these chairs – privy to a lot of life – over just a few days – in warm iowa sun.
we gathered to celebrate columbus’ life, to inurn his ashes, to solemnly and with great gaiety – for that is how columbus lived – say the final-of-the-final goodbyes.
it was the game of bags (cornhole for the rest of you), the bubble wands, the hula-hoops and columbus’ old 33rpm records we brought with us i think he really loved. we made his brats with beer and onions. we made the pasta sauce he liked. there was more; a lotta-lotta food – just the way he liked it. mason jars with wine and a cooler full of water and sparkling hard seltzers and beers-just-up-a-notch-from-columbus’-favorites. and he – from the next plane over – held his beloved wife’s hand as she navigated this time in his growing-up land.
the three adirondack chairs from the east-facing porch were moved, following the activity. down the big grassy hill for bags and around the south side of the house closer to gracie-cat’s-plugged-in-water-bowl to escape the howling wind. back to the porch for happy hour and in a big circle in the lawn to toast his momma’s first hostess cupcake, bag chairs a little teetery on the uneven ground.
you had to watch for the thistles in the grass – you couldn’t just run around willy-nilly without being – yowsa! – aware. but somehow that reminds me of life itself.
it was a time of red. bright bright red. a time of brilliant stand-out moments we will clutch onto, like the hugs we shared at the cemetery and at the old screen door past nightfall the last evening.
though life is like a box of chocolates – yes, forrest gump – it is also like an adirondack chair you drag from place to place. it’s about comfort, simplicity and peacefulness. an intention.
you can sit and watch life, take it all in.
you can do life and then, rest.
we took turns with the red adirondacks. that’s what family does.
the front of the garnet hill catalog features a collection of stones and says, “there’s beauty in simplicity.” yes. i recognize those rocks – they are scattered through our house…pebbles of mica-laced igneous, slices of red rock, chunks of granite, smooth water-worn river rock. small cairns stacked on the windowsill or the sunroom table, a vase with rocks that are special but can no longer be traced back specifically to why. simple beauty, they remind us that we are all a part of it. no less, no more.
as i get older i realize that i am leaning into simplicity. i am less inclined to be moved by fancy stuff, more given to the unembellished. we hike on trails and are reminded of nature’s brilliant eye for decorating the world. no tchotchkes or trinkets, just no-frills and unadorned life.
i’m guessing this propensity – this leaning – has something to do with my love of arvo pärt’s tintinnabuli minimalist exquisiteness. spiegel im spiegel on repeat. not fussy. not ornamented. straight up gut-wrenchingly beautiful, much like the pine needles in the snow. two monodic lines – melody and triad – woven into the simplest tapestry and “expressing the composer’s special relationship to silence”. nothing bombastic. no blustering. purity.
“there’s beauty in simplicity.” stark, unpretentious, natural.
but have no illusions. you cannot purchase them in december. at no time – when i have gone searching the stores in december – have i been able to find them. for they are already all gone, scooped up by zealous ornament-gatherers, present-wrapping-embellishers, holiday-magic-creators.
so if you want them – these delicate snowflakes that sort of resemble the ones people used to make of string and flour or glue and glitter – you need to plan ahead. you must be ahead of the curve, at the front line of festivity-planning, your dollar bills in your hand as you troll the stores, scooping.
i purchased numerous packs of these one year. it was a time of transition for me. i had realized that i, actually, didn’t really like tons of bright red and green together and that christmas was fraught with all kinds of stress for so many people, including me, and i just wanted to simplify a little bit.
it started years ago when i decided not to ornament-decorate the tree. we kept it a little more natural with just white lights and it felt serene when – late at night – we’d turn off the light fixtures in the living room and just sit, keeping vigil with the tree. we are still trying to keep tranquility at the center. i’ve added tiny pine trees – sans anything. we’ve added branches and white lights. and we’ve added snowflakes and silver balls.
one of these days i would like to have a big retro tree. i’ll add all the ornaments of history to it – a tree full of salt dough stars and bells and paper mache snowmen, treasured gifts from family and friends, former students and choir members, memories to spark stories for hours. though i haven’t hung it in years, i can see the rogers christmas house ice skating ornament clearly in my mind’s eye. and small pine, a reminder of the sweet story my children and i loved.
and one of these days i would like to have another big retro tree. it will be decorated with old delicate mercury glass ornaments of my sweet momma’s and poppo’s. i remember these, as i take them out of the box, like it was yesterday. i remember decorating the tree on abby drive and my dad painstakingly adding tinsel, one strand at a time, christmas carols playing in the background. i was a child and lots of it was magical, but even then i could feel the holiday stress, expectations, frenetic energy.
the last time both of my own beloved children were home together for christmas was 2014. they have been living far and wide on mountaintops and in big cities and, with limited time off, haven’t been able to make it. we’ve celebrated on the phone, on facetime, on zoom, and we watch them open presents from our couch. a couple times we had real-life moments in chicago with our son and last year we sat with him on a restaurant patio, clustered under gas heaters in 17 degrees in january, having dinner and watching him open gifts in a time of pandemic. it is with great anticipation we wait for his arrival later this week, an opportunity to hug on him and his boyfriend.
sometimes i wonder if my children would both be more likely to be home here together if their dad and i were still married. i know that holiday magic might be far less magical in a less-than-perfectly-perfect household. the thought brings sadness to my core. i struggle, just like so many, some who are living “traditional” lives, some in unconventional lives, some in times of challenge and some with everything they ever needed. nevertheless, i – like moms everywhere – want the magic to continue, want the dreamy holiday and the warm cocoon of love and celebration. i want to create the quintessential stuff of snowflakes and big family dinners and gingerbread and sugar plums. and i – like moms everywhere – know that i can only do the best i can.
the stats on a blogsite show the individual blogs that have been read. this morning – the day i am writing this for today – there was a post from 2018. i talked about roots and wings and children and yearning. i quoted my daughter stating that i was “high maintenance” and laughed it off back then, comparing myself in my mind to other moms through the years whose behavior i have witnessed as indeed much higher maintenance. for, though the words of desiderata ring true for all of us “do not compare yourself with others, for you will become vain and bitter….for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself” we still do it. we still compare and measure and wish and feel ourselves come up lacking. i also wrote in that post that if wanting more time with one’s children was high maintenance, then i supposed that the adjective fit. que sera sera.
joyce maynard used to write a column – called domestic affairs. she shared a 1985 column on sunday, writing about the attempt to make christmas perfect and the bitter reality of its imperfection and its crazy-making. it is a roller coaster of emotion – this holiday season. and there are times that i sit and wonder, trying to magicalize it for my family, for my children, now adults, who i love with all my heart. i have wanted to help the universe dazzle for their holiday, to make each christmas perfect. yet i know that they won’t be. perfect, that is.
i look around me, around our life. sometimes i think that the raucous sounds of holiday music and cookie-baking and a turkey in the oven and wrap all over the floor are the only things that would make it ideal. and sometimes i know – deep in my heart – that all i want, really, is to love and be loved, to share a little time and know that my presence makes a tiny difference – in the unique way of a snowflake – in the lives of all those i adore.
i suspect that richard curtis does not want to have dinner with us as much as we’d love to have dinner with him.
this brilliant filmwriter, director, producer extraordinaire – charming as all get-out – has it all figured out, really. he is right. it is all about love. it is all about the potential all around us, the gorgeousness. we all watch all his fabulously feel-good films – reminders to stay in the moment and in gratitude and to live today the way we would were we to have a chance to come back and do it again – and we all get lost anyway.
before dessert i would just sit and stare and listen intently, hoping to absorb some of his wit, his wisdom, his simplicities. the ability to portray life and love – as laura linney told diane sawyer about the movie love actually, “it’s also the repercussions of love and the responsibility of love and the heartbreak of love…it’s not just positive love.”
after dessert maybe we’d tell stories of real life and sip on port. he’d point to the walls in the dining room – if dinner was here, at our house – and ask how we achieved the paint texture. i’d tell him it’s called ‘hot-gun-wallpaper-removal-tracks’. he’d nod and say he likes it, that it feels somewhat tuscan, that he feels at home in our old house. he’d then ask about the sticks and stones and branches and rocks – lit and unlit – cairned and not-cairned – and i’d explain where they are from, what they represent, the moments we knew they’d come home with us. he’d nod again and say he’s glad we didn’t miss those – the mementos.
before he left maybe he would stop at the front door – at the old door handle – and remark about how unique it is. i’d tell the story about how it didn’t work for a little over a decade – i couldn’t unlock it from outside. i’d explain how i didn’t want to change it and suspected that i couldn’t afford to replace it or fix it – it has a complex lock system – and so i waited. until early last month. the locksmith was able to find a replacement barrel, tinkered with it a whole bunch, and it all stayed intact. we can now enter the house through the front door. with a key. sort of amazing stuff. again he’d nod. he hold the flat cold metal in his hand and feel how it feels to turn it to enter our home and look at us, saying, “yes. it’s gorgeous.”
we’d hug and he’d leave. we would stand in the doorway and wave at him, better for the last couple hours sitting with him, reminded. it is that every-day thing.
a water lily rises to sunlight. it is unaware of its astounding beauty, of the draw it has on us as we pass by. we turn the canoe around and attempt to get close, to take a photograph, without paddling over the pads. it is the arvo pärt in the lake…simple, exposed. were there to be music performed by this lily, i suspect it would be clear and distinct, though soft and warm, bell-like fragments of sound, minimal, arvo’s tintinnabuli.
it is never the fancily decorated that attracts me. it is never the overly done makeup-ed, the bejeweled, the gold-and-diamond-studded, the finery in attire, swanky or haute couture. it is never the ornamented, embellished singer, the bombastically orchestrated. it is never the heavy classical painting or big ornately carved furniture or heavy drapery.
it is the old piece of desk that holds a lamp and a few books. it is the small farm table in our sitting room. it is the driftwood on our mantle. the finches at the feeder. our little aspen in the yard. the chippie on the fence out the window. the look of new motherhood on my niece’s face. the framed notes from my children on the bedside table. the ceiling fan chain bracelet from my dad’s workbench. the jeans with holes. the sweatshirt hoodie sans one cuff. the old hiking boots and flipflops thinned by sidewalks.
i’m sure people in the target parking lot stared at me while i took a photograph of the side of the sara lee truck pulled up in front of the store. i’m always the one – lagging behind, trying to capture some image. so many photo ops, so little time…
but these words “how goodness should taste” caught my attention. sara lee, the company of classic pound cake, chocolate creme pie, new york style cheesecake, makes me think of my sweet momma, coffeetime, the round smoked-glass table, white plastic vinyl swivel chairs. my poppo, pouring the coffee out of a farberware percolator, whistling. goodness, indeed.
my growing-up wasn’t dressed up with ganache and crème brûlée or crepes and chocolate soufflé. i was the product of two great-depression parents and they were practical. entenmann’s crumbcake and my mom’s lemon pudding cake, homemade apple pie and chocolate chip cookies, box cupcakes and sara lee raised me, along with an occasional traditional-cheesecake splurge at the bakery.
goodness was simple. it wasn’t prissy nor did it require much money. it wasn’t fancy or haughty nor did it exclude anyone. it wasn’t loud and shiny nor did it bellow “look-at-me”. it wasn’t for show. it was just simply goodness.
when i saw the sara lee truck i called to david. he had stopped on the target sidewalk when he realized i hadn’t made it across the lane from lot to store.
i showed him the picture of the side of the truck “how goodness should taste” and said, “this is perfect for a blogpost.” i continued, “a great reminder!”
after all, maybe we should all think more about goodness.
not just how it should taste, but how it should feel inside, how it should sound, how it should be shown, what it should look like, how we can touch it, how we can share it.
wouldn’t it be cool if – maybe instead of [or, even, in addition to] “land of the free, home of the brave” – the united states of america was known as “how goodness should taste”?
lusting over brochures is kind of my thing. there is nothing quite like the dreamy four-color-magazine-quality-glossy-coated-silk-card-stock intrigue that beckons me, inviting imaginative adventure and exploring. a good brochure will take you there, place you there, let you sink in and never want to leave. i am clearly the targeted recipient of their magic. and i am – ahem – a collector.
like my relationship with catalogs, i can immerse in the story of the place, the action…it’s deeply satisfying.
sometimes we stop at the welcome center and i load up with all the possibilities of our destination, never to crack them open. it’s like having a treasure chest, knowing you have the treasure chest, not-knowing what’s in the treasure chest but knowing it’s enough you have it. a back pocket full of shiny coins, should you need them.
and sometimes we stop at the welcome center and i find something in a brochure that will not let go. i wonder and ponder and strategize and scheme how to get there, how to experience it, how to afford it. i’m a little overwhelmed by the draw of whatever the thing/place/action is, but i know the likelihood of it is relatively dim.
we clicked on an article on the-island-phone the other day. like shiny card stock, it beautifully featured a resort in utah: amangiri. there was nothing about this resort that wasn’t stunning.
i’ve never stayed in a resort, nonetheless one where your pillow-piled-down-comfortered-bed was out under the stars in the desert, your space open to remote canyonlands of red rock. my breathing got more rapid as i showed david. i clicked on “make a reservation”.
$12,000 a night.
deeper reservation diving revealed a range of pricing, verbose reviews, glamorous indeed, this place.
a little fancy.
clearly we won’t be staying there.
but, in the way that catalogs and brochures also function for me, i saved it and looked at it a few more times. i’ll probably glance a time or two more at this wildly expensive place to stay. and then i’ll delete it. because, by then, i’ll be satisfied.
and besides, the tiny blue airbnb house on one of the side streets in the mountain town in north carolina is also magical. it will afford us a chance to unplug, to hike unfamiliar trails, to cook and eat out on the front porch watching traffic go by, to immerse in a new place, a getaway.
whoa. if the simplest sh*t does not interest you, you will not likely want to read this.
we bought a new dish rack.
we also bought a new dish drain.
we are ridiculously happy with our new dish rack and our new dish drain. we dance the dance of thing1 and thing2 in the kitchen and are most pleased with ourselves and our two new purchases (total at target: $21.10).
at a time – still – when pandemic limits in part – at least our – movements and choices, we are choosing to celebrate the littlest things. granted, there are no monumental purchases or excursions TO celebrate, but we are not terribly high-barred in our experience of happy-happy-joy-joy. for two people who have no working dishwasher, a new dish rack and dish drain – sans the yuckiness and the forming-rust of the old ones – make all the difference.
in like story, we painted the main floor bathroom. as you know, we purchased a big jug of vinegar, a big can of zinsser, an expensive can of benjamin moore aura bath and spa, and a can of ben’s slightly-less-expensive eggshell paint. chantilly lace white – “a classic go-to white that elicits images of fresh cotton and pure silk.” and we purchased a new faucet. it’s matte black. now, that – the faucet – i must say – was a big deal. and frankly, that – as is often the story – was what started the whole rigamarole. we re-decorated the bathroom, simply moving things from other parts of the house into the bath and giving ourselves permission to actually use the guest towels we had in the guest bath upstairs, bath towels reserved only for guests. a big deal, we both find ourselves standing and gleefully staring at “the new bathroom”.
and we’re dancing in the kitchen.
yup. it doesn’t take much.
our still life – dish rack with orange cup – signed – is available for purchase, should you want to be reminded of the simple stuff in life. we are choosing to go with christopher wool print and poster pricing – it’s only $40,000 for the original print and we will generously throw in the new dish rack, the new dish drain and, even more generously since it is part of a pair, the vintage metal orange cup we use for espresso. just use our contact form and we’ll call. trust us. we will.
the simple stuff. every day is a day to celebrate it.
20 knew what my response would be – ahead of time – when i opened his smartly-wrapped gift, fancy homemade ribbon coordinated with the wrappings. but the absolutely delectable time – inbetween giggling over a really wonderfully simple-yet-perfect bow while guessing what was in the box and moving aside the inner paper – was full of anticipation. conversely, i could see it in him too. it is life-enhancing. both ways. those moments you wait as someone – who you know well and for whom you have found something exquisitely perfect – begins to open your gift. it matters not how big or small, free or expensive; you just know you paid attention to little details and you cannot-wait-to-watch-them-open-it.
i pulled out the brown paper in its role as tissue wrap and there was an old-old pair of sidewalk roller skates with a set of keys. circa 1950/1960 heavy metal with rugged metal wheels. vintage.
instantly transported back-in-time to the feeling of rollerskating on abby drive, i could remember strapping on the skates up at the front stoop, following the sidewalk down as it turned and then turned again into the driveway, struggling to stay on the concrete driveway ribbon – as we had one of those driveways with a ribbon of grass inbetween the ribbons of cement and skating into that was a sure way to fall. the end of the driveway had a little bump too; you’d have to stop there (stopping was always an issue) and step over the end of the apron. and then, the street. and freedom.
at some point, my big brother took the metal wheels off of a pair of skates and made a skateboard. i can still feel that board under my feet – the rough ride of metal against cement-aggregate mixture. we sought out asphalt, though, back then, it was in shorter supply. over by the long island lighting company on the sound there was a really long curving road downhill all made of asphalt. it was a little bit terrifying. and required either driving there or toting your skateboard on your bike a few miles. so – in our everyday world – rough rides on steel skate wheels was our destiny.
my brother made the next skateboard with rubber wheels and a bigger deck and, though it was slower, you didn’t feel as imperiled on it. he mostly used that one and the blue painted one with the red hang-loose was relegated to me. there is much to learn from a rough-ridin’ skateboard, a ribbon driveway and an apron-bump.
i wish i knew where those two skateboards were.
but finding them is unlikely, as i’m sure they are long-gone. about as unlikely as 20 stumbling into a pair of old roller skates and knowing they would be perfect.
the sun passes its solar noon and starts inching down toward the horizon, the light spilling from it rapturous. golden rays bathe everything in their path and we marvel as we drive past the fields, talking about the trees catching the light.
toward the end of daylight, as the sun is almost down, the grasses, feathery plumes waiting to soak it in, stand in the spotlight and we marvel looking out the front window, walking out into the back yard.
we walked through the gallery, admiring the work on fresh white walls, framed by white woodwork, windows looking out onto the lake, old wood floors warm and well-trod. the spiral staircase, the built-in cabinetry, the spotlights and architectural elements caught our eyes. we marveled at the play of light through the chandeliers.
the tree we have deemed THE tree this year looks nothing like a typical christmas tree. it is one of the limbs from the big old maple tree out front, a beloved sentry whose large, low-hanging branches were chopped to allow room for the supersized utility equipment a couple weeks ago. i had saved this branch from the pile that was set for the dump truck, pulled it aside up close to the house. the guys looked at me funny when i asked them not to take this branch, to leave it there. sunday we brought it in – which is much harder than it sounds as its branches stretch out far, embracing air and light and our doorway is not oversized. we felt somewhat like stars in the movie “christmas vacation” as we attempted to stand the tree up in our living room. though the ceiling is quite high (–) it was higher. a saw here and a saw there and we placed it in a big clay flower pot with rocks we brought home from dory lake and aspen and a brick from the old patio. we stood back after futzing with the angle of the pot and drew in our breath.
sculpturally stunning, it is bark against white, stark and proud. i wound lights around its trunk and i could feel this big old tree branch smile. i wrapped a piece of black glittery mesh-fabric around its base and thought about how much our babycat loved chasing the sparkles each year around the base of our trees. i hung one tin star off a branch. i futzed a little more and stood back, again.
the sun streamed in the windows the next morning and the tree stretched in its light, yawning from the night. i believe its branches have opened even more than they were – embracing its new place, no longer sadly tossed aside. a new purpose.
we might have missed it. the opportunity to have this year’s tree be an actual piece of what-was-happening-in-our-lives, to honor a well-loved and well-known companion. to have a gorgeously simple harbinger of the festivities of the season. we might have gone to a tree lot. or costco. or target.
we might have missed it. the marvel. but we didn’t.