Category Archives: BCMA (Book Club, My Ass)

Trying to surface without getting the bends

How can I not update this blog when Bonnie writes me such poems (last comment, last post)? It’s true I’ve been laying low and had little or no inclination to write anything. As soon as I returned from the New River Birding Festival I fell into a place of feelings and observations and living in the moment that seems both too big and too small to articulate. The birding trip, incidentally, was GREAT; beautiful warblers, people, vistas. It was wonderful fun to actually meet the members of that wild and crazy Flock of bird bloggers along with Julie Zickafoose and the great Chet Baker and a host of incredible expert birders. All those people at the festival were like funky renaissance folk: totally experienced, world traveled, informed and educated, all dressed in damp flannel shirts and funny hats. We ate sausage gravy biscuits outside at 6 am in the freezing drizzle, marched around all day bird, butterfly, wild flower and bug watching. Then we ate a big dinner and had great speakers in the evenings. My favorite speaker was Connie Toops, a nature photographer, who was on Midway Island with all those albatross when the earthquake/tsunami struck Japan. Her slide show of the day before and the days after among the nesting albatross was, really, an amazing look at an incredible natural event.

Now, major life events and day-to-day inconsequential events in no particular order have held my attention, each one seeming equally worthy of note. It’s possible I’m just getting adulpated or regressing to the level of a two-year old where each new thing is absolutely riveting. And so many things are new.

Losing a very best friend is new. I knew going into the birding trip that a fellow member of BCMA (Book Club, My Ass) back in Ann Arbor was dying. Once the business of death was on her, she tucked in pretty quickly. I talked with her husband and decided to fly up immediately, even if it meant only a few minutes with her. As it happened, we spent several hours over two days and we cried and laughed and covered all possible subjects- past, present and future. I’ll say more about that later but this post from a while back gives you some idea of the ties that bind among this group. I’ll be back tomorrow with a blog update worthy of FC or Robin or any number of my friends who take such wonderful note of the little things we so rarely notice. Here on the mountain for our first full Spring into summer, we are discovering a mind-boggling array of living things and I have a photo or five worthy of your attention.

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(This blog post was first published in August of 2007. )

WHEN WE MET AT THE DUNE

Women are in league with each other, a secret conspiracy of hearts and pheromones. ~Camille Paglia
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This past weekend the women of the club reconvened in a small cottage perched high on a dune on the shore of Lake Michigan.

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While all hands were busy, secrets were laid bare. We had news to tell and stories to spill. Since we last met, one woman had lost her mother and a hundred pounds. Everyone else wishes they could lose ten but on a weekend such as this, with the kitchen full of the favorite foods of seven women, there wasn’t much willpower. And then there was the wine…

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Two are single and wish they weren’t. We can’t figure out why they are single: we would marry them. One has a daughter living too quickly. One is struggling in her marriage. One who has been married a very long time, well, her husband has serious surgery looming. One, who conquered the terror of breast cancer when our children were toddlers, now wishes she could stop smoking. Maybe. She goes outside to contemplate the beauty of Lake Michigan periodically.

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And so we talk, about dieting and children. We fuss over health insurance. We consider the advantages and disadvantages of living here or there. We worry about the economy and pollution and energy. We marvel that we have survived illnesses and the deaths of loved ones and the demise of marriages and the foolishness of youth, and we wonder if our children will be able to do likewise.

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Later we remember when we did drugs and laugh hard. We gossip about our sisters and mothers. We discuss how we pray, with doubt and conviction and humor.

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There was no phone reception and there were no computers. I wanted to capture every moment, free of distraction, with these women I love.

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Finding a new normal and getting back to fiber

Well, last week was the annual BCMA (Book Club, My Ass) meeting on the shores of Lake Michigan but it wasn’t quite what we are used to. We women friends of very long standing always manage to find our way back together, come hell or high water, at least once a year and the Michigan Fiber Festival is the best excuse in recent years. Most of you know by now that we gather at Roberta’s 1920’s pink cinderblock cottage perched high on the dunes and we eat, drink, buy wool, talk to alpacas,knit, spin, skinny dip, surf ride, campfire and s’more our way through 4 or 5 days of estrogen (half of it synthetic) heaven. Really, it’s like heaven, like a great movie, like your best high, like your best book ever- we are friends like that.

This year things sort of came undone, with hell and high water. First Kristen, after years with NWA, got transferred to Atlanta and Delta headquarters. Bah. Then I got totally swamped with the remodel-that-turned-into-an-entire-new-house situation. Plus, Rich surprised me with the upcoming long-awaited honeymoon/60th birthday trip to Italy and we used almost every frequent flyer mile to make that a first class trip. And then came the worst bit and that was when a core member of BCMA got the terrible news I wrote of in my last post. So three of us were out and we sorely missed the week and they claim we were sorely missed although it appears to me that they had fun in any case.(I have no idea. Really. I guess you had to be there and I wasn’t, dammit.)

My dear friend has had her surgery and that went well and I just this minute finished talking with her husband who said they were home from the hospital. He reported that she was cranky and on his case and their daughter, who is Abby’s friend from nursery school, can do no wrong. So I said, “Great! Sounds like things are pretty much normal!” and he agreed. She has good supports in place, including her brother who is a nurse and her favorite sister. Next Wednesday they will meet with the tumor board (what a name- gak) and discuss lab results and what’s up next. And we continue to send her massive amounts of bad internet humor, good wishes and sincere prayers- plus I believe that BCMA has concocted a comforter of sorts and I will post photos of that when I get them. Kristen and I had to mail in our contributions.

Back here on Little Mt. Pisgah, we hosted our first official dinner party to thank some of the neighbors who have so kindly fed and sheltered me during construction, who leave me plants on my doorstep and bring fresh eggs and goat’s milk soap. I made grilled pork tenderloin and then sliced it into medallions on a dried Michigan cherry demi-glace and topped with a blue-cheese pine nut cream. We had local Yukon gold mashed potatoes, greens from the earth boxes and a ginger-crust apple tart with caramel sauce and french vanilla ice cream.

I also made an appetizer that I worried would be too hot but it was snarfed up in an instant before we could even get seated on the deck. I roasted some poblano peppers from the garden on the grill until they were black and then let them sweat off their skins in a paper bag and cut them into thin strips. Then I sautéed and crumbled andouille sausage. I spread some delectable goat cheese blended with ginger and apricots on flour tortillas, added the sausage and peppers, folded them in half and made quesadillas that I grilled and cut into triangles. That was some spicy starter but yum, yum, yum. And I made up that recipe and now I’m giving it to you. It would probably work with datil peppers, too, if you had such a thing.

Anyway, it was a wonderful evening with like minded folks- lots of laughter and good story telling. I figure everyone had a good time because they all stayed late. I can report that our new dishwasher, in addition to being very quiet, does indeed hold service for 14 and gets them clean.

With everything that has been going on, my fingers have not been near fiber, except to finally unpack it, for a couple months (I’m not counting the week of epic pillow making with seven-year olds at art camp). This morning I had my neighbor, Diana, over to do some silk dyeing. I wanted to use her as a guinea pig before I offered a free afternoon workshop when people can become acquainted with my teaching here in the Asheville area. We had a great time with some good results and the new studio space works well, with lots of counters, light and sinks. I also felted a couple of bars of this beautiful goat’s milk soap and I like how they turned out, too. Makes for a nice all-in-one loofah with natural antibacterial properties.

Right now I am very excited because Kristen is driving up from Atlanta, sort of spur of the moment, so we can have a little satellite session of BCMA these next couple days. Things are going to get fuzzy around here as we get the drum carder and spinning wheel moving. How cool is it to have friends who call and say, “Hey! I think I’ll drive 4 hours to come hang out with you.” ? I can’t wait to see her. I’m thinking we should felt a hot water bottle cover for Roberta’s tummy.

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I’ve been both occupied and preoccupied. Occupied because there is STILL a never-ending stream of tradesmen and contractors moving through the house. Working through this punch list is taking as long as the actual building part. I dare say part of the responsibility for that falls on me; I moved in about a month before the builder’s ready date. But his ready date wasn’t my ready date and I suspect that’s always the case with building projects; no fault, no foul. I like to think that this project would have never reached completion if it wasn’t for the constant supervision of yours truly but I’m sure my builder would take exception to that. What I will say is this: despite cost overruns (capisce? We’re talking big overruns…), despite our impression that the house was wired by some Frankenstein electrician, despite nail pops- well, this house is a dream house. And the builder and I did a mighty fine job. End of story.

Laura from New Jersey asked if all the views are beautiful. Yes, they are. Up close, we have hummers 3 inches from the study window, looking in curiously. At the feeders we have all manner of birds; I’ve counted 9 species already. We see the garden, run rampant with tomatoes. We see the giant rocks, where mama deer cautiously parks her tot while checking out our meadow. We see, on a clear day, 25 miles to Cold Mountain. We have woods, sunny garden, shady garden, small creek. When we go down the mountain to town we drive by our new neighbors and admire their beautiful gardens that pay homage to mama naturale and then we pass the fields where corn is currently being harvested in the most remarkably perfect patterns. Often, just to get to the grocery store 7 miles away we hop on the Blue Ridge Parkway- a far cry from the strip mall and bill board laden 4 lanes of city life. Yes, all our views are beautiful. Why, according to the Bible, here on Mt Pisgah, we have a view to the Promised Land.

I don’t know how this happened to us. I mean, I remember walking in the door after 40 other doors, being stunned by the view as well as the low price  and saying, “this is it. make the offer.” I remember staying up nights drawing a plan for my dream kitchen and the garden tub in the bath surrounded by views. I remember thinking, “If we do this, we are investing years of hard work and independence and saving and I am relinquishing my ability to get up and walk away, all by myself.” And I remember the followup thought: “That’s okay. At almost 60 I’m more than ready to settle down with my husband.” But really, I have no idea what we did to deserve this (let alone an October trip to Tuscany where I will take cooking lessons). I think nothing and we better get busy. Do people get what they deserve? No, I don’t think so. That’s something I don’t understand. For years I worked with people who had gotten themselves, sometimes with ease and sometimes with effort, into ridiculous situations and I would wonder what the hell they were thinking when they started down that path. But I also worked with people who were in life situations and they had absolutely nothing to do with how they got there. Sometimes, good fortune: somebody inherited a ridiculous sum or one time, I counseled a big lottery winner (to no avail. Too much money is not healthy for people). Often, in my line of work, I would see people who were in painful, tough, unhealthy places through little fault of their own. I don’t understand the equity in that. Or, in case you say “life isn’t fair”, I don’t understand the purpose in that. Why take a magnificent force of human energy- wit, humor, heart- and strike it down with, say, cancer?  What a friggin’ rip that is. Today a woman came to pick up moving boxes that I advertised ‘for free’ on Craigslist. She’s moving from this beautiful place because, although it was planned to be their last home before they ended up at an Evergreen or whatever, after 3 short years her husband was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and died 11 days later. Last winter she was trapped for 4 days alone on the mountain with no power during an ice storm and now she is returning to the place of her childhood. I don’t get that. The whole “higher power” business is lost on me if it is anything more than that we aren’t meant to understand it, just deal with it. Roll with the punches and look forward to something better? I’m having trouble imagining what that would be.

The thing is, despite our good fortune, I’m sorta pissy (understatement). One of my fellow warriors, one of the tough old birds from BCMA is back with the cancer. Fuck. There, I said it. I could say more and I do in my head. That she has this is as counterintuitive as the four light switches that turn nothing on around here. It makes no sense to me.

So, I’m boiling down my tomatoes into the meanest hot sauce ever, looking towards Cold Mountain and considering my frequent flyer miles. I would like to sit with her and cry and laugh. Again.

Zingerman’s NY Peppered Pastrami

Audrey knows I love it and, of course the only place in the world you can get it is at Zingerman’s in Ann Arbor, so one of the last things she shopped for before the annual BCMA meeting at Roberta’s cottage was a pound, sliced thin. And then she forgot and left it home. Despite a flurry of phone calls, everyone in BCMA had already departed for Lake Michigan and there was no one to stop and pick it up en route- until Roberta made her second trip across the state a couple days into our stay. So she detoured, drove to Audrey’s and snatched it out of the frig and delivered it to me at the cottage in Grand Haven. We didn’t eat it that day but hell would freeze over before I left it behind, so Roberta froze a block of ice in a bag overnight and Marion and I carried it along to Chicago. Where it went into Lee’s refrigerator Sunday night while I refroze the block of ice. We didn’t eat it with Lee in Chicago because we went out for Pakistani/Indian food on the eve of Pakistani Independence Day. The next morning, I repacked it on the block of ice and Monday that pound of pastrami moved downtown to Susan And Gary’s refrigerator while new ice was frozen. We didn’t eat it that night because we were watching Dan’s concert at Millennium Park.

At that point the pastrami was 6 days from slicing but still pristine, wrapped and perfect. So Dan and I packed it up, on ice, and drove the pastrami to Oshkosh, b’gosh.

Today, we brought Bud out and away from his spot at Evergreen Rehab for a change of scenery. But it’s hard. He can’t walk all that far. He needs to be near a bathroom. He tires easily. Sometimes he’s muddled. So we’ve just brought him back to our room at the Hilton Garden Inn. I swiped a couple of extra bagels at breakfast. Went into the bar and borrowed some popcorn baskets. Borrowed a knife to slice a tomato purchased at a roadside farm stand back in Michigan. Bought two bottles of bad beer for the three of us. Had a couple of Red Haven peaches. Bud just announced that it’s the best meal he can remember having, ever. I’m not sure about Bud’s memory, but this is one of those photos that speaks a thousand words.Bud(Thanks, Audrey)

wordless wednesday week of wonder

dune(perfect weather and no one set the dune afire)

fiberfest

(we go to the Michigan Fiber Festival, home of the headless chicken)

sheep(when your animals become commodities and people become consumers, all the spirit and soul of the matter is lost. These were all loved and valued, each and every one)

roving(color…)

morewool(more color…)

pumpkinwool(I find the perfect colors for a fall pumpkin felting class)

wheel(the colors of friendship)

peaches(“You may come from Macon, but you ain’t no peach.” Only Red Haven and Lake Michigan blueberries will do for a cottage breakfast)

martins(better than DEET, any day)

optimus(I go to Chicago and see many dear friends, including Optimus Prime…)

pritzker-pavilion-2(We go to the Frank Gehry Pritzker Pavilion at Millennium Park…)

danm(…and I see my son play to a standing ovation.)

We’re off to visit with Bud. I hope you are all well and happy!

If I were already there…

I would be  sitting on the deck, feet up on the wood rail, looking out over the broad expanse of dunes and vast Lake Michigan-watching the Perseid meteor showers. Isn’t it clever of BCMA to gather the week that they peak, in a place along the Western Michigan shore where we will be able to enjoy midlife insomnia with the quiet company of dear friends and the mother of all fireworks? We’re foxy like that.

Off to the airport…perseid-meteor-shower-2009(I didn’t take this, but it was the featured photo in an article on the 2009 Perseids visible in Western Michigan, this very week. Obviously, the heavens were only waiting for BCMA to convene…)

Absence and fond hearts

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(Obviously, one of Edward Curtis’s finer photographs)

Sally was  driving home from one of her businesstrips in Northern Arizona when she saw an elderly Navajo woman walking on the side of the road.

As the trip was a long and quiet one, she stopped
the car and asked the Navajo woman if she would like a ride.

With a silent nod of thanks, the woman got into
the  car.

Resuming the  journey, Sally tried in vain to make
a bit of small talk with the Navajo woman. The old
woman just sat silently, looking intently at
everything she saw, studying every little detail,
until she noticed a brown bag on the seat next to
Sally.

‘What in bag?’ asked the old woman.

Sally looked down at the brown bag and said, ‘It’s
a bottle of wine. I got it for my husband.’

The Navajo woman was silent for another moment or
two. Then speaking with the quiet wisdom of an elder, she  said:

‘Good  trade…..’

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Shriveled grapes, sour grapes, stomped fermented grapes, raisins- I’m leaving town. Bonnie is oh-so-right about my attitude and Mary is citing the adage about absence making the heart grow fonder. I’m banking on it. And, yes, Bonnie- we did go see Julie and Julia. What a splendid film! I especially liked the part where Julie blogs about the great falling out with her husband, the one where he leaves because she’s too busy cooking and blogging to have sex with him. Ah, me. And that Paul Childs was a saint.

The truth about marriage is that it’s tough sometimes- really tough. I think we have a seven year itch thing going on around here, that involves scratching the eyeballs out of the other. Kidding. Really, I’m kidding. But here’s the thing: in seven short years together we have been through end-of-life illness and death of two parents, menopause, skin cancer, getting another parent into nursing care, two moves, three job changes (one that included loss of benefits and other securities that are important to 50-somethings) and children really, truly, once and for all leaving the nest. Rich has re-written the direction of his life’s work, along with a book. He’s transitioned from a life on the road as a single business man to married man with inherited diabetes. I have retired from a professional life that was more than a profession, that I loved with such passion, one where I had functioned as a successful and independent woman for decades. One that defined me. I loved my work the way Julia Childs loved hers. I have had to re-define myself as a zoo docent, a raptor rehabber, a fiber artist- and as a wife.

When a marriage fails early on and unexpectedly and then a woman struggles to re-organize herself as a self-reliant person who can build a life, raise children, make a home all on her own-well then, it’s hard to let go of that. Because you had to fight so hard to get there. So, I’m just saying. And frankly, people, the fact that Rich is the butter to my bread and the breath to my life sometimes becomes background noise to the sniping and spitting. Because one thing you sure as hell do not need after all those years of being the one and same person who both overstuffed the garbage disposal with fresh greens and unclogged the nasty mess, is someone in your face asking you why you overstuffed the garbage disposal with greens. Especially when you know more about plumbing than they do. I bet even Katharina Von Bora would agree.

You know how sometimes I disappear for days at a stretch from blogging? Well, I’m working on shit. As in, getting my shit together. I’m over here trying to learn how to be a married woman, for one thing. I don’t have decades under my belt as some of you do. Working on being a whole person, even minus her own income. Someone who makes a difference, even without patients. (Who I needed because they were, God forbid, analysts cover your eyes, MY therapy.) Someone who holds the gardener in her soul while contending with pavement and alley rats. A mother who can’t cook dinner for her children. And there you have the truth and the heart of the matter.

Still. He is the butter to my bread. And still. I’m leaving home for a bit. Not because of him, although I would probably take a break one way or the other right now, just to stir up that fondness, but it’s time for- wait for it! BCMA!

Yes, yes, you should all be insanely jealous. This is the week when I get to go to that small 1920s cottage perched high on the dunes of the undisputedly best lake in the whole world, Lake Michigan. And this is the week when I am with my most favorite people in the whole world, the women of Book Club, My Ass. Our baby girls went to pre-school together. Our sons played the North Seas Jazz Festival in high school together. We have been sick together, had parents die, suffered cancer, complained bitterly about spouses, dieted both successfully and not and wept together. But most of all, we’ve laughed together.

This is the week when 800 square feet fills up with nine women, more (and better!) food than was in all of Julie and Julia, plenty of chilled white wine, beach reads, scrabble games and WOOL. We will knit on our own projects, poke and knit on each others projects, lay out raw wool and debate various shadings and dyes. Everybody but Audrey will snore and deny it. We will go watch the judging of the alpaca and again consider seriously the possibility of stuffing one in the back of Audrey’s SUV to go live on her farm as our joint venture. We will watch sheep shearing. We’ll fondle smooth, one-of-a-kind spindles and needles and admire wheels and looms. We’ll go in together on a giant dye lot of expensive cashmere/merino because each of those foolish spouses back home need a delicious sweater the color of dusk over the lake, knit with love. (And then, because they wouldn’t really appreciate it, we’ll knit it up into something for each other and send it for Christmas or birthday.) In the evening, with the sun shooting blinding oranges and reds into the kitchen window, we’ll all be bustling about tossing goat cheese salads, adjusting the curry in the chicken sauce, mixing the cocktail du jour. Then maybe a long beach walk, a bon fire.LkMichSunset-793

After those healing days, I’ll drive to Chicago, spread a blanket with friends, in front of the Frank Gehry Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park and cast eyes and ears on my son, whom I haven’t seen in months.  NOMO ends up their tour in this magnificent setting as part of the Chicago New Music Series.

FGehry3And then the two of us- Dan and I- will go out and eat as much of the best Chinese food as we possibly can. After that we head up to Oshkosh where Bud has gotten himself healthy enough and strong enough to rebel against assisted living. He’s thinking if they discharge him soon enough he’ll be able to put in the dock and the pontoon boat, by himself, before snow falls in October. And he plans to install a new pump in the well housing, finish repairing the roof… We will need to have a family confab and the cycle of my life will resume.

I liked the line in the movie where Julie Powell (played by Amy Adams) says, “I could write a blog. I have thoughts.”