Wednesday, December 21, 2005

the darkest day of the year

i had a total stressed out freak out this morning, completely forgetting that it is the solstice, the darkest day of the year.... i was reminded by dear cate, in her lovely post today. thanks cate for reminding me what's important right now. i'm going to light a candle, remind myself of what is basic, let go of the stress, and remember that from this day forward, the light is slowly seeping back into our lives.

Monday, December 19, 2005

"build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce...

... seek the welfare of the city ... for in its welfare you will find your welfare." jeremiah 29:5,7

on the next street over, there are four vacant lots where four very narrow rowhouses were torn down in the mid-80's. two of them are owned by the city, two are long-tax delinquent and we have been unable to locate the owners. on one side of these vacant lots, next to the two that are city-owned, was a very very dilapidated house occupied by a squatter who sold drugs. and a dog and a lot of cats. the drug-dealing squatter's name was ricky, he played drums, drove a van, and was really quite a nice guy ... aside from the drug-dealing.

so these vacant lots had been basically a weed-infested trash heap for about twenty years until we -- a group of friends on our block, but really mostly me and julie -- applied to the city for an urban gardening agreement and began gardening there. we built beds, hauled in dirt, cut down dead trees, built a sandbox for the kids, planted vegetables and flowers, and generally tried as best we could to take care of it. in order to get the urban garden agreement, we needed a petition signed by residents of the block, and especially the adjacent land-owner. everyone signed willingly, including ricky the drug-dealing squatter, and for five years we all lived in harmony.

then pearle (not her real name, but she is quite a gem) decided she'd had enough of ricky the drug-dealing squatter (and i can't blame her -- even nice drug-dealers are not pleasant neighbors, and i'm speaking here from experience....) and she bought the house on sheriff's auction. now pearle lives across the street from the garden, in the house her husband grew up in. they've lived there about eight years. and for the first five years of the garden's existence, we never heard one complaint from her. we wouldn't have even really known she existed, except that her husband is the brother of one of our favorite neighbors. but once she bought the row-house next door, and set a crew of (very likely undocumented, being-paid-under-the-table) contractors to work, suddenly the garden was a problem. a BIG problem. "the farm" she called it. "tobacco row" (no, of course we don't grow tobacco!) and she started working the block, getting the old folks worked up about the "newcomers" (never mind that we've lived in the neighborhood for 13 years, a fair sight longer than she has) coming in and "taking over the block." suddenly raccoons and other vermin were a huge problem and it was all our fault (despite the fact that several of the old folks she was getting all worked up also have vegetable gardens in their yards). and most unfortunate, she tried, somewhat successfully, to make this a racial issue (she and most of the neighbors on the block are african american; we're an interracial group of gardeners, but she likes to ignore that fact and claim we're all white). in the beginning, all she really wanted was the lot next to her new property, so that she could build a garage. but despite our best efforts at reconciliation (and we really really tried, let me tell you) things just got worse and worse with pearle, until it became sort of a personal vendetta on her part.

unfortunately for us, as the new adjacent land-owner, she was able to take ownership of one of our two lots. the city offered us another urban garden agreement (it has to be renewed every year) on the second lot, but i told them that i wanted to buy it. last week i went before the vacant property review committee, in a big ornate city council caucus room in city hall, and told them that yes, i wanted to buy the property personally, and that yes, i was willing to pay fair market value for it. (gulp ... i have no idea what that's going to be, but i can't imagine it will be too much.) so they passed a resolution to sell it to me, and i'm just waiting to hear about the assessment and then hopefully, before too many more months, we'll have the deed in our hot little hands.

i don't know if pearle knows about this. it's probably going to make her crazy when she finds out. and i suspect that if i draw attention to the fact that i'm buying the lot and planning to continue gardening in it, she'll stir up more trouble. and then there's the fact that we're planning to continue squatting ourselves on one of the two lots that is privately owned, in hopes of getting the city to help us force it to sheriff's auction so we can buy that too. (the owner of the house on the other side of the garden is interested in the second privately-held lot, and we've decided in the interests of neighborhood harmony to just split the difference with him and not try to acquire that one.) and pearle could cause trouble on that front too, bidding herself just to push the price up. so i'm trying to be as under the radar as i can about all this.

in the meantime, though, pearle is flagrantly flaunting the city's zoning regulations while rehabbing her house. the city requires that a big orange notice of proposed zoning variances be posted prior to a meeting before the zoning commission any time any renovations change the exterior dimensions of the building. that includes minor alterations such as a deck, or a set of stairs. even a fence around your yard has to go before the zoning commission. and pearle has built a peaked roof where there used to be a flat one, added a two-story addition to the back, and added a front porch -- all without any zoning permits. i talked to an architect friend of mine, and he said the whole project would be shut down instantly if someone called it in.

but it just seems so snarky, you know? even though pearle would do it to us in a hot second. even though she is really the most mean-spirited person i've ever met. she is, after all, building houses for people to live in, just as we are planting gardens and eating what they produce. in my more generous moments, i try to see that we are both "seeking the welfare of the city," in our own ways. and then of course i don't want to disrupt the relative sense of detente we seem to have entered with her and the rest of the neighbors since she acquired the lot for her garage and stopped stirring things up. so i guess i won't be calling l&i any time soon, even though it galls my more vindictive self to see her getting away with this.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

advent reflections

i always hope that advent will be a quiet, contemplative time of anticipation and preparation -- preparation of a spiritual sort, not what seems like the endless madness of getting ready for christmas. we here at the wide tent keep christmas pretty simple -- our kids just get a couple of gifts from us, the family gets photos of the kids, grown-up friends get homemade beer and salsa. i guess it's all the nieces and nephews and other kids in my life that i get a little carried away with -- i like to make them something with a bit of a personal touch. often it's mass-produced tie-dyed t-shirts; this year i'm going a little crazy and making more personalized gifts. regardless, it never fails that by now, a week before christmas, i'm just feeling too busy, with too much to do, just a bundle of stress ... hardly wide-open and ready to receive the christ child. on top of that, the house is a mess, and i have no time for any of the quiet homemaking details that seem like they ought to be part of christianity's one big indoor, home-based festival.

it doesn't help that i never factor in the inevitability that a) we will all be sick in turn for much of advent and b) everybody and his sister will invite us to their holiday parties. which of course are lovely, full of good cheer and fellowship and yummy food, yadda yadda yadda. but what ever happened to celebrating christmas over christmas? you know, christmas has its own liturgical season -- that would be the couple of weeks after christmas. it's nice and short and defined, it ends with epiphany, and yet nobody really observes it, because we are all observing christmas when we're supposed to be observing advent. this year, we're really trying to observe advent as its own season of the liturgical year: our tree is not up, and we will not decorate it until a few days before christmas; we're not listening to christmas music yet; and we're saving all those sweet christmas treats until, well, christmas. we are lighting advent candles every night before dinner, and singing advent songs for our grace. it has been lovely, and has really added to our sense of anticipation -- i can't wait to listen to the messiah, for example, both the traditional choral version, as well as the hip-hop/rap/jazz "soulful celebration" that we love.

and well, maybe, even in the midst of the madness, this advent has been more of a time of contemplation and spiritual preparation than i give it credit for. maybe i've just got it all wrong in my expectations... maybe advent is supposed to be a busy, not a quiet time of contemplation -- certainly my best thinking often gets done in the midst of domestic chaos. and maybe the spiritual preparation of advent actually springs from the daily and domestic chores of preparing a home for a simple mid-winter festival of lights and hope. yes, i suppose it's true that much of my own spiritual formation has happened not in spite of, but because of the banal dailyness of life, of keeping a home and raising a family. again, the "quotidian mysteries" kathleen norris speaks of. i do know that i've been thinking a lot about making our lives more intentional -- more intentionally ethical, more intentionally simple, more intentionally joyful and aesthetically pleasing (more on that in another post). and this has definitely come in part out of our advent observance this year. hmmm....

still, i'll admit, i'd give just about anything right now for a clean house and two or three days with absolutely nothing to do!

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

testing testing...

thanks to cate i now know how to do this cool linking thing. (okay yes, i'm a bit of a luddite deep down inside... there was once a time in my life when i could really claim to be a luddite, but that was before i owned a computer, a cell phone, a minivan, and, just in the last week, a second car. good lord, is this really my life?)

anyway, just needed to give it a try. oh, and here's the link to the books by kathleen norris that i mentioned in my first post. woo-hoo, isn't this fun!

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

my pink coat

i used to hate pink. when trixie was born, we had good friends who had a two year old son, and we got all of his hand-me-downs for a couple of years (until trix caught up with him), and that's pretty much what she wore. i felt very strongly, in an earnest, feminist, new-parent sort of way, about *not* dressing her in pink and girly girl clothes. when she was about a year and had been mistaken for a boy *every single time we went out* (it's amazing how gendered baby girls have to be before they will be assumed female), i had a bit of a freak-out and ran to the store to buy her some grrl clothes. nothing pink, mind you, because i hated pink, but i remember some cool brown stretch pants with blue and yellow flowers, and some mod-in-a-slightly-girly-sort-of-way pull-overs. it had suddenly occurred to me that the whole point of not imposing frilly pink girl clothes on her was so that she could choose what made her happy and comfortable; but that in only dressing her in hand-me-down boy clothes, i was likewise imposing on her. i wanted her to feel comfortable in girl clothes if she wanted to wear them. (did i mention that i tend to over-think things? get to know me....)

anyhoo, i needn't have worried. our trix is every feminist mother's dream, defying all the gender stereotypes. she thinks barbie is stupid; is completely bored with the boyfriend/girlfriend talk that has already started in third grade; and was appalled at how femmy and made-up all the publicity shots of hermione granger were when the last harry potter movie came out. "mom, look at her, she's wearing jewelry and her nails are polished!" she cried in horror when i showed her a photo display in entertainment weekly. atta girl! at the same time, she wept when i made her cut several inches off her hair (oh the fights we had every morning! oh the joy now that she can brush it herself!); she's the very last girl her age to still choose to wear dresses to church; and the "best day of her life" remains the day she was a flower girl in her cousin's wedding, in a long white dress that looked an awfully lot like a wedding dress, if you ask me.

but it was trix who taught me to love pink. she always has a favorite color, but it changes every few months or so. for awhile now it's been scarlet and gold (gryffindor, you know). when she was a preschooler, she went through a short phase when pink was her favorite color. she liked pink because her best friend jonah (whose hand-me-downs she wore her first couple of years) loved pink. she had no idea that girls were supposed to like pink, she just thought it was a pretty color. i had always hated pink, mostly because i associated it with over-the-top, frilly, compulsory femininity. i had never really considered pink a color aside from its gendered associations. but for those few months, when trixie was in a pink phase, i started noticing pink. in the spring, my neighborhood is a riot of pink blossoms; in the fall, in the woods where i run, there's a bush whose leaves turn the deepest rose. having seen it anew through trixie's eyes, it's grown and grown on me until now it's my favorite color.

over thanksgiving, my sister-in-law took me coat shopping for my 40th birthday at a vintage clothing store. and she made me try on the brightest pink coat you ever saw. below the knee, three-quarter-inch sleeves, big white buttons. fuzzy and warm with a pink satin lining. now, until fairly recently, my wardrobe was pretty much black and grey and navy, with an occassional splash of brown or deep purple. i'm definitely in a different phase of my life these days, but even so, a big bright pink coat is a huge leap. but my lovely sister-in-law made me get it, and she was right. i wear it every day, and it makes me so happy. i love it as much as i hate winter.... it may be the only thing that gets me through.

here's the rub: trixie hates it. pink just isn't her thing anymore!

Saturday, December 10, 2005

micah the leopard Posted by Picasa

trixie the bookworm Posted by Picasa

the zen of dreaming

julie says i'm always living in the future, and i guess to some extent that's true. i love to make plans, whether they ever come to fruition or not, and at any given moment i can usually tell you with a lot of certainty what the next year, or two, or five, will look like. those plans almost always change, and that doesn't bother me at all. i just like making plans.

julie, on the other hand, is all about the here and now. she sighs a big sigh and a resigned "here we go again" look settles on her face when i want to have a big talk about "how our lives are going" -- usually during long car trips, when she's captive and her only escape is to pop in a book on tape.

and my life has really become much more zen, truth be told. while i'll always be a dreamer, the days of wishing the here and now away are long gone, hopefully never to return. those would be the days of wishing i could be home full-time with trixie, despising my life as an associate at a big bad law firm, trying to get pregnant, waiting to miscarry, hoping for an adoption placement.... oh, yes, much more zen these days.

in fact, my latest big plan -- to have a third child -- is precisely because i love my life right now so much that i'm not at all ready to move on to the next phase. i love the "quotidian mystery" of it all (to borrow a phrase from kathleen norris -- and here, if i knew how, i would link you to several books by one of my favorite authors, including "dakota: a spiritual geography" and "amazing grace: a vocabulary of faith") -- the relentlessness of the laundry, the house that's never quite clean, the shepherding of kids here and there, the playgrounds, the zoo, the coffeeshops, the playdates ... and while i often feel i need to jettison some of my volunteer work, probably the relentlessness of the laundry and the picking up and the meal preparation and the shopping and the "gentle hands, micah!" would all be a little less charming without the la leche league meetings, and the helpline phone calls, and the two boards i sit on (church and trixie's school), and the church school that i run. it's a rich, full life, and i love it.

when i look forward, i get excited too -- i have plans to become a board certified lactation consultant, and i have dreams to work with underserved nursing mothers, especially in the african-american and adoption communities. sometimes i imagine combining that with a small law practice, doing adoptions and estate planning for new families, especially gay and lesbian ones. i'm also interested in post-partum and post-placement doula work. it would be sort of "one stop shopping" for the new family -- a multi-faceted job that might actually keep my interest and speak to all my passions. a "wide tent" if you will. it's all very exciting. dreaming and planning for that career kept my mind occupied during long runs when i was training for a marathon a year ago (finished in 5.5 hours!), and it still gets my blood racing when i make connections with folks who have similar interests and who might one day be interested in pursuing some of these things with me.

but the thing is, i'm just not ready yet. i thought i was. micah is two and a half, and next fall he will start preschool three or four mornings a week. two years after that, he will start kindergarten. so if i'm going to set this career in motion, the time is soon. yet all i want to do is hang on to this good good life i worked so hard to get for a couple more years. i always thought i'd have a big family, but infertility got us off track for awhile. a third kid now doesn't make much sense -- we both just turned 40, we waited a year for micah and it could take longer the second time around, it sets us back financially ... not to mention the sleepless nights, the dinners and dates and travel postponed. the only rational thing i have on the "pro" side of that con list is 1) i think it would be great for micah to have a younger sibling and 2) it would be especially great to have another black, adopted child in our family. but of course, micah will be fine without a younger black sibling, and when it comes right down to it, i just want another baby. for no good reason other than i do.

julie, on the other hand, feels like she just got some semblance of a normal life back. and she's right, the first few years with micah were quite intense. mostly because he's an incredibly spirited little boy who was passionately attached to his mamamarta for quite a long while, if i do say so myself. it was really perfect for me, we really filled each other's needs perfectly, but looking back on it, i'm not sure if the intensity of our attachment was so great for the rest of the family. i love watching now the quality of his relationship as it blossoms with julie, and the quiet space we're both able to carve out for trixie more and more, not to mention each other -- and i do undestand why she would like to just live in this moment, without contemplating a third child for awhile.

so we'll see. julie and i have always had a great process for making decisions without "winners" and "losers" -- a coming to consensus that ultimately meets everyone's needs. i have no doubt that we will do it again in this instance. and in the meantime, i'm resisting the temptation to shout from the rooftops "we're having another baby!" and instead be a little zen in my dreaming.