traveling notes, AZ-NM

For more than a week, my daughters and I explored parts of northern Arizona and New Mexico. We rented an RV for some days and we stayed in hotels for the rest. We saw the Grand Canyon (below is a picture of us at Oak Creek Canyon on the drive from Sedona to Flagstaff), went to Four Corners Monument, and made several other stops along the way.


As we made our way back home to Maine, I’ve thought a lot about how to share our experiences with our friends and family. Long gone are the days when we might sit around the living room with the loud slide projector seeing “pictures from our vacation.” I’m not sure yet what the modern equivalent will be. It feels like it needs to be more than sharing pictures on Facebook or on this blog.

Traveling as the only adult turned out to be a pretty big deal. As we drove — for hours and hours at a time — I’d be gasping at the landscapes on my own. Both of my daughters have a greater capacity than a lot of children for awe and wonder at things like mountains or rock formations, but they tired of the views a lot more quickly than I did (I didn’t tire of them). Add to that the sheer exhaustion I felt from being the only grownup on duty as the parent, and there wasn’t a lot of “vacation” in my week.

That said, oh my gosh. Wow! I’m in my late 40s and while I have seen some of southern New Mexico, I got a real taste of what the southwest looks like on on this trip. I feel like I’d never really seen anything like it. I resisted the urge to take photographs at every gasp, but I did take a few and some of them effectively remind me of what I saw.


Photographs, of course, don’t actually come close to doing it any justice. I can see why Georgia O’Keeffe was struck by the need to capture what she experienced out there. Just driving across the landscape was emotionally overwhelming. I wish we’d had a geologist and a botanist traveling with us. I didn’t do any research in advance and had no time/energy to do it as we moved along. Someday I’ll learn about how and why the land looks like it does.

That’s it for now. I’ll share more later when I figure out just how I want to do it. (Photo below is me at (I think?) the Petrified Forest.)



gratitude update

It’s been just over a year since we moved into this apartment that now feels like Home.

Before that, we lived in “high density housing” (American for “poor people’s apartments”) where we were as happy as we could be. It wasn’t because my daughters walked in on a couple guys smoking not-tobacco and not-marijuana in the stairwell, or because of the dealer who camped out on the back stoop, or because of the unsupervised children so desperate for adult guidance their behavior was not always safe, or because the man who lived downstairs disturbed me so much that I told him if he spoke to my daughter again I would call the police—this is the same man who invites those same unsupervised and hungry children to his apartment for snacks after school. None of these are the reasons we moved. We moved because we could. My parents have money and they paid for our move. That move put our lives back on course and the course is good.

The last 4+ years have been difficult. Rocky. Challenging. Full of lessons. Any way I say it, it sounds white-washed. There were times I wasn’t sure I would make it. If you know me well, you’ll know that means it was really bad. Normally, no matter how bad things get, I’m like Pippi calling up to her mother in Heaven, “Don’t you worry about me. I’ll always come out on top!”

Just over four years ago, I was pregnant and our marriage was ending. Then, we had a second child, the very new baby, and our marriage ended. We declared bankruptcy. We moved (me to Brookfield/”high density housing” and him to Orono, a decision I supported). We began sharing custody of our children over the hurdles of physical distance. We readjusted from married-forever to being loving friends who co-parent. Add to all of this many other events, happenings, choices, and significant difficulties that all brought me to the content for my newspaper column, being “newly poor.” All of that also brings me to now.

I’m writing this because today I had a really good day. I’ve had a lot more of them lately. There are many reasons for that, but there’s a distinction for me between having a good day and having a day where the light at the end of the tunnel is so close I’m almost in it (and, I’m now sure it’s not a train).

This wonderful home, some outstanding help in my business (life-changing for me, though she won’t let me give her so much credit), high quality preschool for my nearly-four-year-old and an excellent public school for my nine and a half year old, a spiritual community we love, and heaven on earth (my parents’ summer place near Bethel) to visit in the summers. There are other outward expressions of how much better things are, but I want to keep this relatively brief.

So, I’m tired. I’m very, very tired. Despite my ex-husband’s incredible co-parenting and generous support, I’m still a single mother. Being a single mother is a job I could only understand after living it. I love it, but it’s not easy. At the same time, as I said, work is going well. The column is the job I’ve dreamed of since the 90s when I was writing, “It’s all about me! (the column)” on my website every week. I’ve made several new paintings (not shown on my website) and will be showing them at Bard in time for First Friday in April (they’ll still be there for First Friday in May, too!). My daughters are extraordinary. More and more often, my gratitude nearly overwhelms me. Life is good.


that time we almost died

For the last few days I’ve been frazzled in a way not typical for me. Life is good. Work has been busy. A new painting has been swirling around in me and seems like it wants to come out. Last night I blogged about my medical freedom being stolen by the health insurance and pharmaceutical industries. I love writing stuff like that. Then, last night and today I was working at the computer all day. When I paused my billing clock and looked at Facebook or twitter—and I did that a lot—I felt anxiety-ridden and frenetic. Click! Click! Click!

On Monday morning this past week, I was hit by a truck. I was walking my three year old in her little stroller. As we entered the crosswalk, a pickup truck began turning (right on red) and drove into us. We weren’t physically hurt beyond a little stiffness in my thigh/hip/shoulder. The palm of my hand also burned all day from where I slammed it down on the hood of the truck as I screamed. I don’t remember much of it, really. My body bent with the impact, though I didn’t fall. My daughter’s stroller had mostly already passed the truck, so it didn’t make much contact (if any, again, my memory is fuzzy).

Mostly, I haven’t talked about it. Mostly, I found myself blurting out what happened at the most surprising times. In an email to a subcontractor. To the barista at Starbucks. Blurting is the right word. Moments after it happened, I used my phone to email several people and said “I just wanted to tell people who I knew would care.” The whole day was, in retrospect, hazy and confused. I kept thinking I was making too big a deal of it, though at the oddest moments I’d burst into tears.

One of my closest friends pointed out if I kept trying to convince myself it wasn’t a big deal, my body wouldn’t let that happen and it would keep coming back until I dealt with it. Thankfully, I had what I needed for support. I did spend some time crying that night as the horrifying “what if” scenarios played out with unstoppable force.

The moment when I knew there was nothing I could do to stop that truck from continuing on into me.

The moments after, walking away quickly, just wanting to get away away away when I only wanted to be away.

Not scooping my daughter up in my arms because to do that would be to face the what if of those what ifs that I can’t put into words because they are too horrible.

The anxious, confused, disconnected, insecure, self-doubting frenzy I felt in the last 24 hours or so, I now realize, was a reminder that what happened was “a big deal.” As I consider it, I begin to lose words.

This past summer I had some important experiences that helped me rediscover the richness of offline life. Those who haven’t experienced authentic depth and intimacy in their online life might not understand what it means to forget about how beautiful offline life can be. The last day or so caused in me an uncommon confusion, an absence of connection to myself. When I wrote about being a recovered alcoholic, I wrote about tapping into an infinite source of strength. When I connect with that strength I can live mindfully in the present moment. Making that connection is, most of the time, nearly second nature. It’s more than a habit; it’s where I mostly live.

Still, I feel rattled. This chunk of hours full of anxiety and disconnection from my center are leftovers. Remnants or echoes of how I felt when we were hit by that truck. Everything was called into question. I felt an obsessive need to focus on only what is really important and to let everything else slide. I connected with people who mean the world to me, even if it was just a brief “oh my god” shared moment. Now that I’ve identified the source of the last day’s puzzling spurts of staccato existence—I’m not finished feeling all that is there to be felt about the truck hitting us—I can do something about it.

Thanks to what I learned this summer, I know that what I need to do about it now can’t be done online. There are ways my online life supports me when my offline life can’t. It was one of my closest online friends who helped me through much of the adrenaline-induced traumatic fallout the evening after the truck hit me. And now, after getting the bulk of my computer-dependent work done, I’m going to go back to those peaceful places I rediscovered offline. I’m going to breathe. Thank you for reading this.


churches and vegetable gardens

Houghton Memorial Chapel (Wellesley College) window

We would run around in the concrete cool basement of the church while our Dad was getting ready for the service. We’d get into the boxes of sugar cubes in the kitchen cabinets, or into the storage area where college kids’ old clutter was left as a sort of lost and found. There was a grand organ, some kind of historical antique important piece that I’d play after church getting to lean my feet down to play pedals and to pull and push all the knobs to see what kinds of sounds would come out. The bread was real baked loaves of bread and the wine was in enormous earthy chalices. Once in a while we were told to be quieter, but mostly we did whatever we wanted to do. The churches were not unapproachable spaces where we felt we should be sedate, showing only formal reverence. The churches (the Wellesley chapel and Grace Lutheran Church in Hartford, CT) were where my Dad worked. They were places we spent time waiting before and after church. We had bell choir and choir-choir rehearsals, standing around while photocopies were made, and grabbing cookies and running up to the office to hide out during many, many coffee hours.

The best time to walk around in the garden is early morning, before the bugs (or the heat) get too nasty. Of course, if there are ready-to-pick green beans, I’ll grab one to crunch on as I look around. Maybe there’s a super-ripe cherry tomato, easy to pop in my mouth. Snacking from the garden when I’m in it is what I do and what I’ve always done.

When my three-year-old wanted to pick something (after my nine-year-old had picked our first cucumber) and I didn’t see anything immediately ready, I turned to the squash plants and pointed out one of the little yellow ones whose flower hadn’t even fully browned into the soggy flop it would as the squash grew to a more reasonably pickable size. I encouraged her to pick one of them, helping her some when she wanted to pull without any twist in her motion. We then saw a large zucchini (those things are sneaky and fast!) that she got and could barely carry.

Later, when she wanted to pick more, I showed her what kale looked like and she helped herself throughout the morning to torn off pieces of the kale leaves. She also munched on handfuls of parsley. There’s not a lot ready for picking, yet, but in a vegetable garden there’s almost always something edible.

No church or vegetable garden is too precious for me. None are somehow more important than any other living space in my world. They are a part of the meat of life; they aren’t fine unusable crystal to be placed up and out of reach behind a locked cabinet door.

my garden at my parents’ summer place

My gardens’ products are a part of their process. While I have learned to be respectful of the gardens of other people, I have to regularly remind myself that not everyone feels as flowing about their gardens. What is a garden, if not to offer its food? I am in relationship with it. I care for it and it cares for me. Even in the long-distance gardening I do, where other caregivers (my parents) do the organic pest control and watering required when I’m not there, the garden is a part of me and my family. It is ours and we belong to it. The harvest will be so plentiful, there’s no reason to hold each tiny yellow squash as off-limits to an eager and interested three year old just because it might be… what, better to cook with or prepare for a meal if it were a little bigger? Isn’t that presumptuous? How can we know the best time to pick that squash? This moment. This now is when it should be picked.

My church spaces are homes to me. Even when I’m in a new church, I feel immediately connected and comfortable. This is a place where I won’t be forced into polite restraint. I enjoy celebrating the absence of fear I feel in churches. My comfort makes each church feel as awesome as a sunrise viewed from a mountain top. There is no beginning or end to the church, in my experience. It is another one of my holy places, like the vegetable garden. Who says only eyes cast down and low hushed tones and slow movements belong in these spaces? Just as in the garden, there are times for special reverence and celebration. There are times when peaceful meditation flows through the space and the eternal becomes living.

me with our Portland garden plot

My gardens and churches are just as relevant in my life as the feeling of climbing into bed after a long, exhausting day. Feeling the physical release of exhaustion, pulling up the covers just-so. My gardens and churches are as holy as preparing a meal with the vegetables we picked earlier in the day, or picked last summer then cooked and froze to use later. My gardens and churches are classrooms and long bubble baths and playgrounds. They are complicated and simple, holy and earthly; they are life.

pink gingham memories

At someone’s white clean grownup-already house in the morning, they had all the supplies. Coolers and water jugs and beer beer beer (I never liked beer) and blankets and sunblock and I had my tiny pink gingham sundress, so short I couldn’t bend forward or move much. I had my dress and my sandals with my cash and driver’s license tucked into my bra.

We went in their cars, I don’t remember who they were or how I got there or if they are people I still know now.

Hours before the show started let’s get a good spot, we’ll get a nice good spot that’s not too crowded but where we can see the stage. Lots of clusters of people in the dusty dirt parking lot grass field.

Soul Coughing was why I came, or maybe Matthew Sweet. The Spin Doctors were there, too, and I was cool enough to hate them but was still me enough to like the Two Princes song because it was catchy bouncy dance-y good to sing with.

The group near us I don’t remember much either, but there was a small man without much hair on his head wearing beady sunglasses and brown skin and a leather vest with fringe and he sat in a low sun chair next to a blanket and his friend or friends talked and he just looked at me.

The music was going had been going for a long time when I put the little piece of paper the size of my fingernail or thumbnail on my tongue melting fuzzy on my tongue. When I said, yes, let’s and we went up to the crowd in front by the stage and someone picked me up and I was being tossed around and I didn’t like how many hands were grabbing squeezing hard my breasts and ass and I got down quickly and I hated it hated it it was not fun and I laughed and laughed and smiled because it was always okay nothing bothered me no it was ha ha ha but I wanted to get out of there now.

On the dark streets of DC long after the concert was over in Northeast maybe, or Capitol Hill or I’m not sure but it surely wasn’t Dupont or Adams Morgan and I didn’t recognize anything and I think I must be still tripping because I don’t know why this car bumper shimmering in the street light looks like it’s ocean waves hello who are you? Oh my god it’s you from high school? Do you live here? Do you recognize me? Who are you? Can you hear me talking? I am so cute? What? Yes okay yes, here is my number, it is so weird we met here at this time can you help me get home?

The florescent lights of the office seem dull but I’m back at my desk and I’m showered and it’s been two days since the show and coming back from such an event isn’t too hard on a 20-something if I drink a lot of water a lot of water. I’m doing my job. The front desk buzzes, I pick up. There’s a man in the front who wants to see me. I ask who he is. She tells me his name and I have no idea who it is. I tell her I’m sorry I’m busy please have him leave his card I will get back to him. She comes back to my office in a few minutes and gives me his card a beautiful business card with an irregular shape and hand written text. I don’t recognize his name. She describes him and I get a picture a quick picture a strange sunburning feeling and I feel puzzled.

The next day the front desk buzzes and it’s him again and this time I come to the front and say hello and yes it is the small man with the balding brown head and leather fringed vest and he looks at me looks at me looks at me like he is going to eat me pounce on me devour me and I say why hello, wow, you are here! as if I’m not all that surprised but that I’m surprised and he grins with beady rat eyes and says yes I am you told me you worked here and I said well that’s so great I have to get back to work though and he says I have a gift for you I want to give it to you should I bring it to your apartment later? And the gift he gives me at the front door of my apartment hours later is hand-made paper boxes inside boxes inside boxes and it is stunning and beautiful and full of time and concentration and care and effort to assemble and talent and art and I am so afraid. His rat eyes and his drooling hungry mouth face and his slow heavy breathing and his looking at me like I can do no wrong.

It’s time for you to go now I say before I open the front door thank you very much I appreciate it it’s beautiful and now it’s time for you to go how did you know I lived here nevermind thank you I will talk to you later. When? When. I will talk to you another time. No I don’t want your number no thank you thank you for the gift it was really nice thank you no.

The things I write here and think here and feel here are the things that come from inside me where my memory courage hides.