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.