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In elementary science we learned about the food chain. I must have suspected that it was just a model, and that things were really much more complicated, even when omnivory, symbiosis, and facultative parasitism were factored in. Same with the food pyramid, the orbital model of atoms, and the schoolbook explanation of the inheritance of eye color–all oversimplifications for the purpose of starting toward a better understanding, corralling intricate ideas into packages one could grasp.

Since apparently I’m genetically predisposed to being comfortable with complexity (with a corollary need to willfully be gracious toward those who prefer to see things in black and white), all of these developmental discoveries were just fodder for my seething (if not large and powerful) brain. The truth is, if I don’t tackle something complex every day or so, my written sentences get longer, and longer, and longer, just to compensate for lack of mental stimulation. I also might start tackling too many things on my to do list, not all with “A” priority codes: painting a wall, making cookies, cleaning out the shed, and doing accounting all at the same time out of sheer boredom with linearity.

My brother used to ask Dad questions like “How fast does an animal go?” We laugh about it now. The question, “What’s wrong with the education system?” is of the same type. Just as one can’t say “About thirty-five” to the first, the second can’t be answered with a simple “lack of funding,” teachers’ unions,” “inequality,” “secular humanism,” “So-and-so,” “too much testing, ” “too little planning time,” or the like. My poor family, when they ask me a question to which I know (in the common understanding of the word “know”) the answer, rarely get a straight one. Because how can I be certain even where the ketchup is, when so much is in flux, and I am so likely to have missed much of that.

Still, I do like to aim at answers to questions, or at least, hone in toward answers possibly applicable in certain circumstances, depending. Even though often the best answer is, “It depends.”

In a recent conversation, the question someone seemed to be asking me (indirectly) was “Is it acceptable for a teacher at a Christian school to openly display a tattoo (on her ankle)?” That’s not a the type of question I usually hear, here in my town, out of the circles in which those questions are routinely discussed. All I could say was, well it’s not an issue of ethics at all is it? Not of modesty?

 

I’m walking around doing my household chores wondering if anything is about to hit the fan. See, I’ve been following a family tradition. The way mom mom put it, speaking of trying to be helpful after a death in a neighbor’s family, was, “She went around talking low and saying all the right things. I went around talking loud and saying all the wrong things.” Which is, I feel an important role. Gives others the chance to say, not just, “yes, that’s so,” and “True,” but to get a more meaningful discussion going, see what we all really think and feel about things. Still, the instigator is rarely thanked.

Though I’m a bit anxious about the comment I posted on the neighborhood website, still, I’m smiling. As much as I love true neighborliness, the give and take and share and looking out for one another of it all, now possible through the web as it used to be through physical interactions and gossip, sometimes I feel that there’s a little too much insincere niceness, and/or silence where a straighforward comment or word of critique might be apt. Not to criticize persons, not to put anyone down, but wrongheaded ideas, organizations, social trends, errors in judgment, oversight or presumption. But in doing so, even this little bit, I feel I’m sticking my neck out. Nothing on the scale of repent or perish–the issue here is of little importance. But can I learn something? I just hope that when folks disagree with what I’ve said, they let me know in a way that invites dialogue, avoids personal condemnation. But if it does, can I stay above my hurt ego, let go of my desire to appear wise and good, not to say ladylike? Can I be content with disagreement? There’s that insecurity again the desire for approval, along with the occasional foolish courage. For an opinionated person, I don’t have a very thick skin.

I don’t want to be one of those people who only makes disparaging comments, and merely nods appreciatively and says “wow” to myself when someone does or says something really great. But I admit I have a hard time putting together affirming, encouraging words of the kudos sort. I question my turns of phrase more there, agonize over the possibility that something might sound insincere or like a mere “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours,” in response to another’s encouragement to me. So I listen to those gifted encouragers and try to learn a thing or two. If I put my energy, creativity, some sweat and blood, into that endeavor, I won’t have much time to criticize, and I’ll do a heck of a lot more good.

I want something

June was cheerful and busy the last time I saw her, excited about her new volunteer work and welding class. This time as I walked past her window to the front door, I saw her standing, arms crossed, brow furrowed, staring out the window.

She caught my movement and came to the door, welcomed me in, started fixing us some of her excellent coffee. Her mostly eaten breakfast was on the counter–crispy sausages and hash browns, poached eggs, steamed spinach and cheese. Had I eaten? “I’m having all these animal parts–an egg, which is mean to bring new life, ground up pig muscle, and I was even going to add some cottage cheese, for the extra protein. As if I can’t settle for meat, have to have the reproductive cells and the secretions too. Seems parasitic. The spinach is okay, though it came from Costco, so must have come from a megafarm.”

“I’ll eat this, if you don’t want the rest,” I smiled. She smiled sheepishly, and sighed. “This is how I wrecked a romantic meal once, you know–too much analysis. It was so beautiful and delicious, but I started to feel it was a self-indulgent waste of cash that could have gone to better uses. Or was it? I don’t know. But I still feel that there something immoral about eating food I had nothing direct to do in obtaining, and didn’t really need.”

I picked up a damp dish cloth and wiped some spilled coffee grounds into my hand, tipped them into her compost pail, collected some stray pencils and poked them back into their mug. The kitchen window was open, and I heard the tiny whir of hummingbird wings, metallic chirping. She heard it too, and we moved silently closer to see and stood still, necks craned, to watch the visitation.

Best to let her talk it out. I knew it was the best way to help her come around, or back up to the surface again, where she could live and breathe. Best not to say much, either. She wasn’t a very good listener, in a way. Not that I resented it–it was just that unless I was speaking from my heart–and who can do that all the time?–she didn’t really absorb the details. Though she would sometimes realize it and apologize later. She had no patience for small talk, even from a friend. Talk about scheduling, play dates, other events, errands, those she had to write down or they’d slip away. But she has always been there for me when I’ve been bursting with real feeling, whether delight or sorrow. She would completely enter in then, putting her own things entirely aside to ask questions, empathize, help me pour out my soul. If neither of us had much to say, it was out to the garden to weed or look for something ripe, or time to make something–a meal, a drawing, a plan.

“I really wanted this breakfast, was so longing for it. And then I realized it was a poor substitute. I want something. I don’t know what it is. Sometimes I feel it’s something I have no business wanting. Sometimes it feels like pain.” She put the last few dishes in the dishwasher and clicked it on. “(I love that sound–something humming while it works for me.) No, not a pain, an ache, like the soreness when you massage a sore muscle. A good pain. So, I actually want to want, don’t know what I’d do without desire, longing. Well, yes I do–I’d get depressed.”

Then we switched to talk about our kids, fussed about busy schedules, helped each other resolve to be brave and cheerful, and said farewell until next time.

As described in my gardening blog, this spring my husband and I built some nice, tidy raised beds and put up a greenhouse (see post here). I supplemented the clay with sandy soil for better drainage and amended with partially composted horse manure/sawdust from the local riding arena, and figured that with the addition of the right compost and some rotation, the beds would be good for the duration. The garden grew great into the summer, then my dad gave me a copy of Steve Solomon’s Gardening When it Counts (2006). I learned that I had set up an unnecessarily water-hungry system that would give me more individual vegetables but of less health and quality for the same biomass than if I had everything more spaced out, and that I needed way more land since seasons of fallow were essential for soil regeneration. I also got advice on growing better seedlings, creating high quality compost (doesn’t just happen) without adding excess CO2 to the air, mixing a complete fertilizer, “fertigating” with fish emulsion, and opening up the clay soil with gypsum. So there was hope for the next five years or so, when our neighbor’s cedar trees (planted while we were overseas, without consulting with us about impacts) would shade our garden so much that vegetables would be out for us anyway. More reason to move out into the county.

Back at home I ran into JW, co-owner of our local urban farm/nursery/local produce market and former next door neighbor. Told him what I was reading. Of course JW knew Solomon’s work, being an eager, lifelong student of farming knowledge, but he asked if I’d read his latest, The Intelligent Gardener: Growing Nutrient-Dense Food (2013). Said the author had learned a whole lot more and had discounted some of his earlier teachings. He grabbed a copy  off a display and put it in my hands–“Here, read this one.” Wanted me to take it free. I protested, said I’d buy one when I was finished the other, but he insisted and so I thanked him, let him get back to the field, and paid for my fruit and potting mix. Not the first time JW has refused to accept payment over the years of our friendship.

Solomon wrote about what he’d learned about the way soil mineral content affects health, based on old studies of dental health and old military draft medical records  (when people still ate from their regionally grown foods). He linked this with the way minerals become available to plants and are depleted over time, affecting produce quality. Areas where rainfall (or irrigation) is highest experience the most leaching of minerals, and land continuously farmed further loses minerals, noticeably affecting plant health (and dependence on agriproducts). Farmland constantly sends plant and animal products and the waste materials (humanure and urine) of those that consume them off the land, never to return, and nothing, not even all the composted materials left over, can replenish the minerals in them–even the compost is depleted, because it’s grown on the same land. So farming and gardening is not a closed system. Today I read the proud statement of a local organic CSA that their farm was nourished completely by on-farm materials, and I have a mind to warn them of the error of their ways so they won’t run into trouble in the long term (how long depends on the mineral reserves of that particular land).

The historic response to this mineral depletion was to move west and start again in newly cleared land. The modern response is to go for overall productivity in terms of sellable biomass by using fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, and industrial scale machinery, and add whatever minerals keep the land producing. Food grows, but with ever decreasing resistence to disease and pests, ever decreasing nutrient values, and sometimes, in the case of organic farming, harmful buildup of certain elements in the manure and compost added. It’s not about organic versus non-organic products, Solomon explains, because many organic farms and gardens fail to remineralize their soil too, and so consumers get low nutrient food. As in high carb combined with, low protein, vitamins and minerals.

Hence the need to bring in minerals from sources downstream in the form of sea products, seaweed, and slow release mineral deposits that include trace minerals only lately recognized as essential to plant and human health. And hence the hope that humans can come to their senses about composting their own manure, urine and bodies instead of wasting all those accumulated minerals.

On the home gardening scale, this means mixing up a custom fertilizer with all essential plant nutrients, including trace minerals and enough nitrate nitrogen (originally derived from atmospheric nitrogen gas) to drive rapid plant growth. Compost is also important for opening up the soil, feeding plant flora and fauna that create good soil tilth, and moisture retention in sandy soils. But it’s not the be-all and end-all that gardeners have been led to believe. There’s even such a thing in some regions as too much compost, as I found out by ignoring Steve Solomon’s warnings that it could harbor seedling-eating pests.

I just mixed up Solomon’s latest version of Cascadian Complete Organic Fertilizer (COF), and yesterday I fed my broccoli seedlings with a dose of fish emulsion. They grew over a half inch overnight–that’s about 20%, at their size! I expect that once the COF is taken up by my other crops, I’ll see improvements in flavor, disease resistance, and nutritional value. I told my dentist today that this checkup would be the baseline and that he should see improvement. Hard to believe, but a person can grow leaf lettuce that’s 20% protein!

 

Doing the reshuffle

If my husband had to be laid off, I guess this is as good a time as any. The cool mornings and evenings and golden light of late summer feed my soul in a way such that I feel I can handle challenges, that everything will be all right. I definitely feel the extra motivation to get to work myself subbing this fall–that was the plan anyway, so my heretofore provider can ease out of the rat race, not have to commute so far, and look for something closer to home (where tech jobs at his level are rare and pay a lot less) so he can be a bigger part of our lives. It’ll be okay. He admitted his team was pretty dysfunctional, and he was glad of an excuse to move on. At least this time he was an employee, so can apply for unemployment insurance for the interim–a first.

As for finances, the garden is overflowing with vegetables, I shop in bulk and local, and I’ve explained to the kids about the need to make stuff from scratch more, eat out less, and create fun family treats in a lower cost way. I know how to economize, enjoy second-hand treasure hunting, and was looking for a way to motivate changes in our grocery purchasing habits anyway. No more Cheerios and premade ice cream bars–it’s back to homemade granola and yoghurt, plain vanilla bulk ice cream on homemade apple crisp, my eleven-year-old’s vegetable soup and daughter’s coconut curry. Not everyone is enthusiastic, but if my husband, our oldest son and I can be enthusiastic about a dinner of boiled beets, steamed broccoli and reheated potatoes, maybe it’ll trickle down to the younger three (hunger can do wonders). The big financial drains will be school related fees and extracurriculars, and of course the usual costs of this American life–insurance, auto and gas, and loan payments.

Another cut in expenses I just learned about was no more swim club fees–my son was cut for lack of commitment–surprise! After paying his membership all summer to save his spot while he worked three jobs to save for college and gain coaching experience, he checked in with his coach and found out. I’m disappointed, as is he, but especially that the communication between my son and the coach was so poor over the last year. My last effort will be a chat with that coach which will include a strong suggestion to warn swimmers that swimming must come first or you’re out. At least they can warn their parents so all that money won’t be wasted. And to question his inflexible approach, basically one that favors the well-to-do and kids that are academically gifted (or don’t care about academics). Saving for college? Shows a lack of commitment. Missing practice to study for exams or catch up on school work if you’re not a speed reader or have a learning challenge? Trying to learn another skill or sport? No excuses!

I reminded my son that there are a whole lot more academic scholarships out there than swimming scholarships. He gets that, though he loves swimming and still plans to work out on his own in case he swims in college. Difficult to stay motivated, though. He admits he’s really learned a lot through his experiences working with his various coaches over the years. We’ve had some good chats about their different strengths and weaknesses, the challenges they face, the way to motivate and teach kids. He’s really looking forward to his final year on the high school team come this fall as one of the few senior anchors and a co-captain. He really appreciates his high school coach, and goes all out for the team.

I have so much I wanted to finish up before school started–house and yard projects, sewing with the girls, a few fishing trips, college visits. Still a few weeks yet, including the time until teachers start going home sick and doing raining days, and the sub jobs start popping up online. I’ll have to do a work clothes inventory, make sure I have comfortable shoes, see that my status is active. Figure out how I’m going to cook and bake from scratch, drive the kids around, attend swim meets, put supper on the table, keep up the house, balance all these duties with my husband, and work. I know I’ll find time to write.

I went to “add new post” again, despite working on a dozen other post drafts off and on, desiring some kind of completion. But it’s a process, not just about products, right? And it’s for my own growth, to be able to understanding my inner and outer word, so as to determine my direction for the next fifty years and ten minutes.

Been thinking about the nature of freedom, and the layers of small but firm constraints on acting as a free agent from moment to moment. What is the difference between socially valuable inhibitions and constraints, and those which merely strangle individuality and maintain conformity? When does charging ahead with one’s own unique choices, despite barriers from the realm of fashion, habit, or cultural norms, enrich and delight, boldly knock aside meaningless or harmful mini-traditions of dubious origin, and when does it merely fizzle, or worse, hurt others?

For example, last week I set aside a zucchini and a cucumber to pass on to my daughter’s riding instructor, CB. I’d asked her what veggies she liked, since she ought to have some return from the manure I was taking each week. Not that she wasn’t grateful–wished I could take more, if only I had a truck. She asked if I had any zucchinis, and of course I did, brought her one a few days later. Now I was about to give her another one, since I had, as one does, too many. Mentioned it to my daughter as she was getting ready to go to the barn, and she reacted very negatively (she thought I was giving three zucchinis, if that clarifies things). It was as if I was about to do a shameful thing, something that would reveal me to be the pathetic not-to-be-associated with parent I really was. She tried to forbid me from bringing the stuff–three zucchinis? Just because she said she liked them? Implication: the instructor was only trying to be nice, but there was no way she actually wanted more than that first zucchini, if even that. My daughter’s distress really was of the sort that cries, “Don’t embarrass me, please!”

Stepping back from some of the responding feelings in myself, of the child-to-child type of transaction, of maybe truly being pathetic, maybe tending to do dumb things about which knowing people rolled their eyes in private, I stepped up as parent instead, and asked her to explain. In the spirit of a teachable moment. She couldn’t calm down enough, couldn’t articulate, and resorted to muttering, “Oh my God! You just don’t do that!” under her breath. I said in my most level-headed manner, “Are you saying you don’t trust CB and me to be adults about this, for her to be capable of saying she has no need for more zucchini, or maybe next week, for us to joke about having too much zucchini and trading recipes just to get rid of it? That would be fine–whatever. But she told me she likes zucchini. And why would it reflect on you anyway? Why are you concerned at all?” I felt the need to teach her that its okay to act on one’s own despite pressure, as well as have her be unsuccessful, not rewarded, for pressuring another person is such a way. But I also felt her genuine distress and wanted to be compassionate and put her interests before my own, or that of anyone who might be desperate for a zucchini.

But suddenly I was questioning myself. All I wanted to do was share something, the fruit of my labors, a gesture of appreciation and consideration, but I might, in fact, actually be about to annoy or embarrass someone else, as well as look pathetic. Which then makes me angry–why should there be judgment on acts purely personal and creative, not harmful and not in the ethical realm? Why should it matter whether someone does what “people just don’t do”? And why, furthermore, could some people, the cool, self-confidently unique, socially cutting edge people, pull off such things while the rest of us get laughed at?

What came up in connection with these thoughts was the time my mother bought me a new pink plaid parka which I regretted picking out, didn’t like after all, was embarrassed to wear to school. My friend RR complimented me on it, and assured me, against my skepticism, that it was very nice. So I offered it to her. After all, she seemed to like it more than I. There was an awkward pause. She haltingly explained that she was only saying she liked it to be nice, that she didn’t really want the coat. I had completely misunderstood, committed a faux pas, not cool.

Another incident, of wanting to do something to specially acknowledge an education professor I respected, went better: I dropped in to his office with two homemade scones to share, a sort of breaking of bread together. He got it, this bearded, peace-emanating Christian professor, who shared Krishnamurti quotes for our consideration in Philosophy of Ed class, who used spontaneous role-playing  to explore questions of ethics, culture, practice in teaching. Said thank you, and quietly ate with me, listening to what was up in my learning process. No judgment.

I guess this reveals my level of insecurity and fear of social exclusion, of being misunderstood and judged. And the thread, in my life, of that conflict between being myself and being “normal.” Between fitting in and breaking out, playing it safe and taking those from-the-gut risks. Maybe it’s because this process in still alive in me that I feel prepared to help teens walk that road, desire to support those like myself whose special contribution to the world is in danger of being stifled. The process of facing social pressure from my own children, who, after all, I see as not having legitimate authority over my choices, is a learning process for me, as well as a chance to draw out some principles for them to consider in their own growth.

Revisiting the visit

Back in Clifton, Nova Scotia, in the company of relations, neighbors, friends, guests in their grandparents’ home, my kids exhibited a refreshing lack of conflict–I heard no arguments, criticisms, conflicts over resources, even didn’t have to monitor internet use, as there was none, not even email, at the house. Everyone was on their best behavior, respectful, helpful, courteous. One daughter had made it her goal to improve her reputation from last time, when she remembered with shame her spoiled and ungrateful behavior toward Grandma. My husband and I too made a special effort too, avoiding difficult, unresolved topics, taking it easy together. No pressure to get things accomplished, no tight schedule, my parents having the wisdom to keep things loose. My husband and I had time to take walks, just sit and talk. My withdrawal from my garden duties was cured by helping in theirs–picking red currants, weeding the beans, pulling amaranth for dinner.

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On the way to town for an outing in the car with the three youngest, I commented on how pleasant it was to have them all get along, but daughter replied, “Are you kidding? We’re fighting all the time–just not in front of other people.” Which shows how naive I am. And I didn’t really take the news in stride, but sighed and went quiet. Still, I had seen twosomes making special connections–in almost every combination of siblings. Swinging on the porch swing, taking a walk, playing a game,. Yes, I can take the words of this daughter with a grain of salt, as she has lately tended to be pessimistic and combative. Doesn’t want me to set overly high expectations for the future, maybe.

Another pleasure was the revolving door that brought visits in turn from my youngest sister, her husband and their two year old daughter (the later and us meeting for the first time), my childhood best friend’s father (who was like an uncle to me), my uncle, my cousin with her new husband, and two of my three brothers, one younger, one older. With some fun, some conversation, and quiet times between to be with my parents or have some time alone.

My new niece was delightful, sensibly and sensitively raised to trust her instincts, be herself, take what time she needed, come up with her own ideas and ways of communicating, and go around without a diaper. My manner was to simply greet, allow her to observe, not talk about her as if she wasn’t there, make periodic conversation of  type that might interest her–things to look at, thoughts and feelings she might have, and later, doing a few things together–a puzzle, a hand up the stairs to find her mum. Trust and friendship did not take long. But her first connections were with my children, my youngest son first, who was given a toy and invted to play. He soon slipped away when he tired of his cousin’s attentions. My daughters also soon had her trust, then my oldest son–not one to seek out children’s company, but sought out by them. He has a way of communicating that is straightforward, natural, sufficiently intelligent for a small child–that is, not dumbed down. At my sister and brother-in-law’s cottage, she asked him to push her on the swing.

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My brothers being men of action, rather than sitting around in porch swings swatting mosquitoes and reading book excerpts, we played croquet and bocce afternoons all over the lumpy lawn.

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These brothers are very different from one another, and though only a few years apart on either side of me, they hardly seem related. The older one organized and won all the races with the neighbor boys and his younger brother, was very social, a leader, excelled in volleyball despite his lack of height, did well in college, completed his masters and went on to become a school teacher. Mom says the high school girls are lined up to get into his biology and environmental science classes, but mothers will say such things. Still, I don’t doubt it’s close to the truth, because of the way girls flocked around him when we were counselors at the same church camp, and the way my daughters quickly came to regard him as their favorite uncle. He’s just as captivating to them in their teen years and they can hardly wait to visit him and his wife, a vet, the Christmas after next. He’s full of fun–knows when to tease, when to teach, when to say come on let’s go do something. They live on a small farm, with a few horses, goats, chickens, and a large garden. He does woodwork, artwork, and cooks. He’s driven and strong willed, but very generous–loves to make gifts, give his time, his goods. No children of his own, so pours all that fatherhood out on others. Guaranteed snow at Christmas at his house. And he always has a spare bat or two on hand, that being one of his research specialties in college. Our visit was no exception. He brought out an injured little brown, fed it meal worms and big beetle larvae, and we listened to its expressions with a sonar detector.

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My younger brother took the role, growing up, of the kid who didn’t get it–struggled in school, got teased and picked on there and at home (for which I am ashamed and have apologized), was overtended by my mother–we didn’t need her enough, so she turned to him, who couldn’t button up his shirt right or eat breakfast without getting jam on his face. She would lovingly scold and do things for him. I wondered why he didn’t seem with it, whether he had any actual disability–thought maybe it was the measles Mom had when pregnant with him, but then maybe mostly a dynamic that kept him from believing in his own capability. He graduated and went on to complete a history degree, and we were all very proud, maybe some of us even surprised. But although he’s a voracious reader and a writer of some talent (his struggles being some rich subject matter, his writing blunt, humorous, and ironic in tone), he lacks confidence and never found a job where he could develop his talents. He supports himself as a parking attendant at a hospital. “Lot’s of time to read,” he says. As an uncle, he is also a highlight–plays chess without always winning, enjoys a good, intense discussion, treats my kids as intelligent equals. He even challenged my oldest to an arm wrestling match. It was a draw.

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My little brother sees life in fewer shades of gray, has a quick wit. Never married, says he doesn’t have the patience to build a relationship. Or the discipline to write seriously, though he does readings sometimes at the open mic events my sister hosts.

My brother-in-law is a real gem, treats my sister with tenderness and courtesy, and since he did well in the tech industry when Microsoft rose to power, he’s now able to do work he enjoys more, as a bicycle courier and drumming teacher, and they have no financial troubles.

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He gave me a bag of dark chocolate, which I’m still enjoying. Very thoughtful. My sister invited us to their cottage on his family’s island in Musquodoboit Harbor, where we kayaked, swam, played more bocce, and ate fish and chips. I talked a little with my sister, but I think the time was too short and she felt  the need to make sure we had a nice lunch, and seemed distracted by her duties. She was obviously finding her daughter a blessing, a balm. When my sister was younger, after I was away to college and various things, she struggled with undefined illness that included a serious bout of candidiasis and depression, discovered that she fits into the “highly sensitive person” category and found physical and emotional healing through diet, essential oils, my parents’ nurture, and music. I had an idea of staying longer, just me, so we could play and sing together and I could hear her performing, which I sadly did not manage. See this post for some music links to her work.

I also had a lovely visit from a significant high school friend. She was from town, I from the sticks, so we didn’t meet for the first time until our senior year, but became good friends. She’s a treasure of a woman, seemed hardly changed at all, though I hadn’t seen her for about twenty-five years. We had found one another on FaceBook through mutual friends a few months before and learned we’d be in the home town at the same time. I looked her up (even her phone number was familiar), her mother remembered me, and put her on. She offered to come out (my parents’ house being a special destination, a different world from town). Later I heard she’d arrived and went around the side of the house to find her talking with my brother and children. She teared up when she saw me. Takes that for me to go tender, too–I was moved that she was moved. It always surprises me when someone shows that kind of attachment to me–I don’t expect it, but it’s precious, others’ capacity to love. A quality I saw in all her friendships. We spoke of her renewed love life, the refreshing gift of a man who was crazy about her after years with a too stoic German engineer.

This friend and I went to the senior prom with two boys in the friend category and to the beach bash afterwards (sensibly sober, as I recall). I’d been a wall flower in 10th and 11th grade, hanging out with the nerdy academics, then suddenly was noticed by others and was asked to that prom by no fewer than five fellows, but turned them all down because there were rumors that a certain strong silent type was interested in asking me. He didn’t, so I asked him, but it was too late to get a tux and things, he said. Commiserating with some friends in the cafeteria over lunch, I found a classmate who’d also been turned down, and we decided to go as friends. I’d already mostly finished sewing my dress, after all, and I think he’d already got a tux. Good thing, as my friend had a good head on her shoulders and if I’d gone with the football player and associates, it might not have turned out so well, as I later discovered in his behavior toward me at a different party.

So we reminisced, and I told her my older brother had always liked her. “Now you tell me!” she said. Caught up on old friends, our lives, she being a physiotherapist and doing doctorate research, me trying to write and going back to teaching this fall, children, no children, life, where from here.

My father gave me Steve Solomon’s Gardening When it Counts, which I read in quiet times. He taught archery techniques to the kids and showed up the food garden project in town he’s piloting with the food bank. The hardest part is getting people to harvest and eat the food, he said.

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Every day he changed out the paintings on the walls, to show us what he’s been doing, and for fun. Mom fixed meals and washed dishes with a few breaks for her reading time and tea with her granddaughter, held a gingersnap slicing contest among the men (you have to get at least fifty from a doll of dough), and gave me a tour of her wild and unkempt garden, bursting with strawberries, tomatoes, herbs and flowers.

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Twice we played telepictionary with the whole family, one of the few (two) games I actually initiate, rather than merely consent to.  It’s lighthearted, strange, flexible, and perfect game for all ages. (Instructions here.)

Endings are the hardest. I can’t end things worth a darn. Blog posts, visits…

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