Sunday, July 04, 2010


I've not been super active as of late, as a blogger, or as a reader of/commenter on blogs. The current of 'real life' has swept me under, and I've just come up for a bit of 'virtual air' in the past week or so.

In doing so, I came upon a lil' tribute to this here blog, and realized that I myself now have a duty to perform. Amy, thanks for the honor. You're sweet to attempt to draw me out of my blog drought. And against all odds, it may have actually worked ;)

In order to "claim" my award, I must now share 7 facts about myself, and then share with you my own choices for the "Versatile Blogger" award.

So, without further ado, I begin with 7 facts about myself:

1- In all 18 of my growing up years, I lived in one town, in one state, on one street, in one house. In the ensuing 13 years, I have lived in 7 cities and towns, in 5 states, in a grand total of 9 different residences. Is your head spinning yet? Mine is!

2- Technically, I am an introvert. I straddle the line on this one, and as such, it took me 20-some odd years to come to this realization. I actually love people, and socializing. (Although I do tend to prefer my socialization in small groups, in low key settings.) But, by God, after a long day of social interaction, nothing sounds more appealing than crawling into a little hole (actually, a deep, soft sofa will suffice) in my jammies, and reading books all day long. BY. MY. SELF. (Alas, as a mother of a young child, you can probably guess how often this actually happens ;) )

3- As much as I love the fact that my hubby cooks (and cooks extremely well, I might add), and serves up about 99% of what we eat around here, I must admit that it has made me lazy in the kitchen. And said laziness in the kitchen has led to a drastic degradation of my actual skills when I do step back in to what has arguably become, "Robert's domain." As a result, I often daydream (usually while ripping out recipes for Robert to prepare) about enrolling in cooking classes, and brushing up on some skills with which I would re-enter the kitchen with confidence and flair. Only time will tell...

4- I have honestly not been able to decide or decipher whether I am more truly a city girl or a country girl. I love the sophistication, the culture, the diversity, and the instant accessibility of city life. (I'm also not big on yard work, so the idea of a postage stamp yard, is comforting to me in a way.) Alternately, the slower pace of country life- the stillness, the opportunities to get lost in nature, the more ready connection to the land and stronger dependence on your neighbors...these are all like lifeblood to me. Do you see my dilemma? Not sure where this leaves me...

5- I am a hopeless idealist, trying to learn to live in "the real." As such, I can make myself bat-shit crazy, expecting perfection in every endeavor I undertake. I'm trying to learn to chill out, cut myself (and others) some slack, and revel in the peace of mind that accompanies lower expectations. I have a feeling this one is going to be a life-long work-in-progress.

6- I once entertained grand illusions about what motherhood would be like. (See #5) Those illusions have been sufficiently shattered over the past 5 1/2 years. But, as I've begun to open my hands and release my previously held (naive & neurotic) expectations, I'm being rewarded by snapshots of breathtaking beauty, that I missed out on when trying so hard to control the outcome. Parenthood = lessons in letting go.

7- We don't have TV. Well, scratch that- we do own a television set. However, we have no cable service. Not even one of those freely available set-top boxes, for tuning into network stations. We sometimes haul that big sucker downstairs to watch a movie (he is a total old-school relic, complete with built-in VHS & DVD players, measuring in at an atrocious 21"x 19"x 21"), and we occasionally tune into a favorite show via the internet. So, what I'm supposed to say next is that we don't feel like we're missing anything. And the God honest truth is, Robert probably *can* say that. (And after several months of this set up, Ella rarely ever expresses an interest in TV either.) I, on the other hand, will admit that I miss being able to tune into Oprah on a lazy afternoon. I reeeaaaally miss HGTV. And now and again, I really just want the luxury of spending the day being a couch potato. There, I said it. So sue me :P

And now, the more important part- the bestowing of honors!

For the "Versatile Blogger" award, I've chosen:

Christine over at Dreams of Simple Life. Christine has been a friend of mine for 10 years now! I can't even tell you how hard it is for me to believe that it has been a decade since we first met in the offices of Grassroots Music, in Houston, TX. Christine is one of my friends who manages to regularly update her blog with the most beautiful content- nothing there ever feels as if it's been slapped up haphazardly. From whimsical photo accounts of her day-to-day life to drool-worthy design projects, from mouthwatering recipes to "happy lists", from poignant quotes to poetry, from books reviews and recommendations to travelogue entries, from gardening goodness to life-altering journeys, Christine's blog entries are consistently beautiful, insightful, thoughtful and inspirational, and hers is hands-down my favorite blog on the famed interwebs. You should definitely check it out, post haste!

Next up is Mollie at Fresh Milk Delivered Daily. Mollie is a homeschooling mom to 3 precious and precocious kiddos, an extremely accomplished artist and shop owner, a dreamer and a master of lyrical prose, who possesses a keen eye and strong knack for photography, to boot! She and I met online, some 7 years ago, in the context of motherhood and message boards. She remains to this day one of my favorite list-makers, creators, poetic observers, and fleeting moment capturers on the planet, let alone the web. Creative souls, take note. Bookmark. Read daily. Thank me later ;)

And finally, on a local note, Jo-Lynn at Musings of a Housewife gets props for versatility as well. I first discovered Jo-Lynn's blog in Main Line Today's 2009 "Best of the Main Line" issue. On the one hand, Jo-Lynn posts about eating whole foods, supporting local farmers and cooking simple, healthy food for the whole family. These shared passions are what drew me in, and keep me coming back to her blog on a near daily basis. Not only does she share my ideals about buying local, organically grown food, she's in close enough proximity to share her sources as well. Score! On the other hand, Jo-Lynn is a prolific blogger, and one topic of conversation (as interesting as it may be) does not a "post-a-day blog" make. Jo-Lynn posts voraciously on a whole host of topics, including fashion, reality TV and parenting, and she hosts some really spiffy giveaways as well. Eat local. Shop local. Read local blogs!

Friday, July 02, 2010

A Severe Mercy

The past several weeks around here have been all topsy turvy- defined by nearly equal doses of joy and grief, celebration and sadness, new beginnings and premature endings. We've experienced sickness, danced to great music, witnessed decay, watched new doors swing open, been bowled over by death, overwhelmed with peace, and all of it in roller-coaster-ride fashion.

One of the two biggest touchstones of this time was my Pop Pop's passing. I've since struggled with how to properly memorialize a man who meant so much to me, and exhibited such a depth and breadth of love and integrity over the course of a lifetime. What I know for certain, is that when he exited this earth and his light was extinguished, our world was left a little more replete with shadow, less resplendent with light.

Below are the words, inadequate at best, that I wove together to pay tribute to my beloved Pop Pop. In honor of him, I share them with you:

To anyone who knows us well, the phrase ‘a severe mercy’ is a familiar one. It is the title of a well-loved and oft-referenced book, but also the inscription on our wedding bands.

When we chose to incorporate the phrase into our wedding ceremony, and our marriage, it was because we felt that our love- a compassionate gift to us, unearned, but gratefully received, was larger-than-life, unique, especially extraordinary. What we had was not just love, but exceptional love. A severe mercy.

For the second time in my adult life, I feel like I have been witness to a severe mercy.

Over the past 6 weeks, our routine took shape. Rise on Saturday (or sometimes Sunday), eat breakfast, cube watermelon. Set Ella loose with crayons, colored pencils, watercolor paints and paper. Select and snip flowers from our backyard garden, and balance the vase between our knees for the 30 minute ride from Phoenixville to Blue Bell.

Yes, over these past weeks, our visits to Pop Pop took on a shape and a life of their own. If he must move from his apartment to a bed in the medical unit, then come hell or high water, he would have his great granddaughter’s artwork and freshly cut flowers to brighten the space. He would have watermelon (and mom’s Russian tea cake cookies) to satiate his sweet tooth. And he would have company, family, by his side. But these visits, and the simple pleasures that populated them, were far from one-sided. We may have brought artwork to adorn the walls, but Pop Pop supplied the colorful stories that lit the corridors of the past, and allowed us entry to worlds that only he had inhabited. Our hands may have sliced fruit and arranged flowers, but his soft, strong hands held ours, with resolve and reassurance, as we watched our loved one begin to slip away.

Last Sunday we arrived as usual, not knowing quite what to expect. The week before we’d had a lovely time together, full of conversation, nostalgia, watermelon juice and palpable hope. This week we’d been warned that Pop Pop’s decline over the past 7 days had been steady and stunning. I entered the room ahead of Robert and Ella, just as the nurse was exiting. Pop Pop was dressed and upright in the bed, and his eyes lit up when he saw me. As I sat on the edge of the bed, my heart leapt into my throat, and when I opened my mouth, it came pouring out. Much more important to me than standing here and telling you these things today, is the fact that I got to tell my Pop Pop what he meant to me. How fortunate I felt to be his granddaughter. How grateful to have had the honor of watching my daughter and my husband form individual, loving relationships with him. And to tell him all of this, as he looked into my eyes (tear-soaked as they may have been), and gently stroked my arm. To say to him, “I’m so glad that you’re my Pop Pop.” And for him to say back to me, “I’m so glad too.”

For the next two hours, we simply sat together, in the calm confidence of Pop Pop’s presence. I held his right hand, and Robert held his left, and I felt the wordless proclamations of deep and abiding love, each time Pop Pop squeezed my hand, tight within his grip, over and over and over again. I read to Pop Pop from Samuel Johnson’s “Prayers & Meditations.”

“Let the Holy Spirit comfort and guide me, that in
my passage throughthe pains or pleasures of the
present state, I may never be tempted to
forgetfulness of Thee. Let my life be useful and
my death be happy;let me live according to Thy laws,
and die with just confidence in Thy mercy, for the sake
of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”

Pop Pop relished the roasted tomatoes that Robert had prepared for him, and we all laughed over the glaring omission of the “stinky cheese.”

Ella gave him a sprig of mint that she’d plucked from the garden, and as he inhaled its scent, he declared, “Beautiful mint.” He blew weak kisses across the expanse of the bed. He closed his eyes, breathed long and deep, then opened them again, and looked into mine long and deep. And as we sat there, I felt a knowing.

When the diagnosis was in, and the prognosis delivered, we all knew that death from this cancer could be painful and arduous. And out of love for Pop Pop, we hoped and we prayed that it wouldn’t be. That instead of a painstaking journey, Pop Pop’s passage could be paved with peace, and marked by mercy. That Pop Pop would receive his very own ‘severe mercy.’ And 15 minutes later, after another round of goodbyes had been said, after hugs, and kisses had been exchanged, hands clasped together one final, fierce time, he did. Just as Sheldon Van Auken had described it, in this book that first changed my life and molded my marriage, my Pop Pop was ushered away by “a mercy that was as severe as death, a death that was as merciful as love.”

In addition to all of the roles that my Pop Pop filled with such love and loyalty- father, husband, uncle, grandfather, great-grandfather, “Odd Fellow”, he also displayed a great affection and aptitude for the written word, and in particular- poetry. And so today, I can think of no more fitting way to bid him goodbye, to honor his memory, and to articulate my own loss than through the words of Mary Oliver’s poem, “In Blackwater Woods:”

In Blackwater Woods

Look, the trees
are turning
their own bodies
into pillars

of light,
are giving off the rich
fragrance of cinnamon
and fulfillment,

the long tapers
of cattails
are bursting and floating away over
the blue shoulders

of the ponds,
and every pond,
no matter what its
name is, is

nameless now.
Every year
I have ever learned

in my lifetime
leads back to this: the fires
and the black river of loss
whose other side

is salvation,

whose meaning
none of us will ever know.
To live in this world

you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it

against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.

~ Mary Oliver ~