New Year’s Eve

The social tradition in this country is to spend New Year’s Eve with the person who is most important to you, someone with whom you’d like to spend your future.  That first kiss of the New Year is supposed to impart good fortune for the year to come.  For many Americans, then, it’s off to parties to drink up and link up in an attempt to avoid the curse of loneliness for the rest of your life.

Yeah, well, I’ve never seen it quite like that.  You see, New Year’s Eve is also my mother’s birthday.  We always spent it at home, having a family celebration.  When I got married and moved out, my new nuclear family did the same thing.  We dressed up in prom gowns and tuxes (and sometimes like pirates) and danced in the living room, sipping champagne and listening to the weirdest music we had.  Kisses were passed between husbands and wives and fathers and daughters and mothers and sons and sometimes siblings.  Our future was with the family; our past was with the family.  The two were intertwined, and we liked it that way.  We watched the ball drop in NYC some years, and sometimes we just let the kids run outdoors with big spoons and pots and pans and make all the noise they liked at midnight.  One year, we were visiting Jim’s best friend’s family, and the kids had a silly string fight in the middle of the street that afternoon.  They made a huge mess.   Which makes me wonder: who cleans up the confetti after New Year’s Eve in NYC?  How much gets recycled?

New Year's Eve 1992 or 1993?

Who do I want to be next year?  My future is rooted in my past and lived in the present.  I will always live with my family legacy coursing through my veins, pulsating in my brain.  I am my father & mother’s daughter, Jim’s lover, my kids’ mother, and that will stay with me year after year.  I am also Steve’s partner, a writer, a budding naturalist.  I hope to become a home economist & ecologist.  I want to keep on practicing awareness, appreciation, attitude and action.  Ultimately, the person with whom I will spend my future is…myself.  At the stroke of midnight, I’ll look myself in the eye and say, “You and me, kid!  It’s gonna be a great year!”  Hopefully, I won’t feel cross-eyed and alone when I do.  And I promise I’ll clean up after myself.

Bread & Guts

Yesterday, Steve & I stopped in at a Jimmy John’s sandwich shop for lunch.  The guacamole and sprouts on their veggie sandwich remind me of my 15 years living in California and call to me sometimes, especially when I’ve had too much cholesterol-rich Midwestern holiday food.  So, I ordered my #5 No Mayo favorite.  Then I watched in horror as the guy gutted the sub roll of its soft, white, doughy insides and flung them in the trash bin.  I thought of the ducks I visited on Christmas afternoon, swimming toward us in eager anticipation of bread bits.  I thought of the two bread pudding cookbooks we have in the dining room just begging to be explored.  “Why did you just throw that away?”  I asked.  “Oh, we do that in order to make more room for the fillings and so they don’t squish out when you bite into the sandwich.”  Well, that explains why they take it out, but it doesn’t explain why they throw it out.  Driving away, I imagined pithy slogans I could print on a poster to protest this practice.  “Don’t hate your guts”  or “Cast your bread upon the waters, not upon the landfill” or something like that.

Looking for crumbs

At home, I looked up some statistics about food waste in restaurants.  How depressing!  I am one of those moms who felt compelled to finish what my kids left on their plates just so I wouldn’t have to throw it out.  It hurts me to see food go to waste.  All that work, all that water, all that petrol, all that went into getting that food to the table is someone’s life to give life to another.  It’s sacred, in my opinion.  Tossing it out is disrespectful to humanity.  Something must be done.

Taking it up on a local level is probably the first line of attack.  I wonder if that sandwich shop would save the bread cores for me to cart away.  How often would I have to make a pick-up in order for that to be an attractive option to them?  I’m sure they don’t want an overflowing bread bucket kicking around.  How much bread would that be?  What would I do with it all?  Could I get someone to help me?  What if I suggested they offer a bread pudding on their menu so that they would use the bits and make some return on their effort?  Would they take that seriously?  What if they donated their scraps to a community compost project?  Do we have a community compost project?  When I visited family in San Francisco and Oregon, I was impressed at the compost recycling programs they had.  I have gotten tips from my daughter and her boyfriend about how to start a worm bucket of my own, which I could keep in the basement of this duplex, even over the winter months.  My landlord who lives in the other half of this house doesn’t recycle anything.  His bins stay on his side porch all year and never venture out to the curb.  Would he support my effort to compost and add the products to his garden?  He’s had the property assessed twice this year and may be putting it up for sale.  Do I want to go to the trouble of enriching soil that I may not get a chance to use?

I hate the feeling of going from “Something must be done” to “I want someone else to take this responsibility”.  What responsibility will I take?  New Year’s resolutions are popping up all over this week.  How many of us are really going to work on being responsible for cutting down on the waste of resources in this world?  More to the point, what am I really willing to do about it?  Do I have the integrity to take up the challenges I pose?  Do I have the guts?  I hope so.  Stay tuned and remind me.

Nerd Love

Last night, we watched the 1955 Academy Award winner for Best Picture, “Marty”, starring Ernest Borgnine.  The year this movie was released was the same year my parents graduated from college and got married.  My mother could have played the heroine, a gentle, intelligent young woman with a narrow Celtic jaw and a fabulously stylish but thrifty wardrobe.  Except she was just 20 when she got married, and Clara in the movie is a dangerously spinster-approaching 29.  Marty is “the stocky fellow”, an Italian butcher and a bachelor at 34.  My dad was “that cute boy on crutches” who was a little soft around the middle due to a bum knee that kept him from vigorous exercise.  The social game of the day in New York City was to go to The Stardust Ballroom, a dance hall “loaded with tomatoes”.  Marty and Clara are the kind who get turned down for dances.  He owns up to the fact that they are “dogs”, but awkwardly, tenderly, they begin to treat each other like real human beings.  They speak honestly together while Marty’s Italian family covers up true emotions with white lies and secrets and his buddies pretend machismo.  The two of them create a little oasis of sanity in the desert of social confusion.  And it’s charming, really.

Happy nerds on opera night

All of us who grew up believing “that love was meant for beauty queens and high school girls with clear skin smiles who married young and then retired” (Tara Mclean) might find a champion in Marty, who recognizes a chance for happiness in being himself, like Motel in “Fiddler on the Roof” who asserts that “even a poor tailor is entitled to some happiness”.   Why does our society put so much pressure and competition into the process of discerning your identity and living authentically?  I suppose that our economy runs on producing that neurosis.  “You couldn’t possibly find love or happiness without our product!”  Maybe there’s a lurking sense that civilization is actually advanced by feeding that neurosis in order to produce those marvelous, gorgeous, socially admirable types.   God forbid that the misfits should breed.  And so, the universal theme emerges: misfits and nerds are humans, too, and we all belong in that category, really.  The “in crowd” and the “out crowd” are fantasies.  We are ‘the crowd’, that’s all.

The Italian mothers in Marty’s neighborhood keep up this refrain: “You oughta be ashamed of yourself.  34 years old…when are you gonna get married!”  Shame.  God, what a horrible thing to put on someone.  I am a mother, I oughta know.  I used it enough.  Now I feel like shouting out, “Never mind what I said before!  Be happy!!”   Aren’t we all entitled to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness  as long as we aren’t harming anyone?  Ah, yes, it can get complicated.  The pursuit of my happiness might impinge on the pursuit of your happiness.  It happens.  I can’t be a happy Italian mamma unless all my sons are married to Italian women and producing grandchildren that I can feed.  Maybe happiness has to be a responsibility that doesn’t require someone else’s participation.  Can I be a happy Italian mamma all by myself, cooking for myself, caring for myself, doing things I enjoy, entering into relationships by mutual agreement, not by obligation?  Marty’s aunt keeps saying, “I’m 56 years old, a widow.  This is the worst time of life.  I’ve got no one to cook for, to clean for…”  Marty’s girl suggests that she take up some “hobbies” and the old women stare at her as if she’s just shot a hole in her own forehead.  God forbid I should take responsibility for my own happiness!  No, make that “God require that I should take responsibility for my own happiness”.

Be happy, people!  Live happy, love happy.

And To Think That I Saw It On (My) Street

With apologies to Dr. Seuss for stealing most of his title, I am reminded of taking my kids for a tour of my neighborhood on Christmas afternoon.  I love just walking outside with a camera, or even without, and simply noticing all the absurdity of life.  There’s some weird stuff out there!  The most bizarre neighborhood sighting appeared the week before Christmas.  I was walking to the market to buy groceries, when around the corner and very fast, a white car approached with something pinkish sticking up out of its roof.  I thought maybe it was some helium balloons.  It got closer and slowed down, and I realized that it was a large, inflated, vinyl doll with enormous balloon boobs rising from the sun roof of the compact car.  I was too mesmerized by the plastic flesh to look at the driver’s face, but he was slowing down right near me.  I wondered if this was a threat.  Suddenly, I heard a man’s voice growl “AAAaaarrrrrrgh!” and the car pulled into the driveway that I was just crossing.  I walked on, blinking, and supposed that he was voicing some kind of frustration at having been delayed entry onto his property.  Of course, my thoughts then went spinning into all kinds of fiction scenarios that would create a plausible story to go along with the encounter.  An embarrassing office gag gift?  A desperately horny bachelor?  Who knows.  I shake my head and smile.

Then there’s the lady with the fur coat and the Cocker Spaniel.  She saw me & Steve and my four guests approaching and once more issued her warning, “He’ll jump on you!!”  We waved.  We’d been warned before.  Up the street from her is a pair of garden lions sizing up their concrete casing.

Does this make me look fat?

Further south, I found this friendly front door.

"No Soliciting"

And close to the park, this possum in the road.

Not just playing

Down by the railroad tracks, we found a pile of rusty spikes.  Steve pocketed one as a souvenir for our “museum”.

Like looking for a needle...

He was going to pick up another souvenir, but he found it hard to lift.

Another neighbor had this parking meter in his driveway.  Do you suppose there’s any money in it?

Usually the ducks on the pond swim away when I approach.  This time, they made straight for us.  I think they were hoping we’d brought bread crumbs.  I felt bad that we’d eaten two ducks the night before and didn’t offer anything to the survivors.

So, while I’m hiking around trying to burn off my holiday calories, I look around for visual treats.  Eye candy is non-fattening.

Walking in a Winter Wonderland

Believe it or not, we had a green Christmas here in Milwaukee, and we STILL haven’t gotten snow.  I appreciated not worrying about my kids driving on the roads to visit me, and I’ve enjoyed going hiking in the warmer temperatures.  But I also enjoy snow hiking, even though I don’t own snowshoes.  The transformation of familiar objects and landscapes in winter is always interesting.  Without foliage, the contours of the land come out more strikingly.  With snowfall, they soften and blossom like ripe flesh.  We headed out to Lapham Peak yesterday in bright sunshine.  We discovered that they had created snow for some of their cross country ski trails.  Man-made, electricity-dependent snow.  Because this is Wisconsin, dammit, and we just can’t wait around for Mother Nature; winter break is NOW and it oughta be snowing already!  (sigh)  It’s sad to me that humans can’t slow down to fall in step with the planet.  We keep pushing it to keep abreast of us.  It’s like watching parents push their toddlers to be grown up by signing them up for language, dance and art lessons before they even hit nursery school.  It smells manipulative and inauthentic.  I am sniffing around in the other direction, trying to learn to open up to what exists.

The snow-making machine looks like a lunar landing module.

The boardwalk through the wetland has buckled and twisted in the process of freezing and thawing.  It reminds me of the changeable dynamic of a journey, a path in constant flux.  It tells me that my progress was not intended to be in a straight line, that meanders are natural and meaningful.  And that makes them interesting and challenging.  They invite me to adjust my balance, to pay attention, to dance with them.

  I have no idea what is around the bend.  There’s a new year coming up, full of mystery and thrilling movement.  I am feeling less afraid and unsafe in this realization, and more eager to take the fun house walk.

After the Storm

It’s incredibly quiet today.  The sun is shining, the chill breeze is tinkling the neighbor’s wind chimes, but there are no cars zipping up and down the street.  I can’t hear sirens on the Interstate or trains behind the county park.  The birds and squirrels have eaten the stale bread off the chair in the garden and are probably sunning somewhere out of the wind.  The homeostasis is peace.  The Christmas mania is undetectable.  Steve is tapping away at the keys in the office; I’m tapping away in the bedroom.  No one is speaking.  I have started reading Anne Lamott’s Traveling Mercies.  I go off to the West Coast of the 60s for a bit, entering another woman’s thoughts as quietly as I enter my own.  And then I lay the book down and gaze into the dazzling light at the foot of the bed.  “Thank you, thank you, thank you” is an appropriate refrain.  The sparrows have started chattering in the hedge.  “Thank you, thank you, thank you.”   The heater begins to purr in the corner.  “Thank you, thank you, thank you.”  It seems as silent as a blanket of snow, even though the lawn is still a dull green.  “Thank you, thank you, thank you.”  All is well.

 

How About Love?

My December countdown was completed yesterday.  I did not have a chance to post about the gift of love because I was living it.  My four children plus two “significant otters” came over for feasting and gifting and sleeping over.  All six of them ended up on the living room floor under mountains of sleeping bags and pillows and blankets, just like they used to when they were kids in a cousins pile.  Except now, they’re all adults — beautiful, interesting, caring, amazing adults who actually like each other.  And me.  How did I get to be so blessed?  This morning, I repaid them all for years of running in and jumping on my king-sized bed full of eager energy at an early hour on Christmas.  I dived onto their sleeping bags one at a time and gave them a great big hug and kiss.

We have lived through a lot together.  And we have lived through a lot separately.  Their lives matter to me in a way that I can barely describe.  Steve keeps challenging me to come up with ways to articulate what this is.  He has no children, and philosophically wonders why family is esteemed so highly.  “Oxytocin,” my daughter replied one day.  That explains one level of it, I suppose.  My biology has loaded me with hormones that make me love my kids.  My religion loaded me with beliefs that urged me to love my kids.  My experience of life has loaded me with the joys of loving my kids.  And my kids are just plain lovable.  I can agree with the reasoning behind his argument that all people are equally valuable, but I just can’t help feeling that my kids are more valuable…to me.  Yes, I’m playing favorites shamelessly without really understanding why.  Is it possible that evolution favors fiercely loving families?  Do they tend to be larger and survive better?   This might have negative effects on the planet in terms of population.  Would it be better for the world if we were less filial and more agape in our love?  Less sentimental and more altruistic?

Table fellowship

I don’t think that I am going to do justice to the topic of love in a scholarly way when I am full of mince pie, chocolate, and happy memories of the hours I just spent.  I am starting to sink into that melancholy that bubbles up when all of the guests have gone home and you ask yourself if you can be truly happy without that rush of energy and affection.  Of course, I am happy and even more peaceful living without all my children still under my roof.   I am in love with the world, in love with my partner, and in love with my children every day.  And it is marvelous.