Sunday, May 26, 2024

Go Deeper

Write about me, my daughter says, when I tell her I don’t know what to write about this week. She is visiting from DC for the long weekend, and we are lying on our backs in a hair salon having our hair shampooed. My hair stylist asks me if I want a hand and arm massage. I didn’t know this service came with a haircut. No thanks, I say. I’m good. 

Mom, my daughter says. Do it!

I do, and I am immediately happy. The warm lotion, the pulling and stretching of each finger, but also, the softly lit room, the scent of rosemary? the tinkly notes of spa music, my daughter only a lotion-y arm-length away. I never do stuff like this. 

Correction: I never do stuff like this unless she is here and prodding me along. It’s the same at the shops we browse in later, our new hairdos all fresh and spiffy. I just want to buy a couple of t-shirts, but she talks me into a trendy pair of jeans, a swingy-looking top. Think: fun, she says. 

And I do. It’s magic. No, my daughter says with a laugh, it’s retail therapy. We’re drinking frou frou coffee drinks on the front porch, and I’m pointing out the flowers I planted since the last time she visited, these purply globes called allium which make me think of Horton Hears a Who, how round and boing-y they are and who knows what kind of worlds they contain, what sweet voices are calling out from the hearts of them. 

There’s a clover patch my husband planted next to the boing-y flowers, and every time he looks, he finds a four-leaf clover. I’m not lying, I tell our daughter. See for yourself. We go back to our frou frou drinks and compare our horoscopes. A few weeks ago my son and daughter-in-law showed us a silly astrology app that’s so random and dumb that it's got to be AI-generated. You plug in your date and time and place of birth (yeah, I know, we’re giving away our private information to some company who will use it to try to sell us something later or steal our identities, but ah, well) and each day an absurd list of dos and don’ts spits out. 

For example, Today, mine is: 

Do—Morning rituals, Lists, Weird hat

Don’t—Leftovers, Restriction, Dirty Laundry

I am embarrassed to tell you how much time I spend pondering this. But I am a person who likes to find meaning in things. All of us are like this to one extent or another. Anyway, this is what the book I’m reading, The Age of Magical Overthinking: Notes on Modern Irrationality by Amanda Montell, says. 

It’s human nature to try to make sense of the world, but what happens when there’s too much information bombarding us every second of the day? The answer, according to the author, is: Not good. It's how otherwise rational people fall for cults and conspiracy theories. 

Not me, though, I think, donning my weird hat and avoiding the laundry, swinging back and forth on the porch swing with my daughter, having fun.

Boing-y flowers


This book is good!! And also, it's disturbing!

I'm supposed to go deeper today,

Sunday, May 19, 2024


Last week at this time I was digging a hole. It was three feet by three feet and maybe six or seven inches deep. It was hard work, and immediately my heart was pumping, and my hands around the shovel started to ache. I was standing in a very large field, and it was raining, and I knew that when I finished digging this particular hole, I was going to move onto another. 

How this came about was my husband and I were visiting our son and daughter-in-law and basically jumping into their lives for a few days, and this meant showing up at a farm to help one of their friends with whatever farm-related tasks needed to be done. What needed to be done was dig holes. 

I was working alongside my son, who was using a pitchfork to pull straw off the ground. The point of the holes, the straw, was to get the field ready for planting. Ooh! I said to the farmer when he explained. This is like the lasagna method!

*The lasagna method is an alternative to the more traditional "tilling" method. Instead of tearing up grass where you want to plant, you lay down cardboard or newspapers and make layers with grass clippings and leaves. You do this in the fall, and then later, in the spring, you've got some nice soil to work with. The farmer was using a thick layer of straw, which he'd covered with a tarp. Now, the tarp was removed and our job was: 

1. Fork off the straw.

2. Dig a hole.

3. Add compost from the giant compost pile at the edge of the field.

4. Repeat until the entire field was ready to be planted.

While my son was forking and I was digging, I was chatting with another volunteer, comparing notes about our gardens and what kind of compost we like to use. For example, she likes to use deer hides, animal blood, and dead fish. 

Oh, I said, I use eggshells and coffee grounds, but otherwise, samesies. 

It was mother's day and for various reasons, mother's day is a hard day for me. I was glad to be digging holes in a muddy field and hanging out with my husband and son and daughter-in-law and texting sporadically with my daughter and listening to my new gardening friend talk about how I shouldn't be scared of eating stinging nettles. 

*Stinging nettle is an herb that I have growing in my garden, but now I am afraid to harvest it because like it says in the name, it stings! So, I've been pretty much leaving it alone, but apparently, if you put it in hot water, it removes the stinging, and then you can eat it how you would spinach.  

The trick, my new gardening friend told me, is: Use gloves and tongs. She was pausing for a moment in her digging, and she bent down suddenly and picked up what looked like a rock, Look, it's a beaver skull, she said. 

Well, there's something you don't see every day, I said, and then I went back to digging my hole and marveling at my son who was pitchforking like a pro and stopping every now and then to text back and forth with my daughter. 

When we were all done working, we had a big feast in the farmer's barn. I felt like I had been through something but I didn't know exactly what. Work, rain, mud, and dead animal skulls. But also, a lovely meal with family and new friends. 

Before I left, I asked the farmer if I could have a few of his bean seeds. He jumped right up and returned with a handful. Isn't this what it's all about? he said. 

Yesterday, I dug holes in my own garden. It was sunny and hot and the holes were small and relatively easy to dig. I planted the seeds, and then I ate a big bowl of stinging nettles. Ha ha. I'm joking. I am not quite ready to do that yet, but when I do, you will be the first to know. 


Sunday, May 12, 2024

Some Questions I Have on My Vacation (in no particular order)

1. The town where my husband and I are staying operates on the honor system. We walk into the inn where we have a reservation, and before we say a word, the owner is shaking our hands and leading us to our room. How does she know who we are? 

2. It’s the same system at the little cafe across the street (the inn has a deal with them, that guests can pick up a free breakfast each day of their stay). Hi, we say, We’re staying at the inn. And the cafe owner is already handing us the menu. Don't they want an ID? A jangle of a room key? Nope. Just hello and here's your coffee. I love this town. 

3. They have llamas. The last time we were up this way (the far far far north country of New York to visit our son and daughter-in-law) we saw llamas in someone’s front yard, and one came right up to the fence with a look on his face like, Hey! And I was like, Hey! back. 

But later when I told my son we saw the llamas, he asked if we had fed them. Apparently, there’s a food bag near the fence and they were expecting that. And, he added. Those aren't llamas. They're alpacas. 

4. The farm where my daughter-in-law works has 200 newborn lambs. How do you know there are 200? I asked my son. Because the farmer counted them, he said. 

5. New York and Vermont used to be on two separate continents millions and millions of years ago. I learn this by reading a sign at the stone quarry up the street from the inn. Also, the lady in the cafe this morning said that last year someone set up a grand piano in the quarry and had a concert. Wow, I said. How did they get the piano up there? 

I don't know, the lady said. I was wondering that too. 

6. At the farm there’s a small pen of orphan lambs, and one immediately climbs on me and licks my leg and tries to eat my purse. Why are some of the lambs orphans? 

Because, the farmer says, for one reason or another their mothers rejected them or they're a triplet and their mothers can only handle one or two. But, she adds, at least they have each other. 

7. What is the the difference between a llama and an alpaca? 

8. I am still thinking about how I can walk into this inn and take a water from the fridge in the sitting room or make myself a cup of coffee and it’s no big deal.

9. Would you ever consider moving up here? our son asks us. We are sitting at a different cafe, a place where they serve you a bowl of ice cream with a drizzle of espresso on top, and I am immediately trying to figure out how to make this at home.

Through the window we can see the lake, and beyond that, the mountains of that long ago continent, Vermont. 

Answer: yes

orphaned lamb

a farm

seriously, how would you get a grand piano out here? 

not a llama

Sunday, May 5, 2024

Stay, Bubby

There's a funny video going around online about how people's names for their pets change over the years. My dog is Zooey, but sometimes we call her Zo-Zo, or Zo-bee-doh. Which turned into Do-bee. Which somehow became Bubby. 

Zooey responded to all of these names. Just as she responded to Come, Sit, Stay-- a particularly tricky command, where my husband would place a treat on the floor right at her feet, and she would know not to eat it until he said, Release. 

She knows other words too, Walk, being the primary one. Because she would get so ridiculously excited when she heard the word, my husband and I would spell it when she might overhear, but then she learned W-A-L-K, so we would have to say, "We're going to take her for a You Know What," and she figured that one out too. 

I didn't realize how much I talked to Zooey, how much I expected her to hear me--telling her what a good dog she is on our You-know-whats, or giving her a heads up about a car trip, or picking her up from the vet and saying, Wanna go home? and making sure I grabbed the leash tight first before she pulled me off my feet in a mad scramble to get the hell out of that place-- 

until I realized she can't hear anymore. 

I don't know when this happened. It's possible it's been a while and I haven't noticed? I'd come home from work and she was still snoozing upstairs and startled when I walked into the room, but I had chalked that up to: she's older, she needs more rest, she knows I'm home and will come down shortly to greet me. But now I know that she just didn't hear me come in.

She can't hear the particular sound the mailman's truck makes when it rolls down the street, or the squeaky sound of her squeaky toys, or the doorbell ringing, or the opening of her dogfood can, or me, when I croon at her, Where's my Bubby? Where's my Zo-bee-doh? 

And it's changed our relationship in ways that I still don't quite understand. What is my relationship with my dog? What is her relationship to me? I read a book recently called The Friend by Sigrid Nunez. It was a disconcerting experience reading this book. First, I didn't know what it was about until I'd read a good fifteen, twenty pages into it. And then I was like, wait. What? 

(As a back story, I work at a library, and often see the same books come across my desk again and again. This particular book is a small book with a bright, colorful cover, the title and author in big font, and that's it. This is a trend in book cover design right now, particularly with literary fiction, which is nice, but it makes it difficult to know what the book is about. 

I don't know why I decided to check this book out except that it passed through my hands so many times that it finally made me curious. But then I brought it home and forgot about it for months. I would look at it and see the bright colors, the title, the author, and think... nothing.)

Anyway, I finally started reading the book and was immediately intrigued. It's about a woman who is a writer who has lost her very good friend who is also a writer. Ah, I was thinking. This is a book about friends, about death and grief, and possibly, about writing. But then I got to the part where the friend who died left the main character his dog.  

The woman does not like dogs and does not want this one. To further complicate matters the woman's apartment is small and does not allow pets of this size. (The dog is a Great Dane.) But she takes the dog in, despite all of this. 

Here is when it occurred to me that this book is not about the writer friend who died, it's about the dog--HE'S the friend!--and oh my GOD, please don't tell me this dog is going to die! The author, anticipating my fear, writes, Don't worry, reader, the dog is not going to die, and I breathed a sigh of relief, and kept reading.  

She was lying. But I don't hold it against her. The book was a good book and (spoiler) when the dog dies, he dies in the most beautiful way imaginable. I don't know how the author accomplishes this, but she does. And I don't know how she manages to take a fairly predictable story--a person who doesn't like dogs falls in love with one--and turns it into something complex and surprising. 

Once I was that person who didn't want a dog, who reluctantly took one in, and somewhere along the way, she became my friend. I don't talk to her as much anymore. It just seems silly if she can't hear me. Maybe it was always silly. But I have found other ways to communicate. Flicking a light on when I come into a room so as not to scare her. Showing her my sneakers when it's time to take a walk. I am working on how to convey the word, Stay. And in the future, Release.  

Something that truly shocked me about the book was that all of the many times I looked at the cover, I never really saw it. It wasn't only the title and the author. The dog, apparently, had been there all along.