Thursday, May 31, 2012

back from the beach


it's a funny thing, leaving the ocean. shaking the sand out of your shoes and hair and getting into a hot car to ride the hot miles back home. this reddening of skin and lightening of hair. there's a physical and spiritual transformation that happens on those shores.

somewhere between riding bicycles at sunset and trudging our sore feet to the italian ice shack to eat a pint a day of the delicious, creamy treat, between helping grandparents up the stairs and sitting around an old table with them, between the late mornings and midnight movie screenings and long walks amid shells we find ourselves kinder. gentler. our hard, stressed, working, maxed-out bodies eroded like the old houses on the far end of the island, with sandbags against their bases and wind-decayed shutters.

but nothing sleeps like your own bed, and nothing feels as sweet as walking barefoot in your own kitchen, even when juggling piles of laundry from a weekend away.

p.s. that picture of robert's grandparents just melts my heart. that's what this life is about. more than anything else. that right there.

**today is the last day to enter my mixed tape giveaway project. i'll start compiling the songs this week and pick a winner by monday!

Friday, May 25, 2012

to see it again

there are few things i enjoy more than seeing someone experience afresh and anew something i've long taken for granted.

it happened with the song "passing afternoon," when i made my sister three iron and wine cds just so she could fall in love with them. and in love she has stayed.

it happened again when i gave robert a collection of short stories by gabriel garcia marquez. we'd lie together on his twin bunk bed in the middle of the afternoon, his head propped up against the wall and mine against the window, reading out loud to each other as college kids trampled outside in the hall.

it happened also to robert when he took me up into the little alcove on the hilltop that overlooked the lake. the little nest of bushes and shrub that he used to immerse himself inside as a child. his hiding spot no longer secret.

tonight, we are taking robert's grandparents to the beach. armed with a pair of new culottes for her and bullfrog sunscreen for him, as well as a supply of homemade chocolate pound cake for us all. to see them walk on warm sand toward a cerulean sea for the first time in many, many moons.

because yes, they've seen the ocean. but when there are years between visits, when there are babies and grandbabies and gardens and three meals a day and cancers and needlework and bluebird mornings between the first and last time they've walked on a pier,

it's time to go again. time to dip again. dance again. feast again. and not take one minute of drenching sun for granted. like us beach bunnies and teenagers and lovers of the forever summer tend to so often do.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

i'm not sleepy and there is no place i'm going to

there were plans for a $1 movie last night. at the old theater downtown where stale popcorn litters the aisles and the seats are threadbare. plans to sink deep into them and watch a mediocre movie with my head against robert's shoulder in the dark.

there were plans to cook cabbage for the next day, to wash and sort all the laundry, and start packing for our trip to the coast tomorrow.

but there was only a sliver of sunlight left when i got home from work. and some sweet friends had brought by tacos and cheerwine. and my pup was freshly groomed and in need of a good slow dance. and robert was still in his blue collar.

so we made a picnic beside the garden. and watched the sun set behind the cucumber plants. and i played mr. tambourine man until night fell on the yard.

and that was it. that was our night. there is still laundry to do and plans to make and deadlines to meet.

but in the jingle jangle morning, we awoke happy. so really, all is well.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

i'm gonna make this place your home

there's a strange juxtaposition within me. i will sit for hours behind a textbook or computer screen, deeply immersed in academic jargon and long words. and i really, really like seminars, especially if they deal with grammar and are held in the basement of a big, old hotel. i like novels and discussions and heavy things that make you think.

but goodness, sometimes i just love me a reality show. specifically american idol. and while this is quite embarrassing, but hey this is my blog and space for my own humiliation, i should tell you robert and i have discovered "good luck charlie" on the disney channel. and it is hilarious. and we may or may not have watched five episodes in a row this weekend.

well, last night, phillip phillips (i know, but look past the name) gave the best performance i've ever heard on american idol. he sang a song called "home" and i just have to share it. because yes, the show is cheesy and overproduced and maybe even a little rigged, but you find art in the most unexpected places sometimes. and this song, with its marching band segment and nods to mumford and sons, fleet foxes, paul simon and even a little wilco, was the most artistic thing to grace that stage in a long while.

so enjoy, and google "good luck charlie." you know you want to:)

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

if this were 03 and we were sixteen

if this were 03 and we were sixteen, i would look with anticipation to july and august. those balmy months spent without worry or school or stress or timelines. i would propose that we hop in the back of that old pickup with a box of chinese food and galllon of sweet tea. drive deep into the back fields where the wheat is knee high.

i would say, let's just drive. to your mama's or mine. to the gas station for slushies. to the golf course where you can break your third fishing rod in the weeds and tangles of the grown-up pond. i would sleep late and wake up with my hand still on the phone where we hung up only hours before.

if this were 03 and we were sixteen, i would look at you. you with your floppy hair and crooked smile. your ambition and wit. i would breathe you in and capture for good the feel of the fraying cloth seats in your volkswagon van. remember, i would tell myself. remember when the sun was setting and he was resting against the car beside you, his legs over yours, leaning back sipping on limeade.

i would bottle those times, because they were special and sacred and seasonal.

but this is twenty twelve and we are in another summer. we are older and different, but if it's possible, more in love. your hands are stronger from years of turning wrenches and tightening bolts. my hair is longer and i've noticed my knees are popping more than usual and it takes longer to stretch to touch my toes.

we've grown, you and i. oh, 03 was magnificant. it was the year of not too much, except that our little lives intersected and were forever changed. and they are still changing. ebbing and flowing and waning and growing.

even if the most romantic thing i can do for you sometimes, like last night when everything just felt like Too Much, is just bring you water in bed. know i do it with as much romance and ardor as when i leaned against you that night in the pickup and told you, "i get you." or that time at the alter i said, "i do."

i still get you, my dear. and i still do.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

a story and a thought

i know a man who has a brilliant daughter.

fair-skinned with hair the color of late evening sun, she invented a contraption for veterans with phantom pain. she has been interviewed by the new york times, was almost diane sawyer's "person of the week" and recently presented her work at a conference in england. she was voted one of glamour magazine's 20 amazing young women, where emma stone gave her an award. it should be noted that she is a good bit younger than me. and i am young.

but this man, this father, he will not brag on her too much. oh he smiles when talking of her, and his eyes do a little dance across the ceiling when he playfully rolls them over her accomplishments. and i know he is proud because he brings the articles to work. and he does tell her of his pride, he assured me. but every time i gasp at another of her honors, he tells me, "i just remind her--it's good to be recognized. and right to be rewarded. but you are not of this world. remember that and keep your head."

what a sentiment.

ribbons and medals have their place. i still have my cheerleading trophies in an old tupperware container in the basement. but we are worth so much more than anyone could ever tell us. than any article could ever exalt us. what if we told our children that? our little girls? to seek praise, beauty and mercy above the rest. to strive to live a simple, wholesome, beautiful life reflective of God's glory and light. what a more worthy, eternal goal.

along the way, we will receive rewards in this life. people will applaud and compliment us. there will be moments when entire rooms of eyes will rest on us alone. but people will step on us too, and manipulate us, and deceive us and shame us. to constantly strive for the profit is to become vulnerable to the loss. but to maintain grace, self-respect, humility and patience prepares you for  both.

i think this man loves his daughter more than most. come to think of it, he thinks she's out of this world.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

moving away from the screen

this morning my neck aches after staying up until eleven working on online training. a physical reminder that our bodies aren't meant for sitting still for very long, much less for sitting cross-legged in a dimly lit living room staring into a glowing screen mere inches away while the dog is rolled up beside you and your husband flips through the channels.

when nanno passed away, the one thing i told myself was this: in my effort to be more like him (an overachieving and overambitious attempt), i will do more. interact with this pretty world more. lie on more hills. take more long walks. stretch more in the mornings.

nanno grew up without a computer, or television for that matter. one time, his mama made him ride his bike all the way across town to deliver papers that would let his family leave sicily and return to america. weren't you tired? my mom asked. oh no, he responded. i was happy and excited to do it.

i want that motivation. one thing's for sure-i won't find it in front of a screen. i will search for it deep in the recesses of my favorite coffee shop, in that corner booth that's always empty at just the right time during my lunch break. i will search in the morning, when the rain has lifted and a cloud hangs over the garden like cotton candy. i'll search in the evening, when the field out back is sage green and glowing. or maybe in late afternoon, when every car that passes is filled with someone living out their story.

i'll search, and in the searching, i'll move. my joints will pop with the surprise of a new action. i'll be sore and it will be hard to get up some mornings. but i've got to do it. for my health, my sanity, and for nanno. for the uncanny belief that there's a world to be devoured, and it starts by looking up from the screen.

Monday, May 14, 2012

a burial and a burr patch

this weekend was beautiful. we sent nanno off with a full military funeral, some special big band music, and a slideshow that didn't leave a dry eye in the room.

in other news, pablo broke his leash on saturday, ran into the woods, frolicked in a burr patch for five minutes, and came out looking like this.

when it's a weekend and no vet or groomer is available, parents have to do what parents have to do.

we shaved him with my dad's beard trimmers.

hope your weekend was equally lovely!

Friday, May 11, 2012

a good and faithful servant

  photo by my talented cousin jeff portaro

he always told me i would be the next poet laureate, but for the life of me, i can't come up with the right words to tell you about my Nanno, sam.

he was 91 when he passed away thursday morning, warm in his bed holding the hands of his daughters (one being my sweet mama), his family all around him. i was lucky enough to know him for 25 of those years. to sit beside him at the kitchen table three times a week and yell out jeopardy answers and wheel of fortune letters. to meet him and mama for lunch at chick-fil-a, wendy's and a slew of other little fast food haunts he loved. he had a smile that, when he flashed it, took away any little worries or stresses i had hanging over me, and warmed me. actually, it was more of a grin than a smile, a genuine happiness.

he wore a cardigan with elbow patches before they were cool, and for years he proudly sported a tan baseball cap that read "NANNO" in big letters, one i had custom made for him at those little kiosks in the mall. he loved big band music, especially artie shaw's begin the beguine. "put that one on repeat!" he'd tell mama. he also loved italian loaf bread, root beer, and jell-o.

he was eternally grateful; "thank you" was his favorite phrase. he loved to fire up his old desktop computer and use his outdated software to make custom greeting cards for every birthday and holiday, the same message always in each: "i wish you at least a hundred more filled with health and happiness."

i could go on. i could tell you about how he talked to my grandma's side of the bed in the evenings, when he thought no one could hear, or about how he loved crosswords and novels all of his life and was the sharpest man i knew. how he served in the navy and lived in sicily as a child.

on wednesday, he asked if my sister and i had to go back to college soon. we told him we still had a few months, and that we would spend them with him. "oh, that's going to be so great!" he exclaimed, "'i'll try to get my strength back up."

now, a tremendous void is left, filled only with the beautiful glimpse of Heaven he gave us these last few days. he saw boys in white suits and called out my sweet grandma's name. he reached out his hand and said "i'm reaching beyond. i'm reaching through it." i have never felt anything more sacred in my life. there were angels all over the place in that tiny bedroom, inside the house he raised his children in, and the bed he shared with his sweet wife.

he looked at all of us and said, "i've got my treasure here with me." he was ours, and losing him is nothing short of a deep, sad blow. but he left such a sweet legacy. one of humility, grace, kindness and purity. one i will forever measure myself against.

he was truly one of a kind, an irreplaceable original. a few days before he passed away, my cousin held his hand and told him, "they just don't make men like you anymore, Nanno."

"nope," he grinned,

"they threw the pattern away."

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

to build a garden, part one


we needed to stake our claim on the ground. to mix the dirt between our fingers and remind ourselves from where we came. the urge to plant a garden hit us only a week ago, on a walk down a little path near our house. we passed the bridge over the old creek and it just hit me: the need to grow something.

in the few days that followed, we shoveled, tilled, mixed and planted. our knees were black with compost and our gloves sweaty. we planted way too many vegetables, and too close together. we've yet to come up with a good watering schedule. we're keeping away critters with tin pans tied to a stick. we are novices, in the simplest sense. rising early and going out in the dark with a flashlight to check on them.

and even if none of them produces, i'll remember this may. this season of change. this laboring with my love. and even when grass grows back over that little 10 by 10 square, i'll look at it and know. that things and people die. but sometimes they grow too. and it's the cycle of  both that keeps us pushing on.

Monday, May 7, 2012

that will tumble and tear apart

you know, it takes a lion's heart to make it through this life.

to make it through the day-in, day-out hustle and bustle. the suppers around the table. the late nights in front of the television. the shared smiles between family. the inside jokes. the traditions.

it's all so beautiful. and fleeting. and those two juxtaposed thoughts just about break my little heart. the passing beauty. the seasonal joy.

i was looking at photo albums over at my grandpa's over the weekend. he stopped making albums after my grandma died, so there are no pictures past 2003. i looked at my 16-year-old self and thought gosh, i wish you would have taken it in more. breathed in those people more. because now they're aging and changing at a rate you never imagined and that july fourth was the perfect chance to hug each of them.

but this lion will persevere. and love. and in doing both, live this broken life to the fullest.

Friday, May 4, 2012

an emancipation proclamation

one day in september, there was an afternoon where the cool, midday sun hung in the trees for hours.

i was fourteen and still swinging in the old tire hanging off the tree near the creek behind our house. i would lay on my belly against the rubber, my eyes facing the cracked mud and tiny clover on the ground. i remember turning in circles, twisting the rope until it was tightly coiled. then i would pull my legs up to my chest and tense my body as the swing unraveled itself, spinning me dizzily.

i thought about that afternoon this morning. that specific day. i don't have many days that i specifically remember from my youth. i have stages, sure. the big t-shirt phase. the year i chopped my hair into a horrible bob to look like mary-anne from the babysitter's club. on that note, the years i read nothing but babysitter's club books in my spare time and even formed my own club at school. the humid summer i met robert. the short season i like raisins. there are waves of time that encompass entire years and half-decades. days often elude me. but not that one.

i thought about that sensation. that tensing and releasing, tightening and loosening. and i realized there's a similar one stirring now. an anxiety sitting on my chest. a wound rope around my heart in need of a good unravel.

so it's warm bath time. front porch rocker time. bible reading in the early morning when the house is still asleep time. beach towel on hot sand time. it's slower now than that september day. more methodical and intentional. but the unwind will come. the release is already happening. and just as i pushed off the red clay, muddying my tennis shoes and spraying pebbles into the wood, i am preparing for takeoff.

this morning, it means lots of dark coffee and deep breaths. tonight, it will mean sitting by my grandfather's bedside as he prepares for another type of liberation. a breaking of the chains of this life. we're all winding up. it's how we unfurl that defines us.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

jesus, the short-order cook

so they went out in the boat, but they caught nothing all dawn, Jesus was standing on the beach, but the disciples couldn't see who he was...when they got there, they found breakfast waiting for them--fish cooking over a charcoal fire, and some bread...Simon Peter went aboard and dragged the net to the shore. there were 153 large fish, and yet the net hadn't torn.

"now come and have some breakfast!" Jesus said. none of the disciples dared to ask him,"who are you?" because they knew it was the Lord. -john 21:1-12 

he walked on water. consumed a burning bush. rose a man (and himself) from the dead and gave a blind man sight. but one morning by the ocean, Jesus was just a man in a robe, cooking some fish and inviting his friends for breakfast. i found this passage a few weeks ago and it has since become one of my favorite in the entire Bible. because it presents Jesus in ways i don't often think of him. 

the great savior who knows the length and number of every hair on my head also enjoys cooking with charcoal, like my dad did in the nineties on his old black grill out back. and as i slink into the very back corner booth during my lunch break, he stood and shouted, not wanting to eat alone. the lover of my soul loves company. and fellowship. and good meat and bread in the morning. i can see the mist of dawn rising over the sea, the sun and moon in that celestial tug-of-war that happens every sunrise. i bet it was chilly, as seaside meals can be. i spent one morning two octobers ago on cannon beach, oregon. robert and i ate scones and looked at haystack rock in the distance. i dipped my toes into the pacific ocean for the first time. a thick haze covered the ground below and in front of us. i like to picture that scene in this story. a master in the mist.

oh but listen to the rest of it! yes, this is one of the most human accounts of Jesus in the Bible. i also love the passage where he prays in the olive grove, bowing down to his Father but also asking if maybe, just maybe, the cup of suffering may be willingly taken from him. but this is a more than mortal experience.

the disciples weren't catching fish. they were out all night scavenging the ocean bottom to no avail. but as soon as they see Jesus and he suggests throwing their net to the other side, they catch more than their net should allow. but it doesn't break. of course it doesn't. as he fed the thousands, he fed his friends. more than enough, but never too much to handle. that's a miracle.

i didn't get too far past the first ripple of the pacific ocean that morning on cannon beach. it was freezing and my toes were bare. but the disciples ran off the boat to Jesus. not only had their savior returned, he was ready with a warm fire and food. alive in the realest sense. and even on the mistiest of mornings, no truth is clearer than this.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

springtime calls her childen


there's a meadow that runs beside and behind our little cottage. every spring, the wildflowers start popping up. we were back there last night, working on the garden, and i couldn't help but pick a few. look! i told robert, free flowers! you'd pay a bunch for these at the store! i can't get past the fact that these little flowers are dancing in the back of our house, just ripe for the picking. i've been putting them in little bud vases and mason jars all throughout the house. my only caveat? after about a day, the daisies taken on a slightly pungent odor. thus, i've now got jars of wildflowers sitting on my front porch. as long as we get to enjoy them one way or the other, all is well.

i think God sends the wildflowers to remind us of the beauty in the little things. in digging through red clay to start a garden. bending down in grass shin-high just to pick a renegade daisy. lying on our backs on a blanket in the back yard, watching the sun turn to moon behind the pin oaks. spring is the perfect season for such things. a breeze of time between winter and summer, where all the earth joins in a brief but beautiful exclamation of color.

p.s. there's still time to enter the Mixed Tape Project! your comment is your submission into the giveaway, so be sure to enter! ALL songs are welcome. that's what makes the collection so special.