Friday, July 18, 2008


Tonight, the Matron flew the coop for dinner with friends.

Before she left, she walked John through the two hours she spent in the kitchen.

Matron: "So I made edible dishes out of all that raw veggie material, waiting to rot. You'll find a carrot and beet blue cheese salad, another dish with green beans, onions and pecans, and a big tossed salad. Enjoy!"

When she came home, she opened the fridge (because that's kind of what she does, walk in and open the fridge for all the latest information), and saw all that food, untouched. Knowing just how much garlic was in the beet and carrot concoction, she pulled that out and nibbled.

Enter, John: "What's that?"

Matron: "The beet and carrot thing I told you about."

John: "What! I looked for that! And the bean thing."

Matron: "What do you mean, 'I looked for that?' This was on the top shelf, right in front. Sort of singing and dancing when the door opens."

John: "But it's a Whole Foods container. Did that come from Whole Foods? Did you make it?"

Matron: "Remember our earlier exchange about the beet and carrot salad? How I made it and all and you should eat?"

John: "But the Whole Foods container? That totally threw me. I mean, I didn't know if that was yours and I shouldn't eat it. And who knew what it was!"

Matron pauses to consider the year-old container that has no label, is worn with wear and yesterday held strawberries (that he ate). She ponders the distinctive beet therein. Not your ordinary vegetable.

Matron: "You couldn't find the food in the refrigerator, could you?"

John: "Did you have wine? Let's get you another."


The First Recipe!!! Fanfare and Firework!

Four or five beet peeled raw beets

Four or five carrots

1/4 cup olive oil

Blue cheese to taste, about 1/4 cup

3-4 cloves garlic

Grate the beets and carrots. Crush that garlic. Mix garlic, oil and blue cheese. Dump over beets and carrots. Real food. Real good.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Happy Birthday, Stryker

Twelve years ago today, at 7:52 a.m., the Matron and Stryker finally got to take a good long look at each other. The Matron probably looked like one big gaseous planet to Stryker, eyes virgin and mucky, body suddenly afloat on a whole new planet.

What did the Matron see? A human being, a real actual bona fide slimy human, that had finally (thank God-Oprah-Buddha-Allah) COME OUT of her body!!!!

Because Stryker was born approximately 30 hours after that prodigious bag of water broke. In bed at about 11:30 on July 15, the Matron knew that trickle in the dark of night was not pee (but three babies later, now it will be). She won't bore you with the details of pain and despair and joy that follow, because most of you reading have been there, done that. Uneventful, just slow.

Until the end. Stryker got stuck. Shoulder dysplasia, which means his shoulder hooked right under the Matron's gigantic child-bearing pelvis.

Digression!!! The Matron is not a big person, oh no. She says she's 5'4" but that's because she's adding half an inch for ego. Her current favorite pair of shorts? Boys size 14. You get the picture. Yes, yes, yes, she fits into Stryker's shoes. But when she first got pregnant, she took her petite, delicate, refined self to the doctor and inquired: was she up to the task? After all, alien invasion ahead. Big time trouble.

Her adorable obstetrician said this: "Don't you worry. You have the pelvis of an 18th century peasant. HUGE. Just for making babies. Half a dozen."

Well. She's not certain that's a compliment.

But it does turn out that this big ole pelvis can serve as Impediment as well.

So poor Stryker's head is out and the Matron knows something is amiss because the attitude in the room - all casual and happy and 'you're at the end you're doing great!' -- has snapped into something furious and lean. People are yelling. Lights and blinking and beeping. Someone runs to get a cart, she learns later, for the emergency C-section, right there on that bed.

But there's no doctor! The Matron had a midwife in the hospital where doctors just pop in and out, checking on the female love. And hers hasn't even bothered yet because the Matron just started pushing. No need. Nut now, as the Matron pushes to NO avail, everybody -- most especially John who sports a lovely gray color -- wanted that doctor.

While all the bells and whistles jiggle and blow and the room suddenly bursts with stress, and it seems to the Matron, about a dozen additional people -- one nurse, very large and focused and tall and kind -- bends down and whispers to the Matron, intimate and intense: "You have to give this everything you have. Your baby is depending on you to get him out. He needs air."


The Matron? She bore down with every last ounce of power in her body, with all the love and desire and hope she had for that child, with centuries of Mamas riding her shoulder and whispering into her ear, her heart.

And it wasn't enough.

As Stryker began to fade and purple and no doctor emerged (he was running, running, running, she learned later -- and so were two others, who'd heard the word), the large nurse said, "I don't care what they say" before she straddled the Matron, heaved her entire body into the air for force and gravity and God and slammed herself onto the top of the Matron's uterus, with all her 200 pound might.

Stryker shot out, a rocket.

Let's all love that nurse for a moment, as a thank you. The Matron thinks about her quite a bit.

What would the world be missing?

The boy who used all of his money to buy his sister a doll.

The child who rested his head against an old dog's chest and when the last breath left, wept: "One minute he was here and I felt him, then he was gone. Just gone! Will I be like that?"

The boy in charge of these.

The who once articulated this at 11: "I'm not jealous of Scarlett because she's an actor. I'm jealous because she's found her passion. I want a passion for my life. I want to know it."

Yes, honey. That's the ticket.

This is the day that the Matron became a mother and the Earth got Stryker -- the big brain, the quick wit, the clown to many. But the Matron knows that it is his pure and unbound heart that will make the planet a better place for his presence.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The Book Shelf

The Matronly book shelf has been prime real estate since the Matron was just a Wee Miss and read these two books, back to back, during a single summer. The Matron knows she mentioned this before, but, Wee Miss was just 9 and one great big sophisticated half years old when she pulled off this literary feat.

Search inside? Indeed, she did--for precise definition of S-E-X. Regular readers may remember that Grandma Mary referred Wee Miss to Gone with the Wind as the all encompassing authoritative guide to sex.

Her current book shelf is more sobering. First, she's dabbling through a memoir that she taught the past year, looking for new angles. This is BodyToxic: An Environmental Memoir.

Antonetta is a poet, first, and the language here slows down the Matron, she must stop and gasp at its complexity and beauty, all the damn time. This is where the Matron got the phrase "infected with audience" to describe what it feels like to be writing for readers, rather than one's own self.

Check out this line describing the crotchety, judgmental grandfather: "Because he existed mostly to dislike things--a fulcrum into which ideas or things or people wandered and were expelled---his corner of creation became defined by its exclusions, a kind of ontological vacuum."

Go, Grandpa! Because that's more what the Matron would've said. Fulcrum? Wow.

Even better, Antonetta maps the impact of chemicals on her body. She had the great good whooping American fun of growing up in the Jersey sludges, the Superfund playground where companies dropped their chemicals. Her ovaries? Like one billion baby chambers. Liver? Actually, hers turned into a massive tumor. Thyroid? Forget about it. Then there's the brain, and how DET in your milk source makes you bipolar.

All in lush, extravagant drop-your-jaw language, linked to politics and family dysfunction. It's superb.

But. The Matron is weary of superb. She's looking for something fresh next fall, something to wow her students, while serving as guide and model for kick-ass writing. To that end, these are the next two books she will be reading -- The Botany of Desire and Guns, Germs and Steel. They're on the shelf, unopened.

Last week, she finished this.

The pain was nearly too much to bear. The downfall, the love, the randomness, the sacred connections of a family. This isn't so much a 21st century novel as a Universal Tragedy, as timeless as Shakespeare. Don't miss it. But bring tissue and a sinewy heart.

On Friday, July 11 at 9:22 a.m., and with a full day of children and work and cleaning and Satan's Familiar (oh -- he hate two pounds of candy from Candyland yesterday and left the results throughout the house and yard this morning), the Matron started reading this:

She read while loading the dishwasher, on the phone, blogging, checking email, walking the pooping dog, and vacuuming. She finished at 12:47 a.m on Saturday. The book is about a father and son, walking across the destroyed, scarred earth, in search of -- what? People? Food? Hope?

Here's a paragraph from the father's point of view. Mostly, he's wondering if he can kill his son if that unique need (oh my God LOTS of reasons why to) arises.

"He lay listening to the water drip in the woods. Bedrock, this. The cold and the silence. The ashes of the late world carried on the bleak and temporal winds to and fro in the wood. Carried forth and scattered and carried forth again. Everying uncoupling from its shoring. Unsupported in the ashen air. Sustained by a breath, trembling and brief. If only my heart were stone."

Hands down, one of the most beautiful books she's read in decades. Strangely, optimistic. But in the way that makes you realize human goodness is both miraculous (and therefore not taken lightly) and ordinary.

Going hand-in-hand with all this destruction would be In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan. The Matron mentioned him before (thanks for reminding her, Cheri) after she heard a radio interview about this book.

But the book?

The Matron will never, ever approach a carrot the same way again.

Think fertilizer. All those chemicals in the soil mean carrots grow (because Industry needs them) without bugs, or mold or muck and fast, fast, fast. The end result? USDA studies show that carrots have oh - -and she's going from memory here, so correct her -- about 20% of the nutrients they had in the early 20th century.

So the carrot or apple or corn you're eating? That's giving you about 20% of the nutrients it should be. Your body? Wants to keep eating!! Wants more food, more nutrients, anything. Your weight? You know that story. You're overweight, if you're the average American.

There's so much more, about the introduction of Nutrition Sciences during World War II and how food became reduced to a nutrient -- (I need protein! am I getting even beta-carotene? calcium?) -- as opposed to the more relationally-oriented world of whole foods. As in, I would like an apple. I'm craving a piece of meat. Oh, here's the cow I know and am right now feeding. Is that a corn tortilla? Sounds right. Here's where the corn came from.

The Matron fully embraced the barren, broken earth in The Road alongside In Defense of Food.

We don't eat food. We eat chemical compounds. How will that end? Pollan is pretty grim. The Matron thinks he was a consultant for The Road. But he does affirm that the informed can get off the grid and do better. She is!! (oh, and are those children angry!)

Feeling fiesty? Check out your cupboard and see how much is real food and how much chemical. The Matron considers herself sort of health-oriented and hippy-dippy, and she was shocked.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Exhibitionism R Us

So tonight, the Matron anticipated this complex, professorial post about what's on her book shelf: The Road, by Cormac McCarthy (she has a reader to thank for this!); In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan; and We Were the Mulvaneys by Joyce Carol Oates, among others.

Anyone who has read all three detects a dark note. Anyway, she's going to tie them together for you tomorrow.

Because tonight she is just too tired!

So instead she is falling onto a photograph: the interior of her refrigerator! Now, she thinks she got this idea from the car guys on NPR, but can't really remember. But the gist is to see how people 'read' someone's car -- or refrigerator. What kind of person frequents this? Hippy-dippy? Time-driven and practical? Conservative or a dreamer? Etcetera.

Whaddya think? She's letting her fridge speak volumes! Is the Matron a neat-freak, health-nut or junk food junkie? Other options? The refrigerator might be as revealing as the medicine cabinet.

And hers doesn't just feed any old child. No, these nutrients must power the boy who will not settle for the ordinary, run-of-the-mill bury your brother in the sand. Today, Stryker was hell-bent on burying Merrick --standing up.

If you detect some intensity, purpose and drive in those sand-scooping arms, you'd be an apt observer. Hope the fridge scan goes just as well!

Don't be shy. Flaunt your fridge on your own blog! She'll be watching (and probably linking).

Literary pursuits, tomorrow.

Monday, July 14, 2008

How Luck Follows This Child

When Scarlett was 7, she desperately wanted the American Girl doll Samantha, for Christmas. She read the books. She pined and wasted. Forget curing cancer (or maybe even bailing out U.S. banks, these days), there must be -- (drum roll and fanfare!!) -- Samantha.

Grandma Mary offered to purchase the criminally expensive doll (like $100 when all is said and postage done). The Matron nearly wept with relief! Finally! And not out of her tiny pocket.

But, being, well, Grandma Mary, when the moment finally came, she decided that Scarlett did not really like Samantha after all, and the brand-spanking new Marisol would be sooo much better! So that's what Scarlett opened on Christmas.

Scarlett loved Marisol, but -- being 7 and all -- was a wee bit sad about Samantha. Imagine her joy in February, when the U.S. mail brought a big American Girl box to her door step!! Surely, the mystery gift must finally be the elusive and longed-for Samantha!!!??


Grandma Mary stumbled across Kit and decided that, because she was just that kind of grandmother, to splurge and send her only granddaughter a second American Girl doll. Yes, even as everyone in her family deeply, and very genuinely, appreciated Grandma's generous spirit, they were confused about a couple of questions:

  1. If someone asks you, directly, which American Girl doll you would like for Christmas, and you tell them your heart's desire (over and over and over again), do they not buy that doll for you because they forgot or weren't clear or. . . .
  2. Do they, knowing which doll you really want, buy you not one, but two different ones, because they know what is really better for you and are just going ahead and going that route, regardless?

Shortly after Kit's arrival, Stryker crept into the kitchen with a crumpled wad of money. He said this: "Mom, Dad. I've been saving all my money and I have $87. If you pitch in the rest, like shipping and stuff, I'd like to buy Scarlett that Samantha thing. Please! I really want to."

Now, how could they say no? Stryker's fingers shook as he forked over that hard-earned money, but fork over, he did! She was so proud of him.

Scarlett was then all awash in American Girl love, with not one but THREE dolls within as many months. The Matron was a bit embarrassed by all this wealth. But! One more was in Scarlett's future. The Matron is still in touch with her best friend from high school. This friend has a daughter six year's Scarlett's senior and they are soul sisters! So Heidi, the friend's daughter, decided to give Scarlett her favorite American Girl doll, all used and battered and loved, as testimony to their eternal friendship.

Now there are four.

About six months later, the Matron is in a Borders Bookstore with her children and there's a huge drawing for a free American Girl doll. Scarlett drops a single entry into the vast vat, marches up to the counter and inquires: "When do I get my call that says I win?"

Cashier: "Honey, thousands of kids have entered that. You might not win."

Scarlett: "But they come to me by magic!"

And they did. One week later, she got the call saying she had won Felicity. There would be a small ceremony, photos and such, could she be there to retrieve her doll?

Oh yes! She can be there!!! So Scarlett brings along a friend, the adorable and much adored C. The entire way there, the Matron coaches the children: "If anyone asks, you are thrilled to have this doll! Whatever you do, don't mention that you already have FOUR. Oh my God. Please don't tell anyone!!"

As they enter the store, Scarlett says, "Bet I won two, not one. Felicity AND Elizabeth. They're both coming out together."

Sure enough, those employees handed over American Girl dolls numbers five and six to her daughter. About 15 employees and onlookers gathered round for video, photograph and gratitude. And just when the scene hit its high note, C called out: "She already has four! She has four American Girl dolls at home!"

The Matron? She put her hands over that child's ears and apologized: "I am so sorry. She has minor mental problems and is easily confused! Just ignore her, sorry! She has no idea what she's saying; there are no dolls!" Yes, true. The Matron said that and used a semi-colon in her mind, as well.

But the American Girl doll acquisition proved what the Matron knew: Scarlett had Lady Luck in her corner. This fact was confirmed last fall when the Matron mentioned to a Guthrie actor that Photographer X as their neighbor (she's shy) and had taken Scarlett's head shots, for free.

Actor (ever see someone spit out their coffee? it happens): "Photographer X!! She's Liquid Gold! Do you have any idea?"

No, actually, the Matron did not.

But not only did Photographer X take Scarlett's photo last year, a couple of weeks ago she called the Matron and said: "I'd really like to photograph Scarlett, get a new head shot. Could you bring her to the studio?"

These are the results.

Some of them - there are over 100 photos, all a generous, beautiful gift. Hot dang, that daughter is lucky. Let's just say that Barack Obama? He's in this photographer's portfolio! Along with Scarlett. The Matron likes her daughter's smile in this one:

But, based on Photographer X's recommendation, this is the official 2008-09 head shot for theater:

And for film:

Lucky. This last one is the Matron's favorite.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Meditation, Sunday

Awhile back, a good friend of the Matron's complained, like this: "I feel like I'm in a holding pattern. Waiting, waiting, waiting. Waiting for my hair to grow longer, the kids to get older, the income grow bigger. Just waiting."

The Matron loved that image - one's life on hold for the tedious time that hair takes to grow!

And that's how she's been feeling lately. Waiting for the shoe to drop, the ship to come in, the five-year old to wipe his own butt, the winning ticket, the book deal -- Heather Armstrong to drop a comment on her blog! In sum, she's felt she's chasing The Big Stuff (whatever that is) and never catching up.

However, being the commonsensical sort, the Matron understands that the shoe may never drop. Book deal? Well, maybe. Okay, Merrick better damn well wipe his own butt in his lifetime, but other than that -- who knows! She may be peaking, as she types. As good as it gets, right now. Uh oh. That would annoy her!

Hoping to shake Desire and embrace the moment, the Matron attended today's Dharma talk at Clouds in the Water Zen Center, the sangha she and her family frequent (okay, she was the Catholic girl who showed up only at Easter and Christmas and remains one of those Buddhist congregants, appearing on Buddha's birthday or when she's in theological trouble, like now).

Today's topic? Happiness.

The Senior Priest asked this: "What are the conditions you require for happiness? The things, tangible or intangible, that you need? How can you better recognize them? How do you attend to their presence or absence in your life?" The Priest encouraged everyone to be quite specific: can you be happy if you haven't slept? If you're hungry? And so on. She also asked the participants discuss what eluded them: if happiness requires a relationship and you're single, what does that mean?

The Matron, along with everyone else, was forced off her lovely isolationish meditation cushion and required to partake in the dreaded Small Group. This annoyed her, as she had expected the Senior Priest to toss a few pearls of wisdom in her direction, clear up the Desire/can't-live-in-the-moment-problem, and let the Matron sit there and do nothing as her role in this healing transaction.

Instead, as instructed, she told the two men in her group all about the conditions of her happiness, and sometimes, lack thereof.

  • Health
  • Adequate money
  • Order in her household (ha-ha, ha-ha-ha!) This one was complicated, as she suffers from Incurable Clutter Brain Suck and lives with three small children.
  • Enough sleep and food
  • Health and well-being for her husband and children
  • Adulation
  • Meaningful work -- as in writing and teaching.
That's right -- adulation. And she explained that -- now, please, she is NOT proud of this but saying it anyway, because that's sort of her whole internal ecosystem -- she is happiest when people are reading her writing and saying: "Hey, I like that!" OR "Oh, I took away something important from what you wrote." Or, she liked it when people recognized her political work: "Don't I know your name somewhere?" Or someone said: "Aren't you the person organizing X, Y and Z?" Etcetera.

So, the Matron sort of summed up, in front of these lovely middle-aged men, that the things that would make her HAPPIEST were largely externally-driven and required the approval of others. Whether it was writing or political activism or any other arena in which the Matron gets to be the Center of Attention -- well! That makes this egomaniac happy!! She explained that she knew this to be problematic, but well . . . that's the way the Matronly cookie crumbled and she just couldn't help it.

The man next to her took his turn. He took off his glasses, wiped his eyes and said this: "It's been six weeks since my wife died. Every day, I hold a small memorial service for her in our bedroom. Just me, alone. Around 6:30 am, I light a candle and look at her picture. Sometimes I read the last book she was reading. I pray for her, and for our daughter, who just turned 12. I don't know what happiness means anymore. My wife died within four months of finding out she had cancer -- all pain. So I'm sort of at ground zero. You know, we all die. All this - this room, the pillows, the walls, the memories -- will be gone some day. And nobody will remember it. Oh, they might for a decade of even five decades, but considering eternity? That's tough. We can't even remember all of our Presidents. Who will remember my wife?"

Then he cried a little bit.

While the Matron wept.

To insure the Matron's hairshirt fit neatly, the Senior Priest ended the Dharma talk by saying this: "When I first did this meditation, I had a long list of things I needed to be happy, like sleep and food and love. But after revisiting the list, I realized I needed only two things. I went through all circumstances in my mind: illness, pain, poverty, great suffering, facing death. And yes, I need these two things. First, I need gratitude for all that I have in my life that is already making me happy. Coffee! Each meal! My son! Second, I need generosity to help others in their own search for a contented and meaningful life. There's really nothing else."

The Priest encouraged everyone to ask other people to do this meditation, so the Matron asks you -- on your blog or in your heart or here -- what do you really need to be happy? How do you manage the conditions that evade?

And she learned today -- that whole thing about how the Matronly cookie crumbled? Center of attention and all that and she just couldn't help it? Living in the moment is sort of beyond her means?

Not true. She just needed a tiny realignment.

Friends, here's to the moments that make up your one wild and precious life. May you savor and appreciate each and every one of them, even the rough ones.