The House at the Top of The Hill

Standard

1542

Taking the late bus home from cheerleading practice, I would have to yell “Stop at the top of the hill!” to the schoolbus driver, who would invariably be listening to WMMR turned up nice and loud while driving a bunch of rowdy jocks, bandies and club nerds home from after-school activities. If I didn’t, it would mean a looong walk down from McCollugh’s, which was the next stop.

My brother is selling the house we grew up in. It’s a house made for a family, sadly fallen to neglect and disrepair for a whole washlist of reasons to tedious to go into. I left it when I got married in 1987 and never looked back. This feeling of nostalgia arising from the news of the sale is unexpected.

Once our father passed away, I ‘d urged my brother to sell up and start fresh somewhere new, somewhere without the emotional baggage tied up in the bricks and mortar of our family home. It is important to note here that I have no financial interest whatsoever in the property. My brother spoke to me at length (yelled and raged and fumed) about how I was 100 different kinds of wrong about starting fresh. He had “buddies” who were going to help him fix up the place. Having moved and rebuilt homes a number of times at that point, I advised caution about employing “buddies” but again, I was 100 different kinds of wrong (mostly because I am a “girl” and don’t live in the real world). My doubts about the time, effort and cost of fixing the house up were also pooh-poohed ( because I couldn’t possibly know how these things work ). Shortly after that particular conversation my brother and I stopped speaking to one another.

The other day I peeked at the realty site and saw that the house was finally under offer. Looking through the photos of the interior, memories rose unbidden: the sound of the screen door (long replaced) with glass louvers used to make when we’d run out to play on a summer day, the winey smell of the apple trees (cut down more than 30 years ago) in September, delight at looking out the back door and seeing bunny rabbits in the back-yard on a spring morning, the way the dial phone used to ring, running like a maniac down the stairs to answer it,and oh God! Please let it be Jeremy!, the dining room: ravioli and gravy on a Sunday afternoon and an assortment of my friends or my brother’s friends just dropping by and pulling up a chair and a plate to the table, in the big (in my memory) screen porch where I’d practice rollerskating (also long gone), running from the front door down the driveway to the mailbox where I to look for the next letter from my Dutch fiancé (now my husband of 30 years)…

No visible repairs have been made to the house either inside or out. It would seem that the plans with the “buddies” fell through. My thoughts turned to what could have been done to remodel it, and then, realizing that this was a direct route down What-if-crazy-street, imagining instead a wish list for the new family who will be living there soon.

I wish for them good times and lots of people who love them filling the rooms, holidays with merriment and music, not stress and shouting, many backyard cookouts and people staying until the wee hours because its just so nice to be there. Above all may they find there the stability and joy that never took root for us.

Advertisements

What Can You Do?

Standard

Like a lot of people, I was pretty much knocked for a loop about the chaos in Charlottesville. I spent most of the weekend glued to my screen, waiting for the latest news. We’re 6 ahead of the east coast, so the wait is interminable. Today I’d planned to get up early and go for a run after I had breakfast and did the morning’s “Bastard Watch”. These days you want to know what’s going on with the wacko in the Whitehouse before making any kinds of plans.

I got sucked in. by the time the microwave pinged for my oatmeal, I was in tears over this article at Dailykos:  A Charlottesville ER Nurse Speaks  Instead of a short run, I spent the morning and most of the afternoon scouring the news pages for a glimmer of hope. There were lots of good articles, blogs, scribblings online. I recommend the following:

From the WaPo

They Can’t Win
By 2 pm. it was clear that hopeful news was going to be thin on the ground. Running was not in the cards today. Crying and wringing my hands was getting boring, but what else can you do as an expat?

The sun was shining, the weather was fine. A walk was in order. All I needed were some good tunes, and my dawgs.

A while ago I’d made a playlist which got the title “Upside Down” from the eponymous Jack Johnson song, simply because that was the first one I entered. “Upside Down” matches my mood today, and goodness knows, I love being co-ordinated, so I gave it a listen.

Walking on the Sun – Smashmouth   Might as well be walking on the sun as worrying, just sayin’.

Spirit in the Sky– Norman Greenbaum For the 60s vibe.

Stand – R.E.M.  Hold that line. Strong together.

Sound & Vision – Bowie  Just because it’s beautiful.

Hand in Pocket – Alanis Morrisette Gotta believe everything is going to be alright or roll over and die right now.

I’m on Spotify, and it’s a public playlist, so feel free to download or just give a listen if you need a boost. It cheered me up a bit.

Planter.txt

After walking with the dawgs, I phoned a friend, re-organized the planter by the kitchen window and made up some late summer florals for the livingroom.

Florals

 

I decided not to give in to the growing sense of panic and worry I feel for my birth country while the sense of unable to do anything to stay the tide of the neo-nazi madness eats at me every waking second. I’m not one for formal prayer. I’m not conventionally religious. Some things religious strike a chord though. Like this.

peace-prayer

 

This I can do.

Resistance Playlist

Standard

lady-liberty-resist-fist-hoodies-women-s-hoodie

 

I haven’t been around for a while. The constant vigilance thing has been keeping me busy. Frankly, I’m getting worn out, keeping my beady little eye trained on D.C. Still this week, we’ve got James Comey’s testimony to look forward to, and based on how that goes, I’ll take a news break, or not.

A pattern is emerging. Gaffes, mishaps, the occasional disaster just before the weekend, followed by a weekend of speculation, most Mondays and Tuesdays see lots of calls for “impeachment”, which, I have to tell you, unfortunately does not = removal from office, Wednesday starts the spin cycle at both ends of the spectrum accompanied by tweetstorms, Thursday more spin and the occasional shred of hope that this debacle of a presidency will soon be behind us, and by Friday early in the morning our time, I’m waiting in trepidation for the next s**tstorm. Oh the humanity!

It is a weird situation being an ex-pat in these times. My contributions to The Resistance are token at best: subscriptions, memberships, making the occasional astute comment on the newsfeeds, trying to reassure the Europeans that not all Americans are MAGAmorons and climate change deniers. I lived through the Civil Rights Movement and Watergate so I know a bit of which I speak. From where I am standing, it seems like the U.S. is at war with itself again and all an ex-pat can do is watch in horror as things unfold. Keep Calm and Carry On and all that. When that doesn’t work, there’s always primal screaming or lifting heavy at the Box. On that note, I’ve made a few PR’s the past weeks.

Today I thought I’d do something constructive. I made a Resistance Playlist to cheer myself up when the news gets me down. Here are a few selections:

First up is Mel & Tim’s “Yes We Can-Can” . Just because President Obama is out of office doesn’t mean we should forget this message. We are Americans. We got this.We’ll come out stronger in the end.

“Work to Do” by the incredible Isley Bros. We’ve got so much work to do. Well said, LeBron.

“No Mercy” Racoon’s a Dutch band and well worth a listen. Show no mercy, make no apologies, take no prisoners. The current administration is not made up of nice people.

An oldie, but a goodie from my misspent youth: Elvis Costello’s “Oliver’s Army” Check out the Wiki(icky), then the choice will make sense.

Next up is “Something in the Air” from the fabulously named Thunderclap Newman. We have got to get it together RIGHT NOW.

Another, final selection worth sharing is “I’ll Take You There” with mighty Mavis Staples on vocals. Gotta spread a little love on the resistance.

Ok, brothers and sisters, that’s a few from my playlist. What’s on yours?

Constant Vigilance!

Standard

5 Feb. 2017.

This morning when I woke up (at 5:32 am.) I took a look at the news on my i-Phone. It’s what I do these days. Since Nov. 9 2016 the counsel of Alastor “Mad-eye” Mooney has been my m.o.

madeye

If something bad is going down, and let’s be honest, a lot of bad has been going down, I want to be among the first to know.

The news wasn’t as awful as I’d expected. No war has been declared, no martial law, Judge Robart’s stay is still in place, time to take a deep breath and check my Facebook page.

What showed up in the notifications list caused my heart rate, breathing and b.p. to enter a seriously dangerous range. One of my cousins, who is in fact a lovely person and a lot of fun, liked a number of alt.right pages, including a video by your man, Milo. What to do? Unfriend? Discuss? Mock?

There’s literally an ocean between us. I decided to ignore it. Because the cousin in question is a good person at heart. Because I am not in a position to confront my cousin in person and ask what I am dying to know: What are you afraid of?

Some conversations just can’t be held by phone.

I want to know this because my cousin and I aren’t so different. We are from the same crazy family, the same economic background and we grew up in the same general region of the United States. I want to know because I am not afraid and cannot understand where the fear is coming from.

Because we live in a small town with a good sized Muslim population and quite a few refugees and I don’t have a problem with either group. Fact: Baklava is better than most of what passes for Dutch cake and if you can get it home-made instead of store bought, it’s even better. Store bought is ok in a pinch.

Because I’ve worked with and am friends with people of all faiths and nationalities and they don’t hate me for the military actions taken by the United States in the name of “freedom” which worked out badly for them personally. True story: I walked into the women’s center where I worked in the early 2000’s one April morning after a laser guided missle went stray into an Afghanistan civilian area and the first person I saw was Prof. W. (a refugee). I don’t cry easily, but at that moment I burst into tears of remorse and shame for what my country had just done to hers. That woman, whose infinite grace and dignity I admire to this day, put her arms around me and said, “It is not your fault.”

By the same token, it is not the fault of people seeking refuge from war torn areas that a group of nutjobs who happen to claim the Muslim faith decided to pick on the United States on Sept. 11 2001 with devastating results. The little Syrian boy who was too shocked to cry after he was pulled from his bombed home is not a threat to anybody. The families of brave interpreters who helped the United States forces are not threats to your safety. The “dreamers” have a lot to offer, let them show what they can do.

Because when I walk into the Turkish grocery and say “Merhaba!”, the clerks who don’t know me start telling me all sorts of stuff in Turkish and don’t realize that “Merhaba” is one of the few Turkish words I know. They see dark hair and eyes, olive skin and they make assumptions. Then I look confused and we laugh and switch over to Dutch.

Because people want to share their culture doesn’t mean they want to replace your culture with theirs.

Because of algebra, baba ganouj, Hasan Minhaj, Najib Amhali, Malala Yousafzai, Nizar Qabbani, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Iman, Justin Amash (Republican, but I like him), astronaut Anousheh Ansari, M. Asador, my Syrian tailor, and lots of other great humans with Muslim roots or from the 7 countries falling under the (currently stayed) travel ban. See more below:

http://www.adc.org/2002/09/arab-contributions-to-civilization/

Because you’re more likely to be shot by a toddler or killed by a DUI than harmed in any way by an immigrant or refugee. Refugee does not = terrorist, nor does immigrant = terrorist.

Because people standing together despite their differences are better than and will triumph over hatred.

Because it started with “jodenhaat” in the 1930s and I’m counting on the good people of the world not to be so stupid as to let that happen again. Anybody could be next.

Constant Vigilance!

 

As-Salaam-Alaikum

Standard

Image result for prayer rug

Arabic Words I Know

Bismillah

The spider crouches in the bathtub

lurking, all eight hairy legs

and too many eyes.

How did it get there?

Absailing down the windowsill

Hurrying in from the rain?

It does not mean to frighten anyone

though looking at it curls my toes.

I am Ozymandias, fool spider,

look upon me and shudder

while I pick up a slipper

lay it in the bathtub

and let you crawl inside

to the very tip

of the toe

then put it gently

outside my bedroom window

in the shelter of

an oleander plant

out of the rain.

 

Inshallah

There is bread on my table

today.

My family is with me

today.

Random acts of kindness will happen

today.

Beautiful souls will be born

today.

I will not get angry

today.

The sun may show itself

at some point

today.

The spider will crawl

out of my slipper

and weave a web

in the oleander plant

today,

Inshallah.

 

Mashallah

Night falls peaceable.

The air is wet with

autumn dew,

heavier

than in summer.

It graces the spider’s web

with watery jewels.

A moon, gibbous,

hanging like a ripe pear

sun’s blush upon its

cheek

lights your way home.

Dinner waits for you;

it tastes better when

we eat together.

Your step at our front door

rouses the dogs.

They rush to greet you,

I am slower than they are.

I say, “I’m glad you’re home.”

You say, “I love you.”

and all is well.

The Day After the Day After

Standard

 

I was shocked when I woke up to the US election results and walked around the whole day yesterday as if I were suffering from a post-funeral hangover. Today I was determined to take on life from a different angle.

Despite promising myself to avoid the news media, I couldn’t resist checking out the Flipboard on my phone. There was my man, Michael Moore weighing in on what happened. I read the piece despite a niggling worry that he’d go all dark Irishy pessimistic, but no. The lines in his article which brought me enormous comfort were these:

“You must say this sentence to everyone you meet today: “HILLARY CLINTON WON THE POPULAR VOTE!” The MAJORITY of our fellow Americans preferred Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. Period. Fact. If you woke up this morning thinking you live in an effed-up country, you don’t.”

Much of my grief yesterday was based on the idea that all my countrymen and women had all morphed into the deplorables when I wasn’t looking. The majority have not.

The second thing I looked was an illustrated version of the famous poem-prayer or a prayer poem, Desiderata by Max Ehrman.

I’m generally not a praying woman. I’m more the “Serenity Now!”type, although when things really get bad I’ve been known to recite the first lines of the Serenity Prayer in order to focus. This version of  Desiderata appealed to me on a Zen level and as a Crossfitter— we are, as Crossfitters all about the unknwn and the unkwable. It helped me to focus and realize, I can do this. I can get out of bed, get on with life and know that I have the skills to help me get through whatever follows yesterday’s election.

 

 

The last thing I read this morning, before hitting the vertical position was short but powerful essay, which I am extremely proud to say was written by my son, Olivier Rutgers. I’ve pasted it here below:

A wall

A wall was built,
Between people and politics. Political accountability was never a thing and it has been long decided to keep it that way. The American People kept electing politicians who renounced scientific consensus, politicians that did not represent them economically and politicians that were too lazy to vote on matters important to their people. This disconnect between people and politics led to indifference and relinquished hope.

A wall has been built,
Between people within their communities. The past few years uncovered deep racism and intolerance. Even this year, we learned about shootings in Ferguson MO and Minneapolis MN, that officers who were supposed to protect their community saw their unarmed citizens as a threat. With its citizens, the faith in building a community died. We learned about a “bathroom bill”, discriminating against transgenders in NC. Whereas the LGBTQIA community is allowed to marry in all states since 2015, it is still lawful to discriminate them in the work place in many states under the “Religous Freedom”-umbrella. Neighbours of different faiths no longer walk together, but try their hardest to banish each other from their community, state or country. Not just religion, but business takes a part in this as well, as the native Sioux people of Standing Rock are fought off their indian reservations right this minute.
“Yes we can” was supposed to be translated into “Stronger together”. Because when we strong communities are built, we are empowered. 

A wall will be built,
Between America and the World. America has seen itself as the world’s policeman for far too long, while ignoring domestic problems. Funds for infrastructure and education was allocated to the Department of Defence. This allowed military power to grow, which enabled military invasions in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya.
But the world is tired of America interfering. Of it declaring wars without congressional approval AND without approval by the UNSC. The world thinks America should focus on solving domestic issues first, before telling other countries why their systems are wrong. And now, it has chosen a mouthy leader who is frowned upon by presidents and prime-ministers around the world.

A wall could be destroyed.
When America learns it is no longer #1 in the world, and is willing to learn from other countries. When it respects treaties it signs with other countries on global affairs such as climate change. When the ridiculous defence budget is reduced and spent on education and job growth. When if faces domestic problems like poor infrastructure by investing in public transport and maintenance. When it faces the damage done by oil and fracking and starts investing more money into green alternatives. When it starts rebuilding disbanded communities by addressing discrimination and large economic divides. And when it abandones the electoral college and the two-party system and allows fair representation of voting.
Walls are destroyed when people no longer fear each other, or the government. This election has been dominated by fear of the other side. No policy argument was made, only that one was “Not Hillary” and the other “Not Trump”.

But most of all, walls are destroyed when differences are respected, not overcome. That is truly what makes countries great.

I am still an American citizen, and I still love America, but its time for an intervention and apparently Trump is the wake-up call it needed. Let’s hope we can contain the damage he can do and restore America into a beautiful country.

As dark as things seemed yesterday, this 22 year old, who has seen a bit more of the world than most, reached into Pandora’s Box and gently pulled out hope. If a young person can do that in these times, I’m willing to throw my lot in with theirs and refuse to give in to one more day of despair.

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.

Sugar Magnolia

Standard
Sugar Magnolia

img_064653

Front door, Magnolia House

Whoever you are, I have always depended on the kindness of strangers—Blanche DuBois in “A Streetcar Named Desire”

We traveled to the east coast for a wedding in Philadelphia, the World Traveler having taken himself forevermore off the marriage market and finally settling down with a nice Jewish guy, who will, no doubt, keep him on his toes, but I digress.

Since the boys had their fall break, we decided to tag on a few extra days and head to New York City. FOTI had seen enough of hotels the past months, so we decided on an Air B & B, but what a choice! Every enterprising homeowner in the tri-State area seems to be doing Air B& B. “Here’s a good one,”  he told me one night after dinner, ” its called “Magnolia House”, Staten Island, easy walk to the ferry, two rooms so we don’t have to share with the boys, living room, breakfast and, oh by the way, Tennessee Williams stayed there.” Hold the phone. Tennessee Williams, right, not Hank  Williams (although that’d be cool too) or Ted Weems? ” Tennessee Williams for sure,”  he said, “you know, Stella!Stella!” “Book it,” I told him, without a second’s hesitation.

The host, Danforth, responds to our booking request with the elegant, almost florid correspondence of a 19th century gentleman. I, for one, was intrigued.I didn’t have time to google Danforth to make sure he wasn’t of the Procrustean persuasion, so I had no idea what to expect he’d look like and was hoping for the best.

We arrived after dark on Sunday night.

Magnolia House,  is nestled in the St. George neighborhood of Staten Island, tucked just beneath the wing feathers of St. Peter’s Church. Even under cover of darkness, the Victorian house is as quaint and welcoming as her name would imply.

Danforth was a surprise. I think I was expecting a cross between the immortal Jeeves and a forbiddingly gothic Mr. Danvers as it were, but the friendly figure who answered the door looked more like your hip college RA than a B & B landlord.

While FOTI and Danforth parked the car, the boys and I moved into the parlor. Here quaint gave way to opulent, quirky eclecticism. As they say in Dutch “Ik kwam ogen tekort” or  my eyes could hardly take it all in! From the golden proa , to the masks, the regency sofas the curios, the art work. “Is this a haunted house?” one of my sons asked. “No,” I replied, “we’ve tumbled into a game of Clue and this is obviously the Oriental Room.”

img_062363

The Parlor

By this time Danforth and FOTI had returned, wine was poured and we sat down for a chat about our plans, what time for breakfast, books, art, music etc. etc. like you do. Hey, when I meet somebody, first thing I need to know to get their measure is: Atlantic or Motown? Eventually, Danforth shimmered off to his second-floor abode and we shimmered off to bed.

Breakfast was another surprise. Darwin, that is, Darwin Porter, yes, that Darwin Porter was manning the stove and whipping up some delicious scrambled eggs. It is not every day that you get breakfast cooked by a mondo travel writer, journalist and raconteur extraordinaire. Between Danforth’s running commentary and Darwin’s wonderful tales of New York, Key West and Hollywood “back in the day”, time flew by and it was well past noon before we took Manhattan.

It was a great stay in New York. We took in museums, strolled in Central Park and Times Square, surfed on the subway…but getting to know Darwin and Danforth made everything even nicer and more memorable; hanging out on the veranda, talking about  all kinds of important things including politics, Harper Lee, The Pink Triangle, extraordinary people we’ve met…

img_062161

Joe College and FOTI hanging out on the veranda with Danforth

If you are looking for a unique and unforgettable place to stay on a trip to New York City and if you aren’t expecting a premium hotel experience, this is the B & B for you. As Danforth says, “The Hilton, it ain’t”. He’s a believer in what he calls “radical hospitality”. All I know is that we arrived as guests at Magnolia House, we left as friends.