a little rain

Today the rain has come back again. Spring is nearly over.

And as I write, Eldest is flying home, which is not home here where I live, but home there where she lives now, where she has an exciting internship, money to earn, friends to make, things to learn.  This delights her, this new life opening.  And delights me, too, though with twinges.

Two months more and then summer will be nearly over.

Two months and then we can touch back together again, for a brief week together right before Eldest returns again to her real life at college, before Middlest takes wing for her new real life at college. For a week, two months from now, my chicks will all be together in one place.

Cluck, cluck.

I wish myself just that contented, though I know I’ll be distracted then, as I have been now, by the details of travel and daily meals and my own inner weather and only the morning after our various dispersals will I fully realize what is gone.

I don’t want to endure this summer living only for a brief week between the end of Eldest’s summer internship at one university and her return to her regular lab at her own university.  I don’t want to hold my breath gasping for just one brief week between Middlest’s girlhood here at home and the rest of her amazing life out in the world.  One week, even shorter than this past re-gathering, is too short a time to live a whole summer in. Too short a time to live in.  My life will not be made up of these brief weeks, but broken by them.

But why choose such a sad verb? 

Say rather, my life will be punctuated thus, with all that promised variety of orthography (:,.!?!), say rather enlarged, as if my territories, my scope for imagination were stretching wider, or enriched, so that at least my breakfast bowl will be even more full of natural goodness and crunchy sweetness than ever.

Oh, we’ve had such sun this May, everything so very green, with blooms bursting out all at once everywhere.

The sound of the rain is perfect now. Repetitive, like this plangent plaint I keep playing for you.  How I miss my daughters.  How I am so happy for them, so happy with them — even when that means without them.

The rain is the same as it’s always been, there in the background all the years of their growing up.  The price we pay for the intensity of green we live in.

I remember it even rained the days each of these lovely young women were born.  Rainy Thursdays, both of them, born under the sign of thunder. With far to go.

“We shouldn’t have worked so hard at enjoying them,” I said (but I was lying) while last evening Fritz and I watched these girls who are not girls any longer.  “Then we could just smack our hands together and give out big gusty sighs of relief that we’d finally got them off our hands.”

They were working together last evening, making matching family T-shirts. We all made them.  Only Fritz’ turned out completely satisfactory.

But YoungSon wore his today to school.  I’ll use mine for gardening, if I wear it at all.  Though I don’t need a shirt to remind me of anything that has happened here.

Only a little rain.


taking pictures 2011 – May “Look Quite Lovely”

Here’s number eight in the ongoing series of Best Picture of the month:  October 2010, November 2010, December 2010, January 2011, February 2011, March 2011, April 2011, and . . . (are you surprised?) . . .

May 2011 – “Look Quite Lovely”

May was full of math and mud — most photos just document the progress of the new path and none of those made it to a blog post.

Only a few even put up on why eye . . .  :   one of my favorites: “Still Sew” with its nice dappling of light and memories of my grandma.  And I had fun with details of vintage clothes.

Even better are some of people in vintage clothes who are “Channeling Audrey” and “Look Quite Lovely“.  And some very dear birthday photos.  (Or do I mean photos of a very dear birthday?)

the care and keeping of daughters: 12 secrets

I find I do after all have something to say about raising daughters.

There’s a risk — setting myself up as an expert when I am only a dedicated amateur.  I love more than I know.  And I really don’t know much except that I am over-brimmingly satisfied with the women my daughters have grown/ are growing to be.

And I am a little worn, a little weary lately, watching some mothers and others stupidly hating on the beautiful young teenage women they have under their care.  And like one of my personal heroes, Josephine Grey Butler, a Victorian-era activist for down-trodden women, “I feel as if I must go out into the streets and cry aloud, or my heart will break.”

So, to the years of younger mothers who have come to me, privately, quietly, asking what the secret is to having great daughters — here it is at last — the definitive answer.

Such as it is, because of course, you don’t have to believe a word I say.  But why not give it a try?  Why not see if it doesn’t work better for you?

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How to Raise Great Women 

  1. Remember always that you are not in charge of the life your remarkable daughter is going to live.  The moment she takes her first breath of air, she is a separate body from yours.  She is a separate mind and a separate heart.  Respect the girl and woman that she is, separate from your own needs.
  2. Be generous with your attention.
  3. Be generous with your gratitude for her, to her, about her  — and for, to and about anyone who blesses her life.
  4. Remember your main job is to keep her safe and healthy — in every sense of the word — and that your main goal is to more and more pass that job on to her.  This is where you lay down the guidelines — go to sleep before 11, don’t play in the street, eat a green veg daily, lighten up, do your homework, get some fresh air, dress like you respect yourself, stand up to bullies, make your own phone calls, pray, try again, avoid boys who make belittling remarks no matter how cute they may be — these are the things you model, that you expect, that you insist on while you can.
  5. Start young: your influence will be limited by her trust in you — which you must increasingly work to deserve.  And you will continue to earn her respect by the sincerity with which you live your lessons yourself, by the genuineness of your affection for her and by the time you spend with her.  Of course, your influence will also be limited by her own quirks and needs, and thank goodness, by  her own good sense.
  6. Protect your daughter’s emotional safety and physical health from your own attack, above all.  Obviously, you would not hit her or coerce her ever — also do not speak disparagingly of her in front of others, do not roll your eyes behind her back.  Don’t shame her in front of her friends. Don’t shame her in front of your friends.  Just don’t.  Don’t tell her secrets.  Don’t take out your own insecurities on her.  Don’t assume she isn’t listening.
  7. Tell her the truth.
  8. Tell her you love her.  But only if you do.  And if you don’t — what in the world do you think you are doing?
  9. Be silly together.
  10. Listen to her.  Admit she is right.  Applaud her successes.  (Make sure they’re her successes, not yours.)  Allow her to fail.
  11. Include her in your own day-to-day.  Work beside her. Share your dreams.  Talk to her about what matters to you.
  12. You want your daughter to grow beyond you.  You want her to be smarter than you are, prettier than you, braver, stronger, luckier.  Lucky you, you don’t have to compete to matter in this story.  You don’t have to jostle for position with her, or struggle to cut her down to size.  You are already her mother (or father or teacher) and so you have an important place without trying to take her spot or knock her down a notch or push her out of the limelight.  You are privileged to bask in the light that is this unique human being.  Don’t resist that privilege.

more than the heart can hold

It’s 5:30 in the morning and I can’t sleep any longer.

I am not worried.  I am not sad.

I’m just too happy.

I have nothing in particular to feel so glad about.  Not any luckier today that most days.  Yesterday Eldest and I biked six miles at 6 a.m. to sort produce for the co-op.  The roads were almost quiet.  The air as fresh as you would expect dawn to be.  It was cold enough at first I was glad to have my gloves.

We arrived in good time, Eldest coasting in right after me.  Having shed gloves and my long sleeves, I was already almost warm.  And it was not yet 6:30.

The brains (and will) behind the co-op met us at her front door.  “Oh, good for you, coming on bike all this way.”

As the sun rose, the room of fresh vegetables — piled up everywhere in boxes and crates — filled up with light.  Light gleamed off the thick rounded rinds of watermelon. Picked out the ruffled folds of salad greens.  We breathed in ripe peaches and tomato vines, basil, dill and tarragon.

The plastic bins for each household began to glow as the light poured in the windows, as the fruits and vegetables piled up inside each bin waiting to go out and feed its one of forty or more families.

By midmorning we were already done.

Eldest and I said our good-byes to the other volunteers and the co-op director, standing in the doorway talking Christmas memories, recipes and cousin’s weddings.

On our way out we met the strawberries we’d been waiting for coming up the walk in a stack of flats — bright and gleaming red in their greeny-blue cardboard pints — borne in on the flannel-plaid shoulder of the young woman in braided pigtails who grew them.  The Great Northwest personified.

The sun was already hot and bright as we pedaled away.

We climbed the hill back into town just in time to see a gray-haired lady sitting at the bus stop outside the pharmacy, beneath a silken embroidered parasol with her ankles crossed.  She gazed out the bus shelter’s windows as at a southern seashore.

I want to take a picture of this perfection, but the bus approaches faster than our bikes.  She is already on her feet.  “Well, you’ll have to be quick about it.  I’ve gotta get on this bus.”  Her voice is gruff and grudging.

But she holds the parasol out for me to get a picture of its delicate embroidery.

Then pushes her way on board.

We rode home past August fields newly mown, end-of-season vegetable gardens and homey-looking lines of drying laundry.

It was not yet noon.

There was work to be done after that. But in the evening — Eldest off earning her way for her fast-approaching return to college,  Fritz on the phone to India talking code and tolerances and looming deadlines — Middlest and Young and I piled up on my big bed to watch a movie Middlest has been wanting to see.  The Adjustment Bureau.

“It’s supposed to be extravagantly silly and charming with a dopey ending that asks deep questions about life and has strong chemistry between the romantic leads and a whimsical sci-fi twist.”  We agreed this sounded just like our kind of flick.

We were not disappointed.  The plot rushes forward, then twists.  The dialog sparkles.

We settle in against big red pillows intended just for this purpose, blue flower-petal bowls of chocolate ice cream tucked up beneath our chins.  Spumoni, Peanut Butter Moose Tracks,  Ben and Jerry’s S’mores. We compare and contrast flavors.   We laugh.  Emily Blunt is lovely and tough.  Matt Damon is stubborn and charming.  Anthony Mackie is brilliantly weary and intense in the very same moment.

We moan at impending disaster.  We fast-forward through the steamy bit.  We cheer the heroes.  We give them all sorts of good advice.  Which they, satisfyingly, rarely follow.

“What a well-plotted plot,” I say covetously.

“Look at that amazing shot,” Middlest concurs.

“This is definitely my top ten,” says Young.  “It’s up there with Inception.”

YoungSon’s Top 10 Movies of All Time hoosiers

  1. Hoosiers
  2. Remember the Titans
  3. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
  4. How to Train Your Dragon
  5. Blind Side
  6. Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark
  7. Inception
  8. Apollo 13
  9. The Adjustment Bureau
  10. Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow

“Definitely my top ten” says Middlest.

“Oh, mine, too,” says I.

So when the movie was over, we each had to make our own personal lists of Top 10.  We debate how some movies are completely enjoyable entertainments — like Avatar or Breakfast at Tiffany’s —

Top 30 Entertainments 

  1. Princess Bride
  2. Bride and Prejudice
  3. Roman Holiday
  4. Little Women
  5. Henry V
  6. Much Ado about Nothing
  7. Sense and Sensibility
  8. You’ve Got Mail
  9. His Girl Friday
  10. Cinderella (Rodgers &  Hammerstein, with Brandee)
  11. Ramona and Beezus
  12. National Treasure
  13. Breakfast at Tiffany’s
  14. Sabrina (both Audrey Hepburn & Julia Ormond)
  15. First Knight
  16. Despicable Me
  17. Napoleon Dynamite
  18. The Incredibles
  19. Narnia
  20. Meet the Robinsons
  21. Avatar
  22. Fantastic Four
  23. Star Wars (original  3)
  24. Phantom of the Opera
  25. Room with a View
  26. Howard’s End
  27. Persuasion
  28. Notting Hill
  29. The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill . . . and Came Down a Mountain
  30. Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam (Straight from the Heart)

“How about The Story of the Weeping Camel?” I ask.

I didn’t like that one,” says Middlest.

“Didn’t you? Maybe you have to be the parent to get that one.”


But other movies  – the ones that make our personal Top 10 . . .

“They’re more true.”

“I know.  It’s like you recognize them somehow even when they’re unbelievable.”

“Like they echo in that cave inside you. You know?”

Middlest’s Top 10 Movies of All TimeWit

  1. Inception
  2. The Adjustment Bureau
  3. Pride and Prejudice (with Keira Knightley)
  4. Wit
  5. The Princess and the Frog
  6. The Young Victoria
  7. Apollo 13
  8. My Fair Lady
  9. Lagaan
  10. Dear Frankie

We debate which films can be included?  “Only real movies.  That came out in theaters.”  Which disqualifies Wives and Daughters for me and Gilligan’s Island reruns for Young.

“Can I count the Julia parts of Julie and Julia?” I ask.

“No,” says Middlest.  “All or nothing.”

Emma J’s Top 10 Movies of All Time

  1. The Adjustment Bureau
  2. The Young Victoria
  3. The Fugitive
  4. Dear Frankie
  5. Elephant Man
  6. Amazing Grace
  7. It Happened One Night
  8. Kandukondain Kandukondain (I Have Found It)
  9. Fiddler on the Roof
  10. Himmel über Berlin (Wings of Desire)

“Those are all good ones,”  we said, looking at each other’s lists.

“Good one,” says Middlest with Steve Martin’s psuedo-French Pink Panther accent.  It is already late and everything makes us laugh.

So maybe it’s the after-buzz of a good movie I’m feeling this morning.

This sense that there’s more joy in this world than my heart can hold.

Maybe it’s the chocolate ice cream.

Or maybe it’s true.

Because this is a day the happiness lasts all day.

Modulating a little bittersweetly later on as I watch Middlest getting ready to leave — just for the evening.   She’ll be back before 10.  We have so much time still.

My heart overflowing only just a little bit when, after she leaves, I find a bird fighting the wrong side of the kitchen window, scrabbling at the glass, trying to get free.

I catch it in my hands and YoungSon comes to see.

And then I let it go.

It flutters, is gone.

The kitchen and the garden outside the open window are just as quiet as you’d expect an early summer evening to be.

little blisses

Last evening Eldest and I cycled six miles to the neighboring town to pick up the 3 lbs. of heirloom tomatoes accidentally left out of my box at the organic co-op.

In that sentence are several of the things that make this place I live the place for me.

It was a beautiful evening.

I love how biking recreates historic distances.  When my grandparents were young and newly married and needed to go to market for more than they grew or raised themselves, for more than they could find in the creaky-wooden-floored, jingly-bell-on-a-spring-over-the-door General Store in their tiny town, they used to drive buckboard and horses from their town through a neighboring town into the market town early in the morning, come back at night.  They used to tell me this and I would wonder at how far things were in the olden days.

Now when we visit the same house they lived in and need to shop, the General Store is gone.  The stores are still in the same market town,  but now it’s just a zip-zip straight shot on the new highway over the hills by car.  A route we often end up back-and-forthing several times a day.

When I ride that distance by bike though, I plan my trip better — because I’ll only do it once.  I take the old road and remember my grandparents’ stories as the view curves around desert stretches and green irrigated fields and each town reveals itself for a long distance, snuggled into its carefully tended trees, beneath the blue mountains ringing around on every side.

The hills here in my town are greener and here towns are marked out by the clearing of trees instead of their carefully planted, conscientiously watered sprouting up.  But I felt the same magic time-travel last evening, biking my way through the history of these two riverside towns – along the basalt cliffs above the port that was once the focus of town, through the forest that has been logged and regrown, past old farms and pastures of peaceful white-spotted cows.

By bike, each town is sufficiently separated to be its own place.  On a bike, the distances between towns becomes more than the blip-blip blur it is in the car — towns become more than refueling nodes connected by a traffic stream.  Towns become part of a larger landscape, part of the forest, part of the shore.  That’s one thing I love about riding a bike.

It was Eldest’s first ride since her crash, her doctor having proclaimed her broken bone sufficiently “sticky” to hold itself together now and safe to resume her usual activities.  Behind me she kept exclaiming, It feels so good to be back on a bike. Oh, it’s so beautiful. 

I myself had felt the familiar surprise at the pleasure the wind brings brushing over my arms and legs.  I was thinking as we rode home how glad, how good it is to have my life made up of beads of time like this one, how when I get old and sick in bed I hope I can relive these rides.

But I can never remember how it feels to ride when I’m not riding.  A day or two later and I’ve forgotten exactly what it’s like – I remember I liked it, I remember it took some effort.  I have to get back on the bike and then I’m always sweetly surprised at the excitement that is strength glowing in the muscles of my legs as the road angles upward, the shiver of pleasure passing from sun into shadow into sun, the full and sweet peace of meadow air filling my lungs.

Traveling quiet enough to hear the last song of the birds, the click and whir of insects.  Traveling slow enough to fill the dark cerebral cavities with the glow of light through leaves, the brave brightness bouncing from a field of dry grasses.

And when we get home, local-grown heirloom tomatoes that grew round and ripe, full of spicy tang, in that same bird and insect song, soaking up that same light.

The Bike Report: Breaking News

We hoped the news would be there was no breakage.

We hoped the headline for this year’s Seattle-to-Portland for Eldest would be

May Look like Cream-Puff, but One Tough Cookie

when she took a spill (actually, when she endo’ed which is serious-biker-speak for back-tire-lifting-and-ejecting-rider-over-handle-bars) at the 100-mile half-mark, and then went on to bike another 100 miles to the finish line.

Two hundred miles in one day is impressive enough to stand alone as newsworthy–speaking as one who has never topped a century.  Amazing, too, the exhilaration she comes wheeling in with – not prostrated and dull-eyed with exhaustion but rejoicing like the strong woman that she is.

However, and sadly, to cut to the chase, or rather the crash: her arm is broken, after all.  Not badly: a radial-head fracture with minimal displacement. But still this means a cast for two months and no more biking this summer for Eldest, “Which is a bummer.  Biking’s my thing!”

No fun to be grounded, her right wing clipped (not only no more biking – no more swimming, no more driving, no more guitar, no more piano or typing without difficulty, no more chopping veg for cookery, no more kneading bread, no more trench-digging, house painting, or lucrative college-expense-defrayment opportunities).  Still she insists, “But I don’t regret it.  It was a great ride.”

Because there is a risk inherent in biking – especially at such high speeds, travelling so closely packed.  Fritz has ridden this ride for thirteen years without mishap, Eldest plans to ride it many many times in the future, but as in anything, there is always a risk.

Nothing, though, like the certain risk of the expensive, painful, lingering deaths that wait at the end of a life spent immobile, stuck in front of our culture’s many screens, popping high-fructose morsels and never moving a muscle.

We tell ourselves this, Fritz and I, giving thanks for minimal displacement rather than dwelling on what might have been (broken teeth, concussion), rather than second-guessing if-onlies or eating our hearts out in anger at whoever left a chunk of concrete larger than a loaf of bread directly in the path.

Reminding ourselves all we can ever safely hope for our children is that their life will be a great ride, with no lasting regrets, no matter how they endo.


“But you’re nay-saying my dream,” she says when her dad puts the kibosh on saving up for a VW bus.

“Hippie van,” she says.

“Death trap,” he says.

“But I’ll drive 10 miles under the speed limit,” she says.

“It’s everyone else on the road I worry about,” he says.

“I’ll become an activist!,” she says, “for hippie van safety lanes!”