Friday, January 23, 2015

Cold Frame

Late January is prime garden porn, seed catalog time, and I am built for the seduction of a centerfold English cottage garden swan-necked with hollyhocks. I sigh about varieties of  climbing roses with names like Sombreuil and Renae.

I am a hopeless romantic when it comes to gardening (I have a hat for just this purpose). Though I have been burned by the deer, I come back for more and still more because I'm cups over teakettle in love with the first violets of May.

I'm going to make a raised bed cold frame for spring vegetables from a salvaged window. I picture it like this: a riot of leafy green arugula a.k.a rocket and baby lettuces fit for Peter Rabbit watercolored by Beatrix Potter in other words, Anglophile.

I picture myself out there in a tweed gardening kit, hair in a bun blown blowsy by the first sips of the spring breeze, cupping my seedlings in Italian terracotta like the easily underestimated but heart of the story middle aged female cousin in a Merchant Ivory film.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Snow Ball

School dismissed early yesterday because of the snow fall and started late today because of ice.  The kids took this news with what can only be described as a possible scrolling side effect from one of the pharmaceuticals for mood disorders advertised on TV. May cause WILD EUPHORIA. 

They went all landscape artist Andrew Goldsworthy on the soft, perfect-for-skiing-if-I-didn't-have-spinal-osteoarthritis white blanket of new fallen snow in the backyard, tunneling like colorful moles in their neon-colored snow pants. They would dive in one place and pop up another.  "Hey, Mom!" said my son, 9, "Watch me awesomely snowboard on a cookie tray!"

My daughter made a snow man ("it's a girl, Mom," she said, emphatically feminist) with a smile made from a branch of willow, a smile that looks like the Mona Lisa. "Her name is Lulu. No wait, her name is Peaches."

They were so full of brightness. Their cheeks were roses. In my slippers I looked at them through the kitchen window as I whisked the hot chocolate they'd requested for after their endeavors and thought, Could I but plug in to that source! My extremities are always cold.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Gympie-Gympie Tree

All one has to do is brush with the lightest of touches against it. "Once stung, never forgotten" is Australia's most toxic tree the gympie-gympie. The pain is from the toxic small fibers of its leaves leave in your skin, a horrible feeling variously described as "acid," "electric," and liable to make you "as mad as a cut snake." 

I had a gympie-gympie parent-moment over the weekend, not a peaceful moss-y bower which is my goal, to be the sort of Mama on whose soft shoulder one can rest one's weary head and recharge, I want to be something bosomy and aprony, which I realize is a fantasy: I am neither.

I screamed that my son, 9, must SHUT UP. He'd been bickering all day and I was trying to make pancakes and everything felt like it was storming and I mis-cracked an egg on the edge of the bowl and it puddled on the kitchen floor and the dog ate it, and subsequently barfed and who cleaned it up? I, I, I.  Isn't this the full catastrophe? And there hadn't even been a meteor about to hit us.

I apologized.

What I want to do more of is to cool off, to take breaks. Be the adult in the room. Sometimes it's the adult in the room who needs a time out.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Work Space

Husb. has decamped to the basement happily uttering "man cave" and his desire to get back into "playing competitive chess" and "dremel tool use."

He and I were sharing the work space upstairs which meant that I made snide comments about his paper clutter, and he'd ask me when if ever I was going to finish my "book of essays."   But it was me who had the poor habit of snacking on pistachios at the desk and it was me who got the shells in the keyboard and jammed the "e."

And now I have what Virginia Wolf said all women need which is a A Room Of One's Own. Question:  What now, Virginia? The room has been procured.

I thought I'd be so happy. But without Husb.'s  buoyant flotsam the room feels lonely. Minimalist, spare. I'm unsure of myself.

I consider the merits of painting the room salmon and bringing in houseplants and whether or not I should start a podcast. Who'd listen? What would my theme music be? How First World are my problems?

What do I like doing? Should I dust off my old salsa shoes? Am I drawn to making things out of felt? What about goyotaku?

Since having kids ten years ago I have neglected to nurture myself with hobbies, heavens, I don't even have interests anymore save what's for dinner and when's my next deadline which I circle on the calendar in the style of my grandfather a PR writer who used to edit only with green felt-tip pens.

And, wouldn't you know it, now that I have all this space I am drawing a blank.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015


Vetiver  is a grass with implications. Vetiver "derived from the Tamil  வெட்டிவேர்" is native to India where it is known as khus." You khus.

Vetiver's roots grow homing straight down instead of mat-like and sideways-like as do most grasses. It is economically incredibly useful in our constant  "coastal casinos vs. Mother Nature" fight against soil erosion! Hooray! (I guess. Depends on how you feel about coastal casinos.)

In my dreams I'm a coastal erosion specialist, but here, in the reality of suburban motherhood where the necessary bulkheading and work at the prevention of erosion is emotional, I'm using vetiver for its Ayurvedic properties. Lord Krishna said, "I am the fragrance of the soil" and dang if blue Krishna wasn't right about Vetiver.

Vetiver smells like a delicious afternoon nap in the sunlight on a mossy bank in a deep forest where you slept so deeply the moss imprinted on your cheek and you woke up and stretched languorously like a cat and there was someone right beside you saying, "Sweetheart? Care for some tea? I'll put the kettle on." It is deep sweet smoky woody and way better than that mess hippy pachouli. 

It's Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds, except more like Paloma In The Dirt With Overtones of Tangerine. Smelling my wrist where I had dabbed some essential oil -- which is thick and oozy as honey -- my son, 9 said appreciatively, "Wow, Mom. You smell like a picnic blanket instead of how you usually smell which is scared." 

Thursday, January 8, 2015


Minimalism, which has been in the news for the last decade, is relatively new to me. I've been more of a more is more kinda gal.

I like upholstering against the inevitable with stuff, and tittered politely when an acerbic old neighbor of mine in Pittsburgh used to say about the futility of possessions, "I've never seen hearse pulling a U-Haul. Hey, Elizabeth, want a lemon poppyseed cookie?"

But this is the year of deaccessioning. I want to focus on legacy. In a study published last year titled "Life at Home in the Twenty-First Century," researchers at U.C.L.A. observed 32 middle-class Los Angeles families and found that all of the mothers’ stress hormones spiked during the time they spent dealing with their belongings. 

What am I teaching my children (and doing to my telomeres) if I have a a ton of spatulas (okay, I don't literally have a ton, I have four) and Dutch ovens (three), and lighted makeup mirrors (two), but no spine? No guts, no kishkes.

I stand on the Pergo wood flooring of the house I rent on the campus of the private school where Husb. is a biology teacher, but what do I stand for? A mini chopper, perfect only for cilantro?

I have accumulated, like the accretions of the shell of a mollusk, a lot of things. But that's not the same as wisdom.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015


As I nightly shine my sink following the housekeeping advice of Marla Cilley, I think,  I have become Mrs. Hughes. But I always thought of myself as more Edith-y. 

Despite my attempts to remain a sylph-like enigma I have become a matron, holding the keys to a household, and the laundry, and orthodontist bills, and the schedule of all after-school sports and dance lessons. I keep those above stairs in the manner to which they have become accustomed. My children are to the shrinking lower middle-class manor born.

Social science suggests we write a personal mission statement in the New Year instead of resolutions that don't stick and so I've started, and Mrs. Hughes keeps returning to my mind as an example of Who I'd Like To Emulate, she's a good person, a wise, and a kind person and as hard-working as an ox in a yoke. She has no illusions. 

I think of her when I get whiny, or bitchy, or say in moments of weakness that my wrists are too thin because I'm such a thoroughbred. I think of her saying, "Stop flannelling and get on."