Monday, July 30, 2012

Eloise, Sondheim, the Library with the lions out front, and all things NYC

Oh! To wake up to a day with no humidity! Bliss! I suffered enough with humidity and no air conditioning last week that when my house turned into a kiln, I checked into the Hope Club up the street for two chilly nights. Felling very Eloise. The Olympics, a good chardonnay, forays out to nearby restaurants, the AC turned on as cold as it could go...Then: rain and a break in the weather and I returned home.

Doubly happy for the cooler weather because Annabelle and I are headed to NYC for a few days, and the thought of traipsing around with an 8 year old in humid 90+ degree heat did not appeal to me. Instead, we are getting perfect made to order weather. Yay!

Also excited to use my Amtrak reward points for free first class tickets on the Acela roundtrip. That means we will get fed and watered and have nice cushy seats for games of Uno and lots of reading.

After we drop our stuff at the apartment in the West Village, we'll hit a playground with my friend and his daughter. Tonight Annabelle will sleep at her friend's in Chelsea while I meet up with two buddies for dinner at Ouest, followed by INTO THE WOODS in Central Park. I saw the original with an old, long time beau and remember being dazzled by Mandy Patinkin and Bernadette Peters (and the beau!)

On Tuesday we are heading back to Central Park, this time to the zoo there, which is Annabelle's favorite zoo. I'm taping an episode for Dick Gordon's The Story on NPR (about crushes) and then we'll  try our luck at TKTS, the half price ticket line. I am hoping for ONCE or HARVEY.

Wednesday Annabelle will come with me to my event at the New York Public Library at 1PM for THE TREASURE CHEST. Beforehand, we are going to a store that sells kids' books in French so she can finish her summer reading. Then back on the train and home again...until Saturday when she and I return to NYC.

That's right. We have tickets to see NEWSIES on Saturday with cousin GJ. And GJ just called to tell us that she also got tickets to Skippyjon Jones on stage at the Lucille Lortel Theater on Sunday. If your kids haven't discovered the Skippyjon books, the time has come. He is a cat who thinks he's a chihuahua, and the are hilarious. We even have two of them on tape that play non stop in the car, with Annabelle reading along from the books.

If I wasn't racing to pack for NYC trip 1, I would paste in pictures here of Eloise and Skippyjon and maybe even Bernadette Peters. But I need to get moving, so please imagine those photos right here:

And speaking of kids' books: The Treasure Chest, Book Four, Prince of Air is about to appear in your local bookstore! It is my favorite one so far and I hope you and yours like it too!

Monday, July 23, 2012

Home sweet home

Why is it that every time I return from a trip away from my family my flights are delayed? Two weeks ago it was US Air in PHL. Last night Southwest in BWI. Two hours late, and all I wanted was to be at home. Ate an awful airport crab cake and had a couple glasses of pinot noir, which combined with the fabulous book I'm reading made the wait less dreadful.

That book, by the way, is THE RETURN OF JOHN EMMETT by Elizabeth Speller. Read it! I have a weird theory that everyone has empathy for a particular war, (I know we have it for all wars, but somehow we tend to especially connect with movies and books about a certain war) and mine is WW I. ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT is one of my favorite books and movies, as is GRAND ILLUSION. Maybe it's because I love the literature and history that followed that war? Anyway, this novel takes place right after WW I, and is just wonderful.

I recommend too the short story by Tessa Hadley called "An Abduction" from the New Yorker. It blew me away.

So I finally made it home by midnight, and am having one of those catch up days: cleaned out the fridge, gathered laundry, paid bills, grocery shopped, etc etc. All done happily because I'm happy to be here!

The Conference is always emotionally tough. But helping Karen Holmes to teach over thirty bereaved parents to knit made it all worthwhile. I feel like I really gave them something that can bring them comfort when they get back home.

Now I am working on two dinner parties, one small and one big. For both, I want to smoke my own salmon, so I've been comparing recipes this afternoon. Then, for small party: cold melon soup, beer can chicken, corn on the cob, and watermelon/feta salad. Dessert maybe grilled peaches...For big party: gazpacho, roasted garlic pork tenderloins wrapped in bacon, piles of garlicky greens, and maybe smoky beans. Dessert? My buddy is making three pies!

In a few minutes I have to go outside (it is hot and steamy out there) and check the condition of the smoker. It probably needs some elbow grease. But I have to get that salmon smoking tomorrow for party #1, which is Wednesday.

Was not at all glad to find mice have moved in to the kitchen. Ugh. I have scrubbed everything and wiped up mouse droppings--gross! Apparently we are catching two a night. Maybe last night's catch was the final one...

Bright striped dish cloth is finished. First Wave blanket is also finished. I'm starting a second dish rag and a second blanket!

Dinner with Gogo and Annabelle tonight. Then Annabelle and I will hit the library and come home and read. Bliss!

Saturday, July 21, 2012

"Properly practiced, knitting soothes the troubled spirit, and it doesn't hurt the untroubled spirit, either."

That is a quote from the brilliant uber knitter Elizabeth Zimmerman, and so suits my day today. I am still here in Costa Mesa, CA at the Compassionate Friends National Conference. Yesterday I gave my presentation, Lessons from the Knitting Circle, which always brings a nice crowd (we had over 50!) and which, I hope, helps grieving parents to find an unexpected place of comfort. Today, the amazing Karen Holmes, owner of Fresh Purls in Providence, is teaching a beginners knitting class. She flew across the country, toting thirty knitting bags of yarn and needles, to give this gift to people who need it. I am humbled by her generosity and her spirit. Looking forward to this afternoon, when we will run the workshop. Hopefully, I will not have to actually teach any knitting...

I finished my Waves blanket this week, and am about to begin a second one (the plan being to knit one for each kiddo by Christmas) today. Also finished my first of the bright striped dishcloth ( made with Lion Brand kitchen vintage yarn. I have been slow to post pictures, but I need to show these babies off:

Image of Bright Stripes Dishcloths

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

at the Compassionate friends National Conference

This is a rough one to write about. But I know that so many of you who read this are bereaved parents, and so I wanted to write about my day here today for all of you. Ten years ago, after Grace died, we learned about the Compassionate Friends, an organization for families who have lost children. Unfortunately, in 2002, our local chapter met at Hasbro Children's Hospital, where Grace--and many of the children whose parents attending those meetings--had died. And I just could not walk through those doors. In fact, driving past the hospital on Route 95, I had that strange counterintuitive impulse--to look, and to look away. But my husband went immediately to a meeting, and perhaps because he's a better group person than I am (I am a terrible group person! I was kicked out of the Girl Scouts!), or who knows why, he found comfort there. One night, he was out of town and I went into a kind of panic, as I did often those days, and decided to go to a CF meeting, dragging along my stalwart friend Sarah. And it was just as awful as I had feared to walk through those doors, and like I always do in groups I said too much, or the wrong thing, or whatever. So it was a colossal failure all around. I bought Sarah a lot of drinks afterward to thank her for coming with me. Did I go back another time? I don't remember (those months were such a blur) but somehow, between Lorne attending and me having been, we found these other couples who agreed we needed to meet more than once a month, and so we did. In our living room, with wine and sweets, all of our children having died very close together and all suddenly. I cannot tell you what we spoke about those nights, or how we knew somehow when we were all strong enough to stop meeting (much much later). All I know is that these people became a lifeline to us. And that, in a way, is what Compassionate Friends does. It offers a lifeline. A lifeline when you are drowning in grief.

I began to give talks, and was a keynote speaker once, at the National Conferences. I remember the first one I went to in Oklahoma City, so hot and humid, me alone, the crowds of grieving parents, many of them wearing buttons with pictures of their dead children on them, and it seemed both relentless and necessary. I remember going to the memorial for the bombing there, and sitting by it and sobbing under that strong sun. I remember sitting alone and eating barbecue, and trying to make sense of not just my loss but of all those children smiling out at me from those buttons. I thought  that I would never do that again. Yet I did. Year after year. And always I felt the same mixture of emotions.

When I was elected to the board, I thought I could give back to all the people who were my lifelines after Grace died. A small thing to do to pay tribute to them, to Grace, to--pardon my hyperbole--to lifelines. So here I am in Costa Mesa, CA. All day: board meeting on topics big and (seemingly) small. A Restaurant Impossible marathon on tv, a double shot of single malt whiskey at my side. Because those emotions are all on the surface.I met wonderful women from Australia at the BBQ tonight. I met grieving parents in the elevator and the hallway, and again I have those mixed emotions. I have cried a lot today (and knit a lot). But I have been struck too by the will of all these people, and the heartbreak, and the optimism, and the grief, and and and...

For me, these days are hard and wonderful and necessary. In many ways, all I want to do is go home. In many ways, all I need to do is be here.

So many other things to share, but I think I will wait till next time. For now, I just need to be here...

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Last Day in Portland

What a week! The Tin House Writers Workshop and Portland, Oregon have both been great. My workshop is a group of twelve terrific people and I have loved reading their work and getting to know them all. Last night, my amazing student Sara had us over for dinner at her house. Her backyard is just beautiful, and we sat at a long table eating salmon in parchment, salad from her garden, quiche, and then salty caramel gelato with berries. My friend Heather has had me over to her beautiful backyard too, for salmon that her husband smoked himself, and then again for a smorgasbord of salumi and cheese and olives. I just posted some pretty pictures on Facebook, if you're so inclined.

So I have been well fed, and stimulated by the readings and lectures of so many terrific writers, like Aimee Bender, Steve Almond, Tony Doerr, Jonathan Dee, Dana Spiotta, Elissa Schappell, Dorothy Allison, and even more if you can believe it.

But, despite all the berries and salmon here, I'm ready to go home and see my darlings. It is a quick stop back in RI before I head to a conference in LA for a few days. Home long ago to do some laundry, have some good family time, and get to hear one of my favorite writers, Stewart O'Nan, read on Monday night. If you are in RI, please join us at the Marian J. Mohr Library, 1 Memorial Drive in beautiful Johnston, RI at 6PM.

And now...time to start packing up...

Monday, July 9, 2012

Smoked salmon, Stumptown coffee and tayeberries

Ah! Portland, city of great food, great coffee, great wine, great scenery, great people...If I had to move tomorrow I would pack up and come here, where all the things I live in life live so happily together. Ok, it's God awful hot. Near 90, and I couldn't get the AC in my room to work (thank you, Mr. Fix it Guy who came and saved me from melting!). Now it's downright cold in my little dorm room. I even added an extra blanket to my tiny twin bed last night. Thanks to my buddy Heather for taking me shopping on Sunday morning to stock up on all things Portland, plus a bouquet of bright orange zinnias to make my room pretty. And to Heather and her hubby for a morning spent on their roof deck sipping grapefruit mimosas and nibbling smoked salmon on cucumbers (he smoked it, inspiring me to fire up my smoker when I get home--he put marmalade on it and it was yummy!)

Last night the Tin House Writers Conference opened in its usual style--a cocktail party and then readings by Chris Beha, Karen Karbo and Wells Tower in the amphitheater. I am still operating on East Coast time, so crashed early. (And now up early, but this will change just in time for me to go back east).

Had a hard time on Saturday, watching my family disperse. Friday night when I went to bed I said: "I have been so happy having us all together, and now I'm getting so blue." Had a good cry at the Buffalo airport after watching Sam and Gogo walk down the jetway.

But settling in here, settling down, getting ready to start teaching. I have a good group of memoir writers in my class, and can't wait to start talking about all things writing. We have workshops every morning from 10-noon. Panels and craft talks and readings sprinkled throughout the rest of the day, into the evening. Busy but always inspiring and fun here...

Now, back to my delicious cup of Stumptown coffee. In my cooler (thanks, Heather!) I have 6 Stumptown cold brew iced coffees to get me through the days. A brilliant idea!

I hope you are staying cool this hot July!

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Happy 4th of July

Every 4th of July morning for forty+ years, I woke up to the sounds of John Phillip Sousa playing at highest volume on the record player. I knew before I even emerged from my bed that I would find my father with a beer already in his hand, preparing the food for the dozens of people who would come to our house to celebrate his 4th of July birthday. No one loved his birthday more than my father, and 4th of July has never been the same since he died in 1997. How I miss that man! He was my soulmate, my cheerleader, my drinking buddy, my favorite storyteller, my guiding light. And so I woke up this morning, early, here in Chautauqua, to a deafening silence. I lay in bed, remembering all those 4th of Julys now past. The runaway Roman candle. The clambakes on the beach. The WWII veterans marching up our street with pots on their heads and broomsticks at their shoulders. And always John Phillip Sousa booming.

Last night, the Chautauqua Symphony played an incredible concert, and I felt as I watched it that it was tailor made to honor my dad. Lots of Sousa. Anchors Aweigh. God Bless America...

Wherever you are today, raise a beer to my dad.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Perfect summer day at Chautauqua

I am in our cozy apartment in Chautauqua, gazing out the window, across the sunlit balcony, to the lovely green trees beyond. Such joy to wake up this morning to the sounds of Sam and Gogo making coffee, and Annabelle grinning at me to show her latest lost tooth (last night!); to sit around drinking that coffee and hearing stories of Sam's NCT tour, Annabelle singing and dancing around us. Chautauqua is always like going back in time. Kids ride their bikes everywhere. Music plays in the distance. Newsboys and girls hawk newspapers on the town green. Tonight--a big spaghetti supper catered by Gogo. But first, I teach my class and then go to my bridge class with Sam and Gogo. Annabelle is at camp. And for these brief, too fleeting moments, everyone is together and happy.

I am wishing you a summer day like this today too.