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


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


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


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 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


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


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.