how to be a good house guest ~

how to be a good house guest ~

Despite what we thought would be the case, we’ve had several visitors to our new home in Virginia. And that’s GOOD! In part because not only do we love them all, but they’ve all worked hard to be great house guests. Want to know how to ace that rôle? Listen up:

The biggest help is to be sure the folks you’re visiting adore you. That’s been the case with all of our guests: my three sisters — one with beloved partner; my younger son; my niece & her wife, plus friend; and a very dear old friend of mine. Each is a pleasure to visit with, and a necessary element in my very happy life. So that’s #1.

#2: Give your host and/or hostess some notice, so they can anticipate! Not to mention do the sheets in the guest room… 😉 In our case, it means we can also make reservations for Sunday brunch at the coooolest little restaurant in the Blue Ridge Mountains!

#3: Let them know if you have dietary issues. A couple of old friends are coming in a few weeks, and she was thoughtful enough to let me know they all have celiac. So I can show off our amazing local bakers, who do GREAT gluten-free! And I was able to send her the link to a great local restaurant that has a lengthy gluten-free menu, as well. We all win!

washing dishes, house guest#4: If you’re staying for more than a few days-ish, pitch in. My younger son is the king of this — he takes out trash; he empties wastebaskets; he goes to pick up last-minute necessaries when I’m cooking. It’s also nice if you ask about stripping the bed when you leave, but not critical. Still, when my girlfriend did it, neatly folding the dirty linens on the ottoman, I was sooo grateful!

#5 is optional, & dependent on finances, obviously: Take your host/ess out for a meal. My sisters aren’t particularly flush — one is retired, another in FT grad school, and the 3rd unemployed. Yet each found a way to take us out, and it was such a thoughtful gesture!

Finally? HAVE FUN! If you’re at my house these days, chances are we’ve picked up some creeping bug from the grandsons, and are lower energy than we’d like to be for guests. Which means I’m über paranoid that you’re bored! If you’re obviously enjoying what we do most days — drinking tea or coffee, watching birds, reading, just talking — then I’m happy. And while it’s NOT all about me (honest), it’s sooo much more fun for ALL of us if I know what you enjoy, from the food (if you don’t like cornbread, be sure to let us know! We eat a lot of it!) to the bed (close the door if you don’t want the cats on you!) to the weather (we can’t fix that, so just enjoy it — our town is gorgeous!).

In other words, just be your normal kind & thoughtful self. Having fun! How hard is that??

 

 

wake up, America: juggling despair & privilege

wake up, America: juggling despair & privilege

Today I’m trying to juggle the despair I feel for the island of Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands (which evacuated to Puerto Rico – did you know that?), with the happiness I felt all day yesterday as I sat w/ a dear friend & my family over a lovely brunch.

I have known since I was a very young child (8? 9?) that I’m privileged. Standing on one side of an iron gate to our villa, only blocks from the ambassador’s residence, I watched a young ViệtNamese woman – certainly not twice my age – tell me in the unmistakeable language of hands & eyes that her infant held close to her flat breasts was hungry. And she had no food. That was my first encounter w/ my own privilege.

These days, as friends & family from around the country drive or fly to visit us in our beautiful new home, w/wages they earn at secure jobs, I remember almost daily how rare this is for most of the world. Two of my three sisters have come to visit – one has come twice! The third is coming in two weeks. I live blocks from my healthy, well-fed grandsons & their parents. Tomorrow I will get in the car w/ my beloved daughter-in-law and go to a nearby pumpkin patch to gather pumpkins w/the four-year-old in our family. We have plenty of gas for such luxuries.

In Puerto Rico, there is no electricity. As a friend of a friend noted, this isn’t because the power is ‘out’: it’s because the lines are shredded. There won’t be power again until the infrastructure is rebuilt. Such an innocuous word, infrastructure: EVERY POWER LINE. EVERY water facility. Dams, and roads, and… 

I can’t get my heart around what my head knows. In my everyday life, I’m looking forward to my sister’s visit. Basking in the time I spent w/ a dear friend who was here for the weekend. Figuring out what I’ll fix for dinner tonight. Anticipating an elective medical procedure fully covered by (admittedly crappy, but still extant) insurance.

Puerto Rico

Courtesy CNN

But in this time of far too prevalent American refusal to care about our fellow Americans, I’m heartbroken for mothers, grandmothers, sisters. Women (& men) who have only the spectre of cholera to anticipate. The end of paychecks, because FEMA has commandeered all island fuel for hospitals. Meaning: noooo offices can open if they could otherwise. Hence, no $$. (You did realise that the currency of an American territory is dollars…??)

In this time of ‘fake news’ – so often perpetrated on us by our own government – I can’t forget that these other Americans, whose only ‘crime’ is being where a massive hurricane hit, are without food. Without water. Days away from a cholera epidemic. Living among the decaying remains of a thousand thousand drowned animals. A million million pieces of trash. Fecal matter floating in the water.

I hope that totally disgusted you. Because I know of no way, other than the words I’ve practiced using for decades, to wake America up. To outrage the status quo, so that we INSIST  our government do something more. And please: don’t insult my intelligence w/ the ‘big ocean’ crap. EUROPE is significantly farther away, but they’re already rebuilding. Us? Who cares about brown folks who REALLY probably aren’t even Americans. Well,l French president Macron does. In the ravaged Caribbean, he was there less than a week after the hurricane hit. Our inglorious leader (I can barely manage to think his name…)? More than two weeks LATER: 3+ weeks AFTER THE HURRICANE STRUCK.

The population of Puerto Rico is about the same as my home state, Oklahoma. And let me assure you: the majority of that state where I’ve lived for decades, where I was born, could care less about sending their $$ to a place almost half of them don’t even realise is American. After all, that’s true at the national level. And I don’t think Oklahoma is any better.

I can also assure you that Oklahoma (& its legislators, please note) would NOT be ‘okay’ with the treatment Puerto Rico is receiving if the state was devasted by a category 5 tornado, a phenomenon much like Hurricane Irma. If the entire state of Oklahoma lacked any hope of electricity for the next several months, and cholera was in the water, and the children of the state were doing w/out asthma inhalers, food, medical treatment, et al…? The state would be in arms. Quite literally, I assure you. Like the guys in Florida who shot at the incoming hurricane

Puerto Rico

Courtesy CNBC

I’m trying to moderate my visceral anger with my Buddhist tonglen. But truthfully? It’s almost impossible to breathe in my anger and breathe out peace. When (& if…) I succeed, it’s when I’m able to think of my anger as only a fraction — an infinitesimal nano-fraction of the 3.5 MILLION Americans — of the anger & fear felt by a thousand thousand parents, grandparents, siblings: … I breathe for them, hoping I can somehow take on their rage & grief.

What about you? How do you reconcile our privilege with the heart-shattering plight of Puerto Rico? I’d love to hear something I can actually do, besides just throw my privileged $$ at this horrific tragedy…

son dates, sharing food, and serendipity ~

son dates, sharing food, and serendipity ~

Yesterday was a son date. Meaning, I had lunch w/ one of my two amazing sons. Earlier this week I had lunch w/ the other. Interesting detail: each picked the same restaurant, a small Asian café we all three like. They always have the pho (a ViệtNamese soup), minus the tendon & tripe. I have any of a number of things — I’m far less predictable in my tastes.

But each time we shared a green papaya salad (a favourite of ours), and talked. The main course, as it were: conversation. Without work, or two grandsons, or other interruptions. Just me & a son, over food. It doesn’t get a lot better…

Too often, we expect love to flourish w/out any nurturing. Or, more likely, we consider the daily things we do for each other to be enough. But really? You can’t have quality time w/out a fair amount of quantity.

Neither son revealed anything earth-shattering. I see them both, in this golden period, frequently. But rarely, as I noted, without the hubbub of daily life as a backdrop. And often — to be fair! — the hubbub takes precedence.

Here’s to time spent with loved ones: friends, family, colleagues. Folks you’d like to know better. Because sharing food, as M.F.K. Fisher said, is about more than just the meal:

It seems to me that our three basic needs, for food and security and love, are so mixed and mingled and entwined that we cannot straightly think of one without the others.

Try it. A date with whomever — I happen to be lucky to have my sons nearby! — over shared food. I promise it’s worth the effort.

Small things, big differences ~

Small things, big differences ~

Sometimes very small things that other people do ~ a 2-3 minute Google search, that turns up an important fact (at least to you, or, in this case, me) ~ have BIG impact. And yes, I’m thinking of something specific.

I have a background in science as well as writing. In 10th grade, I actually wanted to be a geneticist (seriously), and did my term paper on the science of organ transplants, still very new then. My hypothesis was that if we transplanted ovaries, women would be having the biological child of the transplant-er’s genes.

My teacher told me it was an unseemly topic for a young girl. UGH.

Later, I would weld a seam between my love of biological science & my love of writing, working as my daily newspaper’s medical & science journalist. One of my all-time fave jobs.

These days, I read science-based non-fiction for fun. Every year, my husband used to buy me the Best of Science & Nature Writing anthology for Christmas. Lately, I can’t wait that long, & check it out of the library when it’s released!

So trust me when I say I thought my knowledge of basic genetics was pretty accurate.

Offhandedly, I told my elder son – father of my two adored & adorable grandsons – that I had made my peace w/ the fact that my genes weren’t going forward in his wo boys. My X chromosome is not represented in them; they have their mother’s. And I thought that was fine.

But my sensitive elder son somehow caught on to my hidden sadness, and looked up gender & chromosomal inheritance. Mom, he messaged me, only one of your 26 chromosomes is gendered. You live on in the boys. 

I burst into tears when I read that.

It couldn’t have taken him more than minutes. But I doubt I ever forget that my perfect grandsons really are mine as well as their father’s, mother’s, maternal grandparents, paternal grandfather… The long line of my own beloved family line is there in 25 of their chromosomes. And I’m the richer for having that knowledge, as well as a son who took the time to find it out & let me know. Oh! And his sense that it was important, even when I didn’t know myself.

Not a big thing in the schema of his day. But huge in mine. It really is the small things that make big differences. 💖

grandsons, & the big rocks ~

grandsons, & the big rocks ~

“I might be too smart for GG. Because I know all her secrets. They are all she loves me. “

Welcome to the world of the besotted grandparent. This is a quote from my 4-year-old grandson that my wonderful son passed on to me today. I can think of nothing I’ve enjoyed more than this child, my first grandchild. Firstborn of my own firstborn son, he dominates my life, in the best of all possible ways. His ‘little brother’ is gaining on him, but right now? At 2 months old, Little Brother is definitely at a loss for words. 😉

Today I sent off a CV for an adjuncting position at the local university. I miss teaching, and we certainly could use the $$ — as we juggle 2 mortgage payments! But as much as I have always adored teaching, I am ambivalent beyond expectation about anything that impinges (however minimally) on time w/ this rapidly growing boychild.

Right now, my beloved & I pick him up 3 days a week from preschool. We usually have him at least one evening a week, when we ply him w/Happy Meals or pizza, his two great loves. I researched healthy popsicles on the Internet, and the freezer is full of crushed blueberry & fresh orange juice homemade popsicles. My beloved spent the last 2 months putting together a park-quality swing set, complete w/ captain’s wheel & propeller swing. I bought 3 Curious George anthologies to have here at our place to read to him. And bubble liquid is a staple these days.

Did I mention besotted?

Aging has the advantage of knowing (if you pay attention, and how can you not?) that time is short. Only a very little bit ago it was my own two sons asking about lizards Will they like me? Will they get lost in the garden? Can we look for one? And measuring love w/two out-stretched arms Do you love me this much?

I’m sure you’re familiar w/ the story of the rocks, pebbles, & sand in a jar. If you put the sand in first, there’s not room for many rocks. Same if you start w/ the pebbles. But if you put your priorities first — the big things in your life, two rapidly growing grandsons, for instance — you really can have it all. Or at least verrry close to all. Even when you know just how lightening quick time runs away.

And Trin — my grandson — was absolutely right: he knows my secrets. And right now? They are, indeed, that I love him. Besottedly.

Catching up ~ NaPoWriMo (2)

Catching up ~ NaPoWriMo (2)

The art today is sooo appropriate for someone who’s several poems behind! Breathe, right?? So: Today’s poem is a bit of a riff on the NaPoWriMo prompt, which follows:

Today, I’d like you to write a poem inspired by, or in the form of, a recipe! It can be a recipe for something real, like your grandmother’s lemon chiffon cake, or for something imaginary, like a love potion or a spell.

I thought of a recipe I don’t have — one I’ve looked for a long time — and the poem flowed from there. Enjoy.

Aunt Bonnie’s Apricot Fried Pies

She left me only hunger
No recipes for fried pies
Crisped in the cast-iron skillet
I do have.
For years I searched
Leafing through the musty pages
Of church cookbooks
Women’s auxiliary cookbooks
The recipe cards of family
Looking for what might feed me.
Once I found the key to crust.
Or so I thought: it melted under heat.
Another time I found stewed apricots
Fragrant with their hot sweetness
But what would hold them?
All we have is memory & hunger
And the knowledge that once
Loving hands fed us.