For this author, creative endeavors have been sorely tested by motherhood. But also transformed, and in ways she wouldn’t have imagined – couldn’t have, without her life “rewritten” as it has been, by her children. So linger here, to read all things weaverly, writerly and motherly.


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Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Wake

I’m not good with dead people.

My first wake was for my 24-year-old cousin eight years ago, who died in a car accident. His mother had chosen a bright blue shirt for him, because she said he’d always looked so good in blue – not when you’re dead. When your made-up face hardly reflects natural skin tones, and your eyes have been shut so their blue can’t complement the shirt. The only part of him that seemed real was a bruised nail, as if he’d caught his finger in a door.

My cousin’s hands were folded peacefully. But he wasn’t peaceful. They’d had a hard time wiping the grimace off his face, a hint of the sharp pain perhaps he’d experienced just as his aorta burst when he was thrown against the steering wheel.

His devastated father had wanted me to go up and touch his body.  Not something I wanted to do. His arm felt like a log. Rather, a freshly cut branch, the kind that might still show green inside.

The wake this past weekend for my husband’s best friend was only my second wake. In my family, we’ve never had open caskets. When my father died, he was cremated, and his little urn sat at the alter during the memorial service, draped finely in a simple white cloth. Then the little urn was dropped into a small hole in the ground, in a cemetery famous for being so large and meandering, even with a map no one is ever able to navigate their way back to their loved ones again.

My husband is more used to dead people. He was shocked to hear this was only my second wake.

“Just burn me,” I told him. I didn’t want to rot underground, wind up as a pile of bones tangled up in what might have been my best dress.

My husband’s friend looked far more peaceful than my cousin had. And healthier than he had in life; his face was painted a peachy tint. He looked exactly like a mannequin, a perfect wax rendition fit for a museum display. They’d even put back on his glasses as if he'd fallen asleep reading. But beneath those lids, those eyes I imagined were staring dumbfounded at what was happening to him when the embolism struck and he dropped to the floor. I looked for some part of him that was real, like my cousin’s bruised thumb. Ted’s ears. They were distinct, long and finely shaped.

Actually, it’s not dead people I don’t like. It’s the dead bodies. Rather, the dead bodies painted and dressed up to look alive and well, as if we’re stupid and can really be convinced that they are sleeping peacefully. When what we’re really left with is just that, a stiff waxed mannequin that has nothing at all to do with what is, was, real.

So to clear my head of the waxed image of Ted, I pulled out our wedding album today. I needed to see one of my favorite pictures of him, in the limo toasting us with a glass of champagne.

And then there’s my other favorite, of him holding our first born when he visited at the hospital: he cradles Ryan a bit awkwardly, as Ted was single and not particularly used to children. His smile is one of amusement, as if Ryan were a ferret or some other unusual pet. Ted was always funny, and I can’t remember what he said at the time, but I’m sure in all my post-delivery exhaustion, that he he'd been able to make me laugh.

Friday, June 24, 2011

See You in July

Every morning and afternoon on the way to my boys' school, we pass a memorial to someone who has died, where his car must have crashed into a telephone pole.

There’s a picture of this someone hanging on the pole, framed in a heart of plastic red and white roses. I don’t remember when it suddenly appeared. But since then, seasonally there have been remembrances: a fake Christmas tree (that was stolen but then replaced), a Palm Sunday cross, Easter lilies, spring tulips, and recently, a pot of marigolds.

I keep expecting the remembrances to stop, not sure why, since from the picture, he was a fairly young man. Maybe someone’s father. Death clearly was not in his cards.

Still, I keep expecting time will begin to heal. If not heal, at least allow for the bereaved to settle into a new way of living. To learn to sidestep weak ground. To stop leaving Christmas trees and flowers.

Today, I had to call my husband at work to tell him that his best friend has died. The Best Man at our wedding. The man who was at my husband’s bedside when he had to undergo surgery, while I had to stay home with our two-week-old nursing newborn.

That he had been found dead under his desk. We’re waiting the autopsy report. And my husband had to get back to work.

Here’s the thing. I just talked to him a few days ago. About how long it had been since we’d seen him, and we made plans for him to come over in July on his vacation.

This is not the first death I’ve encountered that arose too much out of the ordinary – that was far too simple somehow. A friend’s brother died just as suddenly, of a heart attack while watching TV. My son’s preschool teacher’s daughter died in a car crash this past Memorial Day, on the way to a wedding. Just as my 24-year-old cousin died eight years ago; he ran into a construction site. I’d just met him for lunch a couple of weeks before. He’d walked me to my train station.

Not that I think dying is better prolonged. But neither should it be so sudden as to seem ordinary.

Or maybe the word isn’t “ordinary.” It is “natural.” Death is part of living, of course, right? We are reminded of that every time we swat at a mosquito.

Natural or not, the suddenness of an unexpected loss, leaves you with no final words. Not even the rambling words, as when my father was dying, and I went on about nothing of consequence. Only about my childhood summers in Vermont at the lake, where he had taught me to swim. He was semiconscious and I had believed that remembered reality would be more real to him than that of the nursing home, the green cutout clover taped to his door for St. Patrick’s Day. The cleaning people mopping the hall. As if that too, were just another ordinary day.

It wasn’t ordinary.

And this. This sudden death of my husband’s best high school buddy is not ordinary. It is not natural. Because the ordinariness of that last encounter, a phone call, was far too casual. Sure. See you in July.

I guess that’s why the people who loved that man, keep returning to that telephone pole, with more memorials. They are still groping with the suddenness of their loss, of that robust man in a baseball shirt. Smiling in the photo, maybe taken in one of those mall photo booths. A quick and fun moment.

When the fresh marigolds die by the pole, there will be new ones.

“See you in July.”

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Wednesday, June 22, 2011

First Craft Fair of the Season

If you read the post below,  and wondered  where I was all weekend that I couldn't be around to take home our newest family additions, Sandra's Fiberworks was displaying in a craft fair:

I did  ok, though not easy having to compete with  a vendor selling doggie bandanas. No, really. Bandanas for dogs. And I had a dog to prove it, one wandering through my tent adorned in the adorable red one. He liked sniffing under my tables for my lunch, his owner heedless as she agonized over which sea-glass earrings to buy from the vendor next to me.

You never know what people will take to, but this time it was these small rope beaded bracelets I'd made; they sold like hotcakes, to both women and children, and even little boys. I also sold several of my shawls which I realize now are very versatile, as people wrapped them around their neck like scarves.  And I got some nice comments on my new framed felted pieces, my new fiber love.

The Continued Pet Saga

Finally having arrived at the monumental decision to adopt a couple of gerbils, I set about looking for a breeder. (In my gerbil research I’d read it was best to buy from a breeder.)

How could there possibly not be a single gerbil fanatic on Long Island, with a household of gerbil generations multiplying in ten gallon tanks?

I called the local pet store where we’d purchased our hermit crabs (who passed this past winter).

They had gerbil pups! An unexpected litter of one month olds!

We knew this store well; it was like visiting a mini aquarium, to while away hot summer mornings when our boys were toddlers. For a quarter, you’d get a cup of fish food to drop in the tanks of mammoth goldfish.

Along one wall is the enclosed area, and through the glass you can see all the other pet options: parakeets, canaries, lizards, snakes, hermit crabs, mice, rats etc. and gerbils.

And behind that glass is Carol.

Carol must be in her late 20s, and when we'd been picking out hermit crabs, she'd had this way of standing there, like a cashier waiting as customers fumbled with their wallets; her mind on other things, maybe what plans she might have for hanging out with friends after work.  But sometimes I’d seen her on a cigarette break outside, not even checking for text messages on a cell phone.

Ultimately, I couldn’t imagine Carol anywhere else but tending to the tanks and cages in that glass-enclosed area, changing water bottles and scrubbing poop out of bird cages. She stood over six feet tall, had shoulders of a football player, and a stutter that got louder the more she tried to speak clearly. I couldn’t imagine her without the parrot that always rides around on her shoulder, wearing some kind of birdy diaper.

She let us in through a door she kept propped open with a box, maybe because she was afraid of being locked in.

She took the tank with gerbil pups down from a shelf. About eight gerbils scampered around the tank, and the boys looked daunted . ”They’re fast,” Ryan managed to say.  When he tried to hold one, he grabbed it by the neck.

I suggested Carol show him how to pick one up.
“Never by the tail,” she said. “It could break off.”

Kenny looked horrified. “Its tail can come off?”

Carol did nothing to mitigate the shock. “They’re very….fr…fr…fragile.  I p… pulled one off as a kid.” She laughed. “”Yeah, the fur and even the muscle came with it, just leaving the b…b…BONE. They are made that way to get away from pr…predators.”

Kenny took a step back from the tank.

“You’ll learn how to hold them,” I said. Although I suddenly had my doubts. "These are good pets for this age, aren’t they?”

“Shh…..sure. I had my first gerbils at six.”

I was relieved; just Kenny’ age.

“The rats came later, but I always had gerbils. And r….r….rabbits.”

I saw her most clearly then; as a child. A large awkward child who more easily bonded with rodents than humans.

The boys couldn’t decide on their gerbils. Kenny went for a white and brown one (they come in all different colors now!). When he found out it was a girl, he didn’t want it.

Ryan wanted a pure black one, of course, since he loves bats, and black is his favorite color. But there were a lot of pure black ones…

“Which are which then?” I asked, knowing I did not want to breed.

Carol pointed to the girls and then to the boys, but I couldn’t keep track.

Ryan and Kenny kept pointing to different ones, it seemed, as they’d scamper this way and that.

Kenny liked one with a streak of white on its head, so Carol grabbed that one, and then she grabbed a pure black one. “These two are boys.”

“But I like that one,” Ryan said, pointing to a different black one in the tank.

Carol stood there, with a gerbil in each fist, only their tiny rumps sticking out, feet scuttling in thin air. She seemed not to notice their squirming. She was wearing that cashier look again.

By the time we'd made a final decision, we’d spent $118 on two gerbils, a tank, bedding, bottle, wood hut, food, vitamin C, chew sticks and a food dish, and I don’t think any of us were clear on what gerbils finally were destined to come home with us.

And they weren’t coming home until Monday, since I had to be away over the weekend. Daddy would not be happy with the new charges all by himself. Carol was nice enough to offer to set up the $118 investment and keep it at the store for me.

But we must have worn her out; as we were walking across the parking lot, I saw her go out for a cigarette break. The diapered parrot was still adorning her shoulder.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

We Found it, the Perfect Pet!

The petless dilemma. It continued. I wish we could have adopted the petite lap giraffe (for more on these cuties, see my post, "The PERFECT Pet"). We’d put a harness on it (I can’t imagine a collar, as that might snap its slender neck?) and walk it proudly around the neighborhood. The local dogs would be so startled, they wouldn’t think to bark.

I have spent countless hours googling the perfect pet for petless folk like us, an odd mixture of the allergic, non-allergic animal lover, and the less than animal fanatic.

I started with parakeets. How intrusive could one tiny little bird be? I mean, it’s not even a canary that might sing ceaselessly all day long. The parakeet can talk! And play with fun little toys!

But here’s the thing. Everything I read says a healthy parakeet needs to be out of its cage for at least four hours a day. Four hours? With a bird flying around the house? And they poop like there’s no tomorrow, right? Oh, my less-than-animal-fanatic husband would just love that. He would be the first to find a stray dropping I missed, on the counter or floor.

Nope. Birds won’t work.  But it has to be a small pet, one that doesn’t leave droppings or feathers, or especially dander around the house. It would be so nice to have something cute and furry! So I googled “small furry pets,” and these were the top choices: guinea pigs, hamsters, mice, rats, gerbils.

The guinea pig! So cute and the closest cat substitute, as quiet and cuddly – except they may pee and poop in your lap. And they love hay. We’re allergic to hay.

Then there’s the hamster. But they sleep all day. How is that any more fun than the hermit crabs?

So nothing nocturnal.

As for mice, Daddy would not appreciate even a caged mouse in the house, not after investing  $300 in having our house mouse-proofed; Daddy did not like finding the dead one behind the refrigerator.

Rats. I know they’re sweet and smart. But for some reason I myself even have trouble with that one. I think it’s those long hairless stringy tails.

Then there are the gerbils. I had those when I was a kid! They didn’t make me sneeze! And they are furry and cute! And they don’t sleep all day! And best of all, they’re happy in a glass tank, so they are not messy!

Next step was to convince Daddy. He liked the tank idea; no hay spilling out of a cage. And no droppings around the house (in fact, these tiny rodents hardly poop or pee at all, did you know that?)

Gerbils! The perfect pet!

Dreamhost reviews

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Dropping Shoes, Leaving Them Where They Lay

My husband came home from work, and pointing to my son’s sneakers lying in the middle of the hall rug, said, “Whose are these? And where do they belong?”

Ryan dutifully put them where they belong.

“Thank you,” Daddy said.

Then Daddy proceeded to the kitchen, where he took off his own shoes and dropped them on the floor. And left them there.

A double standard perhaps? Whatever, nothing new here; my husband has been leaving his shoes where they lay for the ten years of our marriage. Sometimes I put them back where they “belong,” in the hall closet. Just as I hang up his trail of pajamas that he leaves on the floor on the way to the bathroom every morning.

He used to leave a trail of all his clothes, when he came home from work on his way into the shower. Dutiful newly-wed wife, I would pick them up and put them in the hamper. We were newly married, it seemed, for years; I chalked this up to getting used to sharing my once larger, far more private space with another human being.

Until I started to rebel. I let the dirty clothes pile up. Which never seemed to get the message across. I was left with a larger pile to dump in the hamper.

Finally, once we were past the newly married stage (with two toddlers in fact), I said to him what he said to his son: “Where do these belong?”

That was the end of that. He never dropped his clothes on the floor again. I should have nipped that one years ago!

The pajamas though, still wind up on the floor. I don’t mind those somehow, as I know he’s always rushing to work, having to commute an hour to a job he hates, to be at the office at the ungodly hour of 7:30 am. He has his morning schedule down to a tee; he even has a bowl, spoon and banana ready for his cereal the night before.

And I never really thought much about the shoes. Maybe because they blended in with all the other shoes – the boys' sneakers, slippers, sandals – dropped around the house.

I didn't think about them that is, until Daddy reminded his son about his own shoes.

Know that I love my husband deeply. He is kind to the core, can’t stand to see anyone suffer the least bit of pain, demands that magical spray before our boys' inoculations. He has a darn good sense of humor (When he was Member of the Month at our health club, he was quoted as saying: “The research is still out on how to stay fit without having to exercise.”) He is thoughtful of others, always returns shopping carts to the supermarket cart stalls, unlike me who leaves them to take up parking spaces. And though he is not an animal fanatic, he does try not to run over the neighborhood cats crossing our driveway.  


Excuse me? I said, pointing to these:

I think he actually blushed. You know, at the double standard. “How else am I going to know where they are?”

He’s often complaining he can’t find anything because most things wind up in my clutter baskets. But stuff winds up in baskets if it's left lying around for too long. So if he leaves opened mail, crumpled bank receipts and packets of M&Ms on the kitchen counter, eventually they are all swept into a basket.

“If you could actually take them off and put the back in the hall closet, that’s where you might find them ….” I said.

“Well….”  He only frowned.

What could he say? What could he do, except what he usually does, open his mail, then just leave it there, on the counter.

Nothing much has changed since that night – two nights ago. Here are last night’s shoes, his dirty old sneakers he changed into to go tend to his new grass seedlings. Dropped beside his work shoes he'd taken off earlier:


He’s like the cat I never had because I’m allergic, curling up to me every night in bed. He gives great neck massages. And after ten years, he still likes to reach for my hands across a restaurant table. I love my man to his drop-my shoes-where-I-may sweet core.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

More on Felting

I'm pleased with the felted "landscapes" that seem to have evolved from my first experience with needle felting. I didn't set out to do landscapes, but something about the way you can blend colors of felt became for me reminiscent of either open vistas or stormy oceans (perhaps this one?):

 These are all the tools you need, a wire brush for blending of felt colors (two actually) and the needles:

The only other materials needed are the foam board for the punching, and a piece of ironed felt:

A simple and fun art form. The punching is simple, but the complexity of the form is all in how you blend the colors. 

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Spiderman's Dollhouse

My boys love to play with my old dollhouse.

It is old. Forty-plus years. Yes, I’m dating myself.

But I saved it all these years, I guess, thinking I might have a girl one day.

I didn’t have a girl.

In fact, when I heard I was having a boy after our ultrasound, I cried. I called my mother in tears. I’d been a girly girl; I didn’t have brothers; I never played sports. What was I going to do with a boy?

Anyway, the dollhouse was stored in my parents’ attic forever and ever, and literally, the week after I got back from our honeymoon, my mother unloaded it on me, along with all the ancient family silver and china that she’d never used and stored in her attic – for as many years as I now will probably store it all in my own attic.

But about three years ago, the dollhouse came down. The boys were at that toddler age where I thought they might actually want to play with dolls. Don't all boys go through that brief stage? Even in Kenny's kindergarten class, he told me how all the boys gravitate to the Barbie dolls ("Yuck"). And they've always loved stuffed animals...

 They didn’t want to play with dolls. 

At that time, Ryan was very into tools:

So the first thing he did was try to take the dollhouse apart. He removed the stairs so that he could get at the door in the back where the battery used to be, for the lighting. We’d just had our own house rewired, and Ryan, at the tender age of four, had actually helped the electricians, pulling the wires down through the walls. Here's a great pic of him actually in the electrician's truck:

With baby brother Kenny forced into the role of assistant, Ryan ordered him to push this or that tool through the hole in the wall, pretending he was rewiring the dollhouse.

The next dollhouse phase was a Spiderman cave:

Then it made for a great parking garage and helicopter landing:

It’s been some time since the dollhouse has been hauled up from the basement where it is now stored, but the other day, Ryan asked for it when he was playing with his cars. By this time, the roof had come off, but made for a spacious ramp:

This has been the evolution of my old wooden dollhouse, from what it used to be when I was the one to play with it, when it was lovingly embellished with sweet, delicate doll furniture (it even still has the green flowered contact paper I’d stuck up as curtains, and a bunny picture on one wall).

I guess I’m glad I saved it all these years. And I'm not as sad that I never had a girl – it’s not so bad having boys! They don’t care about wearing those sequined plastic pumps I’d see even preschool girls wearing, on the playground (I often wondered how they didn’t slip and snap their tiny necks).

 And as girly as I may have been myself, I would choose  Spiderman over princesses any day; at least he can do wild things, like stick to the sides of buildings.

Dreamhost reviews

Saturday, June 11, 2011

To Do or Not to do What Needs to Get Done

How do I get done what I do? Rather, how do I avoid doing what needs to be done?

Those are the questions of a driven creative mom, ones I have been ruminating on since I ran into a fellow creative mom when picking up our kids from school.

She’d recently left her job to be a stay-at-home mom to her four boys – and to pursue her ceramics. She is serious enough about the craft that she has a wheel in her basement and a kiln in her garage.

I asked if she’d been finding time to actually get to her wheel.

“I get about an hour in the morning,” she said. Then she laughed. “My husband is worried about what I am going to do with all this ‘time’ I have now all day.”

I laughed too. It was a commiserating laugh; any stay-at-home mom knows that there is plenty to do. That needs to be done. I am reminded of that whenever I am faced with all those things that should be on my “to do” list which I haven’t gotten around to writing yet. Like:

•Wash and put away the winter coats (I did get all the sweaters put away!)
•Clean out the pots and pans drawer, full of stale macaroni for some reason…
•Clean out all the kitchen cabinets, in fact…
*Call the chimney man for seasonal cleaning of the wood burning stove
• Make all those other calls about the house:
• to have the driveway seal coated
• to find someone, not only to paint the exterior of the peeling house, but to replace the rotting shutters
•Call the plumber about the slow-draining bathroom sink
•Call the electrician about the dead outlet
•Rake out the pile of garden mulch on the side of the house
•Buy ant traps for those BIG damn black ants (I did conquer the tiny ones)
• Weed. Weed and weed. It’s only June but the vines loom.
• Clean the house. Get into the corners and dust the baseboards.
•Organize the basement, at least trail blaze a path to the washing machines
• Etc., etc.

Then there’s the daily to-do list: what actually does get done, though not necessarily instantly.

And why not?

Not because I am a lazy good-for-nothin’. Because making time to pursue my creative outlets, is finally as much a necessity as those to-dos. Otherwise, I am cranky. I can be mean. I can snarl and retreat to a corner like a rabid dog.

To avoid turning rabid, I make time to weave, to felt, to finish those almost-finished scarves, handbags, shawls, and tapestries, by giving myself more than just an hour in the mornings. After the kids go to school, I make my second cup of coffee and get to work. Most days, I work until noon. But some days, like this entire week, when I’m getting ready for a craft show, I may work until it’s time to pick up the kids.

So when I ran into this mom who I could see was already frustrated by how much time she now had but finally didn’t have, I wanted to tell her some secrets of the trade:

•Leave the breakfast dishes in the sink until dinnertime
•Leave the laundry in the dryer until after the kids are in bed (put it on the high setting for five minutes to get out the wrinkles)
•Maybe clean out a kitchen drawer or two while you’re waiting for a chicken to finish roasting in the oven
•Clean the bathrooms as you’re using them, wiping out a sink one day, scrubbing a toilet another. (In the mean time, fold the towels nicely so it looks as if you’ve actually cleaned. Illusions can go a long way.)
•Vacuum while your kids might be outside riding their scooters in the driveway after school (Maybe she actually has a cleaning person. Then there are no excuses.)
*Change the bed sheets on Saturday mornings when, with everyone home, you’re deprived of your morning routine, anyway
•Resist picking up the Legos your boys dumped on the floor; walk tentatively around them until you can make them pick them all up themselves

I didn’t suggest these tricks. Maybe because she has four boys while I only have two; I may be presuming she has more time than she finally does.

But even then, I bet that wheel beckons. And when it begins to beckon too loudly, when she finds herself too sleep deprived from sneaking downstairs to work in the middle of the night, one morning she might wake up and feel enlightened. At least enough to let the breakfast dishes languish in the sink until dinnertime.

DreamHost review

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

New Zibbet Shop Highlight

My newest Zibbet highlight is from the Sassy West Collection of the Tin Can Quilter shop. Each purse is an original design, handcrafted one at a time, and of gorgeous patterns and colors.
 Here’s some interesting background on this collection: “The cowboys all love Miss Cheyenne, one of the Sassy Western ladies of days gone by. She is a stylish shoulder bag that was inspired by the colorful women of the Wild West. 

Miss Cheyenne is a feisty combination of southwest color and corset couture.” A portion of every sale goes toward making quilts for Project Linus, and also for World Vision. So check out the shop by clicking on the title link above, and if you purchase one of these fun purses, know your dollars are going toward worthy causes!  

To see more Zibbet highlights, or if you're a crafter yourself, follow my blog for updates. I will follow back, as I'm always interested in the creative process of other artists.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

To Garden or not to Garden

There are gardeners, and then there are gardeners.

And then there’s me.

“What am I?” I ask, contemplating the old sandbox, a real octagonal wooden one. The boys no longer play in it. I began contemplating it after a friend exclaimed, “Oh, don’t get rid of it, make it into a garden bed!”

I saw it then. Towering hibiscus and roses blooming. Or maybe it would be tomatoes and string beans.

Then I thought of the containers I tried last year. I did manage two tomatoes, however small and pale. And the boys were thrilled by three fairly robust string beans – one summer day, we sat together nibbling our single beans like squirrels can sit and savor individual nuts.

So then I just didn’t see it. I just saw it for what it was, a nasty, old, dirty sandbox.

I go through this self-examination every spring, when I watch people flock to the plant nurseries and fill wagons with flats of marigolds, impatiens, basil or who-knows whats. These gardeners all know exactly what they want, who they are, making important choices with little waffling. When we first moved here ten years ago, I thought I was one of them. I even carved out a large rectangle of lawn for a flower garden. What blooms I managed were scraggly and quickly fizzled by August. The next season, we filled it in so my husband had more grass to mow.

Since then, I rarely ever leave a nursery with a wagon of flats. It’s usually a couple of small pots, as I’m never quite sure what will flourish well where, often mistaking shady spots for sunny ones. This year, I bought a small begonia for the middle of the deck table. It has already perished:

Anyway, as I was saying, there are the gardeners: like my friend around the corner. As you meander her winding paths, her garden appears natural and wild, as she herself does, the type who appears sensual rather than unkempt with hair pulled back loosely. In essence, however, her garden has been patiently executed. She used to actually work in a plant nursery, so she knows her perennials and annuals well. She might be a walking flower encyclopedia, and in the spring will offer a plant sale of new shoots for you to start your own wild flower garden (I’ve never bought any).

Then there are the gardeners: my husband’s cousin. We were at her house over the weekend for a party. This is someone who has confessed to organizing her underwear by color. Her cream carpet is devoid of a single speck of dirt. Just as in her garden, you will not spot a single weed – she will pluck up any delicate shoots before they’ve barely reared their tiny green heads. Her rose beds are impeccable, the blooms so lush and enormous, you want to take a bite out of them.

She too has winding garden paths, but the perennial bushes are carefully manicured like her own hair and nails. There is a lion fountain with water spouting from its mouth (“is he throwing up?” my son asked). There is a waterfall with a brilliant orange goldfish. Actual oil lanterns dangle from the trees, and there are the various lawn ornaments, a St. Francis, silver reflective balls, and wind chimes.

I spent a lot of time walking around this garden, marveling at its perfection, though wondering whether I actually envied it. I think I prefer my friend’s wilder garden; at least the most frustrating area of our yard, our back sunless mossy corner, can mimic it – that is, if you stand at a distance, where you can’t see that the tangle of lush green is, literally, all weeds and vines.

When we came home, I began contemplating that sandbox again, the clutter of old sand toys and rusted trucks. Truthfully, our boys are still at the age where they can’t let go of anything, not even a sandbox that over the winter may have served better as a litter pan for the neighborhood cats.

So we will keep the sandbox for another year. Maybe even fill it with clean sand and enforce sandbox time.

 And for this season, anyway, I’ll stick to what I’ve been reduced to in our ten years here, the few potted plants I keep on the deck, just outside the kitchen door, where I can at least entertain the illusion of a real garden, however naturally wild or manicured it might never be:

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Saturday, June 4, 2011

Know your Doctor's Late Policy – to the Minute!

Who came up with the brilliant idea for those glass partitions at doctors’ offices? The ones the receptionists hide behind and reluctantly slide open only to slip through those sign-in clipboards, to pluck away your medical insurance cards, or most dreaded, to simply placate the waiting, as if patients are untamed creatures.

Yesterday, I stood at one of those partitions, trying to catch my breath. I’d burst into the waiting room, startling glassy-eyed patients who had been waiting too long.

We were late. Twenty minutes late to be exact.

We usually are barely running on schedule for my mother’s doctor appointments. I try not to rush her, as rushing doesn’t get very far with an elderly 92-year-old woman, who already is frustrated enough by her debilitations, tasks as small as snapping open a can of ginger ale.

But I’ve been late myself for doctor appointments. I know their cruel policies.

So I had called from the road, saying we were a few minutes late. It was a few minutes. Eleven to be exact.

“Well, we have a 15 minute late policy,” came a young girl’s voice through the static of my cell phone.

I was grateful it wasn’t one of those 10-minutes-late policies. I’d lost a pediatric dentist appointment to one of those. Especially cruel, as what mother can ever be on time anywhere with two toddlers?

“We’ll be there in three minutes.”

I really thought we would be there in three; the office was less than one block away. But they were digging up the road just in front of us, and traffic had to navigate around orange cones. I could almost reach out and touch the building, its adobe style walls.

“Well, we always have to wait, anyway,” my mother said.

We have this discussion every time. I remind her that we don’t exist in the waiting room until we sign our names on that all-important clipboard.

She checked her lipstick in the visor mirror. “You better let me run in while you park.”

Run? Seriously? My mother is remarkable for her age. But the reality is, she is dependent on a cane, and her balance is so precarious, she weaves and totters.

I park. Run in. She’s still in the car gathering her things, her newspaper and books, always anticipating, usually rightly, hours of waiting and waiting.

So there I am, panting at the partition. The other patients gaze on, grateful for this disheveled distraction.

I had to wait for the smudge-free (because of those neat little finger handles) window to slide open. Hesitantly.

Somehow I could place the tiny voice from my cell phone with the young plain girl in front of me. Like an old long lost relative, I say,  “We made it.”

“You’re now twenty minutes late though.”

I just looked at her. She was incongruous somehow; plain-faced, she appeared as if she’d just come in from a hen house after collecting the morning’s eggs. But then she was wearing this black T-shirt with red sequined hearts.

“We were right here. Around the corner. Stuck in traffic.”

“I understand, but 15 minutes is our policy.”

“So you’re going to turn us away because we’re now just five minutes past your 15 minutes policy?”

She blinked at me, and I saw myself for what I was: just another creature on the other side of the glass in need of taming. “I'm sorry,  but she’s not even an established patient,” she said.

I thought about telling her how hard it is, and long it takes for my poor mother to get even her socks and shoes on.

I didn’t. I leaned forward, shoving the window open wide. I stuck my head in, and in the most meaningful voice I could muster, said simply, “My mother is 92.”

She didn’t get it. She straightened a stack of papers for the heck of it, and I realized she was still too young to realize that she herself wasn’t immortal.  That she would not be blessed with that youthful little lithe body for eternity.

She set down the neat pile of papers. Her nail polish was chipped. I could see her in the evenings, watching reality shows and painting heart decals on her pinkies.

“I have to check with the nurse. If she says it’s ok…then it’s ok.” She smiled a smile as thin as a razor, shut the glass window.

I couldn’t help feeling grateful.

I went outside to check on my mother’s progress. She had gotten out of the car, and was walking gingerly up the walkway. I thought about how much later we would have been if she had been the one  to “run in.” We wouldn’t even have this, a possible blessing of the nurse’s ok.

Which we did get!

Amd the receptionist slipped another clipboard through the window,  this one with all the new-patient papers to fill in. “Just so you know, this can’t happen again.”

I was easily old enough to be her mother. I could have changed her diapers.

My mother and I sat down to fill out papers. She had yet to find an internist she liked, and this time had decided on trying a female doctor. I had high hopes.

We’d been sitting less than five minutes when “the nurse” called us in.  “You can finished the papers afterwards. We’re already running too behind,” she snipped, just to remind us to feel bad for throwing off their entire schedule by those five plus minutes.

She began rattling off the usual new-patient questions as she was still helping my mother navigate up the step to sit on the examining table.

“Have you ever had surgeries?” she said sitting down at the computer, her fingers poised over the keys.

I thought of how many surgeries one person could rack up by age 92, and I didn’t blame my mother for having to close her eyes tight to remember them all.

 “Well, I guess the first was having my tonsils out…”

What year?”

“The year? Oh, I don’t know I guess I was about eight…”

The nurse nods at the computer. My mother’s birthday is probably somewhere on the screen. She’s doing the math.

Any other surgeries?”

“Well, appendix after that, I guess. . . .”

“And when?”

“My mother opens her eyes. “You mean what year?”

“She was a child,” I pipe up.

 “Any others? Surgeries?”

I could see my mother was feeling overwhelmed, not having been prepared to have to answer questions going back to when she was a little girl.

To fill the long minutes as she shut her eyes again, I laughed.  A bit too loudly, saying, “Well, there was your C-section, when you had me…”

The nurse was wearing a blue blouse dotted with white flowers.  She didn’t look at either of us, and I stared at the flowers.  They started to have faces like little ghosts. “And when was that?” she asked.

I laughed again. “When I was born.”

Now she was looking at me. For the first time.  “What year?”

Holy. She was asking my age, and I’m at that age where I don’t feel like revealing it.

“My mother had me when she was forty-five.” I hoped she’d do the math, adding on the years to my mother’s own birth year rather than mine.

Luckily, my mother then jumped ahead in the time to her hip surgery, and I realized she’d skipped over two hernias and her mastectomy, but then I wondered what the heck all this history mattered, except to fill in the blanks on the screen.

“Hip replacement, and when was that?”

“Well, let’s see it was in the summer, and we had friends visiting, and we were going to that restaurant, you know on East Main? They have these brick steps that are uneven…”

I began my deep breathing. This is the kind of digressing my mother always does at the doctor’s, the kind that makes me keep checking my own watch.  She can’t seem to get past the fact that doctors don’t care a hoot about the how or why. Just the when.

“2005,” I pipe up. I try not to pipe up, something my mother hates.

We finally moved on to her medications, which were easy since we had a list, and then the nurse spun off her stool to take my mother’s blood pressure and pulse.  She was wearing an engagement ring that looked too tight. I tried to imagine some guy proposing, maybe casually over Chinese food, or elaborately, over a candlelit dinner at a sweet country inn.

I couldn’t imagine her in any other setting than this one, checking her watch as she checked my mother’s pulse.

She left. My mother sat on the edge of the table staring at this poster on the wall of a bear looking over his shoulder. “Now why would there be a picture of a bear in a doctor’s office?”

Then the doctor came in.  And honestly, this lady was a delightful burst of cool air; she seemed to have no sense of time at all! “So nice to meet you,” she said extending her hand to my mother, and breezily sitting on the stool,  as if she’d blown in for a glass of  iced tea  after a relaxing day at the beach.

She began with her own list of questions, but didn’t get very far past whom my mother’s past doctors had been.  “Well, first there was Dr. Locus – ” my mother began.

“Oh, Dr. Locus, and he only just retired, did you know that?”

Sweet and chatty, she went on about how he had retired early to spend more time with his grandchildren, but she saw him now and then at the country club, etc.

I kept waiting for her to check the time. She didn’t. She just kept chatting. She chatted away, before finally getting around to the knitty gritty of the physical, that I began to think my mother was the last patient of the morning.

She wasn’t. When we came out, there were annoyed patients waiting in their little cubicles, staring at other posters of animals on the walls.  And more annoyed patients in the waiting room, many looking as if they did indeed need to be placated, at least thrown some peanuts.

And then there was that receptionist. As we were exiting, she glanced up from behind the partition. The nurse was behind the glass now too, and she glanced up briefly. Then they were whispering as they both looked at us, but as you know, those partitions are sound-proof.

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