Sunday, November 21, 2021

Good Soup

So, you know how I keep giving people soup? Well, it suddenly occurred to me that I had no idea if this soup was actually... good. I mean, the people I've sent it to say that it's good, but maybe they were just being kind? I got into a discussion about this with one of my cousins and she smiled her bright smile and said, Ooh, let me send you some!

Cut to:

The soup came in the mail and it was, in fact, good. I mean everything about this gift was a Gift with a capital G. The soup--chicken noodle--which was very tasty. The rolls and cookies, delicious. A ladle. You get to keep the ladle! And the packaging. I have never seen such cool packaging. I know I sound like I am doing a commercial here or being paid off by the Spoonful of Comfort soup people, but I assure you I am not. Here is the cool thing about the packaging: each individual box is reversible, with an adorable pattern and just waiting for you to reuse for packaging another gift. My husband and I got two complete meals out of the soup and loved the entire experience in a way that I know sounds mildly loony, but there's the truth of it. Thank you, cousin Lindley! 

And speaking of cool gifts, a few weeks ago, my friend Natalie D. Richards had a new book come out and I wanted to give her something fun to commemorate the occasion. Natalie is a New York Times Bestselling author and this is her 8th book, but she still gets a little anxious by the whole thing, the idea of people reading what she's written and all of the publicity stuff you have to do when a book comes out, never mind the fact that she is knee deep in the writing of her ninth book and time is scarce for her, to put it mildly. 

Anyhoo... I was talking about this with my lovely friend LaNesha who works at the library and makes greeting cards as a side business, and she said, What is this book about? And I said, It's about a scavenger hunt that turns deadly. And she said, I bet I can make her a nice card. And I said, okay. 

Well. This card. Oh my God I am not exaggerating when I tell you that it is the most awesome card I have ever seen. Can we even call it a card? No, it is a gift in and of itself. A giftbox, to be specific, that looks exactly like the giftbox that the main character in the scavenger hunt story receives. (Side note, this happens at the beginning of the book when a girl is getting out of the shower and finds a white box with a green bow sitting on her bathroom sink, and who the heck put it there and is potentially creeping around her house?) 

When LaNesha made the card (really, it is more like she built the card) and presented it to me, I was so excited to give it to Natalie that I wanted to race right over to her house at that moment instead of waiting for her book launch day. When I did finally give it to her, of course, she loved it. 

And speaking of loving people's gifts, my husband built me a library and I am over the top in love with it. This is one of those Little Free Libraries that you may have seen set out at people's curbs or in public parks or near schools. How it works is the library steward (as we Little Free Library owners are called) fills the library with books and anyone who is walking by can take one or two or all of them, and they, or other people, can drop books into the library and then take more and it's all just a nice karmic book sharing thing that I love the idea of, but I wasn't sure, exactly, how it would work in practice. 

But let me tell you, it does work beautifully. The first day I filled it with books (these are books I had around the house, books I'd read and was happy to share). I also filled a basket by the front door with more books, assuming I'd have to replenish, but the funny thing is that I haven't had to dip into this backstock at all. The first few days, nearly the entire library collection turned over and it was a new set of books, books I wanted to browse myself. 

And there you have it, another good gift, and isn't it funny how the best good gifts are the ones that truly do keep on giving?

Sunday, November 14, 2021

It's snowing

and I didn't even know it was supposed to snow today. These are big flakes, a thick downpour of them, and so odd-looking against the backdrop of trees, the branches still hanging onto their yellow and orange leaves. Just last week, it seemed, it was summer. The week before that we were moving into spring. Slip back a little further and I am driving through a snowy day like this one, 

a college trip with my son through New England and how excited we both were. This was it, the final moment before he had to turn in his applications and where was he going to choose, or rather, who would choose him, and now that decision, which was mostly out of his hands, would potentially determine the course of his life. 

Most of our decisions aren't so momentous. Or else, how could we stand it? We need a break between Big Things. The quiet ordinariness of the stretch of days, each one the same as the ones that came before. 

The same dog walking routes. The same ingredients in the breakfast smoothie. At the library, checking in books, the same bestsellers being read and returned. The same questions when we answer the phone. Yes, we have Covid tests. No, I'm sorry, we are out of Covid tests. The polite banter at the check-out. With the new patrons. With the regulars. 

Oh, I have to tell you about this darling little boy who has been coming into the library since we opened to the public again back in May. Always, he is sitting quietly in his stroller, looking around curiously and very solemnly. When I give him a sticker, his mom sticks it to his hand and he frowns the same frown as he examines it. Every time it is the same with this adorable little boy. 

Until one day, he's not in the stroller. He's toddling right through the library doors. Another day, he is wearing glasses. His mom asks if we can find some books about other little children who wear glasses, or maybe we have books about animals wearing glasses? We, at the library, are on the case! Meanwhile, the little boy offers his hand and I give him his sticker. We have officially been introduced at this point. I know his name. He knows mine.

My son ended up choosing the college in New England or they chose him or however you want to describe it and he went away and has been living his life apart from us for quite a while now. Funny thing I just now realized: that college trip, that drive through the snow in fall, took place exactly ten years ago. There were other Big Things that happened along the way,

and many many more small ones. I used to get very nostalgic about these things and I would go into a misty-eyed tailspin thinking about it, how my son, for example, was once a little boy who sat in a stroller. He didn't wear glasses, but he did like stickers, and there was this one time when I thought he was taking a nap, but actually, he had crept out of his bedroom and gotten into a box of bandaids and unpeeled every single one of them and attached them over all of the available surfaces of his body, 

which would launch me directly past misty-eyed nostalgia and into full-blown boo-hooing, but now I only smile at the memory. Something not funny about the snow on the college trip: it turned really bad. The trees alongside the road where we were driving, so heavily weighted down by snow covered leaves, began to crack, the branches falling and then the trees themselves, tearing down the powerlines, sending us hurtling into darkness. We barely made it home. But this snow, this day, is not like that at all. 

It swirls from the gray sky, lovely and quiet, slows, and soon stops all together, leaving behind only patches of snow on the leaf strewn lawn.



Sunday, November 7, 2021

Falling back

I am wide awake at 4 AM but I stay in bed until 5, the dog still snoozing peacefully on my husband's side of the bed. He's out of town, visiting with his parents several states away, and I am thinking about the million things I could do with this rare sliver of time alone in the house -- clean up the garden and paint the upstairs hallway and organize my office and make some luscious cream-based soup and and and--  I will probably do none of those things. 

Instead, I read a disturbing book that makes me question everything I thought I knew about my childhood, and I take the dog on a marathon walk. Or rather she takes me. I've discovered the secret to her meandery route. It's not meandery at all. No. Over time, she's learned where all of the free dog treats are in the neighborhood. This is a thing people do around here, set out dog treats and fresh water for dogs. Our dog has learned and remembered these locations, and she's created a route that hits each and every one of them. 

This has nothing to do with anything, but I can't stop mulling over a weird interaction that happened at work the other day, where a patron went off about masks. For the record, employees are required to wear masks at my library, but we merely recommend that patrons wear them. Most do. Some don't. It's rare that anyone says anything about it and we all just go about living our lives and talking about books. But this guy wanted to explain to us why masks were stupid and didn't work and blah blah blah,

and the two of us sitting at the desk just nodded along and blinked at him like, "okay, we hear you," but this response was not the response the guy was looking for apparently, because he raised his voice and kept ranting, informing us that he was a doctor and he felt it was his obligation to bless us with his knowledge, 

Yes, he actually used the words Bless us with his knowledge, and thank God I was wearing a mask because I started chuckling under the material and had to excuse myself to go to the back room, and only later did I think of other possible responses, such as, Can we bless you with our knowledge for a second, sir? Nobody cares about your mask opinion. Plus, you're scaring us. 

But of course I would never say that to him. The guy's a narcissist and narcissists don't like it when you contradict them. It destroys the narrative they have about their own precariously crafted identity and makes them feel uncomfortable to the point of being enraged and who knows how they might react and the next you thing you know, everyone is tiptoeing around the person, like they're a tasmanian devil with the emotional maturity of a three year old, someone you could hate if they weren't such profoundly broken human beings. 

Anyway, that's what the disturbing book I read said about them and I believe it. There was a little girl at the self checkout with her mom while this interaction was taking place and after I came out of the backroom, to the still ranting and raving man who was blessing us all with his knowledge, I watched the mom hustle the kid out the door and how freaked out the little girl was or maybe I am just projecting,

which is another thing I was thinking about at 4 AM going into 5 AM and how dark it is outside, especially now that I-- I mean all of us-- have fallen back. So many hours stretching out into the coming day, and maybe I will make that luscious cream-based soup after all. 

Right after the dog takes me on another meandery treat walk. 

Sunday, October 31, 2021

Lately I am trying to break old patterns

For example, I let the dog lead me when we take our walks. I've heard it's a thing you're not supposed to do. You're the human and she's the dog. But I like to see where she wants to go. The usual left when we head out the door, or will she go to the right today? Each intersection is another decision, and who knows which way she'll choose.  

Last weekend I surprised her by not taking her on a walk at all. I woke up after a restless night's sleep, hastily packed, and drove back to the place where I'd grown up. The trip took eleven hours. It was boring and painful on my neck and shoulders and I was listening to an audio book, a mystery about injustice and human frailty, and stuffing my face with gas station snack foods, so I wouldn't have to think too hard about why I was driving alone to the place where I'd grown up. 

A good friend told me once that people go to funerals to commemorate the person who died and to comfort the person's loved ones. I wanted to commemorate the person who died, but I wasn't sure how much comfort I could give to the person's loved ones. 

My goal was get to my hotel before the sun set because I don't like to drive in the dark, but I didn't achieve my goal. The last hour I drove half blinded by headlights and relying entirely on my gps. Even though I grew up there, I don't know the area well. I left when I was eighteen, what I jokingly used to describe as "running away from home." But the truth is, I really did run away from home and it wasn't the first time. 

Something lovely about the person who died is that she took me in one of those times, and no questions asked. Here's a funny story about this person: one time we went sledding when I was home from college on winter break, and we crammed together on the same sled, pushed off at the top of the hill and immediately were hit with so much snow, clumps of it smacking our faces, laughing wildly, snow in our mouths, slamming into a snowbank at the bottom of the hill, still laughing, and laughing more, when she confessed that she'd just peed in her snowpants. 

On the way over to the funeral, I ignored the gps and left the highway to drive past my old house. It looked like any other house in the neighborhood, a nice house, instead of what it actually was, and then it was on to meet up with my relatives, some of whom I hadn't seen in twenty years. They were nice, which is what they actually are, and I don't know when it hit me, at the funeral or somewhere along the drive back to my real home, that I too am a loved one, and I felt comfort. 

I was gone for less than 60 hours, but in that time, the entire book collection of the Little Library in front of our house had turned over, all of the books unfamiliar and interesting and waiting for me to browse them. But first I grabbed the dog's leash and let her lead me where she wanted to go. 

Saturday, October 23, 2021

I keep sending people soup

To friends and family members who are sick. To people grieving over lost loved ones. This is not soup I’ve made myself. It’s called Spoonful of Comfort. I found the place online last year when I was feeling helpless, worrying over a relative who was recovering from surgery alone. What would I do for her if I lived closer and we weren’t in the thick of a global pandemic?

The only thing I could come up with was soup. 

I associate warm foods with caring. Let me bring you a bowl of soup. Let me make you a cup of tea. It goes back to my childhood, visiting my paternal grandmother, who always had soup simmering on the stove or a spaghetti sauce. And my mother's sisters, who had each other over at least once a week for tea and cake. When I was away at college and feeling homesick, I asked an aunt for one of her cake recipes. She paused and then laughed and said the cakes were all box mixes. 

My grandmother's soup did not come from a box. In some ways she was the stereotypical Italian grandmother. Effusive with the hugs. Doting on me when I was in town for a visit. Offering me the soup or a plate of spaghetti. Her apartment was neat as a pin. Actually, she had an obsession with cleanliness. It may have been more than an obsession. When my son was a toddler, I took him back to my hometown to meet my relatives. I called my grandmother to tell her we’d love to stop by, but she said her apartment was too messy. Maybe another time.

There didn't turn out to be another time. She died later that year. I used to wonder if I should've tried harder to change her mind. Was she really choosing the state of her apartment over a visit with a granddaughter and great grandson, briefly in town?  

But this was before I understood anxiety. Not that I fully understand it now, but I know it can lead you to some dark places, and too often, leave you with regret. 

Anxiety runs deep on both sides of my family. But so does the impulse to brew tea and make soup. And I am so very thankful for that. 

Sunday, October 10, 2021

Anxious People

Sometimes I get to the end of the week and I want to write about the things I've been thinking about over the course of the week, but all of the things are things I'm not sure I should write about. Because they're personal, but also, because they belong, at least partly, to other people. A birthday, a wedding, a rift in a relationship that feels un-mendable, maybe forever this time,

or maybe not. It's hard to tell how much we are capable of forgiving each other. 

In the book Anxious People, by Fredrik Backman, a desperate person tries to rob a bank, and on the run, ends up in the middle of an apartment showing, waving a gun, inadvertently taking the prospective buyers hostage, and it all spirals out of control from there. The bank robber is an idiot, the author tells us on the very first page. And the people in the apartment are all idiots too.  

Okay, the birthday, that I can write about. It's my son's and it's today and of course I'm nostalgically thinking about the day he was born and how crazed with anxiety I was, that weird moment in the hospital when I was dazed with pain and suddenly deciding that maybe I didn't want to Do This anymore--have a baby--and at the same moment, understanding on a visceral level that I didn't have any control over the matter. The baby was coming out whether I wanted him to or not. A good lesson

for the future. Say, for example, today, when he is a grown man and living on the opposite side of the country and off the grid, climbing some mountain, literally, and all my husband and I can do is send him another version of a Please Let Us Know You Are Okay gift-- the last one being a satellite phone and this time, a special radio, specifically an "Emergency Radio Hand Crank Solar Weather Radio NOAA Alert 5000mAh AM/FM/SW Portable Battery Operated Radio 5 Way Powered with LED Flashlight, SOS Alarm, Cellphone Charger for Outdoor Emergency." 

The wedding. Okay the wedding. Which I promise you I am excited about despite the fact 

that our daughter has hired a wedding planner, and everyone knows that we— her father and I— are notorious Do It Yourself-ers, to the point of absurdity sometimes, climbing on the roof to paint the house and unclogging our own drainpipes and dismantling koi ponds. Also, if I am being completely honest with you, and I am, always, being completely honest with you, 

my only model of a wedding planner is Franck in the 1991 movie Father of the Bride starring Steve Martin, Diane Keaton and Martin Short, and doesn’t my daughter know those wedding planner people are always trying to upcharge you and the next thing you know Franck has rented a flock of swans to scurry around in your backyard? 

(For the record, I have come around to the wedding planner, who is not played by Martin Short and seems very nice and may actually really help with all of our my anxiety.) 

The un-mendable rift I still can't write about and maybe I never will or who knows. The people in the book Anxious People are all anxious about things they can't control and many things they can, but it's hard sometimes to see the difference between the two, especially when it's buried under all of that anxiety.

By the end of the book I was crying and rooting for them, those idiots who don't know they are idiots, those silly humans just doing the best they can. 

Sunday, October 3, 2021

How to do nothing

I'm reading a book called How to Do Nothing. It's not really about doing nothing. It's about understanding how we're all being manipulated to click on stuff, buy stuff, tweet stuff, comment on stuff, and be perpetually outraged, terrified, entertained, and distracted by the never-ending scroll of "news" assaulting us from every direction every waking moment of the day.  

I started listening to the book on audio when I was driving to DC to hang out with my daughter and her boyfriend. I was anxious about driving alone for seven hours. I have this thing about traveling alone. It's called: I Don't Want to Travel Alone. I was hoping an audiobook would be soothing and make the time go by faster. 

But this was the wrong book for soothing. I want to tell you the million ways it was un-soothing and how it basically cracked open my brain and made me want to both move to a Henry David Thoreau-like cabin in the woods and at the same time, volunteer to run a booth at the farmer's market in my neighborhood, 

and also fling my phone off a cliff, finish writing my book, deactivate my Facebook account and expand my pollinator garden. Instead, I'm going to tell you two stories. 

Story number one is how I sat down after dinner the other night and jumped on facebook and felt the mental tug of a To-do list in the form of the number of notifications at the top of my screen, and how I started ticking through them, dutifully, the first one being a post from someone I went to high school with about how our school was about to be torn down. 

Immediately, I felt a sadness mixed with nostalgia and a twinge of crappiness, because, honestly, I hated high school and don't really care all that much if the dumb building comes down. Which made me feel guilt. 

A guy I sorta once knew shared a photo of a teacher I sorta remembered but never had as a teacher, and apparently, everyone who was taught by this guy loved him and someone shared how he was a social justice activist and had once been arrested for protesting nuclear war. (My feelings here were surprise, pride--I sorta knew this guy!--more nostalgia about the school coming down and Hey! This teacher even has a Wikipedia page; how cool is that?) 

And then a girl I had once been friends with wrote a snarky comment, something like: Ugh, I liked that teacher. Who knew he was such a leftist? 

Which made me want to comment snarkily back, the words already forming in my mind about who the hell was she and what notable things had she ever done in her life? But I left the comment box uncommented and instead jumped onto her page to unfriend her, because why do I want to be friends with her anyway, but when I pulled up her page, the most recent post was about how her father had just died, and I knew this man,

or had once, many years ago, and he was such a good person, but at the same time, I hadn't talked to him in decades and I didn't really know this girl anymore. Or any of these people. But there I was, heart pounding at my kitchen table, anxious and unsettled, and all of this anxiety and unsettledness happening over the course of only ten minutes, but churning inside of me long after I closed my laptop. 

Story number two is how I spent my day yesterday, moving around in my real life. A lovely three-minute phone conversation with my daughter as she walked to her bus stop about how pretty the colors are that she's picked out for her wedding, and oh my God I'm going to be the mother of a bride! A trip to the farmer's market 

where the guy who sells honey told me the meaning behind the word "beeline" and how you could watch any bee that showed up to feast on your flowers and trace where their hives are and I wanted to rush right home to try this out, but first I had to do a shift at the library 

where I got into a long discussion about various pandemic books with one patron and answered questions from another about Banned Books Week and why are certain books banned and isn't that crazy and what are people afraid of, and helped a man on the computer and helped a woman fax important medical documents, and one by one, every patron who strolled into the library said something about the gorgeous weather we were having, until the end of the day

when it started to rain and a family spilled off the elevator, one of the little kids crying about how his sister had pushed the elevator button and HE had wanted to push it and it was ten minutes before we closed and the weary-looking dad had a catrillion books to check out at the self-check-out and the little kid would not stop wailing and I knew 

that stickers were not going to do the trick, so I walked over to the elevator and asked the crying kid if he would push the button for me. He stopped crying mid-cry and toddled over to the button and pushed it and I thanked him profusely and got into the elevator and rode downstairs and stood alone in the quiet youth section for a minute, feeling silly, but also, 

I've been there, with the crying kid, the cranky, the tired, the bored, the scared, the sad, the angry 

And even though I know that pushing a button rarely if ever solves a problem, I am here to tell you that when you are faced with a situation where it might, why not ask for the push? 

PS: Please read this book: