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Making Art Where You Are: On the Tanglewood Lawn

SBB drawing 2

This week in the Berkshires, summer starts.
The Solstice arrives, the sun stands still.
Are you standing still?
Take in the peonies, the bluebirds, and the construction on Main Street in Great Barrington. THAT will stand you still. Oh, but it is all for the good.
Summer starts officially in the Berkshires and at my house, when the Tanglewood season begins.

The lawn at Tanglewood is getting lots of attention right now. The grass is fussed and tended, in preparation for the thousands of music lovers who will spread blankets and listen to the music of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, James Taylor, Diana Krall, Jessye Norman, Yo-Yo Ma, Wynton Marsalis, Sheryl Crow. Did you know that kids get free lawn tickets at Tanglewood? Or that attending a rehearsal on Saturday morning is a wonderful way to tune your ears to music you are learning to appreciate?

Tanglewood is one of the reasons we moved to the Berkshires 18 years ago.
Tanglewood and picnics on the lawn are where many important moments in our family have transpired.

Today I celebrate a new publication by Gina Hyams, An Anthology of Babes: 36 Women Give Motherhood a Voice contributor and original Out of the Mouths of Babes cast member and amazing Instagrammer. Her new book is The Tanglewood Picnic.

The Tanglewood Picnic cover


If you’d like to win a copy of The Tanglewood Lawn, please read the piece below and leave a comment. Tell me about your memorable picnics. I will select a winner from the comments on this thread and let you know by Friday June 19th, opening day for the summer season at Tanglewood. At right about 7:55 PM, when the bell rings on the grounds of the lawn to alert people to the impending thrilling beginning of the concert, I will announce the winner here on Laundry Line Divine. (for you close readers and Tanglewood mavens, I know the REALLY official opening is July 3….but in my mind, the moment music starts and there are people on the lawn, that season is open!)

Stay tuned.
Pineapple anyone?


The Cake Walk

Tanglewood picnics are as basic to my son’s life as they are to his parents. While not quite conceived in a shady spot near the Shed, he was very nearly born there. And, at one week old, he made, along with Boccocini and Sun-Dried Tomatoes from Murray’s Cheese Shop on Bleecker Street in Manhattan, what has become a regular weekly visit to the Lawn at Tanglewood.

He learned to walk at Tanglewood.
His hero, Yo-Yo Ma shook his hand and gave him sage advice at 12 years of age. (“Don’t fuck up”)
He studied cello with a former cellist of the BSO.
And, at 18, he accepted his diploma of graduation from Monument Mountain Regional High School on the stage of the Shed.

I walked my pregnant self all over the grounds of Tanglewood at picnics and hours spent listening to rehearsals and concerts. We paced our son to sleep at the back of the Lawn so we could stay to the very end of concerts when he was just a few weeks old. My husband smuggled a snuggled sleeping infant in to the upper reaches of Ozawa Hall where he and Leon Fleischer took in a Sunday morning recital, but that story does not involve picnics.

This story however does. We were on the Lawn on a Sunday afternoon, just one week after Ben’s first birthday. We spent a lovely afternoon in the company of my sister’s in-laws, who are fervent BSO fans and mighty picnic packers with our usual cheese and meat spread, waiting eagerly for their dessert.

Ben, who at that point was eating what babies eat, gnawing on the ends of the baguette, his pudgy fingers wrapped around a peach, crawled around the blanket.
We’d lift him out of the center and set him out on the grass where he’d motor around socially. He kept his eye on dessert too, though, up to that point, no refined sugar had passed his lips.

Before the bell rang, Paula laid a Pineapple Upside Down cake on her lap to slice. Ben bee-lined towards her and without warning, got up on his two feet for the first time and walked to her chair. He stopped short of putting his sticky hands in the center of the cake to watch, drooling as she cut fat slices of sweet, dark, pineapple cake for us. He crowed with glee when we applauded his first steps taken just before the bell rang us all to attention.

We all ate that cake, including this child, who to this day continues to associate Tanglewood Picnics with sweetness and celebration.


SBB drawing

Pineapple Wheel Cake
from the Settlement Cookbook
Vintage (26th) Edition
Copyright 1944 by The Settlement Cook Book Company

1 large can sliced pineapple
¼ cup butter
2 cups brown sugar
4 eggs, separated
1-cup sugar
1-cup flour
1-teaspoon baking powder
1 cup whipping cream

Melt butter in iron skillet; cover with brown sugar, spreading it evenly. Place 1 slice of the cored pineapple in the center on top of sugar; cut rest of the slices in half, crosswise; arrange these in a circle around the center slice like the spokes of a wheel, rounded edges facing one way. Fill space with walnut meats and candied cherries. Make sponge bake (their typo) batter, using 4 eggs, 1 cup sugar, 1 cup flour, and 1 teaspoon baking powder, pour over pineapple wheel, place in moderate over and cake (Their typo) until firm. Turn upside down. Serve cold with whipped cream.

Let the commenting begin!
Meet Gina at the next Berkshire Festival of Women Writers Lean-In events on Sunday June 28 at the Shaker Dam Coffee House.


SBB drawing 3




Making art where you are: Eli Shalan at my house

Eli at work

Parenting requires adaptation.

Minute to minute, that which you thought was a surefire solution to, say, getting a kid down for a nap, BOOM, they don’t like “Goodnight Gorilla” anymore. One minute they eat salad, the next they only eat tomatoes. One year, they like to hug, even in public, the next they behave like they are in a witness protection program and must protect their anonymity by remaining silent and aloof.

All the time, for days on end.

So, you ride the belly flops and hairpin turns. You enjoy the scenic turnouts and wayside stops on this life-long expedition of motherhood.

This all counts for the friends of your kids too.
The ones who show up when the cookies are warm or the tea iced.
Or who need rides and are grateful.
Or spend nights, whose food preferences you know because fortunately they are often at your table.

One such as these is my guy Eli.

Eli has parents, really great parents and a magnificent set of inspired siblings, but here at my house, we claim a bit of Eli and this past weekend, he left more than the mark of his affection on our house.

He made art at our house, on our house.
On our garage, to be exact.

I know. You look at graffiti and you see defacement of public property. After years of living in New York City, I have developed an appreciation for this rampant expression of street art, practiced by unlikely artists in unlikely places.

Which is why we asked Eli to paint our garage doors. We wanted an image that stretches us and welcomes you. Eli painted Seth’s car, which, if you see a Mondrian style graffiti’d car traveling from Minnesota to the Berkshires this week, that is it.

Seth's car painted by Eli Shalan
Seth’s car painted by Eli Shalan


I have known Eli since his Mom, who is a ceramic artist, (see her work here) offered a birthday party in her clay studio at the art school to a silent auction and we won it. Paula led the party and all I had to do was bake the cake.


Eli and Ben were in school together from first grade through eighth, with a two-year gap while Ben attended another school and then they finished high school together. Eli gardened with me during the years I taught gardening at their grade school. He is a quiet fellow, so I never really knew for sure where I stood in his pantheon of adults, but over the years, we have come to know each other by the work we are doing in the world. I’ve watched him play soccer and basketball, in plays and concerts, but never have I seen him so fluid and confident than in his painting. I first saw his work for the Independent project at Monument Mountain Regional High School, led by Matt Wohl, Lisa Baldwin and Mike Powell. Now Eli is in college, studying visual arts.


Our garage door is his first commissioned work. Every time I roll in to the driveway, I am happy. He and Ben prepared the surface and I fear his painting will outlast our listing garage. But we will preserve the doors when the garage gets fixed up.

Making art where you are, with the people you are with is one of my favorite parts of summer vacation. We hang out a bit more, playful and curious about what fun we can have. Once the idea sprouted within me to ask Eli to paint the garage, there was an inevitable joy around the prospect. Two days after we asked him, he showed up in the kitchen with a drawing. He ordered his favorite paint. And that weekend, the work was done.

Living with these emerging adults is just like making art where you are.

I learn to enjoy and even savor the new territory in which I find myself.
And because they are in the bigger action of “becoming”, the journey suddenly feels more mutually supported. I find Ben grilling for dinner or Catherine turning out quesedillas in time for me to eat before I go teach. There is more collaboration…. maybe this is offered in place of cooperation, but that is a thought for tomorrow.

I am so happy with this art in our life.
And happy to know Eli in this way.

If you are game for graffiti, I know Eli is open to more commissions. The guys will be on a road trip this summer, so even if you aren’t in the Berkshires, let me know. I will connect you.

Two bits of my writing are out in the world this week.
About picnics on the lawn at Tanglewood here. (look for a giveaway here in Laundry Line Divine this Monday of a new book by Gina Hyams!)
And about An Anthology of Babes: 36 Women Give Motherhood a Voice, also a giveaway, on Kate Hopper’s blog.



Strawberry on ice cream

Good strawberries for the picking here.
Happy summer days.


Twenty years ago I heard a sound

Ben Cello


On this day twenty years ago today I was very pregnant.

I was uncomfortable in the best of ways.
My body was tuning for a symphony that has played on for winters and summers and falls and many, many revitalizing springs.
I have become, my 5’7” frame, wide thighs, strong arms- an orchestra hall with acoustic panels surrounding the conductor, my heart.
This symphonic alignment of my being began with a newborn devotion to love, to my husband and the possible future we conceived before we had an iota of an inkling of how this musical passage would alter the course, the texture, the foundation of our lives forever. Forever, that is, being from that moment until now which has every indication of momentum, of forward motion.
I have learned, while caught in this musical reverie, to be more present, to drop my prospective planning of future to settle in to the melody of now.
This journey, the playing of the symphony of motherhood in my life, in the concert hall of my body, in the acoustic sphere of my emotional life, in the reverberant sound waves that pulse into the world around me has called me in to a vivid kind of listening.
20 years ago, I found myself in the scarlet velvet seat of mothering and I have not tired of the changing melodies, the sonorous undertones, the minor keys, dissonance and cacophony yielding to mellifluous tones.
I have questioned at timorous times whether I could trade my seat for a better view or perhaps a different composition. I have wondered if I could just turn the sound off or at least lower the volume more than many times.
But this all penetrating, relentlessly consistent world of sounds is as steady as sunrise. It has the beauty of Yeats:

“I thought of your beauty, and this arrow
Made out of a wild thought, is in my marrow.”

photo strips957

The music is that close to me, so close it is within me. I pulse with it. Even twenty years in.

Poet Alicia Suskin Ostriker wrote in a poem,

“Oh young mamas
no matter what your age is you
are born when you give birth
to a baby you start over

one animal

and both gently, just slightly
separated from each other
swaying, swinging
like a vine, like an oriole’s nest”

I might doze through a passage, I may flat out sleep through an exciting part, but when I wake the symphony reels on, playing in and though and around me. Curious to me is the fact that no one else hears my symphony of motherhood. They witness the effects of its playing, catch wafts of sound when the breeze carries it just right, but on the whole, I am the only one who hears this sound. I venture to guess each of us have our own symphonies, the ones struck in to our mothers and fathers and the ones that are struck in to us each as parents. This symphony is an ocean of sounds waves that permeate every single thing I do.

So, when 20 years ago, my husband performed the ubiquitous duty of parking the car on 7th Avenue in Greenwich Village at 4:35 AM on a Sunday morning, I clung to a parking sign post that prohibited him parking right there, but provided me with an anchor. I was lost to all social decorum. Lost to the delicacies of how people behave on a city street, albeit the wild frayed edge of morning on a warm July weekend. My bare hot hands pressed in to the green metal, sharp-edged and evenly punched with holes that I could peer through between contractions.
I felt a wave of sound coming at me. I braced myself, as if that parking sign post was the mast of a great ship, bow heading right in to the wind, musical notes pelting me, an unfamiliar melody that now, 20 years later is the sound of my cells.

I sailed in to motherhood and I live in the symphony, square in the center of this haunting, startling, heart-breaking beauty.

This morning I was struck by this phrase from John O’Donohue’s book Beauty.

“Each of us is aware of certain threshold times in the lives of our hearts when such thoughts arrived and changed everything.”

Our son, my boy Ben, is in Munich, warm in the arms of our German family. If he cannot be here, eating blueberry buckle for breakfast, then him being there is a comfort and joy for us both. I will spend the day listening to the current measures of this music, the ones that carry his voice over the airwaves or the cadence of his speech in a text.

Hey Mom. Just wanted to hear your voice.

Mothering is about sound, about hearing, and about listening.

Thank you Ben for bringing this music to my life.
Happy Birthday.
Twenty is very good.
Very good indeed.


Suzi/ Mom

That segment of the Alicia Suskin Ostriker poem, Propaganda Poem: Maybe for Some Young Mamas, appears in her book,
The Mother/Child Papers, published by University of Pittsburgh Press 1980, 2009. You can find it here.

PS Subscribers to Laundry Line Divine have been given a chance to update your connection to this website. I hope you will continue reading me here, following the work I do and the events I produce. I am taking An Anthology of Babes: 36 Women Give Motherhood a Voice on tour this August to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Stay tuned for news!

Giving Motherhood A Voice Poster

Who is a Little Cuckoo Clock?

Ben and me at Bartholomew's Cobble 1995

Today is my son’s last full day of high school.
When I woke this morning I was singing a song he and I learned in our
first Mommy & Me class at the Children’s Aid Society on Thompson Street in Greenwich Village.

Tick tock Tick tock, I’m a little cuckoo clock.
Tick tock Tick tock, now it’s striking one o’clock.

(Prepare for cascade of giggles and drool as you toss baby up the air with each striking of the hour. Doubles as upper body work out)

If I attempted any such tossing I would be seriously injured today.
My little cuckoo clock is 18 years old and he is 10 pounds my senior.
He did grin a tiny little special grin when I sang this song to him on his way out the door.

And, my little cuckoo clock- (How could I have missed this when I was wiping milk stained slobber off my nursing top back on Thompson Street?) – this cuckoo clock’s gears are whirring with nervousness, excitement, bravura, kindness, anticipation and major projections and no more drooling.

I however, am a tiny bit sad and a lot of bit happy. I am the lady that appears out of the doorway in the Swiss Chalet atop that cuckoo clock, happily waving as the clock chimes, one, two, three, prom is in a week, graduation after that, and then a summer till college starts. My little cheery arms are levering up and down with joy. If I cry too much my gears will rust. Must keep this arm waving. (More upper body workout. Who knew mothering provides such great exercise?)

Anne LaMott comforted, challenged and made me fall off the toilet laughing back when Ben was this little cuckoo clock. And now, when I am a little cuckoo being the mother of a boisterous and bold teenager who is really a young man and no longer a child, except when he needs me, Anne has swung in alongside me again in her recent book Some Assembly Required.


Here is the section I highlighted. Heavily.

 “And what do you do in the face of this powerlessness? As a parent?” (Anne)

“You get to be obsessed and angry,” Tom said. “And they get to be the age they are, and act like teenagers if they want to. There is a zero-percent chance you will change them. So we breathe in, and out, talk to friends, as needed. We show up, wear clean underwear, say hello to strangers. We plant bulbs, and pick up litter, knowing there will be more in the twenty minutes. We pray that we might cooperate with any flicker of light we can find in the world.”






Today, I am cooperating with light.

I am preparing for Rites of Passage, a play my words and art are in the Pittsfield in June.

And I am planting my window boxes which will hang below the window through which I appear, again and again, waving, smiling, waving.

I hope your day is filled with light, just the kind you like.















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