Things I have learned

My grandma was a tiny, little person who lived in a big, detached house in a town called Formby in the north of England. She walked each day to the village, never learned to drive, and was married to my grandpa for almost 50 years; he died just a few months shy of their anniversary. When he went to fight in the war, she stayed home of course, and waited for him for almost 4 years. Occasionally he would send letters and boxes of citrus from the north of Africa. When he returned, they met at Lime Street Station in Liverpool: a place I visited with my Aunt Barbara just two summers ago. My grandma was a horrible cook with a fantastic 1950s kitchen; everything she made was grey or beige and had a similar, floppy, boiled consistency. My grandpa used to say that the Yanks won the war by throwing my grandma’s cooking at the Brits!

My grandma died in 2004 of kidney failure complicated by vascular dementia. By that time, she time traveled almost daily and confused people, places and times. She told us loads of stories that had been secrets and maintained her love and devotion to my grandpa, who had left us 10 years earlier.

Tonight I sit in my dining-sewing room, at my table, staring into my living room and listening to the sounds of the air conditioner. Tonight I noticed that the light is changing, and the beams cast out by a setting sun are gold and pink and at such a slant that it catches, metallic, in the corners of your eyes, forcing your gaze up at an autumn sunset. It is a beautiful time of the year.

Cody and I have been taking care of Cody’s grandma for about a week. Maw Maw grew up in Port Neches, Texas, on Wilson Street, in a tiny green house. Her mother died in childbirth and she was raised by a stepmother and her father. She met Cody’s grandfather in high school when her girlfriend was dating him, but changed her mind and suggested Marie might like him more. They married and he built them a house a few streets over, on Lee Avenue, in 1962. It was a small house with 4 rooms and one small a/c in the window of the childrens’ room. He later expanded it with a second living room and a master suite. She spent 88 years living in such a small area: just two streets minutes from each other. She worked as cafeteria manager at the elementary down another side street, and her house is mere blocks from the intercoastal waterway: a path to the ocean. Last night she asked me if there was anywhere around here to get shrimp. I had to laugh and tell her we are a ways away from the coast. She is sweet, and easy to talk to, and a straight shooter. Taking care of her, however, is quite difficult and takes so much time. It can be a real struggle, and is an experience not understood by almost anyone we know. But there is beauty in it, and in small moments of chatting on the side of the bed, and making small victories in skin care or adjusting medicine or getting someone to stand up who hasn’t for a month.

I wonder what it would have been like to know my grandparents as most people know theirs. I still miss them, despite the fact that I only saw them every few years, and they died when I was still too young to really understand their importance. Despite that, I think of my grandpa and grandma all the time: when I eat cookies, or smell smoke, or feel wool, or eat lettuce, or think of windy beaches, good people, laughing, blue eyes, and true, loving care.

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Screen Time

I just nursed my cat after she got into a nasty fight: her eye is very swollen and she seems quite sad. I drove to the grocery store to buy wine and soda and bread; as I drove home I realized how I want to organize my book.

About two weeks ago, a notification popped up on my phone to tell me that my screen time was down 30 minutes, or perhaps it was 30%, from the previous week. I was at 3 hours 35 minutes per day. I looked at the screen in disbelief. Surely this was impossible. How had I used my phone, no, looked at my phone, for an average of 3:35 a DAY? It was at this moment that I realized that if I want to make jewelry, make quilts, make clothes, write a book, start a business, and somehow get it all off the ground in the next 4ish years, I have to reduce that number from 3:35 to about 1:00 or less.

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Apple’s Screen Time Proves You’re Addicted to your iPhone

I wonder how I got to 3:35. Is it just patterns of behavior cultivated over a long and leisurely summer? Is it avoidance? Is it the power of distraction? Is it boredom and not choosing to do the “hard stuff” because it takes energy/time/it is hot outside? All of the above? (I think the latter).

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NPR

Tonight I was driving through the dark night streets of Elgin. I drove west on Central Ave, past the documentary filmmaker’s home and the Sawyer Foundation. I drove slowly past three cats who were playing in the street, unaware or ambivalent to my presence in a large, silver station wagon. I stopped at the stop sign and wondered if anyone else would also stop. (They didn’t). I drove further up the street and looked at the yard of pyramids of bricks, and the empty lot that is for sale for too much money. I noticed that the little yellow house on the edge of the woods has new lights that line the drive. I love that little yellow house. I wondered about the goats that play in the field, further down the street, and what their owners do with them, if anything. I noticed a scurrying in the grass on the right, and realized it was a medium-sized opossum, who promptly scampered across the road.

I went to HEB and saw a student and bought my groceries and used my coupons to no avail. I walked outside and saw my favorite guy who works at the liquor store who hadn’t had time to buy beer tonight despite the fact that he works at the liquor store. I find this very funny. There was an old hippie lady in the parking lot, smoking, who glanced at me. A man was complaining about buying a house with his girlfriend who has a kid. He said next time he would find someone without a kid, and the lady he was talking to said, “yeah, but that’s hard to do!”

In other words, screen time, for me, is distracting. I suspect it is designed that way. I use the built-in Apple app now to help me monitor myself and have brought myself down from 3:35 to about 1:30, so I am on the right track. I suspect this is where all the noting came from tonight. I suspect this is how the book idea came together. I was daydreaming, whilst driving, about cooking with Martha’s housekeeper Rani, in India, and about how I want to write a cookbook with her but I don’t know how. The radio was talking about counterfactuals and about how it is natural for our brain to invent alternative reality endings when bad things happen. I started to think about time passing very quickly and about how I will be 39 this year and there is no time like the present. I started thinking about the old post oak tree that has to come down in the front yard that has been growing there, probably, for almost 200 years and how it is just its time. Just its time.

Book time. Me time. Less screen time. You?

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Screen Time is Just As Bad for Adults

 

The Year of Magical Thinking

I just started reading this book, by Joan Didion. She physically (and, as I read, emotionally/spiritually/whatever) reminds me of my friend Meredith, who I lost almost nine years ago. I was inspired to write to her, as I do often talk to her, in the garden, on the patio, gazing up at the stars and the clouds of Milky Way on dark, dark nights. Please bear with me as I write to her here, and no doubt jettison us off somewhere.

I was thinking about you just now, as I was reading the second chapter of “The Year of Magical Thinking”; have you read it? When I think of you, and of Joan Didion, I think of women very physically similar: tiny, thin like birds, blonde hair, great style, strong wit, indefatigable intelligence. But you were you and she is Joan Didion: after all, there is a Netflix biography on her, when, sadly, there is not one on Meredith Farmer. If I were to see Joan Didion at the supermarket, if I didn’t already know who she was, I would see someone like you: a middle-aged lady with simple elegance, beautifully-colored hair, probably looking with disdain at something in produce, ever in judgement of all the “normal” things.

You’ve been gone almost nine years, and life has ebbed and flowed and changed, moved around, wiggled, metamorphosized a wee bit (as my grandma would have said: she now gone 15 years, and that, another story). Ultimately, though, life is still the same: I am just more skilled at handling its curve balls due to experience and therapy and probably, my friendship with you.

There was a night about  6 years ago when I chatted with you off my front porch in Northeast Harbor, Maine, when I lived in the Dollhouse (or the Fishbowl, depending on who you asked) : the tiny house on the town parking lot in which my comings and goings were very public knowledge and everything in the house was so small. My closet was a pole that hung at the end of the bed, and the shower felt like I was hosing myself off on a dock somewhere with hot water. But, it was $650 a month and the landlords were dolls and I walked to work and to get breakfast sandwiches at Ben’s, and I had a wonderful, small garden of unruly morning glories that threatened to take over the house! I had many memorable conversations on that porch, on the picnic table that I stole from someone’s trash and Dan Bondo‘d so that it would survive, and I painted Seal Harbor Green after JRa and I put in the new path up to the front door, made from stone dust that we bought mostly drunk one day from the quarry in Trenton. That was where you and I talked, formally, the last time. Informally in between, many times. I don’t know what we talked about, but I am sure that I asked you questions and you laughed at me, in a loving way.

I remember, at your funeral, there was a slideshow of pictures of you. My favorite was a photo of you in college, cigarette in your right hand and an ERA button on your left lapel. Your hair was strawberry blonde and you looked so damned engaged. I feel, I wonder, do we lose those feelings as we get older? Do we blame husbands/partners/kids and is that bullshit? Is it just projecting like everything else: an excuse to disengage, to check out? What do you think?

I see you smiling. I feel like you are at the pool right now, but perhaps that’s just because I read a chapter in which Joan Didion describes her newly dead husband as having a daily routine of reading in the pool (reading “Sophie’s Choice“, no less) while she gardened, and of course that made me think of my small 8 foot cattle waterer pool that I bought after doing some work for the old lady next door and now I share with Cody almost every day, sometimes several times a day, despite his almost constant chagrin with me about how I let the leaves and flowers and bugs in, and he doesn’t.

Such is married life, to someone I am actually married to, rather than the first one, that you bore witness to, or to your 2nd, as I bore witness to. Marriages, men, children, time: rental houses and the houses we “own”. All the stuff within those houses, the boxes, the moving, the priority of sorting out the kitchen, the living room, the bedrooms. The conversations about Mama and Daddy and who built Mansfield Dam, what the role of all the boyfriends and husbands actually were. I look at your Carnival Glass dish, blue with a sheen of multi-color on it, as if it is coated with oil, all the time: I think of you wryly smiling at me, or of that day we went fishing on the dock of my neighbor’s house on the Croton River, when Steve and I lived with Brien and you came to visit and told me I was a witch because my garden grew so well!

I think, in the end, that the boyfriends and husbands are not as important as the memories of people as unique entities in and of themselves. I remember you as such: and think of you this way often. I find it funny, sweet, sad and ultimately, joyful, that you still are such a part of me: that we still talk. I wish you could see where I am now, as it is a very nice place (and the pool is pretty nice, too) and you would like Cody a lot. You would laugh at both of us, in a loving way.

Rest in peace: I miss you. Love, Patience

A Love Story, Part 2

In 2009, I lived at 6407 Haney Drive, in East Austin, Texas. I had just transferred to Bedichek Middle School in South Austin after several years at Garcia Middle School in northeast Austin.

I then lived at 3707 Montrose Street, in the heart of Hyde Park in central Austin. It was the first time in my then 10 years of living in Austin to live on the west side of I35. At the end of 2011, I packed up all my belongings (and there were a lot of them then!) and drove across the country in a terrible relationship with a very unstable and selfish person. We landed in South Philadelphia at 1819 South Rosewood Street. That house became known to me and my roommates (the boyfriend left very shortly after arrival) as the House that Slants, as no room was square. It was like a fun-house, but not fun.

From Rosewood I went to my parents house at 7 Locust Lane, Salsbury Cove, Maine, and then to a little house, whose number I have forgotten, on Jordan Pond Road in Seal Harbor, Maine. That one I only stayed in for two months and after which I moved into my first proper apartment in Maine, The House That Floats, at 5 Lookout Way in Northeast Harbor, Maine. Several months later, I found a more permanent place at 8 Old Firehouse Lane in Northeast Harbor. I stayed there for a year, and I loved it very much: I just didn’t love the isolation of the town in winter, and my friends who lived across the parking lot from me were evicted due to a gallery taking over their house. Off we all went to Bar Harbor, they to Otter Creek, and me to 60 Main Street, the amazing apartment with the terrible roommates that was stacked on top of Sherman’s Bookstore. I had an incredible third story bedroom that looked out over the whole town, but didn’t get along with a roommate with a drinking problem and boundary issues, and another roommate with a drug and drinking problem and boundary issues. So off I went to 201 Otter Creek Drive in Otter Creek, the no-man’s-land of Bar Harbor, to live at the beautiful house on 10 acres at the foothills of mountains, in the wind tunnel that is Otter Creek in winter, next to the Brown Family Farm. I heated the house with wood and named it Faerieland Farm. I left after the Love Story started, at the end of March.

In Austin, I lived at 415 Normandy Street, my friend Jackie’s fabulously funky, beautiful house that is decorated with Mexican and Syrian styles, and then moved to Jaguar Rose Cottage at 1700 Alameda Drive, where I sit now, typing this essay out. In front of my house is a Little Free Library, which I love, and on top of my roof is a flying pig.

Turns out, pigs do fly, and surprises do come, especially when we least expect them. Turns out, also, that love stories are not always easy stories. Sometimes they take extensive work, determination, forgiveness, love, and acceptance. Sometimes they put you through the ringer, and if you are very lucky, you are both left mostly whole on the other side. Sometimes you have to break up to realize what you were doing to mess it up. Sometimes, you are very lucky.

This move, the one that I am putting off by typing essays on the internet, is move #11 since 2009, if I am counting correctly. This move, though, to the funky house in the country, the one that hasn’t got a name yet, is one that is full of hope, love and possibility. We are both so excited to live in a space larger than 300 square feet, to have all of our things together and in one place, to have a garden, and a workshop, and a beautiful old bathtub, and a fireplace when it gets chilly. But I think the core of the excitement stems from understanding that we make this choice with eyes open, hands clasped, because each of us wants the other one to be happy, and we are happier when we are together.

I am going to get back to packing books into boxes, with the full knowledge that moving in Texas in late July is going to be really, really hot and sweaty. But then: home, love, family, peace, and quiet.

 

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Fathers

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My Dad is dying, slowly, in a living room on an island in Maine. He dies slowly of an ebb and flow disease: diabetes. His version of the Big D is complicated by the Big A: alcoholism. It turns out that alcoholism can cause diabetes, and once your body has been hijacked by this syndrome, continuing to drink just turns the dial up on its destructiveness.

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My mother really wanted me to come to Christmas this year because, as she said, “he isn’t doing well and it won’t really get any better”. I stopped going home for Christmas three Christmases ago, when I went to Enchanted Rock with Cody, instead. I camped with lots of other families under a giant, cold full moon, and thought about what making new traditions might mean. Cody and I have spent Christmas together ever since. Christmas, to me, is a holiday fraught with expectations (mine and others), disaster (real and imaginary) and has never held the beauty of the holiday that I see displayed in films and songs.

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I think my mother really tried to create that Christmas magic, and she probably still does. I just remember the harshness of being told a plate was worth more than I was when I placed cookies on it one year. I remember one year receiving boxes and boxes and boxes of presents, including piles of strange clothes that I thought someone should know I would never wear, under an LL Bean Christmas tree that was delivered by the postman on my birthday. That same year, my mom bought a first edition of the Canterbury Tales illustrated by her favorite Arthur Rackham (she has told me the story of how she once could have bought a first edition of the Lord of the Rings from a bookstore in London for 5 pounds, but didn’t have the 5 pounds to spare), and set it on a table behind a sofa in the formal living room, specially curated by her friend Oona the interior decorator. I remember the room curved at the front, framed with beautiful, tall windows, perfect for that giant Christmas tree. The rub is that we only spent one Christmas in that house: the year after, my Dad lost his job in the oil crash of the early 1990s, had a nervous breakdown, and we had to sell the house, the cars, and that 1st edition of the Canterbury Tales. He never recovered from the fact that we had to move into a rental house: I remember him disappearing for awhile I think, and after that, never coming out of the large master bedroom in that dark 1970s house with a duck in stained glass on the door. I suppose he never really did emerge again.

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I have this memory of my dad and myself. I must have been very small: about 6 perhaps. I have a nephew-in-law now named Peter, who is 6, and it must have been when I was about his size. My dad and I were climbing on rocks on the beaches of Maine, over by The Ovens in Salisbury Cove. We climbed onto a big rock that slowly became engulfed by a rising tide; I don’t exactly know how that happened, because now, as an adult, I understand how long it takes for the water to rise. Nevertheless, the memory remains; stuck on the rock we were, and my father had to carry me to shore.

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My Dad is a big, barrel-chested man who used to be 6′-2″. He is a lone wolf and a person who doesn’t fit in: two ways that we are similar. I was chatting with a friend a while ago about how our self-identification as people who don’t belong, who are special or unique, reinforces some pretty unhealthy patterns that contribute to all sorts of ills: like codependency, seeking out bad boyfriends to “help” or “fix”, a lack of self-awareness, self-love and feeling like success is an option. My dad never spent time looking in Life’s mirror: perhaps it was too frightening. He ran away and into anger, reckless spending, and the bottoms of gin bottles.

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It took me a long time to let go of the anger I had toward him: I would ask for years: why isn’t he like other fathers? Why does he seem to love everything but his family? Why does he do these crazy things all the time? Why does he throw stuff? Why does he crash cars? Why does he spend money he doesn’t have? Doesn’t he understand how much it hurts all of us? It took me years, really until this past year, to realize that he is locked in a prison of his own making and it’s almost as if there is no one else in that prison: like a man locked in a cell on an island with nothing but his thoughts and a shovel, he just digs that cell deeper and deeper into the mountainside, when the choice to escape is his to make. Even last year, at the age of 77, he somehow managed to open a series of credit card accounts and spend $10,000. When we asked him what he had bought for that amount of money, he really didn’t know.

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I have been on holiday break from school for 2 weeks now and, honestly, haven’t done much except cooking and organizing, helping Cody clear our land for our wedding, and watch movies. It wasn’t until tonight that I realized that all the films have had one common thread: fathers. Fathers who are good, fathers who are bad: fathers who are confused and don’t know what to do. Fathers who are trying, and fathers who are useless at trying. Fathers who are drunk, and fathers who are teetotalers. None are perfect, although a few match what I would have liked to have had. But, in some ways, like I said to my brother earlier today, perhaps we are just here to listen to these two crazy people who are our parents. After all, do any of us truly actually make sense? Probably not: but I do like to think that I try to be happy, to think of others, and I am trying very hard to be a good partner to a very sweet man who, as I type this, is drilling holes in a concrete wall so that I can hang up a mirror. That sweet man lost his father almost 11 years ago to brain cancer. His father, just as imperfect as any of them, is gone and he doesn’t even have a way to talk to him and become frustrated at his inadequacies and nonsense. All he has is memories of an imperfect man: the same that I will, one day, have.

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Where Is Fancy Bred? In the Heart, or in the Head?

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I am a bad listener.

It’s true. My name is Patience and I am a bad listener. I am a bad listener to complaints. I think I might be an ok listener other times…my mom’s friend told me a while back that it is because I am so good at coming up with solutions to problems.

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As a problem-solver who grew up with an alcoholic parent, it’s inevitable (I think) that my problem solving ability gives way to codependent strategies like: “I can do this for you!” “Just listen to my idea!” which both eventually give way to frustration at the other person for not doing those two things, and then frustration becomes anger, and then you both are fighting with each other in the kitchen and no one is happy.

I find relationships, especially the one I am in with my fiance, to be challenging in the best ways. Cody shows me myself in harsh relief, and shows me himself in a clear light. Sometimes these views go together and our opinions are the same, and sometimes we are standing in the kitchen, him leaning against the sink and I against the refrigerator, aghast at what we are putting each other through.

One of the many things I am thankful about my relationship is that we always fight fair, and so far, come to a place where we can agree to take a breath, seek perspective, apologize where necessary, and assure the other person that we are not truly angry and that the other one is very loved.

Coming from an alcoholic family in which either nothing was discussed or someone was throwing a plate or crashing a car, this is my greatest space for growth: how to be a responsive and loving human, despite when, and maybe especially so, I am most uncomfortable by being shown my self in the mirror of the soul.

As I type this and think how grateful I am for all of it, despite its momentary pain, bewilderment and frustration, I am sitting with a small kitten, under a handmade quilt that I named “Find Your Heart”. Indeed.

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Perspective: Old Houses and the Passage of Time

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Father Time with Baby New Year

It has been ever so long since I consistently have written here: it is my mistake, to be sure, because if there is one thing that I do know, it’s that I forget the myriad twists and turns in this game of life unless I write them down.

Almost a year ago, my now fiance and I bought a unique, old house in a rural town east of Austin, Texas. We are 25 miles and 50 years away, it seems. I now teach in the school district, and he works on the maintenance crew. The town is very beautiful and small, and we love our property and funny old house very much.

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Winter Solstice Fire with Full Moon in the Half Light

When we first bought the house, I would get very overwhelmed by all that needed to be done here: the house itself is built of bricks and concrete with no wood framing, but all the wood trim in the house was eaten by termites. There is a flat roof on the sun porch that leaks. The 4 barns on the property, also brick, have a decided lean to them. There are cracks in the stucco on the walls, which would make any new homeowner nervous, but, after all, said new homeowner was assured by the engineer, when he did his inspection, that the house was old, but everything was all right.

Over the last 10 months, I have learned not to panic as much, and understand that the house has been here for at least 70 years (the other mystery is that no one knows how old it is, as it was outside city limits until a few years ago), and everything still works. It is a wonder to live in an old, handmade house. I love the well-appreciated book about handmade houses, and I have to say, that living in one is a pretty magical experience. I feel everyday the love that went into the building of the house, and the living in of the house. We knew, when we first saw it, that it was our house, despite its cracks, peeling paint, rotted porch windows, etc. We could see the beauty underneath that now, is slowly beginning to come out again.

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Termite Art — now gone — but how beautiful (and a little scary!)?

About a month ago, when the weather turned cold and the winter garden was all in place, we started tearing out the termite-eaten wood and discovered the crazy beauty of termite trails, and felt very grateful for termite poison and not having to deal with these bad boys (like we did, as a surprise in the spring!!! til they were nuked). We cleaned away all the dirt and discovered that, more than likely, our house was built with piers of bricks on the dirt, creating a nice little open-air passageway for termites to crawl up, building their trails into the wood of the trim-work and eating the wood from the inside out. When we took the wood off, some of it was paint-thin: literally the thickness of the few coats of paint put on sometime in the 1960s. We have learned a lot about termites since, and now know that unless they have something to eat, they will not come back, so all’s well that ends well.

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More Termite Art…

We are having an adventure, to be sure: cutting down trees, carving out landscapes, retiring the old and creating the new, step by painstaking step. Cody spent last weekend shoring up the leaning barns with new posts, and, like, magic, as he set the vertical posts, the barns settled back into square: their roof lines straight, as if they were stretching out and saying “ahhhhh – thank you for that!” and seating back to the way they must have been originally built, who knows when and by who knows who.

My goals here, for the newest iteration of this project, are to write regularly and to keep track of this life as it passes by ever so much faster each year. I would like to see how perspective changes with the reflection on the passage of time. I would like to share some home-renovation adventures. I would like to write my book, based on these musings here-in. If you have been with me for long, I thank you very much. If you are new, I thank you, too. If there is no one out there reading, well, this is for me, above all, so that is ok, too!

Merry Christmas! Now is the slow, reflective period between the Winter Solstice and the beginning of a new year: how marvelous.

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Sunset Last Night – on the shortest day of the year!