Promise, Renewal

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Friday was stunning, Saturday overcast, and today cold, rainy, and windy as hell. So windy in fact that a big whoosh felled a tree near the house (good-sized maple), bouncing off Handsome Chef Boyfriend’s new car—big damage—and hitting the ground next to mine, but not before completely taking out a tail light on my Subi and leaving a branch-shaped dent in its roof. So now we have stuff to deal with. Meh. Life goes on, and that part of it is dull as dirt.

What is interesting is the promise of a new life and a new community, vows renewed in a longish weekend that started Friday evening. That photo up there was my attempt to capture the vista—at a particularly delicious time of day—from the upstate New York farm of one Jeff Anderson, photographer, new friend, and fellow “farmie:” the self-describing moniker for a creative group that author Jon Katz jump-started via social media some time ago. Friday late afternoon and evening barbecue at Jeff’s included a trek on his sizeable piece of land, cameras snapping all around willy-nilly, while the photographers among us (I am not one of them) took advantage of incredible imagery near and far.

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The promise of new friendship and community is intoxicating and meaningful. Saturday morning at the Round House Café in Cambridge was life-affirming and meaningful, as was the day spent at Jon and Maria’s place. There was so much to take away, important and meaningful messages exchanged with the gathering of friends yesterday. And today—today marked the (almost) end of my transition out of one place and into another, the loving HCB arising at dawn to brave the wind and rain to drive over to my old place with a friend for the last of my things—the difficult, big, bulky things. More renewal, more adventure.

There were baby woodpeckers nesting deep inside the trunk of the tree that came down this morning. We could hear them squawking, their anguished mother flitting about trying to locate them, and nothing for us to do about it. They will not survive, but will be food for somebody else; I walked away from Bedlam Farm yesterday with renewed sensibilities about animals, people, life. Nature has her own sensibilities.

Meanwhile, I am driven by the promise of not only renewed friendship and community, but also of enrichment, a fall writer’s workshop, encouragement from friends to pick up a camera—a real one—and learn how to make pictures. The creative group is a ministry of encouragement after all. So many new stories to tell. ‘Til soon.

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Heavy Burdens

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That’s my son in the photo at age five, in his school uniform, a kindergartener, a blank canvas, full of curiosity, and loads of energy, trusting of the people around him.

Something awful happened to him a few years later when he was a fourth-grader. The fallout from that incident was bigger than his dad and I could have anticipated and made a lasting impression on him from which it was impossible to recover in earnest for a long, long time.

It’s all water under the bridge now, kind of, as the saying goes, and he owned at least some responsibility for the consequences of his fourth-grader actions at the time. But even as a young man he still bears its thumbprint, faded though it is, evidence of profound losses that exceeded his capacity to fully comprehend at the time.

Neither did many of our friends understand; the ones who were true didn’t abandon us, as others did. And in all fairness to those who no longer wanted to be around us, I think they didn’t know what to do, or to say, or how to react, and  they finally found the burden of our friendship too great.

A short time later, when we were still fighting our way out of the morrass, struggling to pick up some big pieces and put them together as best we could, we found ourselves at a neighborhood cocktail party among close friends. I recall a dialog with one of them, a classics professor, who was listening to my still-fresh rancor about all that had transpired. I was angry, hurt, (mainly angry), and in true maternal fashion, über protective of the boy. I said I could never forgive the people I held responsible for the damage to him and to us as a family.

Really? he asked with incredulity. Never ever?

Never ever, I insisted.

Wow, he said—you are a much better person than I.

How? I wanted to know.

It’s a huge burden to hang on to for the rest of your life, he said, to never forgive them, even if they don’t deserve your forgiveness. I’d relent, he went on; I am way too selfish to want to bear that the rest of my life.

That sentiment gave me pause to reflect, long and hard, about my view of things. And honestly, I’d have dismissed it from anybody else, probably. But this notion of forgiveness came from the thoughtful mind of a scholar, a person I trusted, a compassionate friend. There was no aha! moment, no epiphany the next day, but a gradual, discernible melting of ice, an emotional thawing towards people I genuinely hated at the time. (I still don’t like them; it’s not requisite for forgiveness.) My friend was correct: the unwillingness to forgive is indeed a heavy burden to bear.

This Sunday evening I stand in profound awe of the people in Charleston, South Carolina, who have galvanized with a message of unity and civility in the wake of the church shootings, when their reaction could have been volatile and divisive. But I stand in the greatest awe of the families of the dead, who addressed the shooter directly with messages not of rancor, nor hate, but of forgiveness.

It’s still a struggle for me—I have to work at it, searching for the freedom forgiveness brings with it. Content as I am to leave the big questions to true philosophers, I still wonder how the world’s landscape would change were it dotted with that one thing, the possibility of forgiveness.

It’s the Little Things

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I think it must be a function of age and want. I don’t recall ever getting so excited over ripe tomatoes. And crispy local green beans. And fresh ears of corn just arrived from Georgia, and expensive organic strawberries like the pint I bought as a special treat last Friday, and my Sunday morning yoga class. Three years ago, at the threshold of big changes, I was driven by fear and survival (mainly fear), the rug freshly yanked out from under me; those feelings were reprised just last October. The fear remains, but with cautious optimism I am savoring ordinary things with renewed ferocity, things I once took for granted.

It’s also life in Vermont. I love so much about this place, but the jury’s emphatically out on others, to wit: the sun never gets quite overhead on a winter’s day, and darkness comes early. I hate that. Hate. It’s a strong word that should be reserved for occasions when one really means it, like now. And it would be just fine with this Southern girl if we got about a tenth the amount of annual snowfall we get here. And ticks and deerflies—they contribute nothing to the world order except agony, and we’ve got them in droves.

But there is salvation in that tomato, which is almost as tender and juicy and sweet as a Southern-grown tomato. Almost. And when I returned home from my delicious yoga class this morning, I made a delicious salad with it, and a number of other beautiful ingredients, many of them locally grown. It is nothing short of a miracle, in my humble opinion, that the farm I pass twice daily on my commute to and from work was harboring the infant version of that beautiful tomato in one of its many greenhouses, when I was still sliding all over the icy highway using my slow-to-improve Vermontish driving skills. (See fear, above.)

See what I mean? It does not take too much to get me excited these days. Like this salad I made—this salad is pretty dang exciting.

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I will make another similar one and take it to a barbecue potluck in a couple of weeks. That’s exciting, too: being invited to a potluck with new New England friends.

And this is exciting:

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Those are the beautiful layers of pastry stratigraphy in the opera cake (yes, opera cake is a thing) Handsome Chef Boyfriend made and brought home for the second teenagery birthday celebration in the space of only a couple of weeks, this time for the 16-year-old. I think of it as high art. And I am duly impressed with HCB, not just because he can make something that gorgeous and delectable, but because he is also in a period of transition, self-motivated, doing some creative reinventing, moving into the culinary world of sweet after a long and successful career mainly in savory.

Which brings me right back to the little things. When you spend long hours on your feet poring over recipes, scaling out ingredients in a busy commercial kitchen, turning out beautiful baked goods right and left (things for which people sometimes drive long distances), you deserve some time to yourself enjoying the little things.

But HCB tends to latch on to the little things with even more ferocity than I.

Case in point: cake fails. You know the ones: once in a while some hilarious image of a badly decorated cake with raunchy pastry work and egregious grammatical errors floats by on social media. Sometimes it’s a whole collection of them, and I admit they often make me laugh. Yesterday I shared an especially awful one with HCB, which then inspired him to go find others. And others. And still others. This went on for some time; the giggling coming from the vicinity of his desk was contagious, long after I gave up looking at the cakes gone bad.

But then came the other obsession, the one that has gathered intensity of late: eBay.

It started innocently a few weeks ago with teenager number two and a particular piece of outerwear he wanted which costs a king’s ransom if you buy it off the rack in a store. Out of the question. So eBay it was: jacket located, auction won (hooray!), and we thought we were done.

Except when it came, it was not the material we thought it would be, and there was some question whether the teenager would like or want this particular version.

On to auction number two, where HCB once again enjoyed success, and the jacket was much closer to the mark. We gave the boy both for his birthday, and he seemed pretty happy.

Golf clubs, Super Mario Bros. toys (long story), Spanish saffron, car parts—he’s found all of them, and joyously, on eBay auctions. What I find the most entertaining about HCB’s new obsession with this particular flavor of e-commerce is his excited play-by-play description of what is happening near the end of an auction. It’s comical and endearing, even if I have to throw something at him to get his attention. Last night I said I would get a little bell and just whap it every time there’s a bit of auction news:

“I’m the high bidder again!”

<ding!>

“I’m waiting ’til the last 30 seconds!”

<ding!>

“I found a whole boxed set of Audrey Hepburn DVDs for you!”

<ding!>

“Wait, they’re from the UK, nevermind.”

<bummer.>

Tomatoes, eBay, cake fails, deep snow, short winter days, sometimes-sullen teenagers, ever shifting planets. Handsome Chef Boyfriend and I are in it together, obsessions notwithstanding, and that’s no small thing.

Bustin’ Out All Over

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Every single year, every single June I get that earworm from Carousel: “June is bustin’ out all over!” Aw, c’mon. Sock it to me. It’s Tonys night, after all. And guess what? I survived my third <wait for it…> Vermont Winter! I am still standing. I am also bustin’ out all over, a condition to which I have alluded in earlier posts. I am proud to say I have reversed the trend. I’ve gone back to an old plan, one that has worked for me more than once in the past. It’s rough getting started, but last week was excellent, and I feel mainly good. (You are my muse, Denise.)

The past few Friday evenings Handsome Chef Boyfriend has made deliveries to a farmstand over in New York, and I’ve gone along for the ride. We’ve had stunning, breathtaking weather every single time. Last Friday this hung on our horizon:

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And then we came across this:

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“You could never get me into one of those things,” I said.

“I’d do it,” said HCB.

Of course you would; knock yourself out. I question the sanity of the person who first decided hopping into a basket attached to a gigantic balloon, with open flames right over your head, was a good idea. And of everybody else who agrees it’s a good idea.

But I digress. Guess what time it is here in Vermont? I’ll tell you what time it is: farmstand time. Fresh produce time. I can’t tell you how exciting this is. And my daily commute takes me right past one of my favorites. First veg of the season:

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Organic mixed greens, spicy and delicious, not to be found in the supermarket. And,

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Green beans. Vibrant and crispy, lots of ’em.

I might watch some of the Tonys tonight. It will make me wistful for NYC, where I’d have been in the recent past for American Ballet Theatre’s 75th Anniversary celebrations but for circumstances that make it impossible at the moment.

But I am celebrating where I am right now: it’s tough to beat late springtime in Vermont.