• family,  house,  new york

    A Home Away From Home

    home sweet homeSelling your house is a strange business.  We’ve had our house on the market for the better part of a month now.  Another way of phrasing that is that we’ve had our home on the Internet, where strangers get to casually thumb through pictures and judge our furnishings taste.  Nearly every day, people that I don’t know have walked into my bedroom, taking a look at some of the most personal details of my life.  For the first two weeks, before we saw any offers, I have to admit that this idea of judgement was laying heavily on me.  I am not generally a very self-conscious person, but day after day of knowing that my house was not good enough for the many people that walked through it left me feeling strangely vulnerable.

    That’s emotion for you.  We’ve been going to open houses, so I know well how the psychology of a buyer goes.  We have yet to see  a house that has really excited us, for some pretty arbitrary reasons, so it’s hardly surprising that other people would feel the same about ours, is it?

    We are in a buyer’s market, as well, so I know that my strange little house, with its unique architecture and zoning, isn’t going to be for everyone.  We’re in a semi-detatched, which means that we’re one side of a duplex.  It’s like a townhouse, but not when it comes to appraisals.  And that’s going to make the next week or so really interesting.

    We’ve had a decent offer.  It should give us just enough money from the sale to find a house with most of the things that we’re looking for.  There are no guarantees, of course.  An offer is not a sale.  Our realtor is currently negotiating with the buyer to see if we can’t inch up the purchase price.  They could walk away.  Since there are no comparable sales, the appraisal could come back with a weird enough number that the buyer’s mortgage falls through.  Still, we’ve gotten hopeful enough that we’ve started the motions towards a new mortgage.  I’ve been looking at houses for sale for so long that I actually got bored of it, but now I’m trying to convince myself to start doing my research again.

    Long Island is insanely expensive, so we’ll undoubtedly have to make  compromises.  We’re not afraid of renovations, but I have to admit that there’s a part of me that is mourning the idea of leaving my renovated and finished house and starting all over with another fixer-upper.  Our home, at this point, is perfectly customized for us.  Who wants to start that over?

    I keep coming back to this image that I had as a girl of what my life would look like when I had it all figured out.  It’s just flashes — a house with a waterfront view, where waves break against a rocky cliff.  My legs, in grey leggings, underneath an oversized blue sweater.  A desk facing the window, where I would spend my days quietly writing.

    In none of those images were there other people or houses.  I longed for space in the way that only a lifetime apartment dweller can.  To have a home where you don’t hear the arguments of your neighbors, imposing on your solitude?

    What bliss.

    Now the real estate market is down, which will help us in buying, but certainly isn’t going to net us the hundreds of thousands in profit that people enjoyed during the real estate bubble.  And, even though it is a buyer’s market, I see house after house where it’s clear that the sellers still are thinking in terms of housing bubble prices.  We’re trying to be more realistic in the hopes of selling reasonably quickly, which does seem to be working.  Still, it’s depressing to look at the top of our rather generous price range and see 70s fabulous houses on tiny lots, with neighboring houses clustered all around.  That mirrored wall in the bathroom is retro, right?  Who doesn’t want to watch themselves…well…

    Obviously I will not get that wood-floored ocean-facing desk of my dreams.  I certainly won’t get that isolated house on a cliff, where I can ignore the world around me, while watching the most peaceful part of nature.  And why should I?  Wouldn’t it be selfish to hog such a view?  But I can’t help but dream of a room of my own, a space where my desk will look at something more beautiful than a basement wall.  We have to be in the New York area for now, because our careers need it.  But it won’t always be this way.  There will be a time when I can step away and find a little town where I can have my house on a hill, where I can replace my crowded train commute with a walk to the garden.

    In the meantime, we’ve just booked a quick trip to Ireland to celebrate a family wedding.  Although I really wanted to go, I initially found the idea overwhelming, because there were things to plan and sort and figure out.  Then I found an apartment in Malahide, which is a quiet suburb of Dublin that’s right on the coast.  We’ve rented it, because it is near friends that we have not spent enough time near in years.  Today I found that I could think of anything but getting to it and listening to the quiet inside it.  Our house will come and go as it will, but one thing that I can count on is that I’ll be walking along the shore in Ireland in just three weeks time.  I can’t wait.

  • ethics,  family,  introspection,  motherhood,  writing

    Happy New Year!

    blue_new_year_greeting_card_266209I spent the last day of 2015 switching between taking care of a sick baby, a sick cat and sorting through boxes of my mother’s things.  It’s not just my mother’s things — we are hoping to move in the spring, so I’ve spent the last week decluttering our basement storage so that when we show the house to potential buyers that it looks like a place where you can put things.  I’ve been going through all the stuff that we’ve forgotten that we owned, like fish tanks and snorkel fins and Halloween decorations, and trying to find new homes for them so that our house looks like a place where someone else can put their forgotten stuff.

    Ironic, isn’t it?

    The upshot is that Baba and the cat are both on the mend.  Our eighteen-year-old tabby tore out the dew claw on his hind foot on Christmas Eve, which led to him spraying blood all over our kitchen floor and being very indignant about all the antibiotics and pain medication that I’ve been force-feeding him for the last week.  He’s also been cordoned off from the back yard, which wasn’t too big of a deal until he started feeling better.  It has been Howl O’Clock ever since.  On Thursday, I strapped Baba to my chest and slung the cat carrier over my shoulder and went back to the vet for the follow-up exam.  Baba ate much of the furniture in the exam room while we waited, but the cat’s prognosis is good, even if he is still forbidden from his backyard prowling for another week.  Howl, howl, howl.

    Baba is a little slower to heal, and we’ve spent most of last few nights attending to her cough. It wasn’t exactly my plan for ringing in 2016, but it is what it is. In a sense, I can’t think of a more appropriate way to ring out 2015 than to stumble around with exhaustion after a long night of baby tending.  Here’s to more sleep in 2016.

    After a hard week’s work, I am also beginning to see an end to the basement clean-up. It is a fitting project for the end of the year — trolling through old photographs, journals and letters puts me in a deeply reflective mood. I’ve now outlived enough of my relatives to have accumulated  generations of memories, so many of the letters and photographs that I’m rediscovering aren’t even mine.  Now, I am saving them for Baba, in the hopes that some day she will care as much about our family history as I do.

    I did find my childhood diary, which has only fuelled my recent desire to take up journalling again. For a writer, the benefits are obvious.  I have journalled privately on and off through the years, but it has been off again since Baba was born.  I already struggle with finding enough time to work on fiction and this blog, and journalling was competing with that time.  Time may be a finite resource, but I find that I’ve missed the clarity that journalling gives my thoughts and emotions.

    And yet, after finding my mother’s diaries, I am not certain about leaving behind such a detailed written record for Baba to find one day. My mother died suddenly, decades before she expected to. Her journals are filled with beautiful writing, but it is clear that they were an outlet for her when she was troubled or struggling with the depression that always chased her. This isn’t the picture of her grandmother that I want to leave behind for Baba. Every time I find my mother’s journals, I can barely stand to read more then an entry or two, because I know they weren’t meant for me. I know that I should destroy them, but I also can’t seem to bring myself to do so, knowing that they might have answers to some of the questions of my early life. They provide context to my memories, which my mother might have been able to do if she had lived longer.  I was raised thousands of miles from our extended family, so I don’t have the network of shared memories from cousins and siblings and aunts and uncles and grandparents that so many people do.  I just had my mother, who died too soon.

    In this cleaning, I found a baby memory book that she wrote for me, which has satisfied my curiosity about many questions that I’ve had this year. No one remembers when I began to walk, but my mother wrote it down for me. I found when I got my first tooth, grew my head of hair, began to sit up. I’ve wanted to know this all year so that I might know what to expect with Baba’s development. And here is a book that tells me everything!  I was so excited by this that I turned around and ordered a memory book to fill in for Baba, in case she finds herself in the same position that I am in now.

    What if there are more answers, more context, in my mother’s journals and letters? I remember my mother, mostly as the grinning, silly, playful person that she was much of the time. But Baba would only know her through these very painful journal entries. That isn’t a fair picture at all. And yet, my mother kept journals from 20 years before she died. Did she want us to find them?  Could she just not stand to them go?  There are some questions I just can’t answer.

    For now, I’ve put the journals and letters back in labelled boxes and pushed them to the back of our storage area.  I tell myself that after we sell our house and move that I might pull them out and read through them, but I know that a thousand things will take a higher priority.  They are journeys into the past and it is, after all, a new year now, ripe with the excitement new stories and memories to come.

    Happy New Year!


  • amusement,  family,  motherhood

    A Very Merry Unbirthday to You, My Dear

    Cora-6-MoImpossibly, our daughter is six months old today.  This means a few things.

    1. It was exactly six months ago that I was in labor for TWENTY-FOUR hours.  This is a fact that I intend to bring up to the BaBa often, for the rest of our natural lives. Perhaps longer.  If I was going to haunt anyone, it would probably be her.

    2. It is now time to try on my pre-pregnancy clothes, in the fervid hope that some of them might actually fit.  I am trying to not build this up to a bigger event than it actually is.

    3. BaBa needs to start eating some regular baby food, which I’ve been dreading for months, despite my growing obsession with making the stuff.  It will change her poop from sweet-smelling newborn poop to, well, human poop.  Poop.

    4. This is probably the last time we’ll even notice her half birthday.

    I read somewhere that parenting is a continual process of mourning — that every day is both a celebration of the child you’re raising and a sorrow for the child she no longer is.  In six months, I’ve watched BaBa change from an inert newborn (she was never tiny) to an opinionated and joyful little person that watches the world with wide eyes and an open mouth, as though she wants to taste every bit of it.  When she’s in her carrier on my chest, her head constantly swivels from left to right so that she can see everything going on around her.  She hates to sleep, even when her body is screaming for it, because she knows the world — which needs exploring — is continuing on without her.

    I miss the sleepy three week old that was content to nap on my chest for hours — I still stare at BaBa when she does actually sleep, trying to memorize every line before the topography of her face changes again.  She fell asleep on me last night and I sat with her for fifteen minutes longer than I had to, just to try and catch these moments that I know that I won’t remember. There are days that she comes home from day care having learned a new skill and it’s like we picked up a different baby. Each time this happens, I have to get to know her all over again.


    Some Things I’ve Learned from Baba

    1. Nature is cruel.  Babies are born with an immature digestive system, which gives them a stomach ache for at least the first three months of life.

    2. When BaBa’s not happy, nobody is happy.

    3. Poop up to your nipples is only a problem if you make it one.

    4.  A bath can absolutely be the highlight of your day.

    5.  I’m unbelievably lucky to share my life with such a child.

    Happy Saturday, all.  If you hear screaming, it’s probably because I just tried on my old pants.

  • books,  dreams,  family,  introspection,  writing

    The Top Shelf

    This post was written for the Cherished Blogfest, which invites the writer to write a short post about a cherished object.  See the other participants and discover some new blogs!

    Some of my Grandmother's books.
    Some of my Grandmother’s books.

    My mother arrived outside my Queens apartment, the trunk of her aqua Hyundai Accent packed to the brim with books. But these were not ordinary books.  These were the classics, in cheap hardback covers, that my grandmother had ordered through the mail, one at a time as she could afford them. Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Steinbeck and Twain formed the bulk of the horde, with one-off novels from other authors like Dickens and Mitchell and Charlotte Bronte.   I’d stared at their gilted bindings most of my childhood, just waiting for the day when I would be able to read and truly appreciate them, instead of having to stop every paragraph or two to look up words I didn’t yet know.  (Grapes of Wrath…my twelve-year-old self is still intimidated by you.)  And now, my mother was giving them to me.

    I grew up in the kind of place where people left their stolen shopping carts on the sidewalk and radios blared staticky commercials late into the night.  The first apartment that we lived in when we moved back to the States had to be abandoned when used syringes were found at the playground and prostitutes were discovered working out of the basement storage units, a few short feet from where I did our family’s laundry.  When we moved out, our apartment was taken over by the local neighborhood watch as a command station.  Whenever I think of that place, I still imagine their intent faces peering out the same square window that once was my entire view of the world.

    The neighborhood that we moved to was better.  It was another long street of apartment complexes, but  the top of the street bled off into an estate of modest houses.  At the time, I thought the people that lived up there were rich beyond measure, because they had private walls and a yard, and I used to roam those streets for hours at a time, dreaming of what it must be like to live in such opulent wealth.  At Christmas time and Hallowe’en, I would jealously dream while I admired the beauty of their decorations.  I imagined refinement and culture behind those closed doors, then returned home to the sticky shared entrances of the apartment buildings where we lived and to the neighborhood children that responded quickly and viciously to any sign of studiousness.

    And yet, books were my favorite thing.

    I couldn’t escape my thrift-shop clothes or the skin that couldn’t fit in, but in the pages of books, I could learn to be anyone.  I studied them hungrily, looking for a the clues on how to behave to get myself to a place where I could walk down the street without the harassment of men twice my age.  My grandmother’s books seemed like the key to a future of wealth and culture, an entree into neighborhoods that were beautiful and safe. Somehow, I knew that the people that lived in those houses had all read Hemingway.

    I never found the key to the secrets that I was looking for, but all that reading paid off; I landed in a high school program that put me in the same classroom as the sons and daughters of doctors and lawyers.  It was what I had always wanted, wasn’t it?  And yet, I discovered that I didn’t feel at home there, among so much casual wealth.  While their parents took them to private lessons and bought them cars for SAT performance, I juggled an extraordinary academic load with my after-school and weekend jobs. One of my first boyfriends belonged to a family that kept horses, who I met in the same year that our cat died after falling off our 9th floor balcony. When it became obvious that my new school friends were afraid to go to my house, I avoided theirs, because I felt like I was selling out my childhood friends.

    I still feel bad about this.  Can anyone recommend someone to fix this?
    I still feel bad about this. Can anyone recommend someone to fix this?
    I no longer belonged at home or at school, and the consolation was fiction.  I tried again with my grandmother’s books, but when I broke the binding of Gone with the Wind as I neared the final pages, I became too afraid to touch any of the other books in the collection.  They were too delicate for my teenaged hands, so I waited until my mother gave them to me as an adult to try reading them again.  Now I carefully carry them in my commuter bag, cherishing them for the family history that they hold.  In a world where books are increasingly less tangible, they are a luxury, a treasure that can be touched and smelled and held.

    Published in the 50s and 60s, their typeface and binding instantly throws me back in time, to a place before cell phones and cable TV and Internet speed.  I envision my family — a well-educated and argumentative bunch — reading these books as they sprawled over couches and floors.  I imagine my mother as a young woman, inscribing her name inside the cover of each book with a blue ballpoint pen. She wrote the date — 1977.  Now that they are mine, I wonder if I should write my name too.

    Some Reviews from The Top Shelf:

    A Moveable Feast
    For Whom the Bell Tolls

  • family,  knitting,  motherhood,  new york

    A Slow Motion, A Mad Dash

    Knit, knit, knit, knit.

    This week, I finished a knitting project (the Mohair Bias Loop BY Churchmouse Yarns and Teas) that I started two weeks after Cora was born.  It is a fuzzy cowl of indeterminate length, knit on the bias, which can also double as a shawl.  It is the simplest of knitting patterns, with two rows that repeat until the desired length.  I usually go for intricate projects that bring me a lot of mental interest – either in their construction or the new techniques that I’ll have to learn to complete them, but with a baby in immediate view, I thought the simpler that I could go, the more likely I would be able to work on it.

    I didn’t even get creative with the yarn.  I admired a friend’s cowl so much that she led me to the same booth at Rhinebeck where she had bought her yarn and I picked out a color that I liked.  In the fiber world, we call this mindless knitting — the knitting your fingers do while your mind goes elsewhere.  It’s knitting as meditation, a way to free your mind to be calmed by the simple repetitive movements of your fingers as you loop and pass the yarn from one stitch to the next, from one needle to the next.  The only challenge in the pattern was the yarn itself — it takes a brave or foolhardy knitter to commit to a large project in mohair, but I was not afraid.

    If you think this bears a resemblance to a certain muppet, you wouldn’t be the first to suggest it.

    For the first time since Cora was born, I’ve taken my knitting with me on the train to work.  I was so close to the end of the cowl that I wanted to use the train time to sew the final seam.  I want to start other things because it’s taken me nearly five months to knit a single, simple project.  As I sat on the train this past week, I put in my headphones and plugged into my Audible account, picking up with listening to Patrick Rothfuss‘s The Name of the Wind, which I started listening to a very long time ago. Is there anything more relaxing than quietly creating while having someone read you a story?  Combined with the motion of the train as we whizzed through the suburbs of Queens, I rediscovered a place of tranquillity that I have missed over the last year.

    I was so relaxed, in fact, that on Thursday night I walked off the train without my cooler of breast milk — which is perhaps the most important thing that I do all day long.  Losing it would be such a disaster that I’ve occasionally dreamt about misplacing it and woken up in a panic.  It’s taken a special significance lately, as my body seems to be steadily producing less milk, despite my many efforts to encourage it to increase.  Thursday was a good day — four bottles — and the thought of losing them threw me into a panic.

    I ran.  I ran to my car and whipped out of the parking lot and down the road to catch the train.  I live two stops from the end of the line, so there was a possibility that I could catch the train before it turned around again to go back into Manhattan, but I knew I had to hurry.

    It’s amazing how long four miles can seem.  Every light that turned red against me seemed to take forever, though in reality they were not red long enough for me to unlock my phone and send a message to my Beloved to let him know why the milk cow was late. The thought of delaying Cora’s last feeding as I chased her bottles was horrible, but the thought of losing them was even worse.

    I got the cooler back.  I ran up and down the platform like a crazy thing until a kind MTA employee unlocked the closed cars and let me retrieve it.  Panting and sweating, I made it back to my car and raced home.  Parking as fast as I could, I walked around the corner to the sight of my Beloved and Cora standing in my doorway, waiting for me to come home.

    A smile broke out across my face and my anger at my carelessness was forgotten.  My family.  My home.  My everything, right there in the doorway, waiting for me, despite my mistakes.

  • family,  Uncategorized


    In the last three weeks, our lives have been taken over by the presence of a tiny new creature in our household — she.

    “Is she fed?  Dry?  Crying?  Safe?  Sleeping?”

    Our daughter is now nineteen days old, which seems both like an impossibly short and long time.  Starting with the moment that I went to the hospital to be induced, I’ve been wandering around in a surreal time lapse, which is only interrupted by doctor appointments and house visits from friends.  These scheduled moments give me something to differentiate one day from the next, to interrupt the daily routine of feeding, eating, dressing, sleeping, soothing and scrubbing and remind me that there is a world outside of the perimeter of my house.  If it weren’t for these moments, I could so easily forget.

    20150225_170844As the days have flowed into each other, my memories of labor have been receding into a series of images. IV drips in both hands that tied me to an uncomfortable bed for twenty-four hours.  Green jello and lukewarm vegetable broth, the cold feel of the epidural, the sound of my water gushing out for impossibly long moments.  The eternal minute when the baby’s heart rate dropped and my midwife called the operating room to arrange for an emergency c-section.  The stiff feel of the oxygen mask on my face, then the moment of sudden relief — as palpable as a breeze — as the machine monitoring the fetal heartbeat returned to making the right rhythm. The unbelievably hard work of pushing out a baby, as ice cubes are put in your mouth and the pain in your abdomen takes over your brain.  Then, at last, the remarkable sight of my long and slimy daughter taking her first cry, while the thick yellow tube of the umbilical cord still connected her to my undelivered placenta.  The sound of my husband being talked into cutting the line that tied us together for so long — and the feel of her warm skin on my bare chest as I carefully prodded her skull in disbelief that this was the creature that had lived so long in my body.

    No labor is easy– and mine was certainly gruelling. By the time I was allowed to leave the hospital two days later, I was desperate to go home for an uninterrupted night’s sleep in a room without a light shining in my face.  Once I got home, I spent much of the next week on the couch, healing, crying through the pain of learning to breastfeed and being taken very good care of by family that swept in from overseas to make certain that all I would have to worry about was taking care of she.

    She is a “good baby” — she sleeps for long periods and doesn’t cry much at all, though we are still mystified about what to do when she does.  I was worried about my skills as a mother, but aside from breastfeeding, it’s come more naturally than I ever would have imagined.  For the first week, I just stared and stared at her face and tiny body, marvelling at the impossibility that we created this small being.  Sometimes I still catch myself doing it, as she feeds from my body or finds sleep and solace in my arms.  I stare at tiny ears and little blue veins and think about the choices in my life that have led to this moment — and can do nothing but let the love for this creature and gratitude for my life flow in and overwhelm me.

  • family

    Breathing Out Again

    We found out this week that this babe that we’ve been expecting to arrive at the end of January is a daughter.  This is the first time I’ve written about it, anywhere really, because we have been slowly navigating the risky phases of pregnancy.  This week’s doctor visit has relieved a lot of stress, as well as given us a name for the child.  I find that this morning, I am a lot more excited about this pregnancy than I have ever been — at last, I find myself able to drop the gates that I have held up in case it all goes wrong.

    It so often does, when it comes to childbearing.

    It’s a subject that we don’t talk much about as a society.  I know more than a handful of women my age that have struggled with infertility and gone through the emotional turmoil of miscarriages.  With my particular health issues, I presumed that I would be one of them.  When I got pregnant fairly easily, I held my breath, waiting for someone to pull the rug from under my feet.  I’ve been holding it for five months, as I navigated my way through my suddenly growing body.  When I was lying on the ultrasound table, with a stranger poking and pressing me in ways that I was trying to ignore, I finally heard the words that let me let it out.

    “Textbook perfect.”

    I held my Beloved’s hand as we watched the impossibly small fist curl up in front of our daughter’s impossibly small face on the ultrasound screen. She weighs about a pound now and is all skin and bone — quite literally.  She will spend the next three months growing the fat and muscle that will sit in between her skeleton and skin.  When she is born, she will be too weak to even lift her head.  I do not know much about babies, but it is difficult to imagine how something even weaker than a kitten is going to turn into the strong and vibrant person that we will spend the rest of our lives getting to know.  I am awed that my flawed genes have managed to combine with my Beloved’s and create something so special – and yet, something so ordinary. It is the most ordinary thing in the world, but it has taken over my entire life.



    The weather has dipped this week, bringing the first days that I can pull out the sweaters, jeans and loafers that become my uniform through most of the year.  Of course, this year I must put away all of my precious hand-knit woollen sweaters for the thin acrylic blends that Old Navy sells in their maternity section.  I am trying to keep my chin up, but it’s a bigger blow to my vanity — and fiber snobbery — than I had been anticipating. All the extra blood flowing through my body to support our child has been keeping me warm, even as my joints have been swelling my shoes straight out of commission.  I find that I miss my normal wardrobe more than I should.

    Pregnancy has been challenging for me.  I weathered the first trimester with remarkable digestive ease, given the torture that some women go through with morning sickness.  I was exhausted and nauseous and never slept through the night, but the harder part was keeping silent about it.  Gratitude overwhelmed me every time that I settled my queasy stomach with the trail mix and banana chips that became my constant companions.  What I found most difficult was accepting the limitations in my physical strength without tearing my brain apart.

    I don’t usually think of myself as someone that’s athletic, but I’ve worked up to a certain level of fitness through yoga and running that I take a lot of pride in.  When the pregnancy started affecting my ability to reach, to run, to climb stairs….I took it pretty hard.  I have given up running for the rest of the pregnancy, not because I can’t run, but because my compressed lungs and slow jogs are doing my head in.  I’ve moved from the sweaty, advanced vinyasa classes to the gentle flow and prenatal yoga. I’ve discovered the real yoga lesson in all of this, which is to learn to accept what my body has to give today, without judgement.  I am not a bad person if I can’t keep to my ten minute miles.  My body is doing what it needs to in order to create a life.  Slowing down does not make me weak.

    Saying it — and accepting it — are two different things, but I’m slowly getting there.  The more that I say my daughter’s name, the more I think about her face and smile and laugh — the closer I come to understanding.  This week, now that I know her name, it’s gotten so much closer and so much more real.

    Take your time and grow, Cora.  We’re waiting for you.




  • family,  friends,  nature


    montauk_seagullJune has been sneaking away from me, the days so filled with activity that I’ve barely noticed the blooming in my garden, the hotter days and the incredibly furry cat that stares at me intently, wondering when I’ll have a heart and take her to get her fur shaved off, for the love of God.


    That would be scheduled for Wednesday.  I’m not a monster.

    My Beloved has been in Ireland for a week and a half, with no return date in sight.  His mom is not doing well at all and I am very glad that he is with her.  At the same time, the space that’s carved out in our lives by his absence is obvious — all the things he does around the house, the noises he makes, the stories he brings with him — are all suddenly absent. There’s a certain silence where I am used to hearing noise.  I am listening, as I take out the trash and cook myself dinner, do the shopping and pass off the dry cleaning.  I drive around in his massive truck and find myself fitting into the spaces that he normally inhabits, which feels good, because it feels like a service that I can do for him when he is so far away and so worried about bigger things.  It always better to be doing.

    Jason-Stomps-Love My house has had a steady stream of visitors to keep me company while he’s away.  These were planned visits, as we always get busy in the summer months, but I’ve appreciated the distractions.  Last weekend, I went with friends out to the end of the island, where we visited the Montauk lighthouse, ate like kings, and found a wonderful little bookstore–the rather directly named Montauk Bookshop.  They had a fabulous collection of books, with many lesser-known titles by classic authors, and a good selection of the backlists of more contemporary writers.  I picked up Mary Shelley’s Mathilda, Jane Austen’s Lady Susan and Tana French’s Faithful Place, which I have been meaning to read for years.  Stocked with more books than time, we went to find dinner at a place called Rick’s Crabby Cowboy Cafe because they served S’mores.  Wouldn’t you?

    A good trip.  My next visitor comes from the U.K. in about three hours, so we’ve spent quite a bit of time this week pretending that we live in a much neater house than we really do. I’ve come to terms with reality and put away the paint supplies that have been sitting out since I started repainting the hallway back in May.  Plaster is a look, right?  In removing all of the stuff for the half-finished construction projects which aren’t likely to progress until the return of my Beloved, I’ve discovered that we have a lot more house than I thought we had.  Now that I can see my living room again, I’m really looking forward to the arrival of the couches that we purchased on Memorial Day.  The current couch has been slowly separating — the end seat is threatening to break off, like a polar ice cap, and has been in danger of floating away for some time.  That, too, is a look.  A look that will thankfully soon be gone.

    Yesterday was the summer solstice.  In honor of the change of seasons, my yoga teacher asked us what the first thing was that came to our minds when we thought of summer.  Being in a room full of Long Islanders, nearly everyone named the beach.  Her answer, however, was time — the extra hours of sunlight in summer give us that extra hour in our day that we’re always looking for. This is the time of year that we play in the sun and spend time reconnecting with the people that matter. As I’ve slowly whiled away the weekend, napping, dreaming, writing, cleaning, I kept finding myself thinking about the gift of time that summer brings.  When my Beloved called yesterday for our evening chat, he mentioned that in Dublin, the sun didn’t go down until nearly 10 p.m.  Here, a little further south, the sun will set around 8:30 p.m.  When we were in the San Juan Islands at the beginning of the month, the evenings seemed to last forever, because we were far were as north as Ireland is. The light gave me energy and, above all, time.

  • family,  friends,  spirituality

    Survive and Thrive: Christmas

    The last few weeks have been a delightful buzz of activity, as the weather has gotten colder and we have actually had a few snowy days.  Not snow days, mind — this is, after all, New York, where trains make it much more feasible to go to work on days that a car would never get you there.  We have been operating under a fairly fractured family schedule, with My Beloved working the night shift, and our House Teenager (who is almost not-a-teenager now, yikes) working all sorts of crazy hours since he’s working retail in December.  Yet, despite our inability to all be home simultaneously, we have managed to put up a tree, get it decorated and put some lights on the front of the house.  That even happened as I was writing my big term paper at the end of the semester, which makes me particularly proud.

    Sometime in the middle of that, it struck me that this is the first Christmas season that I’ve actually just enjoyed without making an express effort to do so.  Usually this is a very challenging time of year for me, when I have to remind myself of my philosophy of conscious positivity pretty much daily.  Both the holiday season and the sudden onset of cold weather contribute to this, and I do not have a great history of dealing well with either one.  For many years, Christmas not only felt like an empty holiday for me, but almost like a personal attack as I took in all the media showing the perfect day with our perfect extended families in beautifully decorated perfect houses.  My reality was more typically a day spent with myself or a friend, because my relatives were all far away, having their Christmas celebrations together.  Before I moved to New York, I would sometimes spend it with my mom, but that had its own challenges.  She dealt with the season little better than I did, between her own conflicted feelings about family and her depression, and my time spent with her was always filled with criticism.  Christmas has always been associated with the sense that I just couldn’t do it right. I have a picture of her from my 21st Christmas, where she’s pointing at a price tag that I left on a present that I gave her.  I remember this picture better than any other picture that I have of her, because so often that is what our relationship felt like.  Look at your mistakes.

    I regret so much that we didn’t have more years together, because our relationship looked like it was going to improve.  She died so young and so suddenly that I’ll never know.  And I regret that my main memory of her involvement in my adult life was that I never did things to her satisfaction. I often get feedback from even my closest friends that I do things too well — that I have a superhuman ability of life accomplishment — and I sometimes wonder how much of it stems from never being good enough for the two people who were supposed to always accept my failure.  I suspect that most overachievers have a similar understanding; that we must always be doing more because what we have done can never really be enough.  If we’ve managed to accomplish the thing, then it must have been too easy to be meaningful.  I got a 97% in the class I took this last semester — instead of being proud of that, I thought, “Well, the professor must be an easy grader.” An A, of course, was the bare minimum, but scoring so highly must have been a fluke. It is not actually very satisfying.

    So I keep throwing myself against new challenges, hoping to find that one that some day will mean that I have done enough.  I’m sure you can see how the Christmas madness just feeds into that — the one thing that you’re not supposed to have on Christmas is an empty house.  To not be surrounded by your loving extended family on Christmas means you’ve failed — and I’ve only ever been around my extended family on Christmas twice in my life.

    People with childhood backgrounds like mine have to make their own families.  We make them from friends, largely, though I’ve been blessed to be able to get to know both sides of my family better now that I’m an adult.  Neither of my parents made it much of a priority for me to spend time with my relations, who all lived at least half a country away, and I didn’t have the sort of growing up experiences with my cousins and grandparents that so many people do.  Christmas, of course, enhanced that isolation, as I was often shuttled from my mom’s house to my dad’s house to have two different lonely celebrations.  Yet some of my fondest memories of my mom are from when I was little and we would prepare for Christmas.  I remember making ornaments out of construction paper, decorating the tree, baking cookies for Santa.  I still put out the Yule log every year that we bought when I was fourteen — and each time I pull it out of its storage box, I think about that day in the mall, trying to convince her that we needed it– and then the glee when she decided that she would buy it for me.  I put up her miniature tree and put on the reindeer antlers that belonged to her.  All of these memories, at last, have no sting at all, because now I have made my own family, which is now just an augmentation to my blood family that I have come to get to know.

    This year my house will not be perfect.  Our decorations aren’t as nice as they’ve been in some years past.  I won’t have cookies baked, punch made or carols sung.  But I will take my little family to two different households of friends on Christmas Eve and on Christmas Day and celebrate the connections that I’ve created in my life, which are giving this holiday new meaning.  It took a long time to drop my baggage, but I think I could maybe even come to love Christmas.

    But we’ll just leave that one for next year.

  • family,  friends,  new york,  writing

    The Writer’s Birthday

    My birthday snuck up on me this year, hiding behind the projects that I have going on this month. Somewhere around the halfway point of the month, people started asking me what I would like for a present. Each time, I was taken by surprise, because I’ve been so distracted writing for Camp Nanowrimo. Real world details like birthdays and dates and obligations have had very little impact on my consciousness, because they don’t have anything to do with medieval Iceland and the people that live in my head.

    I had set my birthday as a loose target for having the first draft of my manuscript finished, but I am not there and will not be by the end of my 50,000 word goal target for Camp Nanowrimo.  That’s a little disappointing, but it is because the story has expanded in ways that I couldn’t have predicted at the beginning of April.  It’s going to be for the best, I think.  I hope.  We’ll find out in draft two.

    There’s a point in each yoga class when I am reaching the end of my energy and I have to reach deep within to do what my teacher is asking me to do next.  I breathe, reaching into my body for some hidden reserves of strength and then move into the next pose.  I’m at that point with the first draft – I am so close to being complete and I have been working so intensively on it for the last month that I am running out of reserves, but I know that if I keep pushing and looking for more strength and creativity within myself, I will find it.  I will finish it and, and as a (belated) birthday present to myself, I will at long last have a finished first draft of a novel.  It’s an achievement I’ve been dreaming about for years, but this year, I will have done it.

    It’ll feel so good, if I can just get there.  Camp Nanowrimo is winding down to a close and I have a few thousand words left to write to reach my goal, which feels like it shouldn’t be hard at all at this point, because I’m in good practice.  Even if I didn’t finish the first draft, I have doubled the length of my manuscript in a month, so it’s been a worthy task.  I can walk away proud of that.

    As for my birthday, it was a quiet and lovely day, capped off with a fabulous evening out with my family.  We went to a restaurant called Akbar in Garden City that has some seriously delicious cuisine. It doubles as a banquet hall, so the facilities are top notch, which appealed to my inner Taurus. Since it was my birthday, I decided that I would ignore the food preferences prejudices of my family. The Kid turned into a fan of Indian cuisine seconds after the chicken lollipops arrived, which was just an added birthday present.  A good day all around, with good work done (both at work and outside of it), good people, good phone calls and good food.  That’s what it’s all about.