Tuesday, December 16, 2014


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


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


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


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."