Sin 201: The Diet Parable

My body’s been all over the map.

That’s not Global Mom talking about the places she’s lived. That’s Melissa talking about everywhere her weight has been.

(Make that had been.)

Eating at a hawker center in  Singapore.

Eating at a hawker center in Singapore. I enjoy really good food, anywhere, any time.

Note: I’ve been stable and healthy for decades. But the road to finally feeling free in my own skin was long, painful, erratic, exhausting, costly in every sense of that word, and even life-threatening. As a teenager I battled with eating disorders, which began at 13 with anorexia so severe, I lay in hospital for months and was even fed intravenously. That led to major weight swings, all tangled in the string of yo-yo dieting.  You name the diet, by the age of 19 I’d tried them all, including ludicrously long stretches of eating nothing but ice shavings with a dash of dust mites. (For protein.)

Eating again. Several courses at a traditional family table in Lombardy, Italy.

Eating again. Several courses at a traditional family table in Lombardy, Italy.

Where did all that extreme deprivation get me? As I said, it dragged me all over the map, including to a peak when I was 80 pounds (35 kilos or 6 stones) overweight. And this all happened within my teens. For cryin’ out loud!

Which I did. Often. I was one very stuck girl. No matter what I tried, I couldn’t figure out how to find equilibrium. My messed-up metabolism made what should have been the glorious gift of a human body more like a life sentence on a Tilt-a-Whirl.

First world problems, I know. But I share this whole history to explain why, 1) I sympathize from the floor of my gut with those who struggle with their bodies, and why, 2) extremes of all kinds scare me, and why, 3) I’m repelled by the word “diet.”

In fact, we don’t say or do that four-lettered word in my family.

I also share my history to show that people can find peace, freedom, balance. People can change their appetites. 

And now my husband wants to change. Here’s where our diet parable starts.

Eating with Claire. The fries were great.

Eating in St. Cergue, Switzerland with Claire. The fries were great.

Randall’s not been all that peppy. Worst health of his life, he says. My adorable husband, a natural athlete all his life with a wicked backhand and a speedy 10k, a man who’s always met life on the tips of his toes, has recently hit an all-time slump. He’s carrying some extra weight he doesn’t like. He’s winded by stairs. Achy after a flight. Sleepless. Sleepy.  And in last week’s executive physical (a day-long battery of tests administered at a major US hospital, where Randall’s overall health and fitness were assessed), he was advised that in order to return to the health and vigor he once enjoyed, he’d have to change his diet.

That word.

Those vulgar folks and their nasty white doctor frocks.

Problem is, over the last couple of years he’s tried everything to get his zip back. He’s cut down, cut out. Skipped meals. Tried to get infected with the Asian flu. But he’s still stuck.

“Okay, hon,” I told him while we jogged together this morning. “Trust me. I’ve got a plan. You’re going to absolutely love this. I made it up in my sleep, it’s that simple. This is it: we have to get you to eat much more. Much, much more.”

Eating. . . at the Mets Stadium in New York City.

Eating. . . at the Mets Stadium in New York City.

I explained my theory, which I happen to call the Pyramid Plan. (Because a little alliteration makes it marketable. And again, we don’t use the D––– word.)

The Pyramid simply means eating a lot of the foods that are the best for your body, what your cells really need for optimum nourishment and health, the most nutrient-packed, roughage-dense foods.

“Every day without fail you build your Pyramid by eating the most of those kinds of foods. The base of the Pyramid,” I made a triangle shape with my fingers, “is 6 large servings of vegetables. Then you add 5 servings of fruits.”

I watched him in my peripherals. So far, steady. We kept running, breezy-like. Then I added the next layer. “You eat 4 servings of whole grains. Along with 3 servings of lean protein. Then you need 2 servings of calcium/dairy, and to finish it off, you’ll need one generous serving of fat.

It was then that Randall noted what you’ve just noted. “You mean. . .no Krispy Kreme food group?”

We kept jogging.

Eating gulasch in Warsaw, Poland.

Eating gulasch in Warsaw, Poland.

“Right, yeah.” I ran straight ahead, acting clinical. “The Pyramid doesn’t include that sort of stuff because the aim is to get full on the best so that there’s not much room left for the. . . not-so-best. That way, we basically reeducate the palate. You’re not supposed to be aware of this, but we’re going to try to transform your taste buds.”

It so happens that those super foods at the base of the Pyramid also have the fewest calories per serving. The higher the Pyramid, generally the more calorie-dense the food group. What is wonderful, is that you eat well, it is sustainable, and you needn’t subject yourself or your thyroid to anything extreme. And we’re not into demonizing food. We’re learning to love the best of it.

Maybe you’re thinking of this family, who stopped eating sugar cold turkey for a year, and subsequently no longer desired what they’d craved earlier. But I reassured Randall that our focus is different. (It has to be. As you know, this jog we’re enjoying is in Switzerland. This is no time to rule out chocolate. I’m thinking of a way of working it into the Pyramid. Maybe as mortar.)

What I was suggesting to my husband isn’t first about what you can NOT eat, but what you CAN. And SHOULD. And MUST.

Eating my first birthday cake, Kansas.

Eating my first birthday cake, Kansas.

Experience has taught me something important. If we keep giving ourselves false fuel, we’re training our desires for just that: false fuel. We’ll crave empty calories that fill us up, but leave our cells screaming. When we fill our empty stomachs with empty calories, we remain forever hungry. Paradoxically, we can end up overeating, overfed, but ultimately undernourished. Left unchecked, this emptiness can lead to feeling imprisoned in our bodies, sluggish, even dead-ish.

It’s a difficult cycle to break. I know.

You already see this parable with sin taking shape.

Our spirits, like our bodies, crave true nourishment.  Truth. Meaning. Intimacy. Knowledge. Service. Hope. Freedom. Growth. Creation. Love. Problems arise when we become habituated to filling our spirits with “empty calories,” with tangible or intangible stuff (like the It Handbag or maybe Facebook fame,) which we’re fooled into thinking will satisfy us, but which in the end don’t. Because they cannot. “You can’t ever get enough of what you don’t need,” goes the adage, “because what you don’t need won’t satisfy you.”

Unsatisfied, famished, we keep scarfing down metaphorically “empty calories” in a passive stupor of addiction, mindlessly poisoning our systems with what will never ultimately satisfy our spirits. Shopaholics, workaholics, pornoholics. Liars, exploiters, thieves. We war, we dominate, we covet. We justify gossiping, cheating, condemning. We long for our neighbor’s salary, house, spouse. We allow drugs, binge drinking, insularity, promiscuity and bullying, every latest gadget, every designer trinket, every luxury leisure to fill the hallways of our schools,  starving our first world children spiritually, while third world children starve literally.

All the while, the sound of our innermost cells, screaming.

Eating more birthday cake, Alabama.

Eating more birthday cake, Mobile, Alabama.

Though I’m not Catholic, I appreciate this from Pope Francis:

“There’s the risk of passively accepting certain behaviors and to not be astonished by the sad situations around us . . .We get used to violence, as if it were everyday news taken for granted; we get used to our brothers and sisters who sleep on the streets, who don’t have a roof over their heads. We get used to refugees seeking freedom and dignity who aren’t welcomed as they should be…[We should fight ] this addiction to un-Christian and easy-way-out behaviors that drug our hearts.”

To undrug our hearts we might need to retrain our desires/appetites/impulses. For that, it’s not enough to just stop scarfing the bad stuff for a while. That Quickie Miracle Cleansing Flush might drain something, but it won’t retrain much. Something draconian––ever eaten only Tic Tacs for three weeks?––might feel righteous, even holy, but it won’t rehabilitate us for good. We’ll be back to Twinkies before we know it. It’s not enough to remove evil, to tell my children to not spend so much time in a daze with a digital gadget, for instance. Remove the gadget, and what you have is an empty space. There must be a desirable and  truly “nourishing” replacement that fills up –– or even crowds out –– the vacuum that remains. There has to be “nutritionally dense” matter that will fill both mind and spirit and train the soul toward those things.

As this wise voice asserts:

“Evil in its raucous, impudent, and foul forms penetrates so strongly into the consciousness of our precious young people that they scarcely have freedom of choice. We cannot isolate our young from the influences of the world, but we can teach them to differentiate so that they can avoid everything that is unclean, unspiritual, and ugly.”

-Dr. Johann Wondra, (former head of Vienna’s Burg Theater) “Art: A Possibility for Love” in Arts and Inspiration, ed. Dr. Steven Sondrup

Eating...ice cubes in Springville, Utah.

Eating ice cubes in Springville, Utah.

By filling the body and mind with the best, you are educated to differentiate and free to choose between the empty and the excellent. Furthermore, you can arrive at that magical moment when you realize with a jolt that you’re actually craving raw red peppers. Not at all like what you used to crave, the Cheet-os, Doritos, Fritos, Tostitos, Ho-Hos or anything else that ends in a zero.

Just a Plain. Red. Pepper.

What’s happened is all those good things from the Pyramid base have waged a gentle revolution, and your body chemistry has been altered. It honestly wants what is best for it.  It desires what is good.  When we fill our bodies and our hearts with the real, the good, the highest quality of nutrition—literally or figuratively–– we begin craving the real, the good, the truly nutritious. We’re nourished. We find balance. We’re free.

That, I think, is a mighty change.

Those words remind of a passage of scripture I’ve always loved. It’s about an ancient people, once a tribe of ego- and appetite-driven types (like all of us), who, through disciplined living and mindful choices, retrain their spiritual taste buds. They experience such an internal revolution, in fact, the record states they’d “wrought a mighty change” in their hearts, and they had “no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually.”  (Mosiah 5:2)

Impossible? No more disposition for Krispy Kremes?

In a few posts, I’ll be back to report on how the Pyramid stands.

 

Not letting any of my cousins eat my birthday cake, Bloomingotn, Indiana

Not letting ANYONE else eat MY birthday cake, Bloomington, Indiana

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Global Mom: Farm Wedding

Østfold lies southeast by an hour from Oslo’s talk show and television commercial studios.  In the middle of that county is the village of Ski, and in the middle of Ski is a tiny white stucco chapel.

credit: woophy

There, on one of those brilliantly blue-skied late spring days, Sigrid, the daughter of a prominent local farmer, is getting married, and I’ve been drafted to serenade the day-long traditional farm wedding. What will unfold before me, the only non-Norwegian on hand, is like a movie so enchanting I start to feel I’m unfit as the soundtrack.

I arrive early by car, ready to review the program one last time with the church organist who skids into the gravel parking place on his road bike, and who, with no more ceremony than the nod of his head (which he keeps wiping as he continues to sweat) launches us into a break-neck dash through our program, tearing through four Norwegian love songs at the same speed with which he arrived on his bike. “Well now,” he says, slapping the organ bench, “I think that’ll about do it,” and he’s running over a hill to squirt off at a nearby farm. I’m still catching my breath, leaning against a pillar in the choir loft, when I peer down to see a procession.

A thick, inching sea of rich bunad colors seeps into the chapel’s all-white interior. Figure upon figure, couple upon couple, family upon family file in gracefully, cautiously, as if someone had told them the floor was made of the thinnest sheet of glass.

fylkesarkivet sogn og fjordane

There are mostly heavy black wool skirts that swish almost to the floor, barely exposing the occasional edge of white stocking, which meets the black shoes. On the front of the shoes, ornate, pilgrim-like silver buckles.

credit: artemesia1

In some of the many regional versions of bunad, the skirt fronts, as the bodices, are gathered into the waistline with the smallest pleats—dozens of pin-tucked pleats—that make architecture out of wool. They’re encrusted with clusters of embroidered flowers, the sheen of which looks like jewels in the early afternoon light coming in through the high windows.

Everywhere there are balloons of starched white linen sleeves tapering to lace-trimmed cuffs and, on some women, wrist wreaths of silver coins which tinkle and glint, the sunlight flitting on their surface. There are brooches, some larger than your palm, clasped at the top of the bodice near the collar. Some women wear small hats, wool and embroidered too, without brims and close to the shape of the head and in the same color as their dress, tied under the chin with ample satin bows.

And there are small handbags made of matching wool with iridescent embroidery, affixed to a silver chain draped at the waistline.

There are dresses, a dozen among hundred, maybe, that aren’t black or deep red, but are bright cornflower blue.

The men look like they’ve arrived on the last commuter train from Brigadoon: velvet knickers, embroidered vests, white linen shirts, black leprechaun shoes. Some children, just a handful, are there, too.

One mom indiscreetly yanks her Karl-Andreas or Anders-Håvard to attention, and directs him into the pew next to her as she tugs down the bottom of his red vest and re-tucks the bunched hem of his starched shirt.  He’s sullen. Thirteen. Has spent the morning bailing hay or milking his own goat, I fantasize.  Or skateboarding, my inner realist corrects me.

fylkesarkivet

Here is old Norway, but again contemporary, now-a-day Norway, History and The Present, in all its splendid finery and well-mannered neighborliness waiting reverently for a høy tid.

My organist has traded in smelly lycra bike shorts for full bunad regalia himself, and ashamed that I’m just in my best cream silk suit and heels, I slip behind a marble pillar.  At the same moment, the organ opens up all pipes announcing Sigrid’s arrival.  The groom, vigorous-looking with muscles everywhere, (even in his jaw, which he’s clenching, like his fists), waits at the altar.

Sigrid, also blonde, is fresh and freckled, poised in a simply-cut white satin gown.  She proceeds up the aisle: a cool, tall glass of milk. I’m staring at her while I take a deep breath and begin singing: “Kjaerlighet, varmeste ord på jord. . .”  Love, the warmest word on earth.

credit: andersmadsen

When the ceremony ends, the new couple clambers up into a handsome horse-drawn carriage which, trailed by other horse-drawn carriages carrying parts of their bunad entourage, clops over the rolling hills of Østfold toward Sigrid’s family estate.  The parents who’ve invited me to sing, Solvor and Lars, lean down from their carriage to give me road directions, complicated automobile ones, I’m told. It’s much more direct over the fields.  I’m in a tailored suit with stiletto pumps, driving a motor vehicle with a CD player and automatic windows.  I’ve obviously missed a road sign and driven into the middle of the wrong century.

fylkesarkivet

This family farm’s got to have its own zip code. Lars escorts me up to a crest beyond the limits of the groomed property that radiates outward from the central manor house, and there points to a place on the horizon that I’m sure must be Sweden.

“It’s just the easternmost edge of the property,” he smiles softly.  Then he swings his arm in a full arc in the other direction and, those specks over there?  Those prominent mountains several kilometers away?  “Also the edge of the family domain.” It’s deep green the entire expanse of it, abruptly tree-rich in spots, deliciously farmable in general. Lars seems too soft-spoken to own a whole county.

credit: woophy

“It’s my husband’s family’s soil, too, you know,” I tell Lars. “Aamodt, Haakon. Thorkildsen, Christian. Farmers going way, way back. Do you know the names?”

“Then,” Lars reaches down and pokes his finger into the earth, drilling it softly, pinching and rolling its brownness in his fingertips like he’s testing its character, “Somewhere not more than a century or so ago, we were family, your husband and I.”

Back at the manor house people are starting to arrive, leaping down from buggies, off of single horses or out of Volvos. Solvor wants me to see the house, and doesn’t hesitate to escort me, room by room, through its every antique corner.  The place is a fortress with massive oak staircases flanked by oak banisters so big you’d need two hands to grab the circumference, leaded-pane windows dating back 300 years, lustrous floors of wide, worn planks bulleted in place by chocolate-colored dowels, hand-tufted carpets brought from Sweden and hand-woven linens from Denmark.  Huge family portraits with their oily sheen on pallid, stern visages line the walls above a stone fireplace that cuts a garage-sized hole in the front salon.  Everywhere I turn there are signs of The Hunt, and rounding a bend a bit too frivolously, I nearly lose an eye on a low-hanging reindeer antler.

creidt:papafrezzo

The men look ready for a barn raising, but tonight they’re only reinforcing the orchestra pavilion in the courtyard, and moving into rows the long, decorated banquette tables where wine, breads and dried meats are already being laid by a troop of diligent women. I’m handed a pewter platter of cured venison and a wooden trough of sculpted pickles and radishes to put on a table somewhere and make myself inconspicuous (in my twentieth century silk suit and patent leather stilettos) by being industrious like every last body around me.

Suddenly, the farm’s cutting loose. There’s the metallic commotion of cow bell ringing and wild whooping, everyone around me chanting something in unison, something that’s accelerating, something that has us all stamping our feet and clapping our hands at once.  I dive in full-throttle, although I end up almost falling over when I jab all 4-inches of my  stilettos into black-brown farm soil.

The bride and groom have arrived.

A large woman, Inger, red-headed and white-toothed, clinches her fleshy arm around my shoulder and shoves a glass of wine in my hand, hollering and stamping still.  Since I don’t drink, I wrap my arm around the shoulder of the next guy, Ingemar, white-haired and red-cheeked, do a little holler and a light stamp, and shove the glass into his hand.  He downs it in one hearty swig like water, establishing the drinking blueprint for the rest of the night.

People stay primarily sober for at least the first two hours of the four-hour dinner for two-hundred guests, a spread of gelled vegetable aspic, smoked salmon with scrambled eggs and sour cream with dill, crab and coriander salad, cucumber salad in a light vinaigrette, lamb, and tender little new potatoes, all served in a grand hall downstairs in the central house. I sit on the middle table, not far from Lars and Solvor, who are poised under an enormous stuffed black bear head that looks like it’s belting a high note.

credit: US Gen Web

After dinner and under a sky of polished cobalt, we all dance and sing like barefoot children.  Really like barefoot children, because somewhere between the hired band’s Johann Strauss and Bee Gees, I’ve kicked off my shoes like everyone one else.  Has grass ever felt so cool?  Has the moon ever been so close? Have I ever not lived here, not loved these people, not wanted to sing at every single one of their weddings?

Around four in the morning I watch the delicate, black shadows of horse-drawn carriages tiptoe over the far ridges, disappearing in a rising sun: spiders crawling into a flame.  Motors cough and hum, the trumpet player Hermann is packing it in, the lead singer Nils drops another empty Aquavit bottle onto a pile of many other empty Aquavit bottles.  Its “cli-shink” makes the mottled cat dart under a cleared banquette table.  Solvor comes at me from behind and, putting one arm around my waist, strokes my hair, and draws my head to her shoulder.  A mother’s touch. A new sisters’ pact.

credit: woophy

© Melissa Dalton-Bradford and melissadaltonbradford.wordpress.com, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Melissa Dalton-Bradford and melissadaltonbradford.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Global Mom: Viking Mother

Although I’ve escorted my readers to a certain chronological spot in this story, the spot that welcomed Luc William to Versailles and introduced me to mothering in France, I can’t resist looping back to Norway for a post or two. That was the spot, as you remember, that welcomed Dalton Haakon to Oslo and introduced me to mothering in Norway. There, a new me was birthed. Please meet Melissa the Viking Mother:

From Global Mom: A Memoir

Nursing baby Dalton meant doing so every other hour on the hour around the clock.  This child was draining fluids from every inch of my being including my uvula, so my doctor suggested that rather than switch to formula (which was unnatural, so of course vociferously discouraged in Norway), I rent a pump.

Increase lactation, he said.

Churn some serious cream.

This pump I got must have been a design joint venture between Hummer and Hoover.  It sat like an idling dune buggy on our kitchen floor and when I strapped it on, I had to buckle myself to a piece of heavy furniture to keep from being yanked across the room.  It could have sucked the chrome off a trailer hitch, as could have Dalton.  After only a couple of months, I was almost ready to stop the nursing/vacuuming experiment because I noticed all my internal organs had been rearranged and pulled to the surface. (When I did eventually wean him, Dalton went straight to reindeer steaks, if that gives you an idea of what kind of appetite we were dealing with.)

Thankfully, I had my barselgruppe, a typically Norwegian wonder that is an essential component of being a viking mother. Barsel is a word for birth, and your barsel group is a support community for those first months of a baby’s life or forever.  When Dalton was born, the state registered me along with five other freshly delivered mothers from my immediate geographic surroundings to be part of a support group led by a nurse/social worker who specialized in postnatal adjustment, family counseling and facets of early childhood education.

Every month in the nurse’s station of Nesøya Skole down our street on the island, we mothers met with our supervising worker named Gunnil and shared snacks and stories while discussing our babies and ourselves.  Was little Morton sleeping? Was darling Kerstin on solids yet? Was Melissa’s breast pump available to take a spin around the block or to vacuum out someone’s garage? We kept this up for a year and then, as was often the case with these groups, ours took on a life of its own and we met independently at one of our homes, a corner café, or walking out along the fjord.  It wasn’t uncommon in Norwegian culture to keep these barsel friends for life. Lots of women I knew attended the marriages of the babies, now fully grown, whose births had brought their moms together.

One day at barselgruppe, we discussed milk.

One of the mothers just had too much of it, she said. Constantly leaking all over the place, very annoying and inconvenient, not to mention messy and embarrassing, she sighed. So Gunnil suggested this mother bag all the extra milk her baby didn’t consume, and take those bags to the melkebank , the local annex of the hospital created expressly (no pun intended) for this purpose.

That mother had a slight build, but was ample in maternally strategic places.  She sat right next to a lanky brunette, naturally beautiful in jeans from about 1974, with capable large-knuckled hands that had milky unpolished nails.  Her manner was cool and solid, like a big deep ceramic basin of setting mascarpone.

When I then mentioned I was becoming totally drained emotionally from being so totally drained mammarily, someone in the circle suggested I go to the melkebank.  If there were deposits, there were withdrawals.

For dried up women.  Like me.

“Maybe I’ll take my extra milk there,” another mother said. “I’m constantly soaking my shirts.”

“And I’ve got too much, too,” the mother sitting to my right added. “Mornings, my bed is drenched.”

“Me, too!” a first-time mother of twins exclaimed.

“You know, with all my three babies it’s been the same story,” the brunette basin of mascarpone interjected, curling her long legs up under her hips on the couch.  “I make more milk than my father’s cows did.  And that milk fed us five children when I was growing up.  I’ve got cow DNA.”

Laughter and sisterly eye-winking all around the room.  But for me.

Because right then is when I started feeling about as succulent as the last potato chip in the bag, no more use to my hungry baby than a couple of medium-sized, plastic-wrapped, year-old fortune cookies. Without the fortune.

“Maybe you need to eat more,” suggested Gunnil, motioning to a piece of chocolate cake.

“Some foods help stimulate production,” a woman said, taking a big bite of the gooey dark confection.

“Foods like chocolate, I hope?” I asked, and bit deep into my piece of cake brought this time, as last time and like the time before, by the deep cheese brunette. I had noticed she always brought rich things like dense brownies and carrot cake and creamy toffee bars, so not only was she apparently our barselgruppe’s crowned Dairy Queen, but she was the Treat Goddess to boot.

Maybe I had a mild case of milk envy. But you understand that I was, as I’ve told you, doing all I could but was still not quite able to keep the milk wagon stocked for Dalton. My mommy ego was growing concave.

“Funny,” Miss Treat Goddess Milky Way spoke up softly, “I’ve never donated to the melkebank.  All this extra milk, you know, I just keep it in my freezer.”

“In your freezer?” the mother of twins, also helping herself to a second piece of cake, nearly laughed. “Why in your freezer?”

“Because it has so many uses.”

Gunnil, putting aside her cake and licking her fingers, reached for her notepad and pen to take notes. “Uses? For example?”

“Well. . .” Ms. Lactose smiled as golden as a cube of chilled butter, “It’s good, for example, for treating pink eye.”

“Yes, I’ve heard this,” Gunnil jotted a note. “Full of antibacterial properties.”

“And for softening cracked skin,” Yogurt Gal told us, those lean hands looking smoother than I’d noticed before.

I downed three big mouthfuls of cake.

“Yes, it’s rich in emollients,” Gunnil was nodding around the circle, hoping we were all listening to this perfect example.

“But really,” our Lady of La Leche said, “I don’t use it so much for all that.”

“Oh?” the mother of twins said, licking her lips.

“Oh?” the mother to my right wiped crumbs from her chin.

“Oh?” I swallowed my fifth bite.

“Then how do you use all your extra milk?” Gunnil’s pen was waiting.

“I use it all in my baking,” Curdle Girl said, perky as a dollop of whipped cream. “Another piece, Melissa?”

© Melissa Dalton-Bradford and melissadaltonbradford.wordpress.com, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Melissa Dalton-Bradford and melissadaltonbradford.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Global Mom: La Gastronomie

When Dalton stayed full Mondays at maternelle, it meant he was invited to dine with his entire class in the cafeteria. Dining meant just what it sounds like: four courses,  linen, silverware, straight backs.  No plastic utensils, trays or cups. No nuggets and ketchup, no canned corn. No sandwiches, certainly, since how can one eat a sandwich with utensils? Even les pommes frittes, or French fries, were to be eaten with a fork, we learned.

Photo credit: thedowns.malcol.org

The value in dining, explained Madame M. as she and I stood outside the cantine, peeking occasionally through the port-hole window in the door to watch how Dalton was doing, was to eléver le palais, a phrase that threw me at first. Was this some kind of telekinesis, lifting up palaces or something?  What it meant was to educate (or raise) the palate.

“A child,” Dalton’s cheery pedagogue explained, “must not be given food that will degrade the palate. If early in life he develops an appetite for bad food—fast food, cheap food, tasteless food —- how then will he distinguish later in life what is truly excellent?”

I peered at the preschool children sitting straight in a row, linen napkins across their knees, utensils held firmly in each hand. My Dalton, his back to me, was eating les épinards, or spinach, quiche and sliced fresh fruit with yogurt.  In a blue ceramic dish was a small salad with mustard vinaigrette, I was told.  He and his classmates would be offered a selection of cheeses after that course before the small square of chocolate to finish off the meal.  He drank water from a glass-glass. A woman in a white frock and orthopedic sandals touched him on the head and pointed to his napkin when he wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. He then used the napkin. And looked both ways as he pressed it flat across his lap.

Photo credit: socialcouture.com

“This, Madame Bradford, is as important a part of la formation as is anything else your son will learn.  The French, you know, consider food to be about much more than just eating. La gastronomie is an art and a science and,”  (to this day I recall these words with the sound of a background gong) “the sign of an evolved culture, of an evolved human being.”

Whuh-o.  That one hit like an indictment, a personal kidney punch, though I’m sure gentle Madame M. didn’t mean it as such. But I cringed, and while cringing, felt my back instantly hunch over, hair cover my entire face and then my whole body, my knuckles start dragging on the ground.  All those barnepark brown bags of a single slice of bread and goat cheese? Eaten with bare hands? All those Norwegian birthday parties with a set menu of tepid hot dogs, chocolate cake and red punch? The Norwegian office buffet for Randall, which, over the years, never changed from sliced tomatoes, cucumbers, two sorts of cheese, bread and a platter of room- temperature canned herring? What about the one and only brand of milk — its carton said, simply Melk — that first year we lived in Norway? And the two types of cheese — goat (brown) and cow (yellow) –— compared with the 378+ types in France?

Golly.  We’d kind of liked that approach to food.  It left so much time for the important stuff.

Spice market, St. Rémy, Provence, France

Olive stand, open market, Aix-en-Provence, France

Going back even further, what about all those New Jersey vending machine hoagies eaten on the run? The Slurpees downed in an elevator? The Big Macs scarfed behind the wheel? I’d not only been eating the wrong food, I was now realizing, but I’d been eating all of it all the wrong way.  Mobiley.  As my Parisian neighbor Lauren would tell me some years later, eating while taking an elevator, while driving, while watching T.V., while doing anything but eating was, well, a sport for barbarians.

Now I understood better why, on the other days when I would arrive to pick up Dalton for lunch, the mothers and babysitters were all gathered around the school gates discussing lunch menus. You’re going to braise endives? And she’s going to sautée chicken livers? And she over there will whip up a souflée to go with the fennel salad with chunks of Parmesan and toasted walnuts? It seemed everyone wanted to know what was on everyone else’s menu for the 50-minute lunch break to which they would treat their three-year-old cherub.

I just held tight. It was somewhat destabilizing to listen to everyone’s fancy menus.  At this early stage in our life in France, I was feeling challenged enough merely figuring out what was in those shelves in the grocery store, or where to get things if I deduced that what I needed was not there, and who to task for help to find something as basic as salt, for starters. Because that whole food-on-the-table thing was, with everything else going on (floods, ants, no reliable heat, no closets in the entire house, finding a place to park, learning a new language) really all I could handle for the moment, I listened closely to the women’s talk primarily because it was an excellent source of language education, and only secondarily so that I’d feel culinarily inept by comparison. Never did I dare admit what my own son was going home to:  a vulgar, cheap bowl of microwaved canned ravioli.  In a Barney dish.

You can bet I swore him to silence.

At least he’s using a utensil

**
© Melissa Dalton-Bradford and melissadaltonbradford.wordpress.com, 2012. This work (text and images) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License. . . which means, as long you’re not selling it, you’re welcome to share, but please remember to give me a link and mention my name.

Global Mom: La Boulangerie Bigot

You can hardly believe the beauty of the Grand Canal of the Versailles gardens just at dawn.

If you come right at gate opening to take a long jog, as I did this one Saturday morning in early September, you can jog right past the grazing sheep of Marie Antoinette’s faux Austrian village Universal Studios stage set on your right, past the turn where you could go right into Le Petit Trianon, the private mansion built for this Louis’ mistresses and later furnished by that Louis’ reclusive queen, and after a broad colonnade of trees, you can then hop off the cobblestones about where, on your left, the public toilets and bike rental place are set up.  Then you take a sharp right past La Flotille, the outdoor restaurant (still lifeless at this hour), and whooshk! You lose your breath at quite a sight indeed.

It’s the perfect symmetry and stillness that gets you, the great gray sheet of water like a liquid landing strip, with one swan here, a mallard there. Oh, and the enormous fountains back there since you can’t help but turn completely around and jog backwards with baby steps just to take in the panorama. The magnificent gardens lead up to the château itself, which comes into view, rising from the earth, as it was designed to appear to be doing, either ascending to or descending from heaven as its Sun King claimed he also had.  The biggest monument to vanity till Trump Tower.

Yet with much better jogging possibilities. And, if you ask for my opinion, much more beautiful.

Back to those paths, I make it all the way around the Grand Canal that spreads its arms in a crucifix and, passing back out the big golden garden gates, check my watch to make sure I’ll hit our neighborhood boulangerie as the pretty ladies there open its doors.  Hot baguettes.  Warm croissants.  Millefeuilles aux amandes. We’ve already got our list of favorites.

La boulangerie Jean Michel Bigot in the Rue du Maréchal Foch is soberly majestic.  It has golden doors, a deep purple interior, quietly attentive women behind the big glass counter, and, as I was to learn that day, a versaillaise clientele. There can’t be better tradi to be found, (the sourdough loaves made according to some “traditional” recipe, hence, their name), especially when found in that freshly- birthed state, crust perfectly dense and the sourdough insides a mass of spongy comfort you can’t keep your hands out of. Tradis became our daily staple and we became daily customers at what was an impeccable and addictive house of carbs.

Tradis, specifically, are all I’m after at the end of my jog, when I run right up to the door in the same get-up I wore just a few weeks previously to jog the loop around our island in Norway: my favorite Yankees baseball cap over an unwashed ponytail, its brim tugged down snugly over an unmade-up face; black Lycra leggings; a neon yellow long-sleeved T-shirt; an old blue nylon jacket tied around my waist. (I was so hot, I’d tugged the jacket off over my head and tied it tightly over my hips at about the third bend around the canal.)  My shoes are muddied because I’d not been able to resist the forest, (typical), but they were at least still tied with their fluorescent green laces and were holding up with my pace as I sprint to the shiny golden façade of Bigot.

I’m also listening to music. It’s happy and loud, an energizing program of Duke Ellington, The Style Council, Garth Brooks, and Placido Domingo doing Verdi arias.  I’ve timed my entrance well by sprinting full throttle the last block or so, and am panting as I tug out my earphones and shake out my legs in front of the polished glass doors.  You know how it is when you run and only start to really sweat like you mean in when you stop.  Well, this is where I start to sweat in earnest.  The doors are sweat sensitive, I gather, because it’s right then they slide open automatically, which I hadn’t quite wanted yet, since I was gasping and this was so early and so quiet and so French.  And I hadn’t yet silenced Placido (or was it Garth?) who was slung over my shoulder inside these earphones of mine, still making loud music like a drunk, hanging around my neck, wailing away.  Everyone within a given radius hears him.

And that is maybe why a lady, the last in line and dressed like a clear-cut Madame du Quelque Chose, turns slowly toward me.  I can feel her swift censure like I feel the swiftly closing glass boulangerie doors barely miss my head.  Swush. I scoot back, fumble to turn off my music, lick my lips for moisture, swallow, try to draw up a bit of spit. I reach in my jacket pocket for gum, pop in a piece, and chawnk on it like any good trucker, hoping for some juice, then, still chawnking, trot merrily into the shop.  I fais la queue behind not only one Madame du Quelque Chose, but four of them.

How four middle-aged women can look so meticulous, smell so fragrantly feminine, be so coiffed and have manicures, too, at an hour when I still have bed sheet road maps on the side of my face, is sobering. One is wearing pearls. Another, matching shoes and handbag. Another, patent leather heels.  In midnight violet.  She’s dressed to match the bread shop interior? And it’s with that thought and while standing right behind them, trailing crusts of mud from my raggy Nikes and wiping drips of sweat from my jaw line with the sleeve of my scratchy nylon jacket, that I then realize that without knowing it and certainly without wanting to do so, I have morphed into The Spectacle.

The sweaty, stinky, Spectacle.  The muddy, Lycra-y, Garth-y, Yankee, boulangerie Spectacle. The one who thinks she’s just going to crash this joint and be allowed to buy, like these four powdery Mesdames, a tradi or two.

Upon my bee-bopping entrance, these elegant early birds drop their quiet conversation mid-sentence like they’d all flown beak-first into a plate-glass window.   It is so quiet, and I am so loud (or at least I feel I am) and immodest, and foul-mouthed even with my wad of Wrigley’s Extra Ice, and they look mildly traumatized or entertained, I’m not sure which. But I am the newbie again, unaware, still, of all the codes. Just want my fresh French baked goods, s’il vous plait, if I might grab some. And run.

No! Walk.

So I shuffle, head down, to the gilded counter, grab my baguettes from a blonde woman with movie star beauty complete with a manicure that still looks wet –– just your average bakery gal! — do the required flourish turning to all sides, to anyone who would hear my muffles: “I am so sorry, Mesdames, please excuse me, please forgive me, I apologize, Thank you so kindly, Madame, yours are the best tradis in all Versailles. Have a lovely day. Everyone. Tout le monde. I am a beast.”

Actually, je suis bête was the phrase I used, which means, roughly, “I’m a ding dong.” But bête, besides meaning ding-dong, also means beast.  I knew this already because I’d ordered Disney’s La Belle et La Bête for language practice the day I found out we were moving to France.The fact that Disney’s beast was not a le and was a la, by the way, and therefore feminine, not masculine, caused some consternation for Claire, which we ironed out over time. But that whole tangent is beside the point here. What I’m telling you is that in that embarrassing culture clash moment, I did in fact feel 100% — no, 200% — bête.

**
© Melissa Dalton-Bradford and melissadaltonbradford.wordpress.com, 2012. This work (text and images) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License. . . which means, as long you’re not selling it, you’re welcome to share, but please remember to give me a link and mention my name.

Global Mom: Julestemning

Christmas in Norway.

Three words, and my bones go all cheese fonduey.

That’s  because there is, even in my memory, a special spirit to a Norwegian Christmas.  With New Jersey’s jingle jangle still in my head, Norway’s quiet spirit caught me off guard the first Christmas we lived on our island.  And during all the Christmases that followed, I felt slowed down, whoa-ed down. Again and again and again.

Christmas in Norway is synonymous with making music, and since singing was my job, I did a lot of it during the holidays.  Where did I sing, with whom and what? Let’s just say the range was eclectic.   “Chestnuts Roasting” and other American standards with a jazz band in Holmenkollen kappell, a restored stave church high overlooking the Oslo fjord. The “Messiah” with an electronic keyboard run by a generator in a dilapidated barn hidden deep in the mountains. (I was offered an ankle length military uniform coat from an audience member, which I accepted so I could sing the soprano solos without getting whiplash from my teeth-chattering.) Scandinavian folk tunes with traditional instruments surrounded by candlelight in a stark Lutheran church. Spirituals with trumpets, sax and drums on Norway’s answer to The Tonight Snow.   “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” in a screen test for a national T.V. commercial.  Brahms with full orchestra and viola descant in a sumptuous opera house.  Simple hymns with our Mormon congregation’s small and struggling yet achingly sincere choir.

Then there was that most unforgettable of Christmases: The Viking Birth. That’s when I sang out five-kilo Dalton Haakon on a high note of “Amazing Grace”:

“And grace my fears relieeeeeeeeeeeeved.”

And grace sure did.

This post will be the last that focuses on our Norway years contained in the first few chapters of Global Mom, A Memoir, coming to you in January.  The next posts about Global Mom will introduce you to France, or more specifically to Versailles, where we first landed straight from our Nordic island isolation.

Versailles of the Sun King. Of the famous château.  And of our son, our petit prince, Luc William.  And of the not-so-famous château where he was born.

Then I’ll give you a good long look at Paris.

Then Munich. The City of Monks. Our Monastery Years.

Then Singapore. With flash-backs to Hong Kong.

Then Switzerland. With flash-backs to Vienna.

And much of the craggy, glossy, pitch dark, shimmering terrain in between.

So sit back.  It’s October wherever you are in the world.

But right now in Global Mom it’s December.

My attempt at a hand drawn family Christmas portrait one of our last years in Norway.

Global Mom, A Memoir

JULESTEMNING

Bente calls me at 5:30 a.m. Whispering in Norwegian, she tells me to hurry – run!— to the T.V. to catch the broadcast.  My friend has no idea what she’s asking.  I’m almost nine months pregnant, which means running resembles a slo-mo animation of global plate tectonics, my pelvis held together by what feels like no more than three shredded rubber bands.  But I waddle obediently down the stairs and dump my fertile self into the sofa.

Sitting breathless and alone in the darkness, I watch. In total stillness, the program illumines. It is one long, still moment until this crescent of blonde girls dressed in floor-length white gowns and with wreaths and burning candles atop their heads begins singing:

Night walks with heavy steps. . .

Shadows are brooding. . .

In every room so hushed. . .

Whispering like wings. . .

Santa Lucia.  This is the darkest night of the year. And in Norwegian, that means darkness of the underside of the blackest inkiest black.  Something about that thick backdrop makes my anticipation for this moment and for this season more intense,  intimate.  I’m awaiting the Christ child’s birth, awaiting the Bradford child’s birth. The Unknowns; one under the taut skin of my belly, the other under the night skin of the world, and this slow awakening happening in the sphere of my body, in the land of Norway.

Baby rump gyrates up under a rib.  A knee there.  A foot print there.  A head grinding relentlessly like a street dancer spinning on my bladder.  Now he’s rhythmically filing his toenails on my lowest left rib while he hiccups the effects of last night’s spiced lentil soup.  I push down with the heel of my hand. The lump bulges right back again, defiantly. Can he hear the television? Because he’s pulled a lever on his recliner so he can spread eagle from my pancreas to my esophagus. I’m stretchy both in skin and in soul.

Bente has prepped me about Santa Lucia.  “If you want to really get Julestemning, you must watch the performance live or at least on the live broadcast from Stockholm.”

Julestemning is an untranslatable expression, but every Norwegian knows what it means.  Closest thing we have in English is “Christmas spirit.”  But used in English, it conjures up for me at least images of neon pulsing robotically waving snowmen in shopping malls, the slosh of musak in the dairy aisle of your supermarket.  Andy Williams rapping “Ole Saint Nick.”

In Norway, that spirit is different. Deep as the darkness.  Fresh as snowfall in the nighttime.  I hadn’t understood the term, really, when just a few weeks earlier at a Norwegian friend’s house their young adult daughter was on the phone from California. She was there doing a year-long exchange in the land of The O.C., cooler than anything, you’d think. But from her end of the line I could hear she was sucking back tears, sobbing to her family, “Det er ikke Julsestemningnen her enda!” (There’s no Christmas spirit here yet!)

But now I begin to understand. In our basement, in the dark, low in sofa, high in pregnant, I watch the television glow with angel girls singing about the heavy tread of darkness and the pending light, singing with innocence, their faces almost iridescent with the sweet liquid warmth of a musical sunrise, and I’m lulled, nearly half-dozing. Before I can tug on the corner of the blanket that has slipped off my shoulder, I realize I’m draining tears from both eyes.  Crying, for hormones’ sake!  Punch drunk on Julestemning.

Bente, my formidable friend of the predawn phone call, has gifted me with something priceless in that phone call.  She and her family are, in every respect, our tutors in things Norwegian.  This holds true particularly when it comes to holidays and music. Here, she tutors me in Christmas:

“You begin,” Bente’s bright blue eyes widen enthusiastically, “with a thorough Christmas cleaning.”

This means, I learn, on-your-hands-and-knees scrub down of every inch of pine, including the ceiling.  Polishing windows with vinegar and lemon. Beating rugs and bedding and mattresses and bushes.  Flossing your banister. Tipping over the fridge.  Wiping under it.  Picking lint out of the wiry element on the backside of your appliances.  With a Q-tip.

“Then you’re ready for Christmas curtains,” Bente’s adorably girlish Swedish sister-in-law Pia schools me. She is also smiling.

“Curtains” means taking down all your everyday window treatments. Washing them, folding them, storing them in plastic bags you’ve sucked the air out of. And replacing them with flouncy fabric in red and green. Holly berries, candy canes, bows, polar bears, trolls.

“So, where do you pick up these curtains?” I am decidedly curtain challenged, except for stage curtains, which I’d never sewn or laundered.

“Pick them up?  Oh no. You buy the fabric. You sew them.”

“Sew? Curtains? For all your windows?  For every Christmas?”

Was this even legal?

“And after that, you do the syv sorter,” Bente adds, still smiling.  She is tall, has four tall children, and they all have peachy complexions with bright, winning smiles. I conclude it’s a national mandate.

Syv sorter means making seven different sorts of Christmas cookies all in the course of one day. (And there are prescribed sorts, I was to learn, of which Pillsbury ready-bake is not one, you sluggards.) Real Norwegians like Bente are born to do seven sorts in a day and from scratch.  But they are also born with peachy complexions, winning smiles, skis on their feet, a hockey stick in their fist, and something in their constitution that lets them slurp the teensy eggs out of the tails of raw shrimp.  And still smile.

“And don’t forget kransekake,” Pia wants to explain to me, her dimples softening the blow.  By now I’m feverishly scribbling notes. “You start with hand-ground almonds and powdered sugar and — you want to borrow my moulds?” She hands me her cast iron ring moulds for the traditional stacked wreath cake, then pulls me aside. “You can actually buy the dough ready made.” She lowers her voice, “But not a word.”

I’d never seen darling blonde Pia look stern.  This time, she’s glowering.

At Bente’s, we all gather for Christmas Eve.  We have come in our best clothing (Bente and Pia’s children are in Sunday best and opulent traditional Norwegian costume) because, as Christian, Bente’s oldest has told us, this evening will be “litt høytidlig.”

A bit solemn. Formal.  Reverent.

I gather this is code for. Please, pants with belts. Drawstrings and elasticized ankles turned away at the door.  (And you will forever be labeled, “Bumpkin.” )

We gather around Bente’s table set with a great-great-grandmother’s crystal, heirloom silver, china handed down generations. There are candles. There is an order to things, a program. A first course followed by a song.  Another course.  Another song.  There are pewter warming plates and hand-tatted linens from another great-grandmother. The menu includes substantial fare; traditional white sausage, delicately boiled potatoes, steamed Brussel sprouts and caramel pudding right before the crowning treat: stacked rings of the kransekake, each ascending ring decorated with small Norwegian flags.

No paper plates, even Chinette. No feet propped on the coffee table.  No root beer floats in mismatched Jets and Yankees mugs. Not a single popcorn ball, corn dog or Jell-o salad. Nothing of that sort anywhere from the Arctic circle all the way down to the southern border that Christmas Eve.

Just a guess.  But one I’d stake my life on.

LANGBORDET

Given that Christmas in Norway means gathering, we buy a huge table.  This particular three-meter plateau of pine has room for twelve, and we have twelve traditional curved farm chairs made and painted to match.  In a pinch, there is room for fourteen.  Sixteen, if everyone dines armlessly.

Even with the table as talisman, I never really fully master the Norwegian Christmas.  Maybe because it takes much longer than five years to do so. Maybe because I do not really master so very much domestically, if you must know the truth.  I do get all the traditional decorations, serve mounds of fish in every possible state at every one of my gatherings, make vat upon vat of something called gløgg, an onomatopoetically named cider that Norwegians consume with or without alcohol. (But mostly with.  And with lots).

I even perfect my own recipe for gingerbread, the very mortar of any true Norwegian Christmas.  I learn all the local songs about the art and lure of gingerbread-baking. I sing them with my children and add choreography I can still pull off today if you put a kransekake mould to my head. One year, I made enough gingerbread dough to re-shingle our roof.  Then loaded it in my car and took it to church where two dozen children built a scale model of Machu Picchu, looked like. Machu Picchu with shiny green gum drops and red striped fences all around.

In the course of our Norway years, I scrape off the biggest scabs of the vestiges of a crusty old feminism that had preached disdain for all things — for every thing — domestic.  I shimmied out of that brittle role model while also squeezing sideways past The Good Norwegian Housewife one.  (I never, for instance, tipped or Q-tipped my fridge. Never once).  But I took a swan dive into the one domestic task I liked:  Food preparation. Food preparation, specifically, that gets people together. I gave up Gloria Steinem for Rachel Ray and traded in Bella Abzug for Julia Childs.

In fact, I now see that in some ways I at least subconsciously took Mrs. Julia Childs as a muse, a model.  Many years after leaving Norway, after Childs’ death, I saw an exhibit at the Smithsonian which featured her huge meat cleaver-scarred Norwegian farm table. She said it had been the heart of her home.  She even had similar curved farm chairs to mine. Or better, I did to hers. And they were all collected during the time she’d lived in Oslo with her husband, Paul.

Hmm. She’d also lived twice in France.

And once in Germany.

And along the east coast of the U.S.

Now I’ve got you thinking we’re nearly identical, Mrs. Childs and I.

But besides the fact that I am not six feet tall, do not have an arsenal of kitchen knives, have never in my life made a boeuf bourguignon nor, lets be honest, a single pot roast, and besides the tiny fact I’m neither genius nor legend, there is one feature of our lives, of my life and the life of Mrs. Childs, that does not match.

Children.

She had none.

I was bursting with my third.

Which was  good.

But given the paragraphs below,  hard.

**

TROLLS

From my journal:

This year has marked the kids’ surge in growth of all kinds.  Parker’s making great headway with his Norwegian, managing to converse like a native with his little first grade buddies and participating in the church  program with a major speaking part.  Wise Man #1.  And at school for the Christmas program he’s Troll #1. 

Is the universe trying to tell me something?

Parker as a troll in his class Christmas spectacle at Nesøya Skole. The lip liner should be given special credit.

He’s lost teeth right in front so he epitomizes the gangly six-and-a-half-year-old, wild about his sport club, crazy about his weekly swimming classes. Claire has refined a large repertoire of native folk songs which she hollers and croons at all times and in all places.  Both children are sturdy and active,  joyous reminders to us of the vibrancy and hope of childhood.  I can drone on and on about their energy and bright minds, how Claire loves all things theatrical, how Parker has a penchant for memorizing long texts.  Actually, it’s a little creepy, his ability to memorize.  According to his teachers, they’ve never seen the likes. He has something like a perfect aural memory.

But. But. Adjusting to the whole local school thing has been hard work for him. For us all.  HARD.  Parker’s teachers have been terrific—kind, flexible, patient—and the school’s principal, Sigrid, has been an absolute wonder. She’s called me in to conference with her every week—a schedule that will spread out to once a month, we plan—just to make a team out of home and school in order to assure this boy, this first non-Norwegian child they’ve ever had, has a good experience in the school, in Norway.  

So here goes: I came close to crying in yesterday’s conference.  As Sigrid was expressing her concerns about Parker’s behavior (and his four teachers around the table were describing how disruptive he can sometimes be in class, erratic, uncontainable, sometimes explosive), I felt that salty wave climbing my throat.  Times like this I’m convinced that it would have been better for everybody had I stuck with full-time theater, had we not moved to a foreign country, and had I let child care professionals duke it out over this child.  It’s all so tiring.  So deflating.

Point is, I have little natural talent for domesticity, for mothering.  All my other talents, (that short list that’s steadily getting shorter) have no application at home. I can love, love a lot, but that love doesn’t seem to be the pill for Parker.  So while I am listening to the Norwegian terms for this boy — “strong character”, “unchanneled energy”, “sensitive” — I don’t say it out loud but my internal voice is blaring on loudspeaker, “This is too much for me!  This here? It’s nowhere in my skill set!!” 

Well, bless her heart, Sigrid reached across to me when I guess she saw my eyes drop to the table top, and she put her hand on mine;  “Think”, she said, “of the adventure we’d all miss without his powerful presence in our lives!” 

I managed a smile then. But hearing her words now in my mind makes we weep with confused but sweet gratitude for this boy.

And writing those words many years later pierces me straight through.

On Decmeber 29th, approximately 5:30 a.m., I called Bente.  I whispered, “Han er kommet.”

He, our baby boy, has come.

And with that arrival, the arrival of number three, a second son, the dark winter skies confirmed that there was now even less of a chance of turning back from being the worthless and incompetent mother I was wholly convinced I already was.

Darkness shall take flight soon

From earth’s valley.

So she speaks

Wonderful words to us:

A new day will rise again

From the rosy sky. . .

Sankta Lucia! Sankta Lucia!

 

Our three Norwegians.

**
© Melissa Dalton-Bradford and melissadaltonbradford.wordpress.com, 2012. This work (text and images) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License. . . which means, as long you’re not selling it, you’re welcome to share, but please remember to give me a link and mention my name.

Bottled Fruit

My mother inspired a poem that I wrote. Actually, she has inspired a number of poems I’ve written, either directly or indirectly.   Come to think about it, she’s actually inspired everything I’ve written, indeed all my writing comes from her.

Because I do.

She is not a writer herself, my Mom.  Instead, she’s a soprano, (an operatic leading lady), a vocal coach, a former member (for 16 years) of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, and an international lecturer on the arts, specifically where lyrics and music intersect.

(You’re right: I grew up hearing The Three Tenors from the kitchen radio.  And hiding my Three Dog Night LP albums under my bed.)

Besides being a gifted musician and stage performer, my Mom is also a skilled driver.  She shuttled four children to ballet-piano-cello-viloin-viola lessons.  In between, she ran for a local political office, taught elementary school, quilted, did calligraphy, was artistic director for a number of operas, weeded our flower beds, battled a career-shortening and life-threatening case of scoliosis, cared for her aging mother-in-law until that grandmother of mine passed away, and she bottled fruit.  Some of it she even grew in our own backyard.

Sadly, I didn’t inherit any of her goods, I don’t think.  Except, maybe, a fraction of her musicianship. I did, though, inherit her insatiable love for words.

But I don’t know the first thing about bottling fruit.

Every year on my birthday, I like to thank my parents for giving me the gift of life and other gifts that make that life rich and satisfying.  I did just this a couple of years ago by writing a poem dedicated to my Mom, Donna, and the next year that piece ended up anthologized in a noteworthy volume entitled, Fire in the Pasture: 21st Century Mormon Poets. 

So this year I am posting that piece here to thank her — thank them, Mom and Dad — for showing how to harvest, savor,  and bottle life.

Credit, both photos: Flickr

Bottled Fruit

 For Donna Charlene Glazier Dalton

(and T.S. Eliot and Langston Hughes )

 

There are museums alive under my mother’s house, quiet

life-giving mausoleums, loden and loaded with their chilled secrets,

cement-walled vaults with jugs of holy jewels,

amber pendants round as halos lining the walls.

Crystal caskets crowded with dense-fleshed

soldiers, salute!

Cheek-to-topaz-cheek they nearly breathe

in their neat ranks, awaiting orders.

No withered raisins in the sun here, no, but

muscled suns afire in blackness: promising,

pulsing practically,

still half alive,

still life.

 

Let us go then, you and I, to visit those cellars

of all my mothers and their mothers and mothers,

who considered shelf life over self life, who

frankly shelved their life to bear and bind themselves with

that fleshy, sinewy fruit of the womb.

 

Let us see them at the kitchen sink which heaves with sultry harvest,

let us watch them ply their mothers’ genes, cradling fruit

like a bronze planet in each palm, slicing its dense flesh at equator,

making two hemispheres with silk-slick skin

taut against engorged roundness.

Plump little breasts.

These, they slip two-and-two down the throats of jars

until they cannot fit a single other,

and baptize them en masse:

a ladle of sweet, pectiny waters.

 

In such rooms the women come and go, talking of Mason jars, Ball and Kerr

and none dares eat a peach. But to satisfy her hunger, postpones it,

puts up for the eventual quelling of a someday craving,

saves, replants the pit, stocks this immediate abundance,

preserving it, holding on to life.

Man, with his wristwatch, might claim there will be time,

there will be time, indeed there will be time

for all the works and days of hands, time to know and gather enough

the tender seasonal berries of our fragile human yield.

But the mothers are unconvinced.

They weep and fast and weep and pray

against the measured minutes left together

while all the late afternoon long they hear the voices dying and the

music from a farther room.

 

Gone too soon from their slippery hold, these dazzling passion fruits

with their every pungent plushness and immediate délice,

these pears with their translucent skin the color of liquid bone

and veins of laced filigree.

Firmest fruit like buffed and bottled riverstones: these are their proving rocks

touchstone testaments of existence,

their innermost fruits

which fill deepest chambers against the time

when they might nourish—or might outlive—the mothers.

**
© Melissa Dalton-Bradford and melissadaltonbradford.wordpress.com, 2012. This work (text and images) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License. . . which means, as long you’re not selling it, you’re welcome to share, but please remember to give me a link and mention my name.