Monday, August 29, 2011


Another day of 90 degrees after a season of extreme and unrelenting summer heat. Everyone everywhere every day can say the same of the weather this crazy year. “If this is global warming, we’re in for a world of hurt,” Elaine, our heroine, was heard to say. Initially, she thought having a milder winter sounded perfect, but even these cold seasons were becoming unpredictable. As the winter weather turned a bit warmer with peculiar cold fronts hitting bizarre warm fronts, more snow storms happened then ever before. "Things never occur how you expect them to," Elaine mused to herself. This was a new weather pattern and no one had yet invented a divining rod for the future.

But now it's almost September. A middling month. A tickling of summer heat with a hint of fall’s crisp reprieve. A favorite month, seldom extreme, typically filled with promises of hopeful changes and healthier habits. For Elaine, the survivor of many varied academic years, she was on high alert in this month of new beginnings. September was spanking new and spotlessly clean, blank slate to start everyone on a level playing field. All worthy of an A grade until it is shown they aren't. A completely new year of turning from say, a junior to a senior, just by the passage of time and a few tests thrown in. “ Those were the best days," she thought. Elaine then recalled her even earlier school days when her mother bought each child a new notebook and an entirely perfect box of never used crayons. Flesh was her favorite color but she was always confused why it was pinkish when her best friend’s was toffee colored.

Some of her old school friends even shopped for all new clothes each year. Elaine's needs were simpler: the Catholic school only required a short sleeve pastel shirt in summer and a long sleeve white one with a dark sweater every winter. The same horrid plaid skirt both seasons. "Wonder what they wear now?" Elaine pondered, probably an updated combo like her son wore ten years ago, white collared shirts and beige long pants.

The start of her marriage a jillion years ago was in September. Her parent's wedding over sixty-three years ago, was just two days after her own in that month. Elaine thought, "Freudian, perhaps?" She couldn’t even remember what the weather had been. No rain is all she could recall. She had been more fretful over misplacing the hoop for her dress. It was recycled and the seventies, enough said.

This is the hopeful month of ‘start overs .‘ Although septa in Latin meant seven, this ninth month of the year is pregnant with possibilities. At least this is how she saw September. They even sold those 18-month calendars that began with September. "Who ever really buys those?" she muttered.

TV shows begin a new season lineup in the early fall. "If one more promotion about crossing over teases my interest, I will strangle the cat," Elaine told her neighbor. But the lineup of Oscar worthy movies looked promising. Movies about Hoover and a prequel to the Terminator and a remake of an old Nazi spy film with Helen Mirren were all showcased.

Often in September, a new cause caught Elaine’s interest. This year it was a local horse rescue league. Last year it was the tornado victims and a stint as a Red Cross disaster volunteer. Her interests were as timely as the newest catastrophe.

On a personal note, Elaine was even trying to improve her skin routine. Slathering serums and lotions and potions on her skin every morning and night. “Hope in a bottle”, she sang as she tried to remember the steps of application. She was a bit concerned the special super-duper SPF moisturizer was actually eating away at the jar lid.

Elaine always started some new exercise campaign every September. Yoga or Pilates or walking—something physical. She hated to sweat so that ate into her exertion level a bit. Her mother had told her young ladies never perspire. Zumba about killed her. "I miss my dead dog," she sighed. The dog walks turned her into a daily street walker, rain or shine. Elaine knew all about the newest neighbors from these walks—the next door woman's knee replacement, whose dog/child/parent was ill or what new well was dug or fence laid. Minutes pass by in conversation over a leash rather than a prolonged sit down with teacups and a house vacuumed quickly. Elaine liked people and was social but "I get bored easily, you can say it all in about 30 minutes," she would tell even her dearest of friends.

Elaine’s love of September lasted longer than just one month and she knew in her flawed heart that was a good thing, new crayons or not. “Not like February”, she grumbled.

Carole for The Poplar Grove Muse

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

A long and happy life

Earlier this month I had the pleasure of being invited to a 60th wedding anniversary party for some friends here in town. Warren and Joanne have been married 60 years and their 4 daughters threw them an open house at their farm here in south central Indiana.

My family and I arrived to a crowded yard and farmhouse: tables overflowing with beer and wine and cheese and cake and fresh vegetables from the family garden. Family and friends of all ages filled the shady lawn and covered porch talking of politics and family stories. Someone wrote a song in honor of the happy couple. We sang Warren and Joanne had a farm to the tune of Old MacDonald. The 6 verses told their story with children, animals and the farming life. As the collected assortment family and friends sang loud and off key, I couldn’t help but notice that even the most grizzled of politicians had tears running down their cheeks.

I understood in a way that I had not understood before, that this is the point in life to which I think many of us aspire: a pause to appreciate the abundance of friends and memories and good good food, grown with your own hands (or by your friends' hands), and adult children and even grandchildren to know and understand your story.

The leaves of the oak trees spread far and wide over the green lawn filled with babies and big dogs. The happy groom stood to address the crowd that had gathered in his and his wife’s honor: a gregarious and hearty politician, World War II veteran, farmer and gentleman, no one had ever seen him cry. But today his voice was choked, and his eyes were red as he thanked the crowd for joining him on this day and for this long and good journey with his beautiful wife.

We stayed for a while. Made small talk with the guests and congratulated the couple. I did not want to leave, enjoying my small part in this happy life. I think the sadness of leaving was in knowing that there might not be too many anniversaries left for these two lovely people. As we drove away, dogs barking at our taillights, I hoped that some of their good fortune had rubbed off on me. If my husband and I are so lucky to make it to a 60th anniversary, I will remember that day and toast to them, wherever they are.

Amy for the PGM

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Take Lessons, Be Grateful, Let Go, Move On

It’s the first day of public school in our town. The early morning air is abuzz with anticipation and the blowing exhaust of yellow busses stopping and starting on High Street, just behind my bedroom window. I think school still starts criminally too soon in these parts. The school day begins earlier now. It ends later. These are things I’m aware of, but this year we’re missing the adjustment to the new hours, class and lunch schedules, the re-working of the master calendar, because our daughters are leaving home for college. I know in households all over town, and definitely in the kitchens where our teachers ate supper last night, many people were thinking “Here we go again!”

Let me acknowledge and offer thanks for my children’s passage through the public school system, the good and hard lessons we all learned along the way: that you get out of what you put in to any experience, that hard work pays off, that team work tests and rewards you, that kindness matters, and there is more than practical wisdom in cleaning up your own messes--that teachers, like parents, are human and run the gamut from so-so to fabulous. The ones I appreciate the most made my children feel seen and heard and encouraged their confidence along the way.

So our nest will be empty. I’m poised on the edge of grief for the loss of them in our day to day lives and gratefulness for the young women they’ve become. There’s a deep awareness that, while we will always be connected, their journeys will now take them further afield to navigate their own vulnerabilities in this world.

The other night we had old family friends over. Once upon a time our kids ran crazily through backyards, jacked up on sugary sodas , chips and salsa, while the grown ups played music and sang songs for fun . This year, our older teens and 20-somethings sat in a circle and taught us songs—rounds and improvisational music games. For so many years I was sure that the music-times we loved would be permanently rejected by our individuating children. Turns out my wiser friends with older children were right. They’d come around eventually.

The greatest gift of the evening was a Round several of them learned at Malcolm Dalglish’s Ooolation Camp in the Sierra Nevada Mountains this summer. I love what is round about a Round, and what felt piercingly apt to me as we circle around the seasons of our lives.

Our children really do leave us but when you’re lucky, they come back bearing gifts of song and wisdom, just when you need it most. Together, we move along.

This was our Sunday Evening Round 8/14/11

For all that has been/take lessons, take lessons and be grateful/ let go, let go, let go, let go/let go and move/move on/move on

BLR for the Poplar Grove Muse

Monday, August 8, 2011

Dream Followed

Saturday night I saw a dream come true for my cousin, Brian Haggard. As he was growing up he was called fatty and probably a lot of other names. He soon learned to hide the fact that he was "different." He is dyslexic and reading doesn't come easy for him. He learned to compensate. He also learned to hide the fact the he is gay. Very gay. Gloriously gay. He tried to play it straight, but he just couldn't do it. When he finally came out, he got the full support of his family and his friends who believed that it was time for him to live an authentic life. He has worked hard to become the person he is today.

He is an incredibly talented artist and interior designer. And Saturday night I was invited to share in the success of his first quilting book with him, his partner Kevin, the rest of his incredible family, and wonderful friends. He and Kevin were the hosts of Brian's book launch in a beautifully decorated room with gourmet food they prepared, a tearful thank you speech, and personally dedicated copies of his first book, Crazy Quilted Memories, to each of us.

The book is not just a "how to" quilting book, it's a tribute to his family. He has incorporated old family photographs into his beautifully created quilts. His great grandmother was my dad's sister. I love the baby picture of her that he has crafted onto one of his quilts. His grandmother, Juanita, who was my first cousin, is pictured prominently as a young beauty in another breathtaking quilt. She nurtured Brian's interest in quilting. His stitchery creates magic. Brian's older brother, Shane,a talented writer, wrote a terrific piece for the book as a back story for the quilts. The whole evening was a work of art and I felt blessed to be a part of it.

There were those who could only be there in spirit from both sides of the veil. Their presence was strongly felt. They were and are very much missed.

I think this book is only the beginning of the dreams Brian will make come true. I see him on HGTV as America's Next Great Design Star! It was a great gift to me to see a dream come to fruition. My faith is reinforced that we each have the power to make our own dreams come true. I am inspired. I love this family, not only do they create beauty, they support and nurture me and many others. It's the way family should be. I think I will be processing the many layered lessons and joys of that night for quite a while.

Rebekah for Poplar Grove Muse

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

IUOP Forever

I love the IU Outdoor Pool. Our family moved to Bloomington exactly 7 years ago, and even when we really didn’t know anyone (we had to wait to celebrate an August Birthday until we knew some kindergartners to invite), we could go to the IUOP and hang out and feel part of a community.

I love how anyone can come to the pool. (Our girls have not felt at home when invited to the country club pool, as their mother didn’t before them, and they initially found the Bryan Park Pool daunting, though the allure of the slides is undeniable to them by now.) I love the mix of college students hogging the chaises to display their scantily-clad young flesh for one another with the non-native-speaking families displaying their native swimwear from all over the globe with the packs of native Hoosier boys that the lifeguards are just waiting to blow the whistle on with the constant flow of middle-aged lap swimmers diligently beating back the ravages of time. I love the clean, un-adorn-ed-ness of the deck and the chairs, the minimal snacks, the functional and completely unglamorous women’s locker room (haven’t seen the men’s, but assume it is a similar story). I love the loudspeakers blaring a tantalizing mix of oldies and current pop music, which never fails to take me STRAIGHT back to my adolescence at a public pool in Minnesota, where I logged thousands of early and late miles of training, fantasizing lightning and ejection with every flipturn. I love that they play “Hail to Old IU” at the 6 p.m. closing of the pool for recreational swimming, and I feel nostalgic when I hear it, even though I don’t know it.

As we head into the last stretch of summer, and I mourn (and at a certain level breathe an ambivalent sigh of relief at) the departure of my now-undeniably-adolescents from the essential fabric of my day for their own newly-lengthened public schooldays, I realize that it is at the IUOP where I first sense the chill, the shift in wind and light that signals oncoming seasonal shift—cooler weather, as well as the infernally premature start of the Indiana school year, and the accelerating independence of my beloved children.

I haven’t actually gotten to the IUOP as often as I had hoped this summer. As I also had not in the last two summers, to the point where this year we contemplated whether to buy a family pass, but decided that it is an investment in something valued and valuable: which would, on any particular day, encourage us to go and be in community, be in the sun and fresh air (where we too often ARE NOT in contemporary life), be present to the glittering refraction of light on water and absent from the tyranny of laptop or textbook, the distractions of facebook or streaming video.

I offer here a tribute to summer, and to the IUOP, composed on an earlier and seemingly-endless afternoon enjoyed by its glinting waters, and recently revised in an excellent 4-week poetry class offered by WWFaC-Bloomington.

The Underwater Tea Party

It cannot last long,
And so, requires
A perfect balance
Of willing attention
With joyful abandon.

Savor the flickering glint
Of scattered sunlight
On brilliant aquamarine.
Fill your eager lungs,
Plug your nose,
And enter the watery salon.

Your tiny hostess
Grins, giddy
With the delight of this
Summertime ceremony.
Bubbles, laughter,
Stream up from her lips

As she gestures:
Flutter your hands to sit,
Sip a gulp of the silliness
She pours liberally in your general direction
(Pinky politely extended),
Gobble the invisible cookie
Undulating toward you
Before air, or time runs out.

Mary for the Poplar Grove Muse