Archive | February, 2014

Waiting for the Thaw

19 Feb

The sun is out today, for what seems like the first time in months, but winter’s calling cards are everywhere. It could easily depress me if I let it.

Snow-lined street

If it isn’t blocking a car, it’s called ambiance.

Our small suburban side streets are still a mess. After the last storm, most folks dug out only enough to free their vehicles, leaving a patchwork of tar and snow. Sand is strewn over the narrow driving lane, making everything dirty. A stream that formed on our sidewalk is rushing the rapidly melting snow into the gutters at the bottom of the hill.

Snow blob

I won’t name him, lest I become attached. If I DID, he would be called Blobbert.

I stare out my window; a child’s snowman stares back from across the street. He’s actually only a blob with a hat, surrounded by footprints. However, his creator is about five years old, so he’s perfect, of course. He’s the ideal shape for a melting reference so I’ll say it…the sun beating down on him makes his hat look most unnecessary. I’m sure he won’t survive the day. I can’t tell whether his lemon eyes and little O-shaped mouth are expressing surprise or if he’s pleading with me to save him. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I won’t mind it when he’s gone because for once, I’m tired of the snow. We didn’t even get that much this year, really. My sister in Denver, she’s still getting regular blizzards, as are my brothers in northern New England, and my friends in Washington and Maine. I grew up in Rhode Island. I know what a lot of snow looks like, and this is nothing. It just feels like a lot this year.I heard a weather forecaster say it’s not over yet, and that there may be one or two more snowstorms before spring arrives. It just makes me sigh. All those dirty white mounds piled high around the lamp poles in the grocery store parking lots—where will they put more? Let’s hope today’s sun melts them down a few feet.

Still, as I look over the tired, dirty landscape, I can’t help but feel hope. I know that just five feet from the snowman, crocuses are sleeping under that blanket of whiteness. I can almost hear the roots of the brown grass and of the giant Norway Maple in the middle of my front lawn drinking deeply from the crisp, fresh water that seeps into the ground all around them. The tree sports tiny buds like tightly clenched fists, just waiting for the sign to let go.

Even now, there are robins on their way here, and the Canada geese are making flight plans for the long trip south. Mama cardinals are holed up in the trees all around us, keeping their eggs warm. Butterflies are nearly transformed, still snugly curled in their cocoons. Everything is about to change.

Tree blossoms, tightly clenched

The trees of the field are ready to dance.

This is a time of hope and anticipation, especially for those of us who might be feeling weary. We can take heart because we know what’s coming, despite the apparent bleakness. We’ve been here before. We can hang in there. Just a few more weeks. Regardless of the shadows, and no matter how cold it gets, whatever you’re going through right now—know that it’s temporary and something joyful is on its way. Take heart, spring is coming.

Velcro, Whiskers, and other Writing Woes

11 Feb

At last, the dream is a reality: I’m working from home!

Alas, it’s not at all the way it looked in the advertisement.

In the weeks leading up to my transition, I’d envisioned the perfect work environment: cozy chair, sticky notes everywhere, and long days of nothing but me and the computer and the quiet tapping sound of flowing brilliance.

I hadn’t reckoned on the cat.

He’s a 3-year-old lap kitty, mistakenly named Aslan. I use the term “lap kitty” rather loosely here…if I’d known then what I’m learning this week, his name would be Velcro. Or Klingon.

Clearly, Aslan is more excited about my being home all day than I am, and he expresses his excitement by never leaving my side.


In my desperation, I’ve taken to sneaking upstairs in the morning. From his cat tower at the front window, Aslan watches me gather my things, per our previous-life routine. I jingle the keys on the peg and walk loudly to the front door, which I open and then close with a clang. Then I drop to my knees and start crawling up the stairs with sniper-like stealth, fighting the urge to exhale as I inch my way upward. At the top, I turn and crawl down the hall to my office, freezing like a thief on the prowl whenever the floorboards protest. I wait until I think the coast is clear, then creep forward another inch. This is not an easy thing to do while carrying a mug of coffee. It takes at least ten minutes to reach my desk. I do believe this technically constitutes a commute.

Regrettably, my daily ordeal usually buys me only about an hour of typing time. Inevitably, the phone rings or my chair creaks and Aslan must come investigate.

“Hey,” he purrs, leaping onto my lap to deposit a matted, soggy toy. “What are you doing here? I thought you were at work! Look, I brought you Mousie so we can all cuddle!”

For the rest of the day I’m just a giant corduroy flophouse.

Who needs opposable thumbs when all you need to write is "zzzzzzzzzzzzz"?

Who needs opposable thumbs when all you need to write is “zzzzzzzzzzzzz”?

At first, it’s merely annoying. He sits upright, staring at the computer screen while I work, pretending he knows how to read. Craning to see around his giant radar-dish ears, I type with my elbows out so he has plenty of space. If I let down my guard and actually TOUCH him, I trigger the “game on” alert and he goes into overdrive. Engine on motorboat purr, he offers his chin for a rub (aaahhh, more please) and then starts searching about for something to bat, nip, or climb. Of course, the only thing to climb is me, which is fine by him.

He works is way up to my shoulders and stops for a snooze—his front half draped over my back like a Salvador Dali clock; his butt is just about level with my nose. This somewhat hampers my ability to type and tends to stifle creativity.

Oh, I know what you’re thinking. And yes, he has a bed. Right in the window. A FOOT away. A soft piece of art that serves no functional purpose. Should I be so bold as to actually set him there, he immediately leaps onto the desk and disappears down behind my laptop into a cluttered, cat-sized space that is lined with sticky notes.

Cat behind the scene

If you need anything, I’m right here. Hey, do you need anything?

Every few minutes, his big ol’ head rises up behind the screen like a corny mechanical road sign and he lets me know he’s still there.

I really shouldn’t complain. After all, I am working from home, and to his credit, he did give me a blog topic today. I suppose he can stay. Eventually though, we’re going to have to come to an understanding. Either he starts contributing to the word count or the Mousie gets it.

A Charleston Portrait

4 Feb

To celebrate our 30th anniversary (and to mark my leap from steady paycheck to struggling writer status), my husband and I spent last week in the Lowcountry of South Carolina. We chose Charleston because we wanted to go somewhere we’d never been, that was near enough to drive to but far enough away that we could escape the cold Virginia winter.

Naturally, we spent three of our five days practically snowed in.

“First storm like this we’ve had this decade,” said all the locals.

Ravenel Bridge

Beautiful, but quite useless in a snowstorm, Ravenel Bridge

It wasn’t much by Virginia standards, but it was enough to shut down the city. Even the elegant Ravenel Bridge, the main route to the downtown area, was closed throughout most of our visit. It was opened briefly when temperatures warmed, but quickly closed again when ice falling from the rigging began crashing onto crossing vehicles, apparently annoying drivers in them.

Because we were staying at Mount Pleasant, this meant either taking the alternate route with hundreds of cranky re-routed commuters or staying on the island and seeing the sights there.Initially, I was quite disappointed. I wanted to experience the Charleston I’d been hearing about for so many years, its lovely markets and restaurants, and that legendary Southern charm.

We instead went out to Isle of Palms, and explored Fort Moultrie on Sullivan’s Island. It was all quite nice, but cold, and I’d hardly say charming.

Then we met Mazie Brown, a sweetgrass basket weaver with a small stand on Highway 17. Sweetgrass weaving, South Carolina’s official handcraft, is an art only found in this region, and the baskets are sold only in the downtown markets and along this highway. Mazie was one of only a few weavers brave enough to set up shop that day, when cold was warding off potential customers.

From the moment we entered her tiny hut we were charmed. Mazie flashed us a wide and welcoming grin, and commenced to chatting as if we were old friends.

“You’re lucky you come by when you did,” she said. “Soon the only place you’ll see baskets like this is in the museums.”

Mazie talked about her art, which she’d been practicing since she was 6, and this stand, which her Mama had established 29 years ago and which Mazie had taken over after retiring from her nursing career. While I listened, I pulled down some of her creations, running my fingers along the intricate patterns woven from grasses and palms.

“Those dark parts is pine and bullrush,” she said, pride emanating from her deep brown eyes. “And that’s palmetto, holdin’ it all together.”

Her weathered hands stayed busy, braiding a stalk of sweetgrass into a circle, the way her Mama had taught her: in the Gullah tradition maintained more than 300 years by Africans brought to America in slavery.

“It’s dyin’ though,” she said. “My children want nothin’ to do with it. They don’t have the patience…rather play on their textin’ machines.”

My husband held up a serving platter that she said took about two and a half days of weaving to complete. What a shame this art might disappear. We’ve since learned that not only is the coming generation losing interest, but regional development is depleting the sweetgrass supply. Access to the grasslands is limited; harvesters travel nearly 90 miles to find grass, or they buy it like Mazie does.

“When I was a girl, I used to go with my Daddy to pull it up,” she said. “Wouldn’t do that today. There’s so many snakes in the grasses now.”

We purchased the platter and asked her to sign the back. Her face lit up afresh and she pulled a sharpie of her pocket; our request wasn’t original.

“Some folks don’t want ‘em signed, but I’m always happy to do it,” she said.

As she carefully spelled out her name on the evenly spaced palmetto coils, Mazie continued to talk about her family, being alone despite two marriages, surviving cancer seven years now, and about her love for the weaving craft. We could have listened for hours; she had such a sweet storytelling gift.

Mazie Brown

Mazie Brown, artist and storyteller, Charleston personified

So enchanted was I by Miss Mazie, I did something I rarely do, as anyone who knows me will attest. I wanted to have my picture taken with her. I could tell when I asked that she shared my loathing for the camera, but she obliged (albeit, never looking into the lens). Jerry and I both felt compelled to hug her goodbye.

We eventually got to the city, to a few good restaurants (shout out to Page’s Okra Grill!) and to the market where baskets similar to Maize’s were triple the price and stalls were just business establishments. After Mazie, it was a bit anticlimactic.

I’m not sure we would have met Maize if not for the weather; I’m so glad we did. To me, she is now family. To me, she is Charleston. And a lovely, charming place it is.