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


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


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 glac├ęs faciles

Tuesday, September 23, 2014


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."

Monday, September 22, 2014

Playing House

From the time I graduated college, waaaay back in the way back machine,  I've lived in apartments. Rooms in apartments, actually, with cruddy, with falling-apart staircases, and porches attached in the loosest sense of the word, and roommates.

Twelve months ago we moved into our house on campus at a the private school where Husb. teaches. Okay, we still pay rent. But we pay rent on a house! A house! It's the biggest and most elegant place I've ever lived in my whole life. The basement is finished. Like, with carpet.

I want to give it a name like "Fallingwater" or "Hemmersly," after the cove, an inlet of the Miles River on the Eastern Shore of Maryland where my grandparents had their farm, where they used to raise cows, and later, corn and soybeans, and my grandfather had stationery with "Hemmersly Farm" embossed and centered at the top that he kept in the pigeon holes of his giant tiger maple wood desk, and the paper smelled humid, salty, pulpy, and successful and made me think of everything I had to look forward to in becoming an adult.

Which brings me to interior design. I haven't the foggiest. I've been spending time in a completely new-to-me area of the Dewey Decimal system at the library -- Landscape and Design -- trying to figure it out. Using graph paper, and talking about "sight lines" and "softening walls."   I wonder, with the mustard-colored tiles in the upstairs bathroom, What Would Frank Lloyd Wright Do?

Living in apartments with roommates for 20 plus years I haven't thought much beyond who moved my cheese? and stop having sex so loudly! and not at all about how a room "reads." The "flow." The "mood."

I'm in Barbie's Dream House and I'm Barbie and Husb. is the Ken doll and I'm all like, "Dang, Ken, we need some throw pillows."

Friday, September 19, 2014


I woke up to the fact that my so-called "parenting" is mostly yelling when my son, 9, said,  "Stop with the yelling, I am trying to find my shoes!" my reaction was to yell, "What are you talking about? I DON'T YELL ALL THE TIME."

He goggled at me like I was a train wreck, "Case in point." "That's just so sad, Mom."

I can imagine him calling me to the stand for failure to communicate. I would be found guilty. I am slipshod. Scattered. Addled. Ungraceful. There is just so much homework to be reviewed, socks to be matched, toast to be buttered and then diagonally cut into triangles, and active listening to be done about the multi-functionality of Legos, that I rarely think not only of my words but of how I say them. I've lost sight of the Big Picture. I just micromanage and blast, "You call that flossing?!?" Then I wonder why no one wants to play checkers with me.

I feel humbled and made meek, like when the dog is bad, she slinks herself to her crate.

Inspiring, kind, helpful, necessary, true. Perhaps I should get these words as a tattoo. Perhaps I should ink them on the insides of my fingers motorcycle-club-style so when I spread them to wave goodbye to the kids in the morning as they go off to school and later, into the rest of their lives, I can read what I had in mind when I started the whole process of having a family.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Library Volunteer

The children's room of the Squirrel Hill Branch of the Pittsburgh Public Library had a tank of hamsters.

There were also bean-bag chairs upholstered in mustard corduroy and the whole place was furnished in indoor/outdoor carpet. The children's librarian was a paisley bell-bottom. This was the early '70s. "Upgrade" was not a word. Every book I took out was dusty and yet somehow also greasy. They were water-marked, liberally used, fingerprinted. On the book jacket flaps invariably some artistic soul had scribbled.

How I loved it all. It was funky library funk, evidence of people's ambitions, losses, hopes. When you took a book out a library it was obvious you were throwing your lot in with the main, kind of like being born, you were joining an experimental collective.

I recently started volunteering at my kids' elementary school library. My first thought on my first day: We've come a long way baby, this carpeting is clean. This place has none of the feeling of being at the bottom of an exhibit at the Pittsburgh Aqua Zoo.

If you love books as I love books, flagrantly, stupid-with-love-ed-ly, I highly recommend volunteering at your kid's library. The new picture-books will pass through your hands first and then into those of the next generation.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Dreams and Hopes

Asked the question, "What are your hopes and dreams?" my kids answer with a thousand things. I have to tell them to put a lid on it.

It's like this, from my son, 9: Mom! My dream is to be a space car driver who has an underground pool that is part of an underground lair, and a group of trained cheetahs! Furthermore... it is my dream that I can fly, and cure all diseases, and  engineer a house made of Legos where I can live with all my friends calling each other bro all day, like hey bro, what's up bro, and the only thing to eat in our world is gum."

My daughter, 7, says: All of what my brother said. Except also cat ballerinas! AND UNICORNS WHO LET YOU BRAID THEIR HAIR.

As an adult, my hopes and dreams are pragmatic and -- compared to the optimistic unicorn candy magic of my kids' -- dull. For example, here's what I hoped this morning: Gee, I hope that the DOWNSTAIRS DRAIN UNCLOGGED OVERNIGHT.

Monday, September 15, 2014


According to Dictionary.com a tantrum is "a violent demonstration of rage or frustration; a sudden outburst of ill temper."

Synonyms include: fit, outburst, paroxysm, frenzy, huff, scene and hissy fit. See also: my son, 9. My son, 9, is a freaking tantrum expert.

It's surprising because he was such a mellow baby.  He burbled and cooed and looked at me with vast affection. When he was a toddler,  I thought of him as Wilbur from Charlotte's Web, the innocent everyman and friend of all in the barnyard. In kindergarten, he had a wittle lisp.

I think testosterone has just kicked in, maybe, in third grade?

He's suddenly become like those young male elephants that dig up trees. He smells, a little. His shoe laces are a large knot. When he plays with other nine-year-old boys they make gun noises and bomb noises and the noises of jet planes losing altitude at a clip.

He gets sweaty and aggressive if his way is blocked.  Sometimes he gives me this blank-eyed stare --  like if I've told him we're having Swiss chard as a side dish for dinner -- he gives me this blank-eyed stare and it's snake-y.

This morning he didn't want the granola I made and he dropped to the floor flailing and screaming: "I could run away if I wanted; I could go right now."

Carefully stepping over him to pour milk into my coffee, I didn't follow the advice of the modern parenting guidebooks, I didn't say, "Oh, honey, you're showing me you don't like granola." "Instead of flailing and biting my leg, why don't you make a drawing for me of how angry you are we're not having Sweetums Sugar Blaster Sugar Coated Nibbles?"

Instead I said, "I could run away too."

Saturday, September 13, 2014


Not only has the N.F.L covered up petty misdemeanors and gross abuse in the name of the brand, issuing slaps on the back of the hand to players who mean a fortune to them, they're also simultaneously, grotesquely, marketing to women. Stand by your man, they're saying.

Ladies, you are being used. I implore you to rid yourself of "your team" jerseys cut to enhance your curves and bare your midriff.  Powderpuff is the word used to describe you when you play the game.

If you won't  -- if the Ravens, or the Steelers, or the Vikings are so important to your identity, if you come from a long line of Cheeseheads -- I then ask you simply to explain to me why? Why? You don't want to be one of the guys of this type. Spend any significant time abroad and you'll learn there are other ways to spend your fall Sundays than with a big platter of pigs in a blanket.

Not only did Ray Rice knock out his then fiancee and the N.F.L claim not to have seen the tape from inside the elevator, the science is in. Brain trauma affects one in three players. So when you're watching football you're watching unfolding hurt. That's fun? That's chips and dip? I'd argue that it's a livingroom couch kind of sadistic.

There are obviously major economic and social implications if football in America were to end. Think it's too big to fail? May I draw your attention to this civilization called Rome.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Light Box

When summer turns to fall, I turn toward my light box like a seasonally affected sunflower toward the   last remaining rays of the sun.

My light box is called The Happy Lite. The goofy bucktooth spelling of "lite" reminds me of ladies "nite" in my early 20s in the '90s when I drank the chocolatini. It was an interesting time, the revival of swing and the Squirrel Nut Zippers and Big Bad Voodoo Daddy to which I toe-tapped.

But I digress from my topic, which as yet has no associated mixed drink. It's a shame really. It's Seasonal Affective Disorder.  It's a name that cries out for something gin-based.

It's a drag. I drag myself through, turning on the Happy Lite every morning at 6:30 am from September to March, each morning a blinding, pupil-decreasing moment like the sound of an enthusiastic 8-year-old playing a drum set and into this light I stare, unblinking, lizard-like.

Though its advertising says I will, I do not look like this.  First of all I'm non-blonde. And I never wear all-white ensembles, or bare my belly. I never look like I am about to take flight on the well-illuminated wings of joy.  Tra laaaaaa!

I look more like this. And boy, do I wish I had a similar plodding, British English voice-over. 

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Cocktails for Teachers

The Lesson Plan

The Parent-Teacher Conference

The Back-To-School Night

The Dog Ate My Homework

The Honor Code

The School Uniform Code Infringement

The Lunch Duty

The Carpool

The Group Project

The Harkness Table

The STEM Grant

The Interdisciplinary Learning

The JV Coach

The Finnish Education System

Friday, September 5, 2014

Bully For You

I was bullied in school. I'm out about it. But not over it.

I'm not surprised that I was bullied, really, since I believed in unicorns for far longer than was seemly, and over my school uniform no matter what the weather, I wore the wool hoodie sweater that my grandmother crocheted for me with the hoodie drawn tight as if to draw her love around me like a shield, and also, invariably, my lunch was something uncool like egg salad.

What surprised me is that no one seemed to notice.

A lot has changed, now. Parents, teachers, even the government have opened their eyes to what throw downs go down on the playground.

As an adult I am still that creature I was at 7-12 when other little girls yanked my hair in the dark of auditorium where we were watching a reel-to-reel on the life cycle of monarch butterflies, or pinched me, or taped a sign to my back saying that my butt smelled, or didn't choose me for intramurals and I would be left standing by the gymnasium wall, wanting to blanche ash, turn the color of the wood floor, to become a board.

I carry the memory of that creature. I have in the hamster wheel of my adult mind, a terrified small mammal in pigtails and a monumentally unfashionable woolen hoodie.

So when my daughter, 7, told me that her hair was being pulled on the playground, and that some little girls were "spying" on her, tormenting her in that girlish way, marking her, that small hamster went apeshit. 


I wanted to march on the playground roaring  The Battle Hymn Of The Republic. I wanted to become a superhero for all the kids who have ever worn their underwear two days in a row, or liked the wrong things.

Instead, I went to the playground and stood there, watching. I'm eagle-eyed, a grown woman now, and not afraid of channeling my grandfather, Hey, you there, you little assholes, get off my lawn. 

As goes the playground, so goes the world.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Developing A Spiritual Practice With Nuts

I can't take this new phase too seriously because, you know, I almost went to Divinity School, but bagged that after the experience of being an assistant to the interfaith chaplain at the University of Pittsburgh and hosting a coffeehouse where I mistakenly thought it would further interfaith dialogue to rent a karaoke machine and lip synch to Aerosmith's Walk This Way with my sister in front of a bunch of incredibly repressed and conservative Christian kids.

Then I tried to become Buddhist. But someone stole my shoes while I was in sitting meditation and I walked home in my socks in January in Boston. That was a spiritual awakening. Having cold feet sucks.

For awhile I was Jewish.

Recently I've been dangling my line in Neo-Paganism to see if anything bites. I've always had a thing for the Greek goddesses, and the word "bacchanal."

I've been reading books with names like Drawing Down The Moon, and The Goddess Is In The Details, and To Walk A Pagan Path but it's so freaking confusing, there seem to be lots of rules, which is funny because the whole thing is kind of imaginative play. There are several pantheons, and some people cast circles and refer to themselves as witches and others don't. But rules, recitation, and dogma are why I got out of the religion game in the first place. It's dueling jewelry.

What draws me to drawing down the moon is basically that I like the moon. I like the Earth. The seasons. Insects. You're a fool if you don't. Maybe the only -ist I am is a naturalist. I only wish there were more of us, and that we had better parties.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Possible Band Names Inspired By The Fall 2014 Garnet Hill Catalog

Grandpa Cardigan

Our Monogrammed Towels



Dark Teal


Brushed Nickel Hardware


Leather & Jute

Quilt & Sham

Color: Earth; for Sand, see page 70 (CEFSSPS)

Slim Five-Pocket Cords