Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Malvern Mint Relief Program

Once again, a letter to my little people who are far away for summer:

Dear Children:

I hope this finds you bright eyed and bushy tailed today. And speaking of bushy tails, I have the latest news from Malvern Gardens. Since Chester started visiting with Portia, and hence sharing mint leaves with her, word has spread rapidly through the Malvern Rabbit Association of our mint plot in the garden. Mint has been such a rare commodity this year that even the ladies of the neighborhood commented on the difficulty of procuring it from our local grocers, so you can imagine the excitement that occurred when the rabbits learned we grew quite a bit.

At first, there was just one rabbit outside in the front yard at midnight. I did not think much about it, because we always have rabbits, but he was wearing a bit of a wistful expression. He seemed to pine for something. Seeing how late it was, I shut the curtains and decided to ignore his presence, but the next night he brought a friend. They stared at the house, whispered to each other, and seemed to be trying to work up the courage to approach. On the night that there were three rabbits skittering about the front yard, I descended the stairs in my nightie, opened the door, and informed them politely to go home before they woke Chester. One rabbit bravely piped up and asked if it was indeed true that we held the largest and most thriving mint garden in Malvern. I said yes, but that at midnight, I was not willing to discuss it further.

Well, you know what happened—maybe Chester called you to tell it himself. On the fourth night, there were four rabbits, six chipmunks, a toothfairy, five bees, three beavers (yes, we have those), a fawn, and an entire family of raccoons. It was so loud out there, I called the president of the MRA and said something must be done about this.

The MRA president organized a meeting with the neighborhood critters. Yesterday, we all gathered in the alley by the back fence and explained that while we would be willing to share, we cannot have a neighborhood disturbance, and that really, the problem lay in creating a further shortage. Why not, I suggested, disperse whole mint stalks with roots to the heads of families so that they can grow their own? Mint does reproduce rapidly, but were we to feed everyone there, our supply would have been decimated to the point of pulling the last mint plant and thus having none for next year. So next week, one critter per family will come and receive a stalk or two with planting instructions. We might have to do this every couple of weeks while our own supply replenishes in order to continue the effort.

Chester thought it was brilliant and absolutely unselfish. His own efforts to coordinate this massive mint relief have earned him a special place among the MRA members. Portia thinks him as dear as ever and rumors have started that the two may wed next spring (a couple should always court four full seasons before marriage).

Love to you both. Care for each other. See you soon.


Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Bad Ideas: Granny Belle's Three Way Sandwiches

“Well, that was just wrong,” I thought to myself as I put the sandwich down. Still, I tried again—another bite, then another.

Don’t do this. Don’t even do this under supervision.

Do not layer peanut butter, anchovy paste, and pimento cheese between slices of bread. This will confuse your palette, lead you to take a few more bites to try to decode the taste buzz, and finally to discard the remnants due to fear of screwing up your stomach for the rest of the night. I don’t think these ingredients really go together. Say what you will, but the recipe for Granny Belle’s Three Way Sandwiches was just…

Eh. No.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Return to Me

I am just in this thing right now, this awkward place. I know who I am, but where am I going? I have been considering a multidisciplinary PhD program at a prestigious university and even the research for the application has opened holes in my heart that are bigger than the ones already there. One of the current students there had the following beautiful *video on her blog:


Listening to the music, I began to realize how much I miss a true life in the arts-- the smell of paint, the sound of musicians warming up in their studios, the exchange of ideas--and really, the vast realm of possibility that exists in such an environment. If you watch this embedded video, truly look for the expression in the face of the violinist, the source of the percussion (a magazine shredded one page at a time, a rapping on the elevator ceiling), and the density of musicians performing elegantly in a packed and unlikely space. I ask myself, who thought of this?

An artist did. I am an artist. At least I was once. And I miss her terribly.

*"Neon Bible" by Arcade Fire

Friday, July 16, 2010

Truth, Tales, and Nonstop Talking

Because I am only seventeen and a half years older than the eldest step-daughter, the line between us is a bit blurred. As a step-mother, this is somewhat of a dubious honor. They girls tell me everything and will say anything. And constantly. Last night, I found a split second of privacy to sit on the front porch and regroup from the shock of—well, the memory of myself at the age of twenty or so. I sent my husband a text message which played on a favorite quote from The Diaries of Adam and Eve by Mark Twain: The creatures… they won’t stop talking.

My husband’s girls had a friend over, so the gossip and analyzing taking place was multiplied by three. The stories exchanged were so funny that I could not have paid to hear a comedian entertain me so well. On occasion, I was slightly marked with horror about how open they were, down to choice of language even, but as I told my husband later, getting to really see how they were living their lives was a kind of gift. Receiving the girls with grace and humor is my gift in return.

The friend told a story about how a young male acquaintance of hers had too much to imbibe and had boldly asked her mother, “So, what do you think about premarital sex?” (I love this question. It’s as if once we age we are the poster children for abstinence or worse yet, chastity.)

“Well,” said the woman carefully, “it has its places.”

At this point, I said, “Its places?? Like in the back seat?”

Earlier, we had a rather enlightening discussion about piercing. These days, the trend among college age youth is to pierce anything that counts as yielding flesh. The ladies knew well which parts of the body healed the fastest, the likelihood of nose piercings to close overnight should a stud fall out, appropriate sanitary procedures for the initial professional piercing, and the funny name for that part of the ear behind the cheekbone and below the hairline. This was all news to me. I wished for a pen to write it all down. We discussed why one should not pierce genitalia—the mere thought of which makes me want to run around with hands over my own in protection, but the best part of the conversation was the curious note that nose piercings can catch onto other things when a couple is making out, thus making for quite a tense and awkward moment as fabric, the other person’s nostril, whatever, is extracted so the session can resume.

Oh, the places they go. They things they do. What they say. At one point this week, the eldest girl told me about a certain bar fight, the resulting drama, and ensuing comedy. I looked at her, took a breath and offered gently that one day, these things would not be part of her life at all—that the environment in which these things occurred, the people or their strange, hormonal, and unpredictable behaviors would be absent from her life. This would be a good thing, I offered.

“This stuff, “ I said laughing as I drew a circular motion in the air, “is not even remotely in my world.”

Ah, youth. Watching the girls pal around and giggle is refreshing. I have a full reminder of my youth and a glimpse into my children’s. Parents should never be so foolish as to forget their own comedic entrance into young adulthood, nor should they aspire to entirely prevent poor choices (or bizarre ones) from taking place. It’s how we learned. And frankly, years later, it makes for wonderful writing.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

A Letter to My Children

Since my little people are with their father for the bulk of summer, I wrote a letter to keep them informed as to the ongoings of our neighborhood.

My Lovely Children,

I certainly miss you. The most delightful things have been happening since your departure and I thought you should know. Just yesterday, I saw a rabbit as I tidied the side yard. He had hidden so well at first that I was startled when he sprang out, tap danced a bit, and then bound away. I later heard from one of the associate rabbits of the Malvern Rabbit Association that much dancing has been taking place. Apparently, your own pet rabbit has been giving soft-shoe lessons. There seem to be preparations for some kind of party at the end of summer. Perhaps, we may be invited. I will let you know. What does one wear to a rabbit festival?

The bees have been active as well. This week, your step-sister and I visited the produce stand out in the country. Really, the site of overflowing baskets of zinnias and delphinium had stopped us. I pulled over into the lot to admire them and found that the bees had beaten us to the spot! They were plundering the blossoms for pollen and nectar. Some of the larger bees instantly recognized me as your mother and sent greetings, but they were too busy to stop for a long chat, so we moved into the shade to admire the fruits and vegetables.

I should tell you what we purchased there—glistening berries, plump tomatoes, Amish butter, and eggplant as rich and purple as exotic jewels. The air hung heavy with the perfume of turned earth and ripe produce. We would have stayed all day if it weren’t for the dog, who had taken a ride with us and was howling in the truck. So, we collected our things and returned home for a country lunch made in our light-filled kitchen. We had fried green tomatoes, thick slices of French bread, and North Carolina livermush. While we ate, we talked about the pie we would make later.

And we did make that pie—with blackberries and apples! I threw out the scraps of leftover apple peelings and cores for the critters in the backyard. That night, I saw the most amazing thing. Several chipmunks had gathered and were fighting over the peels. As they pointed, exclaimed, and poked one another in the eye, a devious squirrel slipped surreptitiously over the fence, gathered all sweet and delectable fruit remains, and then absconded without notice. When the chipmunks finally had called a truce and sorted matters amongst themselves, they turned to find their stash completely vanished. They were speechless. Your rabbit could not stop laughing. You know, he is so naughty that I think he might have arranged the whole thing.

Anyway, little people, Mommy loves you and is thrilled that you are having such a good time. My true hope is that this summer leaves you rich in good memories that you will carry always. See you at the end of the month, and of course, I will not forget the stuffed llama (he does not talk much, but he is an excellent singer) and we will have an early celebration for Tiny Man’s birthday.

Much love,


Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Pie and Perilous Relationships

My eldest step-daughter has been staying with us since early July. We had initially asked her to come to help her recover from sudden heartbreak. I had suggested to her as well that if she came, we would cook together. I believe I mentioned gumbo at the time, but what we have officially made together is pie.

The whole thing started with a rather spontaneous Thelma and Louise style visit to a local produce stand. What we found and purchased while giggling, ransacking produce, and carrying on were the following: two heavy, crimson Carolina tomatoes; a sack of hard, green maters for frying; a jar of honey-apple butter from Maryland, which came with the promise of outdoing any we’d had previously; sweet, white corn from a nearby field; an eggplant that appeared to be growing a nose; a dozen freshly laid eggs (rainbow eggs from rainbow chickens, says the proprietor); a two pound roll of salty Amish butter; and lastly, a large carton of tart, juicy blackberries. We leaned over the counter at the glistening berries and I turned the carton slowly in my hands. I tasted one.

“Pie,” I said.

“Yes,” heartily agreed my sidekick, “let’s make a pie!”

We rounded up our purchases, reluctantly pulled ourselves from a tall cart of breads, and loaded the car with our booty. At home, the first thing we did was to fry the green tomatoes. We toasted French bread with little pools of Amish butter, and sautéed slices of North Carolina livermush, something my husband adores and trucks out of there whenever we pass through. We talked about our food and admired how it lay upon the plates. Meanwhile, from a brown paper bag in the kitchen, the blackberries beckoned.

So later, inspired by Waitress, a film where the protagonist outlandishly names her pies as she flounders in her relationships, we made what my step-daughter calls I-Hope-My-Ex-Boyfriend-Gets-Hit-by-a-Truck Pie. It started out looking like a good relationship. We had buttered ourselves up with a pat-in-the-pan butter crust. The berries looked beautiful, too, but truthfully, needed sweetening (Honey, don’t they all need a little work?). We sugared, tasted, added more, and finally even more. We sprinkled corn starch into the berries  and squeezed lime in there (Doesn’t every relationship need a bit of zing?), lined the top with sliced apples (think Eve) and a heart-shaped crust remnant. We baked hopefully. Yes, the pie was delicious, but like every relationship that we hope to make grow beyond its foundation to do so, it fell apart in the end. I think our buttery crust even dissolved at the bottom of the pie. We stood over the pie post first-slice in a state of morning-after semi-bliss and confusion as the pie began to drown in its own berry juice. Hands on hips, we chattered and analyzed the situation. We discussed how we could have changed the pie, made it better, that what we noticed in the beginning that was a red flag for the final product. I considered the parallels and renamed it: I-Hate-My-Ex Pie.

Last night, we sat on the porch laughing about all the pies we could make  and how we could make this work as a business one day. I even have an idea for a plain cheesecake called I-Dreamt-I-Was-Naked-Again Cheesecake. I think we have a start.

Oh, by the way--that expression--easy as pie. Pie ain't easy and neither are we.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Sin in the South

Yesterday, after two vineyard visits, I plopped down between the grassy rows of vine at the third destination, heaved a slightly inebriated sigh, and commented on how seductive southern heat really is. “I suppose it’s because you just want to take your clothes off,” I said as I squinted in the sun and picked at the draped fabric of my dress. Of course two tastings of wine, the equivalent of three glasses for me, was likely fueling some kind of fire. My husband began to regret that there was no picnic blanket in the trunk of his car. I think had there been, he would have likely dragged me into a shady spot in the woods right then and there.

Alcohol or not, there is something about southern heat, particularly when a nearby radio is dripping with blues music like condensation, as was yesterday. Here, heat makes one move slowly, languidly, glisten at the throat, and flush. Women draw up their hair and find thin, strapped shirts to bare their skin. Flesh becomes more so. It’s a wonder there isn’t more scandal than there already is down here.

I passed on the third tasting, by the way, and opted for a bottle of water. The closest shade came from the promise of patio umbrellas and a container garden, so I kept my clothes on, abandoned my husband to a lone tasting indoors, and made nice conversation with visitors from the nearest large town. Next time, though, seriously—must pack a picnic blanket. In the meantime, I wouldn’t be surprised if my husband finds a way to break the air conditioning here at the house…

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The Toothfairy Returns and Takes My Heart With Her

Minutes ago, I slipped a hand under my daughter's pillow to make sure that the toothfairy did her job. You might recall a previous blog ( in which the toothfairy had not met certain requirements. This evening, my daughter wrote a note to her, which when I read, brought tears to my eyes. A marked closure of certain aspects of her childhood had suddenly found me. What I had not realized before was that my daughter might also see the loss of her last tooth in this light. Below is the precious exchange that took place this past evening, with all spelling and language preserved as found in the original letters:

Dear Miss Queensipia,

I lost my last tooth. I will be missing you and those bumble bees learned their lesson really well. Lucky says hello. Farewell. I'll miss always. I hope you serve my children if I have any.

With love,

(my daughter's name)

P.S. (Brother's name) can't wait to have a loose tooth and lose it then give it to you by putting under his pillow. I will always remember you.

The fairy, of course, is gifted in her ability to provide a quick response. Her letter stands here as closure to this wonderful period in a child's life:

July 6, 2010, 2:20 AM

My Fair (Daughter's name),

Sweeter words were never spoken. I think you are perhaps the only child I know who has taken the time to acknowledge the loss of the final baby tooth with such sincere and mellifluous candor. Thank you, dear child, for this farewell note. I fear that you may think your childhood ends with my receipt of this one tooth; it does not. I will be always present in magic and memory, and my tradition certainly will live with your brother and the children that you of course will have.

With greatest affection and respect for you, a true princess among children, yours most truly,

Queespisia June Petalis

Senior Level Tooth Fairy

Richmond Station 10-A

P.S. Please note that the treacherous situation with the bumblebees has since been remedied with a truce, and I was, in fact, escorted by them on this prized journey this evening.

Should every child be so blessed with such grace. Good night, Readers.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Dakota: August 1995-July 2010

The relationship between former spouses is both strange and estranged. My children’s father and I are greatly wary of one another. This man, understandably reluctant to see his children move out of state, played dirty in a most unfortunate way. Instead of being honest, not that any of us expected him to develop that forever-elusive-to-him quality (hence divorce in the first place), he lied about his intentions and actions, dillydallied, sued me, and tried to have me arrested. Things ended fairly well for the children and I, all things considered, but we all bear the marks of the trauma by having a rather cautionary relationship with him. Still, I try to remember he is human. I try to remember that his obnoxiousness and manipulation is a reflection of deeply-rooted anger and insecurity that has never been my job to abate, even though when I lived with him, I thought it was.

This week, broken by new loss, he reached out rather humbly. The dog we raised together, one of two I had to leave behind when we ended our marriage, would have seen her fifteenth birthday this August. Two days ago, Dakota crossed the rainbow bridge in a difficult but loving decision by my ex-husband. We had discussed the symptoms of her impending death and vast discomfort. I had sent all the pictures of the old girl that I had. I then had reminded him that doing the right thing required courage—something I know very well, as the last year of my life required tremendous guts to persist, to fight, and to stand up against him.

I mused this week about the peculiar duality that exists within humans, the ability to hold two opposing sets of feelings, or to think one way and let one’s actions completely override that thought. This man is a difficult man, yet the grief of his losing his dog is a sudden sacred valley, and I was able to counsel him gently. Of course, this was once my dog, too.

I wish I could say that the moment of loss this week would start a new place of peace in our relationship. It will not, however. When the grief for our beloved creature wears to a comfortable memory, he will again find opportunities to express the hostility and desire for control that I experienced for the last several years. I will again have to make hard decisions about how to promote a relationship between him and the children, yet protect them at the same time. He will never see nor understand the effects his behavior has on others. I have accepted this.

In the meantime, our first dog is now gone forever. The night before last, I dreamed about her. We went for walk at the lake near my childhood home. At one point, I went to call Dakota home to me, but she was swimming in cold, extremely choppy, brown waves. I could not enter the water. I knew doing so would endanger me as well and we would both be lost. I stood afraid at the foot of the concrete-stepped wall that separated lake from city, and watched her try to clamor for safety upon a buoy.

Like the marriage I once left, I could not save her.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Your Tax Dollars at Work

This morning I stood with my children and gave them the order of the day: cartoons, the bank, the library, and household chores in preparation for company. My children already know that television is usually limited to an hour a day, but this morning, as I explained certain expectations, my daughter kept interrupting.

"What is it?" I asked finally.
"Well, if it is 9:42 now, what time will it be in an hour?"
"Sweetheart, if you don't know the answer to that question, then I am ashamed of your public school education."

Moments ago, my daughter weaseled her way into my office. My husband and I stopped her.This sacred space is off limits to children, especially since the day both Chicken Little and Tiny Man picked up an editorial document for a client and decorated it with crayon.

"But I need--," she started.
"There is nothing on my desk you need."
"But I was only--"
"I just wanted to calculate what time it would be in an hour."

Your tax dollars at work, my friends.