Tuesday, December 25, 2007
My Christmas Eve Surprise!
Sunday, December 09, 2007
I Used to Like Winter
I loved winter days when Joe and the kids would go off skiing, leaving me to make a big pot of soup and homemade bread, and to set up my rug frame. Or when we'd all don cross-country skis and ski the hayfield. Or when we went ice skating at the Dorflinger Wildlife Sanctuary. I didn't have Raynaud's Syndrome in those days, so I could do those things.
Winter storms didn't bother me because I didn't have to go anywhere and I knew that Joe would always keep us safe and warm. And he always did. If I needed help with one of the animals--feeding, walking, whatever--there was always someone to ask. I got a lot of satisfaction out of keeping the birds fed in difficult weather, and since we had no outside cats in those days I could feed the birds right on the porch.
After a storm, or even during one, Joe would be out with the snow thrower, making neat paths from the house to road, from the road to the barn, from the garage to the house. I rarely fell in those days, and if I did I got right up with damaging anything.Back then, power outages were an adventure. We had a computer and a TV, but weren't addicted to either yet. Without electricity, we could always play the piano. Our outages never lasted very long anyway, because Joe would fire up the generator.
I have a generator now, but have no clue how to use it. It isn't even winter yet as I write this, but already I'm tired of it. Tired of making paths with my feet, tired of being cold, tired of eight dog walks a day (two dogs x 4), tired of falling.
Joe and I always said we loved the change of seasons. These days I love the change only when it involves coming into spring, summer, or autumn. And even autumn is questionable.
Saturday, December 01, 2007
Saturday, November 24, 2007
Woman's Best Friend (well, one of them, anyway)
Saturday, November 03, 2007
Grape Leaves on Angel
Excerpt from a larger piece......
Riding in a car driven by her best friend’s dad one day, she saw a puppy that had been hit on the road, stunned but unhurt. I said she was the collie-shepherd of my dreams, sent by God to see me through menopause. I named her Angel. She grew into a big dog with long grey hair. A Briard. Some years later Jill found a small black dog on our road. She named him Turpie, after a character in a favorite childhood book. When she spotted a very long-haired black kitten in a horse barn, she thought he might fill a hole left by the loss of my long-haired black-and-white, Mystic, who had drowned in our pool. Suzanne brought home the kitten, and I named him Princeton, for the place I was when he arrived: my late parents’ house in Florida.
Tuesday, October 23, 2007
The Mixed Blessing That is eBay
In 2003, when I first got uber-serious about decluttering, my son was selling ham radio stuff on eBay. I asked him to sell his father's chemistry and horse books. He said, "No, you do it. Once you get into it, you'll love it." I had zero enthusiasm for learning something new, but I couldn't persuade my son to take this on. So I bought a book on how to sell on eBay, and jumped in.
My son was right: Once I got into it, I loved it. I especially loved selling books. One reason is that I love books, and another is that they're easy to ship. So after I sold off all my husband's books, I culled my collection and sold a lot of them.
Of course, I didn't stop there. I love books, and I also love the hunt. What fun to prowl thrift shops and yard sales for potentially valuable books! I estimate that I was right about the potential value 50% of the time. My stepdaughter sells china on eBay, and for a while I found myself in thrift shops turning over cups and saucers to read the marks on the bottom. But I soon realized that I absolutely didn't want to ship fragile items. And I never tried to calculate how much I made per hour on eBay because I was sure the figure was likely to be shockingly low. But I had fun.
Eventually, though, I got tired of selling and tired of seeing books, packing materials, and other items all over the place. I stopped selling for many months. I haven't been tempted to start up again, but last week my son suggested that we list some of his dad's scientific equipment. I told him I'd round up some leftover books and list those first, to get my feet wet again. I did that, and now I'm feeling some of that old excitement.
Trouble is, now I'm tempted to start hunting again. I'm resisting this because the last thing I need is more stuff in the house, even if it's stuff I hope to move out of here. As it is, my living area has already been taken over with UV lights, spectophotometers, chain balances, and other large items from my husband's lab. Oy! EBay can be a good idea—a great idea—but I'm wondering what I got myself into...again.
Any other ambivalent eBay sellers out there? Oh, and in case you're curious, my eBay name is Editoria.
Friday, October 12, 2007
Fall -- Here at Last
Wednesday, October 03, 2007
Grey Cat on Grey Rocks
She's feral, and I can't get near her. But she's lived in our barn and on our property for years. And she always lets me know when her food is late.
Friday, September 21, 2007
Decisions, Decisions . . .
“Just a little,” I answered. “Do you need some help?”
“I wonder if you could help me pick out a chardonnay,” she said.
I know more about reds than I do whites, but she looked worried so I figured I’d give it a shot.
“I’ll try,” I said.
“One of the best lower-end chardonnays I ever had was a Santa Carolina Reserve from South America,” I said, leading her to the imports. “Let’s see if they have that.”
I scanned the bottles. None looked promising, or even familiar. “Oh, there’s a 2001.”
“Is the year important?” the lady asked.
“It can be, but it’s hard to generalize,” I said. “Two thousand one was a good year for zinfandel, for instance, but I don’t know about chardonnay. Sometimes the older wines taste better than the more recent vintages, but . . .” I could see that I’d lost her.
“Is the year important?” she asked again.
“No,” I said, “it isn’t.”
“This is so hard,” she said. “So hard.”
“Really, it isn’t that bad.” I tried to reassure her. “It’s a bit of a roll of the dice, maybe, but you could end up with a nice surprise at your dinner table. Are you serving chicken? Fish?”
“No, I’m serving beef,” she said.
“If you spill red wine, that’s it.”
“Yeah, I guess it is.”
I spotted some special prices at the end of the row. “Let’s look down here,” I said.
I picked up a bottle. “This is a possibility.”
“What’s possible about it?” she asked, clutching her shopping cart with white knuckles.
“Well, it’s on sale.”
“I don’t know what to do. I just don’t know what to do.” She shook her head.
I decided she needed firm advice. “Buy this one,” I stated flatly.
“Why should I?” she demanded flatly.
Okey-dokey, a new approach was needed. I read from the label. “Monkey Bay (see the monkey?) . . . It’s from New Zealand, and New Zealand has produced some good wines. I predict that for $8.99 on sale, you can’t go wrong with this wine.”
“Oooh, this is terrible,” she said. “It’s so hard. I can’t choose. I can’t do this today. I’m going to have to come back tomorrow.”
“Or another day. I can’t make a decision in one day. It’s just too hard.” Although her hands still gripped the handle of her shopping cart, I could practically see them being wrung into a pulp.
I put the bottle back and rested one of my hands on her shoulder. “If I were you,” I said, looking into her eyes, “I would buy the Monkey Bay because it has a really cute label.”
I left the store, and I don’t know if she bought the wine.
But she smiled.
Tuesday, September 18, 2007
Gardening, Domino Style
In the September issue, the hand-carved divan is beautiful, but definitely does not belong in my house. That's good, actually, because it costs $7,000. Ditto the bright coral "cheeky" Louis XV desk for $5,160 and the "couch as confection" ($12,500).
I felt even more removed from the gardening section. I've been gardening for decades. Surely I can connect to their gardening pages. Not really.
I own some necessary gardening equipment, but not a lot of it. What's the point? You need to be able to dig and you need to be able to move stuff around. Some people spray. Other than that, gardening is basically you and the seeds, followed by you and the plants. Ah, but not according to Domino.
The September issue features a number of tools, beginning with an iron harvesting basket ($87). Iron?? Gardening doesn't require enough exertion without lugging around an iron basket? Once you've recovered from dragging your heads of broccoli to the porch in their iron container, you can pickup a bunch of lightweight wood cloches from France and cover your salad greens so they won't mature too quickly. (Can you do the same with your teenagers?) But don't pick up too many — each one costs $80.
The dollar store has some foam kneeling pads for a buck or two, but you'll feel ever so much more elegant on your leather kneeler ($85). For $310 you can be the proud owner of a rhubarb forcer. I'm not sure I'd want to force rhubarb, though. Did you know the leaves are poisonous? They are. That makes them dangerous. Trying to force rhubarb might be somewhat like trying to force the Sopranos to do something. Would you try to strong-arm the Sopranos? I didn't think so.
And finally, you might want a terra cotta jar in your garden. That is, if you don't mind spending $1,100 for something that's going to get muddy, knocked over by deer, peed on by the dog, and broken if you forget and leave it out during a freeze. Then again, you might not want it. I know I don't.
Tuesday, September 11, 2007
1. We pitch everything into a big, ugly blue crate outside the back door. Whatever we throw in usually bounces right back out. Depending on the weather, the time of day, and how my back is feeling, I may or may not pick it up off the grass and deposit it back into the crate.
2. When the crate is full I nag my son to empty it.
3. At some point it shows up empty.
4. My son naggingly reminds me that recycling collection is in two days. He tells me the recycling is bagged up in the shed and ready to go.
5. I drive my car over to the shed and discover that 50% of the recycling is inside bags that are way too dusty for me to put in my car. The other 50% hasn't made it into bags yet.
6. Depending on the weather, my mood, and what else I'd rather do, I may or may not go back to the house to get clean bags. If I do, I rebag, etc., until a) my car is full, or b) I get tired of doing it, whichever comes first.
I don't think my friend is planning to adopt my system.
Sunday, August 26, 2007
Personal Enrichment, More or Less
So when I opened up the Sunday paper this morning and found an insert from the school district titled "Adult and Community Education" and featuring an aerial photograph of the high school—golf course, football field, lake and all—I decided this would be my year to take a class.
The first section was Personal Enrichment. Sounds good. There's always room to be personally enriched, no? I scanned the course offerings . . . Driver Safety, Acrylic Painting, Art for Children, Watercolor Painting, How to Rubber Stamp (Uh...pick up stamp. Press on ink pad. Line up on paper. Push.), eBay for Beginners, Handmade Christmas Cards . . . and stopped at Adventures in Dreaming. Just as I thought: It was about lucid dreaming and other forms of dream work. Interesting. But I lost interest when I read the name of the instructor. Why would anyone call himself Thor the Barbarian? The other instructors had normal names like Demitrakapoulos and Piotkowski. I didn't think I wanted to take a class from someone named Thor. To me, Thor is the lovely longhaired German Shepherd who was part of our family in the 1970s. He was not a barbarian in any sense of the word.
I looked at the dates. The class would be given on Mondays beginning November 7 and ending November 19. Huh? One of those obviously is not a Monday. Maybe neither of them are Mondays. I moved on.
Latin Cooking, Herbs, Dog Obedience . . . hmmm . . . Thor the Barbarian is also teaching Bodybuilding. Christmas Quilting sounded nice, and I was relieved to see it was taught by someone named Smith. The course description said the student would learn how to make a beautiful Christmas quilted table runner for the holidays. I made one of those quite a few years ago, but still...then I read on: Students are required to bring a working sewing machine (those non-working models are a pain) and $100. That's one hell of an expensive table runner, especially when you have to make it yourself.
But Christmas Quilting was cheap compared to Beginning Pottery ($175), Inspection Mechanics Licensing ($175), and Planning Your Retirement (free, but you'll have to put up with telemarketers for the next 20 years).
The next course on the list was The Many Faces of Dracula. I'm sure that one will fill up quickly. Ditto a $50 course called Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Your E-mail.
Further down the list, I learned that Thor the Barbarian is also teaching A Guided Tour of the Underworld (he should know), Meet Your Power Animal, The Viking Runes, Spirit Communication, and three different courses on UFOs.
All this from the impressive school district.
I'm impressed . . . not.
Saturday, August 11, 2007
It's not Mother's Day, but surely we think about our mothers more than once a year. I started thinking about mine this morning, and I haven't stopped.
My mom's name was Dorothy, but everybody called her Dotty. She was raised in what was then rural New Jersey, and always wanted to live in the country again. She and my dad were living in Greenwich Village when I was conceived, and then in an apartment in Queens near a tennis court. They were both excellent tennis players, but she was brilliant on the court.
She was brilliant off the court, too. People always spoke of her beauty, intelligence, artistic talent, and sense of fun. Oh, and her athleticism. She was only 5'3" and didn't look like an athlete, but she had perfect hand-eye coordination. My dad loved to wander into a softball game where they weren't known. The guys would be dismayed to find this young woman in their midst, my dad insisting they both wanted to join the game. The guys would stick her somewhere on the edges of the outfield—where she'd wow them by snagging every ball and throwing it home.
She had wanted to study art, but her parents asked her to make the sacrifice and go to work in an office in order to put her younger sister through nursing school. Later, as a self-taught artist, she worked briefly for Walt Disney, drawing panels for animation.
She made most of my clothes and also made me laugh. She was wonderfully funny, although I remember a time when the school administration didn't think so. The Mother's Club was putting on a variety show, and my mom had done all the posters and set design. She put together a "musical" act with several of her friends, all dressed as men in black baggy suits. They would "play" various fake instruments, a very serious bunch playing very serious music — until my mother's fly opened and a giant spider fell out. The school officials were not amused, and wouldn't let her do it.
She had a way of making everyone her friend. The old Chinese couple who lived down the block in an ancient, peeling house with a tangle of strange vegetation in back called her "Madame 3E" after our apartment number. They loved her. Today, I can easily imagine how enchanted she must have been with their exotic garden.
She took me on walks and pointed out the tiniest wildflowers growing in the grime under a railroad trestle. She showed me how to suck nectar out of honeysuckle. She moistened lentils held with cotton against the inside of a jar in the dark of my bedroom closet to show me how seeds sprout.
She loved being a mother, and wanted another baby. But she had a miscarriage when I was two, and another about six years later. A month after turning 38, she cleaned a rug one Saturday evening. She used a rug cleaner containing chlorinated hydrocarbons; they don't sell that stuff anymore. It was November, and the windows were closed. The next morning she woke early, became sick in the bathroom, collapsed, and died.
She was friends with just about everyone in our apartment building. No one could believe the news. I heard over and over, "Not Dotty!"
I was so young, but I wish I'd known to look for signs from her. I have no doubt she gave me many.
Sunday, August 05, 2007
Marine and Sandra
Marine, one of the students, is staying with my daughter and granddaughter. Sandra speaks perfect, almost unaccented English, but Marine is still learning. My daughter, granddaughter, and I are no help whatsoever. In typical American fashion, we speak only English—and not always perfectly.
I could never have been an exchange student. I would have loved to have gone to Europe, but only with my parents and at least two of my best friends. And maybe my French-speaking grandmother. Even recently, my idea of a big adventure was my weekend at Yale: three days in another state with 250 people I didn't know, all of whom spoke English.
I look at Marine and Sandra and wonder who is braver—the 16-year-old or the 20-something responsible for ten 16-year-olds?
Sandra's first attempt to get up on water skis ended within seconds. I learned to waterski in my twenties, too. It took me all afternoon. Poor Joe—over and over again he'd hit the throttle, and over and over again I'd bomb out. He suggested we go home and try another time. But I refused to leave the lake until I succeeded. It was embarrassing . . . the sun low in the sky, strangers on the shore (with thick New York accents) yelled, "You can do it, kid!!" Kid eventually did it.
Now Sandra is about to try for the second time. Chuck reminds her that the most important thing is not to bend your elbows, and Liz and I echo him: "Don't bend your elbows!" I wish I'd had this Greek chorus—indeed, this good teacher—30-odd years ago, when I was learning.
Liz and Marine are constantly firing digital cameras on either side of me. I feel as though I somehow got stuck in the middle of the paparazzi. "Okay!" Sandra calls from the water, her voice only somewhat tentative. Chuck hits the throttle, the boat surges forward—and Sandra is UP! I give her the most American of cheers: You go, girl!!
Tuesday, July 31, 2007
Monday, July 23, 2007
Wolfy in an easy trot at heel,
I maintained my pace up the hill
and realized how often I’d been slowing
to a stroll recently. Our turning point,
the big, low rock embedded
in the dirt road, felt reassuringly firm
and smooth under my foot, but
at that moment a vascular twinge
under my left upper arm unsettled me.
“Okay,” I said aloud to Wolfy and the weeds
lining the road, “I have to get serious now.
More exercise, more consistent exercise,
and I need to lower my triglycerides again,
so that means a crackdown on the carbs.”
I thought about the implications of that,
and my step slowed, weighed down
with diet dread. Wolfy squatted, and I stopped,
assessing the massive tree in front of me.
The trunk didn’t have an ounce of fat on it.
A good, responsible tree isn’t burdened by gluttony
or guilt. Its leaves make sufficient food—no more,
no less. It takes what it needs—not what it craves—
from the soil. Sap flows at the appointed time,
unimpeded by lipids, plaque, or clots. A maple will
never need a sapwood bypass operation.
“So no more dipping into the cherries for me,”
I said to the tree, sighing. “And I suppose
I’ll have to eliminate apricots. Or maybe I should
give up dried fruit entirely, what do you think?”
I waited for some sort of response—a shadow
passing across the bark, perhaps, or a leaf
drifting slowly to the ground—but it was clear
the tree came from a different place.
Friday, July 13, 2007
Who's taking *your* picture?
When I was a child, we lived in an apartment building in NYC. My dad, whose hobby was photography, was everyone's family photographer. Today, my childhood friends are grateful to have beautiful b&w images of their parents and themselves that never would have happened without my father and his Leica and Speed Graphic and his darkroom.
I'm grateful that I have them, too. And I'm equally grateful that I took so many pictures of my own children. What if my collection of pictures of Gillian consisted of some posed portraits from K-Mart and a few blurry snapshots taken at the beach?
Anyway, my point of all this is that someday your family will be grateful to have pictures of you. If you are the family photographer, they may have a hard time finding them. I've been making a long-term project of putting photos in albums, and after album #5 or so I realized that judging from the photographs one might suspect my children were raised by dogs and cats, with occasional visits from their father. I wish I'd taken more pictures of him, and I wish somebody had taken pictures of me.
So this is to encourage you to a) learn how to use the timer on your camera (this results in a much more flattering picture than holding your camera out at arm's length and hoping for the best), and b) not to be shy about asking people to take your picture. They won't mind. Don't stand stiffly with your kids, shoulder to shoulder. Grab them in a group hug. Or pull them down on a sofa with you. Don't worry about being photogenic. Let them be silly. You want natural grins. Someday, they'll want to remember you just the way you are.
Thursday, June 21, 2007
This was your school, but today it’s mine
My massive stone structures, my towers, my brick
My gothic archways, my winding slate paths
Mine, the people—the students, the grads
Eighty names they read, eighty souls have passed
Through these doorways, and then through life
Yours was among them, just as you
Were among them then, fifty years ago
So I stood for you, and came in your place
Slipped my name—and yours—around my neck
Shook the hands, returned the smiles
Heard about you from before my time
My feet followed yours down Temple and Elm
Slower and shorter than your purposeful stride
With no less of a mission, but the gift of peace;
I knew what I had to do would be done
I sang in historic Woolsey Hall
With a hundred others, and thousands of pipes
Released the purest organ tones
You might have sat in every chair
I sang the football medley and more
Wished poor Harvard endless ills
My F and G were effortless
In songs of praise for Eli Yale
Who infused me with this spirit?
Spirit for school, for community
Was it channeled—an energy
Left here 50 years ago?
Spirit waited; I waited, too
Always hoping someday I’d find
What I discovered in these few days:
This was your school, but today it’s mine
Saturday, June 16, 2007
Thursday, May 31, 2007
Sweet Rocket, the Flower
Tuesday, May 29, 2007
My Gardening Pantoum
All those invasive plants
we didn’t think of as terrible,
just beautiful and strong,
seeded in the flower beds.
We didn’t think of it as terribly
pesky, the sweet rocket I started,
seeded in the flower beds
25 years ago. It’s everywhere now.
Pesky, the sweet rocket I started,
and the comfrey—such a benign name—
25 years ago. It’s everywhere now,
still reproducing, even the clumps I dig up.
Yes, the comfrey—such a benign name—
exceeding its bounds in the garden,
still reproduces, even the clumps I dig up
and toss across the road, to take root.
Exceeding its bounds in the garden,
forget-me-not dots the yard with blue,
tossing seeds across the road, to take root,
growing rings around the sweet rocket.
Forget-me-not dots the yard with blue:
my daughter’s gentle admonition
growing rings around the sweet rocket,
whispering, Don’t forget.
My daughter’s gentle admonition
not to forget my love of gardening
whispers, Don’t forget
But how will I be remembered?
I won’t forget my love of gardening,
so beautiful and strong,
but will I be remembered for
all those invasive plants?
Friday, May 18, 2007
I sat in my car this afternoon, eating
popcorn with gasoline-scented fingers
(I had just topped off the lawnmower)
and reading Marie Howe when I put down
the book and thought about you.
Because you used to say things like,
We must be the only people in the county
listening to Mahler’s 8th tonight, or
I’ll bet we’re the only people in the county
who ate scrambled tofu for breakfast, or
…who made their own tempeh this week.
And as I sat there, tinted glass shading
my eyes from the late sun, tiny flies trying
furiously to find a way around the window,
I was sure I was the only person in the county,
maybe even all of Pennsylvania and beyond,
sitting in a car at that moment, eating
popcorn with gasoline-scented fingers,
reading Marie Howe, and wondering
if you knew.
Wednesday, May 09, 2007
Lizzie & Me
Tuesday, May 08, 2007
Poem for my granddaughter
I’ll remember (will you?)
our “ladies lunches,”
neither of us ladylike,
you 16, me….not.
Our “ladies lunches:”
your vegetarian choices,
you 16, me….not
but we notice the same things.
Your vegetarian choices—
I appreciate them, like the way
we notice the same things,
little ones and big ones.
I appreciate the way
you care about serious issues,
little ones and big ones.
Prom dresses and the Holocaust.
You care about serious issues
alternating with the hilarious.
Prom dresses and the Holocaust
give way to mutual glee.
Alternating with the hilarious,
those spiritual discussions
give way to mutual glee
with the one whose laughter I love.
Those spiritual discussions,
neither of us ladylike,
with the one whose laughter I love
I’ll remember (will you?)
Friday, April 20, 2007
Applesauce 1994. It’s now 2006. Who would eat
12-year-old applesauce? In a can, it would bulge
with bacteria. Under a plastic lid, it has grown a hard layer
of frost and the beige skin known as freezer burn. I chip off
the ice, cut away the burn, and wait impatiently
for the fruit of my long-ago labor to thaw.
In 1994 my husband was alive. A year away from his downward
slide, he understood every growing thing on this property.
Carrying old trusted tools, he planted and pruned
our fruit trees. The cage of his hand-held picker reached
the uppermost Macs, bright in the sun, while I gathered
bruised drops in the grass. He never failed to praise
my pies, cakes, and cobblers. And applesauce, every vintage.
In 1994 my daughter Jill was alive. She was 19, a horsewoman
and clarinetist. An artist in the kitchen. Together we
rolled these red apples around in green buckets of water,
drained them, cut them into crisp pieces, set them to melt
and bubble in a vast pot on the stove, inhaled their goodness,
exhaled our mutual feelings of pleasure and security
in this ritual, touching shoulders, hands, chakras.
In 1994 my mother was only a phone call away. Holly, the gentle
black lab mix, had another two years left. The cats, acquired as a group,
were at mid-life. The horses were here then—Jill’s horses, her father’s
horses, gone now, leaving behind walls of blue ribbons.
With only a few ice crystals remaining, the applesauce receives
my spoon. I hold its pink sweetness in my mouth, trying
to swallow slowly, to keep this bliss on my raw throat
as long as possible before it slips away.
Sunday, April 15, 2007
The Scent of Celery
When Joe and I were first married we lived in a little apartment way up high in midtown Manhattan. After three years we bought a little weekend house in Pennsylvania. It was mostly his idea; I wasn't sure how often I wanted to come to the country (all those trees!). But it wasn't long before I became caught up in the spell of living close to nature, and I don't think we ever missed a weekend unless he was traveling in Europe.
We would leave after work on Friday. Joe would drive, and if it was still light outside I would read a cookbook, planning the weekend's meals. When we reached Sparta, NJ, we stopped to buy food. The supermarket looked so different from the little grocery stores in Manhattan. It smelled different, too. Today's supermarkets smell like baked goods. I don't know if it's because of their bakeries or because they spray "eau de cinnamon bun" into the vestibules. But all those years ago the Sparta supermarket smelled like celery. At least that's how it seemed to me.
I think of those days sometimes when I pause in the produce department, looking for the freshest, heaviest, cleanest head of celery. Or when I happen upon one of those cookbooks, long unused.
Friday, April 06, 2007
I still need gloves to walk the dog.
But the birds know what’s coming.
Their first tentative mating murmurs
edge the property: two notes
from a chickadee, then another,
nameless but familiar.
The angle of the sun sends its own
signal of the changing season,
as does—for reasons I can’t explain—
the long white puff of an old contrail
dividing the suddenly brilliant sky.
My tired winter shoes
are no match for the snow’s icy surface.
Thawed yesterday, it froze overnight
to a glistening slick. The dog pulls me
down the slight grade back to the house.
The ice will melt again,
The hard, cold dirt road
will turn again to mud.
Who knows where the time goes?
My friends and I tuned our first guitars,
debating the key, settling on G.
Across the morning sky
all the birds are leaving,
we sang, thinking more about
the placement of our fingers
than the onslaught of time.
Today a double V of geese glides
overhead, so high they seem silent.
I remember the hollow sound
of the guitars, the chord changes,
our long hair falling over the frets
like the ribbons of years
that stretched before us.
Monday, March 26, 2007
This year Linda fell on ice and broke her ankle so badly that she was ordered not to drive for six months. Jerry fell down a flight of steps at a theater and separated his shoulder. Jane fell down stairs in her house, breaking her leg in several places. Linda's husband and daughter are helping her, Jane is temporarily living in a rehab facility, and I drove Jerry around. I have to admit I wasn't all that gracious about it. Driving 25 miles on back roads to his house, and then to the city to his appointments (when did he develop such a long To Do list??), and then back to his house, and then back to my house, is tiring at best.
After a 90-minute wait at the orthopedist's one day (followed by the dry cleaners, the bank, his office, and Blockbuster) I got downright testy. Low blood sugar didn't help. But by the time I was fed and back in my coccoon I was ready to apologize. Because the thought had come to me rather emphatically: It could be you. I live out in the country, too, most of the time by myself. In addition, I have animals to care for: dogs in the house, cats in the house and barn. What if I got hurt?
And a few days later I did. I was walking one of the dogs early on St. Patrick's Day, after an 18" snowfall, when I fell twice on the icy plowed road — once on my knee and once on my hip. I thought I was in trouble when I came down hard on the hip in the middle of the road, but the knee turned out to be the bigger problem. I spent the next week mostly in bed watching Grey's Anatomy.
The animals got walked and fed because my son and daughter-in-law are living with me for a while. Otherwise, I don't know how I would have managed. I learned some time ago to say the words, "Can you please help?" But it's been a while and it might take some effort to force them past my throat. Even relying on my family to help me was no fun. Grey's Anatomy is a good show, but I would have been ever so much more excited and happy to be washing dishes, doing laundry, and manning the pooper scooper.
Remember that the next time you're plodding through routine chores. I will.
Friday, March 16, 2007
The Stars of the Snow
It's piling up outside as I write this, with 12-16" in the forecast. It'll have to be dealt with in various ways, but for now there's nothing to do but look at it. We admire the way it has covered up vast areas of wicked, sucking mud. It can put is in denial about the mud, actually. The same mud that tortured us and our vehicles for the past week is seemingly gone now. As long as we can keep ourselves from anticipating The Big Melt, we don't have to think about the mud.
Along with the disappearance of the mud came the appearance of the birds. We always have birds here, but there's nothing like a foot of snow to turn the front yard into an open-air aviary. The birds are a show all by themselves, and to me and my camera the stars are the cardinals. Beautiful in any season, they take on a special glow against a white background. We never have more than one pair in our yard. Here's
And here's her
Friday, March 09, 2007
Another Time, Another Tune
On this particular day our vacation was about to come to a close. My parents were at the cottage, packing to go home to the city. I was seated on a long white sofa in a spacious, glass-walled beach house, where I had been invited by several rather adorable guys. This was the fifties. I had no fear that the guys had brought me there to drop a date-rape drug into my Pepsi, or involve me in some satanic ritual. And I was right. We were there because they wanted me to hear some music they had recently discovered. The record was by The Kingston Trio, and I was enchanted.
It was my first exposure to what we called folk music. I've always loved harmony, plus the three guys on the album cover were so cute! I don't know what they look like now (hey, I'm not cute either), and I hardly ever hear their songs anymore, but when I do I still appreciate the harmonies. And "Scotch and Soda" always always takes me back to a time when I felt, rightly or wrongly, on the verge of something wonderful every day.
Sunday, March 04, 2007
Patience is a Virtue
The plumbing job didn't turn out very well, but it was my brain that was at fault, not the plumber's. I knew what I wanted, but I apparently didn't know how to describe it. It reminded me very much of my trips to the hair salon. As happened with so many hair stylists, the plumber's vision of what I wanted didn't turn out to be mine.
We were supposed to reroute pipes to make it possible for a new floor to be put in so that we could have the new dryer delivered and installed. The pipes got rerouted all right, but in such a way that it's no longer possible for the dryer to fit in that space. It looks like I won't be saying goodbye to the laundromat any time soon.
Hey, the laundromat isn't so bad. It seemed like such a nuisance at first, carting all those wet clothes in and out of the car, slipping around on the ice between the house and the garage and between the car and the side door of the laundromat, finding the change machine broken, trying to read while tuning out the true crime dramatizations always playing on the TV... you know, all that stuff. But now I'm used to it.
I'm writing this in a part of the house that used to be the kitchen. "Kitchen" is a bit of a stretch. It was a dark corner that housed a stove, a sink, and a board between them for the counter. When we first saw the house I took one look at the kitchen area and said, "I can't cook a meal there." Well, I ended up cooking three meals a day there for several years. It's amazing what you can get used to.
I wonder how long I'll be visiting the laundromat? Patience, patience...
Wednesday, February 28, 2007
I waited three weeks for this day. He's down in the basement, working on a break in the main water line. When he finishes with that, there's a bigger job waiting for him upstairs.
He's whistling a tune.
I just realized what it is. He's whistling "If I Only Had a Brain."
This is not a good sign.
Monday, February 26, 2007
I laughed at the mental image of a family of mice strolling into the garage...or perhaps marching single-file across the threshold, determined in their mission to invade the premises. And I tried not to laugh at the fact that my friend believed the landlord.
"Did he explain how the mice got from the downstairs garage to the upstairs kitchen?" I asked. He hadn't. But implausible as it is, I still love the image of the strolling mice. It stayed with me all day.
Sunday, February 25, 2007
Little Miss Sunshine
I do have one complaint, though. They have the grandfather snorting heroin. (This is not a spoiler.) I know it's an R rated movie, but a lot of young people will see it. I think it's a mistake to trivialize heroin use like that. They could easily have had the grandfather doing something else. It didn't even have to be related to drugs. The movie doesn't get into his drug use, so there's no mention of how highly addictive heroin is. It's just something funny that Grandpa does. Not a good idea, I would say.
I admit I have a strong anti-heroin bias. The drug has invaded our rural communities and is swallowing up our children. One reason heroin has been so "successful" is that kids are unaware of its wickedly addictive properties. They think it can be used as an occasional recreational drug. And that fallacy is exactly what this movie perpetrates.
When I saw the first drug scene in Little Miss Sunshine I thought Grandpa was snorting cocaine. Cocaine certainly would have fulfilled the intention of showing Grandpa to be inappropriately cool (in the extreme). Of course, to me, pot smoking would have served the same purpose. But maybe I'm unusual.
Thursday, February 22, 2007
Tuesday, February 20, 2007
Saturday, February 17, 2007
Postcards From the Past
Wednesday, February 07, 2007
Little Bird Feet, Litle Bird Trust
One winter in the early 1970s I read a book called Hand-Taming Wild Birds at the Feeder, by Alfred G. Martin. I was living alone in the country during the week, with lots of time on my hands to devote to this project. It seemed like an impossible undertaking. But the author said if you followed his instructions (which involved patience and cold hands) you would succeed. He was right. Of course, a chickadee was the first brave bird to eat out of my hand. It wasn't long before many others, including whole flocks of evening grosbeaks, followed suit.
I would go outside and call, "Come get your seed!" in a high voice, and they would land on my arms, my shoulders, my head. I think the biggest surprise (and thrill) was when a flock of migrating redpolls landed on me. They were just passing through, but apparently decided the resident birds knew what they were doing, and as a feeding station, I was okay.
I'm so sorry I can't do this at my present home. I didn't get started when we first moved here (I was busy being pregnant and raising toddlers), and now my Raynaud's is so bad that standing outside with a bare hand is out of the question. I'll never forget the feeling of little bird feet, though. Little bird feet and little bird trust.
Tuesday, February 06, 2007
The War(s) of 1512
"Wait a minute," I said. "That was the War of 1812. There was no War of 1512."
"Well," she said, "I'm sure some war was going on in 1512."
Ever since then--and it's been a few years now--whenever I mail something to Zannie I remember the War of 1512. Except I've never been very clear on who was at war. So I recently ran it past Google.
It turns out that in 1512 Russia invaded the Grand Duchy of Lithuania again. And the Battle of Ravenna, fought on April 11, 1512 by forces of the Holy League and France, was a major battle of the War of the League of Cambrai in the Italian Wars. And that is probably just the tip of the iceberg.
I found it hard to envision the forces of the Holy League (did they sport halos? habits? bibles?), so the next time I addressed an envelope to my daughter Tartar-eyed Russians charged into a quiet Lithuanian village, pale-skinned villagers scattering. I've always liked Russians, but these days I've been rooting for the Lithuanians, who seem to me to be the underdogs. I think it's time I looked up the rest of the story and learned how the war ended. In the case of war, at least, endings are better than beginnings.
Sunday, February 04, 2007
Problem is, she sent it to the wrong phone number. We have no idea who got the message on his or her cell. We can only hope it was taken to heart.
Saturday, February 03, 2007
You Can't Go Home Again (But You Can Drive Past)
Anyway, I was reminded of an experience I had in 2003:
The road was wet black with yellow leaves under my tires, the woods grey on either side. Warm air and Saint-Saen's "The Swan" poured into the car as cold raindrops hit the glass of the roof. Listening to both, I felt like a player in a movie, one where the heroine speeds off on a dark day to meet an old love. In a way, that’s what I was doing, although we can forget the heroine part. That day an afternoon appointment took me past the little house Joe and I bought in 1968, the weekend place that introduced us to Pennsylvania, living in the country, and all that came with it.
I drove down the roads we covered so many times in those early years. I saw a few familiar landmarks, and more changes than I could possibly count at 50 mph, or at any speed. It was an otherworldly trip, for in fact my head was in another world entirely, a world where we looked forward to Friday and dreaded Monday, a world where we made the decision to leave the city and live everyday among trees and birds and gardens, a world that brought us our first baby and the promise of more.
I made the turn up the hill to our first home, passing house after house where there used to be only three, and coming at last to the familiar hip-roofed structure. The roof, and parts of the garage that Joe built, were all I recognized. Our charcoal house is a pastel shade now, with chalet-type windows and doors. The garage sports a window box filled with plastic flowers. But even as my eyes took in the strange details, my lips whispered, “It’s so small…so small.”
Thursday, February 01, 2007
It is unlikely that anyone will make a film about me without my consent or support (of course, with my consent and support is another matter entirely), but if they did I think I would find it WILDLY uncomfortable to watch. And even more WILDLY uncomfortable not to watch. I can see myself sitting in front of the screen--or rather I can hear myself, my vocabulary sinking another notch with every scene.
"I didn't say that, you son of a bitch!"...."Shit! That wasn't something I would ever do!"... "Oh my God, would you look at her effing hair!!"
Do you suppose something similar went on at Buckingham Palace? I think it's more likely the royal family tossed the movie reviews into the fireplace, gathered up the dogs and the cold lamb stew, piled into the Land Rover, and went stalking.
Tuesday, January 30, 2007
I think Annie channeled Buddy
Another of our cats, Annie, is a calico we adopted this fall. By the time she started spending most of her time indoors, Buddy was weak and not himself. They didn't interact much if at all. He hung out by the water dish, lying down, and Annie could always be found curled up in a chair, asleep.
After Buddy died, Annie started doing some things she had never done before. They are things Buddy used to do all the time before he got sick, but Annie had no way of knowing that.
First, she took over his window seat. Okay, that makes sense. It's a nice window seat, and it was empty. Then she started walking on the stove...like Buddy. Then I found her curled up in the downstairs bathroom sink. Over the years I took many pictures of Buddy curled up in the downstairs bathroom sink. Then she began trying to share Angel's dog bed. Buddy used to drive Angel nuts doing this. Then she began hanging out in the upstairs bathroom, and trying to get on the lap of anyone who was using the bathroom...like Buddy. Finally, yesterday when I was making the dogs' dinners on the kitchen counter, Annie jumped up and started eating it. It was as though Buddy, a grey tabby, had turned into a calico!
She performed Buddy behaviors for several days, until I realized that Buddy, working through Annie, was showing me that his spirit had survived and he was still very much around. Once I came to that realization (with great appreciation), Annie went back to being her normal self.
The older I get, the less things like this surprise me.
Thursday, January 25, 2007
Picture Me, Picture You
This family photographer didn't get her picture taken very often. There are the birth pictures, of course, the ones of Gillian's and Joey's births. The latter actually shows my face. And when Suzanne reached the age of five she took a few shots, like the prized one of little Jill patting my HUGE bare stomach (with Joey inside). But most of the albums show three children being raised by horses, dogs, and cats. And, occasionally, their father.
If any young mothers are reading this, here's my advice: Get someone to take your picture with your children once in a while. This could be anyone--the Avon lady, the person behind the counter at the health food store, the kid who collects the carts in Wal-Mart's parking lot. The first good thing about this is that you'll have a photo of yourself being a mother. The second good thing is that these won't be portraits; they'll be unposed, unrehearsed shots of you and your kids doing whatever it is you do all the time.
Children are beautiful, and it's a temptation to photograph them that way, in all their radiant beauty. I love those pictures, I really do. I'm putting them in my new albums by the hundreds. But I also love the candid shots....the dirty shirts, the messy hair, the comical facial expressions, the images that caught them in mid-movement doing everyday kid things. I wish I had more of them.
Children disappear as they grow. The five-year-old displaces the three-year-old, and we realize with a start one day that we'll never see that particular toddler again. Then we remember the newborn. And so it goes. Thank heavens for the camera. Use it well.
Monday, January 22, 2007
I like to think he's with his beloved Nocci, pictured with him below. And, of course, with Jill.
Thursday, January 18, 2007
Cold Hands, Warm Heart (and Feet)
I have Raynaud's Syndrome, which shuts down the capillaries in my fingers and toes if the temperature drops below a certain point. I'm not sure what the point is, but my fingers can turn white while peeling a carrot taken from the fridge. I've had the condition for years, but it has grown progressively worse. In the past couple of years, I lost fingernails each winter. Last winter I also developed open sores that can lead quickly to gangrene.
My feet, however, are fine--thanks to those disposable foot warmers. And thanks to Walmart's post-winter sales and good old eBay, I buy them economically and in quantity. If I could wear mittens all day every, I'd use the warmers inside them, too.
Everything's a trade-off, though. (That's my philosophy of life...one trade-off after another.) When the thermometer dips below freezing, I'm reluctant to leave the house wearing anything that doesn't keep me warm. The temperature was 10º last night. I went to a jazz club and danced....in my jeans, Land's End all-weather mocs, wool socks, and foot warmers. It was not the most graceful of dances.
Saturday, January 13, 2007
Food and Tastebuds
"FABULOUS dish!" gushed one reviewer. Five stars. "Dry and bland," whined the next. Two stars. Actually, most of the reviews were positive, but a handful of deeply disappointed cooks was represented as well. I was impressed with how few cooks stuck to the original instructions. They'd rave about how delicious the recipe was, and then casually mention that they had increased the brown sugar, added cinnamon, browned the pork chops, added wine, threw in some nutmeg, and cooked the entire thing on top of the stove instead of in the oven. Almost everybody decreased the amount of black pepper. I can see why--the recipe called for two teaspoons!
This is the kind of thing you can't get from a cookbook. If I go through my old cookbooks and look up the recipes I've been making for years, nine times out of ten I can tell you that I've made adjustments to it. It's nice to read how others tweaked a recipe, and whether or not their tweaks yielded a good dish.
I made the pork chop recipe tonight, but I didn't follow the instructions either. Since I usually avoid sugar, I left the brown sugar out entirely. I like cinnamon, but I wanted this dish to be more savory than sweet so I wasn't tempted to put it in. Instead, I followed the suggestion of one reviewer and added garlic. I also added Tony Chachere's creole seasoning at the suggestion of another. And, after reading of the experiences of many of the reviewers, I browned the pork chops first and cooked the dish on top of the stove.
I liked it. Four stars.