There is a $5 Maclaren stroller sitting in my barn.
Early in yard sale season my partner and I were out. We drove through a subdivision not far from home and saw signs of life. “There,” I pointed toward a split level ranch with a minivan parked diagonally across the entrance. He turned, we parked the car, grabbed our still-hot coffee and ventured over.
I saw the stroller before I saw anything else. I walked over while glancing around – my condition was certainly not public knowledge and followed directly after an early loss. I was holding my joy gingerly and privately.
I didn’t see anyone I knew, and so made my move. “Max,” I said, “I want that.” He looked at the $5 sticker, ducked his bald head toward his shoulder in approval, and took out his wallet. We looked the stroller over before sealing the deal. He fiddled with the back latch and deemed it an easy fix. I unfolded a rain fly that looked as if it had never been used. A pack of tow-headed boys swirled around us, not minding the detritus of their childhoods on sale. A woman matching the boys came over taking her hands out of her money apron. “Ah,” she smiled. “We loved this.” I loved it, too. The boys looked – happy. As they talked and walked through the common stroller set up conundrum, I looked from the stroller to the contents of the driveway. I could see the trajectory of these boys’ lives unfolding. I imagined the red top was faded from games and vacations. The back latch bent from a quick stop maybe, the handles worn from trips to and from the neighbors – chasing siblings and company.
We paid and I grinned as I drove the stroller toward the car. Our first purchase – and a steal!
I parked the stroller in the barn, a patch of red reminding me that we would soon be 7. An auspicious number. I slept grew and kvetched about my restless legs and vomited. Until I didn’t.
Now, whenever I go into my barn I see two worn handles peeking out behind the couch and I’m not sure what to do. I planned to send that grand old Maclaren into retirement, but now? I washed and folded my much loved maternity shorts and packed them away in my hope chest with a book and the ultrasound pictures. I can justify not passing these on – no one needs bad luck maternity shorts – was an easy call. I can’t even fold up the stroller, much less pack it away. And I don’t really want anyone else to have it.
I know we are done now. We are surrounded with more love and fortune than most, and the only thing I am trying for is contentment. But for now, I think, the Maclaren stays.
You heard me say, yesterday, how I did not believe in so very many things: fate, true love, kismet. But just maybe something was at play today.
I have slept, eaten, and read well. I drank too much coffee and ate an enormous breakfast; I took a long, hot bath and fell asleep-with wet hair- in my bathrobe. I woke up at lunchtime and ventured into West Stockbridge for coffee. I finished some reading, had a lovely visit with Joel from the Cali-style mobile store which included a tour of the factory. I bought a felt puppy for Baby Fern. It was gorgeous, sunny and sparkly and clear and warm.
I drove by the Millay property at Steepletop and realized that I should hike today — storms are in the forecast for tomorrow. The property is situated off a three-ish mile dirt road.
I ditched the Subaru, threw on my backpack and hit the trail.
I had no idea what to expect.
These poetry placards line the trail.
I had no idea 1. How long the trail was or 2. That the grave sites were situated at the end of it. I have unrealistic expectations for a husband simply from reading about Eugen. He once said if his wife wrote one good poem a year, then he had done his job.
I wrote to a friend: “I am sitting in a family graveyard.” I sat for awhile. I gathered stones and stacked them next to others. I talked to myself, to the trees, to one very loud bird, and to Edna and Eugen.
I was passed by a young gentleman runner. He caught back up later and walked me to the end of the trail. He was a composer, one of the artists-in-residence at the Millay Colony for the Arts. More on that later.
I reached the lower parking lot and gathered my keys when I saw a man open the shed door. “Do you work here?” I asked him. He replied “yes,” and I asked permission to walk the house grounds. He smiled and showed me to the main office. Martha gave me a sticker so I could be official, and Michael, who I learned is the staff gardener, pointed me in the direction of the main house. Then he said “oh, I’ll show you some of the highlights.”
An hour later, we finished back at the main house.
The new caretaker was moving into the apartment Norma and Charlie Ellis (Millay’s sister and BIL) shared, and he and Michael talked as I prepared to get into my car. “Do you want to see it?” He asked, and I knew I was about to meet my new best friend or get murdered. I weighed my options and figured that if I had to go, this was a pretty spot to bite it in. My mother will be proud.
It was bright and warm, and I walked the same floors that Edna walked when she used the apartment to write in while her shed was being rebuilt. His excitement was palpable. He knew how special this place was.
I stayed awhile longer and we sat by the stream sharing Stories. This new caretaker, Prescott, had a lifetime of knowledge not just about the property, but the entire area. We acknowledged the rare gift of today, and of Millay’s spirit – connecting Maine and Steepletop yet again.
For myriad reasons, I needed a break. Some privacy. A solo ride.
Naturally, I decided to drive to New York to make this happen. We know I don’t do things the easy way.
While I did really need to get the fuck out of town, the most valid reason I needed to leave was to write a paper I had been saving to write during April break. Virginia Woolf famously said that “a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction;” and I can argue that this must happen in order for a woman to do, well, anything. I knew I would not accomplish anything surrounded by animals and laundry. I needed to escape.
I booked myself a room at The Inn at Green River in Hillsdale, New York for its free wi-fi and breakfast and its proximity to my main event: Edna St. Vincent Millay’s Austerlitz, NY home at Steepletop. Total home run. The innkeeper emailed me this morning to check in, and she met me at the door when I arrived (after an eerily easy and beautiful drive). The inn is settled in a little valley in the Berkshires. It’s early spring and the trees are just beginning to bud. It’s my favorite time. You can see the bones of the trees and the landscape but everything is softened by that smoky fuzz of budding limbs. Nature’s airbrush? Maybe. I can barely keep my eyes on the road, and I am completely enamored with this place. “No wonder she (Millay) moved here,” I said to myself as I drove back from dinner, “I want to move and I just arrived.”
After I settled in (washed my face and read in my underwear for an hour) I got dressed and ventured into town for dinner. Innkeeper Deb suggested Old Mill, a pub/bistro in Egremont, and since I do enjoy not having to make decisions for myself, I went with that. The drive into town was all hills and valleys and old homes and cows. I waved to them, as always.
I sat at the bar flanked by two older gentlemen, both engrossed in their phones. I was served quickly, olives and bread straws and a Sheffield Big Elm lager (delicious- I had two), and the place was obviously banging for a Wednesday night. I pulled my glasses and book out of my bag and settled in with the menu. I noticed a quotation at the bottom of the hand-written specials menu: “One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.” Virginia Woolf. I opened my book, a worn, blue, paperback copy of Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own and found the same passage on page 18.
I ordered a small plate for dinner knowing full well I didn’t want leftovers but I also wanted dessert. It was good, but oily for a grilled dish. What the eggplant lacked, though, was made right with strawberry shortcake and conversation.
Once the early dinner rush subsided, the bartender looked up and asked me what part of Maine I was from. We hit all requisite conversation pieces (fishing, weather) and got to the reason for my visit. I told her about my grad paper and my sort-of Millay pilgrimage and THAT is where it good good.
My bartender? Her grandmother was one of Millay’s roommates at Vassar – THE Charlotte (Charlie) Babcock mentioned in Nancy Milford’s biography of ESVM, Savage Beauty.
Now I am not a believer in kismet or fate or true love or destiny, but the whole situation practically shimmered. I half expected to ride home on a unicorn.
I’ve already finished outlining my paper. And here I am. Having a terrible time, drinking wine and talking to you while I sit by the fire.
It’s been a doozy, friends. One for the books. A year to remember. Interminable, exhausting, exhilarating, and joyful. But sweet hallelujah — the school year is OVER.
Have I told you this already? With my endless bitching and moaning and OHMYFREAKINGGODAMIREALLYSICKAGAIN? book slamming? Sorry. Really. No one likes a Crabby Patty, and I ended the year like a napless five-year-old with uncomfortable clothes. In the classroom I was all smiles and “These things happen, guys” when my students were concerned. In the office and at home, well, not so much smiling – a lot more napping and stomping and unremitting diarrhea. But you know what? These things happen.
A student of mine had a similar year; it seemed like they couldn’t catch a break between crisis and injuries and illness. I’d like to write a revisionist history where I handled my setbacks in the same way as my student. However, I didn’t, but I learned a lot.
Some chronic health issues have colored the last few months. While untimely, it has forced me to examine the ways in which I spend my time and energy.
And the dogs. My God The Dogs.
Sam is recovering from surgery to repair her cruciate ligament and meniscus. Everyone is saying “poor Sam” but you know who you should feel bad for? Her poor mom. Literally. Poor. She’s being spoiled and loved and well cared for. Her sister is pissed.
Sam has doggie rehab/physical therapy once a week. Consequently, Bella likes to terrorize her at least once a day. Now Bella looks like this as she goes to doggie daycare:
Then they can snuggle like the best friends (bahaha!) they are.
Oh, and we’re trying to keep the chickens and garden alive. What? Oh yeah. By ‘we’ I mean Matt. Obv.
So between illness and runaway chickens and injured or otherwise assholish dogs, I nonchalantly asked Matt if he would want to go to the beach with us this weekend. July is a hot, uncomfortable mess with Colby going between our house and with his dad. I desperately wanted to do something fun – with all of us. I was so surprised Matt agreed that I kept waiting for him to come up with an excuse not to go. I was okay taking the kids to the beach on my own – I always have been – but I was really hoping for his company.
We made arrangements for a friend to come along (lest Colby be stuck with the old farts all by himself), and I packed the car last night. I took sandwich orders: pb with fluff and nutella (x2), gluten-free pb and nutella (x1 and g.r.o.s.s.), pb with nutella and a banana (x1). I packed drinks and four tubes of sunblock and hats.
I had us in the car by 8 a.m. and we were off.
We drove and listened to the radio and barely heard a peep from the kids. Thank you teenaged sleepiness and Nintendo DS.
As I scrambled up some rocks, it dawned on me that we are still in the sweet spot of parenting. (I’m sure you’ve heard me say this already – and I’m sorry if you’re not there yet. I’m not trying to throw this in your poor, sleep-deprived and over-stimulated face. I’m just letting you know: Trust me. It gets better.) I was ahead of the kids, not directly behind or beside them. I could climb a bit, stand ahead, and know that they were coming along (instead of being convinced of their imminent deaths). Matt and I could carry on a conversation EVEN IF THEY WERE OUT OF EYESIGHT. I knew that they were okay.
I run anxious already, but it’s like I never knew how debilitating it was until the fabric of worry and doom and danger that had covered me all started to unravel. I think I lost a strand in the third grade when Colby could finally tie his shoes. Another when we entered into a new school community. Another with some honest conversation. Another here, another there, until WOMP – here I am.
We got home from super-awesome-beach-day a couple of hours ago. Not long after that, Matt left with the dogs and Colby left with his dad. Even a year ago – the sudden absence of all of my people (yes, dogs included) from my immediate reach would have sent me into a vortex of nothingness: where I couldn’t concentrate on anything less something catastrophic happened and I needed to be ready to run. But – here I am, sitting on my front steps with a glass of Pinot and talking to you!
I don’t know if THIS is the result of Colby’s independence or my, uh, maturity (does that make me sound geriatric?). I guess I hope it’s both.
So I spent the day in thanks. Thankful for the warm air that felt better than my heated blanket EVER will, thankful for the company of my husband who will swim in the cold, cold ocean with me, the soft breeze and the sound of the waves. Most of all, I was thankful for the opportunity to read AN ENTIRE SECTION of the weekend Times, on the beach, knowing that my kid was just a half a beach away, and he was just fine.
During my favorite yoga classes, the instructor asks us to set an intention for our practice. At the end we pause to be thankful for things like the time, money, and ability to be there.
It seems to me that this is the best way to begin and end anything. It could be as small as a dreary Monday, or as all-encompassing as parenthood.
I have yoga teacher training one full weekend of every month. This was my weekend. I’m sore from my intercostals to my gluteus minimus.
My house is dirtier than usual, and my parents took Colby to a soccer tournament (one which I really wanted to see). My intention, though, for this training is to learn and grow; breathe and think. I shrugged off the guilt of neglected domestic duty. I enjoyed my time, I explored the range of my ability, I learned a lot, and I spent time with good, like-minded people.
I also met this little lady:
And a few of her doggy friends.
I came home to see one of my own puppies walking around with a beet she fished out of the vegetable crate:
I let her keep it just because she was having so much fun and, well, because she’s cute. Eventually it looked like a mass homicide occurred and I had to take it away. Parts of her muzzle and paws are still pink.
I had a rowdy pizza date with my husband, friends, and their kids.
I came home tonight famished and exhausted, but I had been thinking about supper for approximately two hours prior to arriving. I wanted chard gratin, sweet potatoes, and deviled eggs. It took about an hour to get together, but it was worth the wait.
Here’s the tweaked swiss chard gratin recipe. It’s simpler and much, much better!
If you have a large dutch oven or oven-proof pot you can do this in one pan. Otherwise get out a large pot and grease a 9×12 pan. All instructions here are for an oven-proof dutch oven.
One to two pounds of swiss chard, cleaned and stalks removed. You can chop it or not. I just throw it all in the pan.
Milk or cream
Salt & Pepper
one tablespoon butter
whole grain mustard
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Heat a bit of olive oil in the pan or dutch oven. Saute chard until wilted and fragrant. While chard is cooking whisk mustard into milk. Take off heat and swirl a pat or two of butter through the greens. Sprinkle a couple of tablespoons of flour over the greens and add milk or cream. I use about one cup of milk to two pounds of chard. It depends on how saucy you want your gratin. Salt, pepper, and stir. Add a bunch of grated parmesan (1/2-1 cup) and stir.
If using an oven-proof dutch oven or pot, place the entire thing in the oven. If not, pour mixture into a greased baking dish. Place in oven for 30-40 minutes. It’s done when it’s bubbly, brown and crisp on the top. At best, this gratin has a crunchy top, deeply roasted flavor, and tender texture. It’s comfort food for grown ups.
So I’m ending my practice for today with thanks. Thanks for the opportunity and support to take part in the training, thanks for a still-rockin’ garden to create supper with, and thanks for a day off tomorrow.
We’ve all been sick, one after the other, and there is no end in sight. I won’t be surprised if our dogs start sneezing and leaving dirty tissues in the couch cushions.
A trip to Southern Maine for a travel soccer game was the perfect excuse to get away without exerting too much physical or mental energy.
Colby and I decided to make a day of it. We woke early Sunday morning, packed picnic lunches and hit the road. We listened to the first 1/3 of Atul Gawande’s Better (I had read it and thought Colby would like it – I was right for once!) and watching the sunshine peek through the fog as we drove.
We hit Freeport by 10 a.m. and made our first stop at a real donut shop.
I thought Colby was finally old enough to appreciate the Maine mecca of shopping, and I was correct. We had a day of sunshine, street music, good conversation and great deals.
We wrapped up our shopping just in time to head further south. It only took twenty minutes to get to the field. We were starstruck with the beautiful facility until I realized the portable toilets were not quite so sparkling (I saw cleaner ones at a Phish show, and that’s saying something).
We met up with my parents in Augusta for burgers and milkshakes (and a quick trip to Dick’s for a new pair of soccer socks).
While we were there we received a text from my husband: “guess what I bought at a yard sale for $5”. With him, you never know, so I asked for a clue. He sent this picture.
It’s a friggin chicken plucker. A chicken plucker. Apparently “she needs some work”.
It was a beautiful late-September day, even if I did return home to find a chicken plucker in the driveway. Colby and I both had a relapse (fevers, general yuck, etc.) today, and are wishing for a nice, germ-free stretch in the near future.
I haven’t worn pants all week. Also, I told my friend’s daughter that the best thing about running shorts was that the underwear are built in, and much more comfy than regular undies. She looked at me like maybe it is not socially acceptable to tell people that. Whoops.
If I were a cartoon character my name would be Ms. Webb No Pants.
It’s no pants week because I said so. In a few days I will be forced to don teacher clothes. They are itchy and pinchy and no fun. My abdomen and thighs are enjoying their last week of freedom.