a confession

At the beginning of fall, my sweet son and I were looking to order some rain pants for this wet wet climate we seem to have moved to. I asked him what color he wanted, reading off the colors on the screen: yellow, red, blue or black. He, however, was actually looking at the screen and saw the one color I had neglected to mention: pink. "Pink!" he said. "I want pink!"
So I did what any well-meaning, modern, liberal mama would do, and gently steered him away.
"Pink, huh?" (keeping my voice very neutral) "Hmmm. You know, if you got yellow, it would match your raincoat."
"Ok, yellow. Let's get yellow!"
Phew. "Yellow, yellow is great!"
We got yellow.

The yellow is bright and cheerful, and it does match his raincoat, but I have felt a little guilty ever since that I steered him away from his first choice. Why not pink? Of course we know why not, we know the risk he runs in getting teased, we can imagine the raised eyebrows from even other adults. There's a group of kids who wait for the bus on our street, and though they aren't particularly mean, they loudly comment on anything Finn is doing/wearing/riding as we pass on our way to preschool. I know they would have plenty to say about pink rain pants.

Not too long after this little exchange, I read an article in an old Mothering magazine about another little boy who loved pink. His parents let him love it, his dad even dressed in pink in support, and he eventually grew to love other colors, though the fondness for pink remained. This article even claimed that once upon a time, pink was the color for boys (a gentle form of red, considered very manly) and blue was for girls (in honor of the Virgin Mary.) In any case, it's clear that the whole pink/blue thing is quite arbitrary, and I was inspired by these parents' willingness to just let their boy be himself.

So I was a little more prepared when he decided he wanted a tutu. A green tutu. He has some long john-style pajamas, complete with feet, that make him feel like a dancer. The very first moment he put them on, he danced around the room, then asked for "one of those things that dancers wear. That stick out?" "A tutu?" "Yes. A tutu. A green tutu!"
I didn't steer him away this time, though I admit I did procrastinate a bit, hoping it would simply fade away. Matt and I talked a lot in the meantime, about what were our fears, why the hesitation. Could we protect him from getting made fun of? Should we, even if we could? If he had one, could he wear it outside? Wear it to the dining hall? To school? Matt discussed it with his students, and it was one of them, finally, who got our attention. She was a dancer herself, and was so adamant about the importance of supporting kids' interests that we knew she was right. After all, we wouldn't in a million years tell Willa she couldn't do something or couldn't pretend to do something or couldn't, for gosh sakes, wear something just because she was a girl ... so how could we do that to Finn? Sometimes you just have to let the boy be the boy.
And the desire didn't fade away, so lo and behold, one Sunday night found me googling "handmade tutus" (these are the instructions we followed--so easy!) and then Monday morning found us at JoAnn's buying green tulle, (did you know it's headquartered here in Hudson?) and the next morning when Finn woke up, there was a tutu by his bed. Alas, he wasn't wearing his dancing pajamas, so he immediately changed into them, and then put on the tutu, and danced all morning. It was great fun to watch him ... so much fun, in fact, that I only paused momentarily when he asked to wear it to town, riding his bike to the library (and pulling the wagon behind.)
And now? He still has the tutu, still puts it on occasionally (mostly when he's wearing the pajamas) and I still love to see his eyes light up when he dances. I also still fear his getting hurt, fear his getting made fun of. He comes home from preschool talking about girl toys and boy toys--an idea he had never encountered before. And I'm sad about this, sad to see him entering, somewhat reluctantly and confusedly, a boy world that involves bad men and batman, hitting and competition, all things I wish we could just hold off a little longer (or a lot longer.)
But today? Today he admired--for the zillionth time--Willa's tights. "Pants with feet" he calls them. And so when we went to the thrift store this afternoon, I picked up some brown tights, size 3. They'll be perfect for wearing under his pants this winter, or for playing Robin Hood, or even for wearing under that tutu.


minnesota morning mitts

I have long wanted to try and make (and wear!) these fingerless Maine mittens, and even though they truly would have been perfect for the chilly days in Hong Kong when just a bit of warmth was needed, I didn't get around to it until now. And this pair wasn't even for me, but for my mother-in-law, who doesn't live in Maine but in another northern state, Minnesota.
She gets cold easily, just like I do, and even though my father-in-law doesn't understand the point of these mittens, I think she will. It's not to replace full-size fingered mitts, you see, it's to extend the mitten-wearing season. It's for before you really need full-on mittens or gloves (and after ... I think these will be great in early spring too.) Which means it's almost too late for them now, but now is when they're done.
A few years ago, on my first mother's day, my mother-in-law wrote me a note in which she expressed her gratitude that I was the mother of her grandchild, and her confidence in my mothering ability. It was a note that meant the world to me, especially because she and I have had our differences over the years. But she raised two fine men, one of whom is my husband and the other is my friend. For that, I will always thank her. And I hope she knows that when I do things like cook a meal when they visit, or knit some fingerless mittens, it's one way of showing my love. Thanks, Dottie, and happy belated birthday!

ps--I promise to stop wearing the mittens and get them in the mail!


All Souls' Day

The day dawned bright and clear, the sunshine welcome after many days of rain, though I know it is hardly bright or clear for so very many. Today is All Souls' Day, a day traditionally set apart to commemorate the "faithful departed," the dead. A day to remember and grieve, a day to place them, again, safely into the hands of God.

All day today, I watched my two children, both ill but still vital, still alive, and thought about our faithful departed, the people, now gone, who have shaped our lives. It's a strange thing, and not entirely comfortable, to think about death while watching young children play. The contrasts are stark--and yet it is a contrast that is entirely within the realm of life.

I wanted somehow to observe the day, to mark its passing, as I've wanted to on other feast days. The liturgies and rituals of the church for me hold within them the mystery and otherness of God, and while many people see them as dead and irrelevant, they open me up to awe and wonder and love. Far from doing this out of any sense of obligation or duty, I feel a deep desire to suffuse our home with that same awe and wonder and love, and I'm searching for simple ways to do that.

This year, we took a walk in the next door graveyard. We looked at graves, talked a little about the day and the people we know who have died. I told Finn about his great-grandmother, who died just 6 weeks before his birth, but with whom he shares a birthday, and whose presence was felt at his birth. I told him also about Ruth Ives, from whom Willa got her middle name, a woman who taught us so much about hospitality and great love.

This day also I thought of our friends, observing their first All Souls' Day since their baby boy's death last December. I thought of the pain, still so raw, and I wonder if a day like this offers any comfort. The tragedy for them is that so many of their memories are terrible, filled with pain. There wasn't time to make the joyful memories they wanted, though of course they savor each moment they had.

And it seems to me that if the church and her traditions and rituals can offer anything, what's needed here is to remember forward, a phrase often used by author and radio host Krista Tippet, in reference to Lewis Carroll's white queen: "It's a poor sort of memory," she says, "that only works backwards."

To remember forward, is, I suppose, a kind of faith, an imaginative and creative faith that trusts that God is bigger than and outside of our linear notions of time. A faith that trusts that "in Christ all things hold together."

Liturgically and seasonally, this makes sense. When all around us is brown and dying, we remember forward to spring. In a few weeks' time we will celebrate "Christ the King Sunday," (also called Eternity Sunday), a day that helps us remember, both forward and backward, the eternity of God's kingdom. And then after that will come Advent, when we prepare for the incarnation: "eternity shut in a span." Liturgically, it works, and it satisfies me. But practically?

There is no neat and tidy solution here, and I'm tempted to not even post this, as unfinished as it is. But for as long as life endures, grief will be unfinished, with nothing tidy about it. I worship a God who holds past, present and future all together, in a way I can't understand but nevertheless take comfort in.

How small our span of life, O God, our years from birth till death:
a single beat within the heart, the catching of a breath,
a drop within the ocean's deep, a grain upon the shore, 
a flash of light before we sleep to see the sun no more.
And yet our speck of light is spanned by your infinity;
our tick of time on earth is caught in your eternity.
While suns and stars spin endlessly through depths of cosmic space,
while aeons roll and ages pass, you hold us in your grace.
O Christ you left eternity to plunge in time's swift stream, 
to share the shortness of our span, our mortal lives redeem.
You filled the cross-closed years with love, you loved us to the end
 and touch us with your risen life that ours may time transcend.
--Herman G. Stuempfle Jr.



There have been a lot of apples around here lately. Besides the 2 1/2 bushels we pressed into cider--such delicious cider!--we made yummy applesauce, froze two pies' worth, and froze some more for apple crisp. And we're still eating them just about everyday for lunch.

We were thrilled to find an orchard that has an "antique" section, filled with heirlooms, many of which we recognized from our dear Poverty Lane in New Hampshire. There is truly no better way to spend an afternoon than in an heirloom orchard, using a little map to figure out which trees are which, and tasting tasting tasting so many kinds of apples. We're happy that Finn now easily recognizes the shape of an apple tree (surely one of the most beautiful trees) and that he associates cider doughnuts with orchards. When offered apple juice, he will (politely) request cider, saying that that is his preference. We were, however, a little chagrined when his preschool teacher reported that when she served them apple cider last week, Finn asked if she had pressed it herself.
So in honor of all that, I decided we needed to do a little apple crafting. Something simple, since my last art activity idea was a bust (wet felting little acorns. Such a cute idea! But alas, felting required a little too much patience for Finn right now, and I had never done it before so I couldn't give enough guidance and be very patient myself. It was a good reminder, though, to keep things simple. There will be plenty of time for more involved crafts later.)
And what does a good apple craft need? That's right. Good apple cake. So we made this, an applesauce cake from The Fannie Farmer Baking Book. It's spicy and fruity, with dried cranberries and lots of nuts. Sort of fruitcake-like, and I mean that in a good way. Not nearly as dense, but flavorful and moist. I drizzled with a glaze, but it didn't really need anything.
Hot Applesauce Cake
adapted from The Fannie Farmer Baking Book, by Marion Cunningham
makes two 8 1/2" x 4 1/2" loaves

1 cup shortening (we used Spectrum brand, with no trans fats)
2 cups sugar (we used one cup brown, I cup white)
2 eggs
2 1/2 cup all-purpose flour (we used white whole wheat)
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons cinnamon
2 teaspoons cloves (that's a lot of cloves! We just used one)
2 teaspoons ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
2 cups hot applesauce
2 cups raisins (we used dried cranberries)
2 cups chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 350, and grease and flour your pans.
Cream the shortening, sugar, salt, baking soda, and spices. Add eggs and mix well. Add flour and mix just until combined, then add applesauce, raisins and nuts. Mix until combined. Spread evenly in pan, and bake until toothpick comes out clean, about 1 hour. Remove from oven and let cool about 10 minutes in the pan, then turn out onto a rack to cool completely. (We, of course, didn't wait that long. Do you? Really?)