fierce attachments

a mother-daughter blog about the fierce attachments in our lives… title inspired by Vivian Gornick's wonderful memoir

Category: rituals

six weeks in the desert: green valley, arizona

by nikki meredith

desert museum landscape

At home above my desk I have posted this poem by Mary Oliver:

Pay attention.

Be astonished.

Tell about it.

Oliver calls the poem “instructions for living a life” and it’s advice I try implementing every day of the year — every day except for the six weeks between Memorial Day and the 4th of July.   I don’t have to work on it then because I spend that time in the southern part of the Sonoran Desert and paying attention is a matter of survival. If I don’t I might find myself with the fangs of a rattlesnake sunk into my foot, swarmed by Africanized bees, or charged by a Javelina – to name but a few of the perils I have encountered. One night when I wasn’t paying attention my husband and I, after dinner at a local restaurant, took a walk under a full moon and an ink black sky. I was wearing sandals and stepped on a hive of harvester ants.  Man, were they pissed-off! I spent the better part of that night dabbing toothpaste on multiple stings to relieve the pain. (It helped!)

Most people who can, leave the area in June because of  triple digit temperatures — many days it’s 110 and above — but initially I came because of the heat. If you’re looking for a place to write, the conditions are ideal. There is nothing else to do for most of the day but stay planted in front of a computer in an air-conditioned house.  If I’m not on the trail, by 7 a.m., my morning walk feels more like a death march. Read the rest of this entry »


absence makes the stomach grow fonder: food variety deprivation, fantasy and phenomena in the humanitarian aid worker life

by caitlin meredith

meal of desperation: canned fruit cocktail with a side of canned tuna

Food cravings are a motherfucker. After a few weeks of being in the field with the same slop every day, my gastronomic fantasy life takes on a bigger and bigger portion of my conscious and unconscious mind with debilitating consequences. I’ve been through this cycle enough times now to recognize the signs and symptoms, which I will presently share with you.

(In a future post I’ll talk about REAL food problems in refugee camps that will put my indulgent indignation in proper perspective, but for now I just need to whine.)

But before I get into the Meredith/Kübler-Ross Five Stages of Varied Food Deprivation, however, let me give you a small snapshot of what kind of culinary context I’m referring to. Let’s take my recent time in South Sudan as an example. Read the rest of this entry »

what do I have in common with Julia Roberts? how being a dog owner is like being a celebrity

by nikki meredith

I have never been, nor will I ever be, a celebrity — not even for Andy Warhol’s 15 minutes.  But I maintain that having a dog shares some of the features of celebrityhood and if you walk around with two dogs, you’re on your way to being a super celebrity.

When our dog Alice was a puppy, I was astonished by how many people stopped to ask about her. And it wasn’t only people I encountered on the sidewalk or the hiking trail. People in cars would pull over, roll down their windows and shout out questions. Some actually parked and got out of their cars to ask about her.  Well, I thought, everyone loves a puppy. Read the rest of this entry »

shitty in pink: lady aid worker conquers night time latrine visits

by caitlin meredith

My feet but NOT my pink Crocs!!! Borrowed from a friend!

I have one key piece of advice for female aid workers on their way to Africa: once you get there, get a potty. This might even be more important than my earlier advice about underwear. Displaying your undies  in full view of your boss only happens once a week – the potty issue comes up every night.

Nighttime elimination first became an issue when I worked in Darfur. Read the rest of this entry »

aid worker underwear

by caitlin meredith

underwear on washing line via

I’m at it again. Packing. This time it’s for a one-month stint in South Sudan. The conditions will be tough, I’ve been warned. Shared sleeping tents, limited electricity, knee-deep mud, two latrines for forty people. I’ve already gotten much advice from the hardened colleagues already there: Bring vitamins, Ruby shared, because fruits and vegetables are thin on the ground. A good torch is extra necessary to navigate the snakes and scorpions in the night, Matt advised. And don’t forget the rain gear – have I heard that August is the height of the rainy season?

All of these tips are well-received. Ziploc bags full of my REI headlamp, Pepto Bismol, AA batteries, malaria pills, multivitamins and spare umbrella are piled atop my “go bag.” Unfortunately I’m still hung up on the most basic of provisions. Which underwear am I going to bring? Read the rest of this entry »

the end of gift giving (as we once knew it)

by nikki meredith

Juleaften The Royal Library, Denmark

According to the New York Times, the recipients of gifts are no longer content with leaving it up to you to decide, they want what they want and they want you to get it for them. We the givers, writes Penelope Green, are being treated like “catalogs or department stores, brandishing lengthy wish lists, demanding gift cards or boldly asking for cash.” Social scientists who study this phenomenon have various explanations (according to one theory: what matters is having the exact right stuff — the clothes we wear, the object d’art we display, the lamps we light — because of what our stuff says about our style and identity) but Judith Martin, aka Miss Manners, calls it is “blatant greed” and, in the article, labels it our number one etiquette problem.

You’d think I’d welcome this specificity. On November 20, 2011 I wrote about how difficult it is for me and my husband to get the gift-giving thing right, even after 36 years of marriage. But the mercenary approach horrifies me. I first noticed it when a relative got married a few years ago and along with the invitation came a request that guests contribute to the car she and her future spouse wanted to buy. I figured this was just my crazy family but then the daughter of a friend got married a year later and this kid wanted us to contribute to the purchase of a condominium. Read the rest of this entry »

how to beat the holiday blues: be nimble

by nikki meredith

via Terry Vine/CORBIS

There is a saying in Italian: Natale con i tuoi, Pasqua con qui vuoi . Which means: Christmas with your family, but Easter with whomever you want! My parents weren’t Italian but they subscribed to this notion. The one and only time I dared to spend Christmas away from them was my honeymoon and they never quite forgave me for it. As a result, I vowed that, with my kids, I would never make spending any holiday with me compulsory.  In the beginning it was because I didn’t want to burden them. Later it was because I didn’t want to be so wedded to one way of celebrating the holidays that I’d be crushed if it didn’t work out. I do have a tradition, however, and it’s to be forever nimble on holidays. And I think it’s a tradition that might work for others.

I have a friend who was depressed for most of the weeks leading up to Christmas last year because her adult son and his wife decided to take their kids and join some friends of theirs in Hawaii for Christmas. Taking Grandma and Grandpa apparently wasn’t an option – either because they wanted a break from the old folks or because no one could afford the extra plane tickets. My friend and her husband are on a fixed income; their son’s wife is currently unemployed so the only way they could manage the trip was to cobble together a package of frequent flier miles and to trade their home in Marin County for a condo in Oahu.   “Christmas has always been at our house,” my friend said, “that’s our family tradition.” I felt sad for her but that always is a problem. There is no always in this life. People move, they divorce, they die, they decide they prefer palm trees to redwood trees on Christmas. Read the rest of this entry »

advice for giving a gift to your husband or wife: DON’T

by nikki meredith


The heart of the giver makes the gift dear and precious. ~ Martin Luther

I once had a fiction writing teacher who said, “It’s hard to say anything definitive about adultery.” I thought that was the wisest thing anyone ever said about anything. (Don’t get me wrong, I don’t believe in adultery but where would fiction be without it?)   But this isn’t about adultery. This is about gifts and I want to say, “It’s hard to say anything definitive about gift-giving.”

Let me start with the person in my life for whom it should be the easiest to buy gifts: my husband. Read the rest of this entry »

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