Thoughts on pride and independence

I am in my favorite spot in the library. Ruthie is purring next to me. I have a cold and just woke from a nap. There was a marvelously intense rainstorm last night. Today is hot, steamy, sunny, and blue. Periodically I look at a framed black and white Neal Preston photograph I just hung. It is Freddie Mercury in sweats and a crown, leaning against a door jamb, one Converse-clad foot crossed over the other, a lit cigarette down by his side. He has a gentle, hint of a smile on his mustachioed face. It was 1977. I smile back at him. I love Freddie because even when it was hard, he stayed true to himself, and he was great because of it. There is a profound lesson in that.

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I hung him in here because I spend so much time in this room. It is peaceful, there are no screens. I always have a puzzle going, my books and countless treasures surround me. My students and I meet and work in here. Windows and natural light are all around. I enjoy watching the birds eat from the feeder I hung in a crepe myrtle. I enjoy watching my cats watching the birds, their feline jaws clacking and moving with instinct and desire, guttural sounds of hunger emanating from their cores. Recently, a zealous squirrel removed the feeder from the branch; I suppose he became impatient by having to hang upside down to access the food, so he tossed it to the ground below. You have to hand it to squirrels; they’re crafty.

On the way to the airport last Thursday, I was overcome with anxiety, and it sucked. Not because the boys were leaving, but because my tank had been empty for a week already (weeks?), and yet I had a hefty few days with them ahead. To get to camp, we fly to Portland, Maine, rent a car, drive 90 minutes to Belgrade, and then do everything possible to pass the time until we can actually move to camp the next afternoon. None of it is a big deal, but Tom couldn’t come with us, and though the boys were immensely excited, they were also nervous about saying goodbye and being homesick.

As we unloaded and said goodbye to Tom, an incredibly terrific woman who taught both boys in 4th grade and who I am lucky to call a friend, walked up. She was heading to Portland too, to visit her brother. Could we head to the gate together? Her presence and company seemed like a gift from some guardian angel. I did not mention my anxiety but appreciated the way having her near felt like a balm. You never know what someone else is holding; kindness and love count for a lot.

It is beautiful in Maine, endlessly serene. Before driving to Belgrade, we hugged our teacher friend goodbye and went to the boys’ favorite comic store, Casablanca, in Portland. While they were looking, I walked over to Bard for a coffee. It, too, felt like a gift. We wandered around trying to decide on a spot for lunch, and I considered that I could live in Portland were it not for the winters. Bookstores, great food, antiques, a slower pace, the water. As it was PRIDE month, celebrations of LGBTQ were everywhere, including a large rainbow flag flying just below the Stars & Stripes at City Hall. Another gift, for what is greater than to love and be loved for who you are. To be able to be and celebrate that openly and proudly. The world still has a long way to go- in more than 70 countries, homosexuality is still against the law. But 50 years after Stonewall, things are better here, and I am thankful. Let’s hope such progress holds (and continues).

We spent the night in a rented house with friends from camp, a lovely spot with a dock on Great Pond. The boys swam and played for hours, burning seemingly endless energy before we forced them inside to change for dinner. I was thankful to be with these wonderful families, people we just met last year but who are already treasured friends. I shared of my difficult morning; they understood completely, shared ways they felt the same, didn’t judge.

All our boys wanted to make the first boat from the mainland to camp on Friday, so we made it happen. As Jack and Oliver lugged their gear up the island’s dock, I followed with my small bag, smiling at their independence and legs that are starting to look more man than child. I listened with deep happiness as counselors from last year called out to them with joy: “Grossi brothers! You’re back!” And the boys beamed, and so did I. I moved them in and helped them pick spots for their hammocks, visited the wood shop and dining hall, the common rooms and the boat launches, happy for the total absence of screens and electricity, for open-sided tents and the water lapping at the shores and the loons. I am so enormously grateful that they get this time off the grid and away from everything, including the hideously awful military tanks our idiot in chief has brought in for the 4th. I am also grateful for this time for me and for Tom, time to reset, rest, and figure out how to harness what we all learn about independence and self-care this summer and maintain it when they get home.

After our goodbyes which were far less teary and hard than last year, I drove back to Portland, treated myself to a delicious dinner and beer, wrote each boy a letter, and turned out my lights at 8:45. Bliss. I spent next morning at Longfellow Books, communing with an amazing Maine Coon named Buddy in a map shop, enjoying the student and faculty art show at MECA (fell in love with Lewis Rossignol’s work and bought some), and then flew home to a quiet evening with Tom.

I have been reading and working in the yard. One of my best friends was in town, and I was lucky to see her twice this week. I have been keeping myself as informed as I can stomach about the horrific, inhuman situation at our southern border, a situation for which I primarily blame trump and his GOP enablers. Reports by DHS inspectors who visited five facilities in the Rio Grande Valley show that:

children had few spare clothes and no laundry facilities. Many migrants were given only wet wipes to clean themselves and bologna sandwiches to eat, causing constipation and other health problems, according to the report. Children at two of the five facilities in the area were not given hot meals until inspectors arrived. Overcrowding was so severe that when the agency’s internal inspectors visited some of the facilities, migrants banged on cells and pressed notes to windows begging for help. At one facility, some single adults were held in standing-room-only conditions for a week, and at another, some single adults were held more than a month in overcrowded cells. Some migrants were forced to drink from toilets as they were given no fresh water.

Tomorrow is Independence Day, our country’s celebration of declaring itself free from monarchical British rule. In the Declaration, our founding fathers wrote:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness… That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes…But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security. — Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States.

Don’t we care about these words anymore (taking into full account of course the fact that at its writing, the Declaration’s authors did not consider people of color or women to be equal)? Substitute trump and the GOP for Form of Government, Governments, Despotism/such Government, and King of Great Britain, and you have present-day America, a country built on magnificent democratic ideals that are in such peril right now under the tyranny of a deeply immoral man. To those Americans who can celebrate tomorrow but also be ok with forcing desperate people to separate from their children, soil themselves, starve, and drink from toilets, you are hypocritical and cruel beyond what I can imagine. If you are cool with our president yukking it up in the DMZ with Dictator Kim and diverting funds from National Parks to turn the 4th into a militaristic celebration of trump rather than America, you are the antithesis of patriots. You are traitors to the ideals of liberty and welcome. You spit on the racist, brutal history so many of us are trying to reckon with and move past. You dishonor all who have fought for greater rights and acceptance and safety on these shores, all who have died for that here and abroad. I feel so little pride in America right now.

Tomorrow is also Jack’s thirteenth birthday, and I will choose to focus on celebrating him from afar and briefly hearing his voice when he calls from the mainland during rest hour. I will think of the beautiful soul he is rather than the hideous tanks and gross incompetence and evil of trump and his followers. I will hope that one day our country is deserving of my children, our children, the people who look to America as a beacon of hope and a better life (as did, PS, all of your and my ancestors; they were ALL immigrants unless you are Native American).

Less than a day to savor Portland, and savor it we did!

Praise be, I have my blog back. The country doesn't have sanity back, but a lot of folks are fighting the good fight. We in Maryland voted today. Here's hoping for a blue tsunami in November.

Anyway, Portland (Maine). After Tom and I left the boys last Friday afternoon, we drove back to Portland. Our flight home left at 2p on Saturday, so we figured we had 19 hours, including sleep time, to enjoy the city. 

This limited amount of time was an excellent challenge. And, as we were childless, we had no need for schedule and every opportunity for spontaneity. Time to be spontaneous is the stuff of dreams, y'all, an all-too-rare thing for many parents.

We checked in, showered and changed, and headed out to dinner. Tom wanted to go to Eventide Oyster Co, and I wanted to try Duckfat, so we decided to go to both. We walked past Duckfat first so grabbed two seats at a communal hightop and ordered a large cone of fries with truffle ketchup and garlic mayo and two beers. 

Duckfat fries and an Oxbow beer

Duckfat fries and an Oxbow beer

Duckfat is a casual, cozy spot with big plate glass windows facing Middle St. It seems to be a neighborhood joint, the sort you'd love to be able to stroll to on any given evening. The energy was just right, our waiter friendly and helpful, and we totally enjoyed everything.

processing the goodbyes and realizing that our six-week childfree date would really be fun

processing the goodbyes and realizing that our six-week childfree date would really be fun

After finishing the last fry, we settled up and headed down the street to Eventide. The wait was at least an hour, but because we had all the time in the world, we said, "Sure, put us on the list!" and headed next door to The Honey Paw, an Asian fusion restaurant run by the Eventide crew (chefs Andrew Taylor and Mike Wiley won Best Chef: Northeast in the James Beard Awards last year). We snagged two spots at the bar (our favorite place to perch) and ordered the charred broccolini with szechuan pepper and peanuts and the halibut crudo with rhubarb, lemon, micro greens, and fried shallots. More beer, too.

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The bartender was an arse, but the broccolini was so good it prompted us to immediately begin researching woks so that I can attempt to recreate the dish asap. The crudo was delicate and utterly lovely though not the showstopper that its vegetable peer was. As we finished up, Eventide texted to let us know a table was available, but full, we declined and decided to go for lunch the next day.

Instead, we walked around and while I blissfully perused a fabulous bookstore, Sherman's, Tom got gelato. I spent a full hour just wandering the stacks, reading book jackets and blurbs in leisurely fashion, and relishing the fact that no one and nothing was hurrying me or asking for my attention. It was deeply lovely, and I feel this must absolutely be so good not only for my soul but also for my brain.

The next morning, we started with coffee at Bard. While we'd slept and lazily gotten ready, seemingly half of Portland had run a half marathon. Some of the early finishers were at Bard too, plus several parents with young kids still in jammies, and a few folks with newspapers. Like Duckfat, it felt totally local. We usually drink Hairbender espresso roasted by Stumptown. Bard's espresso was softer and a bit sweeter, but I liked it quite a bit.

latte at Bard

latte at Bard

After coffee it was time to mosey down to The Holy Donut, a popular spot whose donuts include mashed potatoes in the dough. True to claim, the potatoes add both moistness and a soft crumb to the handcut donuts, and I could see why the line snaked through the store and out the door. Also, more marathoners, and really, they deserved treats! We got the dark chocolate sea salt and also a fresh lemon. I am a total sucker for chocolate cake donuts, and indeed, that was my absolute favorite. Also, I love The Holy Donut's give-o-meter (see photo below).

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As we still wanted to eat at Eventide before making our way to the airport, we decided to walk off some calories. There are some great art spots, shops, and vintage stores in Portland, and we also discovered a fantastic flea market, the Portland Flea-for-all. With the clock ticking and room made in our stomachs, we headed back to Eventide and, wait for it, got a spot at a bar rail (not a bar, but a bar rail where you could stand up and eat). 

In short order we chose the brown butter lobster roll, the fried oysters with succotash and creole dressing (sadly I did not get a photo), a wild fermented dry cider, and one of the daily specials, a cherry tomato salad with nuoc cham, cucumbers, and shiso. HEAVEN. Utterly delicious, all of it. 

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STOP! Just look at that steamed bun and gorgeous lobster salad and those perfect chives.

STOP! Just look at that steamed bun and gorgeous lobster salad and those perfect chives.

absurdly good

absurdly good

the PERFECT accompaniment to the food; drink this if you can find it!

the PERFECT accompaniment to the food; drink this if you can find it!

Truly, I would order every single one of those dishes on a regular basis if I could. Every bite was a revelation of flavor and pleasure. 

Unfortunately we did have to return our rental car and catch our flight, so we settled up and made our way to the airport.

I really liked the city. I witnessed a lot of kindness there and a wonderful sense of activism, healthful living, and pride. Mom and I are taking a road trip in August to go get the boys and bring them home, and I've dedicated a day to Portland. You can be sure we'll return to some of these spots!