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Friday, June 29, 2012

A Pretty Kettle of Fish

I confess.  A fried seafood platter was the highlight of the last week.  As I sit down to write this post six days later, it’s still on my mind . . . It helps, I suppose, that the circumstances surrounding the meal meant it wasn’t any old fish and chips. 

An unexpected “situation,” resulted in our reluctant decision late Friday night to drive up to Maine the following morning.  Once there, my husband and I ended up in Portland, where we scored an on-street parking space, and realized we were both starving.  Hiking down a stretch of busy waterfront, we turned into an unpretentious place called Gilbert’s Chowder House, where the blackboard menu listed a selection of fresh fish entrees, and there was available seating on the outside deck.

Let me be clear.  The morning started off grumpy.  We were in Maine under what you might call “duress.”  A long list of chores we’d postponed waited for us back home, and the weekend was now a day shorter.  But as we situated ourselves under an umbrella at a picnic table overlooking Portland Harbor, a breeze wafted toward us carrying the briny smell of the sea and a tantalizing aroma of out-of-the-fryer fish. 
If you live inland, you may not know this, but here in coastal New England, there a few things that say "summer" and "vacation" the way fried seafood does. (Okay, steamed lobster ranks right up there, but that’s another post.)  The waitress handed us a small card printed with a limited menu, informed us the seafood platter would easily feed two, and placed plastic squeeze bottles of tartar and cocktail sauce on the table.  We weren’t in Maine for a holiday, but all of a sudden it felt like we were.

Had we been home, my husband would have mowed the lawn and cleaned the gutters.  I would have spent the day yanking prolific daisies out of the garden and grocery shopping.  If we were lucky, we might have met in the kitchen for a few minutes around lunchtime, before regrouping for supper.  

Instead, we had several hours of conversation in the car plus during lunch, across a crisp mountain of clams, shrimp, scallops, haddock and a side of killer onion rings.  And because we had an afternoon in front of us before “circumstances” allowed us to head back south, after lunch we meandered down the coast, pulled into a nature reserve and hiked around a salt water estuary.

We could have done all of these things at home. But on an ordinary weekend, there’s a huge gap between “could” and “would,” so in the end, that which frustrated me Friday night, triggered an unexpected bonus.  My husband and I had one of the nicest days we’ve had in a long while.  

It was one of those times when karma was on our side—including our good fortune to be sitting in a parking lot, not cruising down the highway when an appalling thunderstorm hit on the way home.  Oh, and that the top third of the fifty-foot pine tree laying in our yard when we arrived home, didn’t come close to the house, and missed the gardens on its way down.  

On top of one heck of an amazing plate of seafood and the rest of the day’s unplanned pleasures, I’m delighted we weren’t home when it snapped.

Hope your weekend is filled with unexpected delights.

Friday, June 22, 2012

A Rant.

A few weeks ago, something tragic happened to a family living about a half-mile down my street.  I don’t know them, and I’m not going to include the details here.  In the end though, the part that horrified me most was the press reaction to the incident.
I don’t watch news often.  I learned about the episode on my street when my phone rang one morning and a family-member living in a neighboring state informed me what had occurred at the the other end of the stone-lined road.  The event was hot news because it occurred in our “affluent” community. That afternoon on my way back from work, I paused as I always do, at a stop-sign around the corner from the house in question.  Looking to the right, I gasped.  Satellite trucks from every local TV station as well as FOX TV lined the road across from the scene. 

I watched the news that evening, and reading between sensationalized headlines, it was pretty clear what occurred the night before was a dreadful accident.  But every story began with incendiary and leading statements that would lead a viewer to perceive otherwise.   The press dredged up peripheral facts, how much those involved paid for their house, their past business relationships, details that had no bearing on what had happened the night before, and featured them prominently—anything to pique the interested of the consumer, I suppose.

Thankfully, the story had no legs.  Local people who knew the folks involved, understood a bigger picture, and the thing dropped—from the public eye anyway.  But not before the poor family had to stage a clandestine getaway to a relative’s house far from our “comfortable community.”  And not before I bumped into someone I hadn’t seen in a long time who, because she knew I lived on the same street, commented on all the trumped-up details and then tried to pump me for more.

I hadn’t thought about that situation for a few weeks, until yesterday.  I’m about a quarter of the way through The Pilot’s Wife by Anita Shreve, a novel I pick up every few years to re-read, because Shreve’s writing amazes me.  If you are unfamiliar with the story, it begins with the news of a terrible accident and unfolds from there.  I just finished reading the part where the main character has to beat her way through a crowd of reporters to get into her house, and the scene reminded me of what happened to our neighbors.

Before last month, any exposure I’d had to an insatiable press occurred via TV, the movies or books.  But this was different.   This lead story indicted an ordinary family by detonating a perception of wrongdoing over the air, with zero respect for the outcome of the case.  The “stars” of this debacle weren’t celebrities, or even public figures.  They were regular folks, like you and me.  But because of their zip code, the awful, painful and unplanned circumstances in which they found themselves became fodder for “Live from the Scene,” and “Story at Six.” 

It frightens me to think that news stations are evaluated by ratings.  Advertisers choose their spots based on this system and so, to attract market share, objectivity is lost.  I’m aware this point isn’t news to most people.  But seeing how it impacted average lives, brought it all a bit too, well, close to home.

The reminder of this real world situation, which percolated back to me through Shreves' exceptional writing, made me realize that unless you are an eye witness, there is no such thing as knowing what really happened.  There’s only the spin put on the “facts,” and the misinformation and gossip that ensues.  
The thought made me want to lock my doors and get down on my knees and pray that nothing “newsworthy” EVER happens to folks I know and love.

May your weekend be wonderful and "news" free.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Another Photo Fixation

On Monday mornings in the spring and the fall, a group of us prepare and serve a breakfast for seniors in an old lightkeeper’s house, overlooking the harbor.  All season long, as I've driven from home and turned the corner to where the waterfront unfolds before me, I’ve sighed at the image of a lone cat boat floating in the quiet harbor. On a several occasions, I tried  to capture the simplicity of its clean lines while it drifted, a Siamese twin to its own reflection.  Whenever I had my camera though, the wind rippled the water, or low tide made for an unappealing backdrop.  The pictures I took didn’t do the thing justice. 

But at 8:00 this past Monday morning, the air was damp, the leaves on the trees motionless, and when I turned the corner, a gloss of still water mirrored the boat.  This was the picture I’d been waiting for.  I turned to the seat next to me where I keep the camera, only to realize it sat on the desk at home, where I’d left it.  When I moaned about forgetting my camera to my fellow volunteers, two of them offered me the use of their I-phones to take the photo, but it wouldn’t be the same.  Expletive deleted. 

Ever hopeful, I drove to the harbor before seven on Tuesday.  The tide was lower than the day before, and though not motionless, the water was calm.  Perhaps I’d get a few good shots off.  I framed the boat, realized I needed a different lens, took a wide angle shot, then returned to the car to get the telephoto. 

Timing can be everything, or timing can be nothing.  By the time I got back, lobstermen where shuttling themselves out to their boats. While I waited for the water to calm after they killed their motors, the wind kicked up.  

In photography, preparation and planning matter, of course, but then there is just plain luck.  As it pertains the the lovely cat boat, I’m still waiting for mine.

Friday, June 15, 2012

An Embarrassment of Riches

A long time ago, a friend gave me a three-inch pot of Sundrops, a perennial with vibrant yellow blossoms to add to my garden.  Back then, I was always looking for contributions, and I loved the soft, eye-catching flowers.  

I didn’t know then that the horticultural world considers the species “aggressive.”  I prefer the word “assertive,” but however I editorialize, over the years, these plants have seeded themselves across the twenty-foot long ledge garden where I first planted them.  At the start, I was excited when they spread.  They filled in blank spaces in my adolescent patch, and trumpeted summer as they burst forth in late June.  

When subsequent generations began to compete with my Creeping Phlox, the perennial geraniums (called Bloody Cranesbill…don’t you love that name?) and my Stella d’Oro lilies, I dug them up and tucked them into other places around the yard—where they heeded the call and went forth and multiplied.  Once I ran out of room, I offered Sundrops to gardening friends…always with the warning, “You’ll love me for a few years, but after that, maybe not so much.”  The last few summers, I yanked excess Sundrops from the soil, planted them in plastic pots, and set them at the end of the driveway under sign on which I’d scribbled, “Free.” 

Now, before I go on, let me clarify that I love my Sundrops.  Unlike other invaders, they have short roots which make them easy to move—and, if you needed a picture to convey the word “happy,” or to define the perfect hue of yellow—this flower expresses both. 

However lately, I’ve realized I’m in trouble.  The Sundrops are ready to bloom.   As soon as the rain we’ve had the last few days passes, they’ll burst open.  But now they have competition.  Three years ago I went to a plant sale to support a non-profit in town.  I bought one plant (called Jacob ’s Ladder, but that’s secondary to this story).  Someone had likely dug it up from their garden, and the dirt they potted it in came with a couple of stems of Bee Balm (Monarda).  I planted my purchase, unaware that under the right conditions, Bee Balm has the same creeping tendencies as the Sundrops.  Now both species fight for space, and the ledge outside the kitchen window looks like a shaggy-haired kid, overdue for a visit to the barber.

A garden, more than many things, provides evidence of the passage of time. When we bought our house twenty years ago, none of our gardens existed.  Today, the offspring of that one little pot of Sundrops  fills four sizeable plots of earth and last weekend, I transplanted excess Bee Balm to two new locations.  

In a messy way, the yard is lovely—but all these rampant blossoms climbing over each other seems a bit—excessive.  So, as soon as the sun is out, this barber is going to climb out there with her trowel.   In truth, I love my unkempt gardens, but a few lucky folks who pass by our driveway this weekend are going to get a chance to fill up their own.

Happy Weekend to all, and to all you fathers out there, enjoy your special day! 

Friday, June 8, 2012

Storm Chasers

It’s been a long time since my daughter and I had afternoon coffee at the beach.  We used to do it once a week when she lived at home year round.  We sit in the car, stare at the ocean, sip our drinks and catch up on what’s going on.  But, since she’s been home from school, it’s taken a while to get into a routine.

Today she wasn’t scheduled at either of her two summer jobs though, so we made a plan.  Once I returned from work, we’d go to French Memories, get our coffee and head off. Only, as I pulled into the driveway, a rolling grey cloud covered the western horizon, and thunder rumbled overhead.  Usually I’m the one saying, “It’s okay, let’s go anyway,” but today she uttered the phrase, and she, God bless her, had her camera in her purse.

The drenching rain began as we pulled out of the driveway, and lasted long enough for us to get soaked running into the coffee shop, but by the time we got to the beach, it stopped.  The remnants offered an amazing photo opportunity.  Pregnant gray clouds scuttling above a green sea, yacht club sailboats floating under storm clouds while back-lit by the afternoon sun—a line far out to sea, framing the mouth of the harbor. 

There’s everything to be said for a hot cup of coffee, a camera and a good friend, especially when combined with a spring storm.

Photo credit for the picture above belongs to my daughter!

Hope you all have a great weekend!

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Being Brave

Recently, I mentioned struggling for blog topics.  One of my readers suggested replaying blog posts from when I first started writing Middle Passages. No one was reading me then, so the old posts would be new to my current readers.  I hadn't given the idea a lot of thought...but then, the same person who offered the suggestion, did something brave yesterday that resonated in me.  It also reminded me of this blog post, which I wrote in 2009, not to long after my "life altering" job elimination.   So, you all are getting a golden oldie (albeit an unread one), in honor of Robin.  (Yes, V-log girl, this is for you.)
In a phone conversation with a friend the other day in which I sought her gardening advice, she finished her description of mixing manure and peat moss with the following comment: "Be brave."

"Be brave?" I thought. In the garden, I can be brave, but in the rest of my life it’s a struggle.I hung up pondering her comment. Am I brave? As a lifeguard, I saved an exchange student who, unable to swim, also couldn’t read a sign and stepped over a drop off. Even though I got paid for it, maybe that was brave? After college, I visited my sister and traveled around Australia. That only gets a “sort of brave” because she was a lifeline. It was brave, I suppose, to go through a semi-open adoption process which resulted in the arrival of our beautiful daughter--and I know I was brave when I initiated an in-person meeting with her birth family a few years ago.

Career-wise though, brave has never been a modifier I’d use to describe myself. To some degree complacent might fit, but that’s harsh. Perhaps "safe" would work better. I damn myself by saying this, but there is an explanation. While it was important to me to do my best job, my employment has always taken a back seat to my family. We needed the income, so working was non-negotiable. Every paycheck arrived though, attached to a gut wrenching tug of war, because I was not with our daughter. But I was good at my job and stayed at it because I could do it while maintaining a strong focus on her. Somehow, in spite of the endless pulling and pushing, I managed to be successful at both. But I was never brave enough to determine what I really wanted in a job, because leaving my employer might have meant tipping the scales from the balance I’d constructed.

It seems that many women my age, those of us who were young in the sixties and seventies, were raised with traditional mothers as role models. Somewhere in our teens or so, the woman’s movement became big and suddenly, doors opened. Yet for many of us, our formative years instructed us in different career aspirations, so there was confusion as to how to step through.

I walk with women who are from the same generation and it seems that whether we are home or working, we lack confidence in our roles. Mostly I think though, that we are all brave in minor ways for which we don’t give ourselves credit. One friend thinks she should have been a teacher, but didn’t have the financial resources to go back to school while she was raising her family. She adopted three children, traveling to Columbia and the Philippines to bring two of them home. She’s brave. These days, when the phone calls come, she substitute teaches. That’s really brave. Another friend stopped working outside the home when her son arrived. Because she wants to write but is lacking the confidence to submit her work, she has joined the garden club and agreed to write their newsletter, which in my mind is brave. Yet another friend is like me. She’s my age, worked the same amount time for her employer, grew organically in her career and got laid off. She’s in the process of networking and finding a new career. That’s being brave.

One day at work, when my daughter was sick and I was worried about not being with her, a woman I admire said: “Think of the role models we are creating for our children. Our daughters and sons will grow up knowing woman will work, that they can successfully raise a family while challenging their minds and contributing income.” Perhaps going to work everyday was brave.

I think my girl will be braver than me, but until I know that for sure, I need to set an example for her to make certain she grows up with the confidence to pursue her own goals. To that end, I’m going have to muster up my self-assurance and start some dedicated networking out there soon, making sure to land on a job that I’ll love.

In the meantime, I’m sitting here each day writing this blog and putting it out into cyberspace for anyone to read. And, because it’s not something that you’d necessarily stumble upon out there in the Web, I’m telling people about it too. That’s either brave or insane. I’ll leave that judgment up to you.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

June and the Insecure Writer

This is my June contribution to Alex Cavanaugh’s Insecure Writers' Support Group.  (Click on the link to read posts from other participants.)

I am a little lost right now.  Honeydew Ever After is my second attempt at a novel.  It’s still a learning game, but this time, I dared send an early draft to a few patient readers, who gave me plenty of actionable feedback.  With their comments in mind, I deleted a ton of unnecessary backstory at the beginning, made the climax more plausible by changing a location, combined several chapters, and rewrote one in a different character’s point of view. I focused on my tendency to over describe and cut, cut, cut.  And, I fixed grammar and spelling and typos…which will forever be my weakness.

After many weeks of this, I finished, then started right in on (my new) Chapter One again, which I polished and refined, before forcing myself to stop.  I need to step away, but trust me.  I know I’m not done.  I’ve got to go through the story again and make sure the action flows, confirm the logic and check that timelines and events tie back correctly.  

But then what? I have it in my mind there’s a whole lot more work ahead of me, but I’m not sure what it is.

Any suggestions you care to leave will be gratefully considered.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Out of Shape

I’ve arrived at a point where I’m just typing, and taking it on faith that words will come.

We’re in the middle a nasty Nor'easter.  Trees hunch with the weight of drenched leaves.  Rain blows sideways.  Last week, pine pollen wafted in a green mist through the upper skies, before coating everything indoors and out, with blond soot.  Apparently, the amount of pollen was the note that came due for our snow-free winter, plus warmer-than-usual temps in early spring.  Here in New England, we know deep in our guts,  nothing that good ever comes without cost.  In a proverbial, “half-full” moment though, I’ll express relief that this torrent is washing away all that sneezy grit.

A cold, wet afternoon like this, when there is nothing critical on the agenda, makes for a good day to wake up the old writing muscle.  I’ve been editing for so long that a blank page waiting to be filled feels like a stranger goading me, rather than an invitation from a dear friend.  I’ve accepted the challenge—but, since less than a molecule of creativity circles in my brain, as you can see, I’ve resorted to writing about the weather, which gets credit only, because it's less of a failure than failing to write at all. If I were in charge of the red pencil, I'd award the effort a D-, at best.

Like an out-of-shape athlete, the scribe in me needs a regimen of sit ups, push-ups and dedicated laps around the track, before it returns to good form. I expect it to fall on the grass, gasping, long before things come easily again.

Thanks for suffering through it with me.