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Posts Tagged ‘house’

My new car has this wild heating/ac system that lets you decide precisely what temperature you want in the car. I love dialing it up and down to see what year I land on. 79: got my ears pierced! 72: West End Nursery School! 84: “Footloose” came out! Make no mistake: I’ve never been a numbers girl. But I am a memories girl.

October’s my month. Birthday. Halloween. The brown smell of damp leaves. Of all the months of the year, this one feels the most wistful. It’s the time when my inner mirror shifts between what is and what was, back and forth, now and then, flick flick, flick flick.

I like to walk through my hometown on Halloween night, scuffing through the leaves the way I did when we were trick-or-treating, pretending they’re once again sticking to the hem of whatever garish polyester gown I had on. This town has 100-year-old trees, and last Halloween night the wind was warm, but blowing like mad. It was fantastic.

I like to see the kids tearing across their neighbors’ lawns with power and abandon. This is the night kids rule the world. I like saying Happy Halloween to everyone, and humming the Halloween songs we learned as tiny children.

Walking down a sidewalk I pass two pre-teen girls chatting and munching, and I stop and turn to watch them walk away. I want to call to them, stop! right now, look around, take it in, this is what you’ll remember so many years from now, you are in your memories this very second, pay attention, but I don’t, because no one said it to me, and it’s best that no one did. They walk farther away and vanish into the shadows and fierce wind.

I turn the corner to the house where I grew up. The current owner took too many liberties with landscaping and it’s too tidy. Only two trees remain from when we were kids, ancient oaks a solid yard in diameter. I lean against one and scan across the lawn, watching us build leaf forts in another October, ride our bikes on that sidewalk, walk to the bus stop on cold January mornings, seeing snapshots of my brother’s fifth birthday party in September 1973. The tree remembers it all, and it remembers me. And it’s strong, which helps, because it’s overwhelming. Not everything since those rides and walks and leaf forts turned out well. Maybe everyone who visits their childhood home feels this way.

One more corner to turn, and I see in lamplight a gentleman up on the walkway to my old friend’s house. He’s just standing there looking out. What are the chances her dad never moved? I ask if he’s Mr. Layton. He is. We talk for a long while, me and this man whom I have not seen nor spoken to in … Christ. 40 years. It was butter on a burn. And if he saw the earlier tears on my face, he didn’t say anything. He was always a good guy.

I woke up the next morning and did what I always do: looked out my kitchen window to see the sun rise over the water. It was just as rewarding as it was yesterday, and I’ll lay down money that it will be tomorrow, too.

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A week or so ago I started feeling overwhelmed—by everything, by nothing. All of the details of my life swarmed up and around me and my concentration was like a hummingbird’s: I went from place to place and from thought to thought but couldn’t seem to finish anything. I wasn’t really cooking, either. I kept a bunch of elements—cheese, wraps, vegetables, yogurt—in the refrigerator, but there wasn’t anything prepared, no go-to meals ready for when I was starving at 12:15pm. Each day on my calendar had a list attached of stuff to do, but I still felt as though time was getting away from me, that I wasn’t spending it wisely. And worst of all, I felt like there wasn’t anything I could do about it because I couldn’t settle on one thought for long enough to accomplish anything. It was frustrating to say the least.

And yet…amid all of this chaos, quiet, insistent thoughts nudged me from time to time. They felt like life preservers, ways I could pull myself out of this anxiety. I didn’t know if they really were, because they sounded so ordinary.

I want to bake bread again.

I want the house to feel cleaner.

I want to rest.

One afternoon I decided to find out if these thoughts had any merit. I cancelled everything on my to-do list, and instead I would clean and cook. As I took out the vacuum, I felt a bit of serenity bloom in my chest, sort of wrapping itself around the stress and neutralizing it. That night I made banana bread for my breakfast so I could have a proper breakfast all week. Chopped up a leftover dark chocolate bar into the batter just for fun. As it baked it smelled peaceful—really it did. Homey. And I made enough zucchini cakes to last me the week.

They’re so simple that they’re hardly a recipe: The day before you want to eat them, take a bunch of zucchini, however much you want, green, yellow or both. Wash well of grit (especially if you get them from a farm or a farmers market). Chop off the ends, slice the zucchini into wedges into your Cuisinart, and blitz. Turn the whole thing out into a strainer (or if you have a ton, into a colander set over a bowl). Put it into the fridge to drain. You want it to be pretty dry.

The next day, take it out and add chopped onion, an egg or two, salt and pepper, and a crumbly cheese like feta or ricotta salata. Stir it all up.

Turn your oven to 350. Take out a rimmed cookie sheet and line it with parchment. With your hands, form cakes out of handfuls of the zucchini mixture and place on the sheet. Bake for 15 minutes to half an hour or more, depending on how brown you like them. These are great dipped into hot sauce or left on their own, hot or cold. They’re healthy and satisfying, too.

By the time I went to bed my blood pressure had gone down to a soft beat and I felt delicious inside. Looking back I suppose it was deprivation that had been eating at me, that I had just needed to take care of myself better. I was, and still am, so surprised and happy that peace was accessible, and grateful that something in me told me what I needed to do. I didn’t have to hunt for it in a self-help book (which was good, because I never would have been able to concentrate on it) or try 714 different things at random in the hopes that they would pull me out of my anxiety. And paradoxically, by doing this I ended up getting the rest I needed; it was restful knowing I was in a clean house, and that I had great meals waiting for me.

I am sure I have probably offended some people, probably all of them women, by this account of what I did to make myself feel better. I guess it doesn’t seem like a feminist way to handle stress, that instead I should have been strapping on my attache for a corporate takeover or something like that. But I do consider myself a feminist—hard core. A clean house and a full larder is what worked for me, though I understand it wouldn’t be everyone’s way out. I admire any way a woman (or man, for that matter) is able to regain peace and a personal sense of power. Maybe that’s what the essence of feminism is, after all. Maybe it simply comes down to each woman knowing she has the ability and the right to do whatever she needs to do to get there.

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