Monday, July 31, 2017

Day 6

It's a calm blue day outside, not in the least bit humid, a gentle breeze rustling the leaves. I am mostly stuck inside, cranking through my daily 1,000 words and caring for the man whose back muscles stopped cooperating almost a week ago now; they haven't been cajoled back into service yet. Walking remains excruciating, but his appetite is slowly returning, and his mood is gentle. He is a better patient than I would have thought, considerate, undemanding, not crotchety as I thought he would be, and angry at his incapacitation. Instead he reads, is reflective and wryly humorous. And he's appreciative, though he doesn't actually say so. But I know how to read him; I know what the hand on my head in the middle of the night means. Oh how I wish him better. There will be more diagnostic steps to take once he is able to move around again, without such blinding pain. What brought this on? How to prevent its return? The body is a mystery.


Our son, keeping his dad company.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Light and dark

There's a lot going on, life happening. My husband is in a lot of pain with muscle spasms in his back, walking is excruciating for him, and our son slept over last night to help out. Our daughter just texted that she's coming over tonight to cook us dinner so we don't have to think about that, and my God how lucky and blessed we are with our children. I am humbled with gratitude for them. My son took his dad to the ER yesterday, and I think his EMT uniform got them moved through a little more quickly than would otherwise have happened. Just as I never worry about a situation being well handled if my husband is present, I realize that now I feel the same way about my children.

As for the current president's decree yesterday that transgendered people should no longer be allowed to serve in any capacity in the military, I hope someone sues his office and forces the courts to overturn him. Some say the tweeted decree was his effort to distract people from the health care shenanigans playing out in the Senate, another atrocity, but if that is so, it just shows the extent of his soullessness, that he could conceive of such inhumanity in the name of distraction. He is empty to the core, a yawning dark hole of malevolence. We will not be sucked into its maw. We will resist him and his enablers.

In the meantime, my daughter and her boyfriend are dog-sitting again this week, a chilled-out little guy named Beau. Last weekend they sat for a puppy named Ned, who they said was a cute little monster, who had to be walked incessantly. In the middle of the night, after cleaning up Ned's mess in her brand new apartment, my girl logged onto the dog sitting website and changed her profile to say no dogs under nine months, or who are not house trained. That's a picture of her holding Ned. I love when she dog sits because I meet her in the courtyard and stroll along with her as she walks the dog. Loveliest exercise ever.

Please send a good thought for my husband, that his pain goes away, that he can walk firm once more. My son says I am trying to will him better on an unreasonable timeline for what he has. Only time and rest will fix things, he said. The meds aren't fixing anything; they don't even take the edge off the pain. 

Patience, grasshopper. 




Monday, July 24, 2017

Thank you, Gus



Gus Trowbridge's book Begin With a Dream tells the story of Manhattan Country School, the progressive elementary and middle school my daughter attended for the first decade of her life in the classroom. It's a memoir of how Augustus Trowbridge, whose forebears made the family fortune as merchants in the triangle trade, would use his privilege to found a school in which there would be no racial or economic majority and where each child would, in the immortal words of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., "not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character."

Gus and his wife Marty were utterly inspired to do this work by Dr. King. Gus once told me how he and Marty sat in front of their TV screens watching the brutality that transpired during the 1965 March on Selma, and in that moment they knew they would have to do something to rebalance the scales of privilege in America. They would devote the rest of their lives to doing that. "Differences must be immediately experienced, treasured and understood," Gus wrote in the school's inaugural brochure, "because a school that avoids differences places education outside the context of living."

As an editor, I ended up being a sort of midwife to Gus's book and I believe it is work I was meant to do--work I was honored to do. Perhaps it is why I happened across this small progressive school in the first place, and why its very walls whispered to me that this was to be my daughter's place. Surely it is why, the first time I heard Gus speak at a conference about his life's work, I went up to him afterwards and gushed, "You need to write a book about this." He looked somewhat startled, I was a stranger to him then, and he stammered, "Well, I'm trying to do that." Gus was retired by that time, and was no longer a daily presence at the school. But four years later, he approached me in the living room of the school, which was then located in what used to be a very grand townhouse on the margin of the Upper East Side and Harlem, and he said, "Well, I have completed a draft of that book, and I would like it if you could read it and tell me what you think." It was the first time we had spoken since the day I so presumptuously suggested he write his story.

The next day when I dropped my then fifth-grader off at school, Gus had left for me 600 single-spaced pages in a binder. Over the next year, working together, we reorganized and edited the book down to 353 pages that tell the very moving story of a man committed to a mission despite all manner of obstacles, and a school committed to realizing the dream of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. My daughter is immeasurably richer because of her foundational experience at this school, and its working organic farm. But not just my daughter, our entire family was positively imprinted by our connection to this "beloved community." Thank you, Gus, for the lifelong friendships forged, the minds opened, in a school that sends children out into the world as people of conscience, courage, and purpose, as connectors, as healers, as change-makers. Thank you, Gus, for using your life to pursue our highest good. The world is a better place because you were here. Rest In Peace. You've so richly earned it. Your legacy will live on.


Augustus Trowbridge
August 14, 1934—July 09, 2017

This appeared in "Remembering Gus Trowbridge." I'm re-posting it here for my own record, and because I believe good ripples out. Gus's vision and purpose changed us all.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Summer Friday

We had a great time with dear friends on the roof last night, dining of all manner of summer salads. It was too hot to cook, and at least two of us are trying to reduce our girth, hence the green leafy fare. It was all as delicious as the company. I did break down and have some delectable mini palmiers at the end, which I am trying not to regret this morning because, if you're going to indulge, well, enjoy it for Pete's sake. Thanks for the treat, Pete!

I love these people, my fellow travelers. We started out on this journey together when our children were preschoolers. Now we ask whether our kids are liking their jobs, and wonder if they're partying too much, and discuss pros and cons of one son going for a deal on an electric car, and hear the latest updates on the wedding plans for a daughter who's getting hitched early next year. Of course, we also talked about Spicey finally quitting the White House, and about health care reform, laws governing presidential pardons, and the real true Handmaiden's Tale horror of a possible Pence presidency. And then we exhaled at the extravagant sunset, turned our faces into the humid summer breeze, and talked about movies instead.




Friday, July 21, 2017

1,000-word day

I wrote my one thousand words today and found my way into chapter four, the title of which is "Paper Boat." Today's words will change many times before I am done with them, and I hope they will be greatly refined, but at least I have made a start. Every chapter is a new hard start.

My son gave me permission to post this picture, which definitely speaks more than a thousand words to me. My daughter says he might be the coolest kid she knows.


Thursday, July 20, 2017

True hearts

My kids are making me so proud.

That's my daughter at a fundraising dinner series she helped to plan and stage, as part of her job. Three of the city's top chefs each cooked for sponsors and donors on successive nights, all for the cause of feeding New York's hungry. I attended the second evening of this event, as the tickets were more affordable than the usual $750 for the organization's galas, and the dining was family style.

My girl got to sit with us; usually she's up and around, working. My darling husband was supposed to come, but he had been feeling under the weather since Tuesday, so my niece was my date instead. It was us and my girl, and her boyfriend, rubbing shoulders with New York's deep-pocketed crowd, the ones who care about hunger. I sat next to a lovely woman who told me she grew up poor in Cuba, and knew what it was to be hungry. " I had no idea my circumstances would change so significantly," she said, putting an arm around her husband. "It's all thanks to him." She shared that he was from a Philadelphia Main Line family, and was a corporate attorney. "He is the best husband," she said, "and now we have houses and enough of everything, and since we'e going to spend money anyway, why not feed people who still don't have enough to eat."

This woman also told me that my daughter is absolutely beautiful, and she is, and last night she was positively radiant in her semi-formal attire, greeting and mingling with the evening's guests. It's her smile that makes her shine, though. It's hard to miss. My niece and I patted our hearts and said, "Look at our little one, in her element, and affording us such experiences."

The five-course meal was cooked by Angie Mar of the Beatrice Inn. The lavender  and anchovy prime rib was way too rare for me and my niece, but my girl took a whole portion, saying simply, "This is the chef's vision. I trust the chef." The warm plum and blistered tomato tart looked beautiful and was divine— I was so busy enjoying it I forgot to take a picture—while the roasted bone marrow with lemon cream fraiche and caviar was perhaps too sophisticated for my humble palate. The edible flowers made it look appealing though, and I took a brave taste. For dessert, the bone marrow creme brûlée tasted a bit like warm smoky brie. I ate most of it, trying to decide what I thought.

The best part of the evening was being with three fine and funny young people whom I love, and also meeting the people my girl works with, and having them, to a one, tell me how much they adore my daughter. One woman said quite seriously, "I didn't realize at first how fresh out of college she was. She has such a solid and humane core, and a very reasoned judgment." Even her bosses came over to rave about my girl, and the woman next to me leaned over and whispered, "She's the most popular person in the room."

In the cab on the way home, I told my daughter about all her good reviews. She said, "Mom, they kind of have to say that to the mother." But I, the mother, believe they were speaking true.

Before we parted, my girl gave me a sprig of lavender and told me to make sure to give it to her daddy. "He will know what it means," she said. "It's our thing." Indeed, when I dutifully handed it to him in his sick bed, he smiled very broadly, and sighed contentedly. I am happy to report he is on the mend and went to work this morning.

My son meanwhile is doing his firefighter promotion training at the Fire Academy this week, and what should we see posted on their Insta site last night but a video of our boy doing the Hose Drag, over a caption that said, "Train with a purpose!" I don't know how to post the video itself, but here is a blurry still from it. They are so different, these two children of mine, one in a world of glitzy schmoozing last night, the other gritty and sweaty in training. But they are both, in their own ways, working to secure people who need some help. They fill my heart.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Chihuly Nights

Last evening the man and I went to see Chihuly Nights, a glass art installation at the New York Botanical Gardens, with music, cocktails, and food under the stars. It was hard to capture the drama of the illuminated glass forms with my iPhone camera, and my husband decided that we will have to go back so he can photograph the pieces with his Nikon set up. Dale Chihuly is a glass artist who works out of Seattle, with a team of glass blowers. The work is really breathtaking. These pictures don't begin to do justice to the experience of being in their presence. The evening was hot, wet, and muggy, but we enjoyed strolling through the gardens in the dark, feeling the spitting rain, and coming upon these moments of spectacular color. They appeared lit from within, vibrant against a silhouette of trees, plants, people, sky. The shapes seemed entirely organic, enchanted even, as if they grew where they are, yet each individual piece was fashioned by human breath working its magic on hot molten glass. Here are but a few of the installations. If you're interested, this map has clickable dots that open up daylight images and info about these and other Chihuly pieces in the sprawling gardens-wide exhibit.













Wednesday, July 12, 2017

What's normal?

The TV is on in the background. I'm half listening as Congress interviews the proposed candidate to replace James Comey as FBI director. I am struck by the degree to which the questions are designed to ferret out the man's willingness to admit and act on criminal conduct on the part of the American president and his staff. When has an FBI director's confirmation ever been so clearly tied to his being a clear challenger of the White House? The cynic in me thinks it's all just stagecraft.

The man, whose name I can't be bothered to look up, is doing his best to thread the needle, to please the president who nominated him, and the committee members who see the president for what he is. It all adds up to obfuscation and double speak. I already don't think much of the man by virtue of the fact that he accepted an offer to work for this president. That's wrong thinking of course: The part of me that knows that is hoping people with courage and integrity sneak past the gate and get themselves in a position to act against the criminal tomfoolery that passes for federal governance these days.

Meanwhile VP Pence takes pains to distance himself from Donny Junior's meeting last summer with a Russian lawyer who claimed to have incriminating material on the woman who was Daddy's main roadblock in the race for the White House. This is apparently enough of a smoking gun that Pence put out a statement that when Donny Junior met with the Russian lawyer, he, Pence, had not yet joined the campaign. The man is as bad as his boss, and that's saying something.

The president's son-in-law Kushner and then campaign manager Manafort did join Donny boy in the meeting with the Russian lawyer, however, and some now theorize that Junior's colossally stupid release of his emails pertaining to setting up the meeting are intended to protect Kushner, who, as a campaign official then, and senior advisor now, could be indicted for taking the meeting. But, I don't get that reasoning. Kusher was there. And he failed to disclose this meeting and several others with the Russians on his security clearance forms. In any other administration his clearance would be revoked, he'd be removed from his position, and perjury charges would be brought against him.

It's all one big clusterf*ck, and it is diverting us from some real true dangers happening in the background, laws being passed under the radar, by Republicans who will continue to ignore the criminality and woeful ineptitude and mental instability of the president because he sucks up all the press attention and leaves them free to do their dirty deeds in the dark. And I, for one, am entirely convinced that the Russians didn't just peddle oppo research and hacked DNC emails, they actually tampered with voting machines in at least three states. That's why the return results last November didn't make any sense. And if they could tamper with actual voting machines then, why can't they do it again for the 2018 mid terms? Combine that with voter suppression laws and jigsaw-like gerrymandering of voting districts, and we might be stuck with these idiots and mercenaries for a long time to come.

I don't even know why I am writing this. Just venting, I suppose. Some days, I have no heart for any of it. Today is one of those days.

*

In other news, all the kids happened to stop by after work yesterday, and we mindlessly watched Forged In Fire and talked and dozed and ate dinner and laughed at some summer memories from their shared childhoods, and the house felt entirely normal.



Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Missing this place

Every summer when they were growing up, my kids and their cousins spent a month in St. Lucia with their grandma, my mom, at her house in Rodney Bay. That's her beach at dusk. My children came of age on this beach, and next month, they and their significant others will travel to spend a few days there, and to partake of the restaurants and karaoke houses and beach bars, on the strip they once were too young to explore. It's all steps away from my mom's house, I guess our house now, which has just been vacated by our lovely long term tenant. My brother and I are considering doing vacation rentals through sites like Airbnb for a while, encouraged by our kids, who want to be able to take their friends there. The house could not be better situated for sea lovers and foodies and shoppers and beachy night life. When the kids heard the house was going to be unoccupied again, they immediately began making plans. I hope they have a wonderful time, and if ghosts do whisper to them there (as they do to me), I hope the fact that the memories made in this place were such happy ones, will make them smile.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

We went to Santorini


My girl and I had so much fun at the Wine and Paint class last night. She had given me a gift certificate for the class for my birthday, and last night we redeemed it. Smart girl, she knew the best part of the gift for me was the chance to do the class with her. She brought the wine, a rose and a Malbec. Even when she's kidding around, she can't help but present the bottle as a sommelier would—our education dollars at work, haha.


The walls of the studio walls were filled with paintings from other classes, everything from Georgia O'Keefe's poppy to sailboats to Monet's garden to a portrait of the studio owner's pet. We had chosen to paint a scene from Santorini, Greece. The deep blues and crisp whites appealed to us. Our teacher assured us she taught kindergarten by day, and so was well equipped to lead us through the stages of making the painting while we drank wine."Just one thing," she implored. "Be sure to rinse your brushes in your water jar and not in your wine glass. Every class, it happens."


We got really giggly at certain points, such as when the paint brush seemed to want to go its own way, despite our teacher's very detailed paint-by-numbers approach to mixing colors and covering the canvas, section by section, and building up detail in layers.


We did all end up with paintings that  resembled the master, though I see sections in my own painting that I'm itching to correct. Maybe I'll get some acrylics and set up one of our kids' vacated rooms as a paint studio! I still have an easel in storage somewhere.


The finished product, and two very happy painters. My daughter is the best traveling companion. She has such a bright spirit. Thank you, my darling girl, for the most wonderful of evenings. I'm so on board with your proposal that we do it again soon.


Friday, July 7, 2017

Escapism


The man wasn't well yesterday, and he stayed home from work. We binge-watched Westworld, a very dystopian vision of humanity, and yet, it felt like pure escapism whenever we took a break to check on what was happening in the real world. He's back at the museum today, hosting scientific visitors to his department, while I am sitting here trying to work. I find I am missing certain details and so will have to interview my subject again. Tonight, I'll be going to a wine and paint class with my daughter, redeeming her birthday present to me. It will be lovely to spend time with my girl, who I haven't set eyes on in a week. It's raining out, which is a relief. Nothing much to say today. I'm here.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Last night on the pier


My husband is one of the leaders of a radical little church in Harlem, and this summer, they're doing Wednesday evening prayers on the pier. I was raised in the church, my mother a prayer warrior of no mean order, but really I hated sitting through those interminable 6 a.m services every Sunday morning. And my whole childhood, I couldn't quite believe our parents were making us go back for Sunday School at 4 p.m. It was always a highly unwelcome interruption of whatever fun I'd been having that day, usually a family gathering of some sort, which would now be cut short. The only good part of Sunday School was when Uncle Victor would pick us up afterward—my brother, my two cousins, and me—and he'd take us all for cane juice and ice cream at an outdoor parlor called CeeBees. We'd sit on wrought iron benches on the flagstone verandah, the ice cream dripping onto our church clothes, the sun setting overhead. I haven't thought of that in decades, but the memory just flashed right back shimmery and clear.

A bit to my surprise, I married a devout church man, though not a proselytizer. The church he chose for our family is all about deeds—feeding the hungry, housing the homeless, ministering to the poor, the sick, the addicted, the disabled, the lonely, the disenfranchised. The members of that little church are always in the street, marching for causes, putting their shoe leather on the line. But when my man heads to Sunday morning services, I am seldom with him. Maybe I had my fill of church pews (although not church hymns) as a child. But church outdoors, there has always been something about that that appeals to me, nothing between my prayers and the overarching sky. So last night after work I met my husband at the pier, along with a handful of congregation faithfuls, for a half hour of prayer and song. I felt lulled by the sound of the waves splashing against the pilings, and gentled by a fresh breeze coming off the river. 

A man who had been sitting on the pier, taking in the setting sun, decided to join us, and afterward he took this picture. "Let me take it," he said, "since I'm your newest member." He said he lived just up the hill and would be back next week. That's two of us.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Stars and stripes

My husband and I, and my niece's boyfriend's parents, were the generation outliers at the barbecue yesterday. We were meeting them for only the second time, but we old fogies got along like old friends, sharing stories and vacation ideas (Argentina's Mendoza wine country!) and joking with the twenty somethings, who also were having a rousing time. The twenty-fourth floor terrace where the gathering was held had a view of New York harbor and a lovely breeze flowing through. My husband's sangria was a hit, and so were the bathing costumes of a cohort of my fellow Jamaicans—never let it be said these young women are reticent about playing with a theme!

We missed our daughter, who was upstate with her boyfriend's large extended family, holding babies and celebrating four family birthdays, including his. He told us once that when he was a child, he thought all the fireworks and festivities on his birthday were being staged for him and his cousin, who was born the same day. And why not, we laughed.

President Obama's daughter Malia was also born on Independence Day. I saw on social media that a lot of African Americans opted to celebrate her birthday in lieu of the birth of a nation whose original constitution encoded black people as "three-fifths a man." I think maybe most of us are missing Malia's father, a leader who made us proud. But none of that was on the minds of the four stars-and-stripes wearers in the picture above. For these young women, every one of them more than equal to anything their adopted land might bring, the day was simply cause to kick back and have fun. No deep thought required.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Mercy pie

I slipped down into a dark hole the last couple of days, for reasons that had no basis in fact, just fears and prognostications, full-blown figments of the mind. When these figments come on, no one can convince me the apparitions I'm conjuring aren't real. I mean, I can feel their realness in every cell of me, and that, my friends, is the craziness of it. But it passes. And that is the mercy.

You'll never guess what helped me climb out of the hole this time. I cooked! Now, I never cook in my household, except for breakfast and at Thanksgiving. Once or twice a year, I might also make my famous corn and cheese casserole for a pot luck gathering, but that's really it. My husband is the chef in our family, and a wonderfully creative one. Our children are also amazing cooks, which I take partial credit for: After all, if their mother had cooked for them when their dad wasn't home, they wouldn't have had to get into the kitchen and figure out how to feed themselves. I actually took secret pride in the fact that for the first decade of his life, my son believed that stereotypical gender roles meant the man in the household was the main cook.

But over the weekend, in the midst of my funk, I ran across this delectable looking thing on Buzzfeed. It seemed easy enough to prepare, even for me, and I was particularly taken with the idea of a spinach, goat cheese and sun-dried tomato pie with—wait for it—a sweet potato crust!

My niece and her love had invited us to a Fourth-of-July barbecue this afternoon, and I rashly volunteered to make and bring this savory pie. I decided to do a trial run last night for dinner, and while I was cutting and chopping and dicing and seasoning, I completely lost all focus on myself. I thought, Hmmm, so this is why people cook. I remembered that in high school, when my daughter felt particularly overwhelmed by homework, she would get out her baking pans and begin to create her confections. It was a stress buster for her, a meditation, and last night, I finally understood. It might have been the first time in my life that I was cooking for no other reason than the pleasure and diversion of it, just to see how a dish might turn out.

It was delicious, though I decided that perhaps I should dice the sundried tomatoes a little smaller, and use about half as much, and maybe I'd like to add some chopped onions. I got up this morning and made the dish again, with my adjustments, and now it's on the counter cooling, waiting to be offered up at today's barbecue.

When I sent the picture up top in our family group chat last night, my son texted back, "Turns out Mommy can cook. Our childhood was a lie!" Can you tell I'm pleased with myself? I unabashedly am.




Sunday, July 2, 2017

Sunday

The crazy is on me today, every thought a desperate spinning dervish. I am so alone.

Hair as a metaphor


Her dad, the ichthyologist, was instructing her on how to take care of the fish she'd bought to give her boyfriend as a birthday present, and I took the chance to snap a photo of her latest hair transformation. She looks rather more pensive that she was feeling, but that's her attentive face. She got box braids for the summer, the kind she used to get as a kid heading off to sleep away camp, only these are longer and way more cool. She's happy with the result, and with the prospect of carefree hair for a while. I love watching her experiment with all the different styles her thick natural hair can master. I hope she will always fearlessly summon that spirit of reinvention.


Saturday, July 1, 2017

The goodness of the microcosm


Last night our friends Leslie and Janice came over for dinner, and my darling man cooked everything—a delicious raft of roasted vegetables and tender poached salmon—and he even brought home birds of paradise and ginger lilies and made a minimalist yet dramatic arrangement, just because the flowers looked so vibrant as he passed them while shopping for his ingredients. I merely tidied the house and once our guests arrived, sat and chatted with them, sipping a nice Malbec while the man prepared dinner. He joined in the conversation from the kitchen, and then in short order he called us to eat, the four of us sitting informally around the kitchen island (not the HGTV kind). We had a lovely, easy time, the talk turning to politics just once, and briefly, but for the most part we ignored the world outside just for one evening, acting as if America isn't burning itself down.


There was a shooting at a hospital in the Bronx yesterday afternoon, an obviously deranged doctor who got his hands on an assault rifle and why on earth does any private citizen need an assault rifle? This man, who quit the hospital staff over allegations of sexual harassment a while back, returned to gun down seven people, all but one of them medical staff, before putting a bullet through his own head. In addition to him, another doctor died, a woman. The rest were saved by quick triage performed by nurses and doctors even while the shooter still rampaged. I always wonder why these shooters don't just start with themselves, and if that sounds cold, so be it. My son's EMS station is in lower Manhattan, and this morning my husband and I confessed to each other that our first thought on hearing the news was to note with secret relief that it was in the Bronx, and so our son probably would not be one of the units called.


But back to the man and his yummy exploits in the kitchen: Those are herb infused olive oils he's been making, to rave reviews from everyone who tastes them. My daughter told him he should consider giving some as gifts. Sometimes when I post here about pleasant goings on, it might seem as if I am oblivious to the nightmarish news constantly blaring from our TVs. I'm not oblivious, but I often just need to shift my gaze. In the microcosm of my life, this has been a good week. In the macrocosm of America, not so much.


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