Chicken soup


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!


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.


Counting on good



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?


 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.


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.


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.


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


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.


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.


Because we can

DerailleurThe grace period between when you notice your bike tire is a little softer than usual, when you begin to pump it every morning before the ride to work, and when you have to admit it needs patching or replacing ran out today. So I email the boss–“flat tire” — to buy some time to fix it.

I am no longer a college student, or a 20-something scraping to get by. I am a pretty well established person with a steady income. I could pay someone to fix this flat.  Like the friendly mechanics at Takoma Bicycle shop. But I believe everyone should be able to change her own flat, perhaps especially those of us tempted to outsource our chores. It’s my attempt to stay grounded: Walk the dog. Mow the lawn. Rake the leaves. And since I haven’t done it in quite a while — relying instead on my more bike-saavy son — I know it is time to fix the tire myself.

Bike Hero

Be your own bike hero.

Patch kit: found. Tube: removed. Hole: pinpointed, sanded, patched. Tube and tire replaced.

My fingers are black with bike grease, though somehow I have kept it from smearing on my work clothes. I am nearly finished (an embarrassingly long 20 minutes later) when I get snagged on how to route the chain around the rear deraileur. The chain hangs loose — so clearly I’ve missed something. The clock ticks on, and finally I abandon the project and walk to Metro.

A friend, riding his bike, stops to chat and I scrutinize his chain — running in front of that funny lower sprocket, then back.

Two days later I recall that configuration, reroute my chain, replace my wheel, finish pumping the tires and ride to Metro, triumphant.

Why would I go to a bike shop to change a flat tire? Because I can?

Why would I fix my own flat?

Because I can.

Snow day

SnowyWoodsAnticipating yet another snow day last week (#sooverwinter), this one with significant accumulation and super-low temperatures, I was sure we’d lose electricity. In preparation, I mentally checked the cupboard (plenty of canned beans and rice), then made a luxurious list of all the

things I would do if the internet went out.

Baking. Because we cook with gas, I could while away the hours in the kitchen — plus it would help keep the house warm when the heat went out. I would bake all the things I think about but never have time to make: whole-grain breads with nubbly seeds and nuts studding the crusts; pies with different fillings and crusts and crumbles; little loaves of sweet breads I could freeze (when the power came back on) so I’d always have something delicious to offer with tea, like the Southern ladies I imagine opening their doors in the afternoons, greeting their neighbors before settling down with iced tea and a treat on the front porch.  I could bake a casserole for dinner, and one to freeze (when the freezer came back on), or put on a pot of stew or soup. Or how about shape cookies to decorate? We could have that cookie decorating party I never got around to organizing at Christmas. We could make snowmen.

Cleaning. I actually love to clean – as long as I have hours to do it. I get intimate with every nook and cranny of my home, and as I dust and scrub I appreciate the texture of the bathroom wall tiles, the grain of the wood floors. I remember that the floors were reclaimed from the house up the street, and think about all the feet that have tread on them before me. I snap the bedsheets before re-making the bed, and remember the fresh puff of air the top sheet would make on my face when I was lying in bed as a little girl, with my mother tucking me in to clean sheets at night. I feel the smooth glide of linseed oil as I polish the end tables, and remember my mother dusting the piano keys, which played a disjointed sort of tune as she swiped. I dust around the books lined up on the shelf, and consider which I’ll read next; rearrange family photos and remember when the children were small. And when I’m finished, there’s not only a clean house, but the contentment of a life reviewed.

YoungGirlReading-RenoirReading. Most of my reading happens in the few minutes before I fall asleep, and the fragmented result is that I am constantly flipping back to try and remember how we got this far. Imagine sitting down for an hour or two, absorbed in a seamless story. Heavenly.

Sewing. The pile of scraps has gotten out of hand. I could create that quilt, those napkins, the mini-purses I’ve been meaning to sew. By hand. How “Little Women” would that be?

Play the piano. Every time I sit down at the keyboard, I feel like I’ve exercised a part of my brain, and my heart, that refreshes me unlike anything else. More of this, please.

Write letters. It’s like having a little visit with the friends and family I write. And what a treat to shuffle through bills and advertisements to find a real letter in the mailbox! Maybe they would write me back.

Plan the garden. The seed catalogues have begun to arrive. We could plot out the whole yard: Tomatoes! Peppers! Berry bushes! And be totally ready for the first planting day of spring. We could even dig out the starter pots and lamps and start seedlings. Maybe we need two snow days. Or three.

Walk in the woods. On a snowy evening. The pillowy quiet of snow falling and the embrace of tall trees erases the frantic pace of everyday life, and slows me down enough to hear the poetry in each moment.

As it turns out, my snow day never came. Kids were home from school, yes, and I heard them playing outside, liberated from routine. I stayed on the internet and worked.

But I’m creating my own snow day. Shutting off the computer and all the pressure that comes with it, excusing myself from all things internet, and enjoying some of these snow day indulgences myself. For a whole day. Because we all need snow days, even when it’s clear.


This morning I got up and it was 62 degrees in the house. This is not because we are thrifty and environmentally virtuous and hardy enough to set the thermostat that low for energy savings. No, the thermostat was set six degrees higher, at 68. But there was no heat coming out of the system.

This is where I am so very grateful that my honey is the capable guy that he is. He suggested I turn off the thermostat, wait a few minutes, then turn it back on. Always the first step: reboot. When that didn’t work, he finished his breakfast (another thing I love about him: unflappable, methodical, no panic) and took a look at the furnace.

Within 20 minutes the issue was resolved: the tube that carries condensation away from the unit to the outdoors had frozen, and we simply had to thaw it out.

Back when I was on my own, this 62-degree morning would have looked entirely different. I’d have been exasperated, for one thing. Impatient because my work day was delayed, feeling burdened by a responsibility I had to bear alone, with no partner. Beleaguered. I’d have taken the morning away from work to call HVAC repair places, and worried whether the pipes would freeze before they arrived. Because: I don’t know from freezing tubes and condensation from the furnace.

That’s why my gratitude for this capable man I married is so profound. In short, I love a man who can fix stuff around the house.

Is that sexist?

No. Rosie the Riveter is my hero: I once had a bobble-head Rosie, and I still have an image of her hanging in my kitchen. I love to do things My Self, with help from no man – or woman, for that matter. And, when I was living on my own, I learned to fix a toilet, clean the gutters and and use a cordless drill.

Women can be just as handy as men. Let’s celebrate that! Wielding a cordless drill is empowering! Next: The chainsaw!

But there are a couple of complications.

One: I don’t have much vocabulary for handy-manning. I’ve written about this before.

Two: I’m beginning to think I like the feeling of having done that handyman task much more than actually performing the task, which frequently involves uncomfortable sweating and swearing and general frustration at my ignorance of all things handy.

And: There’s the flip side to the fact that women can be just as handy as men. Which is: Just as being competent with household repairs can be part of being a woman, being hopeless at them can be part of being a man.

Yes! Not every man is handy!

Just because you’re a man doesn’t mean you automatically know about condensation tubes freezing up, or which toilet parts need replacing, or how to find studs (or that you have to find studs) to secure a heavy mirror to the wall. My honey knows all these things not necessarily because he is a man – but because he is a particular man who grew up with a father who taught him about How Things Work, then went on to figure out a whole lot of things on his own, and then went even further and became a contractor.

But here’s the guilty admission: If I were married to someone who did NOT know all things handyman, I would be slightly annoyed on the 62-degree morning if he couldn’t help me any more than I could help myself. I would sigh (hopefully to myself) and take up the task like the martyr that I am, and take care of it My Self.

Would I feel the same if I were married to a woman – one who could not save me from my un-handyman-ness? I hate to admit it, but probably not. I would more likely work with her and together we would figure things out, translating the language of handyman as we went. I would not have the expectation that she should know all this handyman business already, and I would not think less of her if she didn’t.

That’s not really fair, is it?

I’m going to work on that. And when it comes to handymanning, if there ever is anything my honey can’t figure out, I won’t hold it against him.

Also: Maybe we should start rethinking that term, Handyman.

Birds of wonder

Bird1The chickadees are shy.

They see me, I am guessing, and flit away.

Other breeds are bolder. One fabulously handsome fellow with black and white polka dotted wings hangs nearly upside down on the edge of the feeder, almost as big as the feeder itself. The wise-looking nuthatches are the smartest – they rest on the perching bars and reach in for seed, just as the humans who designed the feeder intended for them to do.

All this is happening just three feet away from my desk, right outside my office. I attached a small birdfeeder, a clear plastic globe with two big portholes for accessing the seeds, to the outside of the window (thank you Barbara!) and now I’m enjoying a spectacular display of wildlife.

It’s as if a portal to another world has opened, and a chorus of birds has invited me in. Really? Me? Thanks!

Now that I am a close observer of this feathered community, I worry about some of the smaller birds – one got herself all the way into the globe, perched in the soft bed of seeds enjoying the abundance, then took long time finding her way back out. A few birds, of all sizes, fly straight at the feeder and bump into its plastic walls before they finally figure it out. But one of the most beautiful things about this arrangement is that I have no responsibility here, no real part to play, except to keep the feeder full. All I am allowed to do is sit back and watch how the birds take care of themselves.

They feast – delicately, seed by seed, or ferociously, depending on the breed. The woodpeckers make me laugh out loud — no wonder Walter Lantz chose them for the comic Woody Woodpecker, they are hilariously herky-jerky and deliriously unaware of their outsized energy. They attack the pile of seed, jabbing and poking so that bits and pieces flies everywhere, the way food flies from a baby’s highchair. I imagine bird friends picking up the mess on the deck below.

Then there are the super-quick sparrows, furtively stealing seed and flying away as if staying more than a millisecond would be far too dangerous. There is the banded chickadee, with a handsome red bracelet around its leg – probably a specimen from the Smithsonian research conducted in our area over the last several years. There’s a flash of crimson at the edge of the window – Papa Cardinal considering whether to join the feast.

Who is that speckled black and white fellow with the bandit mask? And will that bluejay make it over from that tree branch?

For a week now I have been observing them all, and I am still awed by the whole display. But I am also accepting this flock of new friends as part of my day. A little house wren lands and first I catch my breath, in wonder once again – then settle in to the knowledge that she is a sort of companion, a part of the rhythm of the neighborhood – I can just see her more clearly now that I have invited her to come closer.

Old school

Sometimes I just can’t get enough weekend.

I know I am not alone in this. But I don’t want to just sit around and eat bon-bons, or watch endless movies. It’s not even about biking or hiking or visiting museums (though I’d like to do some of that, too). No, what I want is time to plant an enormous garden, then preserve all the fruits and veggies I grow in it. Time to bake bread and cookies and pies from scratch, and make soups and casseroles, so many that I’d have a freezer full, and would never have to settle for canned soup again.

I’d like more time to really clean my house – yes, I enjoy cleaning! Getting up close and personal scrubbing the wood floor, dusting the piano and rearranging all those framed photos is like tasting each little bit of my lovely home, as if it were a delicious dessert I want to savor.   And I’d like time enough to sew up a quilt from all those old t-shirts I set aside, or maybe make some pillows or linen napkins or handbags.

But here’s the thing. I am a feminist. And I crave more time to do the housewifey things all those early feminists wanted to liberate me from, so I could go to work.

It’s complicated, I know. The feminist take on working in the household and/or working outside the home is  – for me, anyway – not about avoiding the domestic arts, it is about having the freedom to choose them for yourself— or not. It is the liberation from expectations that you must be a certain way and do certain things in order to fulfill the image of being a woman. Feminism says, you can be whoever you want to be.

I am so grateful that I have choices about how to be a woman in the world.

And the truth is, I love my work. The people I meet are inspiring, and telling their stories is fulfilling. If I didn’t have my work, I am sure I would miss it, perhaps even feel trapped in the very domestic chores I now crave.

But working sure does get in the way of finishing that scarf I started knitting four years ago, or coming up with a pie recipe for the food co-op baking contest later this month. As my sister suggests, I need to be two people. One working. One knitting. Or cooking. Baking. Or crafting.

I am lucky that I do have some time, that I do sometimes get to bake a pie or two. Like on Thanksgiving weekend: We had four days off work. That’s twice as many as we usually have! I baked six pies over the course of the weekend. I went for walks and runs, and I even got out the sewing machine to make an eyeglasses case. If I had more time, I could have made a better one—this one’s really pretty sad. But it’s a start.

My sister has it down. She is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, but I’m pretty sure it’s okay to call her Mormon. She also majored in Home Ec when she went to college. She is the one I call when I’m excited about my new kitchen sink, or when I’m baking and need a recipe for apple cake. All of my sisters bake, but this one bakes a LOT. She bakes for her church, for one thing. The Mormons are all in when it comes to community, which they create right in their church, but also all around them. At least that is my understanding. I am like that, too.

Anyway, in my sister’s family the roles are very clear: she runs the household and raises the children, and my brother-in-law is the breadwinner.  They work as a team. And they embrace their roles, they fully inhabit them, and with relish. No one questions who should be doing what and what percentage of the housework is done by which partner, or who earns what percentage of the family income.  This is, by the way, how my sisters and I were raised in the 1950s through the 1970s, and it is how my sister’s children are raising their young families.

And there’s this: Think for a moment about how it feels to be the man, locked into the whole work thing. Put on your shirt and tie and go to the office, pull on your Carhartts and mount your tractor, find your mechanics shirt with your name embroidered on the breast and get to work whether you want to or not – you have a family to feed. Thanks to many conversations with my honey,  who has worked and been the primary breadwinner for decades, I now understand that men feel pressure, too. Some women may feel suffocated and forced into a homemaking role that feels unnatural and wrong for them as individuals. But being forced to step up and provide, whether you want to or not  –that’s no picnic either.

I was a single parent for a while. I can relate.  There were not so many pies in those days.

I guess it comes down to choice.

Choose to be a homemaker or

Choose to have a career or

Choose both.

I choose both. That is exactly right for me.