Monday, December 31, 2012

The Other Thing I Made This Christmas

Several things, actually, but all in the same vein. I'd been thinking about possibly passing on my first few cookbooks to my daughter. With that thought in the back of my mind, I accidentally happened upon the idea of covering old, meaningful books with handmade slipcases for gift-giving. I jumped on it. Not only did I love the look, but this was my big chance to buy gorgeous scrapbooking paper without guilt (I'm not a scrapbooker) and play with it!

I waited for a half-price sale on the paper. With AC Moore and Michael's, one doesn't have to wait long. I chose a "Garden Tea Party" pad of cardstock. I loved the subtle colors and the "tea stains" on many of the prints. I also bought a pack of inexpensive decorative scissors, acid-free glue, and permanent double-sided tape. (After the first one, I abandoned the glue and used only the tape.) My small X-Acto paper cutter (like a big office model, only smaller) came in very handy.

I made three slipcases for my daughter to cover those first three cookbooks: Ladies' Home Journal (see text below), New York Times, and Amy Vanderbilt's. And I made one for my cousin Barbara to cover a used copy of Tofu, Tempeh, and Other Soy Delights, a Rodale cookbook I contributed to (20 tofu recipes) decades ago.

Incidentally, I bought used copies of those first three cookbooks to replace the copies I gave to my daughter so I wouldn't be without the favorite recipes myself. But she has the ones with all my handwritten notations.

I had a lot of fun doing these.....clearly, playing with paper hasn't lost its charm.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Something More Cheerful for the New Year

Last year for Christmas I decided to make aprons for my daughter and her family. I would use printed fabric for her and her daughter, and matching denim ones for her husband and his two daughters. I had a lot of enthusiasm for the project until I saw what denim is selling for these days. So that was last year, and after the project hit a couple more snags, the aprons never got made.

This year someone posed a question at one of my online hangouts, asking if anyone was making Christmas gifts. One of the responders posted a link to instructions for making aprons out of men's shirts. She posted two links, actually—the first, where the idea seemed to originate, was a Russian website. The second was a blog where someone was kind enough to take step-by-step photos of the process.

Off to the Salvation Army I went, where the shirts cost me $2.50 to $3 apiece. I ended up buying more than five because it took awhile to find one long enough for Chuck (I'm still not certain I did). One of the ones I bought for his apron and rejected after I cut it was a 100% Irish linen shirt from Banana Republic, the back of which is now serving as a wrap for Bonesy-the-outside-cat's heating disk.

The process is simple: You cut off the back and the sleeves, leaving the double-seams on the front so those edges don't have to be hemmed. (Most dress shirts—excluding the linen one—are so tightly woven that you can cut right up to the seam without worrying about unraveling.) Then you cut diagonally from the collar to the underarm, leaving a bit of the shoulder. This bit of shoulder will disappear once you turn it under, twice, to hem the diagonal cut.

Then all you have to do is cut ties, using the length of the back. I added a patch pocket to each, using fabric from the other apron backs. It would be a nice idea to cut the ties on the bias, but I didn't do that. I've since seen instructions that have you sew bias binding around the entire edge of the apron, but I didn't do that either. I am far from skilled as a sewer, and kept these as simple as possible.

Everyone seemed to like their aprons, and I thought it was a good sign that no one realized I'd made them until I said so. I knew they were a hit when my son asked, "Where's mine?"

Here's the one I made for my daughter. The pocket is made from her daughter's green striped apron fabric.

Friday, December 14, 2012

December 14, 2012

I advise you not to read this. No good can come from it. It's about today's shootings in Connecticut, and I have no words of comfort or hope.

The pain of losing a child is unimaginable to those who haven't experienced it. I have experienced it, but I haven't shared the experience of the parents of those school children. I read once that one sometimes encounters a nasty competition in grief support groups such as Compassionate Friends. Parents who have lost a young child might say their grief is more acute than other parents' because their child was small and innocent. The other parents might counter by saying they'd forged a bond with the older child that could never be achieved with a younger one; therefore, their grief was more profound.

I stayed away from those support groups. I believe without a doubt that every age brings its own pain. But there's something that can add to it. My daughter's death was sudden and unexpected, yet I'd had two years of fear beforehand. I remember my older daughter saying that day, "What must it be like for families who had no warning?" Well, 20 of those families know what that's like tonight.

Not only did they have no warning, but they sent their children there themselves, to what they thought was a safe place. For years I was haunted by the knowledge that my Jill died on my watch. So what if she was 25? It was my watch. It's always a mother's watch. From the time they're born, our mission is to keep them safe. If the ultimate lapse in safety occurs, we know who's responsible.

I can think of something else that adds to the magnitude of grief. It's hard to imagine anything that can make the most painful loss in the world even worse, but Christmas does that. If it were an elderly person who died around the holidays (and for whatever reason, many do), we'd think, Oh, that's sad. Their family will think of this every Christmas from now on. But these were little children! Christmas and children have been knitted together forever. It's not just their future absences, it's that we know they were excited about Christmas. Christmas was coming! It was only 11 days away.  I remember my first child saying, close to Christmas, "It's fun to be happy!" Yes, it is. Those 20 children should be safe in their beds tonight, storing up enough energy to be brimming with happiness tomorrow. Their parents have presents for them, probably wrapped, possibly under the tree.

This line of thinking becomes unbearable.

Shit. I told you not to read this. To those of you who did, to the sweet children, to their parents who will never be the same, I'm sorry. I'm so damned sorry.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Poem: 1999

Reflection in a Glass of Wine
at the End of Another Day

I haven’t counted—
I never count—but he arrived
in the kitchen for supper
seven times today
between 1:30 and 4:15. 
I gave him notes
(supper at six o’clock…
shower at 5:30),
but they went the way of all notes,
to be tacked to the wall
of his barn office, or his door,
his desk, blending with notes
from April, from January,
from last year and the year
before that, notes instructing him
to feed the dogs, to refrain
from feeding the dogs,
to put out his garbage, notes
reminding him of my phone numbers,
how much oats each horse should get,
how many cats he is feeding,
notes giving him the dogs’ names,
the horses’ names,
my name.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Sixty Years

Today was my mother's birthday, and three weeks from now will be the 60th anniversary of her death. She died suddenly, from chlorinated hydrocarbon fumes inhaled while cleaning a rug the night before, three weeks after her 38th birthday.

Sixty years. Not just 60 years of time passed, but those 60 years mean that I am eons beyond the 9-year-old who lost her mother. And yet . . .

I read for an hour in bed tonight. The book was Crow Lake, by Mary Lawson, who writes about Canada. She's a good writer. In this book the narrator was 7 years old when her parents were killed in an accident. I read through that part, disturbing and certainly not pleasant but manageable—even when she tells how the little girl didn't believe her parents were really dead, and I remembered the very same disbelief, and the terrible realization in the funeral home that I'd been wrong.

But then the writer spoke of pictures of children who have experienced trauma, and the blankness of their eyes, and I remembered that blankness too—remembered feeling it within—and I put down the book, unable to read anymore.

And that explains why I was downstairs an hour after midnight, cleaning the bathroom and then leaning for a while against the front door, staring out at the rain.

Saturday, October 06, 2012

I need some accountability.

I need to make a change in my habits, and it would be nice if someone were standing over me with a whip. Well, maybe not a whip, exactly. A feather duster would do it. I need to start meditating again, or at least do a solid 20-30 minutes a day of progressive relaxation. And I need to pay attention to my breathing throughout the day, and scan for areas of muscle tension.

I did all this, with excellent results, 20 years ago. I was plagued with heart palpitations at the time, and had experienced a few panic attacks. A cardiologist put me on a Holter monitor, and I learned I could trigger the irregular heartbeats by eating candy, drinking milk or coffee, or thinking upsetting thoughts. So I gave up sugar, dairy products (except yogurt), and caffeine, and figured out how to shift my thoughts from the scary to the benign. Then I took myself to the Himalayan Institute, where I learned to breathe.

Diaphragmatic breathing ranks right up there with typing when it comes to usefulness. I have said that giving up smoking (when I was 28) and learning to breathe properly (20 years later) were two of the three healthiest things I ever did for myself. The third was giving up all sorts of foods, but that came later.

At the Institute, I had accountability in spades. It was explained to me that my autonomic nervous system was in overdrive, and the simple acts of breathing awareness and progressive relaxations would calm it down and erase my symptoms. By the time I was ready to put into practice all that I learned there, I was fully aware of how valuable and necessary those practices were for my well being. So I did what I was supposed to do, every day, even though no one was around to beat me with a  block of tofu stick if I slacked off.

But people are funny. When we start to feel good, we're tempted to stop taking our medicine. And somewhere along the line I stopped taking care of my nervous system. Even when my muscles tightened to the point of almost constant pain, I didn't realize what was going on. And then last month, when the irregular heartbeat I'd kept at bay all these years started up big time, my first thought was, I guess I need to stop eating yogurt. 

Yogurt is not my problem. I don't believe my heart is the problem either, but I have an appointment with a cardiologist next week because some of the episodes have felt serious enough to warrant a consultation. At least my doctor thinks so—after another Holter monitor go-around. But in the past few days I've read a lot about the autonomic nervous system, the chronically activated sympathetic nervous system, and the "rest and digest" parasympathetic nervous system, and I'm convinced what I need is a prescription for all the things I used to do for this part of me. It's a prescription I can write myself.

The cardiologist is Indian, so I hope he will understand. Maybe he'll even stand over me with a tandoori chicken leg stethoscope and make me accountable.

Saturday, September 08, 2012

From a History of the Village Where I Live

About a one-room schoolhouse in use in the 1830's.....

The first seats were long homemade benches. The deep window sills held the lunch pails. Just inside the door was a low bench that held the drinking water pail. This had a long-handled tin dipper hanging inside it. Pupils considered it a treat to be named by the teacher to go and get a pail of water from a nearby neighbor.

The school was not graded. Promotion and assignment of subjects was up to the teacher. The books ran from the First Reader to the Fifth Reader. After a year or more in the Fifth Reader a boy or girl usually stopped going to school. In those days school started at 9:00 a.m. There was a 15-minute morning and afternoon recess, an hour for lunch, and finished at 4:00 p.m. School was seven months long. It closed in April, and they never had homework.

The teacher received $25 a month for her services. Her total pay for a year was $175.

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Dear Life

I ran across an old poem today:

Dear Life

When I was eight,
my mother's uterus wrung
itself out in a burst
of grief and a shower
of blood.
They lifted her away
and left me
with the one-inch sibling
who never was:
Laurel or Ronald, who lived
only in my diary.

Today, a nurse apologizes
for hurting me as she thumps
my arm and pulls her needle
in and out, drilling
for blood.
She thinks my veins are hidden,
but I have reduced them
to capillaries.
I will yield nothing
from my body before its time.

Thursday, August 09, 2012

The Bronx Zoo Last Week

I spent a day there last week with my daughter Suzanne and her family. Pictures speak louder than words. And if you click on one, the pictures speak even louder.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Piles of Music, Piles of Clothes

I'm doing one of my periodic purges of my CD collection. Whispering my decluttering mantra, ruthless, I'm going through stacks of them, pulling the ones I'm unlikely to want to play again. It's hard to know if I'm right or wrong about that, since I enjoy so many kinds of music. But things seem to go in cycles. I'm keeping a few collections of arias, but I don't envision a return to Italian opera filling my car on long rides. I'm still a big fan of cabaret singing, but a couple of Nancy La Motts and Jane Monheits are enough.

On the other hand, I can never get enough of Diana Krall, Bonnie Raitt, that large and lovely genre known as late-night jazz, and duos like Eric Clapton and B.B. King. Or, for that matter, Diane Schuur and B.B. King. (Do you suppose Leonard Cohen and B.B. King will ever record together?) I'm keeping all my driving music: classic rock, Lucinda Williams, Latin jazz. I'll never discard anything by Mahler  Prokofiev, or Mozart (within reason), or anything sung by Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau. I would have added Kiri Te Kanawa, but I did get rid of a couple of CDs of her French art songs. I don't think I like French art songs sung by anybody

Why did I think I'd like jazz standards sung by Metropolitan Opera stars? I kept buying, thinking the next one would be great. But it wasn't, so they're going. Going where? Good question. Not so long ago, I could count on selling my discards on Amazon or eBay. But people aren't buying CDs like they used to, which is no surprise, and most are selling for peanuts on these sites. So I'm donating my rather large discard pile. Some will go to the library, and some to a thrift shop that benefits the animal shelter.

In the purging process, I've set aside some old favorites I haven't heard in awhile. Maura O'Connell . . .   Linda Ronstadt . . . Judy Collins . . . Jimmy Webb . . . Lizz Wright. (If you don't know Lizz, check her out on YouTube. I recommend Neil Young's "Old Man.")

The biggest pile of all, of course, is the pile of CDs I might or might not ever play again. I'm not inspired to pop any of them in the CD player, but I like them too much to let them go. Alanis Morissette is in this pile. So is Sarah Brightman. Now there's a potential duet pair....

This iffy category is where most of my clothes fall into. Or, more accurately, a version of that category. The clothes come with different issues. Fat/thin issues. ("If I lose 12 pounds I can wear these jeans again.") Gift issues. ("My daughter gave me this sweater, so I'm not getting rid of it.") More fat/thin issues. ("These jeans are too loose, but they'll come in handy if I'm having a fat day.") Lost-and-found issues. ("Oh, wow—I didn't know this box of winter clothes was in the attic. I haven't seen them for at least three years. Now that I've found them, I'm sure I'll start wearing them again next winter.")

I can whisper ruthless till the cows come home, and I'll still end up with more unwearable clothes than any sane person should have. But at least my CD collection is somewhat contained. More or less.

Monday, July 02, 2012

Water, Water.........

My father was a wonderful dad--playful, affectionate, and always ready with good advice. Just what a motherless child needed. But most of that advice had little to do with safety. My safety-conscious husband had critical things to say (to me) about the chances I took as a child and teenager. I disliked hearing criticism of my dad, but even I had to admit a fatherly chat about drinking and driving would have been a good idea, especially when Dad and I were strolling the streets of Queens, trying to find where I had parked my car the night before.

So when it came to raising my own children, I was happy to following guidelines set forth by my cautious husband. Did I say "guidelines"? Silly me. He set forth specific rules:

The car doesn't move until all seat belts are fastened.

Smoke alarms will be installed at all critical points (even though we were smoke-alarm innovators, and each unit cost $110 at the time).

When the children are in water of any kind, we do not take our eyes off them ever, even for a second.

In the summer of 1978 my daughters and I spent an afternoon at Prompton Dam with Nora, my best friend at the time. Suzanne was 4 and Gillian was 2, and I was pregnant with their brother. Nora and I sat on a bench while the girls waded in waist-deep water. Nora and I chatted, and I watched my daughters.

Suzanne and Jill started walking slowly toward the shore, and as I watched, Jill disappeared. She had stepped in a deep hole, and she just sank—quicker than I can type this. And I'm a fast typist.

I jumped up without a word and ran, fully clothed, into the water, grabbing Jill and pulling her to the surface. I've thought often since then about the precious minutes that would have been lost had I not followed my husband's rule of never taking my eyes off a child in the water, even for a second. I imagine I'd be talking with Nora, looking at her, looking back at the girls, back and forth, until I looked at the girls and saw only one of them. I would have scanned the swimming area, thinking Jill had wandered off. I'm sure Suzanne would have alerted me to what had happened, but how long would that have taken? How long would Jill have been under water?

I thought about this today, all these years later, while listening to the noon news. It was reported that a 2-year-old girl drowned yesterday in an inflatable pool. I'm sure she had parents who loved her. But they took their eyes off her while she was in the water. They didn't know about my husband's rule. And that's why I'm here to tell you.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012


No, this isn't about a Broadway musical with full-frontal nudity. It's about hair. I've never figured out why hair is such a big deal, but it is--at least to most of us. Certainly it always has been to me.

When I was in 5th grade, the nuns at my boarding school cut most of my hair off and gave me a perm. They called it a Poodle Cut, and claimed it was fashionable. That year, our school's yearbook contained a photo of one of the senior girls with this caption: "She favors long, billowing hair." I don't remember her name or her face, but I remember that caption. And I remember her hair.

I was born with red hair, which probably embarrassed my mom since red hair was not in either family. But it soon fell out, and the resulting look, combined with my colic, earned me the nickname Baldy Sour. Nice, huh?

When my hair finally grew in, it proved to be worth the wait (and the insults). I was blessed with really gorgeous hair: platinum as a child, and later the color of butter. Thick, too. And shiny. (See above, at age 25.) For decades my hair was my best feature. Some days it seemed like the only good feature I possessed. It was my jewelry. I kept it long to maximize the effect and to hide behind. Most of the time I stayed away from beauty salons.

Women really shouldn't hang on to long hair forever--not unless they are willing to do the old-lady bun thing at some point. Old-lady buns and twists can be flattering if they're done right, but long hair is heavy. We don't realize just how heavy it is until we cut it off and our necks breathe a sigh of relief. For me, that happened in my early sixties. Pictures taken at my 60th birthday party show me with shoulder-length hair. I looked okay, but then at some point after that, I didn't.

The vertical lines of long hair drag the face down after a certain age. That's the best way I can describe the phenomenon that turns an attractive, long-haired woman into an old hag. Or, to state it more positively, cutting an older woman's hair brightens her face. Unless, of course, it's cut to resemble a man, or a child, or someone who had to be institutionalized.

That's frequently the way I saw my salon haircuts. My daughter once called me a "salon slut" because I could never find a stylist I wanted to stick with. I went from salon to salon, pictures clutched in my fist, reciting my preferences. "I want to look like a writer," I said. Or a photographer. Or, "I'm a creative person, and that how I want to look." In other words, don't make me look matronly. Or frumpy. Or a member of the Christian right. But that's the way I walked out of those salons almost every time.

I decided my voice was possibly to blame. I know I have a good speaking voice, because people are always commenting on it. I also know I sound calm. Sometimes calm is a real advantage. "Your voice was very good for her," the maternity nurse said to me after I'd coached my daughter through childbirth. But calm is never what I was going for with my haircuts. Nevertheless, calm is what I usually got.

I had a few good hair days. Weeks, even. My profile pic on this blog is an example. I liked that cut. But I hate to tell you how much "product" was involved in creating the look. I never thought of myself as a product kind of person, but by the time I was finished with my style primer, root lifter, and texture paste, no one would want to run their fingers through even my bangs.

Okay, I should get to the point. The point is that it took me all these years to realize that a hair style can make a face look good, but some styles make the hair look good. I made this discovery at the Yale reunion earlier this month. I had bronchitis for a couple of weeks before the event, and by the time I decided I could make the trip there was no time to get a hair appointment. I wasn't sure I wanted one anyway, as they almost always made me look (or feel) worse. So I chopped some off the bottom and took my too-long top layers and a can of Sebastian Shaper spray (very light and flexible) up to New Haven.

I received four compliments--separately--on my hair at the reunion. Before that, I don't remember the last time someone complimented me on my hair. All of the reunion compliments came from women (clearly, they had no ulterior motives). One mentioned my great haircut, but she had imbibed a fair amount of scotch beforehand. The others just talked about my hair. How soft it was, how natural. The beautiful color. (The color?? Which color--the grey or the once-was-blonde?) Listening, I was as surprised as I was delighted. Did I mention it poured rain most of the weekend? And still they thought I had beautiful hair.

I'm keeping the look. My casual non-style probably doesn't flatter my face, but it's enough for me that it flatters my hair. Although my hair is nothing like what it used to be, it's nice to have some part of it back. And today, when I was outside mowing the lawn in the wind, it actually billowed. I'm certain of it.

Sunday, June 10, 2012


When I was a child we often vacationed with family friends and their boys. Boys were drawn to my dad, with his sense of humor and ability to get a game going at a moment's notice. The game could be anything—horseshoes, badminton, cards—but it usually involved a ball. We often played a game in which we threw a ball at the porch steps and scored base hits and home runs, but sometimes we just played catch.

Does anyone play catch anymore? Perhaps it's too simple for today's kids: A person throws a ball and another person catches it. On the surface, not much stimulation there. But there's fun (and a certain satisfaction) in a good throw or a good catch, and fun, too, in bad throws and crazy misses. Plus there's the interaction between the players. Catch always, it seems, involves banter—a narration of the undercurrent of competition that exists despite the lack of an official winner or loser.

I was thinking of this today as my son pulled garlic thinnings out of the soil and lobbed them to me over the garden fence. At first I couldn't seem to be able to catch any of them, and I wondered if I'd lost my hand-eye coordination (at this point, nothing would surprise me). But then I started snagging them out of the air (as my dad would have put it). We bantered. We laughed. He threw. I caught.

When we were done I went over to the outside faucet to rinse the garlic bulbs off. My son called to me that he had one more. It was a long throw, and when I caught it between two fingers I yelled "Yay!" How many opportunities do we get to yell "Yay!" in an average day? People really ought to play more catch.

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Another Three Days at Yale

Five years after my first attendance at my late husband's class reunion, I returned to Yale this past weekend for their 60th. This time I'd looked forward to doing the whole four days, but after two weeks of bronchitis I decided to drive up on Friday instead of Thursday, giving myself another day for my cough to subside and for me to get more rest. I wanted to be able to dance, eat, talk, and traipse all over Yale, just like last time. And I did. I had a wonderful weekend.

When I was in First Grade, our class took a walk. I don't imagine we walked very far—maybe around the large Queens block—but a permission slip was required. My mother signed the slip and sent it back to school with me that morning, but when it came time to hand it to the teacher I was too shy to stand and walk to the front of the classroom. So I stayed in my seat and didn't go on the walk.

I thought about this Saturday night as I sipped a good malbec under a huge tent in the middle of Berkeley College at Yale. At one end of the long tent, a trio played music for dancing, and couples took advantage on the raised floor alongside the musicians. At the other end, three aproned students cheerfully tended the open bar. In the middle, hundreds of happy reunioners sat at white-clothed tables or walked about, table-hopping. Every one of them wore a smile.

I smiled too. I knew the wine and the lobster dinner I'd consumed weren't entirely responsible for my feeling of well being; most of the credit went to the people at those tables and on the dance floor. Joe's classmates and their wives have been very kind to me. I met quite a few five years ago, and many more this time. And this is where my thought about shyness comes in.

It occurred to me that if I'd been shy I would have missed out on meeting so many of them. Here's an example: I arrived at the class dinner Friday night with a couple of fellow widows. By the time we'd gotten drinks at the bar, most of the tables had filled up. We found space with some other people at a table on the end, in the path of a breeze. Rain was approaching, and the temperature was dropping. My friends were wearing jackets and blazers; I was wearing a lacy 3/4-sleeve cardigan. I would have been freezing at that table. I told my friends I was going to throw myself on the mercy of strangers, and I set out to find a table with an empty chair. It took me longer than expected, but the reward at the end of my search was an excellent dinner partner I never would have met otherwise. Our conversation ranged from saguaros to sudden loss, and it was one I'll remember. I'm glad I didn't miss out.

The married gentlemen of the Class of '52 are true gentlemen, not inclined to ask a single woman to dance. But being the gentlemen they are, they won't turn a woman down if she asks. I proved this theory Saturday night with a lindy, a foxtrot, and a rhumba (and expressed my gratitude to their wives).

I met some of the nicest people just by asking if I could follow them to an event. No one turned me down, and we had some good conversations as we strolled past Yale's beautiful stone buildings.

At the class dinner one of the speakers mentioned that they'd need reunion photos for their website. I brought a camera, and figured this is the least I could do for the class that had invited me to share their event and paid my way. So on the last night I became the self-appointed "official" photographer. Another widow offered to be my "assistant." She followed me around, writing down names as I snapped pictures. We got to meet a lot of people this way.

So now I'm back home in my old farmhouse on a sparsely-populated dirt road, grateful that the first-grader paralyzed by shyness managed to grow into a pushy old broad. I'm thinking this is a quality I should be able to use more often than once every five years. Beyond the perimeter of my acreage are people—people who write, people who garden, people who enjoy laughing, games, music, and the company of other people. Singers. Scientists. People who know how to do things I never heard of. I think it's time to plan how I might meet some of them.

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

The Possum Poem

So Gerald Stern wrote a poem
about road kill, a poem
everybody seems to know,
but I wonder if everybody thinks
about it quite as often as I do.
His poem is about an opossum
with a hole in its back “and the wind
blowing through his hair,” dead
on the road. Stern says he will
“behave like a Jew” and touch
the opossum’s face, stare into his eyes,
and pull him off the road.

After dark, after I’ve locked
the front door for the night,
after the outside cat has retreated
to her cozy shelter, I hear her
food dish banging on the porch.
It is pushed, flipped, slid, and flipped again,
its stainless steel racket pulling me
to the front door knowing
what I’ll find.

I turn on the light and lean against
the glass to see an opossum with its nose
in the dish—eating, or pushing it in a last-ditch
effort to extract every morsel from this
civilized meal. Sometimes the animal
is intact, and sometimes I see
the one whose back has been scalped.

I once knew a man who raised
baby opossums rescued from the pouches
of road-killed mothers. He explained
that opossums seek out macadam
because it retains the day’s heat.
Opossums have cold feet.

My feet get cold, too. I go through
boxes of foot warmers every winter.
I’m lucky. I can slap them on my socks
and walk around the house without fear
that two tons of metal will run me down
in my kitchen. But there she is,
the possum mama, nourishing her babies,
trying to get comfortable
in the only way she knows how.
And along come those bright lights,
that big noise, but her movements
are slow, way too slow
for 300 bullying horsepower.

I don’t know where Gerald Stern lives,
or how many opossums he has seen
on the road. I live in the country,
and see them on almost a daily basis.
Maybe it’s because there’s rarely room
to pull over, or maybe it’s because I’m only
one-quarter Jewish, but I’ve never
moved a dead opossum out of further
harm’s way. I like that he did, though.

But for now I set out a clean food dish
on the porch every morning,
wash the possum bathtub
I used to call the water dish, and keep
the cat food coming. When I lean
against the glass and see the one
with the skinned back, I tell her I'm glad
she survived to enjoy these meals.
We each do what we can.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Deadlines Big and Small

I mentioned on Facebook today that my writing group is valuable because it makes me accountable. We meet every two weeks, and I'm expected to bring three pages of my middle-grade novel-in-progress for critiquing. We've been meeting for several months now, and so far I've shown up with the required pages in hand. Sometimes these pages are written the day of the meeting. Did I say "sometimes"? Most of the time these pages are written a few hours before the meeting starts.

The group is great. There are four of us, all writing in the same genre and each writing quite differently. One of us has a great deal of experience with children's literature and is well published. I hope she's getting something out of these meetings, because she certainly gives a lot. The others have less experience, but are good writers and insightful readers.

However, I realized today (and I'm surprised it took me so long) that if I write this book at the rate of three double-spaced pages every two weeks, it'll take me years. And that's just for the first draft! I must speed up the process.

The other thing I mentioned on Facebook is a handy little download called Freedom (available from Costing $10, this little program sits on your monitor waiting for you to summon it. You do this when you need to accomplish something requiring your undivided attention--undivided, that is, by Words With Friends games, forum postings, commenting on someone's Facebook photo, research on ticks (or whatever), or the irresistible desire to check your email. Freedom cuts off your access to the Internet.

Once you set it for a certain amount of time (one writer recommends three hours, but my usual is 45 minutes), you are truly cut off from anything happening online. Freedom is a tough little program; you can't get around it, so don't bother trying.

So . . . now that I know the secret of productivity, I'll have to put it to use more often. Just how often is something I've yet to figure out.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

While I've been holed up in the house.....

I'm still in freaked-by-ticks mode, and haven't been venturing out much, although that will probably change (cautiously) now that the weather has warmed again. But in the cool temperatures of the past few weeks I embarked on a project I've been thinking about for awhile.

Last year I bought a footstool at an antique shop. It cost only $21, and was probably a circa 1960 "antique," but I liked its sturdy, simple lines. I didn't like the fabric that covered it, and planned to change it right away. Well, we know how those things go.

Here's how it looked when I bought it (and used it for many months). Note how crappy the pink and green fabric looks against the Persian rug it's sitting on:


So last month I rather impulsively sketched out a design I felt would work with the rug without actually copying it, and then (this is the fun part) dove into my large stash of wool to pick out colors. I often play with colors by dyeing or overdyeing, but this time I wanted to use as-is colors and make the project go quickly. Then I started hooking. (That's fun too.)

I had a hard time figuring out the exact dimensions of the design. It's not as though I were covering something flat; the footstool had padding, and the hooked design would have to cover the top and a bit of the sides as well. I didn't have a lot of confidence that it was going to work.

When I finished it, or guessed I had, it was time to operate on the existing cover. I removed a zillion staples......


And peeled the pinky-greeny fabric off, along with a layer of dried, crumbling foam rubber. This was underneath:


Sort of sweet, isn't it? But it doesn't go any better with the rug (or anything else in the house) than the first fabric did. So I removed some more staples and peeled the chrysanthemums off as well.

For padding, I cut two pieces of latex left over from trimming a 1" latex mattress pad. I covered the rectangular block of wood with one and put a narrower strip on top, creating the slightly domed effect I was going for. Then I placed my hooked design on top. I discovered that I hadn't left quite enough of the burlap on all sides. What I should have done at this point was to sew strips of brown wool around the hooking to create an ample border. But I didn't.

Instead, I made good use of my son's staple gun. For those who don't already know this, adding staples is a lot more enjoyable than removing them.

Here's the finished footstool. It's not perfect, but it looks good on three out of four sides. For a first effort, I'll take it. I'm happy with the way it looks on the rug.


Tuesday, March 27, 2012

A Thousand Ughs

For the third time that I know of in the past year or two (I'm losing track), I've been infected by a tick. This could be a source of amusement, I suppose (my doctor calls me The Tick Magnet, or The Mine Sweeper), but this time I'm not amused.

This time I was bitten in the head, the least favorable site, the closest to the brain. This time the tick was attached for the maximum length of time (approximately 99 hours) before I found it. This time while the tick fed on and on I hugged and kissed and played with my 8-month-old grandson. This time, while blindly trying to remove the tick (it was on the back of my head), I managed to pop the contents of its fully engorged abdomen back into my bloodstream. Ugh. A thousand ughs.

This time, like the other times, I’m on my own, with very little confidence about what I’m doing. My doctor, an internist and very nice guy, isn't very knowledgeable about tick-borne illnesses. The rest of the local medical community (and indeed, throughout most of the U.S.) is the same. Even the infectious-disease specialists aren't on top of what is fast becoming a plague in the northeast. Last year I took what I thought was a radical step when I told my doctor I wanted to be on Doxycycline for a whole month—but then my veterinarian said, “Gee, Susan, we keep dogs on it for two months.”

This time I'm on Doxy for two months with a double daily dose. Doxy makes one highly sensitive to the sun; the first time I took it, I wasn't careful and lost a lot of hair, sunburned at the roots. Fortunately, it grew back. This time, on a double dose, I have to keep all of me covered outdoors. The double dose came from reading Dr. Joseph Burrascano’s treatment guidelines. If you even just glance at a few pages, you’ll see how complex is the issue of diagnosis and treatment. Lyme Disease websites are populated by people who seem to know a great deal about tick illness, but seem is the operative word. Some inspire more confidence than others, but I’m reluctant to blindly follow anyone's advice.

Most of the Lyme-knowledgeable people insist the only way to go is to find a Lyme-Literate MD and put yourself in his or her hands. This is what I know about LLMDs: They’re far away, they’re expensive, they prescribe some heavy-hitting (often IV) antibiotics, and they don’t accept insurance. One thing I don't know is how they got to be LL. Can any physician declare himself/herself to be Lyme-Literate? Who oversees LLMDs? Even the people who swear by their LLMDs don't seem to be getting better very quickly. I’m reluctant to invest in even the gas required to drive to one of these LLMDs without a lot more assurance that I’d get something out of it.

I just received a bottle of an anti-bacterial herb from the Rain Forest. I've read about it online, and one of my neighbors said his daughter had good results from taking it. Some say it kills the spiroketes carried by the tick; others say it simply drives the infection into hiding. Once again, who the hell knows? Directions on the bottle say to start with one drop. At least that much is clear.

Sunday, March 04, 2012

From my journal: June 6, 2005

Tonight I was doing dishes when a big fat fly landed on the vertical window frame in front of me. My first thought was to reach for the fly swatter, but while I've killed a lot of flies over the years these days I always hesitate, feeling that Jill is looking over my shoulder and disapproving. She never liked to kill anything. So while I was mentally debating the fly's demise, another thought came into my head: Place the edge of the fly swatter next to him. He will step onto it, and you can carry him to the other window and put him outside. Wondering where that thought came from, I said out loud, "That's ridiculous." Flies seem to recognize fly swatters, and I was certain any fly, including this one, would take off the instant I approached him with one in my hand.

The thought persisted. So I dried my hands, picked up a fly swatter, and reached out to the fly. I put the edge next to him, and in the process got a little too close and actually bumped him. He took a step backward. Then after a moment he stepped forward—onto the fly swatter. I carried it, with the fly aboard, to the window at the other end of the kitchen. Leaning over, I opened the window. When the fly got outside, he flew off.

Leave it to Jill to orchestrate miracles that don't involve obvious props like burning bushes and parting waters.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

(Trying to) Do the Right Thing

"Do the right thing." It was a mantra of my crowd when I was a teenager. I'm not sure why, and I'm not even sure what it meant. Certainly we weren't a gang of do-gooders. We were decent kids with good hearts for the most part. But we also acted like teenagers. If each of us helped an old lady across the street at least once, we had a similar track record of sneaking into the local movie theater.

Anyway, when I came upon some old prescription meds from my late dogs this week I tried to do the right thing. I know flushing them is a bad idea, as is tossing them in the trash. Some environmental-minded communities collect pills for proper disposal, but my rural area does not. So I called a pharmacy to see if they would take my old pills. The pharmacist said they wouldn't, but the State Police would.

So I called the State Police. The officer was very nice, but said they wouldn't either. He told me that a neighboring county collected hazardous materials, but they wouldn't take anything from my county. He said, "Why don't you just flush 'em?" I said, "Because I don't want pharmaceuticals in my well water." He then said maybe the hospital pharmacy would take my old pills.

The hospital pharmacist was very nice, but said they wouldn't. He had another suggestion for me: Burn the pills, plastic bottle and all, in my woodstove. He sounded quite pleased with his suggestion. Ugh.

Why is it so hard to do the right thing for the environment? I know in some cities it isn't hard, but there are areas—like mine—that really need to catch up. My family recycles, but around here it isn't easy. Until recently we had to separate the different kinds of plastics and the different color glass bottles, and remember to take them to the nearest collection site on the right day of the month. That was always a roll of the dice, and I often ended up with a garage full of recycling while I waited for the appointed day to roll around in the following month. Then I discovered that another county had single-stream recycling. We bag up all the glass and plastics together and put the newspapers in paper bags*, and I load up my SUV and take everything to the recycling center, which is 26 miles away. It's convenient for me because it's near several stores that I visit about once a month.

But how many people will do this? We don't go to a lot of trouble, but I suspect it's more trouble than a lot of people are willing to go to. Recycling is important. Proper disposal of hazardous materials is important. Our local governments should give these things some priority. Meanwhile, I still have my dogs' old pills. They've become a symbol.

*Paper bags! I tried to get some from a supermarket to use for recycling, but they were literally snatched out of my cart by an officious employee. This was so completely unexpected that I didn't react as I should have (taking the person's name, etc.). I told this story to a friend who lives in another state, and she stuffed a Priority Mail flat-rate box FULL of paper grocery bags and shipped them to me. Good friends make up for a lot.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Where Everybody Knows Your Name

I watched a long-forgotten rerun of "Cheers" last night, and when I heard the lyrics of the theme song I thought of the Jazz Club. A bar in a small hotel in town, they had a jazz trio—piano, bass and drums—every Wednesday night. My friend Bobby and I went there the first time because he knew the bass player. I was working full-time then, and thought Wednesday was an odd choice for a night out, but I quickly changed my mind. It wasn't long before we showed up every Wednesday. We'd have a drink and dinner, and listen to the music, and then I'd go home around 10:00 while Bobby stayed on until the end of the last set.

Some of the patrons were transient (it was a hotel, remember), but the club had plenty of regulars: Mark and Sharon, the young couple who knew every fancy step to every sophisticated dance; Mary, the pretty, middle-aged lady who filled a table with her girlfriends each week; Leroy, the slick romantic who seduced Mary despite her friends' warnings. And then there was Ira.

Since my diet was even more limited than the limited menu, I always ordered the same salad for dinner. Betty, the waitress, always remembered. Thalia, the Greek bartender, understood whatever hand gesture I made over the heads of other customers. I became good friends with the trio and some of their family members, and the piano player was startled to discover that the beautiful young musician whose obituary he had cut out and saved years earlier was my daughter Gillian.

Sometimes you want to go
Where everybody knows your name,
and they're always glad you came

For a few years the jazz club gave me the feeling of community I have always sought in my life. But nothing stays the same, and so eventually the trio lost that gig, the jazz club became just another bar, and we stopped going. If I walked in tonight, I doubt I'd be recognized. But that's okay, because I suspect I no longer have the energy or inclination to make a 40-mile round trip every week to eat, drink, and be merry. I still seek community, though, and these days every other Wednesday evening is spent with a writing group. Everybody knows my name there too.

Friday, January 06, 2012

You Get What You Pay For

This week I read Lali's post on getting a Kindle for Christmas. I got a Kindle for Christmas, too, and earlier this week I wrote a blog post about it. And then I deleted the post.

The post was about all those free books that are offered for the Kindle. I'd been hearing about them for a long time, and as soon as I got my Kindle I began looking into them. I discovered that other than out-of-print classics, etc., many are self-published. While we know there are some good self-published books out there (at least that's what we're told), we also know it would be best if we avoided the rest.

I took a serious look at scores of free ebooks, reading the descriptions and the Amazon reviews. Knowing how authors' friends like to write rave reviews, I paid special attention to negative reviews. When a reviewer commented about the lack of editing (or lack of character development, lack of dialogue, lack of plot), I knew the book wasn't for me.

Often I didn't have to go to the reviews; the description gave me enough information to keep me away from the book. Some of the statements in the descriptions, although not intended to be funny, made me laugh. I thought it would be fun to share them here, so I collected a bunch and included them in my post. Then I decided it would be mean-spirited to publicly make fun of someone's sincere effort to write a book (hey, when was the last time I wrote a book?), and that's why I deleted my post.

But Amazon reviews are fair game, no? Thinking they are, I'll share one review as an example of the kind of thing that's out there . . . and why I think most of my Kindle books will come from the library.

She is such a fun writter when I am just in the mood for some fun easy romance. Her books do tend to be repeditive tho so I can only read one and then wait for awhile to read another. This was on of the weirder ones for me not my fav.