Necessary Fun

Goodbye, 31. I will not miss you when you leave tomorrow.

To be frank, you were kind of an asshole. It’s not your fault, really. I know that. But the past year was long, and while clicking over to another number in my age obviously doesn’t guarantee anything, there is a certain relief in turning the page on everything that happened. Too much sickness. Too much anxiety. Too much cancer. Too much death. Just…too much.

I’ve always been the kind of person who likes to throw a party. I love cooking for people (I get that from my mom who is a beautiful cook), and have ever since I learned to put together simple recipes. In college there were friends who would just randomly show up at our apartment if they thought I was home and ask me to feed them something. The Jewish ladies at the preschool where I worked before E was born used to call me a “balabusta”.

So, it’s not a new thing in my life to be gathering groups of people together. What’s new is how it feels now. Until the past year, I mostly loved having people around just for the joy of it. A couple of us would decide to do something and invite whomever we could think of who would enjoy that thing and our company. Even if it was just taking pictures of each other in silly poses (we used to call it “performance sculpture”) in the flower section at Walmart, we knew how to have a good time.

The past year, the push to gather people together has taken on an aspect of needing to huddle together for a bit in a storm. Instead of just being so taken up with the fun of things that I can’t help but invite people along, I find myself going into a gathering thinking of how much every single person I know is dealing with. The First World does a tolerable job for a while of disguising that fact that life is hard. But all the smartphone apps in the Google Store can’t disguise the fact that people get cancer. They have miscarriages. Marriages are threatened. People need transplants, or they die suddenly of heart attacks or strokes. They have crises of faith and of identity.

And I’m continually struck by how brave it is to come, with all of your Stuff, to be with others. I know how much courage that can take sometimes, because even extroverts get overrun by their thoughts sometimes (contrary to what you’ll read on some of the more absurd “23 signs you’re an introvert” Facebook lists–but I digress).

So we gather. We invite a few friends so that all the pressure isn’t on one person to Show Up. We laugh, we cry, sometimes we talk about our Stuff, sometimes we talk about the price of tomatoes at the market or how to keep our kids from pooping on the carpet so much during potty training. And it’s fun. The fact that people Have Stuff doesn’t diminish my enjoyment of their company, but informs and enriches it. To be human is to Have Stuff (sometimes this is called “crazy”); to have a really great friend is to have a sufficiently safe space to show enough of your crazy that maybe you can eventually let a bit of it go.

Life is hard and confusing, and we are all doing our best. But in doing life together, the group lends a sense of respite, strength, and safety that can help prepare us to face what we must.

It’s fun, I promise. But Important Fun. Necessary Fun.

 

“…I was sent back…until my task is done. And I lay upon the mountain-top. The tower behind was crumbled into dust, the window gone; the ruined stair was choked with burned and broken stone. I was alone, forgotten, without escape  upon the hard horn of the world. There I lay, staring upward, while the stars wheeled over, and each day was as long as a life-age of the earth. Faint to my ears came the gathered rumour of all lands: the springing and the dying, the song and the weeping, and the slow everlasting groan of overburdened stone. And so at the last Gwaihir the Windlord found me again, and he took me up and bore me away….” 

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Breastfeeding as Disgusting, But OK (or, On Letting Other People Keep Their Stuff)

We went to a family party with my husband’s family this weekend. It was super fun. There was delicious pizza on the grill, fun drinks, and most importantly, fun people.

I love that this big noisy Slovenian family I’ve married into gets together and has fun. And they pull other people in, too. One of J’s cousins married someone who has a beautiful firecracker of a Croatian mama. She’s fantastic. Her name is Vesna (because I think maybe if I tried to shorten it to an initial, even on the internet, she would know and maybe I’d hear about it). We talk about canning, about which local farms we go to to get the best blueberries, peppers, and apples. We talk about childbirth and momming and chemicals in our food. She’s so interesting.

This weekend, at the July 4th party, I got to have this conversation with Vesna:

V: I made this one. It has flour, organic sugar from Costco, eggs, and butter. It’s good!

K: I believe you! I think I’m going to try some, even though I don’t really eat butter.

V: Why you don’t eat butter? It’s good for you.

K: I agree, usually, but S has a milk protein allergy and he gets sick. He’s still nursing, so I have to avoid it too.

V: He’s still nursing? FROM YOUR BREASTS? That’s disgusting!

K: HA! Wait, aren’t you from Europe?

V: Yes! Over there they do it until like age seven! It’s disgusting!

K: Well, we really like it, and it’s really good for him. We all got the flu a few months ago and he didn’t get it. And every time we’re all puking he’s just fine. It’s awesome.

V: Oh….huh.

K: *shrug*

V: Well, does he eat any solid food?

K: Yes definitely! Breastfeeding a 3 year old is not like nursing a newborn. He only nurses about once every day or two.

V: Well, that’s ok then.

K: Cool, thanks. Hey! This IS delicious!

 

If I had chosen to think differently about what she was saying to me (in particular about how much of it actually belonged to me and should direct my actions), I might not have felt like that conversation went very well. More importantly, if I was reacting from a place of defensiveness, it likely would not have gone very well. But as it stands, I think it was kind of hilarious and I look forward to talking to her about it again at some future family gathering.

 

Fresh Camp Cleveland

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These are my friends, Doc and Anne. They have lived in a renovated (mostly with their and their friends’ hands) home in Glenville near Case (a couple of neighborhoods away from us in Cleveland Heights) for about 8 years now, and raise two kids there.

 

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This is their son M, pictured hiding under a table with our daughter a couple of years ago. They were not as good at hiding as they thought they were.

 

Doc has consistently built up relationships and neighborhood investment since making the Glenville community his home. The Harrills are a great example of how people can and are investing in Cleveland in tangible and meaningful ways. With a lot of intentionality and hard work this city is being reclaimed from empty lots to community gardens; instead of to scatter and live in fear, the response is becoming to gather, connect, and support.

Our family has engaged financially and with our time and elbow grease in what Doc and Anne are doing before and we’ve always been glad we get to participate a little bit sometimes in the important work they are doing. And now they are at a point where the community has been asking them to expand what they have successfully done in summers past to be a year-long program. So many great possibilities if the kickstarter gets funded, but they only have a few days left!

Please consider investing, sharing, etc. if this seems to you like something Cleveland benefits from and should have more of (hint: this is something Cleveland benefits from and should have more of). I’d recommend that you at least find and watch the ReFresh video available on the kickstarter page because it captures something really important about a growing movement in the city of Cleveland.

I don’t need to say too much more about it because they said it well themselves in the video(s). Check it out.

Homemade Mondays: Peppermint Essential Oil for Headaches

OK, so this isn’t a recipe. But I’m including it because I have found this remedy to be so very useful so many times. My friend C** first suggested using Peppermint EO as an “Icy Hot” kind of pain reliever, and I use it very often. It has enough of an analgesic effect that often I can get rid of headaches without taking Ibuprofen or Acetaminophen. Most recently tonight (thus the late post).

Ingredients:

One to a few drops of good quality peppermint essential oil*

Carrier oil such as coconut, olive, jojoba, almond, etc. if that’s your thing*

 

Method:

Rub a few drops of peppermint right where the muscle tension seems to be. After a couple of minutes the oil will work its way in, and there should be a release of tension and pain.

 

*There’s a lot (and I mean a LOT) of disagreement on the internet about what’s acceptable as far as essential oils go. Sometimes the really cheap oils are adulterated or otherwise contaminated, and sometimes people tout their oils as ‘theraputic grade’ meaning safe to ingest. Sometimes people say you should never ingest essential oils as one drop of peppermint eo is as potent as 70 cups of peppermint tea, and sometimes people ingest several drops of oil per day and attribute their good health to that very practice. I don’t know about that, but you should err on the side of caution and do whatever is comfortable for you. The ‘safest’ bet is to dilute oils by mixing them into a few drop of another neutral oil before putting them on your skin. But you’re smart. I trust you to google all of that stuff.

 

**”C” is actually my friend Cristin of Kivuli Massage Therapy (website here) who I can not recommend highly enough. As a massage therapist, as a friend, and just generally as an intentional human in the world. <3

Homemade Mondays: Almond Hummus

I’ve been wanting to try this one for a while. The first person to actually make it was my friend JJ; hers was quite different than mine though. It was milder, and had a slightly sweet flavor. There is a lot of room for variability, and it seems that almond pulp can be used interchangeably in many chickpea or other bean dip recipes. If you find something amazing, please share with the rest of us!

The recipe I’ll include here just tastes like hummus. Nothing too exciting; unless using up food like almond milk leftovers that would otherwise go to waste is exciting to you (it is very exciting to me), or unless soaking nuts, seeds, and grains is your thing because of phytic acid or something. Or unless you just like really good hummus. Because it is really good. This recipe also works really well with the pulp from cashew milk.

 

Almond Hummus

Ingredients:

1-1/2 to 2 c almond milk pulp

1/4 c olive oil

1/4 to 1/3 c tahini

1/4 c lemon juice

2-4 cloves garlic

1 tsp salt

 

Method:

Combine all ingredients in food processor. Turn it on, set a timer for 4 minutes, and walk away. Leaving it in there long enough is definitely key to getting the graininess of the almond pulp to go away. Taste and adjust seasonings if necessary. Lemon will brighten up the flavor, tahini and olive oil will make it creamier, salt will bring all the flavors together. Serve plain or drizzled with olive oil and spices, with veggies, pretzels, crackers, etc.

 

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The Understandable and Unfathomable Weirdness of Grief

When our family arrived home Saturday from saying a goodbye I will not share about here, both of us parents were dealing with a toddler tantrum and E wandered in the back yard, thinking. She met up with her friend A (our back yard neighbor, who goes to Fairfax Elementary and just graduated kindergarten with Rebecca Meyer). This is approximately how their conversation was recounted to me later:

E: I’m feeling sad.

A: Why?

E: Because I just saw Becca, and said bye to her. Because she’s dying.

A: What? No. That’s not true. I think you’re lying.

E: I think I can’t be your friend any more until you’re like a grown-up or something. I can clearly imagine her spreading her fingers in the air as she said this.

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We went down the street for a little while. When we got back, the neighbor girls were out in their back yard playing in the sprinkler. E went back to say hi, and came running in to tell me she’d been invited to go run in the sprinkler and that A’s mom wanted to talk to me. N told me over the fence what the girls had said to each other, and that afterward A ran in and said, “MOM! E says we’re not friends anymore, and that Becca is dying, and WHAT?”

So they had to have that conversation. I don’t blame N for not telling her daughter, and I really admire how she handled being thrown into the deep end. There is just no palatable way to tell your 6 year old that the friend they have seen every day at school or known since they were born is dying. That is an awful conversation I don’t wish on anyone, and the only honest way to make it remotely less awful for a child is to not pretend it isn’t horrific; that, and to let them know that you as their grown-up are there for them and with them. Sometimes it’s ok to cry in front of your kids.

I asked E about the conversation between the girls and said, “I feel like what you meant might have been that you couldn’t talk to A about Becca, because she wasn’t understanding what you were saying. Does that sound right?”

“Yes. That is what I meant.”

“Ok, you might just want to let her know that, because I think that whole conversation was pretty upsetting for your friend. I don’t think you did anything wrong, but it might be good to just be clear about what you meant.”

So she did.

I know many grown-ups who are not always so clear about what they mean, or so able to verbalize what they need. Sometimes I am one of them.

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She doesn’t bring Becca up all the time. Several times a day for the past week, since we found out this was imminent, but I know she is thinking about it almost all the time. Dropping a piece of food on the floor is enough to make her throw herself onto the couch in tears. Wearing the wrong shoes by mistake will turn her into a sidewalk-squatting, limping mess (unless I am not looking and she is walking behind me). She whined and did not want to get ready for ballet class today. The last class of the year. I almost let her ditch it, because the truth is I didn’t really want to go either. Becca happened to be signed up for the class too. Before she got sick. Before any of this happened, today was supposed to be their last ballet class together, except that because of everything that happened, Becca never attended a single class. And instead of going next door to celebrate at Sasa after it was over tonight, we will talk about her at bedtime and cry and prepare for her funeral on Thursday. I really didn’t want to go to ballet today. But we went. We showed up. I didn’t chat very convincingly with the other moms there, but I decided to be ok with that (even on my best days I’m not that great at small talk anyway). I am cutting E a lot of extra slack these days, and trying to keep some left over for myself.

Her feelings are her own and she is allowed them. All of them. Even if she does end up wiping her tears and her nose on my skirt sometimes.

~~~~~~

Tattoo(s)!

I got a tattoo.

Well, two actually.

I’m not having a third-life crisis, I swear. At least, I don’t think I am.

At this moment in my life, I need to be reminded over and over again that I come from somewhere, that where I come from matters, and that as Someone who Comes from Somewhere I have a responsibility about how I choose to be in the world. And that, for me, is the crux of what it means to be a princess. I know, princess can mean lots of things to lots of people. That’s fine. But I’ve decided to reclaim that title for myself (and for my daughter, to whom I very strongly desire to show some example of a princess besides the not-too-bright Ariels, the entranced Auroras, or the smart-but-abused Belles of the world).

So for the first tattoo I decided that I wanted to be reminded of this idea all the time.

But as important as that concept is to me, I’m not really a “‘Princess’ in a girly font” on my arm kind of person, so I did like my daddy raised me and wrote it in elvish. Qenya (high) elvish, to be exact. The tengwar is mostly the same, but high elvish is based on greek and latin and looks and sounds fancier than Sindarin, which is loosely based on Welsh. Even though my family history is vaguely Welsh (my maiden name is, anyway–apparently “Pharis” meant “gravel-digger”), I chose Qenya because there is no official word for princess in Sindarin. Long story short (Too late!) words are interesting and important to me.

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The tree of Gondor represents a return of hope and a renewing of strength. Gondor was a country that many people had given up on. The time of men was assumed to be drawing to a close; their strength failing. The tree had stood bare in the Court of the Fountain for many years. But when a “rightful and true” king ruled in Gondor the tree, the country, and the people in it were able to flourish again.

“When, finally, Gandalf takes Aragorn up into the mountains and shows him a slender white sapling in the snow, a sense of fulfillment wells in us all. The tree is found; the world is right for now. The first sign that the time is imminent is the Elven-woman Arwen’s gift of a banner with “seven stars and seven stones and one white tree” (1966 ROTK, p.27), sent as Frodo nears Mt. Doom and the last battle approaches. When Frodo’s quest is over and Mordor has been defeated, the last sign that is awaited to indicate the world has been set right is the return of the living White Tree to the courtyard.

The living White Tree is the final symbol of recovery for Gondor, a country that looked at one time as though it were in its last decline. This is significant to Tolkien’s theory on the importance of fantasy in general. Tolkien saw fantasy as a potent form of art that, through the powers of sub-creation and enchantment, could provide readers with the healing gifts of recovery, escape, and consolation. These are all gifts that Tolkien’s trees bear to Middle Earth. As Hans Christian Andersen said, “green is good for the eyes” (1981 Lewis, p.91), so Tolkien might have added: and for the heart.”

If you’d like to read a long-ish and entirely wonderful essay on Tolkien and trees, you can find “Tolkien’s Trees” by Claudia Riiff Finseth here.

I am grabbing hold of hope and strength for myself and for my loved ones. It’s really hard work. And if the craziest thing I do in the process is to get a tattoo (or two!), I can live with that.

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Because some people have already asked, I’ll add here that my very talented cousin, Dan Clay Smith did these. I am so very pleased with his beautiful work and really appreciated being able to trust his very knowledgeable advice about where and how to tattoo so that it will look the best possible now, heal well, and still be what I want in 20 years. If you’re around Harrisburg, PA I highly, highly recommend him.