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Following Instructions

Following Instructions

What are we writing today?

Instructions for living a life.
Pay attention.
Be astonished.
Tell about it. – Mary Oliver

It’s a rainy Friday in May, cool outside the coffee shop. The line for the drive-through wraps around the building and winds through the parking lot. Most of the tables are full. My writing partner and I are nestled in our customary spot, the twin chairs in front of the picture windows just beyond which the cars edge forward, their drivers anticipating coffee for their morning commute. “Perseverance,” my writing partner counsels wisely, “we just need to sit in the chair.”

My tea tastes more like the cream I impulsively added to it than black tea. I’m shifting and fidgeting in my chair, balancing my laptop on my knees, wondering if I can get into the creative flow that I came here looking for. For some time Mary Oliver’s quote has been on my desktop, at times mocking me, at times simply calling to me. I want to explain to her that I’ve been paying attention and plenty astonished by the last two months. I’ve been failing at telling about it.

In the big picture the pieces have shifted and shifted again, like one of those puzzles where you keep sliding the tiles around to make a pattern or organize the numbers. Seventeen is now Eighteen and finishing his first year of college in a blaze of excellent grades, new friendships, wonderful memories, and age-appropriate frustrations in pointing his car toward home where he understandably feels his life goes on hold for the summer. IMG_8170Fourteen will be Fifteen shortly—the past four months together have been a wonderful exploration of our mother-daughter duo—and she is excitedly headed toward summer through the end-of-the-year obstacle course of finals, projects, recitals and concerts.IMG_8173 Ninety-Two has come back stronger than before from a health crisis in April, astounding us all. My house is on the market, creating a combination of uncertainty about where we’ll live next and requiring the constant upkeep of living in a “Pinterest house.” Each of these is a story unto itself, full of little and big astonishments; spring, though, is about mushrooms and rainbows. So it is these I shall tell about:

Mushroom Soup

Ninety-Two’s health crumbled in early April. Another hospitalization landed her back in skilled nursing, where a team of physical and occupational therapists helped her get back on her feet. The fabric of support from friends and family for both of us was truly astonishing. From meals delivered to rides for Fourteen to flowers on my doorstep to kind words via email, phone, and text, we felt the love from near, far and wide. One email arrived with this welcome news: Morels … Found a bunch and I’d like to share them with you. Might make your mom happy.

My mother and I delighted in morel season on our farm, going out into the woods to look together, squealing when we found a mushroom. They are undeniably delicious, but also a herald of the spring with summer to follow, seasons of ease and abundance, of heat and leisure, of a shift away from the arduous slog that was winter life in the country. Disappearing as quickly as they appear, morel mushrooms are earth-magic, little wonders like four-leaf clovers and rainbows that you will only see if you pay attention.

Our morel benefactress zoomed up to the yoga studio in her black car and handed me a paper bag through the window. I hopped from one bare foot to the other on cool pavement in my bare feet, telling her I had devised an entire plan since her email the evening before. At home with the morels, I started diced onions in oil, the beginning to any good recipe and one that used to bring my mother out of her room when the scent of sizzling onions wafted around the corner. To these I added garlic and chopped crimini, then mushroom broth, simmering the flavors together. IMG_8153With the immersion blender on its last legs, the motor whining as much as it smooths, I puréed the soup in the pot and added thick cream from a local dairy.

Leaving the soup on low, I turned my attention to the paper bag bearing the most perfect morels. Lifting them one-by-one, I carefully sliced them the long way into quarters while my pan heated on the stove. Cooking them the French way meant tossing them into the hot pan without oil or butter, turning them rapidly and waiting for their liquor to release. When they were just right—cooked through with their edges and flavors intensified by heat—I tossed them into a thermos and trapped their heat with the lid. The soup went into a second thermos, and both went into a bag with a bowl, a cream-soup spoon from our farm days, and a kitchen towel. Defying the Pinterest house, I left a mess in the kitchen and went to deliver spring to Ninety-Two.

Whatever the results, there is something life affirming about knowing the impact of our actions. I’ve gotten things completely wrong plenty; sitting with the feelings of regret or dismay or despair is the surest way to forge through and rebound, but it isn’t the least bit pleasant. On occasion, I’ve gotten things completely right. Delivering morel mushroom soup to my convalescing mother was one of those occasions, worth everything I put aside to make the soup while the mushrooms were fresh, worth every dish I zoomed home to scrub in my otherwise barely used for-sale kitchen. I watched her exclaim and spoon up every bite, adding more broth so that each spoonful was a silky mixture of soup and mushroom. Later, while Fourteen and I were enjoying morels with eggs and asparagus, Ninety-Two’s email arrived, celebrating the soup and, in hindsight, heralding the turn toward her remarkable recovery.IMG_8154

Which leaves just rainbows to tell about—if you live in the Midwest you’ve seen some amazing ones recently. One morning I woke up in the yellow glow of morning and realized I had woken up inside of one (pictured below with May hail and the rainbow that followed). If mushrooms are earth-magic, then rainbows are the generous gifts of sky and wind and rain and sun, heralds of changing skies and astonishing times to come. But we won’t even notice them if we don’t pay attention and we won’t receive their gifts if we aren’t willing to be astonished. With intense gratitude for your presence on my journey and for letting me tell you about it, Rxo

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Phrase Phase

Which one is correct?

When my newly minted teenager, Thirteen, was just beginning to articulate complete sentences at the age of about Three, she learned to say, “Actually.” She did not use it to correct others, but to make a point as fact. “Actually, I was going to pet the cat.” “I am hungry, actually.” “Actually, good night.” As a developmental habit, it was actually pretty cute and didn’t last long enough to become annoying.

Ten years later she might just as well append actually to every comment because she is a stickler for accuracy, and not only her own. If I report that it’s 4 and we need to leave, she’ll tell me it’s only 3:56. If her brother mis-quotes a song lyric, she will take pains to sing the refrain emphasizing the correct words. If she herself says her left hand but means her right, she’ll burst into giggles and ask loudly why in the world would she say left when she means right.

I can only hope that this linguistic phase will also be short lived.

I put aside my wondering about where her commitment to detail came from to do a little celestial research. I thought I remembered that July 31 this year brings us a Blue Moon, the second full moon in a calendar month. A blue moon is auspicious, of course, because it doesn’t happen very often. The full moon offers a big hit of lunar energy, and a blue moon shines its big light onto the truth in our hearts, offering us a path to follow those notes toward meaningful transitions.

Verifying my memory online, I was drawn up short when I uncovered an inaccuracy in my own understanding of the world. Traditionally, it seems, the blue moon was the third full moon of four in a single season (between equinox and solstice or solstice and equinox). That was according to the 1937 Maine Farmer’s Almanac. Then, in 1946 a reporter for Sky and Telescope, in an article entitled “Once in a Blue Moon,” interpreted the older definition to mean two full moons in a single calendar month (http://earthsky.org/space/when-is-the-next-blue-moon).

Which one is the correct definition? Do we have a blue moon this month or not until May 2016? According to the reading I’ve done, people can’t agree. But the author at earthsky wisely suggests that both definitions are folklore, and thus we get to decide and enjoy either. As I see it, with two definitions for blue moons in use, the phenomenon is less incredibly rare; so the phrase, once in a blue moon, is less laden with the meaning of something seldom happening.

A little further research offers this—five hundred years ago (okay, 487), there is printed evidence that if something happened once in a blue moon it would be something utterly absurd, akin to “when pigs fly.” The flying pigs were also popular parlance about the same time, alongside the moon being made of green cheese. Together they must have rubbed out the blue moon as absurd, allowing it to come roaring back to mean a rare occurrence.

I love language. I love that it shifts and grows and accommodates our changing communications, but I also consider myself something of a usage guardian and strive for accuracy in meaning, punctuation, and grammar. In clear communications, accuracy is powerful; and boom, I am handed new understanding. Living with an English professor turned editor, a Sixteen year-old-boy who knows most everything, and a grandmother with nearly ninety-one years of living experience, of course Thirteen is driven to discover the Actually in any situation. At this moment, when she is learning to navigate the world at an age during which she can enjoy the Minions movie and Dirty Dancing in a single weekend, this moment is more rare and precious than any blue moon, because when it’s over it won’t ever return.

jelly hand 15

Valencia, earlier this month (July 2015)

jelly hand 09

Either the hand has grown or the jelly fish are smaller … or both! California, January 2009

In spite of my general preference for particulars and a feeling that the oldest way is somehow the rightest, I’m sticking with the idea that this month (7.31.15) we see a blue moon; twenty-eight days ago my peeps and I were under a glorious full moon in Barcelona. The world turns and turns and we’re lucky to be on it. Thanks for reading, Rxo

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