The fine art of worrying

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My Dad taught me a lot of things, but one of the things that he said so often that it became a sort of mantra for me, is ” There is nothing to fear but fear itself”. Someone famous said this before him. (Roosevelt?) Now in middle age, I finally get it. You can worry all day long every day, but the thing that you worry about will not most likely be the thing that goes wrong!!!

Case in point:
Son no. 1 is on the phone for the last 24 hours working towards a very important deadline that involves using a program he doesn’t know to complete an” art test” for a job that he is very much in the running for and would like to get offered. Simultaneously, a second job that he also really wants and has practically nailed tells him at 1:00 that they want to do a Skype interview with him at 5:00. He has not had a haircut in 4 months, he has not slept in 24 hours, and he has no clean clothes. 800 miles away or so, there is not much I can do to help. I tell him not to worry about his pants as they won’t see them, to put product in his hair and comb it back, and I encourage him to keep eating to keep his energy up. So, I spend the next 24 hours sort of tuned in like a tuning fork….he calls elated this morning to report that even though he couldn’t think of many questions in the Skype interview, he thinks he is still a contender because they are asking for more info about his reel. He calls again several hours later to report that he just did another interview with a third company that went well. But he can’t talk for long, because the dreaded art test is due now in 8 hours.

At 5:00, I meet my daughter who gets dropped off with me at a gas station. As we pull out, she informs me that she got thrown off the pony today and her head still hurts. She explains matter of factly how she was checked for a concussion with help from google, and she is fine. She had a helmet on.

So once again, I was worrying about the wrong thing.

Making pesto with the lawnmower

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I watch the grass-expelling chute on the lawnmower anxiously as I mow. For one reason or another, the lawnmower often stops expelling grass out the chute, and then I must pause, not letting the engine stop, to poke and prod with a stick into the chute until clumps of sodden grass comes shooting out. Only then can I resume mowing. This happened more and more frequently yesterday until I was doing more poking and prying while trying not to let go of the throttle with my left hand, than mowing. Finally, the poking and prodding yielded no expelled result, so I had to bite the bullet and let the engine die. The problem with letting the mower stop, is that it cannot be started again for about 20 minutes. I am sure that any small engine mechanic reading this would be able to explain why this is so, but it is baffling to me. Anyway, with the engine off, I turned the mower on it’s side to examine it’s underbelly. Lo and behold, there was a pesto-like mass affixed to the roof of the underbelly, the blade, and of course wedged into the chute. I pried it out by scraping with my stick, but my mind definitely thought of retrieving a rubber spatula from the kitchen to scrape the green aromatic mixture off the mower parts.
When the mower predictably did not start, I gave up and went in to take a shower. Maybe tomorrow.
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The Moment

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Ever a wanna-be practitioner of zen appreciation of the moment, I began looking forward to a needed visit to the laundromat. Our washing machine broke, and it will be several more days before a repairman can find his way to our rural residence.

I am envious of the true practitioners of zen meditation who can sit for hours with nothing in their hands, only the thoughts in their head that they are skillfully sorting into helpful layers of nutritious mulch. or something like that.

I, on the other hand, had my crutch with me, my digital drawing tablet. Armed with a sketchbook of any type, I can completely engross myself in the moment anywhere. (Perhaps the most challenging ” anywhere” ever, was the white classroom wall that my first art school painting teacher told us to draw…but that also came with the competitive and challenging drawing class environment…not exactly just any old anywhere)

Perhaps a time will come when I will be without my crutch. I think of prisoners, hospital patients, people crippled by disease. Will my mind be able to savor the moment enveloping it then?

Rye grass and breadcrumbs: the hard way?

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the extra breadcrumbs

No bread crumbs and I’m making spinach salad for 10. Quick look on the internet, and then in the freezer for a loaf of home made bread, and voila, breadcrumbs are warm and freshly baked. Just think, I could have driven to the store but it would have taken longer. They only bake for about 6 minutes..

Earlier in the day, I am out in the veggie garden hand clipping the 2 ft tall rye grass. I can hear my neighbor running various gardening machines over at his place. I am worried he will hear the sound of my garden shears snipping slowly through about 200 square feet of tall grass. I am telling myself that I am doing it the ridiculous hard way again (I catch myself doing things the hard way out of schedule desperation, frugality, and sheer virgo-ness) when it dawns on me that this is another case of the hard way being a good way. I plant a 5 lb bag of rye seeds in the fall. It grows a little over the winter. Then, in mid spring, it is suddenly 2 ft tall and I cut it (a real farmer uses a machine) and spread it as mulch all over my garden. It saves running to purchase bales of straw to carpet the garden. Then, I till up the root material and let it remain in the soil where I am planting all my carefully nursed seedlings…eggplant, tomatoes, etc. I use clumps of the rye roots to mound right at the base of the seedlings as extra nutritious and protective mulch.

The result is a chaotic garden that never looks completely “under control” as there is either tall grass growing in it or clumps of gnarly root systems strewn about, but it feels smart to me now. I prefer spending an extra hour hand clipping in my garden to careening along in my car looking for somebody else’s straw. If I were handy with machines, it would be smarter perhaps to employ a small engine to help with the cutting, but again, in my case, this always involves driving to repair places, waiting at counters for help, and paying maintenance and repair fees for services I do not really understand. I’d rather be in the garden.

the unruly garden with cut rye carpeting the path in foreground, and some still standing in the back

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Small triumphs

My son who is fourteen was engaged to act in a Columbia University Masters Program Film. He played the role of one of the other students with whom the main character goes to school. My son really hit it off with the main character and made an attempt to get his email/ facebook details back in February when the footage was shot. But all attempts at using the scribbled address failed.

To our great happiness, the youth was at the film showing last night. He and my son reconnected, and we saw the finished film. We got to see three others also.

Perhaps the greatest triumph of the evening for me personally was that I got to draw uninterrupted by fighting and arguing from the back seat. This is a picture of my husband driving down the Taconic. The children really are getting older….it helps that one of them is already gone.

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Beyond the warning, before the eulogy

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I googled “love of inanimate objects”; it is called “objectophilia.” I do not think that this term does my love justice for two reasons: the first is that the love I am describing is not sexual, and the second is that the object in question is not exactly inanimate. It is my car.

My car is an aging diesel VW jetta that has 340,000 miles on it. It has officially died several times. It is currently suffering from a wee bit of dementia, displaying warning lights that may or may not have significance, but it is way beyond retirement in car years, so who is surprised? Why do I love it so? Let me count the ways:

It ran over 100,000 miles on vegetable oil. I still remember the first time I drove it and switched it over to veggie oil…I remember approaching the toll booth for the local Rip Van Winkle bridge and being both euphoric about driving on free fuel but also nervous that something that felt that good must not be legal. Would the toll booth attendant notice? Would the local sheriff start tailing the aroma of french fries?

It is the car that we drove my two oldest sons thousands of miles back and forth to faraway “premier level” soccer practices and games. I watched games in the freezing cold sleet from inside the car and then afterwards turned on the “butt warmers” as we called the seat warmers for the shivering boys….soaked to their skins in the skinny nylon soccer jerseys…the memory of the win or loss fresh in their exhausted minds.

It is the car that my husband loved. He researched its conversion to vegetable oil and drove it to Massachusetts to have the veggie tank installed. He painstakingly filtered gallons and gallons and gallons of vegetable oil that we obtained from restaurants upstate and down.

It is the car that I actually drove over and somehow across a huge deer lying dead in the road one cold night lost and coming home from one of those distant soccer games with my oldest son next to me. The car sort of simultaneously hit and rode over the huge carcass before I knew what was happening. That was the beginning of the end for the cover or plate that protects the bottom of the car.

It is the car that both older boys learned to drive in. It is a standard and they are both competent drivers now, if a little subject to the vagaries of late teen years. Our older son slid this jetta off the road in a late march snowstorm. This was the car’s first death. It was hospitalized at our mechanic’s for a long period and repaired as much as possible. The right front passenger door must be pried open and closed ever since that incident. It also suffered some minor scrapes and bruises. These wounds are not aging well….they grow bigger now and seem to spill a sort of yellow spongelike puss from the abrasions.

Then, last fall, our second oldest son was driving and the engine actually fell out of the car. Following what I would imagine to be the rather insistent direction of my sister’s boyfriend who was in the car and has many years of driving experience in his voice, my son nursed the car home about a mile further leaving a trail of oil that can still be detected. Due to finances, the car then spent close to 6 months sitting in a coma in our driveway. This was a sad time for me. Every day, I thought about it and wondered if it would ever run again. I did not give up hope. My husband kept the tires pumped during this time.

One day, when we felt falsely optimistic about our finances, we had the AAA come to tow the car out of the driveway and off to the mechanic. I waited with baited breath for the call from the mechanic. He is a really nice guy, but not a fool, and not one to nourish false hopes. He eventually got a chance to look at it. He felt that it was repairable. It needed over a thousand dollars of work…had to have the engine reattached and a new oil pan.

When we got it back that time, I got to revisit that euphoric feeling that I had first driving it on vegetable oil. It ran again! I could get in it and it would take me to the grocery store. I trusted it again immediately. My second son drives it to far away soccer practices. We have all learned how to start it in the freezing cold. it is very hesitant to start, but my husband figured out that it must be left parked in a certain sunny part of our driveway where it is also facing slightly downhill. That way, the fuel is already pooling down near the starting apparatus. So we turn the key in the ignition six times watching the coil light carefully. Then one must push the gas pedal to the floor while holding the key turned in the ignition for what seems like an inordinate amount of time. The car sputters weakly and if you continue to hold that key twisted in the ignition, the sputtering takes hold and the engine turns over and if you keep that gas pedal pressed to the floor for a good 30 seconds, you have a started car. Then you can walk back into the house and get anything that you forgot as it needs to warm up.

The car climbs up out onto the road, easily gripping slippery icy terrain. It starts off slow, it is old now. About 30 seconds into actually moving, the “check engine light” pops cheerily on. This is a familiar sight. It became routine back when we were still driving on vegetable oil. Next, the red thermometer light pops on. This is more alarming to me, but my husband assures me that it just means that a fuel injector needs to be replaced. So that is where the dementia comes in. Why is the car talking about temperature if it is an injector issue? I do however remember conversations with my 100 year old grandmother. I am not so self assured as to think that I knew what we were talking about and she didn’t. Like my grandmother, the car just keeps carrying on…. warning us gently that it cannot live forever.