Thursday, March 24, 2011

Baja, Here We Come!

The good news is that the cage of fighting roosters who crowed and screeched all night behind our casita has been replaced with a chile field. The good news is that we have seats on the plane and the passports are finally in order. The good news is that we have some time this weekend to grab a new swimsuit for an eight year old who could not manage with last year's and whose Momma seems to forget the way she grows like a weed.

The dicey news is that I will be the one behind the wheel for the 50 shoulderless miles of curvy highway from Los Cabos to Todos Santos. Few guardrails and lots of white crosses at the side of the road. I will be taking it slow, lowering my shoulders and breathing deep, pulling over for the impatient trucks trapped behind me and remembering a Taoist story I read this week.

An old man falls into a rocky river and is pulled under the rushing surface. All seems lost until he pops back up and the current carries him to the bank, where he emerges unharmed. "Is he a ghost?" wonder the onlookers. "No," laughs the old man. "I accommodated myself to the water, not the water to me. Plunging into the swirl, I came out with the swirl, and that is how I survived."

Which is a good reminder to go with the flow in the face of chaos, a necessary thing to remember during vacation with kids. Funny, the lesson also happens to be the literal way that Randy survived his Baja tussle with a Pacific undertow when we visited in 1996.

Los Cerritos. A replica of the Hotel California on the cliff.

We will stick with the more placid beach of Los Cerritos this time, where only tiny red crabs dare to enter the water near the black rocks and the waves on the sand are much more serene.

Brent's work

Sidetracked on their way to visit the roosters. A shot from last year. Our bird friends will not be missed.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Concert for the Cystic Dreams Fund - Sunday, March 27

Find more artists like Paul Justin Mooney at Myspace Music

Cystic fibrosis is a ferocious and persistent disease, affecting 30,000 Americans. It attacks the lungs and the digestive systems causing chronic and painful problems with breathing and metabolizing food.

The Cystic Dreams Fund was formed to help cystic fibrosis patients with the financial burden incurred by the disease. The costs of treatments and therapies are steep and insurance cannot cover everything. Adults with CF, who make up 45 percent of those with the disease, often are unable to work from its debilitating affects.

A kick-off concert for the Cystic Dreams Fund is being held on Sunday, March 27 at the Lincoln Tap Room, 3010 N. Lincoln Avenue.

The fund was formed in the memory and from the inspiration of writer, teacher and musician Paul Mooney, who died of the disease in December of 2009, at the age of 45. Paul did have a successful lung transplant, but the anti-rejection drugs wreaked havoc on his system. He died peacefully, at home, with his mother by his side.

Although the world has not yet seen his masterpiece novel published, in the last months of his life Paul got together with his two brothers and a group of talented Chicago musicians to record his album Because of a Woman. The album's twelve songs show Paul's copious talent, his lyricism and his wicked humor, as well as a reverent adoration of Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash and Leonard Cohen. I am sure these musical giants would give their blessings on these heartfelt compositions from one of their biggest fans.

Because of a Woman will be performed on Sunday night along with music from Dorian Taj. Plus a silent auction! Come out and help a good cause. I'll see you there!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Japan Diary #3 - Kyoto

Doctors Without Borders currently has ten people on the ground in Miyagi prefecture, conducting mobile clinics and assessing how they will mobilize further to help the areas hardest hit by the earthquake and tsunami. You can help their work by donating here. Thank you for your generosity.

Randy and I spent the first week of our honeymoon in Japan in 2000.

Kyoto children hunting cicadas on the Philosopher's Stroll, a trail overlooking the city.

New pet in its cicada cage.

Fairy tale forest near the Temple of the Silver Pavilion.

August 6, 2000. I am in Kyoto with Randy, my groom, my husband. Today we've seen an array of 1000 Buddhas and felt our way through the absolute dark of the maze in Buddha's womb. I drank water from a holy spring and tried to find my way with my eyes closed across the ten long steps from one famous temple rock to another. I stopped too soon, so my journey to love, says the legend, will not be straight nor easy. (Eleven good years and two children later, "Duh.")

We have dinner at a tiny tempura bar, sitting on high stools to watch the chefs behind the bar artfully frying shrimp, clusters of fresh corn kernels. We are the only Westerners in the room. Two businesswomen sitting next to me show me how to mix the mound of shredded fresh ginger, or perhaps it is daikon radish, in the bowl of soy.

A man raises his glass to the room. His glass wavers slowly as he intones in a deep growl of Japanese. The businessman next to us, whose business card said his name was Kawasaki, translates for us, perhaps inaccurately, out of kindness: “In memory of the hundred thousand who died fifty-five years ago today in the bombing of Hiroshima.” Randy raises his glass and offers, “To peace.”

Mr. Kawasaki and his drunk friend tell Randy that they are going to call a geisha. She amazes us when she arrives, charismatic as a rock star, distant as a celebrity. She sits between the men and never glances at us. In no way demure, she flings conversation back at the men, her high-pitched Japanese syllables snapping and musical. Her face is elaborately, theatrically painted, but the skin between the border of her upswept hair and the edge of her lowered collar is left bare. I suddenly understand the sensuality of the nape of the neck. Seeing her naked upper back so close is shocking in its frank sexuality.

Randy and I walk back to our ryokan in the rain. I dodge puddles to save my green silk mules with the embroidered flowers on the toes. We laugh and laugh, talking over our international incident, our adventures, high on excitement, Kirin beer and the beauty of Kyoto.

Our room at Tawaraya, one of Kyoto's fifteenth century ryokans (inns), looked out on a beautiful courtyard. Our room had tatami mats on the floor, paper walls and beautifully austere art on the walls. Lovely and gracious Keiko prepared our futon beds every night, then rolled them away in compartments in the walls every night. Dear Keiko took care of us like we were family. The morning we left for Hong Kong, she came to our room before dawn, beautifully dressed, her face made up pretty, to serve us breakfast and help us on our way. We exchanged thank you notes and bows goodbye.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Japan Diary #2 - Hakone

GlobalGiving is a non-profit organization that connects donors and grass-roots organizations around the world. To donate to their Japan tsunami relief fund, please click here. Please.

Randy and I visited Japan in August of 2000.

After three days in the city, we took a train south from Toyko along the coast to Hakone, under Mount Fuji. A slow and twisty mountain train to Miyanoshita. Blue hydrangeas grew wild in bushes along the railway.

We were spending only one day in the mountains. As soon as we arrived, we had lunch (roe on a croissant) on the Fujiya Hotel terrace overlooking the koi pod. Children stood on flat rocks at the edge and clapped to call the giant fish, who poked their noses out of the water for bread.

New friend, with noodles.

We took a quick look at our room - old Western-style grandeur, then Randy and I took another train up to a steep tram, then boarded a ski lift up through a pass in the mountains. No sign of Fuji, the day was bright, but overcast. Steam vents in the rocky ground where the Japanese cook eggs. The sulfur turns the shells black. Freaky giant signs warned us of volcanic gas spouts leaking hydrogen sulfide:

Have a pain in your eye, nose and throat. But your sense of smell becomes numb, and you can no longer smell well. Please "immediately" evacuate from here.

The ski lift took us down to the shores of Lake Ashi where we boarded a paddle boat dressed up like a pirate sailing ship and cruised to the other side. Had a lovers' spat in a cedar wood, then caught a bus back to the hotel for a bath in the hotel's hot spring and a Japanese-French dinner, consomme, aspic and all.

Sunday, August 6
6:20 a.m. Tawaraya Ryokan, Kyoto, Japan

The days fly away, as I expected they would.

I wanted it all yesterday, so after waking in our room with the pretty flower name Acacia at the grand and venerable Fujiya Hotel in Hakone, I blankety blankety Randy and put on my bathing suit under my clothes. We went to breakfast in the bright main dining room -- clear bright light like in the Rocky Mountains. Views of the hills. Randy had the "Western" breakfast and I had the beautiful salad with a muffin and tea and grapefruit juice. "Who eats vegetables for breakfast"" I ask as Katie's mom did and I smile through my steamed broccoli and endive, kiwi and egg.

I want it all so I tell Randy I'll meet him at the pool and tour the impossibly lovely greenhouses while he finds his suit. Those tiny pink and white fuchsia flowers I thought were paper because they were too pretty to be real are growing here along with bonsai and tiny moss pots and other petite flowers - Christina would go nuts. And Japan is made for Sally.

I'm going up to the pool, marveling at the beauty and I catch a strong familiar scent - I turn back and it's a huge gardenia bush, covered in creamy blossoms. I burst into tears from the loveliness and meaning. My mother wore gardenia perfume.

I meet Randy and we climb stone steps to the blue pool at the top of the hill. Wisteria vines grow on the lattice over the lounge chairs and blue and while changing rooms. Cicadas singing in the trees overhanging the pool, three boards and an old concrete slide at the deep end.

Va va voom!

The water is cold, then perfect. I swim laps then dive, loving the fresh energy as I break the surface.

I cried a second time as we walked the tiny busy street to the Miyanoshita station because we passes a photo gallery with historic black and whites of Fujiya guests and there was John Lennon and the Emperor, okay, but who was that sweet faced old woman with the short and wavy 1930's hair. She had Grace Paley's wide and open cheeks. I knew her like I'd met her. I'd seen her in the photos in the halls of the hotel next to the New Year's groups in festive formal wear. 1917. 1929.

Then I noticed her far away look and the famous Fujiya white rooster with the 20 feet tail on her lap. It was Helen Keller stroking the bird. I cried with the recognition. Emotions are brought close to the surface by this world, this culture of reverence and beauty.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Japan Diary #1 - Tokyo

My heart is breaking for the Japanese people and their beautiful wounded islands. Before you read further, please go to the Red Cross site and make a donation to help our brothers and sisters in Japan. Here's the link. Click on it. Go there now. I'll wait.

Randy and I traveled to Japan for our honeymoon in August, 2000, long before I started this blog. I wrote a few journals entries during the trip.

August 2, 2000
Park Hyatt Hotel, Tokyo, Japan

Randy and I are married and in Japan and both experiences astound me. "The cliches are true," I told well-wishers, "It is the happiest day of your life."

Rereading the guide book reminded me that we wanted to find our own way from Narita Airport - so simple. The cab drivers wear white gloves. The curvy, elevated highway snakes through the city like a carnival ride.

Everything feels very good and very right, although Randy surprised me last night with arguments against "Ms."

This is my favorite time in vacation - Randy sleeping and I'm refreshed and nibbling on large sweet grapes in front of the eastern window overlooking a foggy city. The city is immense -- development spreading to the horizon in all directions. This suite is luxury on every surface and cunning design in every detail. Tiny wooden square boxes reveal snacks or toiletries. Unbelievably comfortable green obi robes with slippers. A computerized toilet with heated adjustable seat and varied water flow. We're transfixed by Asian TV - loud, bright commercials that are utterly transparent and clear to understand, raucous baseball games with a giant inflatable ball for the home run, cruel game shows: eat huge bowls of food for $50.

Friday, August 4, 2000
7:05 a.m. Park Hyatt Hotel, Tokyo, Japan

Our last morning in this beautiful room on the 42nd floor. White peaches and champagne for breakfast.

Tsukiji fish market yesterday. Blood red snapper with saucer eyes, tentacle everywhere, obscene squid and mussels with long tongues sticking out, monster tuna, fresh and frozen solid. Men smoking, driving carts down tiny pathways, hauling tuna onto electric saw platforms, eating handfuls of rice and sushi, women peering out of tiny cubicles, all lit with bright tiny bulbs in the cavernous warehouse. A dizzying trip.

We ate sushi and drank Kirin for breakfast in a tiny closet of a place in the market. When we pushed our stools away from the bar, they hit the back wall.

"Good morning!" called the young fish hauler when I took his picture, exaggerated, the only English he knew, I guessed. I'm suddenly shy, say "good morning," smiling and turn away.

We walked to a beautiful Japanese garden, Hama Rikyu, with royal duck hunting ponds and a 300 year old pine, its twisty branches wrapped in straw and bands of black metal, supported by crutches.

A boat ride (I napped with my head in Randy's lap - beer does that to me) to the Asakusa neighborhood and the Senso-ji temple. Streets of vendors and fortune tellers. We washed our hands in incense for good luck.

A tiny amusement park just beyond the temple. Random oddness on stage. Jangling pachinko parlors. Met Johnny Fingers later that night in Shinjuku for Indian food.


Saturday, March 12, 2011

Amelia and Me

My maternal grandmother, Amelia, had one sister, Julia. The two women lived together later in life after their husbands had died. Julia called her older, taller sister "Mimi," a name I never used. It seemed too girlish and playful for the regal and kind woman I loved from a distance. I simply said "Grandma" when I called her name and following Aunt Ruth's lead, said "Grandma Seraponas" when speaking of her at home.

Amelia Seraponas was my mother's mother, but from the age of four, my brothers and my sister and I lived 600 miles away, with my father's sister Ruth and her family in Kansas City. There were tensions between the two sides of the family, unspoken but felt by the grandchildren. I did not see Amelia as often as my other grandmother, Helen, a feisty little survivor adored by her six surviving sons and daughters who could laugh at her sharp tongue.

Grandma Amelia worked to keep in touch. She sent me postcards from her trips to Ireland and South America, a robe one Christmas, an iridescent blue morpho butterfly encased in glass and a topaz from her trip to Brazil, a small framed photo of herself, and once, a poem about how quickly November comes after May.

She died in November, 1984, at the age of seventy-nine. I gave my first daughter her name. We call her Mia, for short.

Last month, one of my second cousins sent me Grandma Amelia's diary from 1933-34, found in her Grandmother Julia's things. It's a tiny browned book I can fit in one hand, Grandma's record of the time that she married and become a young mother. I flip through the pages with an insatiable appetite - the bits of life set down here will never be enough for my curiosity, never.

It's a reunion of sorts, but with a part of my grandmother's life that I never saw. I knew the patient, sweet and gentle elderly woman who always smiled; in these pages I meet Mimi, the happy party girl, with so much life ahead of her.

Amelia Gedment married Anthony Seraponas, a Lithuanian milkman she often called Tone and sometimes Tony, on Saturday, February 25, 1933.

Mimi and Tony's Chicago wedding was a simple affair compared to the imitation royal balls popular in this century. The night before, the ginger ale was delivered and Mimi couldn't sleep for the longest time. The happy couple went to church in the morning with Amelia's Lithuanian mother Petronella, with Julia, and Julia's husband Victor. After Mass and breakfast, they went to a portrait studio to have photographs taken.

You can see Amelia's beatific smile in the portrait. I adore her Juliet cap and the long veil. I love the elegant painted backdrop and the elaborate bouquet, with ribbon-tied blossoms spilling out, and the center part in Grandpa Tony's pomaded hair, like that of a tommy-gun toting extra in a Jimmy Cagney movie.

Back home, the newlyweds played cards and the piano until 5:00, then cleaned up and began to greet their guests. Forty-eight people were served dinner that night in the rented apartment where Amelia lived with her mother. The basement had been decorated with white paper and a "snappy" temporary bar in the days before. It served as a dance hall to the sound of a hired accordion player. Later, four bottles of whiskey would be found missing. Julia danced until 2:00 a.m.

Entranced by the sketch of a Depression era wedding, I float over the detail of the hired Bohemian musician. Later, I described the scene to Randy.

"They asked the landlord if they could change the wallpaper the week before! They peeled off the paper themselves and she says the house smelled like paint and oil. What a mess!" I remember Brent painting our bank walls khaki and the vault a vivid red while I addressed invitations.
"And, Randy! Randy!" I suddenly realize another coincidence. "They had an accordion player for the music! Just like us!"

The connection dawns and flashes of our own sweet day comes pouring back to me. Our friend Julie plays violin in a band and she had offered to play during and after the service at our home. Julie knew a guy.

Whether I asked Julie if she had an accordion player in her circle of friends or whether her mention of Rob had triggered some deep twinge in my DNA, I don't remember. But the music they made was gorgeous. Pretty George Handel while the guests arrived and after the vows, as Randy and I led the crowd down California Avenue from our converted bank building to the reception hall, the herky-jerky bliss of Nino Rota's "La Dolce Vita."

Photo by Matt Dinerstein.

The distance between me and Grandma falls away. She was there with me on my wedding day and now I am there with her on hers.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Mrs. Seraponas Dreamed in Chicago

Natasha Solomons's lovely first novel, Mr. Rosenblum Dreams in English, is the latest book read by the From Left to Write Book Club. The title character Jack Rosenblum is a mensch, an irrepressibly optimistic Jewish refugee from Nazi Germany, who escapes with his wife and daughter to England in 1937. In love with his adopted homeland, Mr. R. desires nothing more than to naturalize completely and become a proper English gentleman. He becomes convinced to best way to do this is to create his own perfect golf course, never mind his near complete ignorance of the game nor his inexperience with landscaping manual labor. The first day he begins work to fashion his course from sixty acres of rocky hillside, Mr. R. wipes his hands delicately after each shovel of dirt. Such is the gentle humor of this sweet book, that by its stirring ending, had me cheering on the would-be duffer.

Author Natasha Solomons cites her grandparents' rural Dorset cottage as an inspiration for the book. The writer still lives near the former home of her grandfather and grandmother in rural southwest England, and fills the book with the charms of the county's folklore, with odd characters written in rich dialect who call our hero "Mr. Rose-in-Bloom" and with glorious depictions of the Dorset countryside.

By happy accident, I finished Mr. Rosenblum Dreams in English this week, around the same time I completed reading my maternal grandmother's diary of the year 1933-1934.

My strongest memories of my mother's mother, Amelia Seraponas, are of her regal bearing and the beautiful white hair that she wore in a soft bun at the nape of her neck. Reading her diary for the first time, I have the chance to see her as a young woman, a twenty-eight year old with a new baby and a sick mother to care for, newly married to a man with an insecure job and mood swings of dark to light and back to dark again.

Set in gritty Chicago, rather than the bucolic hills of Dorset, England, my grandmother's diary tells a fragment of the hardscrabble story second generation Lithuanian-Americans lived during the cold heart of the Great Depression, yet omits the satisfying and triumphant climax of Mr. Rose-in-Bloom's epic undertaking.

In the winter of 1934, my grandfather Tony had left a milk delivery job to sell cookies door to door for an outfit with the deceptively sweet name of Mama's Cooky Company. Times were tough and sales were so slow, Tony had to add his own savings to keep up the appearance of meeting his sales quota.

Grandma tended my infant mother, Bernadette, cooked herring and eggs for Lenten dinners, cleaned the house, sewed and ironed, and worried about money. Her goal was to save $4.00 a month.

On a Thursday in April, Amelia writes of taking the baby to the grocer to pay $2.00 toward their bill, then to the coal company to do the same and order more heating fuel. Tony came home that night to tell her his bosses had been fired and that he would be laid off in a week.

After four months trying to sell cookies to households as strapped as his own, Grandpa Tony, along with twenty other salesmen, was fired the Saturday after Easter, 1934. "What are we going to do now?" writes Grandma. "Heaven only knows." My mother was five months old.

The next day, Amelia took the time to write the diary's last entry.

"What a beautiful day. Tone went out to look for a store. It seems Al Segreti is fired for being caught drunk, but he was still working on his milk wagon." So Grandma didn't write her happy ending, but she did fashion one with grace notes of hope. Perhaps her young husband would start his own business. Maybe he could snatch up Al Segreti's job. Even with the despair of Tony's firing, it was still a beautiful day.

I am left in suspense, but only because I want to read every day of the Seraponas's climb to self-sufficiency and safety, not because I do not know it happened.

The happy coda for the story of my grandparents lies in my treasure of memories of visits to their home when I was a child. Grandpa Tony went back to work as a milkman and he and Amelia had a second daughter, my aunt Joan. They saved enough money to move out of the city to Clarendon Hills, a western suburb with curving streets and enormous elms whose roots split the sidewalks into angled slabs. Aunt Joan remembers feeling as if they had moved to the country. Grandma worked at a nearby Montessori school.

To me, their home was as magical as the idyllic picture Solomons paints of the Rose-in-Blum's thatched roof home in the Dorset countryside. Grandma and Grandpa's front door with its dark wood panels and rounded window seemed the entrance to a fairyland cottage. My sister and I swung from the tire swing in the side yard and explored the musty basement where a homemade doll house hid under a white sheet. Grandma had made the back yard into a verdant paradise of raspberry and gooseberry bushes, mature fruit trees, and lush peonies. One day she showed me how to cut a giant stalk of rhubarb from the garden border, then set up a work space in the sun porch where I could cut the purple stem into bite-sized pieces with a paring knife. I washed the rhubarb pieces one by one in a small bowl of water, then dipped them in a bowl of sugar, and bit into their sour-sweet wet crunch. A taste of goodness, as full of love as the simple lunch Grandma made for me from a boiled egg with butter, salt and pepper next to a sweet glass of tickling Fresca.

Remembering the love infused into these simple foods takes me back to the other story line of Solomons's book, that of Jack's wife, Sadie, who initially does not share his enthusiasm for all things English. She sees his eagerness to assimilate as a betrayal of those loved ones left behind. To remember her father, mother and brother, lost in the Holocaust, she bakes recipes from her mother's old cookbook. In a bit of magic realism, the cakes turn out four feet high and those who taste them feel Sadie's sadness. This sharing of Sadie's grief gives her comfort.

The publisher of Mr. Rosenblum Dreams in English sent me a copy of the book with no obligation.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Time Enough

I showed my six year old how to sew on a button one morning last month. We sat next to each other on the floor of my bedroom and shared the thrill of finding the tiny holes in the button after a blind push of the needle from behind. Nora happily pulled the needle through the fabric the first time, but after a few stitches, she tired of the game and let me reattach the other three popped buttons while she played with the contents of my sewing box.

“Look, Mom!” she said, proud of the row of pins with brightly colored heads that she had stuck upright in the carpet.

“Oh, cute!” I replied and went back to my knot.

The dress we repaired is a girl's blue and green sundress with an empire waist. Blue, green and burgundy ribbons fall from the back. Nora found it on the dusty back corner of my overcrowded dresser and brought it to me that morning, claiming it was her favorite. Perhaps the dress actually was her favorite a long time ago and perhaps it was again in that moment, but many, MANY other outfits have taken its place since I placed it on top of my sewing kit with a silent promise to make it wearable again.

I checked the label after Nora helped me cut the string from the last knot. Inside the collar, the tag read 3-4 years. So she outgrew it two years ago. So I’m a little late in my mending.

Maybe I am repairing the dress for some other little girl. Maybe Nora will squeeze into this sundress one last time this month, top it off with a sweater and warm tights and then never wear it again. The peaceful moment on the rug was worth the time and patience it took, even though other more important tasks lurked in the back of my mind.

"Pick me up!" "Finish me!" whisper the other unfinished projects around the house. I am not talking here about laundry. The dirty laundry has nothing to say to me and I've stopped speaking to the dishes. I mean the Big Projects, (specifically that one that starts with "B" and ends with "ook,") that challenge and push me, that offer satisfying rewards. Projects that require solitude, thought and time.

I probably had the patience to sit and complete this overdue job of mending the sundress that morning because I went to bed earlier than usual the night before. And the day before I had said “no” to a prior writing commitment that was taking a lot of my time and mental energy. Who knows if it was actual minutes I gained or just the mental dusting that cleared some space to finally break open the sewing box?

I usually don’t have the patience for such an avoidable and unimportant task as replacing buttons, although it has its rewards too. The good feeling of a job completed, the pleasure of teaching my daughter something new, a few quiet and happy moments together. Or when I do find the patience, time itself feels too short. I need to pick up the girls in five minutes, the school bus is honking its horn outside, or I'm trying to catch the 5:05 train into the city.

I'm not a huge fan of the writer Annie Lamott, more like a small fan, but she does has a good name for people who think that their magically unencumbered future, when the kids can take care of themselves, when they move to the country, when they move to the city, when the playroom gets converted into an office again, will be a future of creative expression and satisfying personal work. Her name for people who think like this is delusional.

I've had some delusions of my own like that.

Nora, my youngest, starts first grade next fall, leaving home from 9:00 to 3:30 every week day. I say to myself, I’ll have hours of time! These words are a variation on a theme I’ve been saying for years – when Mia started preschool, when the second one started preschool, when I first hired a regular babysitter. I'll have hours of time!

Yes, there were hours of time, like there always are. And those hours of time got filled up. Some good, essential, challenging personal work accomplished. But also lots of laundry folded, magazines and recipes read, eyebrows examined in the bathroom mirror. Card games with the little one. Sitting on a chair watching violin and piano lessons.

There's some mysterious formula I don't know yet that balances time and patience and the present moment and the needs of our household with all the creative ideas that are bumping in my brain, longing to jump out from my head.

If we had world and time enough, my little miss, we could sit around and sew buttons forever. But I don't. I have horses chomping at the bit - reviews and responses I need, not "want," but need to make to Emily White's Loneliness and Ruth Konisberg's The Truth About Grief, to Grandmother's diary and Patti Smith's Just Kids and Tracy Kidder's talk at Northwestern about Mountains Beyond Mountains.

I am an adult - I can handle two contrary notions in my mind at the same time. I can be both patient enough to enjoy the time with my girls as it disappears and also impatient enough to shut the door on them occasionally. So I will sing a song of thanks for just that simple moment on the rug with Eleanor. I know they are numbered. Moments when she still loves to sit next to her mother, is content to let me push her hair behind her ears so I can get a better look at the fat curve of her cheek.

And I will also push on with the work that is for me.