Threshold

When I was in 7th grade, my family moved into a house that possessed a singular identifiable feature. This little house stood in a row of other little houses that looked blandly alike. Yet this gem announced its presence just a bit differently than the others and gained small scale recognition and notoriety simply because it wore its difference proudly.

A door. A commonplace item. An entry point. A way in…should it be opened to you.

In the days before Siri would announce that a destination had been reached, everyone who came to visit us knew to look for this unique detail. At the front of the house, tucked at the end of a small front porch, stood a large red door…with a silver doorknob decorating the center of it. It was one thing to live in a house with a giant, solid red door…but the doorknob in the middle added another level of oddity to it that my 12 year old self wasn’t so certain of. In order to open the door from the inside required a certain secret knowledge and deft ability to turn the knob and pull sturdily on the handle simultaneously.

A door. A commonplace item. An entry point. A way in…should it be opened to you.

I am pretty sure I was embarrassed by this door for more than a little while. Pretty sure that I wished we had a door like everyone else…and that our house didn’t stand out in this way. I didn’t need it to be pretty or fancy–just “normal”. But at some point along the way, all of this angsty humiliation shifted and I came to treasure its presence. Came to love that thing that allowed our house to stand out a bit from the rest. Came to own the uniqueness as a gift rather than an embarrassment. Came to identify that door with what it opened into–a house full of warmth, family, joy and love.

A door. A commonplace item. An entry point. A way in…should it be opened to you.

Writing this blog during this 59 day challenge required more stamina than I realized it would and also required me to open myself a bit more than initially felt comfortable. I am very much at ease being vulnerable, admitting fault, telling stories…and, yet, somehow having to tell them more quickly than I wanted because I had to meet the deadline of the daily post made me question the decision and waver on whether to continue. I preferred to refine my writing and to take time to have it reflect the truth of what I am capable of crafting. But at some point, I had to release that ambition and frustration and accept that the importance of the task resided in the act of writing each day…in the sharing of it with an unknown audience regardless of how I felt about it…in the building of my confidence…in the ownership of a writer’s identity…in the recognition that sharing this gift is not a reflection of ego but a desire of the soul. The importance resided in opening the door that so clearly identifies as my passion without fear of what is on the other side…resided in the ritual of walking through it daily and coming to treasure it as a homecoming.

A door. A commonplace item. An entry point. A way in…should you accept the invitation 

“Doors” by Carl Sandburg

(Day 59–Mardi Gras Day–King Cake day!!!–The blog will continue of course…just maybe once a week:) If you’ve kept up with me, you have no idea of my gratitude!! If you’ve stopped to say something encouraging along the way, words can’t express how that helped me to continue writing. I sort of can’t believe I’ve finally written the last one!)

 

magical

It’s Mardi Gras weekend and the city is alive and humming with visitors who might walk away understanding what Mardi Gras really is or who might walk away with nothing more than a headache, some plastic beads, five extra pounds and a few fun memories. Mardi Gras, for those who live in New Orleans and the surrounds suburbs and cities, presents a much richer heritage and tradition than simply consuming large quantities of alcohol. The intoxication from this season is far more varied than if it solely emanated from the obvious source. And I would venture to say that the people of this city could attest to the veracity of this with reflections upon traditions of family and friends, the attachment to community and place that this season forges, the food…so much food…, the stories of Mardi Gras past, the music, and more. Sure revelry plays a role, I’m not sanctifying the holiday or anything. It’s just that, as with anything, Mardi Gras is more than its label–it’s layered, textured, vibrant.

My family’s Mardi Gras traditions when I was growing up fostered some of my favorite childhood memories. Beyond the stress of where to park and where to find a bathroom when you needed one, there was family, there was joy, there was delight, there was Andy Gibb, whose face was emblazoned on a pink t-shirt I wore religiously as a little kid, riding on a float right in front of me. There was the Monday night parade, Hercules, that passed by my grandmother’s house where my family gathered pre-parade–cousins, siblings, aunts, uncles…all of us–to eat Mimi’s meatballs and spaghetti and garlic bread that was so toasty I would accidentally inhale the powdery crumbs and choke a bit before going back for more. Homework would get finished at the table before we could go out to the parade and inevitably, Vanna White was turning letters on the television. There were the death defying moments of riding on my dad’s shoulder’s to garner more throws only to have him swoop down to pick up a doubloon (his favorite-a prized commodity)–he knew I wasn’t going to fall…I, on the other hand, remained less than confident. There were the costumes and the face paint that decorated us on Mardi Gras day. We masked as a family and my mom made our costumes every year (face paint was all my dad though). One year, we went as the band KISS (I was maybe 3 or 4?)…another year as characters from Strawberry Shortcake…each year presented a new opportunity to get dressed up for a day and go have fun-together, as a family. There were parades where we were so cold it didn’t feel worth it, only to be greeted by hot food when we got home. There is all of the junk we carted home that felt necessary, vital even, in the moment and suddenly worthless when exposed by the harsh fluorescent light of the living room. There is a lifetime of memories that sing a harmony far sweeter than if this were really just a holiday about drunken debauchery.

Tomorrow, we will take our kids to one of the famous super-krewes, Endymion. We will pack sandwiches and snacks, and we will wait on the parade route for hours (though some have been there for days). We will probably throw the football and hopefully be able to walk to where they line up the Clydesdales. We will listen to our kids whine “how much longer till the parade gets here???” because this is what you do! And we will sit back in delight and watch the eyes of our children light up as they are dazzled by the magic that is Mardi Gras.

Because, when we allow it, magic is exactly what Mardi Gras creates.

(Day 55–four blogs away from king cake!)

balance

Concentration: my inability, here, the issue I face most nights as I sit down in an attempt to write in fulfillment of the daily requirement of this challenge.

Evenings in my house are chaotic to say the least. Dinner needs cooking, kids have activities and events, homework demands supervision, and conversation amongst loved ones eager to share their days awaits. All a realization of the dreams I had during those agonizing years spent impatiently waiting for a child, thinking one may never arrive. I would trade none of it (even the nights where it feels like everything is a struggle…fights over which kid will bathe first…meltdowns over homework…frustration over the ever-growing mess). It is the warmth of my heart living outside of my body. It is what transformed this house into a sanctuary. It is the very vibrance of love and family. And it fills me with gratitude.

But it does make writing difficult.

In order not to relinquish some of the only time we are allotted each day together as a family, I attempt to write each night on the couch with the dog running across my lap, my kids and husband talking, and the tv on. Part of me loves that I am still able to think straight enough to write given these circumstances because for all of those months and years of vertigo, even a quiet space would have been an impossible writing environment. Just composing a single sentence that felt coherent in those days drained my energy supplies. So, I appreciate the challenge of these evenings of writing amid the ruckus. But I also know that the writing suffers because of it. I know that in a quiet room, when I am more awake and able to think clearly, my writing thrives and I am truly able to work on my craft.

That’s just not where I am in this moment, in this phase of my life. If I am going to write everyday, in this life that I have built with my family, this is how it is going to have to be. I will have to learn how elevate my writing despite being surrounded by movement and sound…all of the time…and not the movement and sound of a coffeeshop full of strangers–that is easy to tune out. Rather, the movement and sound of people I love intentionally vying for and deserving of my attention…anxiously waiting for me to wrap up the writing portion of my evening. I will have to learn to seek stillness in the madness, calm in the fury…a new discipline to strive toward. I will have to learn that while honoring this creative element of my self is vital and life-giving, I owe it to the people I love most to honor them as well.

Balance: still seeking this utopian quality for it will deliver me to a place of equal dedication to all that is important in sealing the shards of my spirit.

(Day 41! just under the wire!)

magic

There’s a magic that happens when a baby enters the world. An enchantment stirs inside of the hearts of those who, for months, have been anxiously awaiting the moment that tiny new life would pronounce its presence in person.

What never seems to allow itself into definition or explanation is that the depth of that love grows as the child does. I tell my kiddos everyday that, without fail, every time I think it is impossible to love them more, something inside of me stretches to lend a bit of extra space. And that is a true statement.

Today is one of those days. One of my boys turned ten (double digits…how?!) and the other opened with a leading role in the school play today. As I watch these boys grow into the world shaping the humans they will become, it is pure joy to witness the avenues they travel while seeking their passions. Whether soccer or the stage, watching each in his element swells my heart a bit more.

Not sure what I’ve ever done that warrants the treasure of these children, but it is one that I cherish and honor (even when it isn’t like tonight…even when it is hard…even when there is attitude…because that is all part of the job). And this job pays richly.

(Day 34!! It’s short and down to the wire but still got it in!)

reminiscent

A couple of years ago, I attended the Heinemann literacy retreat in Boothbay Harbor, Maine. We spent mornings in this idyllic environment filling pages of writers notebooks while working with Linda Rief. Really, those mornings earned and own space as beloved moments of time–moments that could never endure a precise recreation, for I will never be exactly as I was then. Yet, they live on inside of me nonetheless.

On one of those brilliant Maine mornings, I wrote the following piece. I’m not sure what made me think of it today, but suddenly I found myself possessed with the desire to seek out my notebook from that week and find this particular piece…and maybe nudge it and rework it a bit. A response to Katrina and the loss my family suffered in her fury, this piece testifies, I think, that even though lives move on and we find healing, solace, old wounds still open up every now and again, proving painful with their sting.

My mom and dad and sister and brother will probably read this piece and I worry that it will be too much (so maybe, stop reading here you guys…or if you continue, don’t say I didn’t warn you!). But I also don’t want to leave these thoughts out of the record of my heart, my life.

~~~~~~~~~

The table that got carried away by the flood knew stories, so it knew lives. Knew my childhood. My family–all of them: those that came before me, those that sat around it with me, whether for many years or for fewer than felt fair. It knew projects and homework and it knew me–the tiniest in the house charged with dusting its belly and legs—a job to keep little hands occupied and little me out of the way (that is until I deserted its secret dusty crevices in exchange for the tedium of picking parsley leaves in the kitchen).

It knew warmth. The center of our gathered hearts as we shared a meal, exchanged communion in conversation, offered up wishes of Thanksgiving or Merry Christmas or Happy Birthday or Congratulations–our most precious occasions. And it celebrated with us. Holding up our joy, taking in our laughter (or our tears), relishing it all. A bounty of food could only further adorn its beauty, a bounty of love surrounding it, effervescent. It became a touchstone, a symbol for family, for togetherness.

The table that got carried away by the flood also knew discord (all families really do). It stood strong in the midst of disagreements, teenage angst, parental concern…endured the occasion frustrated fist hammering down in order to punctuate a point…and it reverberated the echo as if in agreement. It knew grief too and absorbed the weight of loss as we attempted to endure and learn to live again.

But the saltwater of those tears could not prepare it for the deluge to come, for the sacrificial offering it would become. The table had withstood floodwaters before (though they merely tickled its toes), so it had remained confidently behind…on guard so to speak for all the life that house contained even with its people huddled together in some other house, in some other city just distant enough to escape danger (they were some of the lucky ones; they had a place to go). Yet, the enormous rush of water didn’t baptize to bring forth new life. No, these waters came in a hurry and took up residence only to depart weeks later leaving mold, stench and destruction in their wake.

Today, there are grandkids who sit around a different table (one with far less history) beside their parents, grandparents, cousins. Today, new conversations scintillate the air around a new table in a new-old house. Today, there are celebrations and arguments and joy and there is family and that abundance overwhelms, but the missing remain present as no one expected the lingering litany of loss.

The table that got carried away by the flood could not be replaced, though a stand in fills its vacancy. Memories only surface intermittently these days causing ephemeral tinges of longing for another chance to grace its antique sturdiness. These moment usher in longing and then gratitude, for life, health, the past, and the people that brought that table to life.

(Day 33–this one was a joy to write, though I don’t love the ending…it is a bit rushed, but so am I. I can return another day.)

comfort

So, you know it has been a hard day when I have a fridge full of healthy meal prepped food and I opt to make gluten free blueberry pancakes for dinner instead. I spent hours on Saturday and Sunday working in my kitchen so that I would not make quick unhealthy (read that: fun) choices during the week. Yet, here I am, on a Tuesday (that I have titled Second Monday) finding ways to justify my choice to make and eat blueberry pancakes for dinner instead: “Well, I mean all of that food will freeze so well and will make other weeks easier to prep for…Well, I mean, your jaw has been hurting and pancakes are so easy to eat (ignoring the fact that one of my healthy options was a pureed squash soup)…Well, I mean, you did have a terrible day…”

Evidently, based on my carry through with this pancake plan, I am a very convincing person. I also find myself wondering where the voice is inside of me that wants to be healthier, you know the one who is eternally frustrated over how hard it has been to reclaim fitness since the inner ear debacle devolved into 7 months of slow debilitation followed by surgery and several more months of recovery? I’m just thinking that voice comes from the same brain as the other one and should be pretty convincing too—right? So, where is it?

I feel it is probably important to note here that aside from poetry, one of my most consistent comforts in this life has been food. I’m sure there are healthier habits to have, but food has always been the warm fuzzy blanket to my cold winter’s day (if that even makes sense outside of my own head). This should come as no real surprise, though. I’m a New Orleans girl who was raised in a city and by a family where food is always a topic for discussion in the best possible way. At breakfast we are talking about what we will eat for lunch and at lunch we are mapping out dinner. Food has always been something to look forward to and to savor; a form of communion, as a meal shared with family or friends becomes an almost sacred encounter. Food has always been a bit of nostalgia for me (there is not a grilled cheese that I make today that doesn’t remind me of the grilled cheese sandwiches my mom made for me when I would come home from college). Food has always been a means of communication, of communicating love; standing next to my mom learning how to make her red beans because there was no way to write the recipe–it simply had to be witnessed and then enacted step by step.

When I got married, my husband’s grandmother, who has been my grandmother essentially for the last 22 years now, gave me a recipe book with all of her most prized recipes in it—handwritten. Now, she may have left out some of the secrets that make these recipes quintessentially hers, but that book is physical evidence to me of the importance of food in a family and its role in communicating love from one generation to the next. Every time I see those painstakingly handwritten recipes, I see her heart written across the pages. I see her desire to be remembered by the things she cooked and I think, you know, if people only remembered me for the things I cooked, I would really be pretty okay with that.

I mean, I’ve never been above using food to win someone’s heart or to brighten their day (I do, after all, keep a giant jar of seasonal Hershey’s Kisses in my office because I know if there is chocolate, students will stop by and say hello…and take some chocolate). I don’t think it is a coincidence that the man asked me out on our first date all those years ago on the same night I made him a batch of Rolo cookies (literally, dark chocolate cookie dough wrapped around a Rolo and baked so that the caramel melts in the middle–totally date worthy!). I don’t think it is a coincidence that my sister always felt like my sandwiches tasted better than hers because when someone else makes you food, it does taste better. You feel loved and cared for in the unselfish moment of the gift. And we gift each other food all of the time–when I had my surgery my sister and my mom nursed me back to health again with homemade deliciousness that took the sting out of bedrest away and only made me feel wrapped in warmth and affection.

So, yeah, I made blueberry pancakes for my dinner tonight. So what? They were delicious and my kids sat at the counter and cheered me on…I think in part because it meant they wouldn’t have to smell my lentil soup warming up, but also because they knew that small creature comfort, that small bit of self care, was a bit of grace I could extend to myself and I think there are worse examples to set.

And because a food poem seems appropriate, here you go!

Pot Roast by Mark Strand (See the excerpt below…but also, read the whole thing!)

“These days when there is little
to love or to praise
one could do worse
than yield
to the power of food.
So I bend

to inhale
the steam that rises
from my plate, and I think
of the first time
I tasted a roast
like this.”

(Day 10…done!)