middle-aging is tougher than you think. it’s a time of tinylittlechanges and some prettybigchanges. your body starts to betray you, despite your best efforts to keep it going. the messages all around us are dedicated to making us feel that Youthful is the only worthy look, that fit and slim and silky is the only worthy body. our body image begins to slowly sink, just as our blue jean waistline begins to rise. it’s all one big test – and it’s prettydamndifficult sometimes to stay centered and grounded.
lingerie is one of those testing devices. just at the time you may be leaning a little less two-by-four-pancake-flat and you suddenly have a tad bit of – whoa – cleavage, and those sweet and sexy b-cup (wow! b-cup? seriously?) brassieres might be an option, your upper arms begin doing the whinga-whinga thing. i mean, really? there is no justice there. and here – raised in these body-conscious-united-states – it all becomes a disappointment.
try starting a new relationship in middle age. there are many challenges – people become more and more engrossed and invested in their own “way” of doing things – so that is obvious. but then, there’s the thing…you pull out old photographs and say, “this is what i used to look like in hiphuggers, in a bathing suit, in silk. i just wanted you to know.”
we were watching something on television the other night. the skims commercial came on. kim kardashian was the model. suffice it to say this is most-definitely-not dedicated to the older-middle-age gal watching. their other iconic top fashion models are no less fetching. though, truth-be-told, this is no different than other sexualizing advertising campaigns – like kate hudson’s fabletics or victoria’s secret. sigh.
in the meanwhile, i’m grateful to have fallen for a guy who is steeped in reality-based bodies, whose approving glance i see time and again, and who, clearly, loves burlap.
mama dear made rag rugs. i still have a few of them. for a long time, a rag rug served as a faux tablecloth on the kitchen table. eventually, after years of washings, the stitches loosened up and i tucked it carefully into the drawer of a cupboard in the dining room.
my grandmother also made yoyo quilts. she took outgrown clothing and bits of leftover fabric bolts and cut circles from them. sewing a running stitch along the perimeter she pulled and it gathered into a rosette-round. hundreds of rosettes later, even thousands, she stitched them together into quilts full of visceral memories of moments spent in party dresses or aprons or simple a-lines. yoyo quilts sell on etsy for a few hundred dollars, but i would never sell mine.
some day i’d like to make a yoyo quilt. i had envisioned my children cherishing one made from clothing they wore as little ones, but i realize that their level of thready is nowhere near mine, so i will have to make the quilt for myself. i have saved their clothing to do just that – tiny overalls, sweet sundresses, toddler leggings, mini blue jeans, printed onesies and receiving blankets – for a yoyo or even for a traditional quilt, both projects which seem like mindfulness exercises even with the tedious work needed to create them. someday.
we walked into the door of the farmhouse. it was our second time there. i remembered it as homey and just perfect for what we needed – as a gathering space for the family, the rest of whom were staying in a hotel. i remembered the blue walls, the chalkboard cabinet doors with messages, the photographs. i remembered the cheer.
but i had forgotten about the rag rugs. instant bonding.
in early morning, the sun rose past the horizon, peeked under the porchroof, around the adirondack chairs and the swinging platform, past the sleeping gracie-cat and up and over the fern perched on the rusty-red outside cellar doors.
but at just the right time, in later afternoon, it curled around the silo and the barn out on the west side, streamed in through the screen door and bathed the old wood floor and the rag rug in light. like a spotlight on something simply beautiful, it called out to be noticed.
i wonder how hard it is to make a rag rug. mama dear never showed me how she made them. i suppose i could take them out of the upstairs closet where they linger, waiting for the right chance to use them again. maybe i could figure it out. it can’t be too very difficult to discern the process. but my grandmother was a talented seamstress and i remember mama dear sewing and sewing, her hands moving quickly – at her singer or with needle and thread – and talking, talking, talking as she sewed. the only time she didn’t speak was when she would (don’t try this at home) store pins pursed between her lips. i thought that straight pins needed ‘spittin’ on’ in order to use them. it wasn’t for a few years until i learned that my grandmother was not spitting on the pins before she used them. perception – as a child – is a funny thing. what i did understand was how much she made things for all of us. no spit needed, just lots of love.
rag rugs and quilts and wood floors. they go straight to my heart.
it stands on a small-town iowa hillside. it’s been there well over a hundred years, this carved headstone at almost-the-highest-point of the pioneer cemetery. in front of us, the earth falls off into fields and fields of green. if you didn’t know it was there, you wouldn’t know it was there.
we spent the afternoon on the lake michigan beach, searching for hagstones and leaning against a big piece of driftwood watching the waves. mostly deserted, the stripes of soft sand, rocks, aqua, blue sky were serene. we had stumbled upon this beach, discovering it. if you didn’t know it was there, you wouldn’t know it was there.
there is a spot high in the mountains surrounded by lodgepole pines, the scent strong and inviting. it is cool under the canopy of trees and the log sits next to the stream in a bed of pine needles. an upstream glance reveals a snow-covered summit; downstream is a tiny waterfall. it is a slice of heaven. if you didn’t know…
another spot, a different mountain, we have hiked past the aspen stands and are past the end of the trail. we sit on rocks and play in the brook that swims past us, curling around red rock and granite. there is little noise, save for the babbling. if you didn’t know…
high on the edge of a deep canyon, the sun set over us as we echoed our voices into the deepening dusk. my daughter brought me here and it will always be a pinnacle moment in my heart. that very spot – that canyon – that sunset – that breeze – that stillness – that echo – that power – that humbling – that love – is profound. but if you didn’t know…
places that have made an enduring impact. places unmarked by signs, specific places many do not even know exist, they are carved into my mind’s eye. places – specific spots – of relative anonymity. places that changed me.
it is likely that hillside, that beach, those mountains, that stream, that brook, that canyon will maybe last forever. they will certainly be there long after i will be here. it’s sobering. it gives one pause for thought. it seems a natural hop and skip to: if you didn’t know i was there, you wouldn’t know i was there.
but the hillside, the beach, the mountain stream, the end-of-trail brook, the canyon became a part of me, of the stuff in my tapestry. and, in symbiotic turn, i became a part of them, of those spots.
and somewhere along they way, we have done the same – a tiny part of us has become a part of someone else and they a part of us.
i used to know someone who really despised redundancy. this person would interrupt and say, “you already told me that” or “i heard that already”. ask them about their day and they would reply, “same-old-same-old.” it was hard for me – a new yorker – born into repetition and long-story-telling.
d and i sat on that iowa porch only four days, but it doesn’t take long to grow fond of something beautiful.
in front of us – facing east – were two trees. beyond the trees were fields. before they were mowed down, the fields were wildgrasses green with sunny yellow flowers. in the distance – quite a ways off – was the road. a country highway, it was populated by many pickup trucks, an occasional sedan, rarely a semi and, at one point, more booming harleys than we could count.
the light changed during the day. no surprise there. the sun rose to the left of the trees and burned its way into the sky. the trees glimmered and reappeared through the early morning thin layer of smoke from wildfires in canada, jetstreaming its way into the heartland. it was bright in midday and then the sky took on the echo of the western sunset. at night, the trees were still a presence, silent, rooted strength.
i took many photographs of these two trees. they were somehow very comforting and reassuring; it was a time of memorial for columbus and emotions were all over the place. and the trees stood there, steadfast.
they watched us all gather and eat and talk and reminisce and play bags and run with oversized bubble wands. they watched us hula-hoop and dance in the grass and drag chairs following the sun and escaping the wind. they watched us wander and take pictures, play with gracie-cat, pour wine. they watched – as trees do – and we watched them back.
i love each of the photos of the two trees on the east side.
were i to be on jeopardy – and were there to be a topic called “agriculture” – and were i forced to try and answer any question at all – $1000, $800, $600, $400 or even $200 – i would fail miserably. the tools of the trade are foreign to me, just as, i suppose, sheet music for the rachmaninoff piano concerto no.2 in c minor might befor the farmer skilled at using the farm implements. different languages entirely.
so, for us, sitting outside the iowa farmhouse, gazing around at the unfamiliar, it was both mysterious and magical. interesting textures and things with wheels had us guessing and googling. everything begged to be photographed. for us, the unfamiliar is novel and, through our eyes, doesn’t represent the hard work it actually stands for. instead, the wheel hay rake is flowers in the sky, metal petals reaching out from the center on thick metal stems connecting to the machine. the tractors and disc cultivators and harrows and silos – all unknown and a little exotic. it is easier to see beauty in that which is simply shape and texture than when it is the embodiment of the toil and worry each farmer faces each and every year.
i suppose that should make it easier for me to understand why others can generously send notes and email messages to me about my music, about how the piano piece or a song resonates with them, yet i – at this moment in time – see toil and worry. worry about how – in a new world – to put out new music. worry about how to sustain it all financially. worry about how – with a significantly-reduced wrist – my music may differ from what it has been. new crops, new agricultural costs, new limitations. what is that expression about perception? one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. that might be true also as – one man’s albatross is another man’s beauty.
yet, despite the decidedly different ways we perceive things out of our realm of familiarity, we are all spokes in the big wheel. we honor all the tools of our different trades, the languages, the expressions of work, the products of toil.
to be fascinated by another’s work is to appreciate it. to appreciate another’s work is to respect it. to respect another is to live together, under one sun … flowers in the sky.
on this two artists tuesday, we’d like to make a clarification. i received a text asking me about what “buy me a coffee” meant. just as i was given to misunderstand this platform, i’m not sure we have done an adequate job of explaining it. so, please forgive any redundancy as i take a moment to clarify:
the arts don’t generally have the same avenues for payment as other professional routes, so there has been an effort for more crowdfunding types of options. both BuyMeACoffee and Patreon are platforms in which content creators can receive support from people who appreciate their work.
http://www.buymeacoffee.com is a casual way to support creators. when you “buy a cup of coffee” it transfers $5 per “cup” (minus a small percentage) directly to an account for the artist you have chosen to support. it is called a virtual tip jar because it is not a recurring payment – it is a one-time tip for something that has resonated with you. you can opt for 1, 3, 5 “cups of coffee” or any number you wish (in the square box) and the application will do the math. when i first encountered it on a site of wonderful thru-hikers we follow, i mistakenly thought it literally was sending them coffee – or – sending them money they needed to use for coffee-and-only-coffee. silly me. it is simply providing helpful funding – a lovely way for us to tell them “thank you” for inspiring us. a “cup of coffee” is a way to support them in any number of five dollar increments.
patreon (which we will have shortly) is an opportunity to subscribe to an artist’s work on a monthly, recurring basis. people who wish to support the arts have an ongoing and dedicated way to do this through patreon, choosing a monthly dollar amount. again, a small percentage is taken out and the rest is made available to your chosen artist(s).
either way, artists everywhere appreciate the generosity of those who take the time and the resources to help them keep doing their work in the world. all spokes in the big wheel.
that gratitude goes for us as well. we appreciate you and are grateful for your support of our work. you are flowers in our sky.
it was the last night. we stood out on the porch and then out in the east field, the farmhouse behind us. the dark of iowa-night rained down on us as we peered into the sky to see the constellations. we could feel the “last” of the last night. but out there, on the horizon – in the way an ellipsis works – the ellipses had a reminder: it’s never really over. the horizon lights suggested the story would be trailing on and on – up till now and then dot-dot-dot…
the story dot-dot-dot – without definition, without a distinct end, unrestrained – keeps on…
last week’s time in iowa and return home gave us grounding…reminders…learnings. feet firmly planted…spine tall…solid and trusting, we intentionally rearranged our thoughts – trying (because it’s not easy and it always takes the work of trying) to put aside worry and angst, instead centering on being steady and calm. the decision to not panic. the ellipsis of keeping on…
the impermanence sticks with us.
and we know it doesn’t matter that there is rust on our hubcaps or that our countertops are chalkboard/food-safe-wax-painted-wood. we know it has no bearing on real life that we don’t wear trendy name-brand clothing or that we actually like $2.50 old navy flipflops. we know that leftovers nourish us just like restaurant fare and we are not worried if we never get to sit at the table of a three-star-michelin. we know that there are wines of great robust but we continue to sip apothic and splurge on the new broadside (paso robles) we found. the ellipsis of keeping on…
the transitory taps us on the shoulder.
gathered, we listened to stories of the past, suddenly way long ago. we went to the pioneer cemetery high on a hill overlooking planted cropfields. the 1800s were just a moment ago there. and, just as the years fly by, we know that the incandescent kite we each fly has fragile filmy threads. our hands – holding the moment – age before our eyes. the ellipsis of keeping on…
the ephemeral sounds harmonic overtones we can hear.
we gaze at the peony buds in the backyard. they will soon bloom – in their sweet time – and they will stun all who walk by. their beauty will not be forgotten. each one has opened to the sun and told its own story. each one. and then dot-dot-dot…
somehow i’d like to think of myself as anything but wilty. only i’d know it wasn’t so. i am. wilty. so is he. we are both wilty. not quite the same as the wilty kale we put out next to the garage for the mama bunny and bunbun, but most definitely wilty.
and so, as we drove away, with our cut-in-half halos for the off-trail “ammals” (thank you, jaxon, for this most-adorable non-wilty pronunciation), d said – in his i’m-enlightened-now-and-want-to-share-it voice, “that’s it!! they’d hire us if we weren’t so wilty!!!”
we laughed and he guffawed at his wit and utter sidesplitting jocularity and then we looked at each other – we neeeed to write that down!! so i grabbed my iphone and summoned siri, the great goddess of handless note-taking.
“what would you like it to say?” she politely asked. i answered and she dutifully jotted our note.
and then we looked at it.
“they’d hire us if we weren’t so wealthy,” she transcribed.
goddess-schmoddess. siri has her own unique wilty sense of humor.
back home-home, my sweet momma had planted bleeding hearts on the east side of our house. there were four-o-clocks there as well; old-fashioned flowers in her garden. we didn’t have any fancy plants – it was otherwise hosta and day lilies, rose of sharon and hydrangea, azalea and forsythia. but, in thinking back, i love her sensibility of these old-timey plants, steadfast through the ages, and anytime i see or plant any of them, i think of my momma.
our trail takes us through the woods. the honeysuckle lines the dirt path and its sweet aroma wafts around us. there’s pink and white, both. and, as i glance over, there is something that makes me think of my momma’s bleeding hearts. we’d plant them in our backyard but for the fact that they are toxic and we don’t want to take any chances with dogdog. so simply being reminded of them will have to suffice.
maybe today we’ll go and get a few flowers at the nursery. we need some to put in a planter on the old chair out back and in the retired firepit vessel. i suppose it’s time – already! – to pick up our basil plant and the cherry tomatoes we love to have on our potting stand. we are heading into summer soon and caprese salads and skewers are beckoning.
honeysuckle is a symbol of pure happiness. i’m pretty sure that four-o-clocks and hosta and day lilies and rose of sharon and hydrangea and azalea and forsythia are as well, though i haven’t looked them up and i’m guessing there’s more meaning for each.
for me, they are walking in my growing-up yard. for me, they are my momma, bent over the garden, deadheading the four-o-clock blossoms and loosening the leathery seeds. for me, they are the light purple buds of the hosta heated by the sun – the ones planted by the garage just off the one-car driveway – just begging for tiny hands to pop them at the end of the afternoon when they were filled with air. for me, they are the giant flowers of my sister’s name (though spelled differently, she would quickly add). for me, they are sitting up in the maple tree with my notebook, writing, gazing down at the garden on the shady side of the house. for me, they are big bunches of dried hydrangeas in the fall. for me, they are delicate hearts lined up on a stem, for i was always fascinated by these. for me, they are so much more than old-fashioned flowers.
for me, they are comfort. for me, they are like old friends.
the columbine grew on the east side of the house. colorado’s state flower is blue columbine. but – here – it grows pink on the farm and is called origami red and white. delicate and beautiful, healthy and thriving, it clearly loves the dirt and air and sun of iowa.
we were sitting in a circle on the southside, trying to avoid the windy wind. it was happy hour, on a day fraught with emotion. we had said our final goodbyes to columbus, d’s dad, bringing him back to his hometown in iowa – a tiny morsel of a town, bustling with family and traditions and giant farm equipment and passed-down farms. the southside – where most of the tractors and machines and accessories-of-which-i-know-no-names were parked. the southside – the direction the deer ambled from, late in the day, waning light their protection. the southside, the old farmhouse blocking most of the gusts, letting the sun warm us.
we had had lunch up at the hillside bar and grill – the place where you could get humongous pork tenderloin sandwiches – where the tenderloin hung off both sides of the bun. just the sheer mention of those used to bring a big smile to columbus’ face. many of the people at lunch chose those in his memory. we didn’t, but we snagged a tiny bite from cousin kate’s plate, an absolutely necessary respect-nod to david’s dad.
and now, here we sat – adirondackchair-bagchair-adirondackchair-bagchair-adirondackchair-bagchair – all in a circle, just sitting and talking and being quiet.
we sipped from wineglasses and bottles of water in the later afternoon circle. we all talked about life-we’d-missed-together, life-now and life-one-of-these-days.
kate looked over at us and asked if we’d ever move from wisconsin, if we’d consider going to the mountains. though we hesitated a moment to clear space in our current-angsting for actual dreaming, we nodded, and i added, “of course we’d love to be in colorado. the high mountains always call us.”
we don’t have any idea what that might look like. we don’t know when that might be.
we just know that we feel like happy-go-lucky columbine when we are breathing the air of the rockies, our feet in the dirt of a deep aspen-lodgepole-pine trail, under a colorado sun.
gracie – like babycat – followed the sun. gracie – like babycat – sought snuggles…on her terms. gracie – like babycat – adored food time. gracie – like babycat – spent long periods of time curled up or stretched out sleeping. gracie – unlike babycat – is a farmcat.
she lives outside on the iowa farm, a heated waterbowl on the south side of the house. her food is by the front door and is moved inside at night, so other critters aren’t attracted. you can watch her hunting out in the fields and i shudder to think of what her successes have been. she is free to come and go. i nicknamed her “sweetie” last time we stayed on the airbnb farm and it stuck; she came to any singsong call.
we’d find her – in early morningtime – curled up in the pillows on the porch bench swing on the east side of the house, sunrise warming her. out the dining room windows or the old door to the porch we could see her, eyes closed or maybe just waking, yawning her way into the day. the moment she sensed you were watching, she’d jump down and make a beeline to the door as if to remind you of your veryimportantwork of putting out her food dish.
as the family gathered, everyone adored gracie-cat. she was the belle of the ball, wandering from person to person, collecting sweet nothings. a darling of the farm, this cat was a generous hostess.
there wasn’t much about this farmhouse that wasn’t charming. there wasn’t much about this farm that wasn’t charming. the old silos and barns and sheds – a photographer’s dream. simplicity and tradition, passed-down.
we watched the comings and goings of big farm equipment, witnessed the field on the east side cut down, watched multiple pick-up trucks in and out of the long driveway. it’s a working farm and it’s spring, so it’s busy. we cannot understate how much work it all must be and, though we were unable to see activity from where we stood by the stand of trees with the hammock, we knew all the farms in the distance – close-up and far – were ever as busy.
we went outside in the night. looking in the direction of my favorite two trees, a line of lights on the far horizon…likely farm lights down another country road.
we looked up. the big dipper greeted us and other constellations vied for our attention. we felt tiny. the sky stretched further than we could see.
somewhere out there gracie was likely hunting. she didn’t come around as we stood in the grass. cats are independent creatures, after all.
and babycat – in the plane of the universe that beloved cats go – gave her a high five. “do what you want,” he telepathed to her, knowing full well that first thing in the morning – as the sun rose over the fields and tickled the porch swing – she’d be there waiting, just as he always was. different but the same.