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One Ordinary Day Barbara Crooker, Beth Bornstein Dunnington, Todd Hart, Janelle Hanchett and Raina Rose all on the Line

Whites by Suzi Banks Baum

I have just put down Pandora’s Jar, for it was a jar, not a box that the first woman, according to Greek mythology, opened.
My Pandora’s Jar is one full of smoke and mirrors, the jar labeled Social Media for Authors, which is a bottomless container and spreads the odor of not-enough on the one holding the Jar.

I am not interested in spending hundreds of dollars building my Twitter following.
I am not interested in streamlining my branding. Okay, I can see the value in that. My readers here may be a bit confused by my cluttered presentation. I can get interested.
But the rest of it? The numbers, the SEO calculations, the Google+ing just makes me nuts and like Pandora, who was terrified that she’d incur the wrath of none other than Zeus, her father, when he found she’d done the forbidden thing and opened the jar, I am terrified that if I don’t launch myself in to the deeper waters of Social Media to promote my work as a writer, attract more readers to Laundry Line Divine, find conferences wishing to host me as Rampant Sisterhood, find venues for readings of and reviewers for An Anthology of Babes: 36 Women Give Motherhood a Voice…if I don’t do all that and more…I will just be one woman, here, telling my story at the kitchen table to my laptop. The last of the zinnias and roses in the pitcher down at the end of this table nod in the light fall breeze, yes, yes, they are interested.

But are you?

I had to extract myself from my computer desk where I had pledged to stay only two hours, but it was almost into the 4th hour and lunchtime was upon me. I put soup on the stove and took a bag of chips (okay, black bean chips, gluten free and salty) out to look at my laundry, a set of sheets and a shirt found tangled up in the sheets, which are floating in that same light fall breeze. The sun plays with the blues. The white sheet is luminous, like a painting of a sail, only this is real, right before me, woven threads bearing the blaze of sunlight, moving sinuously on the cotton line, held on by wooden pins.

This is what I do. This is who I am. I write as a woman who is a full time mother and artist. I wage a daily battle with distraction by keeping company with my ordinary tasks. They are mundane, but they allow me an entry point to beauty and grace. They ground me. Once I am here, breathing fully, I can go back to my collage canvas or to an empty white page or a class plan in my workbook and carve my own path amidst the chaos of daily life. I am making my own way and the laundry helps me.

It also connects me to my mom who was radical in her love of laundry. Even as she lost her memory, she recorded in her daybook, “I don’t recall what I did today, but I must have done laundry.” When I was home last week, debating what to do with four heavy boxes of her correspondence and daybooks and notes, I restrung the wash line. I know enough to order my day around doing wash. As a mother, this is practical. As a writer, it is necessary.

Then, I read what my friend in Hawaii, Beth Bornstein Dunnington wrote about laundry:

This morning I hung clothes and sheets on a clothesline. Today, in particular, this evoked a deep connection to my Nana Anna and my Aunt Bess and the old Bubbie, my great grandmother – all long gone. As a child I stood among these fierce Jewish women and watched them hanging clothes and then quickly and efficiently reeling them out on a line. This was a time when Jewish families in the suburbs of Boston still lived schtetl-style, as they did in Russia before the war; the space was shared and the laundry hung over backyard concrete with just a hint of grass. The sound: full-bodied laughter of women over the squeak of the pulley as the clothes were pulled in and out; the smell: strong scent of perpetually cooking Eastern European food: kishke, kasha varnishkes, kreplach, kugel, borscht. (There are no men in this story; this is a story of women.) Today, as I hung sheets out to dry in Hawaii, thousands of miles away from that clothesline of my youth, I was reminded of those women I loved, and of that long ago kitchen where they most often gathered. In my memory they’re speaking Yiddish and singing and laughing so hard that they can’t catch their breath, and every once in a while a clothespin goes flying… I pick it up, grateful to be an eight-year-old witness to their joyous celebration of this day-to-day routine. This morning, it was the act of putting a wooden clothespin in my mouth that reminded me where I came from. xxxx

The laundry part of a mother’s life, whether you are leaning in with a squad of nannies and maids scrubbing collars or swinging the basket of wash yourself in between all the other jobs you hold, is ubiquitous. We all do it. The world over, as my friend Catherine Anderson witnesses in her photographs from Italy this fall. What Beth captures in her memory, we all live, the hands shaking out wet sleeves, stretching sheets to dry in the sun. What has been done for us, we can do for others.

Assisi Laundry Line by Catherine Anderson

And laundry persists, even in the lives of men who do their own wash, whether because of gender or job description or by lifestyle, the laundry gets done. During the government shutdown, my National Park Ranger friend Todd hung his wash, ever the green live-r and ever aware of the grace provided by this simple chore. I trust Todd was comforted in this industrious act of self-care while he waited for his job at the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia to be restored.

Todd Hart's Gov Shut-down laundry line

This morning I read a piece about writing and motherhood by Janelle Hanchett on www.allparenting.com. She responded to the view that in order to become a writer, you have to travel the world alone to find what is interesting about life. Janelle relates that after being at home with her three children, she recovered her writing voice.
She says,

“I don’t think there is more to life “out there” than there is right here.”

Here, for Janelle, is being home with three kids.
Here, in my case, is being home with one kid away at pre-college and one kid in the hallway, bounding in to my studio to print her journalism report. She is wearing the very shirt that was drying on the line just an hour ago, when I got distracted from writing the first lines of this piece, back, when I was recovering from the overwhelm of Social Media, the fuggy smoke contained in Pandora’s Jar.

What was caught under the lid of Pandora’s Jar, the saving grace for her and for all of us women in a mythological sense, was hope. For me, hope, which is a connection to the goodness of the past and the possibility of the future, is these ordinary stories, of laundry and the people who do it. Please find a new Out of the Mouths of Babes blog writer, whose stories fuel her with hope and some amazing music. Raina Rose leads off the resurrection of the blog series, with many stories by other women to follow. Jennifer Gandin Le sent me Barbara’ Crooker’s poem, Ordinary Day this morning, which seems written for all of us, especially Raina because of the cheese grater. Just read it and you will get my reference. Thank you JGLe.

 

So, this is my life.
Tweet about it if you like.
I will be listening for the birds in the early morning and letting those tweets be enough for me today.
The other 29,999 Twitter followers I should have, according to those who set standards for new writers in Social Media, will have to wait.
I have wash to hang.

Ordinary Day

This was a day when nothing happened,
the children went off to school
without a murmur, remembering
their books, lunches, gloves.
All morning, the baby and I built block stacks
in the squares of light on the floor.
And lunch blended into naptime,
I cleaned out kitchen cupboards,
one of those jobs that never gets done,
then sat in a circle of sunlight
and drank ginger tea,
watched the birds at the feeder
jostle over lunch’s little scraps.
A pheasant strutted from the hedgerow,
preened and flashed his jeweled head.
Now a chicken roasts in the pan,
and the children return,
the murmur of their stories dappling the air.
I peel carrots and potatoes without paring my thumb.
We listen together for your wheels on the drive.
Grace before bread.
And at the table, actual conversation,
no bickering or pokes.
And then, the drift into homework.
The baby goes to his cars, drives them
along the sofa’s ridges and hills.
Leaning by the counter, we steal a long slow kiss,
tasting of coffee and cream.
The chicken’s diminished to skin & skeleton,
the moon to a comma, a sliver of white,
but this has been a day of grace
in the dead of winter,
the hard knuckle of the year,
a day that unwrapped itself
like an unexpected gift,
and the stars turn on,
order themselves
into the winter night.

This poem appears with permission of the author.”Ordinary Life” by Barbara Crooker, from Ordinary Life. © By Line Press, 2001

 

Here’s Raina. She is playing in the Boston area this weekend.

xo S

Putting Motherhood on the Front Page with Jennifer Gandin Le

Mama Self Portrait JGLe

What You Might Not Know

Monday, May 6, 2013 at 11:20AM

“A baby is born in a few tough hours, but a mother’s birth takes years.”

Megan Gogerty

 

For those of you who are pregnant right now.

For those of you who were once pregnant and then had a baby, and maybe the birth didn’t go the way you planned or hoped — that is to say, every single woman who has ever given birth.

For those of you who read all the natural childbirth books and blogs and stories and visioned the hell out of a birth just like that for yourself, only to end up in recovery with a lower abdominal scar that you never wanted.

Here is what you might not know, what might not come through clearly in all those natural childbirth books and blogs and movies.

When I was pregnant, I chucked out the window “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” and read only Ina May Gaskin, Robert Bradley, Pam England. I watched movies filled with ecstatic images of women giving birth naturally in the Black Sea, dolphins swimming nearby. I would birth at home naturally, I would birth not only my baby but also my new self as a mother, and the way I chose to do it would set the tone for the rest of my life in this role.

They don’t mean to do it, these natural childbirth educators, but sometimes they convey the unspoken message that if your birth does not go this way, then you are a dud. Ina May Gaskin has a famous quote meant to encourage women in the middle of natural childbirth: “Your body is not a lemon.” Your body is an evolutionary genius. You don’t need all those medical interventions to give birth.

So when your homebirth turns into a hospital birth via cesarean section, the only thing you can hear is the inverse of her words, echoing coldly down sterile hallways in your mind: “But you? Your body *is* a lemon. Your body failed.”

Not only that, but the crowning moment, that unforgettable sensation of your baby slipping out of your body through your sheer effort alone — that moment whose alchemy would transform you into a mother… well, you missed out on that, too. You lost the rite of passage you dreamed of. Tough shit, kid.

What you might not know is that your birth does not define the kind of mother you will be. I still believe in natural childbirth. I will try for a natural homebirth again next time. But I also know that while birth is profoundly important for both mother and child, it is not the last chance. It feels like it, when you’re pregnant or caring for a newborn baby, but it is only the first of a million chances for you to bond with your child, to grow into your new role as a mother, to show your immense love for this new creature. I learned this through grieving the loss of my ideal birth. I learned this through the cadre of powerful mothers whom I met through ICAN, the group that saved my life over and over, starting with the first meeting I attended when my son was four weeks old.

What you might not know, but will learn: your birth does not define you as a mother.

And if your birth doesn’t define you, maybe there’s no single act or decision that will define you as a mother. Maybe it’s only the infinite daily work that you do as a mother that will define you.

Or perhaps you might learn that definitions are useless in the work of mothering. They’re the cold comfort that you reach for when you realize that your heart is broken wide open and will never stitch back together. When you feel your heart reach for the women across cultures and time and place who have also mothered, when you cry for children you’ll never meet. When you realize that you are wholly not in control of this wide world.

All of those books and theories and labels, they can bolster you or help you find a community of like-minded parents, which absolutely matters. But at the end of the day, there is only you, your child, and the other human beings around you who are helping to bring that child up into the world.

A mother’s birth takes years. A mother’s birth is never complete. A mother’s birth will last the rest of her life.

This is what I didn’t know.

(Thanks to Cristina Pippa for introducing me to Gogerty’s work.)

This post first appeared on Jennifer’s website. You can see her photography and writing here.

Jennifer Gandin Le

Jennifer Gandin Le is a writer, photographer, dreamer, and superhero. When she’s not telling stories with words or images, she’s saving lives through her company Emotion Technology, which works with social web companies to prevent suicide and promote mental health online.

When she was just 24, director Francis Ford Coppola commissioned her film adaptation of the best-selling novel The Girls’ Guide to Hunting and Fishing by Melissa Bank. Her non-fiction writing has been published in Wired Magazine, Time Out New York, BUST Magazine, The Village Voice, and ReadyMade. From 2007-2010, she also wrote the weekly Beauty in a Wicked World column on the group blog Crucial Minutiae.

Her short film, Small Changes, won the Grand Jury Prize in the 2009 Intelligent Use of Water film competition, and was screened at The Getty Center in Los Angeles in September 2009. In 2006, Gandin Le was selected as one of the “REAL Hot 100″ young women working for change in the U.S.

Jennifer is an alumna of the Woodhull Institute for Ethical Leadership, a national organization of over 2500 women ethical leaders working toward social change. Gandin Le graduated with honors from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts.

Jennifer Gandin Le offers a fresh perspective, illuminating the magical details of everyday life. Her stories often portray young women carving out room for their desires and dreams in a complex world.

In addition to her writing work, Jennifer is co-founder of Emotion Technology, a minority-owned business that prevents suicide and promotes mental health online. She lives in Austin, TX, with her husband, son, and very bad dog.

Thank you Jennifer!

Celebrating mothers this month on Laundry Line Divine means we are Putting Motherhood on the Front Page. All month I will be sharing guest blog posts from the Out of the Mouths of Babes blog series here on the front page. In this collection of writing, women who are artists, authors, dancers, filmmakers and quilters will be sharing their creative journeys. I am convinced that the stories these women share illuminate the territory of motherhood with a detail and expansiveness that is rarely found elsewhere.

I know very well that some of the readers of Laundry Line Divine don’t have children. For a myriad of complicated and intensely personal reasons, you don’t have kids.

But, you do mother in so many other ways.

Coleen Davidson’s post says it so well. Women, by nature, are ‘madres’ to others. It is in our female DNA to care for others. While I will never stand here and say that one choice or situation is better than another, since I am a mother, this is my perspective. I never, ever want what happens here on Laundry Line Divine to feel like a club, exclusive membership only. I know women who have become stepmothers at 45. I know women who have adopted at 43. I know women who are perfectly happy without children and get immense joy out of showering nieces and nephews with a standard of care and attention no mother could muster. I also know there are some great guys who read these posts. Thank you each! When I welcome the stories of mothers, I am welcoming the stories of all women who own their creative powers, whether you birth babies, books or business. Please let me know if you’d like to contribute to this series by writing me at suzi@laundrylinedivine.com.

You can take some of this goodness home with you.

An Anthology of Babes

Consider buying a copy of An Anthology of Babes: 36 Women Give Motherhood a Voice, which compiles some of the blog posts and writing from the live events I host for the Berkshire Festival of Women Writers called Out of the Mouths of Babes: An Evening of Mothers Reading to Others.

Here is where you can buy the book.

Today’s web wonder is Hollie McNish and her spoken poetry about motherhood.

Hope spring is soaking you in light.
xo S

Rice Pudding for Dessert: Happy Birthday Daniel and introducing Jennifer Gandin Le to the blog series on mothering and creativity

Daniel and Ben 1995845

This post is in honor of one of my best friends, Daniel Jenkins, who loves coconut rice pudding.
He loves to lead us to culinary wonderment and so, in honor of knowing and loving him for thirty-two years, here is my recipe!

I have to come clean about this: Annabelle Coote of Movement Matters asked me for this recipe last March. I guess I got distracted or something. (Sheesh! Sorry Annabelle!)
Annabelle is one of the many amazing women presenting during the Berkshire Festival of Women Writers in March.

Let me know if you give this recipe a run. As my eighteen year old snarfled through the kitchen just now, he asked what I was doing. When he learned that I was offering you this recipe, he confirmed it to be one of the highlights of his culinary upbringing. (Well, that is what I interpreted from the satisfied grunt he made.)

Your next chance for my rice pudding for dessert is this coming March 1, 2013 at Dewey Hall in Sheffield, MA.
A nice big bowl goes to the LLD reader who shows up at this event live and in person!
Leave me a comment here and let me know you will be attending and I will have a special bowl ready for you.

Today marks the continuation of the blog series on mothering and creativity. Jennifer Gandin Le shows up with a recipe all her own. Read it here.

Rice Pudding for Dessert, a la’ the Pokey Little Puppy
Featured at Out of the Mouths of Babes: An Evening of Mothers Reading to Others

This recipe is adapted from Richard Sax’ Classic Home Desserts. I love Richard’s book, but I am a stubborn cook, and when I have an idea I work it a few times, damn the torpedos and turned up noses, until I get satisfaction from those round my table. So I took Richard’s recipe and noodled with it until I got this version.

~serves 6 to 8 so go ahead and double it
~time? Well, this is a very stir, wait, stir sort of thing.

2 ½ cups cooked short grain brown rice
2 cups low-fat milk
2 cups coconut milk- please use the full out coconut milk, not the no-fat version
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup pure maple syrup
1 ½ teaspoons pure vanilla extract
½ cup raisins or chopped up apricot paste or dried unsweetened cherries
(the apricot paste you can get in Lebanese groceries or places that carry imported foods. It is a big rectangle of apricot paste that my husband remembers eating in strips growing up in Brooklyn. In a pinch, you could just cut up fruit leather.)
½ cup dried coconut, unsweetened plus another ½ cup to toast and sprinkle on before serving

~if you have a vanilla bean on hand, split it down the center and scrape the seeds in to the rice mixture before you put it in the oven.

1. If you don’t have a pot of cooked rice on hand, start the rice in the morning. Here is how I do rice: Water to rice ratio is 2:1. Rinse the rice well before putting it in to a saucepan with the water to boil. Once it is at a rolling boil, let it go for a minute or two, then cover the pot, turn the heat down low. Then, turn it off at about 35 minutes. Just let it sit, covered while you get everything else ready.
2. Combine the cooked rice with the milks and salt in a large, heavy saucepan. Cover and bring to a boil over medium heat. Uncover, lower the heat and simmer, stirring frequently, until it thickens, about 30 minutes. Stir in the maple syrup and simmer, stirring for about 15 minutes. (You can stop the cooking here if you want to wait and finish it right before you serve it- best that way, but I will eat this stuff at any temperature- so boogie on.)
3. Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees F, with a rack in the center. In a small bowl, soak your dried fruit in boiling water or very hot tap water for 10 minutes. Generously butter an 8-inch square Pyrex or oven-proof casserole dish.
4. Drain the fruit and stir it in. Stir in the vanilla seeds if you have them. Stir in the dried coconut here too.
5. Move the rice mixture in to the baking dish and smooth the top. Some crazy lassies dribble heavy cream on the top here, but I don’t. I am not a full fat dairy gal, even though I grew up within earshot of the dairy cows of Wisconsin. If I think about it, I drizzle a little milk on the top to keep it moist, but this has never been a real issue. See what it looks like to you and proceed according to your appetite.
6. Sprinkle lightly with cinnamon or freshly grated nutmeg or the nutmeg you have in your spice cupboard will be fine.
7. Bake until the top is bubbly and browned, 30-40 minutes. While it bakes, toast that last ½ cup of dried coconut to garnish each serving. Dish it up warm or chilled or room temperature.

You must remember I am a home cook, not a fancy doodle food blogger like Janet at A Raisin and A Porpoise, or Alana at Eating from the Ground Up or Gina of the Chili Contest in a Box book. They might do this differently, but when served this dish, they are as happy as can be.

Tons of love to you each,
and especially to you DHJ,
S

Women: Queens of their Own Hearts

#familyadventure Heading #north! XoS

Sitting here in Delta’s airport terminal 3, watching the tails of jets roll past and the waves of far Rockaway beyond me, I am caught in the gritty, sticky sweet adventure of a long travel day. I am on a few hour lay over here, traveling from one of the smallest towns in my life, Escanaba- which at times has the funky aroma of Rumpelstiltskin about it, pausing here in the metropolis of my heart, New York City to digest and turn towards France, where another small town, or, let me say, village awaits me. What is this adventure if nothing other than a dream come true? We have trekked to the Upper Peninsula to spend a week with my sister and her husband. And now we are en route to see an old friend of my husband’s in a small walled village in Provence. From there, we will drive on to Tuscany to see our German family.

And, you get to go with me.
I had great designs on this nutrient packed post, full of thoughts and insights birthed as I swam in the copper colored waters of the North woods and dove from rocky ledges in to chilly rivers. But, in the wind of this hallway where Internet access is crappy at best, I will just give you a photo album.

And tell you, I did meet up with Geri Miller.

I snooped around Kathy Drue’s town, unable to reach her but seeing some familiar sites that I imagine she sees at least once a week.

And, I watched the sun rises and sets closely.
Scientists believe that sunshine and the color blue stimulate creativity. I’d agree.

Because, this adventure, a summer with my family close at hand, involves the rambling hours through light and dark, sun and shade, dense woods peppered with raspberries and cityscapes many peopled, tongues tinted with this wide world’s sound.

I am graced with this month of travel Thank you my dear readers of this Laundry Line for coming along for the ride!.

Last week’s post about Stacie Krajchir’s Huffington post stirred some captivating discussion. Jennifer Gandin Le, a close pal of mine, has a 17-month-old son and Stacie’s thoughts inspired a great train of thought in her post. This wide world of mothering has room for everyone’s opinions and I love that we get to hold this question of motherhood together. Frankly, even without the stirrup ride of childbirth, does any human experience soften by having prepared well for it? Could I have lived the trauma of my son’s broken leg this past winter if someone had warned me about how strongly I’d feel about mouthy interns bullying my pained child telling him to ‘man up’ or the power I felt holding his head as they set his leg in a temporary cast? Could I have been quelled by reading about bone breaks beforehand?

I am not sure.
Jennifer poses this:

Motherhood is a journey with as many paths as mothers, and maybe there is no possible way for any mother to fully prepare another woman for what is coming. And maybe that wouldn’t be desirable anyway. Stacie is on her own path, and I am on my own, and all we can do is be kind to each other and respect the path.

For all the miles of reading I have done in my life, with a wide range of topics, no guide to mothering, knitting, travel, knot tying nor habits of the Eskimos could truly prepare me for the real time experience that I myself have with any one of those. Last time I was in Italy, I read Henry James’ Portrait of a Lady. James’ romantic descriptions of the countryside whet my appetite for cypress trees and shaded verandas. But, they did not take any of the surprise away from the moment I stepped in to a chapel in Arezzo and saw this:

Arezzo

In this moment I wish my languages and bathing suit were better.
I rely heavily on my language able family who speak French and German well, with a touch of Italian in the mix. I am the lout with the tongue tripping over ‘s’il vous plait’ but if you let me collage something, my eloquence appears at the ready.

Collage-A-Day August 23, 2010 Suzi Banks Baum

Tell me your thoughts here. Please read Jennifer’s post.
And, please do jump in. Let some of your insides out via the expression of your choice!

All my love,
S

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