Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Handmade




My son, 9, and I made something together: a no-sew blanket out of clearance-isle fleece from Jo-AnnFabrics for his cousin, my niece, who is two.

We sat around the kitchen table in the glow of the tealights I had lit and we measured, cut, tied. While we worked I tried to teach him the sea shanty worksongs I know, singing, so goodbye to Ellen and sweet Georgia Brown we've left you enough to buy a silk gown, we're bound for the Rio Grande, awaaaaaay Rio...

But he was like, "Have you ever been on a 19th century whale ship, Mom?" I had to admit I had not.
The point is, so okay, I was disallowed to launch like a songbird into "A-Roving" but we made something. With our hands.

Earlier in the week we'd made dog toys for the holiday bazaar, stuffing leftover McDonogh tennis camp tennis balls into loud holiday-print socks, and braiding the ends, and making labels for them with cheery names like, "Fido's Friend." I said to him, all weepy with gratitude for the small moments, "I love making dog toys with you, son."

In this Brain Science age, and age of intellect and neurotransmitters, and racing to stay in place, and AI and Stephen Hawking and the guy who owns Tesla saying we'll be at the mercy of the robots soon,  it was so refreshing to tie fabric into knots.


Monday, December 15, 2014

All Wrapped Up


Here's the deal. My kids believe in Santa. It's a collective con we're all in on.

Therefore, presents must be wrapped in paper they've not seen and wrapped well for otherwise -- if the wrapping paper is not foreign, indicative of a North Pole-ian provenance, something with l'il reindeers and fruitcakes, and wrapped professional as if by elves -- they're like, "Mom? Is this really from Santa?" "It looks haphazard, as if it was wrapped by you late on a Tuesday with newspaper and chicken-roasting twine." And, friends, it was. 

My children are very observant.

I know it sounds crazy, but I purchase beautiful fancy thick wrapping paper and I use it only to wrap the so-called Santa gifts and with the wrapping of those gifts I try really hard to be all Japanese aesthetic and careful and use ruler and a smoother, and bow-tie with satin and grosgrain ribbon like a boss.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Places That Aren't There Anymore



I've been thinking about this view. It's a place that isn't there anymore.  There are a lot of those, as you get older you accumulate them, and this is one of mine, the inlet on the Miles River on the Chesapeake Bay on which my grandparents' farm was located before the land was bought up by a very wealthy lawyer from New Jersey, and the old farm house razed to make his mansion.

Peace be unto the lawyers from New Jersey. I mean that.

I appreciate all lessons in letting go.

Before the place belonged to me, it belonged to others, and to others before them, and before that to people who didn't believe that one could own land, and before them to animals, probably. I'm sure there were foxes. For awhile, though, it was mine. I knew every inch as a familiar face.

After I got married I swam in the water right in the frame of this photo taken by my talented artist cousin and the water was aglow with phosphorescent ctenophores that bumped my bare legs like animate bits of Jell-o.  I had had a lot of Champagne. More Champagne than cake.

My uncle was taking people out for joy rides on the catamaran. In retrospect, that was stupid and dangerous. But no one was hurt and the next day only a few people wore that guilty look they wear after there is a lot of dancing. But there is no shame in it.  I had asked everybody to wear hats for heavens sake, and 98% did.

I like the water in this photo. Soft as a feather from the breast of a bluebird. It's just as I remember it at sunset. I can dip my hand into this water any time I like. That's the beauty of places that aren't there anymore, you can't go back, but they're there always in your mind.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Resolution





After making my list of New Year's resolutions I learned that six of them are on USA.gov's site, Popular New Year's Resolutions.  How adorable is our government? I mean, when not torturing and racial profiling people?

John Oliver, the British comedian of American politics, says the American character is, "the ability to wholeheartedly embrace excitement while letting disappointment and failure slip away as quickly as you can." 

Alexis de Tocqueville, another great European student of America, wrote  Democracy In America almost 200 years ago, but he was kind of a forecaster. He noted, "America is great because she is good. If America ceases to be good, America ceases to be great."

"Nothing is more wonderful than the art of being free, but nothing is harder to learn how to use than freedom."

"Everybody feels the evil, but no one has courage or energy enough to seek the cure."

I like de Tocqueville, but I refuse to believe that we Americans lack courage and energy to face evil in our history and in ourselves. I believe, 'tis not to late to seek a newer world.

"Start the beginning of the ending" Malala Yousafzai said in her Nobel acceptance speech yesterday, start where you are to end violence and hatred. History is made every day by the choices we make in their homes, on our streets.

Speak up, stand up, heroic hearts. Give love. Not in a feather-headed tra la la la way, either. But as a warrior for new possibilities.

It's my resolution #10. Be peaceful and love everyone. But should probably be #1.




Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Happiness




The HPI (Happy Planet Index) currently lists the United States as the 105th happiest country in the world. (No, there is no prize for that. Quit asking.)

We're less happy by far than most countries in Central and South America and Southeast Asia. The happiest place in the world? Costa Rica.

C'mon get happy, America.

What contributes to our general unhappiness as a country has been well researched: we commute, we live in suburban blandscapes removed from nature, we sit, we're alone a lot, we stress, we don't walk, we're removed from extended family, we don't goof and play and socialize (some research suggests we should socialize up to 7 hours a day for optimum health), and our diets are SAD (sadly SAD stands for Standard American Diet).

Here's what I've lifted from the data and plan to apply to my life to boost the happiness of my planet.

1)   Eat a Mediterranean diet;
2)   Laugh daily, and not a fake titter either;
3)   See friends, play, dance, disinhibit myself from saying things like, "I really like you" (though it makes me feel vulnerable and dorky);
4)   Get out of the captain's chair every 15 minutes and move about the cabin;
5)   Create a relaxation practice;
6)   Sweat to the drenching daily;
7)   Shinrin-yoku, or forest-bathing; gardening;
8)   Practice switching the focus of my thoughts from the catastrophic to the present;
9)   Learn Spanish




Monday, December 8, 2014

It's A Marshmallow World





My grandmother on my mother's side could throw a holiday shindig like nobody's business using things that nobody in their right mind uses anymore such as chafing dishes and boiled icing, making dishes nobody eats anymore like salmon mousse. A side table was dedicated to European confectionery.  My grandfather manned the schnapps corner.

The house would be lit solely by schnapps, chafing dishes, and the Christmas tree with its antiquated strings of so-hot-they-could-give-you-a-burn bulbs.

My job was to take the ladies' coats upstairs where I would pile them on my grandparents' bed and remember whose was whose. I remember the scents of fake-fur, real-fur, hats, gloves, pocketbooks, the sneeze-inducing powdered-tush smell of Chanel No. 5.  I imagined that if there was a heaven it was to be nestled in sweet-smelling furs, soundtracked by the faraway laughter of joyful people and the clinking of silverware and outside it would have just started snowing.

My grandparents had party friends with wonderful names: there were the Wurmbs, the Elligators, and, my favorite, Bunny Furlow.

My grandfather played the flute, my grandmother the piano. The trajectory went like this: carols, carols, carols, O Holy Night with their friend who was a soprano belting it out while I waited it out, because my favorite part was not the religious chestnuts but the bacchanal to come when my grandmother shuttered the hymnal and got out her sheet music for Bing Crosby, Big Band, and the Brat Pack.

Christmas, in my opinion, should swing. It's the holiday of goodwill, excess, hope, and antici-pation and if you're not dancing you're not doing it right.




Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Boyhood





Snarting, for those of who don't have nine-year-old boys is a contraction of sneeze and fart. I know this because I have (yes, the glory and rapture is mine!) a nine-year-old boy who frequently very loudly and very proudly snarts. Or fneezes. It dissembles him to tears of laughter.

He tells me my farts are SBDs, that is "silent but deadlies," and because of them he holds me in some esteem. He respects my methane.

He asks me, "Can we someday, like maybe over Christmas break, light our farts on fire?" "Can we set off a rocket in the living room?" "How about a potato cannon?" he asks, as he swings down the bannister to rummage the laundry to find the shirt with the electric guitar on the front, and somehow in the process knocks over ornaments on the Christmas tree which shatter to the ground.

I'm having a boyhood. Me, who has only one younger sister and we played for years washing and oiling to a gleamy shine a collection of Breyer horses and making them relate, emote, and otherwise have relationships am forced by having a boy to hide behind the credenza while he hoots and hollers and runs around in his underwear with his little potbelly jiggling shouting, "Ninja alert!" There are no tea parties. Nobody plays dress up. And, if I'm honest, there is no credenza.

From Santa he asked for a crossbow.

In the tub washing his dirty knees -- which are not figuratively but actually covered in dirt -- he amasses his Lego figurines and makes them fight among the suds and when I ask, "Do they have to fight? Can't Zain, and Chima and whatnot be friends with Lord Business?" he says, "Mom, I know you want peace on Earth and everything, but this is my bath."

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Piecrastination




I'm on deadline. And when I'm on deadline I compulsively snack on pistachios. I tell myself they're brain food.  

But this particular time instead of sifting through pistachio shells snuffling for the.very.last.nut with the tips of my fingers like some kind of sad zoo animal, I've let my mind wander. 

In a deeply-folded nook of my memory I've found a new and surefire procrastination and one that's delicious too. It's thinking lovingly of lemon meringue pie. I'm piecrastinating. Not from a box mix. Oh no, lady, no. The phrase "stiff peaks" must be applied to the egg whites. 

I'm musing about the hours-long process of making crust from scratch with ice water, and standing over a copper pot making the lemon curd filling. 

Is not lemon the great sky god's gift to those who sometimes want a bright tart citrus alternative? It's a happiness-inducer.

The words "lemon meringue pie" sound smooth, decadent yet innocent, and lump-less like so few things in life. 

The lambswool-like meringue is in pleasingly caramelized carbonic tufts. Sweet marshmallowy-fluffy as the pillows on the bed in a Crate & Barrel showroom? Plumped with pride as the chest of my grandmother who was well-endowed and on whose bosoms (as she called them) I rested my head, while she stroked my hair and told me how wonderful it was that I was in the world, the young peaceful child I once was, when deadlines were shmeadlines, goofy things grownups got caught up in, like vacation planning -- and I  operated in the vast open present moment only, and my only care was, When's dessert? 








Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Fish Pose


Fish pose or matsayasana is one of the poses my yoga teacher calls "a chest opener." Chest opener sounds like "can opener." A simple kitchen staple.

Below is a grainy still of one of the famous fathers of American yoga, B.K.S.  Iyengar, doing matsyasana (according to some ancient texts, "the destroyer of all diseases.") See how his upper back makes a U? 





My upper back by contrast is like, You Damn Fool.

Because I have thoracic and cervical osteoarthritis, the pose is more literally like a can opener, like the scene from Alien when the alien pops out of John Hurt's chest. My chest is like Middle Ages armor. A slab of 200-year-old oak, or a coral reef. Fixed.

However, I love fish pose. 

I do it with an assortment of assistive devices, blocks and bolsters and straps and I lie there lifting my sternum a bit to the overhead lights, steaming with effort, trying not to be blind with jealousy of the vertebrae of the other people in the room, the healthy middle-aged whom I loathe since getting sick, and when some heart-shaped ass asks, "Can I take this pose deeper by resting my head on the floor?" it is with great resolve that I resist saying oh fuck off. 

I like fish pose.  I guess because I like knocking on the door of my armor. Hello? I ask. Who's there? Why the stiff-as-iron cage around your heart?  

Monday, November 17, 2014

Researching Like A Boss




Writing is 10% of what I do. The other 90%, like the iceberg that the Titanic hit, is below the waterline. It's research. It's the bulk that lurks unseen.

In order to get its dimensions, and to find a fissure to explore, to get a handle on my topic, I have to put on snorkle, fins, dry suit and dive in. 

Research is like following Ariadne's golden thread through the labyrinth. You pass rooms. Corridors that go nowhere. Some that lead promisingly only to locked boxes and you're like, Screw this. I'm getting up from my desk and snacking on shell-on pistachios. 

Other times you get daffy, mixed up, and giddy and think down is up and kick toward the substrate and not the sky and lose all track of time and the dog (remember? you have a dog), who has been whining to go out all this time, can finally wait no longer and pees on the rug. This is a true story.

Sometimes you catch a glimpse of the Minotaur and that's scary. You want to walk away from the Minotaur. Sometimes you think you have the Key to All Mythologies like poor Mr. Casaubon in Middlemarch and you chortle, Victory! Huzzah!... but it's premature, the way goes dark again. There's more work to be done.

Then --  well, how do, thread  -- there it is again, gleaming. Take hold of it. Don't let go.


Friday, November 14, 2014

Gentle Yoga



I started a yoga practice though saying the phrase "yoga practice" makes me want to hurl; I don't want to be one of those Lulumon-clad expensive-blonde middle-aged estrogen-plummeting women who rush from their hair appointments to their yoga classes with their batik-print of elephants Fair Trade mat carriers and hemp 'n leather water bottle holders. Which is to say, I am fighting with myself.

I just saw this really adorable batik-print of elephants Fair Trade mat carrier. I had say, as if talking to my dog, NO! HEEL! DO NOT CHEW!

My "yoga teacher" (again, I want to hurl) is this lovely 60s round grandma-type who goes around when we are in corpse pose spritzing us with lavender water, asking us beforehand, if that's okay. I'm like, "Douse me, good woman!"

She adjusts my bolsters. She encourages me to find my sits bones, while the New Age Andean-pipe music softly flutes. She makes a point of suggesting we collectively dedicate our practice to something like world peace and in that moment while my "back body" is supposedly "finding the ceiling," I'm like, "Right on. World peace it is."





Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Orange Is My Favorite Color


Orange is my favorite color. It's the color of the second chakra Svandhisthana if you're in to that sort of thing which I kind of am; I started taking yoga.

Orange is everything that I want to be and so frequently am not: warm, engaging, bright, voluptuous, generous.  The element of the second chakra is water. Its sign the moon. How poetic is that? I want my sign to be the moon, goddamnit.

My contrast I am tight blue. When asked what kind of stone I would like in a ring I would probably say baguette sapphire. Lapis. I wear denim every day. I caught a glimpse of myself in the yoga studio mirrored wall and dang if I wasn't wearing on my face the under-eye smudges of the sick and tired, those twilight shadows that can only be described as midnight blue. 

I'm also very veiny. Criss-crossed with blue rivers across my neck and chest. "Veins prominent" is how my physician clinically described it. Apparently, it's a thing.

Blue and orange go well together in flowers, in prints, in throw pillows elegantly tossed on the living room couch of photographs in designer shelter magazines. They occupy opposite ends of the color wheel.

So it's no wonder I like to gaze at things that are orange as if I'm parched for it. I drink it in, Tibetan monks' robes, sunflowers, the last leaves of the flaming maples.






Monday, November 10, 2014

The Look




This picture of an owl captures the look I frequently have on my face. This owl is like, Repetez-s'il-vous-plait, I didn't quite hear that because I have feathers in my ears, I have to do bloodwork again because there was "some confusion" at "the lab"? Have you seen my talons, sirs?

This is the look I give my Husb., when he says something incredulous like, "We have to budget for the holidays." Or when it's 10 pm on Sunday night and one of the kids pipes up, having had the whole weekend to tell me, "I forgot to tell you, Mom, but I need a cerulean t-shirt for tomorrow's field trip can you run out and get one? It must be cerulean! Teal will bring shame on the whole 3rd grade class.And I fix them with my view-finder gaze like they're an insect pinned in a museum collection.

This is the look when I'm on deadline, staring at a blank page.

I know there's a jittery, warm-blooded little story out there, like a field mouse in a fall-brown umber field.  But it's well-disguised among the stalks of freshly-threshed wheat. If I stare owlishly long and piercingly, and yellow-eyed enough I know it will move, it can't help itself, and it's movement will alert me to it, and I will swoop in on silent wings with my feet out.




Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Work Into A Lather



As a freelance I am often asked, How Do You Organize Your Work Day? This is how.

6:30  Wake. Where am I? What's my purpose? Fumble for the light box ON switch.

7:00  Take dog out. Muse over what food word would best describe the color of the sunrise. Peaches? Hmmm. Not peaches. Tangerines. No. Grapefruit granita. Yes, that's it.

7:30 Coffee.

7:32 Coffee.

7:34 Big mug of coffee.

8:00 Get kids to school.

8:10 Reboot laundry. Tidy. Dither. Hobnob. Putter. Consult Fly Lady like a good housekeeper, and then feel hysterical: There Is So Much To Do. The Holidays Are Upon Us like...ravening beasts. Strike that. Positive reframe.  I have so much to be thankful for. Like all these Lego pieces on the floor.

8:30 Recover cortisol levels, arrest the shrinking of my telomeres by resting on the couch imagining I am a 19th-century Brit. Lit. heroine in a parlor drama. Sigh big sighs.

9:00ish to 11-ey. Find Grit and Determination. With ropes and pulleys pull myself up the ears of my ratty rabbit slippers. Ass in captain's chair. Beam me up, Scotty, to the flow of words. Write. At least 500 words give or take, maybe, weather-dependent, depending on if my toenails suddenly need attention, or I am distracted by the dog, or there's an interesting bird at the bird feeder.

Anything I write after noon is not worth the effort. So the rest of the day is devoted to research, reading, editing, and other diffuse mental gymnastics like daydreaming and walking which, as they say, is really complicated, controlled falling.










Monday, November 3, 2014

Uterine Twinge



Yes, it's official. I've been flipping through MORE magazine, the magazine for "women of style and substance" (read: middle aged) in the various doctors' offices whose doorways I darken.

I am une femme d'un certain age, as the French say, a woman of a certain age which is a nice way of saying I've earned the right to go blonde to cover my grey and talk publicly about my estradiol level which is the topic of this post.

(Shade your eyes if you can't handle the truth: the truth is that being a woman in her 40s is like walking to school uphill both ways with an uncool backpack on.)

I want to make light of it, this stumbling dwindling end of my fertile years, these endless headaches, the gritty dry eye, the getting up from a sitting position on the ground from playing Uno with my kids that involves groaning and clutching for the coffee table with my claw-hand of early-onset osteo-arthritis while they go, Geez, Mom, stop grunting. Stop farting. 

The above video of a singing uterus helps. Funny women help. So does chocolate. So does a good hot bath in which I pour fragrant bubbles made in Italy and scrub myself with a loofah trying to uncover fresh, vibrant, youthful-looking skin through vigorous exfoliation. Then I cry. That helps too, sometimes. So does fiction.

My doctor, a very nice man, said, "When my wife was going through perimenopause, she wanted to bite the heads off of cute baby birds." At the time I thought that was extreme. I was like, Wow, buddy, she sounds kinda scary.

Then, yesterday, I had a shouting match with a box of cereal. "Why won't this fucking infuriating sealed plastic bag open, godamnit! and FURTHERMORE breakfast cereal as a whole conceit is an example the kind of decadence that caused Rome to fall," and I caught myself and thought, at this stage in my life there is nothing I am above.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Hat Tip To The Dead





We're just a day away from Dia de Los Muertos and -- in the recent temperature dip and in the rustle of the leaves -- I can feel the ancestral spirits heating up for their big night out.

It's going to be a wang dang doodle. Everybody gon' meet, just like Howlin' Wolf says.

I'm looking forward to it. I'm making pan de meurtos. It's a "sweet, fragrant" challah-like brioche bread shaped into femur bones, calaveras.  Pati Jinich's adorable accent makes you forget the recipe is a pain in the culo.

I might ice store-bought challah with frosting and decorating sugar in the shape of little bones and call it a dia. Don't judge. It's not the letter of the law I'm after.

It's the spirits. My grandfathers. My grandmothers.  My mother-in-law who was from a line of curanderas, healers, but could not heal herself of breast cancer, and died too soon to know my children, and I find that haunting.

My Aunt Eliza, who was the first person I knew who was an artist. Wonderful the turpentine and pine and shellac smell of her studio. Mrs. J.O. Miller, my great-great-grandmother who was one of the first Pittsburgh suffragettes. I have her calling card (excellent heavy card stock) and her small 19th-century seed-pearl beaded reticule. Of course, I never met her, nor any of my other greats- and great-greats- all the way back to mitochondrial Eve out of Africa.

They are the many links in the chain of my Life; I must honor the dead. But not with woe, and wailing, and rended garment. With whimsy. With verve. With pluck. Because without them, I wouldn't be here in my clown shoes.




Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Comedy In The Long-Shot





I was at a pop-up Halloween store in Annapolis this past weekend, visiting my favorite coffee shop in all of the state of Maryland -- Pronto, home of Ceremony Coffee Roasters and their award-winning espresso: "raisin aromatics...and clementine acidity"-- and I bought a pair of clown shoes, and a tutu. I already had a red clown nose. There are so many things you can do with a clown nose. Dog toy? Yes. And useful for lightening-up the stand-up meetings that, because I am freelance,  I am the only one at.  Then I dyed my hair gingerballs

It's been a long week even though it's only Wednesday. 

I redid my hair. Now it's just-hatched-chick yellow. It's an early Madonna vibe if I wear bangles and a crop top and appear fiercely Rage Against the Machine (if that link is du trop for you, here's an excellent clean-language college marching band version that rocks.)  

My daughter, 7, said of the New Look, "Mom, I still recognize you," so that's encouraging. I'm still recognizable.

I don't dislike the look. Being in my 40s with two kids, Husb., and dog and chronic pain in the suburbs, I have this sad clown thing going on, a kind of Linda Evangelista meets RuPaul "full catastrophe" as mindfulness meditation teacher Jon Kabat-Zinn calls it. So in addition to clown shoes and tutu, I got face paint for Halloween to draw on a droopy sad mouth under which I plan to smile.  It's the water that I swim in. 



Monday, October 27, 2014

Gingerballs




Freedom has no expiration date, and I'm here to tell you in my clown shoes that neither does stoopid

Case in point: my brown hair has reddish undertones that come up to the surface like feeding sharks when I try to go blonde. I've known this for over 40 years -- my hair has reddish undertones, my hair has reddish undertones that's why it's called chestnut. There's a mantra here. Also it's a lesson it seems I have to keep on keeping on learning because what do I do? I try to go blonde. Again. 

I try to go blonde using a Shade-Grown Free-Trade Fresh Sap Collected By Himalayan Virgins Whole Foods hair dye kit and -- insert no surprise here -- I turned myself gingerballs.

I went to bed gingerballs, hoping it would go away during the night, like magic! but I woke up looking like Strawberry Shortcake spent the summer surfing at some So. Cal. hideaway, and not like Kate Hudson. 

What to do? I have one thing to say: You better work just like RuPaul says. Sashay shante. I'm working the shade I call Pumpkin Spice Lite today and I made an appointment with my hairdresser for as soon as he can see me. 






Sunday, October 26, 2014

Marcel Marceau



My sister as a kid was fascinated with French mime Marcel Marceau. I was like, Speechlessness? No, thank you.  I preferred constant burbling neurosis, the early work of Woody Allen, which was my particular talent.

But my mother took both of us to see Marceau at Heinz Hall in Pittsburgh sometime in the evening of the '70s when I was still young enough in-between the acts to rub the soles of my black patent leather mary-janes on the crimson carpet (it was a bordello of red an gold in there) and give my sister a big spark, and hand to mouth Milk Duds.


I still associate their caramel-flavor with stage-life grandeur. The richly draping curtains. The cut-crystal chandeliers. The bing-bong-bong descending scale that let you know intermission (otherwise known as Milk Dud eatin' time) was over.  I think I have some synethesia. I believe I can taste the sound of the smell of the brown velvet sweetheart-neckline dress I was wearing.


Of course, Marceau did his famous trapped-in-a-box-that-doesn't-exist routine. Instead of being all distracted like I usually was, like, dang the taffeta crinoline of this dress is itchy, or why did I eat those Milk Duds so fast? Or, is anyone I know here?  I was moved.  I started sniffling and wiping my nose on the sleeve of my fancy dress. My mom handed me the hanky from her pocketbook.


My sister after the show, was so ensorcerelled she mimed her way into a collision with a parking meter. I didn't laugh at her; how could I? I was still clutching the hanky.


Because of this foundational memory, I recently bought myself a clown nose. It's a red foam job. It smells like Halloween pop-up mall store floor, of our current global commerce in trivialities, but wearing it is my extrêmement petit homage to Marcel Marceau who said, "It's good to shut up sometimes."



Friday, October 24, 2014

Pema Chodron





I've been ambivalent about finding a Teacher. Possibly this is because my experience of being a student has sucked.  I was a real dum-dum.  I had potential they said, but I didn't get the memo, I stared out of windows at the birds wondering what it would be like to saddle one up with an acorn cap and fly to a land where there were dragons.

I was halfway into my usual sustained and plodding mediocrity in my sophomore year of college when I took a marine bio class and, as Gru says in Despicable Me,  LIGHTBULB.   This school thing involved hip waders and algae samples!?! And microscopes? Lord!

I knocked myself out to collect and correctly identify intertidal snails like a person who has just learned learning is exhilarating. I was outlandishly good.

I rode that high into my 30s; I had plans in my imagination to do something big-time at oh, say, maybe, the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution or -- why not  -- Scripps.  I had t-shirts from every major marine biological lab. And then...

Nosedive. Crash landing. Chronic illness. All the plans poof.

For the last few years, I have been sitting like a castaway in the salty remnants of my clothes on this crusty island called What The Fuck? Like Job, picking my scabs, in complete bewilderment, mirror-signaling to the rescue planes to no avail and nightly leaping in a dance of frustration around a giant bonfire on the beach.

So yesterday I figured -- screw you rescue planes -- I'll listen to a podcast of Buddhist nun Pema Chodron's. This little wizened white woman, telling me there is nothing to rely on, to "abandon hope." She was funny about it, too. LIGHTBULB.

For the first time in 20 years I have a teacher. I'm putting myself under the microscope. My thinking that is; my body has already been under X-rays and in MRI tubes enough for a lifetime. What I'm in the process of examining is my thinking that everything must be a certain way, that I must be healthy and my vertebrae undeformed, and my face unlined, and my house uncluttered, and my pain completely dissolved for me to be happy and to learn anything new.





Thursday, October 23, 2014

Soften The Edges



Green Tara is a goddess of compassion. Rock on, green Tara, even though you are the color of an artichoke. Same thing for you blue Krishna. It is so bananas that you're blue.

Green. Blue. It's like damn, how come none of my gods had twelve hands? Kali, with a necklace of skulls.  Jesus, Mary, God the father, the dove for the Holy Spirit, it's such a small nuclear family. Anemic. Plus they're all one. Or something. I was that kid at church camp who was like, "Is any of this making any sense to anyone?"

It was like this: Two and a half hours on a Sunday. Blah blah blah. Some guy died for you. Oh, yeah, and here's this tiny, sidekick altar for his mother who was super important. And there's this mean greybeard in the sky, saying Be Good, You Awful People. Wait. Nevermind. Y'All Are Okay. Have A Rainbow.

I know its way more than that. More metaphorical. But the images: the human features, the desert, the flowing robes. The scenes took me to that higher place. I like looking at Green Tara in the same way way I was drawn to the stained glass medieval, metrosexual-looking, ruby-winged angels whose expressions were so hard to determine.




Tuesday, October 21, 2014

What It Feels Like





I've been reading "illness narratives." I love a good illness narrative. It makes me feel less alone.  Less girl-in-bubble.

This piece in The New Yorker by Meghan O'Rourke sums up the experience of having a "but you don't look sick," "invisible" illness. It bites. It bites like Cleopatras's asp, but it doesn't kill you. All I have to say to that old saw, "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger" is I will kick you in the pants.

If you have a chronic illness, you're fatiguing to those around you. They just want you to Get Well Soon. If you don't, you're being problematic; you're breaking the rules of greeting card etiquette.

There are no cards that say, "It's So Totally Not All In Your Head And There Are New fMRIs That Prove It." Or, "Love The Moonscape Of Your Gnarled Vertebrae, Hon." Or, "You're Managing The Symptoms of Your Body Gone Kaplooey, Keep It Up." Or, "Have You Laughed At Yourself Today? Look In The Mirror, The Muscle Spasms Have Caused You To Grimace." Perhaps I should design a letterpress line of them? Please tell me I should. In my family we call my disease, "The Overlord."

On my Best Days I am 80% a Real Girl. I walk the dog.  I don't want to gouge out my eyes. I don't want to wander like a Desert Father, or sit like a Yogi on a pole in the Ganges, I want to volunteer at my kids' school library.  I want to make mini-muffins.

I know that it won't be for long. Autoimmune illness is --  as they say of biological systems --  punctuated equilibrium. There is always another flare. Always. Like Persephone, I guess, I have the ill luck of having to spend some time in the underworld.

So that's why I am working on not just a letterpress line of chronic illness cards (thank you for convincing me to do it) but also -- Willy Wonka-esque -- on developing a snack food called Chronic Illness Bites.

I'm thinking chocolatey, I'm thinking salty. I'm thinking the kind of bon bons that won't make too much of a mess if you eat them in bed under the covers while weeping and trying to keep it together by watching funny things on your iPad, like Charlie Chaplin do his dance with the dinner rolls, or Gene Kelly Singin' In The Rain. 

Friday, October 17, 2014

Gnomes, Fairies, Elves, and Sprites, Oh My




I found the ceramic gnome my mother gave me years ago that had had its kneecap sheared off in one of my many moves: Pittsburgh, New London, Northampton, Boston, Pittsburgh, Seattle, Jerusalem, Caracas, Boston, Somerville, Cambridge, Watertown, Easton, finally landing in Owings Mills.

fixed it with glitter-glue, and placed it under a mushroom cap in the front yard that after the recent rain is suddenly with filled with mushrooms; I identified four different species with my Field Guide to North American Mushrooms. I'm telling you I'm a Big Nerd if you didn't already know it...

The point is, when did I become the kind of person who places gnomes under mushrooms?

I used laugh at people like that.

I used to judge them as impossibly twee, the middle-aged women who had fairy gardens, and "This Way for Elves" signs glued to their doorways, and stationery with Flower Fairies on them. But look at me now.  I have stationery with Flower Fairies on them. And I in fact really wish there were acorn fairies wearing acorn caps as little hats in the oak trees.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Mushrooms



Why do I like mushrooms? It started when I had kids. I like to walk in nature, Henry David Thoreau of Walden fame is my spirit animal. He wrote a marvelous essay "On Walking."

I had imagined this, the scene when all the animals approach Snow White, but when I would walk in the forest with the kids when they were toddlers everything that could run from us would run from us.  Even when we were trying to be silent and cat-footed, we were scary-loud. We jangled with sippy cups. "Mommy is that a fwox!?" my daughter would yell, lisping. "Or is that a wrock?!"

Mushrooms were the only thing that didn't run, because they couldn't. So I got in to mushrooms.
I said to the kids, "This is a bolete." And we would poke the orange-yellow flesh with a stick and watch it bruise. If it bruised purple, it aided us in identification. We made spore prints on construction paper that were surprisingly beautiful. I encouraged the kids in their mycological pursuits by telling them about fairy circles.

They're older now and have falling out of love with their foraging baskets and don't believe my umbrellas for gnomes stories, but I haven't fallen out of love with mushrooms. A whole troupe (yes, troupe like actors is the collective noun for a group mushrooms) of yellow-capped sp. amanita appeared on the lawn out of the blue yesterday, like magic.

Maybe this is why I feel a kinship with them. They're not there, then they're there. Then they're gone.

But not gone, gone underground, in their hyphae, those mats of tender-strong threads that spread through the soil helping trees grow, and our crops grow, enabling oxygen for us to breathe and food for us to eat. Though they are unseeable by the naked eye, they are the world's largest organism.


Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Sequins



Like a crow I am Super-Fan Number One of sparkly things. I will swivel my head and follow it with my eyes if it glitters. It's one of my failings.

Husb. will be talking to me about rubrics or some other pedagogical term and at the corner of the window will be fluttering a metallic candy wrapper and I'm twirling, "Oooh! Shiny! Wait. Sorry. So sorry....you know how I am. What were you droning on about, my love, my all?"

 My grandmother had a sewing room (it was in this room with ballet-slipper-colored tulle and a great deal of determination that she sewed my prom dress) and in it she had glass canning jars of fixings, findings, buttons, ribbons and curiosities. I could spread the contents of the button jar out on the shag carpet and spend hours, dreaming. All the sequins had my face in them reflected back at me like Fun House mirrors, like the possibilities of who I would become. Would I be pretty? Would I be rich?  

In honor of her, my long-dead grandmother whom I loved, who smelled like anise, I've put sequins on the ofrenda. And not just a few.  Go big or go home, is what I say in general and especially as advice in making your altar for Day of The Dead. More is more. You're celebrating life, after all. Put the icing on the cake. Put a fancy hat on your skull.

So I shook out an entire bag of sequins on the altar and was so pleased; my grandmother would have said, "You really gilded the lily." But the dog got in to them and now they're all over the house, the place glitters with them, the dark corners are shined up with small silver stars. I think of Frida Kahlo. My raven-haired, dark-eyed grandmother looked a little like her.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Give Me A Break, Break Me Off A Piece Of That Kit-Kat Bar



"'Tis the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness," said John Keats in Ode to Autumn, to which can be added, "and the season of cut-rate candy made with wax and artificial flavor and partially hydrogenated palm oil or other weird oil sold in bulk bags at Costco of which I purchased several to pass out to little children."

Well, not all of the candy. I reserved the Kit Kats. I have, like, a relationship with Kit Kats. Facebook status: It's totally uncomplicated. They're so chocolatey and crispy. I know all the words to their song.

In other countries, countries with more interesting palates than our own, they're offered in flavors like Melon, Black Bean, and French Cheese.  If I had the computer skills, I would do this with them. O, so kicky, those double Ks.

Yes, I realize sugar is bad for me. A poison. Robert Lustig. All that. And yet... and yet... here I am sniffing the bag, inhaling the scent of cheap milk chocolate which follows my olfactory nerve all the way to my brain and takes me back to better times, easier times, younger times before anybody knew anything, when Tang was a breakfast beverage for space-age go-getters that we couldn't afford, and my family shopped in the Generic section of the grocery store with its black and white no-marketing packaging, and Kit Kats were a colorful treat that had snap and verve, and ignorance was bliss.



Friday, October 10, 2014

The Wheel Bug





As you know I've taken a turn toward Halloween preparation. I wasn't so concerned with what I would dress up as, as how to arrange the gourds. Gourds take tact and nuance if you want to do gourds well. I love the fall.

Then I found this little fellow.  It's a wheel bug. A wheel bug doesn't sound menacing at all. It sounds all tra la, let us pull the wagon, tra la. In fact, it's a species of assassin bug, a family of such stealth, venom, and all around badassery, with beaks curved like freaking carpet needles.

(See above: in blood-red, the beak curved like a freaking carpet needle, like in an unabridged and unredacted Grimm's fairy tale.)

(See one here, stalking a hapless caterpillar.)

The Hitchcock-ian suspense of that little 2 minute film had me unlikely-ly rooting for the caterpillar, an animal that I think god, in creating it, could have used an editor. They're sploogy, soft, and their feet surprisingly look like little creepy-Appalachia old man boots which is so David Lynch-ish and proves to me there is no Intelligent Design.

Forget being a ghost, or a ninja, or "Rocket Raccoon" from The Guardians of the Galaxy, the summer blockbuster that shilled the soundtrack of my early 70s childhood, Ridley Scott was right. Alien was spot on. If you want to be truly terrifying: use the word "mouthparts." Dress up as an insect. I have a recommendation. (See above).


Thursday, October 9, 2014

I Have My Mind On My Math and My Math On My Mind...And, As A Result, I Need A Gin and Juice



I've been curiouser and curiouser about my third-grader son's math homework because it appears that I am becoming -- in my middle age --  dumber and dumber.  His voice drips with scorn, pity, and disbelief that I could possibly have lived this long this dumb, "Poor Mom, you really don't know how to add, do you?"  

I swear that I do. I pay for his orthodonture. 

Furthermore, I can add the correct fl. oz. to a party-sized punch bowl to make Mother's Ruin, an old fashioned velvet hammer of Champagne, gin, and grapefruit juice. But I see the point is neither here nor there. I digress. Plus ice. I forgot about the ice.

Genetically, of course, I'm a knuckle-dragging dumbass, and I come from a long line of knuckle-dragging dumbasses and who were just smart enough to reproduce before we tripped on a mammoth tusk and fell into a ice crevasse. But aren't we all?

I am not alone.  In this NBC piece about the new New Math, a parent calls the common core math the "devil's handiwork."  Now, I don't believe in hell, but I do believe in a good joke.  

Have you heard the one about a 40-something mother, none too bright, her nine-year-old son, and the math worksheet? 

It's a real thigh-slapper. 

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Let The Wild Rumpus Start


"Look for me by moonlight,/ Watch for me by moonlight,/ I'll come to thee by moonlight..."

I'm reading out loud Alfred Noyes' famous creepy ghostly love poem, The Highwayman. Who isn't this time of year? Seriously? You're not?

C'mon, we just had a blood moon. And there is no holiday I like preparing for better than Halloween.  I live to arrange gourds. To roast pumpkins in embers. To make weird chicken wire sepulcher sculptures. To read aloud Lenore. How do the undead laugh? Poe Poe Poe.

Last year at this time I was on the radio talking about Day of The Dead, El Dia de los Muertos with it's representations of Death as the ultimate lover, riotously colorful rose-decorated skulls, candies that mock death with their extreme sweetness, and crass figurines which I love of dancing skeletal dentists.

Thanksgiving's a big turkey. Christmas is piles of guilt under a dying tree that I would rather was living in a northern forest, and egg nog which sounds better in Spanish: rompope.  Easter is a pastel egg. I look terrible in pastels. All washed out.

If I'm going for the commercial holidays like a good American pagan, I like to mix it up with a holiday with teeth. Wax lips. A flippant nose-thumbing at the inevitable. I have a card of a skeleton in a leisure suit saying, "Feliz dia." It makes me laugh so much.

Feliz dia, carpe diem, carpe noctum, tempus fugit, however you want to pitch it, bitches, this is the only life you've got; the time is now to break out the Hershey's Special Darks. What are you waiting for?



Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Earth, Wind, and Fire



Ayurveda (आयुर्वेद, "life-knowledge") is an ancient Hindu medical system that has at its heart three doshas, proclivities, personality types, gists, or modus operandi that serve to explain how you roll. Pitta, kapha, and vata correspond roughly to fire, earth, and air. Everyone with me?

My son, 9, is pitta, that is, a fire lord, dominant, prone to fits and flameouts, blame and recrimination. That's the neg. The positive is he's warm, heartfelt, impassioned, and generous in lighting the world with his glowing which is as beautiful a red-orange as saffron tea. 

I'm vata, extremely. My heart is in my head. I'm windswept, uneasy, and find rules, systems, plans, and unmutable things absolutely maddening. I will wail against a door until it's opened, or I can wail no more.  Why? what I am always asking. Why? I am the perfect thing though, for a sail. For momentum. 

Do you see where this is going? Fire and air?  I'm going to outside the cafe next to the dentist's this morning where my son accidentally dropped a blueberry muffin and jumped off the deep end into an explosive rage and threw the muffin (as I was trying to clean it off with my cuff) across a parking lot while I stood there like a storm front gaping and shaming, asking Why? What the fuck? 

Fire and air fan each other. This is good when we're doing good things together. Otherwise, we can denude a forest with our flaming jumping crackling shifting forward edge. Air feeds fire. Fire eats up air.  

Ayurveda suggests that I need to oil my feet in the evening and stand on the ground in my bare feet, to balance me out in the yoga pose called the Tree which is how I plan to make it through the next ten years, in tadasana. Constant tadasana.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Ultra-Hide




When I asked the guy at Home Depot what could hide oh, say, kids' dirty thumb prints, smudge marks, and peanut butter grime, he pointed to this. I got several gallons of it to paint the stairway and chose a color called Sunset Delight or Light Brick, I forget. The point is, it's a warm color and can hide anything, even the errors and oversights of the past ten years of my parenting. 






Friday, October 3, 2014

Herbal




It's Purple Friday in Baltimore, but that's not why today's Herbal Feature is anise hyssop and its purple flowers; you all know I'd like to see football crawl under a rock and die. 

I chose anise hyssop because... actually, I think it chose me.

I was in the clearance plant section at Home Depot surveying the cheap unwanted red-headed stepchild perennials as I am wont to do; it is my Fall Ritual (along with creating bourbon-spiked pumpkin spice lattes), and there was this plant -- anise hyssop --  that unlike its dried-up brothers was alive, green-leafed, and covered in bees. It was buzzing. It was on my frequency.

I had to have it.

I had to shake loose the stumble-drunk bees to get it into the trunk of my car and still they followed the scent as I drove off.  It was like Hitchcock's The Birds only with no harm done, and featuring bees, and on PBS via the BBC -- a charming show, one called "English Cottage Garden" with a talking Badger or something, which, if there was such a program, I would watch it happily, tail-waggingly, eager to make such Beatrix Potter-ish stuff my antidote to the evening news.






Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Have A View of Life



I was strident yesterday. Shrill, as they say of women having an opinion. Make no mistake, I still stand for Death to The Suburbs, but today I am sweetly floral. I'm wearing my hair optimistically down. Flower power. Make love, not war. Peace, brothers.

It's because of that book I was telling you about, A Pattern Language. The one that caused me to rant yesterday, has caused me to rejoice today. Isn't what what good non-fiction is for?

In the section titled "Flexible Office Space" (crucial for freelancers and artists) it says that a room in which one works should have two windows. Check. Mine does. Your workspace should not face a wall, but rather look out onto a view of life. How poetic is that? Mine was facing a wall. I erroneously thought it helped me focus to have nothing to see. Move along, thought process, nothing to see here.

With Husb.'s help, (ignoring Husb.'s mutterings of "What next?" "Will you ever be satisfied?") I heaved the desk around so that the view from my captain's chair behind the keyboard is out the window. Onto the garden. There my fall-blooming Montauk daisies are blooming.

Truth be told, it was immediately calming and inspiriting. There were bees busy in the flowers. "Thank you, pool boy," I said to Husb., "That will be all. For today."


Monday, September 29, 2014

Habitat



I've been reading A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, Construction by Christopher Alexander.  Like Alice in Wonderland being faced with Drink me, I say to you, Read this.

This is a mighty must-have-doorstopper for anyone interested in New Urbanism and the vocabulary of spaces that you actually want to live in.

Spaces that feel humane. Not like the above. Or where I live, in Owings Mills.

Though the city fathers say Owings Mills is going to have a renaissance with the new Wegmans coming in, and will be modeled after Hunt Valley where the other Baltimore County Wegmans is, I say, to have a renaissance you need to do more than recreate a place that is so creepy and Valley of The Dolls to me, there is no there there. I apologize if Hunt Valley is your thing. No I don't.

To be a destination and a community you need street life. You need sidewalks. Trees. Hubs, not rectangles. Buildings with windows. Sidewalk cafes. Circulation. Multi-use. Window boxes. Not more big box stores. Of course I am excited about Wegmans selection of fresh fish.

But this price is too high. These suburban blandscapes suck your soul. Do you think I am being too dramatic? Too hysteric? I haven't even stretched my legs.

I wish I were half as articulate as James Howard Kunstler in his TED talk, "The Ghastly Tragedy of The Suburbs" who put it simply, "these habitats induce anxiety."

"One has to imagine that the architects of these places got together and said, 'Fuck it.'"

Friday, September 26, 2014

Chestnut




I like difficult things. Especially if -- at the end -- there is the possibility of a sweet reward as there is in the case of foraging for chestnuts or marrons if you're French, as I am on my mother's side way back to Alsace-Lorraine.

Look at those spines. Gosh, they are spiny! But a husk in a defensive crouch is no match for me and my tool use, which goes back farther than France.

I have blood on my hands. The things poked me up a bunch.  But I have skin the thickness of a rhino; I am a freelance writer. I deal with rejection every single day if I am doing my job well.  Delicately peeling chestnuts. 

Sure, there were worms in some of them. Yes, some kernels were shriveled. Certainly, the dog rolled in deer poop as I walked, gleaning, among the fallen nuts that were as shiny reddish-brown as the coat of a fast horse.

Worms? Poop? Form change? Please.  I'm middle aged, honey. There's not much I can't clean, or scrape off, and return to the sauce pot, and sweeten, and stir, and place into individual frilled-paper candy cups and call marrons glacés faciles

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Pinterested



Oh rapture oh joy oh potential major major waste of time, but such a diversion from working, I have discovered Pinterest. Heaven help you all.

In the interest of research, and procrastination, I decided to clock myself: How long would I spend poking through the interwebs looking for photographs of giant glowing mushrooms?

It was a timely question. I am interested in time management. For instance, why can I spend an hour watching David Duchovny in Californication, a show with absolutely no redeeming qualities, yet fail to make banana bread from the bananas that have gone from yellow spotted brown to you're a failure as a wife and mother Elizabeth Bastos?

I have been reading a book about how modern Americans spend our daily allotment of hours. It's called Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has The Time. 

But apparently I do have the time.

I groundskept and fussed over my "board" titled "Bioluminescence" for three hours. My neck hurt, my shoulders started to burn, and still I kept on...

I said to the dog when she began to whine to go out, "Hold your horses, I'm busy. Mommy needs to pin just one or three more glowing Caribbean squid."