Garlic and Gooseberries: Gooseberry Demise

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I imagine you all waiting with bated breath for news of the unripe gooseberries I brought home the first day, the very berries that inspired the name of this series, along with the now dead garlic. Well, I have a story for you.IMG_1402

My fruit allergy did not stop me from wanting to make jelly, knowing there would be willing consumers amongst my friends, and family, and so I picked a recipe for Gooseberry-Lemon Verbena Jelly from Preserving For All Seasons by Anne Gardon. IMG_1569

I was particularly excited because lemon verbena was one of the herbs I had just planted. I eagerly waited for the berries to ripen and for the herb plant to grow enough leaves to fill a cup measure.

Timing is everything, right? By the time the berries ripened there were about 6 leaves on the little lemon verbena plant. 1 cup of leaves is a whole lot more than six. Undeterred, I boiled the fruit and strained it in a bag hanging over a bowl, which made the kitchen look like a mad scientist had taken over. IMG_1407I poured the beautiful juice into a glass container and froze it until the lemon verbena could catch up.

Yes, there was a little voice that told me this was an awful lot of effort for 4 tiny jars of jelly I would not be able to eat, at a time when I had many other things demanding my attention, but I didn’t listen. Sometimes a louder, bolder sign is needed to get my attention. One day, as I was struggling with some stubborn item in my freezer, I knocked the container of berry juice and out it flew, crashing into a million shards of glass and chips of frozen gooseberry juice. I am still finding sticky reminders everywhere.

Seriously, I may have to change the name of this blog series.

There is a happy ending to this story though. The armful of rhubarb I brought home the other day quickly went through a similar science experiment process and became a refreshing summer drink, mixed with maple syrup and a sprig of mint. Ahh, summer is a lovely season, isn’t it?IMG_1414

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Wednesday Wandering: Walking the Labyrinth

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When a good friend of mine asked recently if I knew anything about labyrinths I had to pause. If I had thought about them at all, I guess I had always thought of a labyrinth as some sort of dark scary maze from which one might never emerge. My friend is someone who is drawn to healing, meditation and spiritual paths, and she told me she had been looking into them and was amazed at what she found.

A look at Wikipedia informed me that most labyrinths, which have been around since the ancient Greek times, have one definitive path from beginning to end, as opposed to a maze that has dead-ends and multiple options, but what my friend was intrigued by was their use by many people as a ritual or meditative tool. They have been used in many cultures and belief systems and can be found in cathedrals the world over, the most famous being Chartres in France. On doing a little searching she found several in the Boston area: Boston College, Harvard Divinity School, a couple churches in Concord, to name just a few. She sent me the link to a video of Washington Post columnist Sally Quinn talking about the labyrinth she put in her own garden and her experiences walking it. I was hooked.

It turns out there is a beautiful labyrinth on the Rose Kennedy Greenway across from Faneuil Hall in the Armenian Heritage Park. That is a short T ride from our house and very close to the North End. What better way to spend a warm summer evening than to peacefully walk a labyrinth, and then feast on good Italian food?

The labyrinth we went to is a concrete path with grass on either side that winds back and forth and in and out, eventually reaching the center where there is a little fountain. Apparently you are supposed to walk the path slowly and meditatively, keeping a problem, issue, person or prayer in mind as you walk.IMG_1574

My husband gamely agreed to go with me, but as with so many things in life, the path is too narrow to walk side by side, so although we were both there, we each needed to do it alone, at our own pace, on different parts of the path at different times.IMG_1576

And so we walked. I found I had to concentrate on my feet to follow the winding path, step by step, as I went around and around, back and forth, in and out of what was on my mind. Sometimes it seemed like I was close to the center, almost touching the truth, but then the path would move me back out to the edge of the circle giving me more musing, more weaving, more winding. As I walked my focus would wander and then refocus. As with all that life hands out, I tried to trust that the process itself, the journey would lead to clarity even as it meanders.IMG_1573

The labyrinth seemed to offer whatever one needed from it, and people around us were all experiencing it differently.

Some kids were there, running, jumping across the grass, going straight to the fountain at the center, not knowing what the ground was under their feet. They were distracting but I kept focusing on putting one foot in front of the other. IMG_1575Others were walking the path purposefully, exchanging nods with those of us who were passing next to them, continuing on the journey, and yet others took it lightly, laughing and racing through it to get to the middle and back. My husband enjoyed the walk to the center, but rather than return on the path, he went right to a bench and relaxed in the summer evening.

When I reached the center I took off my shoes and reveled in the cool water, walking a circle around the fountain a few times, before walking calmly, a bit more quickly back. Ever notice how trips always seem shorter going home from a new place?

Dusk fell and calm spread through me as I walked barefoot on the warm concrete, anticipating dinner. I will be looking for other labyrinths to walk wherever I can find them.IMG_1572

Garlic and Gooseberries: New Life

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A very exciting day at the garden! I visited a few days after the rains from hurricane Arthur had passed, followed by temperatures in the 80s and 90s, and I could practically hear the plants growing. First of all, it had become obvious which of those new shoots were weeds, and which were not. Hallelujah for clarity. A helpful couple harvesting green beans and lettuce from their lush plot across from mine gave me a general rule of thumb: if it’s growing really fast, it is probably a weed! Good to know.

As I pulled up the new vines and clover covering the ground I made definite cilantro and red kale sightings. The spinach is still a bit of a question so I will wait and see. It may just be too warm for that cool weather crop.

My joy at welcoming the first zucchini, eggplant and squash flowers was actually a bit embarrassing and my weed consultant neighbors smiled indulgently as I photographed these beautiful signs of new life. I got excited too by the re-growth of lettuce leaves on the stalks from which I had harvested the heads of romaine we found growing when we first started: beautiful, tender, tiny light green leaves rising amongst the wilted remains left behind. A miracle.

In pulling up weeds I knocked over a piece of wood used as a path between the spinach and the kale, and I yelped. In fact, I used language that would be inappropriate in a family blog. There were thousands of black ants scurrying about, suddenly exposed to the sunlight. I had known there was an anthill there, but what shocked me was a huge pile of what looked like perfectly formed grains of rice being moved with amazing speed deep into the bowels of the earth by dexterous and industrious ants. I have since learned those grains of rice are pupae, from which will eventually emerge a huge new populations of black ants. The thought makes me queasy.

I covered them back up with the board and scurried off myself as thunder and lightning informed me Mother Nature would be doing the watering that day. Those cohabitants of my plot and their own celebration of new life are not entirely welcome, as they give me the heebie-jeebies, but I will do my best to live and let live.

cilantroCilantro

 

IMG_1527 Zucchini blossoms

 

IMG_1529Eggplant blossom

 

new lettuce leaves

New lettuce leaves

 

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Yikes!

 

Garlic and Gooseberries: A Bit of Bartering

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On a recent weekend day, my husband decided it was time to be proactive in the bunny wars. We had not yet experienced any attacks on our young sprouts, but chicken wire seemed to be a good idea. So he unrolled fencing and hammered posts into the ground to anchor it, and our little plot took on a more tucked-in, cared-for look. In the meantime, I dug out the brick path that had been buried in dirt and cleaned it off, giving us mud free access to all parts of the garden.

There were several gardeners there that day and we met a friend of the woman who used to work our plot. The friend confirmed what we knew had to be true, that the woman was a wonderful gardener and we had inherited some mighty fine dirt. She identified a mysterious plant as the herb lovage, and I learned that a “weed” I had pulled had in fact been sorrel, an herb I love on fish. How sad!

The previous “owner” had moved to a sunnier spot several plots down, and the results of her green thumb there are impressive. But it turns out there is something she misses: my gooseberries! Her friend initiated a negotiation on her behalf: would I be willing to trade the gooseberries for a jar of her jam? Of course, I said, she can have as many of them as she likes. And then I took a closer look at her current garden. A massive rhubarb plant sprawled, pink stalks peaking out from beneath huge poisonous leaves. I am unfortunately allergic to most fruits but rhubarb, oh rhubarb! I can eat rhubarb and it is one of my favorites. A deal was struck, and I left that day with an armful of luscious stalks, recipes dancing in my head.

chicken wire and brick path

 

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Wednesday Wanderings: Henry Wadsworth Longfellow House

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A few steps past the bustling urban center of Harvard Square, Brattle Street leads into a quiet, leafy tree-lined neighborhood. The beautiful old stately mansions put one in mind of another era, a more genteel time, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see a horse and buggy come down the street, or to hear the swish of a long skirt around a corner. Just past St. John’s Memorial Chapel and the warm stone buildings of Lesley University and the Episcopal Divinity School, an elegant sign alerts passersby that they have reached the home of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, one time headquarters of George Washington’s army.Longfellow House sign

I first discovered Longfellow’s House, a National Historic site managed by the National Park Service, last summer when a literature-loving friend and her history-studying daughter came to visit. They had added the house to their list of “must-sees” in Boston, but I admit I was lukewarm about going at first. Longfellow? A familiar name, but one firmly stuck in the background of my memory.

“The Song of Hiawatha? The Courtship of Miles Standish? Paul Revere’s Ride?” my friend prompted, her voice rising with each title. “Listen, my children, and you shall hear/ Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere?”

Oh, THAT Longfellow! So ingrained are those poems in my elementary school memories that I took them for granted, but here was the house of the man who had penned those words. Here lived the man who, along with his friends Hawthorne, Emerson and Thoreau, created a new genre of writing: American literature. Together they told truly American stories, which differed greatly from British literature. They told the stories of the birth of a new nation, while political figures created new American forms of democratic governance, and painters forged American art. What a heady and exciting time that was, and Boston and the surrounding areas are full of reminders of that early history. The Longfellow House is indeed a “must-see” when in Boston.

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The house and grounds are meticulously maintained, having stayed in the Longfellow family continuously until they were given to the National Park Service. Henry’s daughter Alice had kept the original furnishings, and everything except the carpets and draperies are as they were when the family lived there. The formal garden has been recreated, complete with rare heirloom plants, exactly as Henry had designed it. This beautiful garden is open to the public and a table of art supplies and small stools invite visitors to sit and draw awhile.

There are tours of the grounds, some of which are expertly lead by that very same history-studying young friend who now volunteers there, and hourly tours of the house. The Rangers provide wonderful descriptions and information about the history of the house and the family. I found myself lingering over every story as this famous writer came alive for me. Our tour guide, Rob, peppered his commentary with poetry recitations, making his visitors sigh just a little. Spoken out loud, poetry really does reach right into the heart.

The tour is free, as are the weekly poetry reading and concerts. The schedule for this summer is HERE and more information can be found HERE. Their Facebook page posts historical tidbits and other information throughout the year.

I went back this Wednesday with a friend for the garden tour and another walk through the house, and it was just as engaging the second time around. Afterwards, we wandered the streets nearby, marveling at the beauty of each house.

Finding ourselves back at Harvard Square, back in the 21st century,

hungry after our long trip through history,IMG_1565 we decided to indulge in a more modern American tradition: hamburgers and fries at the Shake Shack. Also highly recommended!

 

Longfellow House, North End, Labrinth. June 9 2014 065Longfellow House

Longfellow House, North End, Labrinth. June 9 2014 052Our excellent tour guides, Rob and Steve, and Mr. Longfellow himself.

IMG_1546The house seen through the gardens.

 

Longfellow House, North End, Labrinth. June 9 2014 032The entry hall and bust of George Washington.

 

IMG_1553View of the formal garden and gazebo

 

IMG_1551Art supplies for those who want to linger in the garden

 

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Garlic and Gooseberries: Little Sprouts, Little Critters

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There is something going on in my garden and I am feeling a bit uneasy. There are tiny green sprouts everywhere on the rich dark soul. At first it seemed obvious that the seeds I had planted were starting to grow, but now after the first big rain they are coming up even where I didn’t plant anything. So they must be weeds. Or other plants that used to grow here which might be edible. I thought the weeds would look different from the vegetables. How do I know what to pull and what to leave?

Deep breaths, Ellen, deep breaths. This is where patience comes in. I need to leave everything alone until it grows more and then it should become clear. This is sounding suspiciously like life: no matter how much you want clarity and resolution, sometimes you just have to wait. Sometimes only the passage of time will give you the information you need. And so I will wait, before I weed.

I am also worried that the light green leaves of my arugula starts are covered in tiny little holes. They look like they are made of green lace. Little bitty critters are chowing down on my arugula! I wouldn’t mind if they left some for me but there wasn’t that much to start with. I believe plants, like people, are most vulnerable when they are adjusting to new circumstances. My only hope is that the transplants will get good strong roots before the bugs weaken them, growing into robust plants with leaves big enough to share. I have considered spraying them with something like lemon juice to discourage the bugs, but I can’t help laughing at myself: add a little olive oil and the bugs will enjoy a perfect salad!

Lastly, sadly the garlic I transplanted looks quite dead. I won’t give up completely, but it is not looking good. I may have to rename this blog series.
Hole-y arugula

Garlic and Gooseberries: Meeting the Neighbors

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We have slowly been meeting the other gardeners, and they seem to eye us with caution. I don’t blame them. This community garden is sort of off the map, having been grandfathered into the city’s program, and the gardeners are all very happy to be left to do their own thing.  The only two rules seem to be:

  1. Turn off the faucet and put away the hose,
  2. Be considerate of your abutters. That is a word I had never heard before but now I can’t think of a better way to describe the plots with whom one shares a border.

The mild anarchy feels good to me and I have no intention of rocking the boat. Most of the members have gardened here for a long time, at least one for as long as 25 years. They tell me stories of when the nearby trees were saplings and how those trees now shade formerly sunny spots. I am sure irritations must arise but I can see no sign of discord here.

I wander among the plots and make up stories about the gardeners, imaging a lady sitting reading in the wicker chair nestled into one plot, and wondering how much pesto will come from the entire plot planted with basil. Perhaps there will be a meeting in the kitchen with the person who grows only tomatoes? Some of the plots have lovingly-created stone landscaping and brick enclosures, one a beautiful handcrafted wooden fence. The use of chicken wire has been explained to me: in recent years a rabbit or two have been eating the baby plants. I know we should put up some fencing but it is low on our list. I hope we won’t learn the hard way.

One day I came upon two young people laying on the ground, picnicking in a little clearing by gate. No, they are not members, they tell me. They know someone who is a member… well, not exactly a member… Ummm.

Uh huh.

I didn’t tell them to leave. A community garden belongs to the community, after all, and why not share the gentle serenity with those who appreciate it?

 

 

squash sprouts IMG_1388

Garlic and Gooseberries: Sowing the Seeds

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I hurried back to my garden the next day to plant the seeds, putting the finishing touches on our masterpiece. In the greens quadrant I added 2 rows of spinach, different varieties, and a few turnips, a new experiment for me. In the squash quadrant I added delicata squash and little pie pumpkins. Yes, I know I am over-planting. I just can’t help myself. The seeds are so small.

In the herb garden I added a patch of cilantro, and then next to it prepared the ground to plant red kale. But here is where a minor disaster struck: I accidentally planted MORE cilantro seeds! Ack! Ok, ok, I can fix this. I very gently moved the top layer of soil, presumable full of seeds, over on top of the cilantro patch, and then planted the red kale where it is supposed to go. I have no idea what will happen there.

As a final touch I planted calendula seeds, a kind of yellow marigold, throughout the garden. The flowers will keep away insects, I hope, and I want to try to make a soothing balm from them eventually.

Now we are done with all we can do. We have gotten things started and it is up to the plants and Mother Nature to take it from here.

After I had watered and prepared to leave, some locals dropped in to check out my handiwork: two birds flew in and took a look around. They seemed to approve, but, probably out of politeness since I was standing right there, didn’t help themselves to the newly planted seeds. Off they went to bathe in a nearby birdbath. When they come back to sample the goods, I hope they like cilantro seeds.bird bath

Garlic and Gooseberries: Digging In

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After deep knee bends in yoga and a 5-mile run for my husband, spending the day prepping the garden was perhaps not the best idea. We could barely move the next day, but it was the satisfying kind of soreness that comes from having accomplished something exciting.

For the actual planting that week I called on my young friend who is a graduate student here in town, the daughter of very dear Portland friends. We have eaten delicious vegetables from her father’s stellar garden for years and I was hoping she had inherited her dad’s green thumb. Who knows if she does indeed have his gardening genes, but her enthusiasm and the easy conversation and bonding that comes from digging in the dirt together must certainly have given our plants a good start.

Together we decided where the plants should go, grouping similar types of vegetables together. We discovered a brick path, which I will excavate later, that divides the plot into 4 quadrants, and we used that as our guide. One quadrant, where some lettuce and onions were already happily growing, got filled up with arugula and swiss chard starts, and the kohlrabi plants. The garlic I had transplanted the day before is there, but not looking too happy: we will see what happens to it. We left space for me to plant spinach seeds another day.IMG_1378

Another square, where the oregano plant held court, we filled with herbs, planted in a U-shape so I can easily step in and snip off what I need. Thyme, basil and tarragon join the sage, oregano, chives and mint, and I am experimenting with lemon balm, lemon verbena and chamomile to dry for teas.

The Herb Garden

In the sunniest quadrant we planted 3 rows of leeks, 6 eggplant starts, 2 zucchini and 2 yellow squash starts. I am a bit nervous about those zucchini. They look so small and innocent now, but I know how large and, hmmmm, generous, they can be once they get going. I may be sharing a lot later this summer.IMG_1373

The last quadrant will be interesting. I thought I had bought Brussel sprouts, which I had loved growing in Oregon. Finding the sprouts hidden under the leaves of the tall stalks just tickled me every time. But oh no! The tag in the little pot says these plants are broccoli! More green worms on our plates? But we planted them anyway and I will soak the florets in salt water to lure the little bugs out. Similarly, what I thought were spaghetti squash starts might in fact be acorn squash. We will see what grows! I am not sure there is really room for any squash: in Portland our squash and melons and pumpkins grew riotously over a huge area. We have a much smaller space here, but that has not stopped my enthusiastic over planting.

This garden is most definitely becoming a metaphor for life: you plant the seeds in good faith with the help of good friends, and then you really just have to wait to see what grows. Patience, care, tolerance, adaption and acceptance: we will see if I have what it takes.Plants planted!

Garlic and Gooseberries: Garden Gifts

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“Do you know what you want to plant?” my husband asked me.

Do I know what I want to plant?! In the 24 hours since hearing about my new community garden plot I had done what good gardeners usually take an entire winter to ponder. I had a list an arm’s length long. In the spirit of learning from one’s mistakes, I summoned up the memories of my less successful crops: the total of three okra pods that managed to grow over the two summers I obstinately planted it, the cabbage and cauliflower that took a lot of space but only yielded one head each year, the broccoli that regularly delivered green worms onto our plates no matter how well I washed it. I decided instead to focus on what we had enjoyed the most from our previous gardens: greens that we snipped for salads from spring until fall, zucchini (as long as I didn’t plant too many), herbs, onions, garlic, and leeks, wonderful leeks that can be harvested well into cold weather. The process of choosing involved elaborate cooking fantasies, of course. I hesitated over delicate squash until I pictured them sliced diagonally, tossed in oil and roasted, or sautéed in brown butter. Done! They are on the list.

Once we got to the garden center, some favorites had to be dropped – there were no seed potatoes – and replaced by others: kohlrabi will be a new experiment. As it seems a bit late to only plant seeds, we tried to find as many starts as possible, to jumpstart the garden’s growth. What joy to fill our cart with little plants, organic lobster compost (we are in New England after all!) and a good strong shovel.

Because my husband is an awesome husband as well as a great father, he spent his Father’s Day using that shovel to dig up our garden. First, gloves on, we pulled out piles of weeds. Hidden amongst them were some treasures, however. A massive oregano plant got trimmed down, yielding an armful of oregano to be dried at home. When cutting back a beautiful purple flowering bush I discovered it was in fact a sage plant, so boughs of sage got added to the herbs to be dried. There is a delightful currant bush sitting demurely in the corner full of fruit that will be made into jelly when the time is right, but a huge gooseberry bush presented us with a dilemma. We needed to trim it back as it took up too much space, but how could we waste the unripe berries hanging heavy on the branches? A quick check on my smart phone reassured me the berries would ripen enough for jam in my kitchen, so a pile of thorny branches made their way back home. The garden was full, too, of onions and garlic, much of which came home to cure on our kitchen table, and trimmings from the chive and mint were added to the bounty.

What gifts! We hadn’t even planted yet and we already had a harvest that filled our kitchen with the sweet scents of summer.

 

Pre-gardening Father’s Day fortification:

Pre-gardening Father's Day fortification

 

The results of a hard day’s work:

The end of a long day's work

 

Drying herbs:

Herbs drying

 

Gooseberries:

Gooseberries

Garlic and Gooseberries

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When we lived in Portland our house sat on an acre of land, land that became progressively more wild the further it got from the house. There was a reasonably sized lawn in front and back, somewhat scrappy and a haven to moles and gophers, due to our resistance to using chemicals. Just beyond that nod to suburban civilization however, our garden opened up into a woodland of trees and native plants, blueberry bushes and fig trees, along with a lively crop of dandelions. DSC00423I loved that magical garden and made a point every summer day of laying in the hammock to gaze up at the swaying branches of those trees. It was the land furthest from the house that posed our biggest challenge. Covered in blackberries, thistles and a thatch of trees that hid an old truck, beer cans and old tires, it was a place that resisted being tamed. Over time, with my brother’s help and knowledge, we cleared some of it and built a cob bench under a bamboo shelter. We planted fruit trees and laid down layers of newspapers and wood chips to battle the thistles. We learned about permaculture from local experts and participated in Portland’s Village Building Convergence, hailed as a Beacon of Light in the western suburbs for our efforts. (here is an article about us!) Along the way I started growing vegetables (read more about my gardening adventures here), eventually starting a community garden on the land with 6 other families.

Then my husband got transferred to Boston and we moved into a Cambridge townhouse with a small brick patio and no land.

Oddly enough, we didn’t miss it. We didn’t miss the work, the backaches, the slugs. We never once lamented the loss of endless weeds and aggravation. I admit, at one point, inspired by a friend’s enthusiasm, I went as far as signing up for a spot in a local community garden, but was told there was a three year wait. Once I thought briefly about getting big pots and growing something on our patio but when my husband pointed out there wasn’t enough sun, I was actually relieved. The truth is, if I am being totally honest, I did miss our magical garden. I loved, and still love, that Oregon garden with a deep passion, and true love is hard to replace. Plus, our city life was so different and we were so fully occupied by life in other ways, I didn’t feel a need to garden here.

Until now.

Last week, after a month of traveling with the kids and visiting family, both our children were about to set off for summer jobs in other cities. That deafening silence was soon to settle on our house again, and I was facing that changing of my rusty gears from mothering to getting back to my own work. I woke with a heavy heart, wondering how to jumpstart my summer work plans, and the phone rang. The friendly voice on the line informed me a plot had opened up in the local community garden and was mine for the taking.

Hello? Universe calling. Please pick up.

The next day I walked to a park 10 minutes from our house. There in the rain I pushed open a little gate with a faded sign that said “Garden Members Only” and stepped inside. IMG_1341
It was love at first sight. Barely contained anarchy, 24 chicken wire enclosed patches bursting with life and personality, deep dark dirt and an obvious tolerance of weeds: my kind of garden. The garden coordinator met me and showed me what was available. She talked about sun exposure and this and that, but I picked the plot that called my name. Herbs, onions, garlic and a big gooseberry bush burst out from among the weeds. I could tell this garden had been loved. Standing there, rain dripping off my hat, it all felt just a little magical.IMG_1334

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Follow my journey in the community garden this summer. I will be blogging all about it in Garlic and Gooseberries on my website.

Boston Philharmonic Youth Orchestra: “Shaping future leaders through music”

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My family used to teasingly call me Cinder-Ellen when I was little, but last weekend I got to feel like a real Cinderella princess. My husband and I got invited to participate in some of the festivities to celebrate the 35th anniversary of the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra and the 75th birthday of their charismatic leader, conductor Benjamin Zander. As the lucky guests of one of the members of a group of sponsors, we got to schmooze and dine with people who believe in the importance of supporting the arts, and the musicians got to show us why that support is so important. Dressed impeccably in black, performing flawlessly, they treated us to an astounding performance of Mahler’s 9th Symphony in the beautiful and acoustically remarkable Boston Symphony Hall. Having dabbled superficially in listening to classical music, I knew just enough about Mahler to be intimidated by his music, but luckily Mr. Zander offers a pre-concert lecture before every performance. My doubts were no match for his enthusiasm and charm, and his words made the symphony accessible to me. I knew what to listen for, when it would be angry, dissonant, melodious or crashing. This familiarity increased my enjoyment and engagement throughout the amazing performance.

The true magic, however, occurred the following day when we attended a rehearsal of the Boston Philharmonic Youth Orchestra. There, in a room in the Benjamin Franklin Institute, we saw about 125 young people between the ages of 12 and 21 going through what it takes to produce the kind of perfection we had witnessed the night before.

Holding their beautiful musical instruments with a lovely combination of ease and reverence, there was no doubt they knew the notes and when to play. The rehearsal was for them to learn, at the hands of the remarkable Maestro Zander, how to play those notes so the instruments expressed a story, became characters, spoke with personality, meaning and depth. I never knew there were so many ways to play the same notes. And I never knew there were so many life lessons taught in an orchestra rehearsal.

Here was a roomful of kids in t-shirts, jeans, Converse and Nikes, cutting up, catching each other’s eye and grinning. They were kids, no doubt about it. Who knows what teenage angst, crushes and insecurities were swimming through their heads? But then they would tuck the violin under their chin, put the flute to their lips, raise the bow, tip the harp back, and they were transformed. I watched Mr. Zander in wonder as he listened, picking out individual notes from the orchestral whole. “Where is the B flat?” he cried at one point, and everyone looked around them as if it had dropped under one of the chairs.

He is masterful in his ability to manage, inspire and teach these young people. He knew how to compliment with sincerity first: “You are playing beautifully,” he would say, and then he would correct, instruct and guide without apology or shame. As a result, the players played, adjusted, played again.

Respect and guidance: such an excellent basis for parenting, for leading.

The music was Don Quixote, and the 1st cello and 1st violin were the voice of Don Quixote himself. They had to play so that neither was drowned out. Dulcinea had a lovely voice that had to shine out from the rest, and Sancho Panza, played by the 1st viola had to have a completely different sound and cadence from both the others. “He speaks in proverbs all the time. He is IRRITATING. “ Mr. Zander kept insisting with his English accent and expressive body language. “You can be IRRITATING, can’t you?” Within a few minutes, the three personalities were noticeably different and identifiable from one another, but they co-existed on stage without overpowering each other. Not an easy feat, especially when each of the musicians is skilled and accomplished enough to be justified in wanting to dominate the performance.

Mr. Zander made sure the musicians knew the story: “He is DYING here. DYING.” The instruments mourned. He stopped everyone to discuss the procession coming closer from a long distance away and had them play as quietly as possible before building to a crescendo. Not only was plot addressed but scenery description leapt out of the orchestra. “Sheep! Can you hear them? I want to hear sheep in the winds section! Cellos, be dust over there. MORE DUST!” He tamped down the volume when the music was expressing dreaming, and we could feel the dreaminess languishing around us. Anger, despair, joy: emotions were offered up and shared with us through a tight control of each instrument by each musician.

These young people were learning the power of self-control, the importance of expressing strong individual voices while still listening to the others around them, reining in their power to lead others to a greater goal, and the immense satisfaction of being part of a larger whole. Their focus was laser-sharp; their passion was evident, yet controlled.

I felt like Cinderella, indeed, to be witness to such a magical event, but I was reminded that music is in fact for the public. The Boston Philharmonic Youth Orchestra will be performing Don Quixote and other pieces on May 18th. For as little as $15, or less if you are a student or a senior, you too can sit in the audience and be enveloped by the musical storytelling of this passionate orchestra.

And if you are looking for a worthwhile way to spend your charitable dollars, I can think of no greater cause than supporting the BPYO. The rehearsal I attended showed clearly how they are working towards their stated mission: “Shaping future leaders through music”

Visit these links to learn more about the BPO, the BPYO and Benjamin Zander.

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Food Friday: Potluck Book Club Baked Potato Bar and Pot of Chocolate

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IMG_0735I had to chuckle when someone in my book club brought this New York Times article to my attention:  Really? You’re Not in a Book Club? 

It seems everyone today is in a book club. In fact, I have been in one or another for the past 23 years. The first one was formed by a couple of new moms and myself when our babies were very young and we thought we were losing our minds. Our only rule was that we couldn’t talk about our children. Ten years later, in a new city, a friend and I started a Mother-Daughter Book Club that included those very babies I had been escaping earlier. I have belonged to couples book clubs and neighborhood book clubs, serious discussion groups and free for all get-togethers. When I moved to Boston I was lucky enough to be invited to join a wonderful group of women who have been reading and discussing books together for years. I knew right away I would like my new home.

While each club has been different, there is one element they all have in common: food. From snacks to dinners to desserts, every group provides some kind of food and drink to bring everyone together and get the discussion started. Today, however, there are so many dietary limitations that providing a meal can become a minefield. Paleo? Vegan? Gluten-free? Lactose intolerant? Food allergies? What should be a warm hospitable offering becomes fraught with obstacles. Add to that the busy schedules we all keep, and hosting book club can suddenly become a stressful chore.

Our book club members began addressing this issue recently and we have almost giddily released ourselves from expectation and obligation. Instead of the required dinner of the past, now we each get to decide what we will do when we host: heavy appetizers? Dessert only? Potluck? Take-out? Anything goes and everything is accepted. What a relief!

When my turn came to host last week, I decided on a Pot Luck Baked Potato Bar. I provided the baked potatoes (Russet and sweet) and a few toppings, and everyone brought a topping or two to share. I sent an email out the week before asking people to let everyone know what they would bring so we didn’t end up with 5 bowls of sour cream. We kept it simple, so that no one felt burdened.IMG_0729IMG_0730

As the hostess, it was the easiest meal I could imagine. Baking the potatoes and a making a few toppings is a breeze. All the toppings, as they come in the door, get lined up buffet-style on the kitchen counter. The theory is that everyone starts with a potato on a plate, sliced open and steaming, and they each go down the buffet counter adding the toppings they chose: everyone gets to make their own perfect plate. The needs of every diet are met: toppings span the Paleo to vegan range. The reality that evening was even better than the theory: everyone approached it her own way. Some people ate in courses, eating one layer of toppings and then going back for different ones until they got to the potato skins. Some of us loaded everything on at once and mixed it all up. Who said grown-ups shouldn’t play with their food? We all had fun and were plenty stuffed by the end.

After a short break though we were all ready for a treat, of course: a pot of melted chocolate with fruit to dip, another potluck opportunity.

 

POT LUCK: Book Club Baked Potato Bar and Pot of Chocolate

PROVIDED BY HOSTESS:

Extra large Russet potatoes, 1 per person plus a few extras in case one has a bad spot inside

Sweet Potatoes, a few for those who don’t eat white potatoes

Wash the potatoes and prick them several times with a fork or sharp knife, to allow the steam to escape as they bake. Otherwise they can explode in your oven! Bake the potatoes at 425 degrees for about one hour. They are done when you give them a slight squeeze (with your hand in an oven mitt) and they give and are soft inside.

 

TOPPINGS:

PROVIDED BY HOSTESS AND GUESTS:

Veggies

Roasted asparagus

Roasted red peppers

Sauted zucchinis

Sauteed mushrooms

Steamed broccoli

Chopped scallions

 

Protein

Garbanzo beans

Bacon

Sliced steak or chicken breast

 

Extras

Butter

Vegan margarine

Sour cream or plain yogurt

Pesto sauce

Grated cheese

Olives

 
CHOCOLATE POT

PROVIDED BY HOSTESS:

Melt 2 cups chocolate chips with about 2/3 cup milk (or almond or coconut milk) in a double boiler, stirring until smooth and glossy.

Serve in individual little bowls with dippers.

 

DIPPERS:

 PROVIDED BY HOSTESS AND GUESTS:

Strawberries

Pineapple

Bananas

Marshmallows

Cookies

Nuts

Pretzels

 

 

Morning Miracle

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The woman in front of me is coming undone. Wrestling a huge suitcase and a tiny child she is getting tied up in the black stretchy divider keeping the mass of people in orderly lines. Muttering to herself, she is close to tears and I hear a voice cut through the din around us: “Ma’am, do you need some help?” It seems that everyone who is awake in Boston at this predawn hour is right here in the JetBlue security line at Logan. What are they doing here? Through the crowd, an agent in blue has spotted her. “You look like you are having some trouble there, ma’am.”
Pulling, tripping, dragging, desperate to get out, the woman says, “I left my ID at home. I have to go!” With the conviction of one who knows she can actually help, the JetBlue agent, or perhaps I should say, angel, calls out to her again. Whipping her way through the dividers, she keeps asking her questions, gets her to look at her, to take 10 breaths, to believe her when she says she can work it out.
As I inch my way through the line I am able to watch their progress. By the time I reach security I see the woman joking, laughing and shaking the hand of the JetBlue angel who goes off to save someone else’s day. “Who was that masked woman?” I feel like asking. Wow: making a difference before the sun is even up.
Then I realize: she isn’t the only one. JetBlue must have some special screening and training procedures in place. Everyone here is helpful, and it is contagious. As I watch the sunrise through the picture windows of the airport I have an eerie sensation, like Alice must have had when she went down the rabbit hole. Here I am in this massive crowd and no one is grumbling. Having chosen the slowest security line, the one I am in, the young woman behind me starts to panic because her flight is already boarding. The blank faces around us suddenly come alive and everyone is moving her forward, carrying her bins full of shoes and coats to the front of the line.
Now that I think I of it, even the cab driver at 5 am in this 10 degree weather was uncommonly good company, and the checkin agent waived the fee on my overweight bag.
What is going on here? I only slept one hour last night. Perhaps I am hallucinating. Seriously, I am starting to wonder. On a completely full flight the seat next to me is inexplicably empty so I have a little extra room. I am going to sleep now, and when I wake up I expect the world to be back to normal. Ah yes, there is a screaming baby now: that’s more like it.

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FOOD FRIDAY: Brewed Roasted Cocoa Beans – Could this be love?

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I cannot drink coffee, or even tea, regularly and that has put me at a disadvantage. I used to wonder why I seemed to have so much less energy than the rest of the world until I realized that most of the world is fueled by caffeine, and I am fueled by, well, sleep. I wasn’t even competing in the same league.

I also noticed that while I clamor for FOOD in the morning, my husband could drink a latte and not be hungry until lunch. But I think the biggest thing I missed out on by not drinking coffee was the routine. Coffee drinkers I know have all sorts of rituals: the coffee maker is set up at night to start brewing in the morning, luring sleepyheads to wake up with the delicious smell, or the coffee shop is a scheduled stop after the gym or on the way to work. It’s like they all had the promise of a secret pleasure to get them out of bed and I had, well, nothing.

All that has changed, my friends. I have a new fuel to energize my day, a new routine to get me up in the morning. Let me tell you about Crio Brü: roasted cocoa beans, ground and brewed like coffee. The taste is slightly bitter, like coffee, slightly chocolate-y, and when you pour it into your mug it smells like what I imagine Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory smelled like. Real coffee drinkers, like my husband, may turn their noses up at it but that is fine. More for me.

You can drink it anyway you would drink coffee: milk, sugar, half & half, black, but I use my immersion blender to whip in a bit of butter, cinnamon and turmeric to keep me feeling full and clear-headed all morning. And now I have a lovely routine to ease into the rigors of the day. I shuffle downstairs, sleepily boil the water and scoop the ground cocoa beans. By the time my drink is ready the chocolate smell has already made me happy and I am mostly awake. And that first sip…ahhh! The promise of a secret pleasure, fulfilled.

Crio Brü’s website lists all the health benefits of this roasted cocoa drink. It is full of anti-oxidants and zinc to boost your immune system, lots of magnesium and other minerals, and some natural chemicals to keep your mood elevated, your brain sharp and your energy level high. It can also help curb your appetite and support weight loss. Read more about it here: www.criobru.com

I order it online but you can look at the website to find stores that sell it near you.

The thought of a warm mug of Crio Brü gets me up in the morning and makes me smile. On this Valentines’ day Friday, I daresay, this could be love.
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Shifting Gears

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The plate flips and lands on the floor with a crash. My expletive booms into the air, bounces off the walls and then, just as suddenly, the silence closes back in around me like a vacuum seal. Having jumped off the couch when I knocked the plate from its precarious perch, my heart still pounds. I looked at the upside-down plate, food scattered around. For a suspended second I listen, but no one comes, no one calls out. No one is here except me. A few hours before, someone would have clomped down the stairs to see if I was ok. Someone would have handed me a paper towel. There would have been a witness to my clumsiness, a recipient of my momentary irritation, a shared laugh to soothe it all away. But they are all gone. My sister is on her way back home across the country; my husband has flown off on business; my children are away at school.

In a house so often filled with others, there is suddenly just me. Me and my plate, on the couch.

Shifting gears has never been easy for me. Even though I have almost always driven a stick-shift, the car often lurches when I gear up, and gearing down is no better. Revving the engine just the right amount to move into a higher gear, or breaking, slowing down to smoothly put the car into a lower gear, is an art I have never quite mastered. As empty-nesters very well know, the months from November to January provide good practice in changing gears. Having just adjusted to sending the children off to college, the holidays bring them back, along with lots of other family and friends to juggle.

I admit to dragging my feet just a little back then, at the thought of the work ahead. We drop the new routines we have just adopted, and our relatively empty houses once again need us to orchestrate food in the fridge and sheets on the beds. Piles of laundry multiply and the house is full of voices. There is a charge in the air as we interact, a physicality to the togetherness as we all try to fit on the couch.

Then comes January, and they are gone. The motor is still in high gear, but it is time to gear it down, and then shift back into “me” gear. All the work I had put aside is still waiting for me patiently. I don’t have to check in with a houseful of people before making plans; I don’t have to coordinate schedules, meals or who has the car. In fact, unless I pick up the phone, I don’t have to speak at all. I can eat when and what I want, and watch whatever TV shows I chose. There are definite benefits to this, and I will relish it, I am sure.

But these first few days, when everyone first leaves, the quiet just booms so loud in my ears.

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Please and Thank You

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In the thick soft quiet that descends upon the city when it is blanketed in snow, I heard it: the scraping of a snow shovel, and I thought: “Thank you.” When I went out walking later, I thought those words again every time I reached a stretch of shoveled sidewalk or crossed the plowed streets. In this season of miracles, in this month of lighting up the darkness, in these very last days of the year, I think the greatest gift we can give is gratitude.

At Thanksgiving celebrations we tend to focus on the big things: family, health, prosperity, friends. Too often though, the daily offerings of life go unnoticed. Every day, people get out of bed and go to work, and each of us benefits. Stores open, trains run, restaurants serve food, electricity flows. What would happen if no one showed up for work?

When I was a young mother much of what I did was thankless and invisible. Really it was only noticeable if I didn’t do it, but for the most part, I got it done. The children were clothed, fed and loved, but I used to joke that babies never sit up and thank their mom for changing their diapers.

Have you said “Thank you” today? Maybe someone turned the heat up before you got out of bed this morning, or braved the cold to bring in the paper. Did you say “Thank you” to the bus driver, the gas station attendant or the barista? We are all taught to say “Please” and “Thank you” early in life but it takes awhile to understand the true power and meaning of these words. As we grow, we come to realize that people have a choice as to what they do and how they do it. “Please” acknowledges their choice, and “Thank you” recognizes their effort. Hearing those words can make someone’s day. Saying them can make yours.

Everyday countless little miracles occur. The mail arrives, the garbage disappears, groceries get bagged. Houses are cleaned, hair is cut, yoga classes are taught, cars get fixed. Planes take off, beds are made, factories produce. And sure, lots of people are just doing their jobs, and maybe the paycheck is their best reward. I can hear some of you out there saying, “Hey! We don’t need to laud everyone just for doing what they are supposed to do.” But I am not suggesting we give out medals. I am just suggesting we say, “Thank you.”

It feels good to be acknowledged. It feels good to be thanked. And here is the secret: it feels good to appreciate what people do. It feels good to say “Thank you.”

So today I challenge you to be part of an Exercise in Gratitude. In the midst of your holiday tumult see how many people you can thank, just for doing what they do every day, and see what happens. Just for fun, write me comments on how it goes. Catch the eye of the bus driver when you thank him. Get off your cell phone in the grocery line and thank the cashier. Thank the toll booth attendant. Thank your spouse for emptying the dishwasher. Thank yourself for working so hard. And while you are at it, call your mother. Those diapers didn’t change themselves, you know.

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Waning Light – A Photo Essay

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Fiery ball dropping
Fiery ball dropping

Busy with my indoor tasks earlier this afternoon, I received this text message from my husband: “Go outside. It’s beautiful” I looked out the window and saw blue sky. Catching his sense of urgency, I was quick to put on my walking shoes to be out in what could be our last glorious mild day. One benefit of living where there are four distinct seasons is a deep sense of appreciation for good weather. We never take anything for granted, or fall into the kind of complacency of which my California family members are guilty. Weather of all kinds impacts our daily life and it is never boring. When I am wilting in the summer heat, one thought of winter temperatures in the teens snaps me out of my whining. Likewise, when the chill of a February snow storm keeps me inside I remember that soon enough I will be sweating and I contentedly sip my hot chocolate.

The transitions, however, cause a feeling of vague anxiety. As summer slips into fall with winter  looming, we are all in a state of constant vigilance. Especially after the time change, when dusk settles on us by 4:30 each day, the waning of the light is a physical reminder of the waning of the year. We recently had some days with lows in the thirties, giving me a little thrill of anticipation as I tried out my new down coat, but there is a special value to a mild day after a cold snap . Such days are Nature’s gift to us and a reminder to appreciate each degree of warmth and ray of gold shining through the branches.

Yesterday was such a day. The sun-warmed air held a soft comfort as my husband and I went to Fresh Pond to soak up the autumn beauty. While my husband ran the 2.2 miles path around the lake a few times, I strolled and stopped often to capture moments on my camera. Ducks floated in groups, completely still as if in meditation, on water an inky mirror of the trees and sky. There were birds on branches too, looking out ahead, planning, perhaps, their upcoming journey south. People walked their dogs, and strolled in pairs, deep in conversation, or singly on the phone or with earphones plugged in, but I was glad to have no distractions from the beauty around me.

The news had warned of a cold snap coming, and when it poured all night last night, I thought our calm interlude was over. What joy to see that urgent text on my phone today as a reminder that it isn’t winter yet. I rushed out in time to see the waning of the day in Cambridge Common, the squirrels and children frantically scampering about. The squirrels ,of course, were earnest in their preparations for the inevitable cold ahead, but the children were as earnest in their oblivious joy in the moment.

“Wait! Wait for me,” I heard a tiny boy call, half-heartedly, to his mother hurrying far ahead. In his hooded red fleece jacket, he lingered and stalled, pausing to pick up a stick and throw it. “Wait for me,” he tried again, taking in the beckoning park, until reluctantly his little legs picked up speed and off he ran down the path.

Looking to the journey ahead?
Looking to the journey ahead?
The last of the Fall Gold.
The last of the Fall Gold.
Fall lights on trees lining the path
Fall lights on trees lining the path
Companionship
Companionship
Squirrel up a tree
Squirrel up a tree
Scampering squirrels
Scampering squirrels
Golden light
Golden light
Waning light
Waning light
Nature's art
Nature’s art
Peaceful reflections
Peaceful reflections
Meditating ducks on mirrored water
Meditating ducks on mirrored water
A Golf course oasis
A Golf course oasis
Framed contemplation
Framed contemplation
Stretching his wings
Stretching his wings
A few green leaves left
A few green leaves left
A breeze rippling
A breeze rippling
Cloudy mirror
Cloudy mirror
Path around the lake
Path around the lake
Leafy path
Leafy path
Fall at FreshPond
Fall at FreshPond

 

Home

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A few months after we moved to Boston we flew to San Diego to spend the holidays with family. We had been flying in and out of San Diego where my sister and her family live for over 20 years and that airport felt as familiar as an old friend. When we flew back into Logan Airport it was with a strange, uneasy feeling to think we were coming “home”. Much as we loved living here it hadn’t yet earned that title.

Now three years later, I boarded a plane bound for Boston and my heart sang, “home” with all the relief and longing that word holds, even as I knew that I would miss the love and connection with all the family and friends I had just visited.

Such is the world today. I am sure there are many who still live in the towns in which they grew up, surrounded by faces they have known since birth, but most people I know live far away from their families. It is the cost of having an adventurous spirit, the drawback to having what my family calls “itchy feet”. My mother left her hometown of St. Louis for the heady world of Los Angeles in the early 50’s, my parents moved our family to Portugal in the early 70’s and we have all been on the move ever since. California, Oregon, New Jersey, France, England, Scotland, Australia, and Alaska are only a few of the places members of my family have called home.

So what does home really mean? I just spent two and a half weeks in 6 different cities soaking up “home” in all its beautiful forms. Long conversations with my mom on the couch; morning natters with my sister, her at one end of the bed and me at the other; poolside chats with my brother-in-law. Working side by side with my brother in his carpentry shop and my sister-in-law in her classroom. Stolen moments catching up with my cousin long into the night when we really should have been sleeping. Car conversations with good friends on long drives, because at a certain undefined point friends become family too. Holding warm cups of tea, curled up on couches, perched on kitchen stools, cutting up vegetables, cooking, washing dishes together. Lubricated conversations over delicious meals; sleepy words in the early morning, shared worries, offered hopes, the slightly ripped feeling in your heart when you have to say goodbye. These are the people who populate me even when we are far apart.

Yet when I look at what home has meant these past few weeks, it has not only been the people but the places themselves that have spoken to me. The soothing, healing crash of the ocean; the deep warmth of the California sun after the fog has burned off; the sideways rain and the green, green, every shade of green in Oregon. The familiar wood cabins on Cascade Head filled with writers and inspiration. My garden. Oh my garden, the moist earth soft beneath my feet, scattered with fallen golden leaves already. Every plant and tree I had lovingly placed greeting me like an awkward teenager, taller, leggier and leafier that when I had left 3 years ago, apples weighing down the branches of the sapling I once knew, the air thick with woodland magic and the sweet scent of herbs. How had I ever left this place?

How can there be so many homes? By the end of my travels I longed for my husband, my children, my bed, my solitude: for home, even as it hurt to say goodbye. No one place is everything, but each fills up the little places inside us that together make us who we are. I kept an ongoing list along the way, every book recommendation, every promise I made, every idea to pursue and revelation to ponder. When I wake next week in my quiet house I will follow up. I will integrate my places, my people, my thoughts, and I will feel at home once more.

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Sisterhood

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Women need sisters.

I am immensely lucky: I was issued the very best of sisters at birth. Despite my annoying behavior as a child, including sabotaging her first dates and breaking her entire collection of miniature glass animals, she has always had my back, loving me in a super hero kind of a way. And the feeling is definitely mutual. Having a sister like mine makes the world feel like a safer place.

I want to state for the record here that I am by no means knocking brothers: I have an awesome one, as does my daughter, but brothers are a topic for a different day. Today I have been thinking a lot about sisters.

My sister’s pregnant friend came to Boston with her family this summer to visit her own sister. This lovely young woman went into early labor and has been living in a hospital here for the past month, 3000 miles from home, recovering and caring for her strong little preemie daughter until they are both able to go home. If ever there was a time for a sister, this is it, and sure enough, her sisters have kicked into high gear. The one who lives here was with her as she gave birth, an old friend stepped in to take care of her older girls (as did her brother!), and then both her sister-in-law and another sister have flown in to be with her. Because she is my sister’s friend I reached out to her as well: sister by proxy.

Sometimes sisters are related, and sometimes they are connected through the greater fabric of Sisterhood. If you are lucky, you will have enough hardship in life to find your Sisterhood.

Think of women as a bunch of purses: different on the outside, but the contents are remarkably similar. We share the same combination of the practical: wallet, brush, lipstick and Advil, and the messy: tissues, receipts and gum wrappers. How do men get by with just a wallet in their pocket? Some purses, like my sister’s, contain the most impressive collection of everything a person could need including gluten-free snacks and Bandaids, and some are lacking even a pen that writes. But for the most part, we know what’s inside, we share the same dark places, the same needs, the same concerns. And so, when the façade is down, we recognize each other, we can step in, we can lean on each other, we can be unashamed as the contents of our purses tumble out and we can help pick up the pieces.

Sisters tell you when you have spinach in your teeth. They don’t hesitate to talk about periods and poop; they listen and they speak the truth and then eat chocolate with you. They hold your hand during the hard stuff and bring you food. You don’t always get along, but you always love each other. And when one needs the other, there she is.

My mother will be 87 in a few weeks, and she still talks with her 93 year old sister on the phone every day. She is going on a cruise this fall with another soul sister, her maid of honor from her wedding almost 60 years ago.  These sisters, no doubt, are very familiar with the deep recesses of each others’ purses but their bond is iron clad.

What does a woman do if she hasn’t been given a sister of her own, or if the one she was issued is defective in some sisterly way? I worried about that at first with my daughter, who was provided a great brother but no sister. But I have come to realize there are ways to remedy this problem! Adopt one, borrow someone else’s, train a wild stray. Snag a female cousin. Marry a man with a good sister, pray that your brother will marry a promising sister-prospect. That worked really well for me on both counts. Sisters-in-law make wonderful sisters.

You can never have too many, so be on the lookout and collect them when you can. Learn to spot those special friends, roommates, colleagues and neighbors who will develop overtime into your Sisterhood. Open your purse a bit so they can see you. Reach out to them: it feels good. My female friends are my safety net. Each time I open my heart, there they are.

When I gave birth to my first child, a female friend across the country called me and somehow she knew just what was going on with my breastfeeding traumas though we had never talked so intimately before. In that moment I knew the truth about the importance of women friends, the extended Sisterhood.

I know my sister’s friend will weather this hard time, with her immediate and extended Sisterhood to support her, and she is setting a beautiful example for her daughters. When I heard about the two older girls’ first meeting with their littlest sister, my heart melted. They fell in love with her, in all her tiny glory. What a lucky baby, I thought. Yes, what lucky little girls, to start life with a built-in Sisterhood of their own.

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