Fig Newtons

I arrived early for my first day at the L. Community Center, an after-school center in a low-income housing development in Alexandria, to take care of paperwork and get acquainted with the facility before the kids arrived. Miss Angelica, the program director, was setting up a snack on the peninsula counter of the kitchenette. The Capital Area Food Bank supplies the snacks, and they like to make sure there’s some nutritional value. She poured half-cups of Juicy Juice, and set two Fig Newtons on each napkin. When I started to open another box, she told me to wait so we don’t have to waste them. Huh?

Her goal was to get each child to take at least two bites of a Newton.

Apparently, the children are so used to such highly-processed foods (colored, salty, or loaded with HFCS) that Fig Newtons are simply repulsive to them. I was skeptical. I’ve never seen a group of after-school kids who wouldn’t scarf down whatever was in front of them. From Brownie Scouts to Shakespeare Troupe, I’ve been a snack mom enough to think I know from hungry kids! But she was right, of course. While a few of the kids were eager and enjoyed their snack, most had to be cajoled into even having Newtons near them on the table. And I saw lots of rejected chewed up bits on the napkins later.

I’ve heard at least a dozen different languages in most every school I’ve visited, but this little detail gave me a peek at the reality of the very different worlds we live in.



These things happened today.

My mother slept with a morphine grin on her face after having her hip replaced yesterday.

I sat in the window-seat reading a stream of consciousness first-person description of the 1945 Dresden firebombing.

Miss Charmichael, the Alzheimer’s patient across the hall who doesn’t know that she had surgery or why she’s in the hospital, continued to cry, “Oh, it’s oh. Oh, it’s oh. Oh, it’s oh.” in that voice that’s somewhere between the sound of a child, an elderly person, or perhaps a cat.

Farther down the hall, Mr. Price was having his first physical therapy session and screaming with every move.

This was probably the time for me to take a little walk to the lobby for some coffee.

When I got back, people were running down the hall. Code Blue in room 515. I stood and tried to be invisible as doctors, nurses, and technicians sprinted by. A woman in street clothes stood blank-faced and crying in the hall.When I finally got by, and back into my mother’s room, the last one on the hall, she was still sleeping peacefully.

I came home tonight to spend a night in my own bed. As I was leaving the hospital, dark had just fallen on a hot and humid day. The lavender beds were freshly mulched with pine and their scent was rising. I sat on the sidewalk and put my face into them to breathe my first real air in 36 hours.

120_12 window full of words

You know your life has changed when you get upset because your schedule can no longer be arranged around your afternoon nap.

I'm still here, and thinking, but no time for writing in the blog. I don't want this blog to turn into one of those in which we read about the excruciating details of someone's boring daily life. I've gotten a commission for a large number of knitted baby hats, as well as a couple of freelance publications jobs on tight deadlines. And since one thing I cannot do while I knit is read, and I get paid for both types of work when the job is done, my time is tight.

I'm cooking some ideas for future writing in the back of my mind, though, while I'm doing the mindless stuff.

Hey! Now would be a great time to set up your feed, if you don't already have one, so you'll know when all of your favorite blogs are updated. Just click the button under SUBSCRIBE in the sidebar. ==>

Black in the hat

So I'm making things. And selling them. So far, just some of the baby hats that I already had around from when I was selling them like crazy last year. I decided that instead of trekking around pitching my wares at local shops I'd just go directly on Etsy, which is a nice community of people and their handmade objects.

So stop by my little shop, and bookmark it. I'm working on some nice things using traditional techniques in modern ways. Some feltmaking, embroidery, and other needlework.

There's something oddly comforting about these traditionally womanly arts. I pretty much grew up under my mother's sewing machine, and scraps of fabric were my favorite toys. (When I wasn't playing with vegetable peels in the kitchen sink, that is.) These are wonderful memories for me.

During our long afternoons at home, my favorite lunch was grilled cheese. My mother made the sandwiches in the waffle iron, and we would sit at the table and eat them together. Whatever kind of cheese it was would stretch as we bit into the crispy hot gooey sandwiches. I can still remember laughing together about that. I can see my mother's perfectly bright-red mouth laughing as though every time were the first time we discovered the joys of "stretchy cheese sandwiches."


You guys know how to burn it down and I love it! I really appreciate our friendships and having a safe place to let go!

This message I got recently says a lot about one of the things I do like about living where I am now. The safety of friends … and the anonymity of a fairly large city. These have been important for me.

I think a lot about what my role will be in a small town. And in a position of leadership that will surely extend beyond my classroom. That kind of life — under the public microscope — has never been my strong suit. I live an ethical and moral life; but I do live it on my own terms. And even here I’ve been judged for it.

I know that I’ll always be “from away” no matter how long I might stay in Mississippi so I suppose there’s an expectation that I will be different from others in my town. But being a teacher is an extremely public job, and it’s a role I take seriously. But it’s also crucial to my sanity to have a safe group, a safe place where there’s a free exchange of ideas and uncensored feelings.

Maybe I should start practicing now.


My friend Geoff knows a lot about fear. But what he knows even more about is how to tame and maybe conquer it. And for what he has helped me learn about that, I will always be grateful — and think of him often. I miss his wisdom and frequent talks. Discovering recently that he's living the questions yet again has given me a new perspective on my own little situation.

I never thought I would be this fearless. I did think that the whole movingtomississippinotknowingwhereorwhatcomesnextwheni'm50something deal was pretty much on the edge of the voluntary abyss for me, but now: Literally not knowing how I'm going to keep myself for the next year is kind of out there, too. My usual response to chaos and stress is to immediately rein in all the practical details and get into serious planning mode. But for some reason I'm leaving that to chance this time and am content to know very little about the practical parts.

When I'm asked, "How are you going to live?" by concerned friends, my frequent response is, "Consciously," rather than the expected outline of how I will earn money or pay my bills. The thing is, it's working. The less I expect, the more comes along, and I have complete faith that it will just keep going that way day by day. I suspect the key to this is that so much useful energy is freed up, that I'm able to channel it productively in what feels like an effortless manner.

I remember having a discussion with someone years ago when we were both concerned about our futures. In the course of talking we developed a metaphor for our lives of driving along a road (OK, not so original, but wait: There's more.) You know, when you're driving along you don't really need to be able to see the whole road ahead of you all the way to the destination. Just the part that gets you through the next curve — or even just the bit that's illuminated by the headlamps.



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