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.