Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Reading buddy

Emily is a good enough reader, but I rarely see her reading for pleasure. Yesterday, however, when I asked her to do her homework, she went upstairs, picked up the book, lured in Tiggy, and lay down on her bed like this for an hour. This book was *not* Emily's homework, but homework could wait, on this occasion.
Tiggy was in heaven. So was I, peeking in on them together.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Roxanne's Fern

Yesterday was the memorial service for my friend and colleague, Roxanne Fisher. She was my treadmill friend - up through spring we still went weekly to the gym to run on adjacent treadmills and talk - but also the first colleague to introduce herself as a friend, as a fellow mom, and as one whose first priority was her young children, not work.

Roxanne's research was on fern biology and cell development, and she had recently begun to be recognized as a leading researcher in an area of study which came into vogue over 10 years after her entry into it. I knew her at work, and I loved how she could love her job without becoming her job. I only met her after her initial diagnosis with breast cancer, like my good friend Sara, she had been diagnosed while her youngest child was both walking and breastfeeding (not usually simultaneously). Unlike Sara, who seems fearless about her good prognosis, Roxanne was always afraid of a recurrence, even before it happened, and in retrospect I believe that she feared it because she sensed its presence, watching her like eyes in the dark, even before it was diagnosed. She exercised, drank plenty of water from the latest safe-plastic or metal-lined water bottle, ate her vegetables, practiced yoga, all with the hope of an immune system boost to grant her however many years or days or minutes she could gain.
I did not have the luck to know Roxanne in her neighborhood circle. Yesterday at her memorial, the most affecting moment for me was when her neighborhood friend, Abby, spoke of the group of friends Roxanne shared through other nearby moms. Roxanne's gift to them, as to me, was the ability to be the glue of a group without needing to be the center of it. She was quiet, with a wry sense of humor and a gentle ear for whatever crazy story I brought to the treadmill that day. Roxanne was part of a parenting community I recognized as being very like what I had enjoyed in Hyde Park. Without her, Abby said "We are broken." And I could feel the brokenness in what Abby said, in her halting voice.
But Roxanne's glue was too strong for that. People who knew her from all her many circles spoke yesterday of how she had bonded people together, and for those two hours, we who had never met were bound together in the loss of her. I will see some of them daily, and some I may never see again. We all, colleagues, family, classmates, and neighbors, go forth with the faces of new friends in mind.
My colleagues Marie and Lisa arranged for each family to be able to go home with a fern yesterday, a remembrance of Roxanne's love. Some of us yesterday shared our fear that our ferns would die, just as Roxanne feared that she would, and we joked that Roxanne's friend Mary would have to take them into protective custody before long. But I learned from Roxanne that fearing death, one can still go forward, water bottle in hand, and keep running in the face of it. However long we get, with ferns or friends, we are whole, with our fears, joys, grief, and loves.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Power outage

We had, courtesy of Ike, a big wind on Sunday evening, which has left 25000 in our area without power. Monday school was closed (but not my work! alas), and Tuesday the school power was back, but at home we're not expecting power until Thursday night.

I'm mourning the loss of food in the fridge, and though we cooked over our copper fire pit (spaghetti and beans) on Monday night, it was a big hassle. Now, worse, we would either have to hand wash a whole lot of dishes - in a dark kitchen - or not use dishes, because we're out of knives, and almost out of spoons. I'm fantasizing about solar panels a lot these days, because if we had them, at *least* our fridge would work, even if we had to forgo evenings on the computer and electric lighting.

But there is something freeing about this, too. Not that I'm thinking of that freedom when I want my morning tea, or when I just want my kitchen sink cleared of the overflow of dishes. But the girls and I have spent our evenings all outside, for the first time in weeks. No movies, no begging for movies, no mommy catching up on work emails in the evening. When I come inside, the only thing to do is read by flashlight or pet Tiggy (who woke Emily up this morning by nuzzling her upper lip; Emily was absolutely charmed). For dinner, we biked to the corner store and ate our junk food outside in the garden in front of the library. Tonight we will order pizza, and picnic when it arrives.

Don't get me wrong: when the power goes back on, I will rejoice. But we will also, once again, have choices about our evenings and how to spend them. And I know that often enough, we make the wrong choice, by enjoying our coal-derived electricity, instead of enjoying what is free and beautiful outdoors. If only I could arrange for shorter, more frequent and conveniently timed power outages. In the meanwhile, I will put the contents of our fridge into the compost pile, and try, try to keep perspective.

Sunday, September 14, 2008


Yesterday afternoon, after Emily's soccer game, we did what we've all wanted to do for weeks...go to Animal Friends, and select ourselves a sturdy, playful, and affectionate indoor cat. Tiggy is 6 years old, and though kittens we met were more playful, Tiggy was the one who played with us *and* caressed herself on our hands only moments after meeting. She's a polite lady, and though she's explored the undersides of all the beds in the house, she's not so much as hissed at all the strange chaos of our house, and she has also come out to play and cuddle as well.

I haven't given up on a menagerie in my future (chickens, horses, goats), I have given up that I have the time or land or facilities or energy to give in my present life. We're all honored that Tiggy is learning to trust us already, and looking forward to life with a companion to keep house for us and returning home each afternoon to a critter-friend.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Bulb planting season

When I was 8, the age Emily is now, my best friend took me one weekend in April to visit her grandparents' farm in southern Kentucky. It was a rainy trip, so I was not terribly pleased when Conley's grandmother, Beans, helped us suit up into rain jackets and boots to go for a walk in the woods (I was a bit of a lazy child then). We got to the woodland, walked a short distance in the grey gloom, and suddenly the woodland seemed lit up from below with the golden haze of daffodils. We filled buckets with them, and when we were done, the daffodil patch looked just as brilliant as before. I was transformed, though, as well. I have never thought of rainy spring gloom the same way.
Today in Pittsburgh it is hot and sunny. I spent my morning at a Garden club meeting, and at lunch, outside on an Allegheny River island, I could hardly believe I'd donned a fleece for the first 15 minutes of my bike ride there. But I am now thinking of cold spring rains, because my father in law sent us 3 bags fulls of naked ladies.

My father-in-law is not a pervert. They're bulbs. (photo from Arkansas Cooperative Extension)

Naked ladies, known in polite circles as surprise lilies, bloom in August, not April. But their leaves preceed them, lush, strappy and green in April and May, while the daffodils are putting on their year's show. Their strategy is the same: come up and photosynthesize before the trees make shade, when those cool rainy days keep the ground wet and the competition isn't so fierce for water.

When I got home from the Garden Club meeting, I was hot and sweaty. What better moment to do a little digging? I got out my gloves and trowel, and dug holes in the hard clay of a dry day in late summer, imagining past the coming winter into the lengthening days of cool, damp April, and beyond into the pink, leafless lilies of next summer.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Goldenrod and summer's end

I have always loved the buttery happy yellow of goldenrod. I love how it looks next to amethyst ironweed and creamy pink joe-pyeweed. I love how it looks on a crisp blue-sky day; I love how it brightens a rainy afternoon. And yet, it does have a sad side, too. Goldenrod blooms just as the pool closes, summer ends, and school begins. Daffodils' yellow is a pure, strong joy of winter's end - even though I love winter, in its own time. But goldenrod says farewell to a season which always seems a bit too brief and sweet for moving on without a look back.

School started here last week. I taught classes; the girls settled into new classrooms and a wonderful new afterschool program. My book went to press, and it is time for me to begin preparations for talks, conferences, and all the other events which hallmark the academic year. I should have said goodbye to summer last weekend, by all logic.

But the event which gave me greatest pause was not any of these new beginnings, but the end of the pool season. We swatted our way through the poolside Friday night movie. We all four stayed late at the pool on Saturday, Brian and I in the pool even after the girls had shivered their way into their towels. I dropped the girls off with a babysitter for Sunday's pool potluck, while Brian and I attended a lovely outdoor wedding (any wedding where the couple is given kayaks instead of dishes is my kind of wedding), and photographic evidence from my friend Laurette shows that Hazel did not miss me much.
And yesterday, the last day of the season, the girls and I went back for one more evening with at the Community Swim Club, the one place I can count as the safe, happy playground and cafe of our sidewalk-free suburban neighborhood. Last night, at least four friends of mine told me "I saw your girls last night, but I missed seeing you..." Nowhere else in our neighborhood can I so clearly count on this village of friends.
We walked home last night with a flashlight, through our little woodland path, towels brushing against the goldenrod on our way to our beds, and another school year.