Chicken soup

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Thanks, Campbell’s. You’ve inspired me.

I recently read an article in the  business section of the Washington Post (on a rare visit to this section when I fled the bad news in section A) about how Campbell’s, the soup that was the only soup of my girlhood, is struggling.

It’s no surprise, really. Campbell’s is old school. It was part of lunch back in the ‘60s, when Mom’s grilled cheese and tomato was on Wonder bread and always came with CampbellsCreamOfTomatoSoup. That’s one word.

I also remember spelling out my name with alphabet soup noodles, courtesy of Campbell. G-I-N-N-Y. And cracking open a can of chicken noodle if someone was sick. And there was that gloppy-looking mushroom soup that Mom used in at least one of those recipes with an ingredient list that included a can of this, a box of that.

I’m not disappointed that my old pal Campbell’s is no longer popular. People are more interested in eating fresh food, and that’s a good thing. As the article pointed out, shoppers are avoiding the dreaded “center aisles” of the grocery store, where we’ve learned all the processed foods reside. Stick to the perimeter, nutritionists tell us, for fresh vegetables and fruits, fresh meat and dairy products. Reject the canned and boxed goods – what Michael Pollan’s Food Rules  calls “edible foodlike substances,” as opposed to “real food.” “Don’t eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food,” he says.

The Post article goes on to say that Campbell’s is remaking its image, pivoting like a savvy politician to keep up with new preferences. It’s launched three variations on healthier soup options: Garden Fresh Gourmet, Souplicity and Well Yes.

My favorites are Well Yes!

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Who can resist a brand called Yes!? Also, those fun labels! Tiny pictures of corn cobs and peppers! How do you make a pile of quinoa look so appealing? And the article illustration shows the cans stacked, pyramid style. I just want to try every one of them.

Except I too am all about the fresh food. And I haven’t eaten Campbell’s soup in decades.

My solution: I am recreating each of these appealing flavors in the soup pyramid – my pyramid of inspiration. Yes!

Half the battle of getting dinner on the table is figuring out what to make. Problem solved!

So far, my little game has been a success. I made a black bean-red quinoa soup that everyone at Tuesday night family dinner  liked. As the first one out of the box – or out of the can – black bean-quinoa showed me it might take a few tries to get this exactly right. I’m thinking less quinoa and more broth next time.

But the chicken noodle soup – amazing. It helps that I had it on a cold, grey day in February, tailor made for chicken noodle soup making. And that the soup had overnight to meld all its delicious flavors together.

I could pretend I planned it that way, but here’s the irony:  I started the chicken soup late, at 7:45 p.m., because I got hung up at work, and then I had to stop at the co-op for carrots and celery. The soup was going to take at least an hour to make and I was just too hungry to wait. I wound up defrosting a box of Indian food for dinner and ate it while the soup bubbled on the stove.

I guess there is a place for convenience food, too.

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Post-election action plan

 

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A candlelight vigil in Takoma Park days after the election

The presidential election deeply disappointed and shocked me and many other progressive people dumbstruck at the rise of a man who has exhibited disturbing bigotry, racism and misogyny, in addition to rejecting some of the foundational social services and compassion we depend on to make the world a more equitable place. There’s been lots of hand-wringing and chatter. What to do?

Thus far there have been vigils and rallies. A lot of people have given money to Planned Parenthood, or to environmental organizations or to the arts, anticipating a collective abandonment of the things we care so much about. There have been lots of facebook posts and petitions and op-eds and tweets of outrage.

But what will really make a difference?

The action plan

 

A few days after the election I actually made a list. I hadn’t shared it with anyone because the point was not to be all, “I’m on this, I’m going to save the world,” the point was to make a difference in whatever way I could. Also, I was acutely aware that my shock and dismay over the election was due to my ignorance, and I was a little embarrassed about that. This racism thing? It’s been going on for centuries. I don’t face it every day because I’m white. Boom: the definition of “white privilege.” It’s blinding. (Blackish explains this eloquently)

Anyway, I’m ready to share my list now, ready to admit I have so much to learn, admit that yes, I am earnest and naked in my desire to make the world a better place, and aware that my efforts are a drop in the bucket. I am sharing it because I want us all to think of everything we can to move forward during this time that so many people say is dark. I want to make it light, one tiny idea and one tiny action at a time.

I donated money.

I am lucky to have enough money to give some to organizations that need it. There are so many: Planned Parenthood, which may lose federal funding in the post-election climate. The Southern Poverty Law Center, a respected and focused leader in the fight against racial and social injustice. Locally, the DC Rape Crisis Center and Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle, in Baltimore.

I am giving to my church, because it is deeply immersed in social justice action. St. Stephen and the Incarnation gave away the land next to the sanctuary to establish low-income housing, and now helps run services for the people there. It founded Samaritan Ministry, now a city-wide social services organization. Its program Loaves and Fishes has been integral to feeding the hungry. St. Stephen’s also provides meeting and office space for many support organizations, from the Homeless Children’s Playtime Project  to CISPES, supporting the Salvadoran community. I also celebrate Sunday services here, with music from a variety of cultures, multi-gendered prayers, a diverse set of ministers and sermons that frequently teach about supporting one’s community, being open-hearted and the importance of speaking truth to power.

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I am educating myself.

I am sadly ignorant of the lives and the history of the people of color who live all around me. And I know little about the great black scholars, philosophers and authors. They were not taught in the schools I attended, at least not in my classes. So I am building a library of African American-centric books.

Some favorites so far: The New Jim Crow, by Michelle Alexander; Between the World and Me, by Ta Nehisi Coates; and Fire Shut Up in My Bones, by Charles Blow.

I already read a lot of books by women, but I skipped the feminism courses and could learn a lot from the founding mothers. And what about Latino authors? It’s been a long time since I picked up Gabriel Garcia Marquez or Julia Alvarez. I have so much catching up to do.

I am listening more broadly.

In addition to expanding my library, I am changing up my media diet. I seek out different voices: Not just the New York Times but also The Root. Not just Atlantic Magazine but The Grio. And I’m having a lot of fun with television series and movies: I like Madame Secretary, and Good Girls Revolt was fantastic, but my new guilty pleasure is Empire and I’ve just started watching Queen Sugar (Ava Duvernay, who hired only women to direct Queen Sugar episodes, is my new hero.) I can’t wait to see Hidden Figures.

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Dancer Patrick Casimir in What’s Goin’ On, Marvin Gaye Project at Dance Place, photo by Jonathan Hsu

I will spend more time at Dance Place.

Thus is a recurring theme on Mixed Ginger. Dance Place, my dance home for decades, is so much more than a place to take class, and it is open to everyone: the definition of inclusive. In addition to classes in African, Latin, jazz and modern, its full performance schedule encompasses all sorts of dance styles and histories. The after-school and summer programs support a huge community of young people who  not only dance – they learn about  computers, gardening, art and all the other things the generous people at Dance Place share with them.

I intend to keep attending class, see more shows, and invite more people to discover this gem of a place. Check out the performance schedule and come see a show with me!

What else?

 Many ideas. Some underway, some aspirational.

  • Volunteer once a month for Free Minds Book Club and Writing Workshop. At Write Nights I can write encouraging notes to young prisoners who compose poetry and send it in for feedback. Free Minds creates connections with people who have few supports inside a prison system that is incarcerating a disproportionate number of young black men (see Ava Duvernay’s 13th for more on this) and it reminds us of people of all colors who have been tossed aside, sometimes for minor transgressions, sometimes for regrettable but changeable behavior.
  • Stay more abreast of local and state politics and urge my representatives to advance progressive policies that serve all people. Here’s an example: bail reform. There is an effort underway to scrap bail requirements that keep poor people—who have not yet been convicted, only arrested, who are often innocent—in jail for little reason other than they cannot pay the bail. Here’s a compelling story about it and a description of how it could change. What else is coming up in Maryland? Montgomery County? Takoma Park? I have to do my research.

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  • Spend carefully. My next bike repair or purchase will be at Gearin’ Up  bike shop, where local kids learn bike mechanics and get bikes if they build them themselves from the parts around the shop. I’ll shop locally – that means Politics and Prose book shop instead of Amazon or Barnes and Noble. I’ll continue to enjoy Denizen’s, the only woman- and minority-owned and operated brewery in Maryland. Their Southside Rye IPA is my fave.
  • Broaden my circle of acquaintances and friends. This can be as simple as approaching strangers at a party, and instead of choosing a middle-aged white woman like myself to compare notes on how to parent 20-something children, for example, finding a young person, or a man, or a person of color to talk about, well, anything – what we did last weekend, whether you got the flu that was going around, how crazy it is that Metro closes at midnight. My hope: these connections could blossom into real relationships. But even if they create just a momentary connection, that’s better than another conversation that I’ve had multiple times with people just like me.

And I’ll keep talking about these issues.  They aren’t the only thing. Our lives go on, we go to work, we make dinner, we see our friends and family. I want to do all of that AND stay true to a commitment to make the world a better place, at a time when my core values are really being challenged. If you are on the same page, use the comments below to share what you’re doing. Or to tell me I am a naive and over-hopeful fool. Or to tell me this is an overblown reaction and we’ll all be fine. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Counting on good

 

****************2016****************

At the end of 2016, many people couldn’t wait to move on from what felt like a disaster of a year. The election of a man who represents the antithesis of so much of what we hold most dear –equity, dignity and respect, for women, people of color, immigrants and people of all faiths—was bruising, and fresh. The campaign, full of disappointing and shocking behavior from people who were supposed to be our country’s leaders, had dragged on for months before. Many beloved public figures had died, and some of us lost our own loved ones.

But a friend posted a query in December: What was good about 2016? It’s not all darkness. Right?

This appealed to my Pollyanna nature. So here are four bright spots from my 2016. What are yours?

I got a job.

Well, I have always had a job. But now, instead of scraping together a living as an independent writer and editor, I have become a permanent, full-time writer and editor at the American Federation of Teachers. Job security. Benefits. Meaningful work. Peace of mind.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t regret one minute of the “freelance” work I did for years. The flexibility allowed me to spend more time with my kids, and later to do my errands or go for a run in the middle of the day. The variety was fun (well, mostly — it could be challenging to switch from an article about the city budget to editing a recipe for a country newspaper and then writing a piece on a high-end home renovation in Potomac, but it never got boring).

Now that I have regular hours, health care benefits and paid vacations, I realize that having to pay for my own health insurance, never knowing if I’d have enough work, and working many nights and weekends to keep things going was more stressful than I knew.

Also, I still love my work. I get to write about faculty and staff at public colleges and universities, and lift up the power of the collective voice that unions give their members. I get to work on social justice issues, because high-quality public education is meant to be the great equalizer and we work to ensure that everyone, regardless of race, ethnicity, religion or zip code, has access to it.

How lucky is that?

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 I found a church home.

 After years of not attending church, I have found a place that moves me so profoundly and feels so much like home that when I recently discovered it, I cried through nearly the whole service.

I first encountered St. Stephens and the Incarnation when I slept among the pews in the sanctuary on my first-ever visit to Washington, D.C.: I was a college student attending an anti-nuke rally. And then I forgot about it. But it kept popping up in my life: a close friend told me she attended when she was a girl. My son told me he’d gone to a hip-hop youth program  there when he was a teenager (guess I wasn’t much of a helicopter parent). My honey, who is a contractor, did some renovations there.

I had been looking for a more spiritual element in my life, so I gave St. Stephens and a try, and it has to me. But it is also refreshingly updated. We pray to a female-pronoun God and Holy Spirit and sing spirituals and Spanish-language hymns along with classically-based hymns in English; we are a multi-racial congregation. There is incense and a crucifix, but we also stand in a circle for much of the service. Last Sunday, we blessed our cell phones, to indicate we were giving up our obsessive calendaring and scheduling to a higher power.

St. Stephens is the most activist congregation I have ever encountered, with a strong feeding and housing program for homeless and low-income families, political affiliations with activist organizations, and intentional connections with a diverse range of causes and people.

It gives me so many opportunities to be a better person and to appreciate the person I already am.

I discovered Audre Lorde.

Last year, my son gave me “Sister Outsider,” a book by Audre Lorde, a black feminist well-known to many but new to me. Just as I was renewing a commitment to social justice work I got to immerse myself in the thinking and perspective of this leader of the movement. I read some of it (as a book of essays, it is easy to pick up and put down, reading bits each time) and then life took over and I put it aside.

Recently Gesel Mason, a choreographer I have long admired, announced a dance performance informed by one of Lorde’s essays. I returned to the book and dove in to “Uses of the Erotic.”

Lorde uses “erotic” in an unconventional way, carrying it beyond its usual sexual connotation and giving it deeper meaning. “When I speak of the erotic, then, I speak of it as an assertion of the life force of women; of that creative energy empowered.”   Lorde gives us permission to tap into our deepest core and revel in it. Even if it is something like emotion, considered feminine and “weak” by a society dominated by men. Embrace that depth of feeling, she writes.

The work empowers me.

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I visited my big sister on her farm.

My oldest sister and I have lived miles apart since she left home when I was 8 years old. We keep in touch by email and phone but we seldom get to visit. She’s come to my house a handful of times, but I haven’t been to her home since the 1990s.

“Why?” I thought. Just make this happen. So this year I drove up to her place in upstate New York (yes, that’s it above). What a treat. It was just one weekend, but we laughed and visited and reconnected in the best ways.  I am so grateful for all my sisters.

More of that, please.

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I hiked solo on the Appalachian Trail

I can count on one hand the number of times I have been backpacking, and the last time was just over ten years ago. But I’ve felt the lure of the AT since high school and I finally had some time to plan another trip. Hiking solo would give me a chance to unplug from everything and everyone, to get to know my own self, apart from all the familiar day-to-day surroundings, out in nature.

I borrowed gear (thanks, friends!) and hiked for four days just south of Harper’s Ferry. I used a campstove by myself for the first time. I learned that an 11-pound, 2-person tent is way too heavy for backpacking, and that I needed only about half the (heavy) food I brought. Also that 12 miles with 45 pounds on your back feels a lot different than a day hike. But I did it! And I loved it. And I can’t wait to get out there again.

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I ran a 5K

I am an enthusiastic but casual runner. It’s as much about being outdoors as it is about building endurance—I alternate between running and walking, and take the wooded path, slowing down on the dicey bits. I have no ambitions to run a marathon, and I ran a 10K just once, in the 1980s.

But Takoma Park has a great 5K that benefits Safe Routes to School, a program that encourages kids to walk to school (among other things). And 5K is not much farther than I run/walk anyway. So I signed up.

I didn’t really train. So I was pleased that I didn’t come in dead last. I liked the comradery of running in a group more than I thought I would. And I loved that this turned out to be a reach for me – I had to work at keeping up my pace. But I didn’t walk once. And that was empowering.

I hope that 2017 brings more bright notes for each of us, and that we remember to take time to notice them.

Unexpected gifts

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Christmas week, and I am sick. Not seriously sick, just a relentless cough and a cold that makes me feel not myself. Literally. I am usually the person up and doing. I am now the person having a nap.

I can’t work myself up into a frenzy of activity to tidy up the hurricane in my office where I was wrapping presents Christmas Eve. I can’t strong-arm myself into hauling the trash out and breaking down boxes and raking the leaves on the patio. If I pushed myself to do these chores, I’d only start hacking and coughing and set myself back.

So I’ve given myself a pass.

Best Christmas gift ever.

I have an entire week off work and no particular plans. Before I realized this illness would hold me back, my ambitions were leaning toward organizing the basement and finally unpacking boxes of extra kitchen appliances we need to sort through since my honey and I combined households three years ago. I thought I might go for a day-long hike, have people for dinner and make a complicated meal that takes hours of planning. I would finally hang those shades in the spare bedroom. Tidy up the year’s finances, maybe even write some holiday cards. You know, all the things you think you’d do if someone gave you a magical extra week squeezed into your busy life.

But with my sick pass, I am doing none of this.

I am lingering over the newspaper in the morning. Taking my time. No rush. Skipping over the worst news, savoring the advice columns and the funnies.

I am doing the crossword puzzle. I don’t care if it takes a long time. Because what would I be doing otherwise?

I’ve leafed through a fantastic magazine called Kinfolk and read short essays and discovered a recipe for a hot toddy that I remembered when I sat down to watch a James Bond movie with my honey. I got up off the couch and made it. It was medicinal, I decided. And delicious.

When you are whipping through life from one task to another, thinking about the next thing before you’ve even finished the one you’re doing, you don’t have space in your brain to remember things like that hot toddy recipe. You don’t even have time to leisurely page through the magazine that has the recipe, and the great little essay instructing you about the tradition of toddies and the things people choose to put in them (I made mine old-school, with just the scotch, honey and hot water, no citrus).

I have found all the most comfortable places in the house for reading a book. Lying in bed, for example. Or nested into the pillows on our couch. I read for hours at a time – an entirely different experience than my usual 10 or 20 minutes before I go to sleep. I get to know the characters better, feel the rhythm of their world.

It’s one of the things I used to do when I was a girl. In fact, now that my world has slowed down, I’ve revisited a lot of girlhood favorites. Maybe I’ll call this week Let’s Be Ten Again.

I colored with my 23-year-old daughter and her friend: watercolors and colored pencils on pre-printed postcards. Yes, adult coloring is a thing now – but it is still coloring, dressed up so we can feel okay about doing it again. My picture was a sunflower, and I got the petals just the right shade of yellow and brown. So satisfying.

Then I had a bubble bath. When was the last time you did that? Sure, I’ve had baths with oil and baths with salts, but a luxuriously thick, rich, super-foamy, bubbles-all-over-the-place bubble bath? Oh, man. Amazing. It stopped me completely. I thought I was going to read in the bath but no. I just sat there and played with the bubbles. Felt how smooth they are on my skin. Made patterns with them in the water, piles of them, up the sides of the tub, hiding my body, then revealing it, then covering it up again. Put my head back and let my mind wander. Reached for my glasses with a bubbly hand, read a bit, then splashed some more. And when I finally drained the tub, I sat there until nothing but bubbles were left, and slid along the slick surface of the tub, just for fun.

The new year is just around the corner. My resolution is going to be something about slowing down long enough to read, and color, and take baths. Something about giving myself a pass more often. Something about being 10 years old again.

 

Mixed graffiti

Early morning.

I pedal around a bend in an urban bike trail, paralleling the train tracks on my way to the city. And suddenly: an enormous profile of a woman’s face looking up into the sky. Brilliant color. Strong, heavy, sure lines. Larger than life.

I burst out laughing.

What a joy to come upon this unexpected art! On my last ride, it was just a blank, grey, concrete-and-chain-link wall. Now this!

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I love street art. Especially along this stretch of tarry-smelling industrial trail – the Metropolitan Branch Trail. I am always looking to see what new tags will appear. And I check in with old pieces – that mural of nerdy-looking bikers on one wall. Bold, fanciful letters on another. The oddly dark mural of creatures riding bicycles on another. And always Crotch Rot. I wish s/he’d thought of a less evocative tag.

But that is what street art is: a messy mix of the unexpected. I get a happy hit of color and beauty around one corner. And a disturbing inner dialogue about what “crotch rot” might really mean, and how I feel about someone expressing themselves in a way that makes my nose wrinkle. Or worse.

On the day I discover the profile of the woman, I am giddy with delight. New art! It’s like a reward for riding my bike to work today. And then – the artists are still at work. Even better. I stop.

Mural-Artist

“Thank you for doing this!” I say. The artists are gracious about my enthusiastic interruption of the work. They explain it was part of a project called Pow Wow DC. I look it up later and discover it’s an effort to beautify the city with a week-long blast of street art by international and local artists.

This is great! And then, when you start thinking about it, get into the weeds, it’s complicated.

  • Why international? Isn’t local art good enough?
  • Who pays for it?
  • Did you ask the neighbors if they wanted this?
  • Maybe they want a grocery store instead?
  • What about gentrification?
  • Is this neighborhood down with being artsy?

And what about “real” graffiti, the unsanctioned spray of color applied late at night, with lookouts to avoid arrest? The kind that shouts, “I am here,” that sprouts up like a new and unexpected blossom, to discover in the morning?

One of those early morning gifts was this message, applied right in the middle of the assigned murals, but respectfully drawn out in neat cursive between he finished images:

Must we gentrify everything?

Mural-Gentrified

Gentrification is complicated. Beautification is subjective. What I think is laugh-out-loud joy may be a dark herald of $14 cocktails replacing the corner barber shop.

That doesn’t make me unlove the art.

I’d like to think there is room for graffiti and assigned murals. Let’s have art. All of it.

But then, what is art? Who decides what is beautiful? I love a lot of street art – swirly lines of color, fanciful faces and clever phrases included. But the profanity disturbs and disappoints me.

In my neighborhood, the city has just commissioned a piece of art for a wall that faces the highway. Terrific, right? But no. The neighbors hated the conceptual drawings, and did not mince words on the neighborhood listserv. “Hideous.” “Yuck.” I felt badly for the artist. But also: this is public art. It’s supposed to be appealing to that public.

The artist went back to the drawing board. Art by committee. Good luck.

Sing it forward

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A few songs into the show at the Birchmere, I realized I was smiling like I hadn’t smiled in days. Long. And hard. And irresistibly.

And then I was crying. Just a little.

Because: Music. Good, amazing, phenomenally played music.

I was lucky enough to be sitting 30 feet from a stage that would have collapsed had the bona fides of these musicians been that sort of heavy. These are my sorta bona fides.

Ry Cooder: mad skills, but perhaps more importantly: curious, unafraid to try something new, and always respectful of traditions at first unfamiliar, but quickly inhabited by his own fingers on strings, his own voice on harmony. Ry Cooder who played with and lifted up the Buena Vista Social Club, V.M. Bhatt and Ali Farka for western audiences. A guy from Los Angeles who played with bands like Little Feat, Captain Beefheart and the Rolling Stones and later turned to traditional music, seeking out masterful musicians from all sorts of traditions, learning their styles and offering it up to the rest of us.

Ricky Skaggs: master of and loyal to his own deep tradition of bluegrass music. Saavy enough to reach audiences that might not otherwise wrap their ears around his quick picking fingers on mandolin and guitar. The real deal. I first heard him when I was in college at Appalachian State University, close to his roots in Kentucky, and his technical skill made it clear that he was special even then. He’s been playing mandolin since age 5.

There they are, in that photo: Ricky, Sharon (his wife) and Ry.

The family band: blew me away.

Sharon White – Ricky’s wife; Chery White, Sharon’s sister; Buck White, their 85-year-old father on keyboards and vocals; and Joachim Cooder, Ry’s 37-yr-old son on drums. Blew. Me. Away. Each is talented in their own right, but there is something extra you get when families make music together, an added dimension of visceral connectedness. Is it because they spent their earliest years matching and mixing their voices and instruments together? Or is it in the blood? It is simply one more wonder to consider as the music reaches down deep and draws up tears and smiles because this exists in the world, and I get to hear it.

Yes I am gushing. The music was so fine-tuned but at the same time so natural, so easy yet so perfected.  But also: I know this was just two silver-maned guys on stage, one with black jeans and black shirt, the other sporting a considerable gut and hippy/hipster eyeglasses, playing to a silver-haired audience. As my honey pointed out, every one of the people up there wore eyeglasses except for the old guy, and the youngest. I watched them connect across the instruments and behind the lead singers. Age is no object. But it was worth pointing out, as Skaggs did, that everything about this show was from pre-1965 except for the drummer. Now there’s some depth for you.

Meanwhile, the oldest musician was not up there just for show — Mr. White bounced all over the keyboard, when the others turned to him for his break he nailed it. And he could sing. Could we get any better than the traditional tune he lit into with his two daughters, a tune Sharon said they used to sing with their mama? I imagined the countless times that song’s chords signaled another round of a familiar tune, the snuggling in to that place where your voice belongs, buttressed by all the others, both nesting together and projecting out to the world this connectedness like no other.

And then there was Ry Cooder’s song about Christians who should unload their diamond-studded shoes. Maybe it was the result of reflecting on Ricky’s deep faith, his reliable testimony that he is blessed, and grateful to God who gave him the opportunity and the mission to share his music. Ry Cooder is no born-again Christian, but he slides right in there holding down the bass vocals as if he’d been raised up in a Southern Baptist church, and now writing a Gospel-ish song of his own, admonishing Christians who may have been blinded by all that crusted glory that can creep up on them like power.

Because in addition to this being deeply traditional, it is also being carried forward – there was a lot of banter about learning from YouTube videos, and of course there was that young guy anchoring it all down with drums. This sort of music is not just about sitting in your seat and listening to a show. It is about seeing the magic of connection among the musicians. Carry it forward.

Discovery run: SF

 

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Running up Market Street in San Francisco feels like coming home. I’ve never been to San Francisco. The street is new to me. But the morning run lines up muscle and bone in a way so familiar that, settling into my body’s rhythm, I feel as though I am returning to a place I have been a thousand times before.

I return to the morning run each time I travel, squeezing it in between business meetings, the movement grounding me at the same time it takes me to places I have never seen. It’s spare, easy. I need only a pair of shorts and a tee-shirt. The one time I forgot my running shoes, in New Orleans, I found a Payless shoe store and got a serviceable pair of fluorescent green sneakers for $20 (yep, the ones shown above). It was a fair price for a delightful tour of the Garden District.

SF-Boarding

In San Francisco I have the gift of the time change from east to west coast: I wake an hour or two early each day. On the last day of the trip I count the minutes for the fifth time, anxious to get to the airport in time, to catch the Bart, to allow for mistakes like boarding the wrong train or having to purchase a new fare card. It’s 7 a.m. and I calculate a luxurious hour for myself before I have to get on the track toward home. Luxurious, yes — though I know from past experience that the seduction of discovery will delay me and make catching that plane a close call.

This time I’ve remembered my shoes, but forgotten a sweatshirt, so I grab the hot pink pullover I’ve brought for work and pull it on over a tank top, walk through the hotel lobby feeling conspicuous among the fancy brunch-eating guests and crystal chandeliers, and escape out the side door.

Streets are quiet this early on a Sunday morning. Just a few homeless people and some stray pedestrians. I run toward the Embarcadero — the embarking place, I learned in one of the stack of tourist brochures I’d collected in the lobby. A clump of runners appears near the streetcar tracks, a single athlete stretches on the sidewalk, and I feel like a member of an elite club of the clear-minded, healthy and strong.

Here is the Ferry House, with tempting food stalls and coffee spots inside and great views of the Bay outside. Its tower is lit gayly, “50 years.” Fifty years of what? I’ll look it up later.

SF-PierPerspective

All along the run I’m tempted to hug the water line, to gulp in expansive water views. Walkways invite me closer but my time is limited. I keep the run pretty linear.

SF-EmbarcaderoLineA line of glossy square stones set in the walkway line up one after another ad infinitum,  pulling me along. Piers punctuate the route, some swallowed up by chic restaurants, others still functional, vast warehouses waiting for ships to offload. Pier 1, Pier 1-1/2, Pier 16. What if I keep running? How far can I go?

SF-BarbedWireW'houseI pass the Exploratorium museum at Pier 15 –where a shop window calls out to me, “come back for this kitchen science book your niece would love!” Pier 27 is set up for cruise ships, and I stop to admire cleats big enough for four people to sit on and enormous rubber fenders hanging over the sea wall waiting for city-sized ships to bump against them as they dock.

SF-Pier27Dock

I look at my watch: 7:30. If I allow myself 20 more minutes, I’ll be back by 8:10, in time to change and have coffee. I keep going.

Then I see sailboats, their masts like a collection of pick-up sticks bobbling in a marina I had no idea would be here. I discover the USA 76, from the elite America’s Cup races–and a sign that says you can go sailing on her! If you have the time. And here is a sailboat strung with colored Christmas lights. I wonder whether there is a live-aboard community here.

SF-AmericasCupJust beyond the docks, I see what I am guessing is Fisherman’s Wharf. Excellent! I didn’t think I’d get that far! I should take a look. So I press on.

I find a touristy collection of “gourmet” hot dog stands, souvenir shops, signs for whale watching and a banner about the annual return of the seals. That’s something I’d love to see, but I’m not sure where that would be, and besides, I’m running out of time. I pass the berth for a tourist ferry to Alcatraz. Then there is a dock, a great place for a photo of the fog over — wait, what? That IS Alcatraz! Right here! And the locks fastened to the fence? I like to think they are tokens of love for the prisoners once locked up across the water, but more likely they are from young lovers pledging their hearts right here on the mainland.

SF-AlcatrazManTime is getting tight. I turn back toward the hotel. Then I hear something that could be seals. Yes! I get to see Alcatraz and the America’s Cup, and now I’ve heard the seals! Where are they? I am this close, how can I not take a minute to investigate? I can skip showering. Get coffee at the airport. What’s the worst that could happen? I could miss my flight.

Maybe down this dock.

And there they are. At least a hundred of them, not 50 yards away, covering an entire floating dock. Like so many oversized bean bags, schlumped all over one another in an enormous pile. Sleeping. Except for the ones barking, reared up like slugs standing on end, one long muscle of a neck wrestling against another. Splash! One falls off the dock. Surprise! Another pops up out of the water as if propelled by some unseen force.

They are so loud and so comical and I am so delighted at having stumbled upon them, I stand there on the dock, all by myself, laughing. “What are you doing?” I ask them. “This is amazing,” I say. They are too far away for a good photo, so I take a moment to mentally lock the image away, sure I will never forget it.

SF-CitySkylineFinally I turn around and head back to the business district, running past Pier 27, Pier 23, Pier 1, counting until I am back at the hotel. I make the train. I make the flight. And I think again about how lucky I am to have this ticket to adventure.

Morning run.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Riding the train: standing for good

The train car is is standing room only at the first stop. All seats filled, and several people standing. I am disappointed that I’ll be hanging on to the straps the whole way in to work. But not nearly as disappointed as a hugely pregnant woman who has no seat either.

I am incredulous. All these people — able-bodied men and women of all ages — are oblivious to the big lady in the middle of the train car. Or if they’re not oblivious, worse, they are not willing to get up and give her a place to sit. She is not giving them stink eye or sighing like a martyr — she is busy with her phone. I imagine she is texting friends, outraged that this well-dressed man is comfortably seated in the handicapped seating, that a put-together woman is snoozing next to him, that a young man is lost in his earbuds — also seated. Every seat taken. Every seated person ignoring not only all the people around them, but in particular someone who would clearly be more comfortable taking a load off.

MetroPrioritySeatsWe stop at the Fort Totten station and the passengers rearrange themselves as a handful of people disembark. A seat comes open, the pregnant lady moves toward it. It is snatched up quickly by a middle-aged woman. Who is not pregnant. Or disabled in any visible way.

I often give the benefit of the doubt to the folks seated in handicapped area; they may seem able, but not all disabilities are visible. This is different. I can guarantee that not every person in those seats — and the rest of the dozens of seats on this train car – was disabled. Not. Every. One.

I think about this on the way to the next stop and consider saying something to my fellow passengers. The authority of (my) middle age should be good for something, I think. The poor woman is probably too embarrassed to speak up for herself, I think. So I plunge in at the next stop: “Do you want to sit?” I ask the still-standing pregnant lady. “Yes,” she says gratefully, as if I can magically conjure up a seat for her despite my also-not-seated status. “Can someone give up their seat for the pregnant lady?” I ask, looking around. at the dozens of seated passengers. And finally the magic happens. There is a shuffling and squirming, and a frail-looking woman sitting in the nearest seat gets up and offers her spot. She apologizes for not having done it sooner. Meanwhile the men, every one of them, and all those able-bodied women too, remain seated.

“We all get in ‘the zone’ on Metro,” says the woman who moves, looking at me in a way that implies that the other people in the car were simply not paying attention, that they should be forgiven.

It’s a poor excuse. Come on folks. Be present. Engage a little. And give up your seat for someone who needs it.

 

The gang’s all here

Holidays have come and gone, but winter continues to bring warmth and, well, lots of people. Last night we had an impressive collection of shoes at the door, and had to add two leaves to the table to accommodate the crowd of what we consider our extended family.

gangsAllHereMy honey and I have plenty of biological family — but all those brothers and sisters and nieces and nephews live far away. So our friends and the friends of our children are our at-home extended fam.

Young adult kids are still visiting for the holidays, so conversation at our gatherings is multi-generational-lively. Last night we talked about Obama’s speech on gun control (can you believe that Fox accused him of faking his tears?). We talked about circus performances (one of the kids is a circus instructor) and the intersection of acrobatics and dance. We talked about biking in the cold weather (several of us are bikers), the demise of a local Indian restaurant (which we all loved) and whether there was enough salad (yes).

And then there were a few rounds of Boggle in front of a blazing fire. Wow, these kids are smart.

boggle2Over the past several weeks, there have been all sorts of gatherings at the “401 Cafe,” aka our home and kitchen. Old friends from the 1970s came for brunch one day, recalling the days when living off the land, and living communally, was the norm. A nephew and niece with their charming toddler girls visited one afternoon to share warm family memories, and despite the years between visits it felt just as comfortable and natural to have them here as it would if they lived down the street and visited every day. Young friends of our 20-something kids, friends who make me want to be sure they have their hats on when they go out in the cold, liven up the house with laughter around board games and art-making, music-playing and group-think crossword puzzles. Close friends join us for pre-new-year’s cocktails and just a bit of reflection on the past year, then disperse well before midnight because bedtime comes earlier these days.

IMG_GuitarHandsThen there are times at friends’ houses. Thanksgiving in the shed. Pre-Christmas with three families worth of parents and children all together at a time in our lives when we are just getting accustomed to living apart.

‘Tis the season for entertaining, for cherishing friends and family, for sharing the warmth of the home fire.

‘Tis the season for love.

 

Christmas Magic

Now I know.

Those Christmas stockings set carefully at the end of the bed? Magically filled while I slept? When I was small, I believed.

StockingCroppedHere is the new truth: Each item, from the toothbrush to the pens and pencils and breath mints, was wrapped in the wee hours of the morning by an exhausted Momma who somehow never got to the wrapping on the days leading up to Christmas, maybe because she was shopping and carefully counting out Santa presents so everything would come out evenly for each of her four daughters. She was making sure she had separate wrapping paper for Santa, something that was different from what she used to wrap gifts that were from her and their father. She was planning Christmas dinner or a trip to her mother’s for Christmas, or pulling together her contribution to the holiday bake sale or planning my December birthday party, or maybe she was sewing a special outfit for one of us or taking one of us to piano lessons or choir practice or both.

Oh, and the wrapping of the stocking gifts was always done after midnight mass on Christmas Eve, a production that involved dressing four girls in holiday best, making sure that each little girl head was covered by one of the hats that spilled off the top shelf of our hall closet, and I am guessing (though I don’t know for sure) that all of this occurred after the Daddy had already gone off to church, where he would rehearse with the choir and try to keep the organist from either running away with the tempo or playing everything, even the buoyant “Joy to the World” in dirge-like time.

When I think of mother love, I think of a Madonna-like midnight tableau, Momma rocking her babe back to sleep with moonlight seeping in the windows. This is actually a true and beautiful thing. My own midnight moment, with my own babies, happened around 2 a.m. with a train whistle marking the time, me in an actual rocking chair my own mother had given to me before I had my first child. It was magical.

And it was generally followed by a prayer that the baby would stay asleep as I carefully laid him (and, later, her) back in the crib, a prayer that I questioned even as I offered it, is that an okay thing to pray? Is that selfish? Shouldn’t I pray for world peace? But I wanted to sleep so badly, I prayed anyway. And then, if I escaped the bedroom without the wailing of a not-yet-asleep infant, and before I surrendered to the two hours I might have left for sleeping, I would go to the kitchen and inhale a yogurt, the easiest  and quickest refueling stock I had.

Such are the mixed moments of motherhood. Sweet. And practical. And exhausting.

The Christmas stockings, in my mother’s estimation, were just exhausting. She railed against them once the secret about Santa’s elves and mother’s love was out. What a ridiculous tradition! she would say.

I don’t remember when she stopped doing stockings. I just remember that I loved them for a long time. Finding the stocking at the end of the bed was amazing. How did it get filled without me knowing? How could I not have wakened? (More of that praying business, I am guessing. Please don’t let her wake!). I don’t remember what was in the stocking beyond the traditional items that I still use to fill my own children’s stockings. The orange in the toe—with the accompanying reminiscence from the Laura Ingalls Wilder books, recounting the monumental event it was to have an orange in the middle of winter, at the Little House in the Big Woods. The toothbrushes. Sticky striped hard candies fuzzy with felt from the inside of our red felt stockings. Maybe a comic book rolled up and sticking out the top. And there was a smell. Was it the candy? The orange? The still-in-the-shell nuts?

I re-jiggered some of the traditions when my children came along. We left cookies and milk for Santa, carrots for the reindeer, and notes scrawled in a child’s handwriting. On Christmas morning, there were only crumbs left. And great big bites out of the carrots. Who knows what reindeer bites look like? My children do.

This year, after midnight mass, I was slapping wrapping paper on tiny gifts for two stockings, once again. My children are grown, really. I don’t care.

This is mother love. This is magic.