Tuesday, December 24, 2013


I love the winter warm mitten pizzelle smell of anise. And I'm not even a smidge Italian, except where it counts. And that is, in my soul. My soul is a mountainous terrain outside Florence in the springtime, covered in poppies and beautiful-haired shepherds.

So I'll take pimpinella anisum (yes, folks that seriously is anise's scientific name; you gotta love a plant that incorporates the word pimp) over chocolate, brandy, and orange. Not always, but definitely in my Christmas cookies.

Loving anise enables you to use the phrase "ouzo effect" which is the effect anisette has on water, turning it cloudy. Ouzo Effect would be a great band name.  Note to self: Learn a friggin' instrument.

According to Pliny the Elder anise was used as a cure for sleeplessness, chewed with a little honey in the morning to freshen the breath, and when mixed with wine, as a remedy for asp bites.  So I'm calling the anise cookies I just made that were originally in German called springerle, by a new and better name.

Pass the Asp bites.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Christmas Eve Eve

Christmas Eve Eve is, in my opinion, one of the best days of the year. The divinum mysterium and enforced magic hush of Christmas Eve hasn't started yet; there is no plummy intoning of the Festival of Lessons and Carols from the BBC, no "Lo, the angel said to Mary," and you are still 48 hours away from the waterfall of joy, disappointment and tape that is Christmas morning.

It's also Festivus, and lord knows I love a made-up television holiday that involves an unornamented pole as its centerpiece and the airing of grievances (hallelujah...finally, a religion that gets me), plus feats of strength. You know how well I do both juggle and bitch.

To make Festivus really cook I would add: errands. All the worst errands, like paying fines for overdue children's books with humiliating names like Harold The Farting Dog, making appointments with the pediatric orthodontist, adjusting a health insurance co-pay, mammography, and getting last minute tchotchkes in the mail for distant cousins.

And it goes without saying there should be a long-ass German word that begins with a capital letter for the action and emotion of having to to do these things.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Life's Rich Pageant

Botticelli's Mystic Nativity (above) it was not.  Every year my cousins and I put on a nativity scene on the landing of my grandparents staircase, not because we were particularly religious. But because we had an eye for spectacle. From early ages we put on plays: What If The Titanic Hadn't Sunk? and Sherlock Holmes AND Sherlock Holmes, so titled because my next youngest cousin and I couldn't agree on who would be the lead.

What was the Nativity but another play? One we could enlist my grandfather's big sweet yellow lab in, too, to play an ass?

My sister was always Jesus.  She curled herself up like a fetus and didn't mind being half zippered into a green pleather suitcase. That was our manger.

I tell this to my kids, and because they are hams to the core, they are so excited to change the words from the boring and indeciferable Away In A Manger, to the much more arresting, At The Bottom Of The Stairs In A Suitcase. 

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Baked Alaska

Ice cream and liquor soaked cake, swaddled like the infant Jesus in swooshes of Swiss meringue and drizzled with rum and then set on fire?  Now we're talking dessert. Plateful of twee little sugar cookies shaped like wreaths my ass. That's for delicate aunts and people who get all excited about in the shell English walnuts.

I want the dessert of my club-dragging, fur cloaked robust Pagan ancestors. Though of course they would have none of the ingredients to make it save brave-heartedness and the carcass of an oryx, Baked Alaska is their kind of Yule log, bang a drum, solstice-shdizzle, blow-paint your handprint on a cave wall in Southern France.

Welcome shorter nights and longer days, welcome.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The Little Known School of Apologetic Marzipanstollen Poetry

I have eaten
the marzipanstollen
that was in
the cupboard

and which
you were probably
for Christmas breakfast

Forgive me
it was delicious
so sweet
and so marzipan-y.  

- William Carlos Williams


Shall I compare thee to a marzipanstollen?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate
but this time of year what I want is German fruitcake with 
an almond paste core.


- Shakespeare


To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield
To crappy knock-off German fruitcake that happens to be on sale. 

Who's with me? 

- Alfred Lord Tennyson


"Hope" is the thing with feathers -- 
and also stollen: an enriched sweetbread with nuts
That perches in the soul
And sings the tune without the words:
Get more get more get more. 

I didn't meant to write that. 

- Emily Dickinson


And the angel said, Fear not: for behold,
I bring you currants, sultana raisins, and, like, a donkey's weight in candied orange peel,
which shall be for all people. 
For unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Baker

Oops. I meant Savior

- God

Friday, December 13, 2013

Every Walk Is A Sort of Crusade

The manuscript I've been working on for two years is almost done. By almost done, I mean I have one last essay to write to bookend the thing, to give it a completed narrative arc, if such a thing can be said of a memoir of the diagnosis of chronic pain and managing to live within that cage and to call plaintively out from it like a baboon.

The truth is there is no decent satisfying American coming of age narrative arc, except my going from innocence to experience that shit happens.

William Styron, the novelist who was struck by severe depression in his late 60s and wrote Darkness Visible is the illness narrative we are most familiar with and -- after a hospital stay -- he got better.  This is good and right.  That's a wrap, a bedtime story.

It's not happening for me. Therefore I must learn to pace the cage. Not expect to be repatriated to Health, a country in which I was a happy mango-eating native.

I must learn to be thrilled by small things like a zoo animal does a peanut or a banana. Forget my birth forest.

A perfect pink sunrise. The titmouse that got stuck in the bird feeder. The warm wet-wool scent of my children. I must not catastrophize, but stay in the moment, appreciate what is. If this all sounds to you like an affirmation poster in a Used Car sales lot, I agree with you. Nevertheless. What else is there?

Styron coined the phrase the "walking wounded" to describe the chronically ill, and I like that. I am thankful I have to guide me Thoreau's essay On Walking which he wrote as he was dying. "For every walk is a sort of crusade." And every piece of writing is too.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

The Venn Diagram of Latin Dance and Writing

Dance. Click on the link for Fruko y sue Tesos "El Preso" and, if you can stay still, you might be me, when I was younger. When I was younger, I didn't dance. I didn't think I needed to. Ahh, foolish youth. As an adult, I think dance is one of the best responses to the crushing awareness of our own mortality.


I came to Latin dance in my early 30s. Ryles Jazz Club, Thursday nights, Cambridge, MA's Noche Latina. It goes without saying I was terrible. Whitegirl, overbite, cintura of concrete.

However, (and this is unusual for me) I didn't care what people thought; I was in love with the dance floor. I took lessons and became marginally better, my swivel took on a Bill Cosbyish turn that was an improvement

I took a tango class with an Argentinian teacher, my uptight Episcopalian Northern European body in some sort of tropical animistic swoon. I practiced salsa turns in front of my bedroom mirror in Somerville with my 2 inch rhinestone salsa heels on.  Where had this feeling been all my life? All the meditation I had ever tried never came close to this, living in the moment.

Dance is the antithesis of writing for me. It might, in fact, be the antithesis of me. Writing is all above the neck, all noggin, analytical, internal, and, to some extent, like searching for dry sticks, the kindling for a fire. You hope you can make a blaze with it. You are a Boy Scout on a Winter Wilderness Mission. You are trying very hard not to die of exposure.

Dance on the other hand is not about hoarding and gathering, preparation and survival.  If anything it's about letting go.  Trusting. If you have a heartbeat you have rhythm.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013


You know I have a crush on marzipan. Everywhere and in anything, but no place better than in bread. It's like that first dip of your foot into a hot tub in the winter in which it just so happens bathing in a weensie European bathing suit is John Malkovitch. Come on. Know that I mean?

Bread and marzipan is the happy union of two of my favorite things, and the Germans, my people on my mother's side, have done it for centuries at Christmastime.

You slice through the dense-ish candied fruit studded panettone-like loaf and there -- Lo! -- is a heartlight of almond paste. Toast it and butter it, and I almost almost don't care that John Malkovitch has no idea I exist.

Saturday, December 7, 2013


If you are of North Western European extraction as I am (and according to the genomics site 23 and me more than average percent Neanderthal) you know marzipan. Shaped like fruit, as above, is very Italian. To be more classically German around the holidays you'd have marzipan shaped like a pig.  

Marzipan, unromantically labeled "almond paste" in American grocery store isles, is nothing of the sort; that's like calling romantic ridiculous love where you cavort in public in a Roman fountain "a positive emotion."

Marzipan is ambrosial. Marzipan is almonds and sugar (yes, traditionally, just almonds and sugar) whirred into a succulent fondant-like texture that can be enrobed in dark chocolate and sliced into thin half moons and fed to your beloved from a plate while you thank the bees that started the whole process by going face first whole hog into almond flowers.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Practical Pain Management

How coo coo is it that modern medicine with its genetic testing and chemicals and fMRIs and brain tinkering toolkit still relies in pain management on the Wong-Baker Faces Pain Rating Scale?Mention Wong-Baker faces to anyone with a chronic pain condition and it's like doing standup, I know! Right? Bananas.

Whenever I am in a pain clinic I always lean over to the person next to me (and there always is somebody, we are not the few, the proud, we are the many, the desperate -- pain clinic waiting rooms are crowded) and I ask,  "Hey. Psst! Dude, what's your Wong-Baker face?"

It always makes them smile, no matter what they've circled. And then I feel that I have done some good.

Like Mel Brooks said, "The only weapon I've got is comedy."

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Tufted Titmice

Used to be I felt the dolphin was my spirit animal. That was in the way back machine of an epoch I call I Want To Be A Marine Biologist.

Now what makes me sigh Whitmanesque, O me! O life! is the titmice. They have descended on the winter bird feeder like totems. It goes without saying they're cute as buttons. But they also have great personalities.

They are bright eyed, curious and funny; the females remind me of Mary Tyler Moore, the males of Robin Hood. They perch on the bird feeder as a crew and look in on me, alone in my bathrobe on my laptop as if I am their Eeyoreish neighbor who needs a halloo and a reminder of what's important, that larger things are happening, there is a world outside my navel, and I am but a mote of dust in the cosmos -- and that I need to get more bird seed.

Once one even tapped on the glass to underline the point.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

What I Want For Christmas Is A Wine Skin

I can take it or leave it when it comes to slouchy ankle boots, I'm meh about diamonds though they say they are a girl's best friend, what I want for Christmas is a wine skin. Why? Because I want to imagine I am on an attic vase.

Because when you have a chronic illness as I do, what you want is not fashion or bling but that thing that is ineffable: merriment. The Great God Pan. Bacchus on a boat. Revelry. Guffaws and pranks. 

Audrey Hepburn said, “I love people who make me laugh. I honestly think it's the thing I like most, to laugh. It cures a multitude of ills. It's probably the most important thing in a person.”

Day in day out I feel like the inside of a slouchy ankle boot, but with a wine skin I could sit under the Christmas tree gnome-like, singing, mimicking David Sedaris mimicking Billy Holiday and crowned in laurels. 

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Medical Office Waiting Rooms

Recent research suggests that looking at things that are pretty (such as a view of nature, not a bullcrappy mound of Peace Plants,  a "nature band-aid," as pictured above) helps us heal faster. 

Color anyone surprised? 

In this article, Sally MacConnell, Vice President for Facilities at Johns Hopkins,  "discussed the importance of light and color in hospital design," "great views of the Chesapeake Bay," and entry spaces are large with "beautiful lobbies." "There's artwork in every elevator lobby, with impressive views of the outside world."

Well, Sally,  dream big and do it soon because the outside world is totally invisible from most of the medical offices I wait in. The real world ceases to corporeally exist as soon as I turn into a medical office garage.

Most of the medical offices I wait in (and probably that you wait in, too) are dimly lit warrens of tone-on-tone upholstery in the supposedly soothing neutral tones of puce, bone, and dun that can only serve to remind one that "ashes to ashes" is a potent truism. If there is a plant, its a ficus that needs water.

And while you're at it, Sally, can you replace the so called "front office staff" with Monet's Water Lillies? That would be both tranquil and more helpful.

Also, since the sky literally is the limit, how about some natural light like in an atrium in an Italian renaissance architectural landscape? Happy doctors who all look like George Clooney and have the charming we're-all-in-this-together manner of the Dalai Lama.

Let there also be a snack bar with the snacks I like, elliptical machines so I get get in a workout while I wait, and a place that does one hour dry cleaning. 

Monday, November 25, 2013

Thanksgiving Collective Nouns

The collection of double-crust pies on the sideboard baked by aunts who say gluten-free is smack-talk: a glutenion.

The tween boys in the family who stone cold fall over when asked, "Breast meat, son?" A bosom.

A group of cooler than thou New York cousins, talking about their podcasts: a fumigate.

A collection of oblivious uncles: a dunderhead.

A pill bottle: the knot of family members in the corner discussing their ailments, and the fragility of health.

A desperation: the new neighborhood friends that you don't know that well that you invited hoping they would, "add some levity" and "not too much about their love of Jesus."

A ping pong: everyone under the age of 10, and all the dogs.

An oblivion:  the hours that you measure in Martini glasses that it takes a turkey to thaw.

Any group of three or more people heatedly discussing cranberry sauce:  a Susan Stamberg

A gravy boat: the collection of both mixed and blessed feelings you experience seeing gathered everyone who shares your DNA. 

Thursday, September 26, 2013

In Praise of Pears

I had a friend in high school whose mother was Swiss. She had impeccable manners and ate tree fruit with a knife.

Her kitchen was immaculate and smelled of green apple, green apple being the scent of her dish detergent. That we Americans equated "clean" with "citrus-scented" was almost criminally incorrect; this was a woman who painstakingly decorated her tree for Christmas with Red Ornaments or Ornaments Made of Straw (either, or, and never both).

She never had the gross spectacle of colored lights on an electrical wire as we, her barbarian neighbors did, but always had wax tapers, spotless in their little silver holders, a magical and very flammable fairyland.

This time of year I think of her carefully taking off of a mahogony-red Red Anjou every millimeter of skin (she probably dreamed in metric) and resisting the urge to just take a big-forearmed farm-girl bite.
Some things are better savored.

Have piece of cheese, then a bit of pear. Would wine add to this moment? How about a view? Doucement, I remind myself. This is a still life. With pears, the journey is the destination.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Coyote Will

As a kid, I couldn't stand Bugs Bunny (he's such a debonair know-it-all). But I loved Wil E. Coyote. Here's a character who goes from humiliating failure to humiliating failure with no loss of (sneaky, Acme-anvil-induced) enthusiasm. I loved him as The Perpetual Loser, the Little Guy, The Tramp; this was before I moved to Boston and become a Red Sox fan, in the decade when they won nothing.

Wil E. is indefatigable. Every one of his defeats is a set-up for another try. In this way he's a good model. For  writers like me, who mostly truck in rejection. If you aren't being rejected 99% of the time you're not trying hard enough is what I wrote to myself while reading Annie Dillard's A Writing Life. And I've lived up to this: I am getting rejected nine times out of ten. This is working! This is the life! Woo-hoo! Like the old fisherman tells the young fisherman who comes home dejected and fish-less, "Son, it's not for nothing they call it 'fishing' and don't call it 'catching.'"

There joy in casting one's line into the waters, as I suspected all the long that Wil E Coyote knew. That bird is out there. Just knowing you want it. That wanting makes the ride through the canyons and mesas and dried out places of life focused and tantalizing little adventures.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Reading As A Shameful Habit

In my latest post for Book Riot Reading While Walking I admitted I read while waiting in the line at the Target pharmacy (I'm on a first name basis with the cashier there. Hi Darryl!),  while pushing my cart through the vast desperate consumerist space that is the Hunt Valley Wegman's. I read in nips, as one might moonshine from a hip flask during Prohibition. Why do I secret my book as soon as I see an adult walk by?

Because being seen reading? In the middle of the day? By other adults? It's like having a wart. I feel like I'm going to be judged.  Childish, languorous, wasteful. Don't I have real work to do?

Plug "Reading" into Google Image and the first hundred results contain not one image of an adult reading. It's all cartoon bears and children. So I guess I am a cartoon bear.

People ask, "How do you have time to read?" As if reading is frivolous. I defensively immediately say, "I make time. I work as a book reviewer, okay? Okay? Okay? Hey, stop looking at me funny."

But I shouldn't have to defend.  Reading is what I do to enhance my being.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Giving Up Giving Up Gluten

I gave up gluten. For a month I sat in front of pastry shops forlornly like I used to in a sad infrequently washed grey hoodie in the entryway of my ex-boyfriend's apartment building. But unbeknownst to me, he had moved back to Northampton. So I was actually darkening the doorway of some stranger's place. But enough about that.

I got used to not having a morning croissant, only to be faced with another temptation: a chilled glass of hefeweissbier.

Gluten is everywhere. Not only does it flaunt itself, obvious and hussy-like in apricot pastry, but it lurks hidden in things like ketchup. It's like that ex-boyfriend from the '90s (different from the Northampton-fleeing one) that you want to avoid but you see everywhere. In the video shop, in the produce isle inspecting artichokes, and go, Really? You again?

So I turned around and faced gluten. I don't have celiac, I didn't notice it slowly killing me as some recent literature suggests, I didn't notice myself as less anxious off it, or leaner 'round the middle aged gut as was my goal going without gluten. I did notice that I missed toast.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Deer Vs. Hosta

Gardening is wresting from nature what is not yours, and making it yours. Or at any rate believing that this can be done. Of course it is not possible, and any gardener's life is a series of dance steps -- most of them like Ginger Rodgers' dance steps: backwards.

Nowhere else is this more obvious than in the case of the deer. How woodland sylph-like they are! How dainty of foot and Italian aristocrat of nostril! How in a field they do gather at twilight!  I used to say, before I was a suburban gardener, "What's everyone so worked up about? Deer are God's creatures..." and all that Disney Bambi dunderheadedness.

Now I have joined the Greek chorus of "The deer ate my hostas." And they are my enemy. They represent everything that is wrong with the world. And I am just lulu enough to have thought of staying up late with the garden hose beside me and if there is hoof-movement in the hostas again, letting loose with what Walt Whitman would call a Giant Yawp.

Friday, September 6, 2013


Yesterday we went end-of-season peach-picking and the air was odorous with the perfume of perfect ripeness. It went to your head. You had half a mind to roll in it like a dog.

I took a picture of my son, 8, at a peach like a cheetah tearing into the side of gazelle. Ferocious. All teeth and juice and un-retractable claw and vulgar gulps with peach running down his chin which is exactly how one should approach a peach, I think. No other fruit demands such wild abandon; like a follower of the god Pan, you want to bang a tambourine and yodel, and do a country dance that involves leaping.

Of course I picked too much! How could one not? "O for a beaker full of the warm south!" A bushel of peaches inspires one to quote Keats! They're the pink of a conch shell, golden as the light this time of year, and fuzzy as cherubs' buttocks that cavort at the edges of a Renaissance painting blowing the sweet little breaths of air that push Venus toward you.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

State Fair

The Maryland State Fair, which ran itself out yesterday, sun-drenched fried humidified, is a pilgrimage, because after reading Charlotte's Web, I still want to live inside its pages like Templeton the Rat, the Id, the Selfish Hedonist. And for a few days in late summer, I can, albeit in more a raunchy and real book called The Timonium Fairgrounds.

I  saw a cow vulva open up and out of it come first a gush of water that soaked the hay at my feet and then a calf feet first aided by what the vet called "obstetrical chains." I saw overweight people eating whole turkey legs like it was a Middle Age Joust while wandering the midway on their scooters. I saw a kid hurl into a garbage can. I overheard some teenagers saying there were going to "huff some Red Velvet funnel cake" I met the cotton candy carny before the Fair opened getting cash at the ATM across York Road and we got to chatting so I actually can't call him a carney, I can call him Steve. We shared the winnings off a scratch-off ticket my son found abandoned on the floor. We put our share ($1) right back into cotton candy, which is the American Way, man.

When my daughter, 6, walked wobbly down the exit ramp from the Crack That Whip, still shouting "Wheee!" I felt proud to be an American, briefly, fleetingly, because despite what's going on in The Wide World we're all still blessedly isolated, buffered, cacooned you might say, like corn dogs, and in those pockets there is still peace, albeit weird, and wacky, overweight, and corn-fed and greasy and Three Ring Tosses for A Dollar.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Walking Desk

My Husb., a biology teacher, has been reading about the cardiovascular and mental health ills of sitting. He puts down the paper with the headline Sitting Will Kill You and Someone You Love and eyes me as a potential research subject and I am like a woodland deer in the sights of a deer scientist, I'm stalk still, trying to blend in to the nap of the armchair.

I sit a lot. That's an understatement. Everything I do can be done from an armchair. And that's the way I thought I had gamed the system, stuck it to the man, Look Ma! I might never have to rely on my vertebral column to do a damn thing!

However this habitual sluggish state and posture of mine like a closed fist has no doubt contributed to the chronic anxiety and malaise that is my 40s, so my husband, wanting to help, found a cast-off NordicTrack, some plywood, an old monitor, sundry bolts, and over the course of 48 hours under a thick blue haze of unprintable curse words that imply the working on a task of future glory he MacGuyvered me a Walking Desk.

And from it I wrote this, while sweating and walking, recovering my birthright as a human: to be Upright, among the beasts.

Monday, May 20, 2013


I've got this manuscript out in front of me like a desert and I've got to find its oases. That's what revising is. Did I pack water? No, sir. I thought this was going to be a tropical vacation. I brought my two-piece and a big sun hat. I feel my skin at this very moment getting burnt.

Years ago when I left for Israel in September, I thought I'd want my parka because, you know,  Pittsburgh was cooling down at that time and it took up so much space in my suitcase I didn't even bring shorts and I walked through Mahane Yehuda sweating in long pants like a caricature of a German tourist, a falafel in one pasty hand.

The sun felt like a thing. My only Hebrew words at that time were, "Where is the Malali family?" and they weren't even a real family, there were in my Hebrew language workbook. I'm not good at predicting the future.

I learned Hebrew. And that proved, when I came home, to be preparation for forgetting Hebrew. See what I mean? Revising, when it's going badly, is just rearranging a sand dune. When it's going well, over that dune I think I hear the tinkling of camel bells, and water being profligately sloshed.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Back In The Saddle

I was on the rail at Pimlico at six this morning. Me and a handful of other horse-heads.

We got a tour of the jockey's room. I was in a room that would later be filled with people who think it's normal to go 40 miles an hour around a narrow ring filled with sand! 

I saw their silks. I saw the official weigh-in scale. I saw their saddles: ghosts of leather, designed for feather-lightness, thin as a panty-liner. And that's when it hit me. Calling one of those saddles a place to sit is a misnomer.

Jockeys don't ride like cowboys, all legs over each side of the steed, playing a sad lonely harmonica. No no, they cling to the beast like a tenacious burr.

Friday, May 10, 2013


I read somewhere that "Writing is like a honeymoon, revision is like making a long marriage work."

As a person who is long married (ten years this July! okay, not that long married, but long for Hollywood), and who is in the middle of the process of revising a manuscript the working title of which is Some Things You Shouldn't Poke With A Stick, I totally get this.

The writing was a summer evening walk in the park licking lemon ice with a handsome man with hair like a Greek shepherd's and the naughty idea to get naughty behind the swan boathouse. It was Champagne in a glass made just for it! It was Cole Porter tunes spilling out of a huge white tent put up for a wedding on the banks of the Chesapeake. It was glorious, jazz-age hedonism. I swung my pearls.

And now? The hurdy gurdy wheezes melodies that now sounds like circus music. The tigers are safely back in the zoo. I'm there under the big top, leaning on my broom.

Shuffling, dusting, tidying, cleaning up all the Lipizzaners' poo, adjusting the makeup of the clowns in their oversized shoes so that in brighter lights of day, we still look okay.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Mother As Gardener

Mother's Day is about children planting marigold seeds in disposable plastic picnic cups. And, in that, planting a deeper, symbolic meaning: Mothers, like sun and water and soil, help us grow.

I ask myself, Am I living up to this powerful metaphor? It's best not to ask yourself these kinds of questions for the bar for motherhood is set Renaissance painting Madonna high. Superhuman. Icon. It's designed to make you feel bad. Even if you have, as I have, cut up mounds of apples so that the school can meet its dietary requirements for healthier snacks.

Despite my efforts, I am always falling short of a Hallmark card mother, with fancy vellum overlay and lettered in sparkling script in glitter italics:  Dear Mother. I am not this mother.

I am a far dirtier mother. I have God-knows-what-crafts-project crud under my nails because this tending of the garden of raising children requires an apron, boots, tools, and a slops bucket. And a wheelbarrow. Has anyone who has used a gardening metaphor for motherhood actually gardened? It is backbreaking work. And 90% of it is weeding.

Of course, when something blooms, perfect, inexplicable as my daughter stealing the show, hamming it up recently in lower school choir or my son's papier mache eagle that earned an award? It's hard not to have unsurpassable pride.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013


Let's call a spade a spade and sinuses what they really are: abandoned sink holes in our faces.  So much for intelligent design.

What a stupendously stupid design, a swim bladder over and under each eye, that inflates and deflates with air and in so doing can capture every spindle of nerve fiber from mandibular molars to jaw, to cheeks to temples, giving rise to tension and pressure like childbirth, like Zeus giving birth to Athena through his skull. 

There's a great drawing of that in D'Aulaires' Book of Greek Mythology. Zeus, on his throne subdued by agony, clutching not at a lightening bolt, but at his temples. See what facial pain can do to a God? Let alone a mere mortal.

I understand now how foxes caught by the foot in fur traps might gnaw through their own bones to escape.

Monday, May 6, 2013

The Dude Abides

Like evil twins, fibromyalgia and osteoarthritis are both "invisible illnesses" although the arthritis is getting more visible: my knuckles are beginning to resemble my grandmother's, gnarled like the roots of some mythic Norse tree is how I optimistically choose to think about it.

Back in the early 80s, when my mother's friend was "diagnosed" with fibromyalgia it was considered a quack diagnosis. You were a head case. Hysterical. They put you in quotes.

Now, thanks to fMRI they (upsettingly the same "they" of yore) know it is a neurological disorder of the Central Nervous System, an impairment of the way pain is processed in the brain (if you don't believe me, look it up on PubMed) and like so many other chronic pain conditions, it mostly happens to women.

Childbirth, perimenopause, chronic pain, longer lifespans.  If there is reincarnation I want to come back as a dude.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Derby Pie

It's Kentucky Derby Day, the one day of the year I wish I were a Southerner, so I pretend to be one, taking my cues from Sissy Spacek, Diane Keaton, and Jessica Lange in the 80s melodrama Crimes of The Heart. Oh how I love this movie.

I say peee-can instead of pe-cahn.

I say co'cola for Coke.

I sit in the shade wearing the cream-puff-white hat I wore for my wedding and wave at passing strangers on my street: "Hiiii y'all where y'all heading to?"

When people ask me what am I doing, I wipe the crumbs of pie crust from my mouth with the back of my white-gloved hand and say, "Why, sugar, what does it look like I'm doing?"

Tuesday, April 30, 2013


It's Derby week, which, for me, signifies the beginning of six weeks of obsession with horse flesh and very small men.

My grandmother got me into it. She sat in her pleather recliner in front of the TV glued to the Kentucky Derby pre-game, motioned for me leave off reading Old Yeller to join her, and then yelled non-stop for the finest two minutes in sports. "Go to the rail! To the rail! Pass him on the outside!" She was so uncharacteristically excited I found myself breathing in little gulps worried she might have a heart attack, or I might.

Horse racing meant it was okay to get all worked up to a lather. Grown men in bowler hats got so pumped they pumped their firsts through their hats with joy; I learned that from old movies. Beauty does this to a person. Though it's ugly side is well documented, horse racing is gorgeous.

Those Michelangelo bodies, the speed, the finesse, the surging forward of a horse nobody had considered, the ability of the jockeys going 45 miles per hour to thread a needle attached only by their thighs to a huge animal that by rights should leap the rail and run off into A Thousand and One Nights.  But no. Like Alexander the Great and Bucephalus, like a centaur, like the Pimlico Racetrack mascot; they become for fleeting seconds, manimal.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Take Solace

When I am waiting, as I am waiting now for the authorities to figure out what happened in Boston and, again, a President in my lifetime is using the word terrorism, the only solace I have found, and I speak for myself only, is other creatures. Non human creatures. Landscapes. A group of boulders.

The fir tree next to our shed. It's probably been in that spot for a hundred years, it will outlive the shed (not a challenge, really);  it will outlive me.

Creatures that wouldn't know what to do with a pressure cooker because their business is swimming or gliding looking like Muppets, or "sentient English muffins," or sea cookies (as people have mentioned on Twitter, in response to this video) comfort me.

I was outside yesterday, feeling what in the world is the world coming to? sending a "the family in Boston is all okay" message to my parents on a ship nearing Morocco who knew nothing, and in that moment, a robin or some other bird  shat a really loud and liquid  -- splat --  on the arm of the chair I was sitting in.

How wondrously wise wild animals continue to be in their complete disregard for us.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Love That Dirty Water

When you're from Pittsburgh you either go East or West, and I went East, to Boston, and it became my centroid.

At first I lived in a tiny studio on tulip-poplar-lined street in Kenmore Square, and failed out of B.U.'s science writing program because my boyfriend cheated on me, it seems like a stupid reason now, what did I expect?

I expected and hoped for experiences in a sophisticated walking city like Boston. Cuban lovers. The swing dance revival. Latte art. Art openings. Bizet's "Cahmen" on the Cohmon, as "Mumbles" Menino announced it while we picniced on things from Formaggio Kitchen.

I spent years in Somerville, now called the US's hippest city, but  I was there before they put a bird on it, taking the subway downtown, to work, at the New England Aquarium where I told school kids to use their "one touching finger" to touch the sea cucumber I held in my hands while I talked about how it could spill its guts, literally, to avoid predation.

I was born in Pittsburgh, and that's my girlhood: middle class, Western Pennsylvania, but I became a woman, as they say, in Boston. And I love my centroid.

Not for the weather, god no, not for the byzantine parking rites, but for the overheard conversations at the many parks in multiple languages, in the line at Clear Flour Bakery, you can talk about dark matter. It's an egghead paradise, with an unexpectedly muscular heart, it's like a charmingly repressed, really smart hot European firefighter.

I called my family from Fenway Park, a place I could walk to, from our apartment in Cambridge, to tell them I was pregnant with my first child and criss-crossed the marathon finish line many times to return the series of What To Expect books to the library.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Laugh Yoga

What a lark is laughter! What a peal of silver bubbles from the mouth of a cartoon fish.

Remembering my son's first laugh (a monkey-meets-dog sound of delight) makes me want to snort my morning latte.  When was the last time I laughed like that?

I laugh socially yip yip yip. Like a prairie dog. If I read something witty I go, haw. I'm known to point to funny signs, like the one I saw yesterday that was trying to say mousse, but said Semi-Freddo Espresso Mouse. But doubled over, helpless, limp in laughter; I love it so much because it happens to me so rarely.

My sister said of a photo of our father (who is always in a Tilly hat) off the coast of Africa, "There's the Hat leaving Gambia" and I felt a crack in the wall of my stoic subdue. Why was that funny? was my immediate reaction. No wonder I don't laugh often. I'm fine combing the sand.

Why ask why? In laugh yoga (a yoga fantastically easier for me than the regular kind) the point is not to tell a good joke or even to get the punchline, but simply to laugh, because it feels good who cares why; and even rats (I remind myself) will nudge the experimenter's hand for more because they want to be tickled again and again even if it is just for research.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Dancing Days

My sister is the only witness to my "grand jete" wherein I took a modern dance class at Smith and she was visiting and I invited her to "come on along" and "watch me" "dance."

Afterwards, she said, "What I will say is that you were very enthusiastic." We both knew what she meant.

In our elementary school there was a girl, who in a talent show danced as a lobster, complete with red foam lobster claws, and in her extreme crustaceal seriousness was unintentionally pee-your-pants hilarious and is now an aide to a Senator. I shit you not.

About dance I am all enthusiasm (note that the word lacking in this sentence is "skill"). O Gene Kelly! the effervescent magic spell you cast with lamp post, puddle and umbrella is exactly how I want to move through life, and more than once, I have tried to mimic you, at night, in my kitchen, with a mop.

The brain on dance is a happy brain. Research shows just watching it gets our mirror neurons all in a tizzy and doing it feels like drinking Champagne. French choreographer Michel Aguillon said, "The consciousness of moving makes dance."

Merce Cunningham said, "When you walk, and you know that you walk, you are dancing."

Thursday, April 11, 2013

The Yoga Of The Donkey

In my twenties when I was more bendy than I am now, I had a round as an apple plump Indian yoga teacher named Anu who was a graduate student at the University of Pittsburgh making some extra cash teaching yoga in a Unitarian Church basement. You would not expect her to be able to touch her toes and then she'd pretzel herself into some complex asana, all the while telling you reach, reach, reach... and it was you grunting and groaning, in an easy forward bend, Oy, my Achilles tendon.  

I've never been flexible. And now, in age, it appears I am calcifying. Which is true. Osteoarthritis.

I have a series of neck exercises that I hate doing because I am reminded how un-cat-like is my cat/cow pose, how more like a muscle-bound donkey. I feel like braying Anu! Anuuuu! 

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

"Even In Kyoto...I Long To Be In Kyoto"

Look at that single brush-stoke ink painting; how delighted the painter must have been with his work. Was ever there a more self-satisfied frog-body? So content in its absurd silver-back ape shape it has  the audacity to smile. Unselfconsciously. It's just what frogs do. Sit by the banks of things.

It's like that old lady on the beach in a bikini who comes out of the water so unlike Bo Derek, full of folds and droops and yet so present in her flesh, so mighty, that that you just stare, transfixed by this being being herself so different from you  in your dowager one-piece-with-a-skirt to hide your thighs, arms crossed over your chest, in a defensive crouch, under the too-small sunbrella.

No bells and whistles. Just frog. That's an accomplishment for a person.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Four Leafer

It started a long time ago. Probably because I was a lonely introvert, I spent a lot of time sitting under trees, being quizzical, observing bugs or sticks. I would pose Big Questions to the universe such as "Why does Tanya have such big boobs and I, like, don't?" And the answer would be in a cloud formation, or something equally opaque.

And I would feel this sensation in my feet and, give or take a day, I would look down and find a four-leaf-clover. Just like that. Ska-doosh, as Kung Fu Panda would say.

I felt that feeling in my feet yesterday, and today on my walk, I glanced at the base of a fence post, and yep. Four leafer. I put it with all the rest in the Book of Common Prayer, and I don't really know why there because, as Yoda would say, Believer I am not, but it seems right in that broad-based liberal Anglican blessing-of-the-animals way.

However, I wonder if faith has something to do it. I've never doubted. If you know me, confidence is a personality trait way off the beaten path, yet in this one thing I'm almost a braggart. "Give me a patch of grass," I tell people.

What I've realized is it's no miracle. It's never answered any of my questions.

The answer is: few people are scanning the grass; yet I am looking for four leaf clovers all the time, but with a Zen-style, meditative non-looking that I've somehow accidentally ridonkulously honed to clover and it's incredibly effective (and would no doubt be useful in other areas of my life if I could make it transfer) like a highly trained Japanese archer is open to one path and no other: their arrow hitting the mark. Dead-on. Doubt-free.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Change of Clothes

When asked if he feared death, the Dalai Lama shrugged and said: "Change of clothes."

I started a Mindfulness Meditation class Tuesday and like Jon Kabat-Zinn we ate three raisins mindfully. Slowly. What a change of clothes that was for me, I who can gulp an entire entree like a gulperfish.

My discovery when I did it later, with Oreos, is that I couldn't do it with Oreos.  I found myself with my head in the box, digging like a fox.

Then I heard the Yonkers-inflected voice of my meditation teacher, "Be, here, now, Elizabeth," and I lifted my crumb-flecked head and stood on my hind legs like a squirrel with the cookie between my paws and looked at it. I've never actually looked carefully at an Oreo I've been so eager  to throw it small-fish-like into my circus seal mouth.

I gave it a sniff.  The odor an Oreo gives off is distinctly sugared grocery store floor wax. How could I not have noticed? The cookie, when I paused to experience it, was unnaturally crispy, the creme -- by god -- what exactly is meant by the word creme?

Still, the Idea of Oreo was so compelling my mind overran the instructions of my body (Stop! Un-yummy poison!) and I went scrambling back into the fox hole. Nom nom nom.

I realize what makes Oreos so bingey is that they are engineered like Disney. You want a big drag off the dream. It's a fantasy, a mara of a deliciousness, and a happy sweet innocent easiness, that never, and does not now exist.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Now. Here. This.

Blake's Moses and The Burning Bush, notice how Moses is like, maybe if I slowly walk away...

One foot in front of the other plodding like a draft horse up Chapel Hill to increase my heart rate and release endorphins that counteract my natural born anxiety, worse now in perimenopause than ever before, damn estrogen, I'm listening to the podcast On Being and there is a Jesuit priest being interviewed for his work with gang members in L.A. and I'm huffing up the hill and not really paying attention until he's talking about his mantra and I'm always interested in other people's mantras because I don't have one and he says his mantra is Now. Here. This.

He actually said Now. Period. Here. Period. This. Period. And right then I caught my foot on a stick and tripped, tumbling like a clown down the hill into the clover teacups over kettle. I dust off, do a brief body scan for fractures, and look around sheepish to see if anyone had seen me receive this sign like Moses might have been if he were anxious that people notice a piece of shrubbery burning like the lit end of a marshmallow and a voice coming from it, from the universe which is that Now. Here. This. is meant for me.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Violet And Forsythia

Violet and Forsythia sound like haughty British sisters who, in jodhpurs, hunt foxes. However they are also the best color combination the Spring Collection has to offer.  Sure, there are tulips and hyacinth and pansies (great Victorian girl's names), and crocuses wow, but I've never been in to pastels. I like bold.

At exactly opposite ends of the color wheel, violet and forsythia are complimentary colors, they go great together: the same way the southern Europe combines lavender and lemons.

Forsythia, the older sister, is already blooming, out in society by the time Violet gets her cotillion. But what a show. Step right up. They're making the place to be seen, the abandoned lot up from my house where they hold forth together; Forsythia bright as buttercups and charming as a chatty character in a book by Jane Austen, Violet, small but regal in face and body, with a voice, the kind you'd expect from a much larger woman.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Unicorn Pushing A Vacuum

Git vacuuming you slacker.

So on Tuesday April 2, on MPT, the Maryland PBS station on the kids' show Arthur I saw an image that if I could even explain it to my daughter I'd have to start with suffragism, and segue into Simone de Beauvoir and A Room of One's Own and discourse on why we have Bratz dolls and the sisters Kardashian and not yet a woman president.

It was a convergence of the mystical and the slogging truth of the second-shift of motherhood and its inexorable chores.

It was a unicorn mother pushing a vacuum around a room with her nose. Oh yes it was. I had to rub my eyes. Fairydust, surely. Was I really seeing this throwback nonsense? 

Yes, unicorns do exist. (There's a comfort.) But even in the land of make-believe there is housework.  And, appallingly, we cannot (even in fiction) imagine it's anyone else but the mothers who do it, with their noses literally to the grindstone.

Thursday, March 28, 2013


My grandfather on my father's side was a showboat and loved an opulent gesture especially in front of grey-eyed ladies (which we all were) and every Easter would down to the florist's and buy gardenia corsages for us, the kind pierced in their stems with a long pearl hat pin.

Gardenia, if you know the smell, and for heaven's sake if you don't get thee to a nunnery, is cooly humid, like an attractively plump red-haired woman misting peas in a Vancouver island greenhouse with her hair in a bun, some of which has come undone.

There's an undertone of dirt-in-the-springtime, decay, of mushroom caps under snowmelt, and above that, the tender voice of a that woman in the greenhouse, now home with her sleepy infant boy in a cabin hewn of wood, and the scent is milk in a ceramic mug, and diaper-in-the-pail (not bad) and talcum, a hint of sparkling Champagne, and several yards of the best white silk being dragged across a floor of ancient stone.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Bunny Rolls

Photo credit: Donna Currie, the mind, whisk, and spatula behind Cookistry. com

Like wine diluted by water in a Greek wine vessel (why is it that museums never use the word "cup?") the bunny-roll-baking gene has been diluted by successive generations of women in my family. My great-grandmother's looked like hares. Actually had discernable ears. My grandmother's slightly less so. In my mother's, basically the bunny idea was implied.

In mine, it's like the joke about how first generation immigrants are farmers, second generation are lawyers and doctors and third generation are snowboarders and performance artists. 

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The Perfect Dress

Diane Von Furstenberg coined, "feel like a woman" about her landscape-altering 70s wrap dress. Mostly in dresses I feel like it's time for Easter. Pouffy. Or worse, too tight, like I'm going to pop out of a Russian oligarch's cake.

So this cotton A-line number that I've taken to wearing is worth reporting, since reporting on my fashion is usually blah blah blah sweatpants blah blah blah.

I put it on and felt the kind of femininity I aspire to: farm-girl femininity, O Pioneers! petticoats and gleaning Old Country pickle jar femininity, Bread Basket Of The World, light on a field where wheat is goldenly growing, where I look like a million bucks backlit by the sun with my wicker basket of apples or dewey wildflowers on my hip and in my eyes the expression of someone who knows what on Earth they are doing.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Snow In The Spring

On April Fools' Day, 1997, when I was living in Boston, it snowed a foot. I cross-country skied to my cafe (the owners being purists and thwarted philosophy PhDs were rude if you asked for low-fat milk, and I liked that; I wanted direction). April in Paris. Bread and butter. Hugs and kisses. Spring snow and I adore the fat short cartoon temper of a spring blizzard because it's ineffectual, blustering, shortly to be over; it has those bozooka eyes like a cartoon wolf looking at a lady, but it has faltering grip on the monkey bars of the playground. Look around. There's the bud of a tulip taller than the accumulation that was the talk of the radio last night. A robin scraping away. How obvious is it winter is done in the angle of the sun on the pine branches that sag deeply like boards before the anticipatory, wonderful, loud bouncing release of the diver's weight.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

That Fresh Bread Smell

I wanted to get a ladder to climb from it to my rooftop and crow like a sportive coq de village, alerting the neighborhood that I, yes, I suburban Baltimore mother of two, who, according to my kids, has trouble identifying things that are fun, have made pain de campagne fit for my genetic heritage as a person who worked with wheat as a living, my maiden name being Miller, but this picture (though clearly worth a thousand words) does not do justice to the smell, fragrant yeasty caramelized tendrils of which have explored every inch of my house with soft fingertips.

Friday, March 22, 2013


My daughter who is five and from whom getting information is like playing that old fashioned game telephone said she was to be a plague in her school's upcoming Passover tableau. "They're making you a plague?" I said. "Yes," She said happily, "I'm going to be lice."

"I just have to be myself," she said.

This got me thinking about modern plagues of parents in honor of which I take a drop out of my wine glass, or heck, kick back a whole glass of wine. The Hebrew God has nothing compared to the the gnashing of teeth of head lice in a private elementary school.

What would have really convinced Pharaoh to let my people go is Kids birthday parties, My L'il Ponies sets falling from the sky, where the ponies shoes always get lost (look under the couch, Moses) and the packaging is so perfectly molded to the Transformer the Transformer actually cannot be pried out, Legos (they are locusts) and the plague of the first born boy which is that they feel like the movies they like and want to see (Ice Age 1, 2, 3 and 4) are the movies nobody else in the family wants to see.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Sand Painting

I live on a private school campus so across from my apartment, is a well-taken care of athletic field. It's endless the care this field receives; the midwifery of men using various machines (one of them, a hole stomper) and hybrid seeds to make it come back in the springtime, lush as Ireland, just for it to be stamped to bits by high schoolers playing lacrosse. It is the suburban Baltimore version of a Tibetan sand painting.

Speaking of sand painting, there was another machine piloted by yet another man on the field (it needs so many ministrations), that in fact did spew sand (doubtless, hugely special sand) across the freshly sprouting grass. I walked on it afterwards (I like sand paintings) and it was so plummy and bouncy, that I felt like rolling on it like a dog, dropping my head to the ground on it like the robins that constantly bow like Japanese businessmen saying thank you.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

8 Years Old

Eight years old is when I have my own distinct memories from my own life, as opposed to vagaries I've adopted through family stories and pictures. I remember riding (before seatbelts, before safety) in the way back of my parents powder blue Volvo station wagon (we called it the pig pen) and thinking to myself, Gee, being eight is really the greatest.

Today my son is eight. Eight years ago I was a delirious, a paper "gowned" sweatball, sitting on a yoga ball in labor, yelling at my doula, "Midwives suck! What was I thinking! Stupid Smith College! I want an epidural!" And it being too late.

I remember holding my son in my arms and distinctly thinking I was going to pass out. Shit on a shingle. I didn't even have to pass any sort of the lowest of low bubble in tests to qualify to do this, I practiced more to get my learners permit, and to be a volunteer at the Mystic Aquarium as guide to their tidepool exhibit, and suddenly (O Great and Powerful Oz) I'm the Italian Renaissance Madonna and Child.

Like a brown bear slowly waking up from hibernation is how I approach love. It is a slow thing for me. I love tentatively. Uncertainly. Sniffing around at first. Yeah yeah, I see how babies' toes are cute. Those toothless smiles. And toddler hair just woken up from a nap. Adorable. Kindergarten drawings. Sure. Whatever. I was never that mom who was milky swoony.

But now I feel that love like in the pit of your stomach there is a molten pool of magma that glows orange as the sun, that's psychedelic and galactic and it is the angel of my better nature battling like hell as I see my son riding his bike down gleefully ferociously down Chapel Hill and feel a lurch in my spleen, but it's taken me eight years. I finally know what those befuddled with love new mothers are talking about.

Friday, March 8, 2013


"Grit" is overused. We hear about it daily in relation to our kids. They need more grit, more stick-to-it-ivness, less coddling and prompting. They need to freedom to try again, fail again, fail better (thanks for that quote Samuel Beckett) because this is really what living is. It is progressing through trial and error toward mastery and in the process cracking one's beak on some kernel of joy like a very motivated toucan.

Which brings me to grits (corn meal, polenta, mush, whatever you want to call it). I'm going to crow for a second, peacock, cockwalk, strut (whatever you want to call it) because I have finally made grits like my grandfather, that tough old bird. Grits that elevate the grit, and hard work into something under a dab of butter glistening and transcendant. Soul food.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013


The bulbs the kids and I planted are coming up and I forget what we planted, even though we wrote it down on stakes, they blew away. And that feels poetic: not knowing exactly, but knowing it'll be something good. Something fragrant you can put in a vase.

Be they tulips or allliums or hyacinths, I feel this way every spring. Like a pony losing in tufts its thick winter coat and looking shaggy I wander outside not knowing how many layers to dress in because it might snow, then again it might turn out tropical in the 60s and people will be throwing frisbees.

How do the cherry trees know what they're doing? I don't. The lady bugs get it. They've started crawling up my windowpanes, and the mice that threatened any open bag of cornmeal in our kitchen for months have taken their picnic outside. It must be the sun's angles. I notice the time we call "after school mellow" is more mellow. Everyone is cautiously optimistic, even the skateboard my son got for Christmas and I said was too dangerous now looks like fun.

Monday, March 4, 2013


I'm low in Vitamin D according to the bloodwork. I love that word "bloodwork," it describes so many things, including but certainly not at all limited to what a phlebotomist does with your arm so I've taken it upon myself to sit in patches of sunlight. Like a cat, along the nap of the rug.

I put my limbs in the air like a dead stink bug, or what they call in yoga The Happy Baby.

When you need it to be, the sun feels like an animate thing. Something enveloping. It has texture, thickness, sound. Personality. Saffron and orange dancing behind your eyelids.

Coming all that way it must have some cosmic consciousness though I cringe at the words "cosmic consciousness" because I fear  I'll be all, Where is my nut milk bag? Where's my kilt? When's my reike appointment?

I sat with my back to it. Then with my face to it, and I believe there was some communication, I think I made the baby mouse-peep of gratitude of dust dependent on a star.

Peanut Butter and Jelly as Interviewed by Esquire Magazine

Peanut Butter and Jelly as Interviewed by Esquire Magazine

Friday, March 1, 2013

Twitter Science/Nature Writing Book Club

Most of you know I like moss, birds, and can get all poetical on the seasons, quoting Shelley's If winter comes/can Spring be far behind? and wish I were an antler-wearing goddess dancing around a snowdrop, and that I am a thwarted marine biologist because, yes, I'm bad at math. But I tracked a fox, once. For fun. And I know a dogwood tree when I see it.

One ring to unite them all. A club. A book club. Nature writing. Our clubhouse will be on Twitter. Tuesdays at nine EST.   We'll start with Lewis Thomas' Lives of the Cell: Notes of A Biology Watcher because we have to start somewhere. The secret handshake is two shakes and a wiggle like a bee doing its dance to explain where the flowers are. Join me.

Feeding The Birds

The nuthatch

Before I became one, I made fun of birders, aptly called "twitchers" in England because my grandmother and aunt were always, "Look, Elizabeth! Look! A nuthatch!" and ogling through their binoculars out the kitchen's window. They seemed ridiculous. "There should be a federal law that cats have bells," my grandmother said.

Perhaps it's that I'm nearsighted the barn owl they were pointing at looked just like a hay bale until recently. Some switch clicked.

"There's a tufted titmouse. There's a red-winged black bird," I say to my kids now, and I scramble to add my sighting to my iPhone app, where I record them like an ornithologist. "See how the swallow can bank on a dime?" I explain the history of birds, how they have hollow bones and are cousins of the dinosaurs; I go on about the feet of raptors and I lose my audience completely.

Oh how the chickens have come home to roost.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Buffalo Milk Mozzarella

My fantasy place to live is the Mediterranean, for the azure ocean, and the Greek boats with the eyes painted on their prows,  for all those soccer players with hair like shepherds, sure. But really for the cheese.

Years ago I was south of Rome, under a beach umbrella and my picnic was bread...and a globe of fresh buffalo milk mozzarella glowing softly, white as Aphrodite's ass. It was sweet, savory, diary. The cream dripped down your forearms. Calling it a sandwich was like calling Italian, the language of the heart-breaking arias of Puccini, sing-song-y. It was the stuff of opera.

If I could have married a Water Buffalo right then like Europa or become a cow like Io I would have done so. But I remained myself and in the morning flew back to Boston. But now when I get my suburban mother American chunk of grocery mozzarella wan and tight in its plastic wrap, I talk to it. I know what you're capable of, I say to it. I know how much more you can be. 

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Croissant In The Universe

We're obsessed with naming things, I think it's because we're so small in this vast universe and naming makes us feel powerful.  My daughter named the cardinal that lives in our evergreen Carlo. His mate, Carla. It all makes sense. The backyard feels orderly. Naming is how we do this. Otherwise, the world is just a jumble sale of birds and trees, but we've named them creepers and nuthatches, and cypresses and white pines and whatnot, and that makes it livable.

I often think how awesome it must be to be a scientist and find a new star or starfish or whatever, and to name it is your job, it's your job. A name gives it a home and a lineage, which leads me to my point which is that I'm French. Genetically. Mostly French. Just found out. There's some German there too, and Irish and Dutch. But.

With all my meringue-making and cheese-sniffing and oohing and aahing, and sad attempts at tying chic little neck scarves, all these years its like I've been trying leap back to my ancestors natal stream like a salmon.

I know naming something "French" is silly (what's French? Croissants? Being able to say "boeuf?") and a construct, we're all the brotherhood of man, and originally from Africa  however it makes me feel like I have dispensation to be all oh la la and to go deeper into the history of French pastry because it is mine.

Monday, February 25, 2013


You may have mused upon this in 9th grade dissecting an earthworm as I did. Life. The universe. Everything. How you could have gotten your bangs higher. (This was the 80s). Wow, you might have said under your breath. Look outside at the trees. Now back to this. Glance at your flaming unicorn Trapper Keeper. Wow.

The myriad forms life takes! Look yonder at the cabinets of sea animals in formaldehyde.

But don't get too big for your britches. Whenever I have a delusion of grandeur, I balance myself karmically with Yiddish proverbs. This is one of my favorites. Remember, God made the earth worm before He made you.

As I prep for my colonoscopy, which involves (as you may know from experience) scouring your innards so a camera can take unimpeded photos your freshly washed most internal pink stockings, I think about how tube-like we all are. How akin ato the earth worm that eats dirt, literally transforms shit into usable material and aerates the soil with its burrowing. Who doesn't want to be like that?