Saturday, May 17, 2014

A Night Outside with Pears

One of my writing groups gathered together Thursday night outside at Ellie and Roger's house, for a whole bunch of reasons—to see their new fireplace, to relish their backyard—one with swallows, fresh mint, poppies, to write a little bit, and to catch up on our lives.

We are women in our 60s, 70s, and, soon, 80s.  We're still as active as ever.  We've been together for over 30 years.  We've found our various passions and those have been expressed in books, stories, essays, poetry.  So many publishing credits over that  length of time, still more to come.

That self-expression gene is buried deep within us.  We are ever so kind now, brilliant on some days and in some ways, genuine as salt.  Lots of us are grandmoms, some of us are widows, some of us are caregivers.  We always have a pen in hand and a tablet in our pocket.

In our last meeting, we decided that the magnificent dinners we used to prepare and share, were no longer necessary, except for special occasions—defined as when everybody wants one.  However, nobody has to do that anymore.  It seems to be fine, and freed up some marvelous cooks from those robust expectations.   We can do nothing at all, if we chose; we can do those massive celebrations, if we want; or we could settle for a simple, luscious dessert.  Maybe some cookies.   Or a ripe pear.

We celebrated Judy's essay, that won a major literary prize,  in my part of the state, along with some money.  We've never written for money, (well,  I have, but it wasn't this luscious kind of writing) but I  admit, it's plenty welcome, ever so sweet when it comes.  Judy's story, which I had heard parts of a while ago, is so clear and clean now.  It reads like sparkling water over old stones.   It's about a long hike in a high mountain dessert in Australia, one that leads to a startling find, one that never happens any more.

If there is a thing about writing at our age that completely wonderful, it's this:  we've gotten to be simpler, quicker-to-the-point writers.  That saves us a whole big bunch of literary gyrations, travels down rabbit holes, back tracks, and miswhacks.  You have no idea what a big blessing that is.

We're better.

We wrote a little while about things that are incomplete or unfinished, that might not ever be.  I got this line:  Love stutters to a stop, parks until Tuesday, when the storm blows over.

So, Ellie's dessert:  a baked pear, so simple and so spectacular.  Some of my favorite cooking.

Baked Pears

Buy 4-6 pears, (one for each person you are serving) round,  big-bellied fruits, red pears this,  4-5 days before the party. Let them ripen in a south-facing window.  How do you tell when a pear is ripe?  When the peeling comes free without difficulty and the juice runs down your fingers.

On the day you want to serve these jewels, peel the pears just before you stick them in the  oven. Put them in a baking dish.  Mash together butter, honey, an honest vanilla,  lemon juice, a pinch of salt, cinnamon.  . . or cardamom and ginger. . .  Dab that over the fruits.

Bake for 1 hour at 350 degrees.  Put each pear in a bowl and top with the juice/sauce that forms at the bottom of the pan, and top with Greek honey yogurt.  Your favorite kind.  

This would not be the moment to worry about calories.

Sunday, May 11, 2014


I didn't get to be a Mom.  I needed to make that decision in my 20s; my Dad had muscular dystrophy, as well as a beloved aunt.  The medical tests, done by the MD Society, indicated that I was a carrier.
I would only have an MD child if I married somebody with that genetic glitch.  But it had happened in my family. It's an awful, difficult disease, and I watched my Dad struggle with it his whole life.  He'd been gorgeous, young, vital, beyond strong, generous of heart, great of skill, and the disease took all of that from him.  His only complaint?  He wished "those old docs would find something for his bad back."  Me too.  But the disease would die out in my family, for generations to come, if I had no children.  I don't understand the biology- genetics very well, but it turns out the disease is passed through fathers to daughters.  The sons catch a break on this one.  It was not a difficult decision, and I haven't looked back.

My own Mom, kind and loving beyond measure, died when I was seventeen and my brother was thirteen.  So you can see that I might approach Mother's Day with some amount of ruefulness.


There is great mystery surrounding the art of mothering.  It's at the center of my religion's story, the mysterious Mary.  It turns young, self-centered women into the tender, loving, engaging mothers of young children, and it does it with the strength of a biological imperative.   It fosters the need for  learning and education, for medical care and medical science, for religion, it runs an economy, and sculpts a history.  The politics are profound.  Everything matters as young women take on the daunting task of raising a baby, herding elementary kids, holding their breaths as the kids plough into adolescence full force.

It goes by in a whoosh, in a breath.

The kids in my family, my niece and nephew, were and are kids who are entirely doted upon, adored, needed, applauded.  My sister-in-law Maggie is a wonderful mom, my brother a singular Dad, exactly the man you want raising those two rambunctious kids.  I got to be an auntie, and that goes on.  Mackenzie is trying for her first job, in a state that is 49th in the economic recovery, and she's an artist to boot.  I'm hoping that what we send her props her up, gives her courage, helps her find her footing and a life worth having.  Scottie is studying automotive engineering, builds itty-bitty sports cars, so he's gold.  We're still doting.  That never gets old.

There are little kids whom I adore.  The lovely Lily and Lea are two kids who will put us through our paces.   Issie and Aubs, two fiesty little girls, still want me to play with them in the backyard. And then there's Charlie, who went on a mission trip to Mexico to help build a house with this family, and is learning how to play the piano.  He's really good with both  pianos and hammers.  Their moms and their grandmoms are some of our favorite people.  We love them and support them as best we know how.

I think you do get to have a choice on whether you are parenting material, or  not. Not everybody is, for all kinds of reasons.   But you do get to love the kids that are given to you to love.

That'd be the great, good thing.


Saturday, May 3, 2014

The Habitat House

We have wonderful events all throughout the year, but this one might be the most fun.  It happened this morning, when 450 of my closest friends got together to build a couple of houses—in three hours—for our local Habitat for Humanity folks.

To be fair, we framed them.  With our partners, the local Habitat folks and Crossroads, a national organization that. .  organizes these big builds.  It can be done; we did it.

We were divided into teams.  I admit I fell in love with my team.  They were such willing, effective, and sweet-hearted workers.  The first to form, the last to  leave.  We had two little kids, a sterling teenager, guys who could work up a storm, our fearless leader, and... wait for it. . me.  I did have a real job, in my 66th year.  I picked up nails, took pictures, watched over the whole production and marveled at what people were doing, elected chief cheerleader, I was, and  I pounded in 16 nails, up from 4 last year.   Here is what I could do that was helpful:  I got the nails started, which requires a bit of patience and tender direction.  Then the big guns came in and gave the nails a few whacks:  Done.   I have friends and family that will fail to believe this.  This photo is proof.

Our little kids, along with every other little kid, and there were a hundred or so, were exceedingly useful and productive workers.  Here's how:  when the nails were in a tough spot or at an impossible angle in a place too small for an adult person to get into or close to, they were able to do it.  And to do it right smart. We love and doted, yes, we did.  We had one group that was all teenagers, and they were completely effective and successful.

So, here's what happens.  Our little teams, 6-8 people: some people who actually know what they were doing; some kids, some parents (usually attached), the resident old lady or old guy.  Everybody had something real to do.  We would frame sections of walls, windows, both interior and exterior frame.  Then we nailed plywood to lots of those; then brought all those back and unbacked frame together to form a house.  So it's impressive to see it come together so fast.