There’s a feeling of nesting that goes along with that, and the revisiting of family traditions with ornaments that may have an origin story.

I didn’t buy much this afternoon. I really don’t have room for any more decorations. By the way, it always amazes me that the smallest houses seem to have the most lawn ornaments for any holiday – where do they put them when they are not on display? I bought a new tablecloth and napkins, a gesture of hope that we’ll be having more family dinners this winter. I sort of want to dig out the Christmas dishes, but I probably won’t.

Tell them, Lady Mary

Last year I was part of a discussion with some women about when the Christmas / holiday decorations come down. Several took everything down the day after Christmas, others waited until after the New Year or the 12th Day of Christmas (Epiphany). In my house the tree comes down the weekend after Epiphany, the lights outside will come down slowly through the winter. Several years ago a local wrote to the paper asking people in the area to leave their holiday lights out through February so that there would be light through the dark hours of winter. As someone for whom the first three months of the year feel interminable, I signed on right away.

Uncategorized

You Can’t Go Home Again, But You Can Visit on the Internet

A few weeks ago, I got a Facebook invite to a new group of people from my old hometown. Unlike similar groups I have joined in the past that were started by town historians or gentrifying newcomers, this one was started by someone who had been in my circle of friends in high school. Its membership is mostly my peers – or at least within a ten year window whether older or younger.

Senior Photo. I have no idea what happened on those dates in my sketch.

For the first week or so, as the group continued to grow, I scrolled through updates from people with whom I had once been friendly but hadn’t thought about in 25 years. It was interesting to see what people looked like now that we were all in our 50s. How many had stayed in the area? How many had moved on?

There were several threads about elementary school and middle school (I wasn’t a full-time resident there yet), various teachers; the good, the bad, the funny, and the creepy. Much reminiscing about parties I was never allowed to attend (did no one else have parental supervision in high school?). There was a whole thread about people who had passed away since high school (so many, OMG!). Some I knew about, most I didn’t.

I wasn’t contributing very much, just reading. As days went by I started to realize that I was feeling very unsettled by all this revisiting of our youth. I’m still not entirely sure why. My post-high school experience felt very different from many of the other participants, perhaps, in part, because I left.

I loved my high school experience and most of the people in it, but I’ve always said that I’m glad I’m not living where I grew up because I’m not the same person I was when I was 17. Yet, although I only lived there year-round through high school, it is more “home” to me than the place I’ve lived for the last 28 years. There’s a pull that never leaves, I guess.

I felt it last year when I went back for my uncle’s funeral. My grandparents lived in the next town and we spent a lot of time there with cousins. My uncle was the last person to be buried in the family plot that holds my grandparents and a couple of my grandfather’s brothers. After the service and some time spent with my cousins I drove around both Branford and Guilford for the first time in over a decade. For reasons that have more to do with family history, I think the sadness I was feeling was about lost opportunity.

One thing I do like about this new group is how much they support one another. 30 + years seems to have erased the clique and class differences and people are banding together to do things like raise money for a veteran’s remembrance effort and a local business owner who just underwent surgery to remove a brain tumor. If I had more cash available, I’d send some their way too.

Do you live where you grew up, or do you go back to visit?

Uncategorized

National Blog Posting Month 2019

If you are a writer, you may know November as National Novel Writing Month. Every year I see notification of this effort, and I think – – well, maybe I should try this. This year I actually have a project but I am still in the research phase.

It also happens to be National Blog Posting Month. This was an effort begun by Eden Kennedy, and revived by Asha Dornfest, both longtime bloggers and writers. The goal is to post every day for the month of November, though the “rules” are much looser than that this time around.

I’m going to participate because I need the motivation, and I may do something that I haven’t done much of before: planning. This afternoon, I’m going to sit down and list the various things I might want to write about or share.

I’m also really interested in hearing from other participants who still have blogs. I’ve been blogging off and on since 2005. I didn’t get to go to a lot of the early BlogHers so I sort of missed out on that part of the relationship building. My current contact with other bloggers of that era is now mostly from following them on Instagram. Many of them have moved on to other projects, just as BlogHer has moved on from what it once was. I miss the long form writing, the humorous episodes, the frank treatment of life’s difficult experiences.

Will, I be able to post every day? Probably not, I’m a slow writer, but I’m going to try to do as much as I can. This is going to force me to think of things to write about, and that’s not a bad thing.

Uncategorized

Sere

One of the nicer things about the cooler weather is that it gets me in the mood to cook. There’s currently a chicken and barley soup simmering on the stove. It started with a roast chicken over the weekend, from which I also made chicken broth, pot pie, and this soup.

Very high tide in the marsh behind Long Beach.

There is a half-bushel bag of apples on the counter waiting to be made into apple pies and applesauce to go with the pork roast I am planning for next weekend.

I’m still trying to see as much of the sun as possible. The light is currently filtered through the yellows and reds of the autumn leaves; those still on the trees and those spilled on the ground. It gives the deceptive impression of warmth, but requires a sweater to enjoy. A passing deer blends into the landscape and can barely be seen save for the waving of his white tail. The dog, barking for blood, alerts us to her presence. The deer looks toward the noise, but remains unbothered.

It rained and stormed this week and the wind was quite serious. For all the downed limbs and local power outages, I’m surprised there aren’t fewer bare branches. We’re into November now and with so few evergreens in the yard, it will be quite bleak by the end of the month.

My days are divided between chauffeuring the boys to their various schools, jobs, and friends and trying to write. When I can, I travel via the beach roads on the southern side of the island where the marshes meet the pavement, and there’s a good chance to spot wildlife from the car. In the summer there are often stark, white egrets or an occasional heron fishing among the grasses. In the winters you are more likely to see hawks perched on bare limbs closer to the road. This area is a winter harbor for many birds. There have been snowy owl sightings; sadly, never by me.

Even in the tight grip of winter, the marsh is a place I love. More than the sandy beach or the rocky point, it reminds me of the hardy New Englander that I always imagined myself to be. In the warmer months, it sings with the constant song of frogs, insects, and the chippering of red winged blackbirds. Colder months bring forbidding wind and frozen pools among the waving brown grasses. There is a lonely romanticism to it, as if you might expect to see the figure of a man in a pea coat and bog boots tramping through with his collar turned up and a spaniel at his side. The word that comes to mind as I pass through is “sere.” I looked it up the other day and was surprised to find that it was not a color, but a state of wither. Maybe it’s not an accident that the old Aerosmith tune begins with the sound of the winds.

Placid ducks unfazed by the wind

Family · Uncategorized · Writing Life

Changing Seasons

Summer riding off into the sunset.

We’re in it now.

P started school before Labor Day, T started last week. Since neither kid has a full driver’s license, my days are now filled with chauffeuring them to campus and to work, or at least accompanying them while they drive. This has forced me into a routine of sorts, which is not entirely a bad thing.

On Tuesdays and Thursdays, T’s two classes are back to back, meaning there’s hardly enough time to make a trip back home worth the while. On those days I will probably run errands close to campus or bring my laptop to a coffee shop nearby. I tried this last week and the place I went was much noisier than I’m used to. The area around campus is very mall-centric so I think all the coffee shops will be this way. I will have to try to find something independent, off the beaten path. I enjoy working in coffee shops. Sometimes those couple of hours can be very productive in spite of the distractions.

I’m still getting used to the writer’s life. It’s a dream I’ve had for decades and understood very little. I am trying to learn the business of being a writer as well as come up with story ideas. I’m not too worried about my prose. As I tell my husband when I’m trying to convince myself I can do this. “If I knew what I was writing, I could write it very well.” For the most part, I believe that, bolstered by feedback I’ve gotten from various places where I’ve published. Of course, the competitive part of me wants not to struggle, and not to write anything that isn’t perfect and free of critique. I want that award. I want to be able to say, “this is why I never did that Ph.D. or became a middle manager; I was meant to do this instead.

Yet, I keep half-assedly looking for, and sometimes even applying to, full time positions. Intellectually, I know that both my health and the logistics with the kids make that highly impractical, but oh, it would be so much easier than trying to slog this transition out with no guardrails. And the money would help.

In the Boston area, Wednesday, September 11 will be the last day of the year that the sun sets after 7 PM. The season is ending and autumn is on its way whether I like it or not. In a similar way, the layoff last summer, and subsequent health problems, have created a career ending situation, a change of season and a turning point of sorts, whether I like it or not. I’m choosing to see it as an opportunity, even if it doesn’t always feel like one. There are other things going into this feeling; my age, the fact that I’m almost done with my active parenting years, the way this transplant proposal feels like some kind of epic journey I have ahead of me. I don’t really want to go back to doing what I was doing. I do want the change.

Maybe I just want it to have happened already.

Community · Uncategorized · Writing Life

Customs and Costumes, My Day with Downton Abbey

“The Castle at Park Plaza”

I have worked in the Back Bay neighborhood of Boston off and on throughout my career, but I had never been in this interesting building. Now called The Castle at Park Plaza, it was originally an armory dating back to the late 1800s. On Friday, I met friends from Connecticut here to see the Downton Abbey exhibit that featured replicas from the show (the kitchen and dining rooms), character and plot recaps, and several props and costumes.

The Bell Board
I love keys like this!

One of the first things you see, once you’ve passed the welcome video of Mr. Carson, is the telegram that arrives informing Lord Grantham that his heirs have both died at sea aboard the Titanic. I was surprised that they went to such lengths with the props in that way. Then there was the famous Bell Board, and the replica kitchen with the table and the egg holders and other tools. A pot of cider or something was simmering on the stove, making it smell as if Mrs. Patmore was baking pies.

They also made up Mr. Carson’s pantry/office. Among the props were an old-time barometer, and this cabinet of keys. It reminded me of the house where I lived in Guilford; many of the doors had keys like this. Of course, once we kids got hold of them, few of them could be found, much less match to their respective doors. Such a shame. There were also servant bells set up in the house, that worked when we first got there, but were sadly disconnected at some point. The rang more like a door buzzer than the delicate bells of Downton..

There was also a replica dining room, with explanations of the various customs around hosting, entertaining, waiting upon the household and guests, and so on.

Much of the rest of the exhibit was costumes, including the various wedding dresses which I did not get pictures of, and several sets of hunting outfits including this one belonging to Mary. Of all the looks presented, this one was most my style. Over the years, I’ve had several things that looked a bit like this with different cuts and fits. Nix the tie, though.

This is my style. I was born in the wrong era.

Much of this was like wandering through a J. Peterman catalog in the early days of the company, or in the case of the hunting outfits, Banana Republic, before it was bought and sanitized by The Gap.

Dresses from Lady Edith and Lady Mary
Dresses from Lady Grantham and Lady Mary. I love the red one, but I would need some kind of wrap.

I was originally just going along “for the ride” and a chance to see friends of mine who live out of state and not near enough for me to see when I visit my mother. I really enjoyed this more than I expected to and now I find that I miss the show even though it often annoyed me with its predictability. As my friend said, “there’s some comfort in that predictability.”

There’s a Downton Abbey Movie coming out soon, and this whole experience has got me thinking about historical fiction and the writer’s ability to put themselves in another era through research. My resort project may do that, but I have to decide what era to put it in, since the real resort was visited by Mark Twain and didn’t close until the 1960s. There are several eras to choose from.

Nothing Succeeds Like Excess

Okay, back to Downton. Since I already have enough clothes that are close enough to costumes that I don’t have anywhere to wear them, I avoided buying anything in the “gift shop” they set up for the exhibit. I would have loved a hat, but I already have several, and I really can’t buy any more blank books, though I love this one with a quote from the Dowager Countess, Violet Crawley.

Community · Family · Uncategorized · Writing Life

A Memory of Geraniums

The smell of geraniums reminds me of my grandfather. He instilled a love of gardening in me and though I can’t match his work ethic when it comes to fertilizing and weeding, I have a reasonably successful vegetable garden and plenty of flower pots around the yard, including several geraniums.

They are available in many more colors now than they were in the 1970s. I remember the geraniums in my grandparents’ yard as solid red, and occasionally white, growing in a basket hung from the lamppost opposite a sign with the house’s number and a name, “Squaw Rock.” The name came from the large rock formation between the back yard and the beach and there is also another formation with the same name off the coast of a different part of town. Although Native/Indian names are common in the town and surrounding area, “Squaw” is now considered a slur and the name has vanished from the property as it stands today.

Squaw Rock in a Storm

Geraniums and salvia were part of my summers. The salvia was a treat because you could pull the red center part from the rest of the flower and suck a tiny drop of nectar from the end. These days the salvia I see at garden centers is mostly purple, and the geraniums can be peach or even a lavender.

My mother and I are not in frequent contact, but when we do talk, I have made a point about asking clarifying questions about some of the family lore. For instance, my parents both grew up in New Jersey, but stories made it sound as if my mother’s parents had grown up in Connecticut. Which is it?

My grandparents grew up in Connecticut. I believe my grandmother’s father founded the Congregational Church in their town (that’s another thing I’ll have to clarify). My grandfather worked on a farm there and the owner of the land had connections that led to a job for my grandfather on Wall Street. After the Crash, he was laid off and came back to a job at a manufacturing plant in his home town. He was bored and he hated it. He set about trying to find work back on Wall Street – during the Depression. He did find a job with a firm that sold odd lots (small orders) of stocks, moved back to New York, and eventually did quite well.

Meanwhile, my grandmother was a teacher. One summer she was taking some sort of certification classes at Yale. On the last day of the session she offered a classmate, Martha, a ride home in her Model T. Martha’s brother, my grandfather, was home for the weekend, and when he met Anne, my grandmother, he asked her on a date right then and there.

The house at 405 Stuyvesant in New Jersey

They eventually married and moved to an apartment in New York. They quickly had two sons, but when Anne was pregnant with their third child, my mother, the two of them decided that they needed more room. The story goes that my grandfather got on a train to New Jersey after work one day and rode until the train came to a stop where there were a lot of trees. He got off the train, walked around the town and picked out a house. He bought it without my grandmother ever seeing it first. They raised five children in that house through the war and beyond. They would often rent a house in the summer back in Connecticut.

As it happened, a couple of decades later, my father opened his business several blocks away on the same street in New Jersey. My mother would eventually meet him when she applied for a secretarial position there after a few years away at college.

I only have the barest details of our family history, but I have been increasingly drawn back to the towns in Connecticut where I grew up and where my grandparents had a house on the beach that is the biggest part of my summer memories. It started last winter with my uncle’s funeral, and intensified when his daughter died this past winter. I wrote about this pull earlier this year. I really can’t explain it, but a sense of place has always been important to me. Where you grow up has a huge impact on your identity, and your perspective.

I think about the books I’ve read that are based in the South, and how the climate and the culture are almost characters unto themselves. Surely, New England has some of that, in stories like Olive Kitteridge , set in Maine. But, Connecticut? What stories are there? I’m sure there are plenty, and I need to start somewhere.

Uncategorized

Renewal

In the week or so since I last posted here, the light and the temperatures have increased and I’m starting to feel a bit more whole. There have been more days when I don’t need to turn the heat up for a shower (we keep it ridiculously low throughout the winter making getting out of bed and out of the shower very uncomfortable). I got out to do some clean up the other day just to sit in the garden among the blooming hyacinths and inhale their generous fragrance.

Front Garden in Spring

I’ve actually fallen into a bit of a routine now. Reading with breakfast, a shower in late morning, errands or writing in the afternoon. The hours are still a bit off, I still wake up later than I would like and fall asleep later than I would like, but the sunlight is helping. A spectrum lamp I ordered in the Fall sits on my desk unopened. I never got out of bed or sat down to write during the winter at any hour when such a thing would be useful, but hopefully it will be there for me when the coming summer is over.

I don’t want to think about that just now. I know I mentally stretched out the existence of mild weather as much as I could last year, even as sweaters and fat socks once again became part of my wardrobe. The point was to get outside while I still could, before the cold air and the menacing wind made it difficult for me to breathe again. Any opportunity to notice the progression of Spring brings a smile to my face now. I got through the sluggishness of winter, and for that I am grateful.

Flowering trees are my favorite.

The warmer weather has made the idea of writing a story set at the beach a bit easier too. I’ve hit a snag, however, in discovering that the point of my story is not the main character’s relationship with a man in her life, past or present, but of the constant presence of the strong women she’s related to. This means that I have to build these characters out more and that the clattering of the plastic Scrabble tiles and the ticking of the banjo clock (two consistent sounds I have borrowed from my own childhood), as the aunts banter and bicker back and forth, will not be enough. They need to be fuller, more complete people, which means I’m going to have to be clearer about their experiences in life and get more specific about the times in which they came of age.

This is going to require some more research. I am very immersed in the history of WWII, but these women are more likely generationally associated with the years of the Viet Nam war, a time that I was too young to remember, and haven’t studied much, but was indeed tumultuous, and could include useful formative experiences for the aunts in my fictional family. I think I have to start outlining rather than free-forming it as I was expecting to be able to do.