Thursday, December 10, 2015

Cookie Tray

One of my aunts, Jerry, used to give cookie trays for Christmas.

These were not a few cut-outs stars on a plate.  These were generous high-towering affairs, involving more than a dozen varieties and bars including one with a pillow-top of marshmallow, pizzelles, a loaf of Swedish rye bread that was perfect for toast with sweet butter, and -- unbeknownst to me then -- labor, fortitude, patience. You have to have a head for these things.

For I have since started making cookies for Christmas. And I am learning.

Fucking liars, I screamed, when the tender butter-dough for my orange-cardamom hearts stuck to the parchment paper that advertised itself as something nothing on the face of the Earth could stick to.  To the dogs with you, Lynne Rosetto Kaspar!

Oh wait. Come back. I'm sorry. I love you.

My royal icing hardened too hard.

My rum-buttercream-filled thumbprint cookies that I was making for my sister who loves thumbprint cookies did not turn out dainty. The indentations looked like they'd been made by my elbows.

Jerry's reindeer cookies had cinnamon Red-Hots for noses. Her Millionaire's Shortbread stayed stacked, and -- while we're on the subject of being envious of the products of other people's kitchens -- my grandmother's pfeffernuse never fell.

Hard-headed is what I am, which is odd for a Gemini. We're the sun sign that's supposed to give up. I blame my Scorpio rising.

I'm a believer in failure and in work, crusty Irish-playwright-style. "Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better" is what Samuel Becket never said about making cookies, but I am.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

The Paris Climate Conference

I remember the Kyoto climate conference of 1992. I was studying marine biology and what was important to me was Everything (About The Ocean). Whenever I referred to The Ocean, I thought of it as capitalized.

I envisioned myself becoming a Jacqueline Cousteau; I even took to wearing a little raspberry beret. I tried to smoke Gauloise cigarettes citing the fact that had I been born a year earlier I would have been conceived in France.

My favorite professor was Paulette Peckol. I learned how to create experiments that monitored the eating habits of the common periwinkle snail, Littorina. I mined data. It was all so fantastic.

Everything was amazing. I couldn't get enough of the gas bladders of fucus. Of phylogenetic systematics. How cool and expressive in a myriad of ways was Life? I could spend hours watching.

Now it's the Paris Climate Conference and we're all so totally done with the awesomeness of life and the t-shirts that say Reduce Recycle Reuse that have ended up in Third World country dumps. The joy and curiosity has been replaced with terror.  I'm scared. It's legit. The shells of Littorina don't develop correctly anymore.

When we were in Boston over the summer by the harbor there was a sign that said, basically, "In twenty years where you are might not be here." Crap, was my first thought. My second thought was, More habitat for whales?

Saturday, November 28, 2015


We were in NYC at my sister's on the Upper West Side (I just like saying it. Hello Joe. Hello Box Kite. Hello Zabar's. Great seafood selection from our dwindling oceans Citarella!) for the Thanksgiving Day parade, a hot dirty fabulous mess of filthy lucre, corporate culture, and helium in the shape of Paddington Bear.

We saw Paddington Bear's crotch as he floated over our heads, and no the bear was not wearing underwear, as DS, 10, raptly pointed out. "Commando!"

It was as fun as whippets, which I've never done because I believe in using nitrous oxide in the manner nature intended -- for the extrusion of whipped cream from cans.

It was as fun American things usually are: kinda bad for you (Levain Bakery song), kinda cheese-in-cans, but also big, extraordinary, golden, the kind of thing freedom means, so let's stop being afraid of each other; immigrants were my Husb.'s parents in the '60s living in El Barrio, and my 15-year-old great-grandmother in the 1900s on the Lower East Side sent to marry a distant cousin in Pittsburgh.

The leaves on the trees in Central Park were like a Paul Simon song so "Let's marry our fortunes together."

Friday, November 20, 2015


Mantlescaping is tablescaping for your mantle. Like manscaping,  it is a word I NEVER considered until Husb. said we should quote "do something festive," "how about feathers?"

I said, "Be specific, honey." "Lots of your interior decorating ideas I get confused with foreplay. Remember when when you said you wanted to 'muck out the French drain'?  That was so confusing for us both."

But no, he really wanted to adorn the mantle in a way that incited festiveness. So I put a bird on it.  The bird was not enough.

Husb. had a vision of Gilded Age opulence. Pots stuffed with ferns. Cascading pheasant feathers. The lily gilded.  I wanted to give him what he wanted -- what happy wife does not want to scape the mantle for her dear husband? -- but how, gentle reader, how? 

I found all the gewgaws in my possession, all the showy trifles -- the garlands of "pearl" and garnet-colored plastic beads, the gold plastic platters,  all the junk in the trunk, and I mantlescaped so hard with my lady lumps (brooches, mostly) that Pinterest weeps bloody jealous tears.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

My Armpits Smell Like Australia

My son, 10,  is now wearing Old Spice ("The Man Your Man Could Smell Like") deodorant in the flavor "Citrus" because Target of Pikesville (my second home) didn't have the variety he requested, and that, ladies and gentlemen, was "Mango."  Just imagine -- or rather, don't -- the tropical fruit fug in the morning in the gender bending bathroom at my house.

He's identifying as a man. Well, hooray. I guess. This makes life easier. And more complicated.

How much time has passed!  When he was a dewy-eyed toddler and gender-identified as "adorable" (sadly, a category grown-ups do not have) he thought I was the bees' knees; he snuggled in my arms and told me that my armpits smelled "wike a pwincess." I was like, This is the life my life could smell like and it does.

Now he says I stink.

So I went to --  yes you guessed it my second home, Target of Pikesville -- to check out what's new, what's changed in women's underarm odor control since the days of Smith College when I daubed myself strategically on the pulse points with patchouli and called it a day in the upending of the dominant paradigm in my Barbara Kruger t-shirt. I wore the same beret for four years.

I chose "Australia." And now my armpits smell like Australia which isn't even possible: that's a continent.

But my son is appreciative. I say, "Do I smell like the outback, a place I've never been? Koalas? I like koalas!" and it's reminding me of what irritates me most about myself as a woman: my big-eyed, clingy, land-animal eagerness to please; I survive in a narrow band of extremely specialized biome.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Experience The Magic of Christmas. Hint: It Requires You To Buy A Wand

That's seriously the tagline. "Experience The Magic Of Christmas."

This is as crazy muffins as Starbucks plain-red cups on which the company suggested that any mint mocha-loving Christians upset by the lack of reindeer (because we know Jesus LURVED THE ANTLERED) should "doodle" their own "holiday scenes."

Any time a company uses the word "doodle," somewhere a fairy dies.

Bah humbug.

However, even bad PR is good sales. Starbucks knows that. They even got me. Yesterday I went to put boots on the ground to investigate the snowflake-less red cups at my local and my mint mocha tasted of...Dead Sea Scrolls. There was a monotheistic desert tang. Why had I failed to notice that before? So yummy.

But how come no Christians are freaking out over The Magic Light Wand is what I want to know. Where are you, brethren?

It's a "wand" that through the "magic" of a remote control receiver system lights up the Christmas tree.

Christians, the words "wand" and "magic" are right in the copy, alongside "Christmas."  Don't you just want to scream? I do. Strikes me as totally pagan, waving a battery-powered wand over a folkloric tradition of a evergreen near the winter solstice, but hey. That's me. That's my perspective. Also, it looks very erect. Like an elf erection. But, perhaps I've already drunk too much egg nog.

I guess its okay because the wand isn't just plain red like the Starbucks cup. It has snowflakes on it. Oh, if it has snowflakes -- I guess I'll take my flaming pitchfork elsewhere.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Colorful Vintage Print Maxi Dress

Oh my gods -- or lack of gods belonging to me -- the shame. It has happened. I clicked on this clickbait:


I blame the rain. I blame premature ovarian failure. I blame the month of November which is my least favorite month after February. (Sorry, Mom. I know that the gods-forsaken gritty leafless grey bleakness is the month of your 70th birthday, and when the birds are choosing their mates -- it's still not enough: bird mates. Plus its a myth.)

[Birds of Paradise Mating Dance, narrated by David Attenborogh.]

I have to gather and burn all my calling cards that are embossed Will Never Consider A Maxi Dress, Shine On You Crazy Diamond.

Maxi dresses are for the vacationing suburban mom's first trip to Marrakesh and I've. Never. Been. I broke up with a man in Jerusalem, though, after a very good street felafel. Does that count? A colorful vintage-print maxi dress would have been the thing to be in. Instead I was in my '90s Grunge/Swing Revival phase (amazingly not mutually exclusive) that led to an interesting Venn diagram that included lots of international travel. Hi there Venezuela. Cute #pabebe wave.

Perhaps I am turning into a Gypsy Queen. My mom is reading fortunes with her Gypsy Witch cards aboard a student ship now nearing Salvador, Brazil and my dad says she's been swamped.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Cake And Eat It Too

It's not breaking news is that simple carbs are crap for you. Fats are back. (In other words, f-ck you, Snackwells, f-ck you Cookie Man, the Snackwells' spokesperson. You led me astray.)

Boohoo. What's a girl to do besides make chocolate cake with all the butter in the world, which is exactly what I did last night, an early November Sunday night, the night of the week and the month of the year that cries out like a caged wolf for the eating of chocolate whipped cream frosting (a specialty of mine that I just made up). The word "frosting" makes me do The Humpty Dance.


Heavy whipping cream
Cocoa powder
Powdered sugar

Whip it.

Voila. You are the best looking person in the room.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Bastos Home Design: Note The Ukulele

I'm going into new areas where there be dragons of the Owings Mills branch of the Baltimore Public Library, exploring new call numbers of Dewey Decimal System because I found myself to be in a velvet rut of Pastry, Parenting, Self Help, and Eastern Philosophy and wanted more from life. I wanted 

Home design. Interior decor. 747.9.

I've been reading a lot about "reading a room." How to arrange sticks in an urn. Or how to stack books into pyramids of descending thickness and upon them, stick ballet shoes. 

How that one might put coils of reclaimed rope in the corner of one's living room and explain that the theme is Nautical.  Wallpaper the powder room in sheet music? Why not advertise one's hobbies to the people powdering their noses. 

This forced me to "read" my living room and record how things really are as opposed to what I would like them to be: French Country Italian Villa American Beach House Sedona Mountain Retreat Rustic Pebble Texture Damask Throw Pillow Holland-Thatch in Architectural Digest. 

So I bring you Bastos Home Design. Your house can look just like award-winning mine by following these simple rules: 

Where there is open space, clutter. Where there is counter space, crumbs.

Upon the brown (I prefer the word "burnt umber") early model Ikea pleather couch (I prefer "family heirloom" because it was previously in my parents basement) is a dirty pile (some might say "Zen-like" "wabi-sabi" "arrangement") of laundry which is has been there for days along with a ("traditional Hawaiian stringed instrument") ukulele. 

Friday, November 6, 2015

A Brief History of My Involvement in Organized Sports

BIRTH. What an ordeal. The blood, the sweat. The lack of a trophy.

Second grade DODGEBALL. Tammy Nasser is is pelting me in the face with a playground ball.  I'd honestly would rather be doing papier mache.

Fifth grade GIRLS' SCHOOL FIELD HOCKEY. I spend the afternoon with the school nurse because Katie Legget "high sticked" me, that is, she hit me in the face with her field hockey stick and my braces went through my lip. I still have the scar, Katie Legget. 

JCC SWIM LESSONS, also in Fifth Grade. I learn that the way I learned to swim
(ferocious doggy paddle against the current in the Allegheny River, or floating mindlessly as an invertebrate on my back at the cove at my grandparents farm on the Chesapeake Bay) has been wrong. Twelve different kinds of wrong.

Ninth Grade Public HIGH SCHOOL SWIM TEAM I practice with them for a month, but it's tiring, oh so exhausting. It leaves me with no time for my full-time effort which is to make a film of the Sartre play No Exit with my friends in French to get Christopher Nagy to notice me, because I fancy he looks like Julian Sands.

Briefly, CREW. 10th Grade. The club has no money; our "coach" makes us lift tomato cans and bags of flour.  At the start of the first race, I "catch a crab" meaning I lose control of my huge-ass water-beetle-leg oar and it catches me in the stomach and pitches me out of the boat and into the Marietta River.

Smith College RECREATIONAL SWIM. My house, Dawes House, the French-speaking house, is competing. I do two lengths of freestyle and I am very fast, yes, but also my heart goes tachycardic and I have a panic attack in the Natatorium.

EARLY ADULTHOOD ATTEMPTS TO BE A 420 SAILOR TO PLEASE BOYFRIEND WHO WILL LATER CHEAT ON ME ON MY OWN FUTON.  I date Mark Fallon who sails competitively with his five brothers on Cape Cod, I sail with him as "mate," he is "skipper." I don't understand any of the words that the good-looking yacht people are screaming at each other around the buoy markers -- jib, 160, starboard, fuck you, Ashburton, fuck you back Duffy -- and really what I want to know is, "Will you love me forever?

EARLY ADULTHOOD BASKETBALL FAN #FAIL "It's all too fast, and squeaky," I say to my Israeli boyfriend Itzik Segev who, on our first date, used the word "snuggle" meaning "smuggle" -- as in drugs into Ibiza  -- and that endeared him to me so much because I was totally into the trance music dance scene.  In Jerusalem, we break up. 

I get married to Javier Bastos. WORLD CUP SOCCER.  Perfect. It's a schedule of enthusiasm for very fit, very good-looking men, run by a very corrupt shadowy rich international soccer syndicate but it's just two weeks every four years, and I like yelling in French. Also see: the Azzuri, the Italian national team. Tutti gli uomini. Buongiorno. 

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Mothering Through The Darkness

I had post-partum depression after my son was born and ten years later I wrote about it and now that essay is in a book of essays, an anthology called Mothering Through The Darkness, which has the publication date of... today.

It's compelling to write "publication date" and be referring to yourself and thirty other women.

I feel like I'm back at Smith in Dawes House which was the French-speaking house. There's a pride. My French is middling. But I'm in a book of essays with thirty women. It has a scent like a ripe fruit.

I want to clap people on the back at the suburban Baltimore Starbucks where I hang out freelance-writer-like near the Trader Joe's, "Your double pump soy decaf iced pumpkin spice Americano is on me. Today is Publication Day!" but I don't because the topic of the book is still a stigma. The work of the book is to change this.  Me, thirty women, and essays.

There is still the expectation that all new mothers -- and maybe all mothers -- will be cheery Hallmark cards in glittery script with uplifting meaning, not sad clowns. (That's me, above, pointing with my finger to a tear on my cheek.)

Motherhood morphed and changed me. Ten years in, what I think about is not what could have been, but what is, the transience of my importance, Basho's poem translated by Robert Hass: "A caterpillar/ this deep in fall /still not a butterfly," though of course I would like to be beautiful.

What I have is that I am giving it all that I've got: jazz hands, clowns in the clown car, bear on a little bike, pratfalls, three rings, bits, the Bearded Lady, lion tamer and soft-shoe.

Thursday, October 29, 2015


I played dress-up with my grandmother's hats as a kid, and with her minuscule doll-size size five shoes. She was a pip. My grandfather called her The Busy Bee. A firecracker. "Though she be but little, she is fierce!" Shakespeare said. 

She threw the best parties. Cocktails, piano.  There was always something doing. People got together more often back then. They weren't too picky. 

It was my job to gather all the coats -- among them, the ladies' perfumed and sumptuous furs -- and plunge them onto the upstairs bed. 

She died in October, 1994 and that Halloween my sister and I dressed as scuba divers. We put on our flippers and found we could not walk down the street except backwards. That's how it felt to be without her. She loved me.

My grandmother had some veiled fascinators, lost to history now, of course, like her shoes. One that I liked especially was black velvet with a puff of polka dots on chiffon. It was du trop! It was everything that I was not. Sophisticated. Fast. Elegant, but not stuffy. A little trampy. A little campy.  

Something you might wear thigh-highs with and watch the Rocky Horror Show at midnight with the other elegant fast tramps who were at heart wholesome as all-butter biscuits that you hadn't yet had the pleasure of meeting. 

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Estrogen All Over The Place

I'm in that Dante-ian circle of hell called perimenopause where the provoking demons are Migraine Headache, Dry Eye, Muscle Tension, and Mood Swings. Their henchmen are The Anxieties. 

Ever since my doctor told me, "Your estradiol is shit," I have been on an estrogen patch. 

These are round stickers the size of the Scratch-n-Sniff strawberry ones I used to collect in a photo album in the '80s except these ones are expensive and a transdermal delivery system for ovarian hormone and I have detected no scent.

Except the scent of despair (or is that you, demon Mood Swing?)

They're not working. I have a headache so ferocious at the back of my neck I feel like it needs a name. Giovanna. A real haughty bitch. 

So I'm considering canning all hormone replacement and going full-fledged crone. It's Halloween season. Witch season. Season of not-the-maiden. 

So the timing is good for me to have one of my servants tuck an ostrich plume into a red coronet of fabric on my head.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

How To Tie One On

Remember how earlier this month I told you running (the action of a runner) was going to be My New Thing; I was going to get all rocky mountain high on running

[John Denver's 1985 ad for Raisin Bran.]

Well, sweethearts, Mama lied to you. Mama's knees and Mama's neck bones commenced to braying and howling and yipping like a beagle puppies being poked with a stick. 

My New Thing is going to be scarves

[Michelle Phan shows you five ways with one scarf. Full disclosure: I had to stop watching at "halter top."]

I have been fingering the scarves on the rack at my local Savers,
testing the woven fabrics for the ones that are 100% silk and -- incredible! (as one must feel in finding an early folio of Shakespeare) I have found some. Squares as well as rectangles. 

You have NO IDEA how proud this would make my mother, she is a dedicated member of the international fabric cognoscenti.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Keats' Ode to Autumn for Suburban Mothers

To Autumn

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness! 
Close bosom-friend (considering a breast lift) of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless 
Jo-Ann Fabrics with no-sew Halloween costumes that are E-Z

To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells 
(What are you menu-planning For Thanksgiving?)
With a sweet kernel (zesty corn bread, maybe?) 

To set budding more,
And still more, coupons for 5% off at the Target pharmacy -- 
Where you get your prescription(s) filled.

Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store 
Of New England college guides? With the Yale pages dog-eared.

Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor (or the kitchen floor) 
with a splitting migraine.

Reading The Atlantic with patient look, 
Thou watches the last oozing hours by hours

Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where is lacrosse?
But really, how many of these kids will play professional sports
As a career? 

Think not of them, thou hast thy music too, --
You are still what the 19th century would call a handsome woman
Though you have nasolabial folds, there is Botox for that
And the deep-set wrinkles on your forehead between your eyes.

Full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn
Or is that you yelling:  The kids' can pack their own damn Backpacks!

Hedge-crickets sing -- reminding you 
You should call the exterminator, and while you're at it, 
The gutters need their pre-winter cleaning too.

The redbreast whistles from a garden-croft
And gathering swallows twitter in the skies
And you Tweet the Apple Blossom recipe meme 
With the hashtag #Middleage #Carbovore.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Milkweed Puff Pastry

Milkweed Puff Pastry is my version -- in my 40s --  of Blood Sugar Sex Magic. Remember the Red Hot Chili Peppers? 

I'm consumed by pastry. Nature walks. The fate of the dwindling number of the overwintering Mexican monarch butterflies.

I talk to trees. Probably in the near future I have a feeling I am going to put on a muumuu 

and it won't be ironic. There won't be a line break. It'll be what I'm wearing. 

As I've already said of triceps, having them  -- let them go the way of the dodo, and the adorable quaint cabinetry of the library catalog. I will flap my wings.

What a Prufrockian fuss I make over frangipane. ""Do I dare', and 'Do I dare?'" And the answer is yes if the quest is Îles flottantes.  

I so totally don't need to click on that.  I use phrases that include "the development of the crumb" with my bifocals perched on my nose, uneuphemistically, while my daughter plays the ukulele.

This is no laughing matter. Look at my frown lines. I don't know how much time I have left to get it right is what I think 

as I collect the cattails from the swamp and arrange them -- ikebana-ish -- in a tall glass vase. 

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Mother Goddess

This is how I don't arrive anywhere anymore. On a chariot pulled by oversized lions.

Mush, lion darlings, mush!

Instead, I ungracefully unfold myself from a Hyundai while brushing crumbs of a scone off my momjean jeggings like that bronze lady the Anatolian mother goddess Cybele (above) probably never does.

[The worship of Cybele. As told by Lucretius]

It's 10 AM and hey -- where are the cymbals and drums announcing that I am about to have my bath and use my loofah to exfoliate?

Where is the person assigned to write a poem about me and my many wonderful attributes, namely mercifulness, and also fierceness, on papyrus? Where are my adoring minions? Where my Egyptian cotton bath towels? Where are my worshippers?

This is the cheap modern plastic tchotchke mother goddess shite, America, with the bogus lack of lions, towels, and you know, worship.

I don't even have a soundtrack. There is no one here with sweet voice and lute. Perhaps that's an oversight and you'll send someone soon?

Okay fine. I guess I'll have to hum Killer Queen to myself.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

To Include In Your Fall Poetry

The leaves changing color.

Fall, how pretty it is. How very, very pretty. So pretty, in fact, that you are writing poems.

Umber. Ochre. Orange.

Geese flying in a V formation

Fall as a metaphor for metamorphosis 

Fall as a metaphor for death

Fall as a reminder you better giddyup and smell the roses because like the geese  -- something something rhyming couplet that ties these ideas together  (remember, this is your poem, I can't do all the work)

Pumpkins: why do they mean so much to Americans? In other cultures they are squash and quite frankly not that big a deal. What's the deal with pumpkins?

Warm spices, but not the usual ones. Surprise us!


References to cider, a woolen scarf, apples, abundance, and  gathering all get you extra points so I say go for it  

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Things That Are Scary

I have never visited a "haunted attraction," or watched a horror movie all the way through without hiding behind my grande-venti huge popcorn with a gravy-boat's worth of "butter flavoring" with my eyes closed, and the thumb of the hand not holding the popcorn (this is already sounding disembodied) lodged in my ear so I can't barely hear whatever scary music. Jaws.*  Psycho.*

* Sharks. Whatever. What I am scared of is dark water.

* Violins scare me. All the stringed instruments.

I read Pet Cemetery in high school and then, of course, we went to my grandparents farm* and there it was...a l'il olde 19th-century cemetery on the property of all the families that used to live on that farm that somehow I had failed to notice all these years and now was noticing all the time. I couldn't not notice it.

* Abandoned farms. Especially if they were 19th century hog farms in the south. 

* Hogs scare me. 

* Honestly, the south  -- 

Being scared, quivering* rodent-like, is something my brain* does for me, unannounced, chronically. An anxiety disorder is the only thing I have in common with Scott Stossel, the editor of The Atlantic. 

* The word 'brain' is kind of hideous.

* 'Quivering' -- oh god. I need a pacifier like a baby. 

Research shows that anxiety is actually an adaptive behavior. A little neuroticism can be good for you. * Cro-Magnons who were scared of dark water, stringed instruments, and hogs traversed the Alps, avoided Ice Age predators, and then became my maternal ancestors. My paternal ancestors were coloring themselves blue with woad.

* But I'm too scared to believe anything. 

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Runner's High

I am doing this new thing called running. The action or movement of a runner.

Dawn of humanity, big brains, bodies built for long distance, evidence found in skeletal remains, good for our cardiovascular vasculature  -- blah blah blah.  I want to run because I want to get high.
What good suburban mother doesn't occasionally want to shake it off?

I semi-started already. I bought leggings.  I don't look cool in them, but that's not the point is it? The point it to get high. On my own cannabinoids.

The journey of a great lush high begins with that first step out my door, according to science.

Looking left and right for any neighbors who might witness me and shudder to see a middle-aged mom in leggings "running," the action or movement of a runner, something I haven't done willingly since I was ten because of the uncomfortable jiggling and gravitational pulling, plus, you know, the exercise of it. And I have to be back in time for bus pick-up.

But there's nothing like desperation for motivation.

Friday, October 9, 2015

The History Of My First Bras

Age 11. Newman's. Squirrel Hill, Pittsburgh. 

The training bra section is located right next to the registers, and the windows, and incongruously, boy's belts. I linger for one hot flat New York minute. Then move on to sweater vests.

Age 12. Again, Newman's. 

My mom buys a Jockey For Her Three-Pak for me while I am at Little's Shoe Store up the street, trying on Mary Janes and focusing all of my energy on whether I want black patent leather, or matte black leather. I want matte black leather.

Age 14.  The Pussycat, a lingerie boutique for middle-aged women. Squirrel Hill, Pittsburgh. (Victoria's Secret still does not yet exist.)

I purchase a flight of Playtex soft cups. No, my mother purchases them. Then she and the shopkeeper tell me about about the weird cone-shaped bras of the 1950s when they "were girls" and they say the word "nipple" like it's just a normal everyday word and I want to die.

Age 18. Monroeville Mall, Pittsburgh. 

-- Victoria's Secret is at the Monroeville mall!  -- They have push-up bras! Someone is spreading these rumors.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Weather Event

Nothing so focuses me as an opportunity. To get my knickers in a twist. Adrenaline. Weather events. I take after my paternal grandfather. He fed himself on the milk of Pepto-Bismol.

I am shortly to go to storm-prep shopping with a Shopping List of Hysteria on which I have written: Tuna. Bottled water. Wine. Generator (but only if on sale). Vogue. The thickest issue I can put my paws on.

Meteorologists are calling Joaquin "erratic" and "uncertain" in its "cone." Men. Ha. I'm more uncertain about the waterproofness of my new suede clogs, which is dunderheaded and petty and a first world problem. I would be rearranging deck chairs on Titanic.

I am a conehead.

Gird Up Your Loins, Elizabeth! is something I have never said until I found an extremely helpful picture of how to do it. That's what's been missing. Not the desire, but the how. The DIY.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Water Like A Stone

I realized Shock! Awe! Opportunity! there are no songs about Seasonal Affective Disorder.

And that huge oversight and lack gives me something to do. Got lemons? Or, in this case, got lengthening shadows, and ghosts of the ancestors? Make lemonade.

Instead of wringing my hands, and weeping in front of my light box, moaning, and invoking the Aten, the Egyptian Solar Disk (above): "Sun, where art thou? Why has thou forsaken me and the entire Northern Hemisphere?"

I will not weep, nor moan, but mess around with the titles of well-known Christmas carols to be about Seasonal Affective Disorder. Snarktastic. Snarkgasm.

[Too soon? Please, you dear, you unjaded, seasonally unaffected lamb, there are already Christmas trees at Home Depot. "Shop All Artificial Trees."]

Here you go.

I Saw Three Ships Come Sailing In
And there better be the lightbox upgrade I ordered from Amazon in one of them.

It Came Upon A Midnight Clear 
No actually, not.  Libido plummets. 

The Boar's Head Carol
I could not give less of a shit, trust me, about anything in Latin. 

Does it matter what I'm wearing? I'm not going out. I'm a cave-dwelling badger until April when I reappear in these sweatpants.

Bring A Torch Janette Isabella
But make it a lightbox. The one I ordered.

The Carol of The Bells
This "song" is based on a folk chant known in Ukrainian as "Shchedryk."  I bring it up at holiday parties. Where I am wearing sweatpants. Are you glad you pestered me into going out. 

Ding Dong Merrily on High
For whom is this true? 

In The Bleak Midwinter
Christina Rossetti, lady poet, you were probably a fellow SAD-er,  so go on and preach. 

[Rossetti wrote In The Bleak Midwinter in 1872 "in response to a request from the magazine Scribner's Monthly for a Christmas poem."]

Friday, September 25, 2015

A Wrinkle In Time

"The oceans of the world are a vast, alien landscape, covering more than half the Earth's surface..."  I love where this is going. 

It's so sci-fi. As an eleven-year-old I was a big Madeleine L'Engle Ring of Endless Light fantasy nerd. Dolphins! Boy problems! Girl in a one-piece bathing suit bursting from the waves in a state of bliss! (This has my name all over it.)

[Madeline L'Engle on writing: "My best work comes when I move beyond my intellect."]

There is a researcher at Brown University who has devoted a web page (and his whole life) to Siphonophores, those colonial sea animals like coral and the Portuguese man o' war who live to confuse our puny human idea of the meaning of "individual."

They are groups. Hundreds of specialized polyps called zooids that live as a single organism.

[Maybe this is what I should be for Halloween.]

I "sing in my chains like the sea." That's from Dylan Thomas' Fern Hill which was paternal grandfather's favorite poem. He's dead now. I don't know what my maternal grandfather's favorite poem was. He's dead too.

I don't know what my undying interest in marine biology means. Perhaps it is nothing more than a continuation -- the sea from whence we came -- but I suspect it has something to do with Oscar Wilde.

He said, "One's real life is so often the the life one does not lead."

Friday, September 18, 2015

The Chambered Nautilus

David Attenborough narrates. 'Nuf said.

That a Justice of the Supreme Court (1902-1932), the brilliant witty observer and Harvard professor Oliver Wendell Holmes took time out of his busy day in the 1850s to write The Chambered Nautilus about -- fist pump! -- the cousin to octopus and cuttlefish  just proves (again) how poetry- and philosophical-musing-worthy are the cephalopods. 

I've always thought so. Me and Wendell. So tight. Like me and Henry David Thoreau.

And if you don't like Holmes' poem with its "ship of pearl" and the "unshadowed main" and the extremely appealing idea of "cold sea-maids" who "rise to sun their streaming hair," then you probably don't like Fragonard (below).

And, friend, if you don't like Fragonard we have a bone to pick; because I want to spend an early fall afternoon in a pink ridiculous cream puff froth of a dress kicking off my dainty slipper from a swing (or in a Merchant Ivory film), ain't no shame in it.

Like the nautilus, I travel shell-first --  so I can't always see where I'm going. 

Friday, September 11, 2015


We parents say we had it harder.  "We walked to school uphill both ways. Kids today are the couch potatoes, the 'soft Americans' President Kennedy was so concerned about, even way back in the 1960s."

Who is to blame? We shuttle them from school to soccer to ballet practice. We make their orthodontist appointments for them.

should know better.

At 10 I was sent to Vermont to stay for two weeks to help out my namesake aunt who had a natural food store yet I wouldn't dream of sending my kids anywhere near White River Junction. Let alone on a plane with a lanyard that said, "Unaccompanied Minor." It is so scary, just the thought. How did my parents let me go?

At 12 I went alone to British English to spend Easter with the children of a friend my grandfather had made during the war. When I think back on this it is with wonder. My parents: "Hey, let's send our oldest daughter across the Atlantic? Yes! That is an idea that is good. She will come back talking about crumpets."

Yet I butter my kids' toast and cut off the offending crusts. Sweetie, should you never encounter anything more odious or confusing than a Crust. Not baggage claim.

Perhaps we ourselves -- modern parents -- are the feared soft Americans.

My protectiveness, and helicopterishness, and just plain fear -- and the fantasy that I have Control Over Every Outcome -- have gone too far.  I told Husb. recently that I want to get our son, 10, full-protective body armor of the old-fashioned Japanese samurai type. His testosterone is kicking in, playing havoc with his executive function. He is rash, stubborn, and thrill-seeking.

He is biking his cheap mountain bike down cement staircases around the private school campus where we live while hooting, "While biking with no hands I can do a bunny hop! Watch me, Mommy!" and no doubt unsettling fundraising.

But, I have to remember Mark Twain. He said, "A man who carries at cat by the tail learns something he can learn in no other way."

So, go with gusto, son, bike down those terrifyingly steep crumbling stairs, sweet cherub, whose newborn scent I can still sometimes detect under the feverish tweenerish sweat.

I will be there, as a the kind of mother I have become, to freak out completely, when you fall.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Negligent, Lazy, Disorganized, Late

There is a new to me personality test called the Five Factor Model that measures five factors of our weird little complex and fascinating selves: extroversion, contentiousness, openness, agreeableness and neuroticism, which is a trait-tendencency I know like an old shoe. Check neuroticism off.

Hannah and Her Sisters is one of my favorite movies. It reminds me of the wonderful wool-and-caretaking camphor smell of the under-the-dining-room-table carpet where I used to curl up and listen at my grandparents' while they had their friends over. Elva Wurmb! Bunny Furlow! The Elligators! Were all their friends animals?

As I get older and give less of a shit, I've become more extroverted. Not by much. A little. Like a snail waving its tentacles. Under a table.

The conscientiousness dimension really threw me. According to it I am flake and a jerk. Lazy, disorganized, negligent, and late. Is there no more positive way to spin these? Can my lack of conscientiousness be made up for by my being really open to experience?

Can I stuff the deep hole -- a Mariana's Trench, if you will -- of my tendency to disorganization, to chaos, to disorder, to entropy with lots and lots of temperamental, reserved, soft-hearted curiousness and light it with the lamp of worried, original, good-natured creativity?

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Best Beloved

My grandfather, a Kipling fan, a Victorian-at-heart, used to read to me The Just-So Stories.  O best beloved! 

[Rudyard Kipling was one of the most popular writers in England, in both prose and verse, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.[4] Henry James said: "Kipling strikes me personally as the most complete man of genius (as distinct from fine intelligence) that I have ever known."[4] In 1907, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, making him the first English-language writer to receive the prize.]

The above Great White Knight of The Canon of Dead White Men is not the Kipling that I knew. The Kipling I knew was my Grandfather being the great snake Nagaina from The Jungle Book in a soft voice hissing his s's ("if you move I strike, and if you do not move I strike") while the fire sparkled with copper sulfate that he put it to turn the flames blue for the sake of magic. 

He was a man of "infinite-resource-and-sagacity."

Now I'm reading How The Elephant Got Its Trunk to the kids, 8 and 10, but they're not half as moon-struck mooncalf as I was as a pre-teen. They're sophisticated non-fiction. They're like, "The elephant's truck evolved, Mom. And the 'great gray-green greasy Limpopo River, all set about with fever trees'? What?"

Tuesday, September 8, 2015


Elderberry rings no bells for me as a color, as a flavor, or a fruit. The best I could come up with was purplish, maybe? Wine-stained? O sing muses of the wine-dark sea.

But that was enough, for when I saw the model wearing the frames Ainsworth in Elderberry I was like color, flavor, fruit -- whatever, I want to be her.  It's no secret I want to be all the Warby Parker models.

[Honest makeup tutorial skewers impossible beauty standards.]

Ainsworth in Elderberry clearly has a great life.  I want that life. Therefore, knowing that one can osmose awesomeness though cool purchases no you can't I purchased them and waited to soak in the tank of hip.

[Turn a vintage tub into an outdoor hot tub.]

I'm still waiting.

It turns out that elderberry's "folklore is extensive and can be wildly conflicting depending on region." And that in Germanic societies (hello) the elder is the living place of the "elder-mother," a seriously bad-ass menopausal goddess.

Boom like that I saw in a new way. With hawk-like clarity.

    Friday, September 4, 2015

    How To Get Dressed

    Baltimore County is a fashionable world, a world of leggings that aren't ironic and scarves, statement necklaces, cardis, and power heels and I, in my mid-40s, still don't really know how to get dressed. I am a goose among swans.

    My vibe is Graduate Student Hillbilly Nerd Wanna Be Librarian And/Or Field Biologist.  I don't know even one, let alone nine ways to wear a scarf.

    [Michelle Phan shows you nine different ways to wear a scarf.]

    So like the perpetual graduate student hillbilly nerd that I am,  I hitched myself up by the belt loops of my dingy, hits-right-at-the-cankle Talbots' culottes and went straight to the library.

    I filled my arms with books with bold, aspirational titles like You: Personal Style and How To Get One, You Sad Middle-Aged Woman Who Thinks Talbots Culottes In Tangerine Are Ever The Right Choice For Brunch Or Any Other Time, and The Stylish Do More With Their Lives Than You Will, Ever

    Much of the advice is about defining who you are, what you like, and projecting this with your costume clothes. A lookbook helps. So does imagining Stacy London looking at you.

    I did what is called "wardrobe editing" or "curating" and I am wearing a crisp white oxford (like Sharon Stone at the Oscars!), black skinny jeans that I am not quite sure fit in a flattering way, orange ballet flats, and large earrings cut out of balsa wood in the shape of feathers.

    Get off the ground little goose. Fly, goose of fashion, fly! 

    Thursday, September 3, 2015

    Baking Bread

    La reine of baking Dorrie Greenspan has a butter tip-sheet. That sounds dirty, Urban Dictionaryish. Yum yum I thought, but no, perv, it really is tips about butter.

    [An aside: Dorrie Greenspan's boozy, Parisian pineapple.]

    Dry butter. Winter butter. Higher butter-fat content butter. Butter from grass-pastured cows, etc. Mise en abyme. That's an expression from a pointless confusing tunnelscape French literary criticism that I learned to use in college French (ou est la piscine?) and is best explained by the cow logo of La Vache Qui Rit cheese.

    [Or explained by this: Gerard Depardieu. Or even better, by this: Foux de Fa Fa]

    La Vache Qui Rit wears earrings of La Vache Qui Rit, and the cow in the earrings is wearing earrings of the same logo, and that cow is wearing -- ow, ow, stop, you're hurting my American brain.

    But I'm into that sort of thing, vexation, confusion, pain, France, since I started baking. Making brioche. Being a person who makes brioche is like wearing a t-shirt that says Cake or Death in happy, bubbly handwriting, perhaps with a little smiley face in the "o" of the "or death." French handwriting.

    With brioche (as with so many things) I am trying to keep things light and airy, like Vangelis' soundtrack to Chariots of Fire, but my medium is heavy, corporeal, butter and eggs. It's not only a philosophical problem, it's physics.

    Wednesday, September 2, 2015


    "No pants, no 'rawls!" my then two-year-old son shrieked as I tried to dress him for pre-school. He hated anything (pants, overalls, shorts, David Beckham sarong) that covered the loin-half of his self.  He was meant to be free. Yes, but I wanted to dress him with me in adorable matching sailor sets.

    I remembered this last night when -- in the role of my life, The Harried Suburban Mother in a suburban docudrama called Looking Last Minute For Uniform Pants -- he was trying to stuff himself into a size 10 and the waist-button went boing, popped off and rolled under the bed to join Ninjago Lego minifig heads (if you have to ask, just don't) and he welled up. He said with mounting hysteria (apple:tree) that nothing fit him.

    He was right. He looked like a Japanese anime badger in a 2-pound sack. The uniform pants that I had pressed, folded and neatly set away for the idyll that is summer (where one can wear something elastic-waisted all day) had shrunk, tightened, gone Cabbage-Patch-doll-sized like a cashmere sweater accidentally in the wash on hot. A first-world problem. The treachery.

    "Mommy's on this," I said. "Don't cry. Mommy is a problem solver." Mommy is problem-solving this like a Sherlock Holmes who solves everything by gunning the Hyundai to the consignment shop, and failing to find pants in Size 12 Husky because that pretty much describes EVERY GROWING BOY IN THE COUNTRY then mutters, swears, and drives like a bat to Hunt Valley and throws money at the Lands' End catalogue.

    Monday, August 31, 2015


    It's the back to school "season of mists and mellow fruitfulness" where I remember distinctly not the "with fruit the vines that 'round the thatch-eaves run," (adieu, adieu, Mr. Keats) but the chalkboard sweet milk-carton smell of my 4th grade teacher Mrs. Jenkins who did not have a first name to my knowledge and wore her hair in a giant spray-shellacked beehive and presciently, Jungian-ly, archetypically, cast me as the Cowardly Lion in the Ellis School 4th grade's rendition of The Wizard of Oz. I channeled my best Burt Lahr blaring in my chubby, thick lion-colored dance pantyhose. If I were king of the forrrreeeest.  

    As I've said many times, I haven't emotionally matured much past ten. Perhaps to eleven. My mom jokes that 4th grade was my academic peak. My Denali. Previously my Mt. McKinley.

    My son begins 4th grade tomorrow; it's like I'm going to 4th grade. Is that how tied up in him I am? Mother as sticky web of her own unfinished business. Mother as vampire? Yes. Possibly.

    The small lion-costumed ghostly me of the past with a tartan plaid metal lunchbox containing the extremely uncool lunch of homemade meatloaf (or worse, my grandmother's relish-flecked egg salad on homemade wheat), nothing good to trade in the lunchroom, will be following him off up the hill, I can't help it.

    Thursday, June 25, 2015

    Moving Tips

    Ha! "Lamp Box"  haha "Dishpack Box." The very idea that someone has named something a "Large Mirrorpack" makes me know there is someone out there so much more organized than I could ever hope to be.

    As far as packing materials go I am I am totally Used Dishtowel. Mindlessly Wrapping Glassware With Stuffed Animals, and 100% Discarded Printer Box Found In The Dumpster Into Which Sorta Fit My Ikea-Framed Posters. I'm This Cuisinart is Clean Enough.

    I regret my collection of yelloware bowls. They looked so pretty on the kitchen counter in a marigold spectrum, but now that I'm hefting them into boxes, they look all It's Not 1940 Anymore, Farm Girl. You Know These Are Glazed With Lead Paint.

    In fact, I regret every purchase, every hand-me-down, every relic of brown furniture that I didn't say no to now that I have to pack everything into a "Medium Box."

    I don't even have that much stuff -- I consider myself a Zen-ster, and have a belief system that is Shit In Shit Out, but where did all the stuff come from? Why so many throw pillows, wind chimes, and lemon zesters? Why the multiple bird feeders?  The aspirational tennis racquets when I have never played tennis. And mugs? Dutch ovens? Don't even get me started. I'm having to take some deep breaths and some sort of medication because of the mugs; they're like Tribbles on Star Trek.

    Sunday, June 7, 2015

    Triple Crown

    The day I've been waiting for since I was a chubster bucktooth in the '70s watching the Derby with my grandmother (some people called her a pip) on her naugahyde recliner in her living room (referred to as "the bird room" because of the knockoff Audubon-print wallpaper she loved so much) eating unsanctioned sweets and too allergic to horses to even feed the glorious animals apples without getting hives, is here.

    I'm not a sports fan of anything except American horse racing every year in the early spring and World Cup soccer every four years (but I married into that) so when American Pharoah crossed the finish 5 1/2 lengths ahead of Frosted yesterday on Long Island I hollered. I felt Seabiscuit's soft ghostly nose brushing my cheek. Mama's getting a new pair of shoes! I spluttered.

    Mama's getting a t-shirt with Victor Espinoza's face on it! I fangirl squeeed. "Kids," I said to the kids, "you are have just witnessed history." I wept. I blubbered. I'm not ashamed to admit it, I miss my grandma.

    She always wore little red and bright-colored pumps (she was kind of a peacock) fit for elves all in a neat row in her closet and complicated hair ornamentation geisha-ish. She would have been toodooleeedooing and slapping the couch saying "Hot Damn!" and things things like, "Mercy!" and carrying on about making a horse-shaped cake to celebrate. She had that kind of skill set.

    Saturday, June 6, 2015

    Call Me Calizabeth

    Caitlyn Jenner the man formerly known as Bruce broke the internet this week, but not a lot of stereotypes about women with her Vanity Fair cover. I wanted to see her as I Am Woman, Hear Me Roar.

    Older adult womanhood shot by Annie Leibowitz is about what? Lounging louchely on white leather couches with expensive mermaid hair looking moodily out at the world though a penthouse window. Or come-hither camera, I've still got it, a starlet in a white satin bustier. (I have one of those! Wait. Damn. I don't. I must have misplaced it with my Nice 'N Easy hair color from 1988. Remember the commercial? "It's you, only better.")

    Her athleticism and bravery has been poured into several fitted evening gowns and that feels old hat. Really old hat. Like a top hat made of beaver on a master of the universe who runs railroads whose woman is at home making preparations to hostess with the mostess a dinner party in a bustle.

    I was hoping for some kind of expansionary image, some kind of pushing of the envelope of Woman, some kind of punny, explosive, funny Bette Midler in a bed of roses and thorns, clever impish RuPaul rakishness, "We're all come in to the world naked and the rest is all drag," and instead we've been diminished to breaking the internet with our butts. Again.

    Caitlyn could have just as easily have called herself People Pleaser, and I would have said, Girl, there is no way you can win this game; that's been my name for a long time. Then we'd giggle girlishly, do you think he's cute? OMG! Kinda!

    We'd twirl our banana curls. We'd put maraschino cherries in our pink drinks before heading up to the roof deck to do yoga with Kim.

    Friday, June 5, 2015

    19th Century Medical Engravings

    I'm a dowager-humped laundry-ridden stenotic arthritic chronically ill suburban mother who likes the natural history of the 19th century and had I lived in that time would probably have been collector of beetles or whorled Welsh snail shells collected from moody Wuthering Heights (O Heathcliff!) beaches and moors. I would probably have said,  "More tea, vicar?" and been into crocheted antimacassars. I like a good clear 19th century medical engraving.

    This one (above) fit the bill this morning when I was cruising for 19th century medical images, which is one of my hobbies. Other hobbies include: confiture, researching PubMed for my symptoms, and the era of Big Band music, and identifying things I find in tide pools.

    Isn't she bonnie and blythe? I adore her Essie "Ballet Slippers" pale pink reticule and her gesture of generosity, Here, citizen, take my hand. Where I live we smoke.

    Why was Haydn angry at his chicken? Because it kept saying, "Bach, Bach, Bach..." and that's how I feel about my health: I want to be one way, and it is another.

    Thursday, June 4, 2015

    La Creperie

    My parents lived in Claremont-Ferrand, France before I was born. Apparently it was a love nest and an idyll and they ate horsemeat and rabbit and and generally whooped it up with bloomy-rind cheeses. I will not mention the bathing suits. They were too tiny to mention anyway.

    A French country village life has always been there in the background of my family life looming in its unbearable adorableness. I mean, just look at that unattainable and classic store-front script (above) and the color combination. C'est chouette.

    So I make crepes. My dad calls. I'm on the phone with my dad. I'm keeping an eye on the batter so that the crepes I make are golden.  He's telling me about going to Paris in the fall to visit old friends Henri and Claude from that time, before he begins an around-the-world sea voyage on a ship as professor of English and I think, How well do I know this man? 

    He's doing an around the world, again, and I've made homemade strawberry jam in a copper pot. Is it possible we're not related?

    After I conclude that my dad in his 70s is an International Man of Mystery, my daughter, 7, complains that her "pancake" is "too thin," and that the strawberry jam is "not sweet enough" and I tell her tant pis, too bad, that's the way they do things in France and it makes you stronger.