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July 31, 2005

Something Blue…

blue girls.pngSoon after completing my first book of poetry, Muses like Moonlight, I wrote the following poem. At the time, my intution told me that it marked the start of a new period in my writing.

I began my spoken word reading yesterday at Floyd Fest – on the “Soap Box” under the “Poetree” – with the following poem. After that, I proceeded to read a collection – 5 poems and one short prose piece – in which the word “blue” appeared somewhere in the text of each. I didn’t go as far as to paint myself blue – something my Celtic ancestors did before going into battle – but the girls (a Floyd Fest couple)in the photo did.

I want to steal the word “blue”
into every poem I write
the way a Hopi weaves a signature
with a bead outside the pattern

I want to leave a kernel of its clarity
in every verse I compose
study its contradictions
and versatility

One day blue is sad
the next, the sky is filled with it
winners strive for it
babies babble it
purple: is another
version of it

Picasso had a blue period
casting all his subjects in its mood
singers sing the blues
not to wallow in melodrama
but because they want
to tell the truth

Mostly blue is cool
like Cher’s son’s middle name
my favorite Joni Mitchell album
or the second full moon
in a romantic summer month

I want to shock the world with indigo
invent new blue slang
drop its name in conversation
wear all shades of it

Delicate or bold
dignified or casual
the beat is just right
it’s easy to rhyme

Blue: is an attitude

July 30, 2005

The Tea of Poetry

teapot.pngAlthough I did a lot of writing while on my recent sabbatical in Massachusetts, I only wrote one poem, and it was one I had started beforehand on my front porch at home. I’ll be reading it under the Poetree at the Floyd Fest World Music Festival today, which is conveniently held right up the road from me. Poetry can be a good way to sing for your supper or to earn a ticket to a great event.

The Tea of Poetry

If my pen was a spout
from which poetry poured
I’d steep my words black

I’d let them collect
a potency of meaning
in the belly of a cobalt blue pot

I'd drop in a spoon
a slight shiny curve
with a looking glass handle
to cool down the burn

I might float a petal
like a pink boat at sea
but no other sweetness
would I add

And if my ink brewed writing
could permeate the air
rising like the moon
and tipping when it’s full

I’d fill an empty cup
with a waterfall of moving verse
and every fluent word would reflect
the story of its source

Photo note: Vase and tea pot set by Josh Copus, my Asheville potter son who loves the Red Sox.

July 29, 2005

Two Heads Are Better Than One

Number 28 in my “100 Things About Me list” states that my husband and I have the same IQ number, but for different reasons. More than one intrigued reader asked for some further explanation. So here’s the story:

I found a good IQ test online, which professed to be the most thorough and scientifically accurate IQ test on the Web, developed by PhDs, and previously offered only to corporations, schools, and certified professionals I had never taken one before and was curious. I know I’m smart enough, but I don’t always come across that way, probably because of my family inheritance of unusual brain wiring (aka known as dyslexia and/or dyscalculia).

I surprised myself by getting a fairly high score. For the next day or so, I teased my husband, claiming to be a “genius.” Although it was an obvious exaggeration, being a “genius” was my new explanation or excuse for every thing, as if I had discovered a royal family background.

Then…I don’t know what I was thinking…I baited him to take the test, asking, “Don’t you want to see if you’re a genius too?” After he agreed, I realized that a competition of intelligence for mates is like playing with fire. Whether his score was higher or lower, life between us might never be the same. I became increasingly uncomfortable as he was finishing the test.

Lucky me! He scored the same exact number as me. But that’s not where the story ends.

Like two scientists whose curiosities were peaked, we re-took the test together, carefully comparing which ones we got right and which ones we didn’t. For over an hour, we deliberated and explained to each other how we came to our conclusions. We discovered (no real surprise) that we are of two completely different minds. He, the more linear and mathematically minded, took longer to complete the test and used more paper to compute his answers than I did. I was quick, intuitive, and strong in nuance and language. There was one question comparing rates of time and distance that I didn’t even try to answer. At times, I couldn’t break down my explanations of why I had answered a certain way, and at one point, I remember saying, “guessing well is a form of intelligence too.”

In the end, my husband didn’t need the IQ test for validation. His kind of intelligence is already well recognized and supported in our modern culture. But for me, as one who starts in left field and has to work my home, it was an important validation.

Sometimes I think one of the reasons couples marry is to put 2 incomplete brains together to make one complete one.

July 28, 2005

I Will Remember You

jim's flagraising.pngThis past Monday was the 4th anniversary of my brother Jimmy’s death. My brother Danny was destined to go a month after Jim. The photo is of my brothers, Bobby and Joey, raising Jim’s tribute flag at the 1st annual James Redman Memorial picnic, held at the Blue Hill Weather Observatory in Milton, Massachusetts, where Jim was a weather club member and volunteer. My sister-in-law, Jeanne, is our resident family clergy person who has married some of us. I attended the recent 4th annual memorial event when I was in Massachusetts. There, we came together as family and friends of Jim’s and at the end of the evening, Jeanne shared the following touching and original invocation.

We Remember

With the crash of the waves, We remember.
With the whisper of the wind, We remember.
With the sun on our face, We remember.
With every record breaking meteorological event, We remember.
With the storm on the horizon, We remember.

We remember that you are like the storm Jim,
just over the horizon, Though we cannot see you,
We remember that you are just beyond our view, waiting for us. And so it is with joy and gratitude that we remember. . .

The crash of the waves say "I love you".
The whisper of the wind says "I love you".
The sun kissing our face says "I love you".
I love you. . .we remember.

Note: “I Will Remember You” is the title of the song by Sarah Mclachlan that was played for Jim at his wake. Also, this past Monday, my sister wrote a moving piece about my brother's death on her blog "A Particularly Persistent Point of View." You can read it here.

July 27, 2005

Digestion

col_pinkscarf.png I’ve eaten a good meal and now I’m digesting it.

We’re often so busy living our lives that we don’t fully absorb our experiences until after they’ve taken place. Apart from being in some withdrawal from my time at the ocean, I’m just now beginning to see how my recent sabbatical to my hometown in Massachusetts is re-shaping me. Below are a few scattered memorable tidbits and highlights from those weeks that have been, up until now, unmentioned.

~ A shocking pink silk scarf purchased at a tapestry shop in Rockport.
~ A cup of fresh squeezed lemonade at a castle in the heat of the day that my sister and I were delighted with. We kept adding bottled water to the icy mix to make it last longer. At one point I said to her husband (while waiting for the straw to come back to my lips), “See how easy we are to please.”
~ Learning that my brother Jim’s son – who was 19 years old when Jim died 4 years ago – can write and that he’s writing a book of stories about his father. His rap songs are pretty good too.
~ A big suntan oiled hug from my brother Jimmy’s daughter, Valerie (who I like to call Valley Girl or Val Gal for short), upon meeting her at the beach. When I mentioned spraining my ankle to explain my slight limp, she and her girlfriend, who both played basketball in high school and college, commenced to show me how their ankles pop out of their joints. (Not exactly a highlight, but I’m still thinking about it.)
~ Cooking fresh fish from the market for my parents, hearing a new WWII story from my dad, and listening to my mother talk about her childhood on the ride to New Hampshire to visit her aunt.
~ Swinging at night on a “bed and breakfast” porch swing in the White Mountains of New Hampshire with my sister Sherry who tried to convince me she was wearing a lounging outfit, but I knew it was really her pajamas.
~ At the Robin Hood Faire, a couple of minstrels sang “The Star of County Down,” an Irish song with my namesake in it that always gives me shivers, especially since my husband sang it to me recently on the stage at Oddfella’s Cantina. … Near Banbridge town in A-County Down one morning last July, from a pouring rain came a sweet Colleen and she smiled as she passed me by…
~ My sister-in-law Jeanne’s invocation given at my brother Jim’s 4th annual memorial picnic held at the Blue Hill Weather Observatory. When it was over, I told her with wet eyes, “If you make us cry, it means you did a good job.”
~ Watching my youngest nephew Patrick's excitement when he presented me with the crazy caps he had been saving to show me because he knew I would appreciate them, and I did (see photo below).
~ Chasing him up the weather observatory stairwell while calling him “Hurricane Patrick,” and then giddily watching the sunset from the observatory tower with family members.
~ My sister and I singing our hearts out to Joni Mitchell songs all the way home from Rockport (just like we did back in 1970, my first and only other time there).
~ The first time I got a wireless connection and downloaded "Loose Leaf" in Sherry and Nelson’s kitchen.
~ And Nelson’s favorite memory: When he and Sherry completely surprised me with a visit to the state park I was camping at. I was on my bike. (It was surprising that they found me at all.) They pulled their car up slowly behind me. I was thinking they were either going to shoot me or ask for directions. It was the look of surprise on my face and the sound of my scream when I turned and saw it was them that I think he got a kick out of.

I’m already planning next year’s trip.
(Pink scarf photo by Nelson.)

Two of a Kind

me and pat.png
AKA: My Little Prodigy

July 26, 2005

Re-entry

where I live.png
We drove from Massachusetts to Virginia with the ocean on our skin. My husband, Joe, flew into Logan Airport; I picked him up at the ferry, and we swam in the ocean before beginning our road-trip home, all in the same day.

After a sleepover in “The Promised Land,” a state park in Pennsylvania, and then making the second leg of our 800 mile trip, I finally got behind the wheel myself, driving to Floyd from Roanoke airport, where Joe had left his car the morning before. After the short and rude awakening into the world of interstate speed, I was initiated home via The Blue Ridge Parkway and quickly remembered why I live here.

It was 7:30 p.m., and I was thinking about missing my sunset walk on the beach. But there it was! The same sun was setting off the 2,500 foot high mountain drop off. The same glow that lit up the beach was now lighting up the flood of Virginia green and revealing the beauty and gentle roll of the mountains that were stretched out as far as the eye could see.

Everything was the color of trees, except for the yellow line on the parkway road. I felt like a pinball skating up and down the winding hilly incline, holding the steering wheel tightly for fear of falling off the steep escarpment. But I wasn’t afraid as much as I was exhilarated. “The rhododendrons are still out!” I exclaimed out loud to myself with a smile.

I rolled all the windows down, put on a tape (“Counting Crows” was within my reach) and danced in my seat while singing along at the top of my lungs. Passing the green fields of corn and put-up hay, the stone walls, and chestnut split rail fences that the Parkway is famous for, I breathed a sigh of relief, getting re-adjusted to all the space.

As much as I love my hometown and the ocean, I also love the Virginia mountains, which are just as prehistoric and elementally alive with energy as the ocean is. The best part of my homecoming was realizing that I was leaving an area dense with people, and while riding the Parkway, I didn’t see more than a dozen cars in the 45 minute climb to my driveway, and not a single person.

I slept peacefully in my own bed that night (after thoroughly inspecting the garden and happily noting that my corn was over 6 foot tall and tasseled). The next morning, on my way to the kitchen to make tea, I noticed a small magnetic poetry message on the floor that must have fallen from the refrigerator. I picked it up, as if it was a fortune cookie, and read: WORK.

Yes, there was laundry to do, sweeping and cleaning, all a part of reclaiming where I live. An hour or so later, smelling of bleach, and soapy brillo, I said to my husband, before taking a break to post today’s entry, “This is a morning for 2 cups of tea.”

“Cheers. And welcome home,” he answered.

Photo note: After posting the above photo, revealing the rolling Blue Ridge, I noticed it was taken in Autumn. Soon, I'll be digital and more immediate. Right now I work with a scanner. Imagine it green.

July 24, 2005

Beach Sketches IV

P1013426.jpgAKA: Taking the ocean cure...
I’ve begun to look forward to my nightly walks on the beach with anticipation, almost as if I am waiting to meet a lover. Every evening has its own romance and beauty, so much so that when I awake in the morning I find that I’m filled with the sensual memories of the night before.

As I step down the seawall stairway and my bare feet touch the sand, the first thing I notice is a soft haze hanging over the horizon. The line between sea and sky has melted, making for an eerie effect, and causing the large looming clouds above – a mix of light and dark ones – to stand out. The translucent ocean water is uncharacteristically calm, sweetly lapping the shore. I feel a sense of wonder, as if I have never really seen the beach before, and now I’m truly seeing it. It looks pre-historic and religious at the same time. I think Jesus might have walked on water on a night just like this.

Soon, my eye is drawn to a young woman in a bathing suit. She walks out to the shoreline and then wades into the water as if her destiny demands her to. Patches of golden light reflected from the sunset peek through the clouds. Nothing looks ordinary against this backdrop, and I imagine she is preparing to be baptized, or maybe to take her own life.

Two young men have already waded far out in the shallow low tide until it is up to their waists. I’m happy to spot my first sandpiper of the season at the water’s edge. A scout for the rest of the flock, due sometime in August, I wonder? When I return my gaze out to the water, I see that the men are heading back to the shore. One is holding his arms above his head to steady a large square plastic container that was not visible before. Curious, I time my pace so that I can meet up with them. “Fish?” I ask. They set down the container, causing the water inside it to slosh about. Taking off the cover, they proudly show me their harvest of large clams. They dig them with their feet by feeling with their heels for the hard rounded shells, the dark-haired one tells me. After we marvel at their catch and gently poke a couple (to convince ourselves that they’re alive), I continue on my walk, heading back to my starting place.

The woman in the bathing suit is alive and well. She’s wet now and walking with focused attention away from the water towards one of the beachfront homes. I imagine she feels better for having taken the ocean cure like people have been doing since the beginning of time.

Photo: Contemplating the cure? Sherry and Colleen at Rockport, Massachusetts, taken by Nelson.

July 22, 2005

Beach Sketches III

The beach grows at low tide. There’s plenty of room for the handful of people still here at sunset to spread out. Walking back from the shore is like crossing an exotic desert after an unlikely rain. A longhaired, bearded, heavyset man is up to his waist in the ocean, casting a fishing line. Some children are splashing and playing. The aquamarine water glows, as if it’s been infused with liquid gold that the tide washes up and deposits. The sky is a continuously changing palette of watercolors, and the clouds look like an upside- down rolling snow scene that makes me imagine galloping horses or mountain climbers scaling its the peaks. There’s a tugboat pulling a barge off in the distance. It's a world animated with light, scent, and movement, here. I breathe the salty air in deeply.

Hull is a narrow peninsula, and I’ve taken to chasing the light (as Joan Anderson describes it in her book “A Year by the Sea”). So I hop on my bike and in a couple of minutes I’m on the bayside of town, where I can watch the fiery globe drop down behind the horizon and disappear. I like to imagine that I can walk across the shining path of light that the setting sun creates on the water, or maybe ride my bike across it.

After it sets completely, I head back to the ocean and wait for the full moon to rise. But the sky is streaked with clouds, and I only get a glimpse of it. It’s as if it is hiding behind a row of venetian blinds. For a few moments, it pushes itself through a slot and shows it’s awesome luminescence, making me smile.

Then, in a wink, it is gone. I can only see the silhouette of the man fishing now. He looks small under the mass of clouds, lit up from behind by the moon.

July 21, 2005

Pretty in Pink

prettyinpink.jpgMy mother’s 92 year old aunt, who we visited recently in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, is a bright star (as the blinking pin on her sweater suggests) and a shinning example of aging authentically.

Originally from Nova Scotia, like the rest of my mother’s German relatives, she lives alone, has a wicked sense of humor, and is up on the latest world events.

My sister and I had never met her before and my mother hadn’t seen her in over 40 years. So we made the 4 hour drive and arrived at her home. She had a Red Sox throw blanket spread out on her sofa, and she knew what the internet was.

After a time of greeting, we helped her to the car with her walker, where she gave us directions to her daughter’s pond camp. She told us about a recent boyfriend, and when my sister asked if the car air-conditioner was too cold on her, she answered, “I’m not a fussy old lady, you know.”

At the camp house, we all enjoyed a boat ride, and some of us went swimming. As the afternoon passed, we gathered on the back porch to reminisce. Her daughter recounted some details of her mother’s 90th birthday party, which featured a scrapbook full of memories, some of which were old wedding photos.

She wore a pink wedding dress. “Why did you wear a pink dress?” her daughter had asked at the party. She answered with a bawdy laugh and a twinkle in her eye, “Why do you think?!”

Any bride who wears a pink wedding dress in 1932 has got to be pretty special, don’t you think?

July 20, 2005

Home Camp

The State Park I'm camped out in is on 4,000 acres and named for the Indian Chief who once presided over it. My excuse for heading out on my bike this afternoon is to fill my water bottles from the nearby springhouse. Mostly, I want to push through a spell of lethargy that I'm feeling, and I know that once I'm on my bike, I'll be curious about what's beyond the spring.

My husband loves maps. He frequently has his head behind one, causing me to joke that he looks at maps the way other men look at centerfolds. Without my husband here as a guide, I know I'll end up getting lost. But it's a lot easier to face my fears of getting lost on a bike in a campground than it is driving a truck on the interstate through Boston (which I have come to realize as a rational fear, in my case).

Exploring by myself, I realize that it's people rather than nature that I'm sometimes mistrustful of. Last week when I left my mother's house for these few days of camping, a child molester was on the front page of her small hometown newspaper, and when I asked the park ranger if I could swim in any of the park ponds, she said, "Not since some people a few towns over were caught putting live alligators in public waters." Everyone is afraid of everyone else and sometimes it seems that we have reason to be, especially with so many of us.

But then I meet a very nice couple down by the boat ramp that had flooded with water from a nearby reservoir. Standing in the warm water together up to our knees, wading in-between the lily pads, they offered to lend me their canoe.

I didn't use their canoe, but their kindness helped me to let down my guard. I hopped back on my bike and went on to thinking about other things...like how I'm not able to fully enjoy the downhill ride, knowing that on the way back the downhill will be the uphill.

If it wasn't for my curiosity, I problably wouldn't go anywhere. I always want to see what's just beyond the bend in the road...just a little further, I tell myself. My legs give out before my curiosity does, and soon I'm pulling my bike up the road with my water bottles sloshing in what I've been calling my "saddle pack."

But if my legs hadn't given out, I wouldn't have discovered the patch of wild raspberries along the side of the road. Not only were they delicious, but I looked less like a loser picking them while other bikers in better shape whizzed by.

By the time I pulled into the campground, it was was 6:00 and the whole place smelled like supper...hotdogs, burgers, toasted buns...marshmellows. I think I even smelled some spaghetti.

July 19, 2005

Robin Hood

P1013406.jpgI’ve been a big fan of Robin Hood’s since I was a young girl. I still am. Robbing from the rich – when they’re corrupt and abusing their power – and giving to the poor appeals to my sense of progressive politics. (And isn’t it interesting how some themes never change. Sadly, I think Robin Hood would be called a terrorist today).

After watching the 1991 movie version, starring Kevin Costner, with my sons, I was inspired and had a revelation about my own life. “That’s who I am…a woods person. That’s why we live in Floyd,” I explained to them.

In the mountain county of Floyd, Virginia, my adopted hometown, where my sons and I lived on a very low income for most of their childhood, we live in a community of musicians, artists, and craftspeople. Many of our “back to the land” friends work at Renaissance Faires and look the part 24/7. Hand built structures off-the-grid, teepees, and straw bale houses are not unusual where people are known to grow their own food, home school, and have home births.

The movie reminded me that the seed that drew me to live in such a community was fostered early on by my childhood heroes, one such hero being Robin Hood.

During my 3 week Massachusetts sabbatical, I was invited to go to a Robin Hood Faire with my sister, Sherry, and her husband, Nelson (pictured with me in the photo), held at a castle by the sea in the town of Gloucester. Of course, I wanted to go. “Robin Hood is one of my heroes,” I told them.

“Okay, you’ll need a costume,” Nelson said.

Davy Crocket and Annie Oakley were also my childhood heroes. The one time I sat for an Old Timey antique portrait, I asked for a coonskin cap to wear. When I discovered there was no coonskin cap, I settled for a lady’s costume but felt out of character and uncomfortable in it.

“Do you have any boy’s clothes?” I asked my sister, as she spread out an array of colorful, flowing clothes for “ladies” and “wenches” on the bed.

So we raided her husband’s side of the closet and found some period pieces…a suede Renaissance vest and puffy shirt…that fit well enough. I put them on over my khaki cropped pants and felt right at home.

“Okay, now I’m ready to stir up some trouble for that villain, the Sheriff of Nottingham!” I said.

A good time was had by all…

July 18, 2005

A Blueberry Pie

I feel naked with a week's worth of posts up and no poetry on the front page. Going into my 3rd week of my Massachusetts sabbatical, thinking about my loved ones back home in Virginia, while munching on blueberries, I remembered this poem. It was written in July 2003 for my eldest son's 24th birthday.

A Blueberry Pie for Joshua

Rolling out pie dough
into continent shapes
first Asia, then Africa

I feel my grandmother's wildness in me
navigating rough edges of coastline
as I steer the rolling pin like an oar
like an antique relic from her "roaring 20s"
it rocks back and forth

I relive my mother's frustration
while patching the dough where it's spotty or torn
trying to stretch what isn't enough
nine kids, two hands, and a sticky mix
that clings to wax paper

As I search the bowl of blueberries
for the bluest black ones
I remember 4 and 20 blackbirds baked in a pie
and my son arranging battles
between blueberries and grapes
The blueberries always lost because he ate them

Soon he will come to collect
a last sweet taste of his childhood
He doesn't care that the pie center has sunk
that the blueberries aren't wild from Cape Cod
He doesn't remember when women wore aprons
and mothers taught daughters how to bake

With two potholders I carry the pie
set it on the table to cool
something in-between
wild and tame, sweet and sour
something in-between
"Three little kittens that lost their mittens"
and Eve's holy offering of fruit
all exist together in an archetypal pie

Raised by her German carpenter father
my mother never taught me how to bake a pie
but I saw her do it and learned by osmosis
and with the help of my friend Jayn's recipe

It doesn't matter that my mother didn't teach me
because Jayn's mother taught her
and now my pie sits on the table
an icon at an altar
an enduring reminder
of motherly love

Post to Note: The library is a 3 mile bike ride from my camp site, but their computers have no useable USB port and they can't read CDs. I had to type this on the spot with my hands slightly shaking and with no ablility to save as I went along or to check my spelling, like tightrope walking without a net.

July 17, 2005

What Would a Hobbit Do?

Campsites are like rows of motel rooms with the doors left wide open. Once I ride my bike up and down the park roads – that remind me of motel hallways – and see what my neighbors look like (mostly elderly retirees), I feel much less self-conscious about camping alone.

After my ride, I hitch my bike to the back of the truck and imagine for a second that it’s a horse and that I’m living in a less modern time. Stretched out on my lawn chair in my own wooded lot, I listen to the rustle of wind through the trees and the birds evening song.

But it’s getting dark, and I have no citronella. The mosquitoes drive me inside the camper. As I pull up my mat, draw the blinds, and lock myself in, I begin to feel very much like a hobbit. The un-popped-up camper is cozy, and because I’m just an inch over 5 foot tall, I can stand up (with just a slight stoop). Everything I need – lights, fridge, stove, books, a closet full of clothes and supplies – is right within my reach.

I remember as children how my friends and I always played at making forts – in the woods, on the beach, or in the nooks and crannies of the granite boulder seawall behind our houses. “I finally have my fort,” I said out loud to myself. Then, I pondered what to do next. Not because I was at a loss for what to do, but because there were so many choices.

I didn’t pop-up the camper. I didn’t plug in my new little TV/VCR (or even my laptop computer). Instead, I asked myself, “What would a hobbit do?”

I fixed myself a late night snack (known to a hobbit as a second supper).

July 15, 2005

The Bigger Picture

camper at Ma's house 1.JPGThis nearly month-long visit to my Massachusetts home place is not as much a vacation as it is a sabbatical from my every day routine and an exploratory field trip to mark the next half of my life. It’s a test of my independence (and also accepting my limitations), as I find myself adapting to new environments and doing things that don’t come natural to me, such as driving a truck and camper, and using new technologies. I’ve learned the routes to all my sibling’s homes and am now preparing to camp on my own, which involves knowing something about propane, fuses, and batteries. This trip is also about my 80-year-old parents. Not about what they can do for me, but what I can do for them. It’s about giving myself the solitude to write and then seeing if I will. It’s about spending long hours at the ocean where I feel most myself, and where the ongoing low energy I struggle with, always rises.

On the beach this morning, with my chair pulled up close to the incoming tide, I finally picked up the book I started several days ago, “A Year by the Sea,” by Joan Anderson. How fitting that this book is about a woman my age (early 50’s) spending time by the sea to figure out the rest of her life, while I am doing something similar. In describing her quest, the author mentions Picasso who said that he spent the first part of his life becoming an adult and the last part learning to be a child.

I feel fortunate that I don’t have the problematic marriage to sort out, like the author did. My marriage (#2) is healthy. My problems are more self-imposed and related to inner fears and being easily distracted from my own needs and desires in the presence of others.

Like the author, my job right now is getting comfortable in my own skin, so that I can expand with the coming changes rather than shrinking from them. With my sons fully grown and my recent retirement from full-time foster care, this trip is a first step in the direction towards the rest of my life.

July 14, 2005

Beach Sketches II

sea_feet.jpg The Gulf Stream veers off somewhere near the coast of New York and makes its way to Ireland. There’s no warming stream to soften the frigid waters in the South Shore of Boston where I grew up. Even so, three little girls are in the ocean this evening playing on two blow-up rafts. One raft is magenta and the other is sun-flower yellow. The giggling girls and their brightly colored rafts stand out, now that the beach is nearly empty of the day time crowd. There’s an abandoned sand castle still standing and a neon green tennis ball whizzes by, followed by a collie playing fetch with its owner.

The pastel blue sky, streaked with the pink of sunset reminds me of painted walls in a newborn baby’s room. The large shuttered houses along Nantasket Beach seem to ignite into a blaze when the sun gets low enough to reflect off their windows. A sliver of moon hangs like a mystery in the darkening sky, signaling couples to come out to walk along the shore. If you’re not with your loved one, seeing couples walk hand in hand can make you feel lonely. But a lone jogger running by can make you feel better about being on your own.

July 13, 2005

On the Rocks

colontherocks.jpgIt’s amazing how "at home" I feel at the ocean and how comfortable I can make myself when the need for refreshment comes over me.

When we were kids, my friends and I wanted to live on the beach. We tried to make fire by rubbing driftwood sticks together to heat up cans of soup from our mother’s pantries. Our plan was to take shelter in the nooks and crannies of the granite boulder seawall if the weather got bad. Once, we skipped school and spent the day on the beach, practicing for when we would live there. But it seemed like a small eternity, waiting for school to let out so we could finally leave the beach and go home.

July 11, 2005

Two Witches of Eastwick

shecol_lighthouse.jpgAKA: A Magical Day

We spent the day in Scituate Harbor, my sister Sherry, her husband, and I. Scituate, Massachusetts, is where part of the 1987 movie “The Witches Eastwick” was filmed. There were 3 witches in that movie, played by Michele Pfeiffer, Susan Sarandon, and Cher. We went into the Quarterdeck, the funky nautical shop that Cher's character owned in the movie.

When Goldie Hawn was filming the 1992 movie “House sitter” in Cohasset, the next town over from Scituate, my sister Kathy spotted her in the grocery store. Her daughter, Kate Hudson, who was just a girl then, was with her.

This would be a good place to mention that I saw Steven Tyler from Areosmith shopping in Hingham (the next town over from Scituate, going in the opposite direction) in 2001. I didn’t know that he was from the area, and he wasn’t in costume when I spotted him. Even though his mouth was unmistakable, I talked myself out of believing it was really him. Shyness took over, and I even talked myself out of saying, “Do you know who you look exactly like?” A few weeks later one of my nieces who was working as a waitress at the time told me that she waited on him. He autographed a napkin for her.

I read in the newspaper last week that Leonardo Dicaprio, Martin Sheen, and former Bostonian, Matt Damon were in South Boston filming a new movie based on the story of Whitey Bulger, the gangster. Bulger, from “Southie,” the predominately Irish section of Boston where my father’s family was from, is currently on the lam.

I’ll let you know if I run into any movie stars or rock stars (or Whitey Bulger) for the rest of my visit with my family in Hull, Massachusetts. Sounds like the odds are in my favor.

July 10, 2005

The Blogger Sisters

bloggers.jpgI can still recall when over 10 years ago a close friend looked me straight in the eye and announced, “I love my Mac.” I turned up my nose and looked at her like she had two heads.

Sometime after that, my sister, Kathy, told me that I would love using a computer, once I got used to it. I didn’t agree with her at the time, but I took her more seriously than my friend who loved her Mac because Kathy, like me, is technologically challenged and an unlikely candidate to take to the computer, but she had.

Times have surely changed. My husband recently purchased me a Dell lap top and had it sent to my mother’s house, where I’ll be staying for the next couple of weeks. I wake up each morning and put my USB memory stick around my neck. It hangs from a cord like a key or a whistle, and I feel like a coach ready to get into the game…once I can find an internet connection, which my mother doesn’t have.

This past week, I attended a cook-out pool party, played scrabble, visited family members, discovered a new beer, walked a trail with my nephews and the beach every evening that it hasn’t been raining. I have also blogged…at the library, my niece’s house, my brother Joey’s house, and all three of my sister’s houses.

My sister Kathy’s blog, “A Particularly Persistent Point of View” made its debut a couple of months before "Loose Leaf" did. It covers a mix of political and metaphysical topics, and is set up via a dialogue with her inner critic, which in this incarnation is a tiger. I don’t think I ever could have guessed so many years ago when she was first discovering the world wide web of the internet that we would both end up being so “online,” blogging side-by side (see photo).

Special Happy Birthday Wishes to my son, Josh, on his 26th birthday. Sorry no blueberry pie this year. See you when I get home.

July 9, 2005

The Family Business

videos.jpgI visit my parents in my hometown of Hull, Massachusetts, about once a year. The room I stay in is on the 3rd floor. There are wall to wall bookcases filled with movie videos and movie posters hanging on the walls

It may seem fitting for me as a writer – but it’s not exactly relaxing – to spend so much time in a room surrounded by words to read. Over the years, I’ve been disciplining myself not to even start reading the titles on the outside of the video boxes or the bold printed words on the posters (My Left Foot…Driving Miss Daisy…Steel Magnolias) that I already know by heart.

It’s not unusual in my parent’s house for a room to be full of videos. My father’s hobby for the past 20 years has been making copies of movies for family members to watch, and his collection is at least as large as what the local town video store has. They start in the garage and fill up the cellar. They’re stacked into bookcases of every shape and size on all 3 floors of the house – even in the hallways.

I once decided to document my dad’s video hobby. He’s a little shy about it, probably remembering that ominous message at the beginning of the movies that has something to do with the FBI. Even so, he allowed me to follow him around with a camcorder while he gave a tour.

“Dad, this is incredible! You should be in the Guinness Book of World Records for all these videos!” I exclaimed, after seeing the extent of his collection.

He turned and faced the camera, not missing a beat, “I just want the pain, not the fame!” he answered.
To be continued…

July 8, 2005

The White Feather

jim's dedication.pngWalking on Nantasket Beach in my hometown peninsula of Hull, Massachusetts, makes me think of my brother Jim. Jim lived in Hull for most of his childhood and all of his adult life. He was an ardent weather enthusiast and a respected member of the local weather community who frequently took photographs at the beach, some of which were published. Later this month is the anniversary of his unexpected death in 2001, and The Blue Hill Observatory, where Jim was a volunteer, will be hosting the 4th annual Jim Redman memorial picnic (part of the reason I’m in Hull right now). After his death, the Observatory erected a flag with an inscribed dedication in Jim’s memory.

My brother Jim’s life and death were intimately intertwined with my brother Dan’s, who died a month after Jim did. This is the time of year that my family and I relive our heartbreak, and I find myself remembering a certain white feather…

Below is an excerpt from “The Jim and Dan Stories,” the book I wrote about losing my brothers.

It was a perfect white feather that must have just fallen, but it seemed to have been placed in my path just for me. I was walking on the beach in Hull, the beach that Jimmy so often took storm photographs of, trying to gather my strength for his funeral and thinking of the eulogy I was to give. I found myself picking up that feather to save in my pocket and then later putting it with Jim’s body when I said my last goodbye. For me, it represented other-world, freedom, and purity.

Weeks later, we were facing the worst with Dan in the hospital, an unlikely place for a white feather to show up, but it did. Jeanne, my sister-in-law, pulled it out of her pocketbook (not knowing about the white feather I left with Jim’s body), saying her daughter had given it to her. We called ourselves “the three ministering Mary’s,” Jeanne, my sister Kathy, and myself, tending Danny at his death bed, the way Mary Magdalene, Mother Mary, and her cousin did for Jesus. That was when it occurred to me that death faced willingly, and especially after suffering, was a sort of sacrifice and generator of grace. And didn’t Danny say “I’m all right” the first chance he got when the breathing tubes came off, the way Jesus said “forgive them, Father,” comforting us when he was dying? continued...

We anointed him with “three Wise Men Oil” that my sister Kathy, an aroma-therapist, had brought. We placed the white feather on his pillow next to the pin of Mother Mary that an anonymous late night visitor had left there. ...When I find myself in times of trouble…Mother Mary comes to me…speaking words of wisdom…Let it be. The nurse removed the breathing tubes when Dan signaled he was ready, like taking Jesus down from the cross he was nailed to. After he died, I placed the feather safely in my journal to keep in remembrance of his passing, but later, when I went to retrieve it, it was gone.

Family friends arranged for a funeral reception at the Hull Yacht club, which was stone’s throw away from where the house we all grew up in used to be. My husband, Joe, took a picture of Jeanne, Kathy, and me at the bandstand gazebo on the lawn. On the way over to the bandstand Jeanne picked up a white feather and gave it to me.

“You better take good care of this one,” Joe said.
“No, this one can go where ever it wants to,” I answered.
After holding it awhile, I passed it back to Jeanne who wore it as an earring.

Weeks later, when that picture was developed, I was shocked to read above our heads in bold letter “DAN S MEMORIAL.” My Massachusetts sisters and mom drove down to the yacht club to take a second look. It actually said “DAN SHORT’S MEMORIAL BANDSTAND,” but in our picture some of the words were cut off.

July 7, 2005

Beach Sketches

Jim's waves.png
The ocean is a natural anti-depressant. I like to walk the beach in the evening when the setting sun casts a golden glow. On this night, I found myself smiling upon seeing what I took to be a bride further on down the beach. Her white veil was blowing in the sea breezes. As I got closer, I saw that, indeed, she was a bride. Her feet were bare. The groom had dreadlocks. They both were being photographed.

Planes fly so low to and from Logan Airport that they could be mistaken for kites. And there are kites. A woman in red shoes carrying a crocket set walks by. Two boys are throwing rocks, trying to hit sea gulls out of the sky. I’m still limping from the ankle I sprained 2 weeks ago. I pass a man walking with crutches whose body is contorted. After that, I pick up my step.

The photo: A scene in my hometown of Hull, taken by my brother Jimmy.

July 6, 2005

Some Like it Hot...Not

Last Sunday, while putting the Museletter together, the monthly local publication that I co-edit, I was looking through my collection of poetry for a few summer-time poems to fill in some empty spaces. Except for a few garden poems, all I could find is the one below, published last year in "Mobius," which made me realize that I don't write much poetry in the summer. Does hot weather affect your creativity like it affects mine?

Summer Insects

High-pitched
crickets drone
like a phone off the hook

Waking from a dream, I ask:
"Won't somebody please
hang it up?"

July 5, 2005

Fireworks

Firework smaller.jpg
I've been known to act like "Gidget" while watching fireworks go off. Probably because I ooh and ahh while watching them. I also like to give them names...like these: Pistachio Afro, Snap, Crackle, and Pop, Red Zinnia in a Blender, Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds, Tinkerbell's Migraine, The Big Bang Theory, Bling Bling, Barbie's bad perm hair day, The Alka Seltzer Plus Explosion, Mary Poppin's parasol, Roulette Wheel Spinning, Ferris Wheel Riding, Fried Egg Sizzling, and The Electric Kool-aid Acid Blot Test.

Did you see any fireworks over the weekend? How would you describe them?

Postcards from the Road:
The problem with ad-lib posting from the road at random times on borrowed internet connections without printers is that it's not easy to make re-writes and edits. I apologize in advance if my standard of writing is not up to par and for not being able to visit my blogger friends as often as I would like. If you look hard you probably can find a typo somewhere in this message.

Special Thanks to my niece, Beth, for the above photo (taken at my brother Joey's 4th of July cook-out) and her sister Chrissie for helping me format it.

July 4, 2005

The Boston Tea Party Re-visited

Here, in the South Shore of Boston, every other person is proudly donned in some sort of Red Sox apparel, forks are called “fawks” and cars are “cahs,” and it’s common to spend over $1,000 a month for a 2 bedroom apartment. Here, navigating a traffic rotary, a circular grassy intersection where all points on the compass meet, is like square dancing in a foreign country where the dances aren’t called but your expected to know the moves, and when former Cambridge resident Ben Affleck gets married, it makes the front page of the Boston Herald.

Here, in Hull, where my parents live 4 houses down from Nantasket Beach, you can see as many as 3 lighthouses on a clear day, and after sunset on the July 4th weekend something reminiscent of the Boston Tea Party occurs.

Recovering from an all day cook-out and pool party held at my brother Joey’s house, my brother John, visiting from Minneapolis, and I were taking it easy at my mother’s house. He was reading a book on the front porch and I was watching a movie when the familiar boom of fireworks began. Thinking it was kids setting off bottle rockets, I casually finished the movie before becoming curious enough about the continuous uproar to follow it down to the beach. I was completely unprepared for what I found.

Fireworks are illegal for Massachusetts citizens to possess, let alone set off. In the past, Hullonians watched official firework displays, set off from offshore barges or from the local playground field. But then, even those were deemed unsafe or too costly by the powers that be, and so, being the freedom-loving and independent Yankees they are, Hullonians took matters into their own hands. Here’s what I saw on the beach…

Spectacular fireworks, as professional as the ones that small towns display, were going off continuously and in both directions for as far as the eye could see. There were Revolutionary War-like bonfire encampments from horizon to horizon along the 5 mile stretch of beach. Groups of people were gathered and some were still coming out of their houses, as though an invasion from Mars might be occurring.

I arrived at the beach and my brother, John, was already there. “Have you ever seen anything like this in your entire life?!” he shouted over the noise. It was hard to know where to look with so many showers of exploding colors going off simultaneously. Not only were they going off along the length of Nantasket Beach, but we could see them from as far away as Boston and even Revere Beach.

The anarchy went on for a couple of hours. All the police could do was occasionally walk the beach, making sure that no one was igniting the smuggled-in fireworks close to beachfront houses.

The funny part was that both John and I were on the beach until 7:00 p.m. before the fireworks started, and there was no bonfire preparation going on, no sign of what was coming. The next morning the beach was immaculate, as if the whole thing never happened.

We didn’t expect to see firework photos or read about the display in the newspapers the next day, and we didn’t. “The only evidence of it that you might eventually read about is how much it cost the town to clean-up,” my brother John suggested. “Prohibition never works. It just fuels the fire,” I answered.

July 2, 2005

The Runaway Bride

AKA: How the Knight in the Shinning Palomino Rescued the Maiden on Her Voyage

Day 1. Like a reluctant bride who has cold feet the morning of her wedding, I woke up the morning I was set to embark on my solo road trip from Virginia to Massachusetts and didn’t want to go. My driving phobia had gotten the better of me. Nearly paralyzed with anxiety at the thought of driving on interstates for 14 hours alongside 18 wheeler tractor trailers acting like sports cars, I was prepared to cancel all the plans I had made with friends and family. I was feeling like a bride about to give back wedding presents when my husband, Joe, came to the rescue.

He, who doesn’t have an ounce of driving phobia, considered it an adventure to take a couple of days off work, drive me to Mass, fly back home, and then fly back to drive me home again 3 weeks later. I was stunned! That Joe’s idea was a possibility, took some time to sink in, but the more I thought about it, the better I started feeling.

When I told my mother and a few close friends about the change in plans, no one was surprised. Knowing me, they were more surprised that I had intended to drive the truck and camper to Massachusetts in the first place.

I don’t like speed. I don’t ski. I’m the kind of person who rides the brakes while going downhill on my bicycle. I like simple plans and small towns. Rushing down a highway at 75 miles an hour with a bunch of other people doing the same is about as out of context in my life as piloting a plane. I suspect that the pace of life so many of us have come to accept as normal really isn’t.

Joe reminded me how well I’d been doing lately managing my recovery from Chronic Fatigue. “You don’t have the stores of energy it takes to sustain a couple of days of stress. I’d hate to see you suffer a set back,” he said. He put on shorts and a Hawaiian shirt, threw some things in the back of the camper, and we headed out. For my part of the bargain, I helped him cram for an upcoming test for his last counseling class before graduation by reading out loud from his textbook.

Day 2. Typing on a lap top from our pit stop at Joe’s brother’s house in Connecticut, my voice is a little horse from all that out loud reading, but overall I feel relaxed! Thanks, Joe!


Post Note: Can’t have too many of these, especially on road trips:
1. Pens
2. Reading glasses
3. Jaw clips for my hair
4. Containers full of good Floyd County water