Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Confessions of a Vitamin Junkie


As the exec director of several child development centers, a couple years ago I was also building points on my Doctor's "frequent flier" card towards a vacation in Monte Carlo. I was on his top ten list of "Patients with Funny Stories." (usually these included flying boogers, projectile vomit, or parents who insisted that little susie's radiant scarlet eyes were due to a "shampoo incident" and certainly NOT to pink eye) Um....yeah. I laundered my clothing in bleach, snorted hand sanitizer, and used lysol as perfume. (I was partial to Springtime Meadow--so fresh and dewy)
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Yet there I was, time after time, sounding like an emphysema patient or chucking monkeys at the porcelain goddess. I'd had it. So ye ole google and I came up with a solution. (exactly what in the hell did we ever do before the Internet??) After looking up `immune system and vitamins' I had come up with a list of goodies that were essential to your health. These included garlic, a, e, the b's, c of course, zinc and magnesium. Off I trundled to the drugstore to purchase a granny-sized seven-day pill holder in a lovely shade of robins-egg blue that I could use as a weapon in a pinch. A regular women's daily as well as additional supplements of the others on the list filled up my basket and nearly cleared out my checking account.
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It took almost two hours for me to conquer the child-proof lids and safety seals and dole out a weeks worth of pastel pillege--not to mention assuring my husband that I had indeed not lost my marbles and replaced them with liqui-gels.
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Month one passed......wow. Month two....holy wow. YEAR one.....Saint Jehosephat's nads, this is WORKING! Folks, three years and seven months--not a SINGLE cold. Not O. N. E. I have three boys and a husband who have brought home a vast plethora of snot and sniffles, more than one case of the chuckles, and NADA. And then.....
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Oh ye hateful arrogance! Smash ye to cinders all who scoff at the anti-bacterial wipes for grocery carts even as ye watch the red-eyed pigmy demon hock up el-mucus-o and finger paint on the handle of the buggy next to you.......ye shall PERISH!
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Cough...sputter...gasp.
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This week.....for the first time in nearly four years, I have gotten ill. (ahem) Make that, "I have visited the tunnel of light and am clinging to life with broken fingernails and lifevest made from halls wrappers." I've woven a rope from used tissues to tie myself to the brink of sanity. I have had lengthy conversations with the most adorable little asian doc-ette about the color of the crap I cough up. Bigelow Tea has offered me a spot as spokesperson as I've broken the world record--27 cups-o-liquid-love in less than 12 hours. My pee smells like lemons....and menthol.
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I have met the maharajah of viral malaise and he whooped my proverbial ass.
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It has terrified my kids--they have no real memories of sick mommy. They have also eaten pizza, hot dogs, and cold cereal three meals a day for a week. My husband has been grand and the wonton soup he has brought home by the bucket has been my single joy as well as the only thing I can taste.
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I'm still a believer, and still popping the goodies....along with anti-biotics and have begun to have strong feelings for my nasal spray. However, I am praying that this will be an isolated incident...once every four years I can handle--although the holiday timing of this has really jacked up Santa's schedule.


My eldest said from the doorway of my room--afraid to enter, "Too bad it's not halloween mum, 'cause you'd be a really good Darth Vader."


Monday, December 13, 2010

Bone Magic


"Are we having chicken Mum?" he asked eagerly. "On the bone??" Hopeful eyes sparkled and I laughed, "Yes, my love--on the bone." "Yippee!" he hollered, dancing out through the dining room, off to give the good news to his brothers. He's nine. Sweet still. Blue eyes and a contagious belly laugh and when he hugs you--he really hugs you. Amazing actually, at such a tender age he has learned one of life's luscious lessons.....meat on the bone, is the best.
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The snow is drifting past the window, dancing in an endless holiday tango. The last wisps of incense mingling with the scent of pine....the evening aglitter with tinsel and lights. Dinner was seared and then roasted slowly, the nobs of garlic permeating all before relinquishing their firmness, melting into decadent paste. Rosemary infused, wine and butter and onions caressed the meat, tender....succulent.
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Indulgence....laughter.....contentment.
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I shudder a bit at the packaged meat shelves in the market. I'm blessed to have an amazing butcher close to home--one of the few with hanging sides of beef and daily delivery from organic and local producers. He supplies me with rabbits and lamb and cuts my delmonico steaks two and a half inches thick while I watch. He saves bones for me...filled with buttery marrow, ready to roast and simmer. It's these bones which awakened me to the lost magic of marrow. The creamy center which once pulsed with movement and blood....the essence of life.
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Plastic trays of skinless, boneless strips of meat break my heart. Their sterility frightens me. In the name of convenience and cleanliness, we've chosen ease over decadence. Our homes sport kitchens the size of rec rooms with appliances gleaming.....and yet the demand for "take home" Bosten Market, Eat-n-Park, "Applebees on the go" is soaring. "Get that home cooked taste with no effort at all!" Shame on us. When did effort hurt? When did labor become laborious?
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I'm trying to teach my children this. Within the snow globe that is a child's world, little else provides such an immediate return on investment. Yes, they save up allowance for prized possessions and they endure our new puppy's craziness, hoping for a calmer companion in the future that won't chew their gloves and eat legos. However, they come running when the clang of pans and pots rings out. 'What are you making Mum? Can I help? Can I watch?" The anticipation is almost tangible as they help roll meatballs and pour in the plum tomatoes, using the masher to break them up. They tear off to play, but return every hour or so to see how high the bread has risen and beg to taste the sauce.
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And they cheer when it's meat on the bone.
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Perhaps it's the primal urge to tear with our teeth? Sucking and nibbling as we lick our lips and smile sheepishly at one another. Fingers seeking out flesh, sliding along the bones, tearing and pulling and finding deliciousness. Dipping cartilage back into the sauce, tongues catching the drops of liquid ambrosia. I love the sounds of savory satisfaction; giggles and grins and slurping. The boys often play rock-paper-scissors for the last piece, makes me smile every time.
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I don't cook every day. The leftovers from today's pistachio crusted rack of venison is going to make a smashing stew tomorrow. Wednesday is pizza night as I've got a painting to finish. And this last weekend, preparing for our holiday bash--you'd better believe my husband took the crew out for Arby's while I was mulling wine and making crab dip. Life is absolutely about balance. We all juggle and spin, attempting to keep eleventeen things up in the air at once. But within that balance, when there is room and time....skip the instant. Brown the chicken quarters till golden, nestle them in the dutch oven with sliced potatoes and onions and sausages and sage. Roast slowly for two hours....
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Trust me, it's worth it.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Call Me Sasquatch

There are two quests that women in our country have. Endless pursuits that millions of dollars are spent upon every year--I swear they are actually part of our nation's fiscal picture. What are these crucial, life-long missions you ask?


The crusade for the perfect push-up bra....and great hair.


Now, I must admit complete and utter failure when it comes to quest one. *sigh* I'm sorry ladies, but my journey down this road was full of potholes and wrong turns, triple padding and once--a deflated "air pillow" that left me a tad lopsided at a black tie affair. In fact, in rebellion against the societal demand for bodacious buxom broads--when I resigned from my executive director position to dance down the lane of unemployed artist, author, and chef--I burned those bras! Well....I donated them to charity--does that count? My husband seems quite happy with his perky athletic wife...even if I do tend to make waves at family functions and Sunday morning service with my unbound self.

Anywho, this brings us to quest two. Great hair. Lotions and potions and creams and treatments....eat meat, drink yeast, coat with olive oil. I was even on a gelatin kick for awhile--until someone told me that jello shots don't count. (damn) In the 80's when Aquanet was the perfume of choice--in true Kelly LeBrock-ish style, my do was phenomenal! I teased and spritzed , creating an auburn halo that could touch my shoulder pads and block the wind....it was simply stunning. Unfortunately, during a college sculpture class that required a piece done with metal...meaning blowtorches and fire....well, I believe I single handidly caused the school to alter the requirements as I set my hair on fire not once, but an impressive three times. Do you know how flammable solid aquanet is?
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So a few weeks back, a darling pal regaled me with a tale of long luscious locks after she had begun....HAIR VITAMINS! Who knew?!? Little nuggets of vitamic (pronounce that "vi-tam-ic;" yes, I've just made up a word) power that boost your hair growing capacity by a factor of ten! Shazaaam! Holy Dolly Pardon I am on my way!
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Day one: A bit woozy after popping the green tablets-o-hair, but manageable.
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Day four: Figured out that eating tuna salad helps the nausea...while grossing out my kids at 6:30am.
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Day seven: Began to crave carrots. WTH??!
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Day eleven: I passed a mirror and was shocked at the caterpillars on my face! Who put my brows on steroids?!? Took an hour and a half to pluck. Are those tufts in my ears?
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Day twelve: Shaved....it looked like I massacred a yeti in the bathroom. Had to go out for liquid plumber. While rinsing the drain I realized I needed to shave.....again. Am I slightly orange?
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Day fifteen: Have stopped the pills from hairy hell. The neighbor kid asked if I was growing a play-off beard. Purchased four bottles of Nair.
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Day seventeen: Out of Nair.
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The moral of this story is, of course, that there is no magic pill. Stick to olive oil and jello shots. I'm staying in until CVS orders more nair.
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Anyone got some carrots?

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Price of Good

There are times in my life when second guessing devastates me. When balance becomes nearly unreachable, when the demand is so much greater than the resource...the only solution is truly a miracle.

Do you believe in God? In His design to make within us....more? More than needed, more than necessary? More than the required, the basic...the obligatory. In a swamp of "barely" and "nominal," when "good enough" seems to replace quality, I am so grateful for those who are and do and give--more.

I received a call last night. Such an incredible friend--and when we rang off, I wept. Quite simply, she does foster care. In addition to adopting a son who was born addicted and carries the repercussions of that, she has repeatedly opened her home to those children who have no where to go. I am stunned by this. They wreck her things, scream, yell, lie and steal....and she loves them with a depth that is beyond me.

She has a brother and sister now. An abhorrent history of sexual and physical abuse, they bring more baggage with them than a child should ever have to shoulder. She's had them a year....and it's killing her. Her health is rough, she's gone back to school to open employment opportunities, and while every marriage has its moments--the stress of three children, life and school and visits and court dates and uncovered expenses....is wearing the flesh from her heart and the patience from her husband. She is so tired. I was rather relieved when she told me they had decided to ask the state to find another family.

And then, last week's visit to the father.....and signs of physical contact. Distraught 3 year-old sobbing and screaming and punching...a hospital visit and medical exams. Tears are streaming down my face as I type this...how, how does a soul sink there? How can it be such a long process to prove, try, defend...2nd chances, broken promises, therapy, deception. Legal tape and procedures and....ultimately, frustration.

There is no one else.

How do you make such a choice? When is the cost too high? From a distance it is a simple thing to offer an opinion....but could you send that little girl back into the dark? Even as your own family is barely keeping above water? I am in agony for this situation, for the innocent children who have been so damaged, and for my closest friend who is entwined.

This world saddens me at times. I can almost fathom the madness of the great artists and poets--if you stare too directly at the dark for long, it seems to close in. And so we have sunrises and seasons and green twigs that bloom lovely. Fireflies and fuzzy kittens and the taste of oranges.

And each other.

Within us sleeps an amazing potential to change and grow. Unlike any other breathing thing on this planet, we can literally alter the universe. Inside how and what we choose is immense power...if we do so with intention. And sacrifice.
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Being comfortable is rarely paired with giving.

Ag has changed my life. She has challenged me, humbled me....inspired me. I've never met someone who loves so fiercely....and is so much more.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Amazing....and Elusive Grace



Mercy. Clemency. To pardon the undeserving. The act of forgiveness.
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How often in our somewhat careless society to we ask for grace? Weekly? Daily? For some, hourly? As we stumble over each other's feelings, drop the proverbial ball, or mishandle our responsibilities--we apologize. We explain. We excuse. But is this the same as grace?
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"Giving grace" is forgiving one who has NOT apologized. (either by choice or opportunity) There is no groveling, no begging or bootlicking. No atonement...no reparation. It's the driver that cuts you off at the exit. The abhorrently rude woman at the bank who jumped line and then gave you "the look." The market cashier who dropped your carefully chosen, bruiseless golden apples into the bag like pond stones ensuring them to be a brown mottled mess tomorrow. (wretch)
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I do actually forgive easily. I'm the one who always has a "perhaps" waiting to eradicate blame. "Perhaps he's late to the hospital and his wife is having a baby." "Perhaps she has a migraine." "Perhaps they're lost..." From the irresponsible to the downright ill-mannered, I can usually come up with a possible explanation for "why" whatever thoughtless event has occurred.
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With. Others.

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And therein lies the mess. *sigh* I don't, I cannot, I am seemingly unable to give grace to myself. Floating in this vast sea of love and forgiveness--I am choking on self-recrimination, drowning in personal disparagement. The repeating reel playing over and over in my mind, what I could have said or should have done, becoming a mantra that deafens reason, mutes anything even resembling sweet intangible grace. It matters not the size of error....just that it was mine.
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I am not alone.
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Within this quagmire of culpability I have much company--mostly female, I admit. Is it in our chromosomes? Our blood? I do know men who feel intense guilt, but usually not for the aeons that my fellow women seem to suffer. The masculine ability to wrap the situation up in a neat package, tie it with string, and tuck it away in "storage" stuns me. How do I learn this? Is there a class I can take? Can we start a support group? "Love Thyself..."
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I've always known that grace was elemental--irrevocably essential--in every relationship. And yet I am surprised to discover at this point in my life....that this is also true of myself.

And so, as this holiday season is creeping up simply loaded with opportunities for faux pas, disasters & mishaps, I am determined to be gentler to myself. More understanding...


Sometimes I actually do have a smashing headache after an exhausting day and I know there's a stain on my sleeve and I burned the pastry and I've completely forgotten the directions to the party.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Soup Afterglow


Within the plastic isolated globes where we have all begun to live--our wireless connections weaving tangled patterns in an invisible sky--sometimes I feel I'm holding my breath. Waiting for human contact. Warmth. Flesh. And so as the evenings begin to freeze and we dig out the sweaters and flannel, every year I rebel.

Rise up all ye dismal and grey! Denounce thy autonomous ways and come hither....to SOUP!

Yes, this year was the fourth annual North Hills Soup--a party inspired by the hearty, the liquid, the creamy marrow-infused, herb sprinkled, lucious joy that is soup.

For weeks I search for new recipes, tweak old ones, simmer and bubble my afternoons away in our tiny kitchen. (not kidding there--one of this year's quotes was "This is a one-butt kitchen!") I force my family to eat the rejects, harass the neighbors to taste new ones, and whittle the list down to four or five winners. This year I made a spicy Thai peanut shrimp with lime and cilantro, sausage beer & cheese with Guiness and chorizo, butternut bisque, and smokey cream of potato with all the cheese, crumbled bacon, and chives you could load on. As my co-host bailed on me THREE DAYS before the party (she usually brings several soups too--my husband asked how upset I was....I told him I erased her from my cell phone) I had loverly pals that brought a wedding soup, matzah ball, and a white chili. YUM. O.

The invites are a simple postcard I design each year that read: "Bring a bowl, a spoon and a friend. Kids, wine, bread and cheese welcome!" (it's like a contest with the bowls--one year a rather clever fellow brought a muffin tin so he could eat six soups at a time, last year the dog food bowl was a hit and this year it was a tie between the transformer cereal bowl and the finding Nemo complete with a hinged lid and flippy tail) We start at seven and end when the last guest is satiated--usually around 3:30am. It's a simple "Come when you can, leave when you must" that can be worked around other engagements and leaves everyone happy while spreading the guestload throughout the evening.

The music is smashing as my husband is a genius at mixing Santana with the muppets and Moby. From Prince to Michael Buble', Chemical Brothers to Martin Sexton & CC Adcock--it's an eclectic surge of auditory pleasure. There's a guest book to sign and a ballot to vote for your favorite delicacy. Piles of bread and baked brie and goat cheese and scrumptious vittles cover the dining room table, the buffet holds dozens of bottles of wine, and the line into the kitchen for your next dip is an excellent place to meet new friends and catch up with old ones.

We always awake the morning after to a house full of kids that are not our own. I finish off the merlot while making a mountain of pancakes and bacon and dancing to the still playing music. Last year we had over 120 soupers and I've yet to read through the guestbook, but last night was a fantastic collection of intellect, wit, and charismatic souls that laughed and danced and connected in a tradition of simplicity.

I relish the Soup. It revives me, reminds me that the world is made of flesh and breath, not manufactured compounds and synthetic fibers. Our house is not grand, the unfinished trim of a doorway incomplete, the paint chipped in the hall--but this does not hinder our festive camaraderie. For the truth of the Soup, the revelation, is that if you wait until "it" is done....whatever your "it" may be, you will miss out on the authentic happiness that is "now." We all have scuffs and brokens and imperfects...but this is exactly what ties us together. Our humanity.

I made eggs benedict this morning with leftover roasted garlic bread and fully intend to finish the herbed goat cheese on crustini for dinner.

Oh, the sweet reward that is.....the Soup.
 

Monday, November 1, 2010

The Asterisk of Idiocy


There are moments when I am on the verge of offense....the edge of outrage...oh, the audacity of it all!

The commercial begins with a jaunty blond in a short black skirt and bad leopard print, dashing about some design-challenged suburban hut gushing, "I only paid for carpet for this ONE room and got THIS one AND THIS one for (drum roll please) for.....FREE!" Yes folks, there are enough idiots out there to actually warrant this type of brain washed jabber taking up 30 second spots during our evening entertainment. I'd like to meet one of them in person. Do they wear funny hats? Shuffle when they walk? Exactly how much can you legally overprice something so you can give something else away for "free?"
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I'm thinking about starting a taco stand. "Buy one $10 taco, get four....."
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Then there's the beauty asterisk. It's that lovely little star on the front of the bottle of shampoo under the words, "95% fewer split ends!" Once you actually dig out your microscope, turn on the florescent lighting, put on the reading glasses and squint like the local chinese opium lady (what--you don't have one of those?) you can read the words, "Compared to hair washed in gasoline." Aie Karumba! Now that's a beauty promise!
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The diet products: "Burns twice as much fat!*" (compared to those who are paralyzed in a coma)
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"Removes 85% more dirt!*" (than a wet tissue and spittle)
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"92% preferred taste!*" (over sawdust with cat urine and mold spores)
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Um.....can we draw a line? Can we just quit the bull? Shall we hog tie anyone who buys this crap? It's more than politics and mortgages--the fine print is killing our brain cells as well as our common sense!
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And by the way, this blog is preferred 98% more than the one on pustules and venereal diseases.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Companionship


Autumn has arrived wrapped in her cloak of nutmeg and gold. She's brought with her more surprises than I expected....and not all of them lovely. However, I've retreated a bit from the whirlwind and sometimes taking two steps back and pausing--reveals.

This may look like an average kitchen windowsill. Usually littered with treasures from the garden, wine corks and the bits and odds that hover for a moment before finding their way back where they belong. I was washing up after lunch and saw movement. If you look closely....

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Yes, there's a stinkbug there. Clinging to the blossom like a raft in the midst of an ocean of stainless steel, glass and enamel. I raised my hand......and stopped. In your own corner of the world you may be unaware (shamelessly) that we've had a storm of stink bugs here in Pennsylvania. Swarms have invaded our homes, flown through the vents in our vehicles, clung to hair and blouse to the point of swatting and swearing inside markets and shops. They're everywhere.
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I've done my share of smashing and stomping, more than one stinkie has been flushed. But this particular afternoon, I was in a forgiving state of mind. Tired....and a bit lonely. I made him a deal. If he stayed on the flowers, he could live. I'd even name him.
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Stanly.
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I mean, really--what if today he was going to die? (how long do those suckers live anyway?) What if he had finally achieved his short life's goal of locating something lovely and natural in this concrete world?
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Stanly, sit. Stay. Good boy.
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He was there the next day. I watched him go from one flower to the next, his stick-like legs carefully grasping the petals. I whispered goodnight to him as I turned off the light.
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It's been eight days. I've told him all about my troubles. He even watched me shed a tear or two. I think he disapproved of my late night cheese raids--woke the poor chap up. I've chopped and roasted, baked and burned....all under the watchful eye of Stanly. Surprising camaraderie. Company.
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It's raining today. The windows shimmer with liquid light. Stanly and I are braising chicken, sausages and onions. Later he can supervise while I roast the butternut squash with rosemary and seasalt. (an addiction at this time of year)
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I didn't know. How much I needed company.
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No judgement, no comments, no platitudes or rebukes. Just company.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Persevere

The human being amazes me. Not for its capacity for creativity or beauty or science....not for advancement or achievement or depravity.....but for its ability to endure.

Scar tissue.
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Twisted lumps of whitened flesh that feel nothing. Severed nerve endings dangle uselessly, sending no messages....communicating nothing. I have a rather smashing scar on my right bicep. I was flying a kite as a child and while laughing and looking up to the clouds as I was running.....I crashed headlong into a barbed wire fence. The best thing about this particular macula is that as I lived on a ranch, miles from the closest doctor, after the original trip to be stitched up, a return for the "snipping" was deemed unnecessary by ye old dad. Perhaps it was a bit premature, but he thought the gash had healed well enough and sliced through the thread. It took a bit of yanking. Each and every spot that needle had pierced my skin, pulling filament behind--left a scar along side the laceration. Quite frankenstein, I assure you. Looks great with a tan. (and yes, I have told gawking strangers that I got it during a knife fight in Hong Kong...)

I've known many over the years who, thanks to sports and motorcycles and teenage antics, boast of scars much greater than mine. Did it deter them? No. The physical pain that wrecked through their bodies at the time of the injury was soon forgotten. The alabaster disfigurement becoming a badge of glory worn with pride during future episodes of genius judgement. Some might say this ability to omit physical pain is the reason we actually give birth to more than one child....

I still fly kites.

There are some scars, however, that are not so simply dismissed. They lay unseen, hidden beneath our pulsing flesh...jagged holes in our soul. These we do not boast about.
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They change the color of the sky.
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Yet the agony, no matter how grievous, doesn't kill us. At some point we fear it might......and then the sun rises.
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.........

The human being places bare feet on the cold floor. There is dust on the nightstand. Icy water sluices over the sink, puddles about the base. The click of the medicine cabinet seems to echo. Stare at the bedroom doors across the hall...small heads and soft hearts sleeping there still. A teddy bear on the floor. Plug in the iron, drape the skirt over the pale blue stained board.....breathe.

One step, then another. And then another.

Someone once said, "When you have no idea what to do....just do what comes next."

Friday, August 27, 2010

The Heart


I usually listen to NPR in the morning while I get ready for the day. Unlike the local news, I relish the global review of the latest whatnot, politics and events. There is something amazingly humbling in hearing about the devastation caused by the floods in Pakistan...I'm complaining about laundry? The trembling voice of the Chilean miner's wife who is camping in the barren desert in the smallest of tents even as you read this, until her husband can be pulled from the collapsed tunnel he is trapped in--a process that may take months--reminds me that while my husband is putting in long hours at the office--he is coming home tonight.

Sometimes, perspective is everything.

Every Friday there is a segment called StoryCorps that airs. A minute or two of dialog between usually two people--often "interviewing" although sometimes it's just one telling their story. This morning it was a married couple. He has Alzheimer's. She is his caregiver.

Honestly, I had to do my eyeliner over three times.

She asked him what he had learned from the disease. He said, "I have learned that I am not made up of memories or knowledge. I've learned that who I am....is in my heart."

This has hunted me all day. Even as I type now I'm fighting back tears.

Who am I...in my heart? Am I kind? Critical? Generous......demanding?
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Who are you in your heart? If you lost all of your knowledge, your memories, your past....if you were just your heart....who would you be?
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With your children....your spouse...your neighbors.

Would I be able to find joy in waking up? In toast and a poached egg and a cup of tea? Could I live inside of one single day without tomorrow, without yesterday? Can you imagine...holding on to no anger, nursing no worries, no fears... just today. To be content. In only today.
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He sounded happy. Quite stunning really. I think I envied it, even while I ached inside for what he had lost. Perhaps it had been balanced by what had been gained?

What is the value of peace? How much does serenity cost?

At the end, his wife said that she had read somewhere that if you loved someone....truly loved them...you would wish to outlive them. You would voluntarily bear the burden of loss and grief and hold them to the end. She wept.

She told him she was so glad, so very glad she was there to hold him.

Who she was in her heart.....was breathtaking.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Flirtation Nation


I've recently been accused of being a flirt....a rather large one at that. Moi?? Yet unintentionally I've acquired a stalker most persistent and thus, tragically, I've lost my grocery store. Do you know how traumatic that is?? Dammit, I KNEW where the turnips were! The coffee was in isle three and they had a particular kind of herbilicious brie I'd consider playing truth-or-dare for...

Then I ruined it. *sigh*

"How could this happen?" you ask. With a COMPLIMENT. A measly, weasly completely normal compliment! Except apparently someone has changed "the rules"and I missed the twitter or download or version III or whatever. Harumph.

This supposed "marriage proposal" of a compliment occurred in the check out line. 20 minutes of perusing the smashing array of vapid magazine covers and catching up on the latest of who's sleeping with who while adopting children after plastic surgery gone awry in Uruguay had left me at a loss and the sweet cooing of this darling baby in the buggy next to me was a welcome distraction.

There was a smile and a bit of drool combined with the foot kick and a squeal--a dead ringer move for stealing any heart--and I giggled right back! She laughed and I laughed and then glancing up at dad-e-o I commented, "She's really quite charming!"

Wouldn't you know it, unbeknownst to me, this particular phrase has been upgraded from "casual conversation" to "hussy pick-up." Dear Saint Jehosophat and his pet clown.

He followed me to my car.

Two days later he chased me down the dairy isle inquiring how to pick yogurt.

He even came into "Tampon Alley" with a toothy grin causing utter panic and I fled, leaving my buns behind.

However, when regaling pals with this tale of woe, I was informed most readily by said pals that it is now actually written in "How to get a date" books: Phase 1. Grocery store compliments.

AHHHHH!

Do you mean to tell me that the "was it still raining when you came in?" is now a request to crash happy hour? "That looks like a fabulous melon" might get you slapped, and "oops, you dropped your crackers" is storefront foreplay??

Dagnabbit.

Can someone please send me a new copy of these rules?? Does this apply to...say....the Verizon store? (I am SO re-thinking voicing my desire for "upgraded attachments") What about the mall? Can I still ask for double cream in my coffee or will I be labeled as a sex addict for life?

I've put off getting the oil changed in the car indefinitely. Somehow I'm certain "Please sir, will you check my fluids and lube the chassy" is not going to end well....

Friday, July 16, 2010

The Scent of Life


It's late now. The summer night has bled the heat of the day with a vampires patient thirst. Sucking it slowly, draining the heavy thick air. The curtains beside me billow; sheer fabric whispering a lover's endearments. I sigh. Like wayward Christmas lights escaped from their string, the fireflies dance below in an endless game of tag.

Yet as I sit here, it is not the sound of the night that occupies me. Crickets chirp, leaves rustle, the chatter of neighbors dim and distant. It is not the slick feel of my shower-damp skin, random drops of water sliding down my neck from the hair coiled above.
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For woven, entwined and infusing it all is the scent, the aroma....the fragrance of life.

I close my eyes. It permeates the air. Saturates my pores. The smell of grass and smothered bonfires and summer baked pavement. Grilled salmon with dill, incense.....paint. The coffee pot is filled with fresh ground, set for early morning. "April freshness" is spilling from the sheets in the the dryer into the warm night. The drift of smokey sweetness from the swirling whiskey on the desk tempts me...

Scent is so powerful. Its cognitive stimulation and connection to memory is utterly astounding. Recently I was driving with the windows down and while I am unsure of the elements that were involved, without warning I was inundated by the smell of my childhood babysitter's home. It's half a dozen states away in the mountains of Colorado and though I was only there a handful of times--the absolute vividness of that brown shag carpet and towering A-frame house was nearly overwhelming. I haven't had reason to even think about that place or my four year-old world in decades....but there I was.
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She was putting marigolds in a glass on on the table.

Have you ever been swept away to your grandmother's kitchen via a simple apple pie? Drug back into a nightmare by the scent of your ex's cologne? Every time I smell fresh ground nutmeg I land in a bowl of warm rice pudding wrapped in a shawl on a crisp autumn day.

Ironing shirts leaves me standing next to my father before he left for work....

I am addicted to scent. Perfumes and lotions and incense and food. I love when someone walks into my home and says, "wow it smells so good..." Utter joy when I see the boys pause in the doorway after school and just inhale.

Home.

You can use scent to lose weight, improve your mood, even increase your passion and desire. Fragrance lures us, inspires us, transports us.

Tonight, it has me wrapped in Summer, enfolded in her delicious warm arms, and reveling in the night.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Whoops.

Recently I was told I've been a tad absent. Sincere apologies here--there have actually been several consecutive days when I've been unable to find the time to check mail, much less collect my scatterbrained thoughts into a comprehensible sentence! With a ninety-three year old living in my first floor guest room and three boys under 12 home for the summer--my life is now consumed by scraped knees, fruit loop wars, skate board ramps, "eggs & bacon" at the pool (have you heard of this??), and lost false teeth.

In the midst of the mayhem, lessons have been learned this steamy summer....oh please do sit back and listen, wisdom of the ages here.....


Episode one: Decorating Sense.

When mixing ALL of your friends from many different walks of life, backgrounds, and places together for your Party-Lite bash; it may not be a good idea to get creative with your centerpiece. For while you may indeed think that the little green bottles, lined up on the silver tray, with a single daisy in each, surrounded by a handful of glittering seaglass and shells looks just divine on the dining room table.....it only takes one pal from your college days to comment, "Say, aren't those Jagermeister minis?!" to swing your soiree from "elegant afternoon tea" to Friday night bar hop. Tequila anyone?


Episode two: Use a Hammer, dammit.

It was a scorching hot day last June. We were moving and my darling parents had come to help us. Now, while I'm simply amazed by this generosity--this amazement faded a bit as we dismantled our king size bed. Nearly done, I left to root out a hammer to separate the frame. From the kitchen I hear crazy crashing noises--what in the name of Hosophat's hangers?? Returning to the bedroom, I discover my father--my 10 lb solid chunk-o-steel weight in hand--beating the crap out of my bedframe. "Heh, heh--didn't need that hammer after all!" he proudly says as the now slightly twisted and mangled bits of metal fall apart. "Ummm....thanks pop."

Fast forward. This weekend.....3 lovely long days with the kids gone to my ex's for the holiday and some privacy! Hubba hubba darlings. We made one run to the grocery for ice-cream, to the butcher for steaks to grill, and to the beverage store for the makings of a killer pitcher of long islands! A delicious delving into the sensual and forbidden fruits....

It's 3:30 in the afternoon and after a smashing lunch and leisurely shower...we retire for a little afternoon delight. (wink, wink) A half hour later, our fabulously crooked bedframe is being put to the test....ka-thunk, ka-thunk, ka-THUNK.....and drifting up from downstairs is the voice of my grandmother, "WHO IS IT?!?!"

Thanks dad.


Episode three--Storage.

First mistake: We were throwing a party with about a 75-80 person guest list--kids included. (no, I don't smoke crack-why do you ask?) and I was racing about stashing stuff. (this is my idea of cleaning when pressed for time) And there is that....well, tub-o-adult-fun that needs to be...changed. It's a clear tub....and...well, you know. So I'm searching for something you can't see through and come across an extra lego tub--you know, the one that looks like a giant blue lego? PERFECT! (I know, I know....) And yes--several hours later I discovered my youngest son--thoroughly confused because, "these aren't legos mom..."

Second mistake: Do I go out and shop to buy a discreet container to....NO! What, you think I'm made of money?? Of COURSE I just grab an extra holiday tub from the seasonal decorations.

It was marked "Summer."


Episode four: Parrot Head.

I'd had enough squabbling over the party parrot for the day so I stuck him on top of the toaster oven in the kitchen. Unbeknownst to me, the little switch was still on. (you say something and in his endearing shriekish parrot voice, he screams it back to you twice) So the phone rings, I'm up to my elbows in roasted chicken and garlic with "mo-ooom, I'm hungry!" whining from the living room and the last thing I need is the fleebity bleep phone. "Mommy needs a drink!" I hiss in exasperation as I pick up the cordless....."Hello?"

And as the pastor's wife sweetly asks how I am, Party Pete squawks across the kitchen, "Mommy needs a drink! Mommy needs a drink!"
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Oh my....summer has just begun. Did I mention we're going camping for a week??

Monday, June 7, 2010

Bread......and friendship.

I nearly had a heart attack reading an ice-cream label today...it had 27 ingredients. Twenty-seven.

I have few addictions. Good martinis, butter...lobster. (hmmm...some of those certainly go together) The smell of paint and sunshine...herbs. I subscribe to a single magazine--Saveur. Honestly, I can immerse myself for hours in pages of wild chanterelles, lemongrass, and olives; luscious ideas of tantalizing taste and scrumptious possibility. Last month they had 14 recipes for bloody marys...and chocolate gravy. Yet there seems to be a single remarkable theme...real food. Untainted.

We pay a dollar more for the mac and cheese that doesn't have "yellow #12" in it; even more for free range chickens fed on grains and worms and grass. We buy jars of peanut butter that only last a month and I am obsessed with my butcher who actually cuts my steaks in front of me--two inches thick and marbled enough to make me bite my lower lip and inhale softly in anticipation of the tender feast that awaits.

The age of MSG. It put american-chinese food on the map....and is now the number one anti-advertisement: "delicious with no msg!" Tv dinners, microwave magic, cereal that "has a full day's vitamins in one bowl." (shudder) As our technology surged, we reveled in our modern intelligence, our clever short-cuts to facilitate a new world with a new definition of family. No longer was it even feasible to awake with the dawn and mix and knead the yeast into loaves that needed 6 hours on the back of a warm oven to rise and then bake. Instant was good...filling was better. We applauded, we rationalized. And then....

There was this slow....missing.

Like a summer's night without fire flies. Autumn without leaves...Christmas without stockings. Blame it on doubts...on science, disease scares...on texture. We found ourselves with plastic trays and mushy pasta, mediocrity leaving us hungry ten minutes after the meal for lack of sustenance. The epic death of taste buds.

Revolution.

Why does it seem...as we now submerge ourselves in a sea of organic and natural and pure...that we have somehow escalated the fraudulent lives we lead? We rave over unpasteurized goat cheese and fire roasted lamb with figs while we permeate our relationships with additives, enhancements...garnishes. Our media, our politicians...our families. I have found myself smiling at a party even as I swallowed garish sallow compliments. I've entertained complete frauds. I've been guilty of accepting the synthetic. I've even dished it out...with cilantro.

It seems that the real...the pure relationships are...sparse. Is it just that I'm older? More discriminating? Less patient?

As I muddled garam masala and fresh garlic in a mortar and pestle this afternoon, preparing to sear and roast--I found myself contemplating my recent dissatisfaction in my personal relationships. I have rushed. I have microwaved entirely too often. I have settled for instant.

Friendship....real and true and honest friendship...needs yeast, not baking soda.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Gorilla Girl


You know, today was lovely. Awesomely lovely. Normal in every way as I headed toward Target for miscellaneous crap and cat food. And then....

Two hours later I had retrieved not one, but THREE bottles of freakin' Pantene from ten feet in the air. I nearly dropped some patio planter on my head to the utter joy of the slew of toddlers watching, and I put my lower back out shoving Begging Berta's box-o-dishes into her cart.

Do I WORK at Target? NO. Am I a nun out to earn my place in the heavens with good deeds and charity? NO. (did I forget to mention the fifteen minutes I stood with my arms over my head, holding up CURTAINS for this yoda-esque old lady who just "didn't know if they were long enough for my windows deary..." )

My day in Target was brought to you due to my jeans. No, not "genes." The ones on my derriere with the 36 inch inseam.

The saga begins....

My first memory of how absurd the world was going to be was walking into a new class in 4th grade and having a complete stranger--an adult--shake my hand. She thought I was the substitute. Smack you not. Now remember, this is nearly 30 years ago when they did NOT have "cool kid clothes" in larger styles. (cringe) Ooooh, the pictures in my mind....it was frightening. There was lots of polyester. And elastic. (shudder)

I grew so fast I out-paced every ounce of coordination the good Lord gave me. There wasn't a stairwell I couldn't fall up. Cracks in the sidewalk were like engraved invitations for me to faceplant. I misjudged doorways, ate soccor ball nets, and on one brilliant occasion--nearly decapitated myself in my own locker.

And then there was my name. Now seriously, I took french--and I know that it's a french name and that it means "to sing" and all the lovely stuff.....but I swear, it's ChanTEL. Not ChanTALL. *sigh* "Hightower" was bad enough--we won't even GO into "Show-n-tell." Like dude, you get asked out by ALL the wrong guys...

I'd like a dime for every time someone has said to me, "Oh--I'd LOVE to be tall..." Really? You haven't lived until you have wet down a pair of jeans, closed the ankles in the dorm door, and leaned your entire being into stretching them....just....thiiiiiiis....much. Of course, when the roommate opens the doors causing the jeans to whip at lightspeed through the air leaving rivet marks on your face....the night has just begun.

My chest is eye-level for half of America. My cheeks seem to be magnets--attracting the knife-like little pointy ends of umbrellas city wide. Rainy days are LETHAL to me if I have to go downtown....I look like I'm dodging a hive of wild bees or trying out for some kind of circus limbo act.

One of my arms is longer than the other....not that this actually matters since there isn't a single "off the rack" kinda place I can shop for something long-sleeved. I order everything from a catalog called "Long Elegant Legs."

The mail man thinks I'm buying sleezy lingerie....or porn.

I understand that the world isn't fair. We each have our own list of things we'd like to change about ourselves.

However. I wear a size 12 shoe. Swear.

I think I missed my calling. I should have been a bouncer...

Or worked for Target.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Withered

I recently saw one of those bumper stickers that says, "My kid beat up your honor student at such and such a high school" which, after a chuckle, gave me pause. While I appreciate the sarcasm, the sentiment behind the words--and the approval given therein, is a bit disturbing. I've been shocked lately by how many things are overlooked or accepted for the mere reason that there is a relationship with the people involved.

I admit it--I'm a painter that uses pigments of such variety and intensity, radiance, hue, luscious color--and yet I am absolutely guilty of black and white vision.

In a world where tolerance and acceptance reign supreme, I find myself the weary champion of common sense and distance. I am on the horse, sword in hand, charging the hoard of justification and explanations, the masses of excuse.

Why does it seem that when a person has a relationship with another--be it friendship, romance, or family--that judgement and perception become skewed as if reflected in a funhouse mirror? Stretched and smashed into a ludicrous replica of reality?

Everyone is quite horrified at the young mother who leaves her children in a state-funded daycare as she ditches work to indulge in "carnal frivolity" for the afternoon--yet the horror evaporates when it's whats-her-head's sister who is "going through a rough patch" with her boyfriend.

We're incensed at "Joe" who quits looking for a job and rides out the unemployment train for 6 months while playing guitar hero and eating nachos--until it's somebody's son who "just really needs a break right now."

"You can't blame poor Jane next door for having an affair--she's so lonely when her husband travels..."

We dismiss selfishness, explain affairs, justify cheating, even excuse stealing--all due simply to our proximity to the situation. What ever happened to distance? If you watched that particular movie on television, with total strangers making those choices, would you feel the same? Are we compromising our morality or are we merely a victim of familiar manipulation?

There is a right and a wrong.

I've lost friends over this, offended family, and irritated total strangers.

I am exhausted from listening to 40 minute defenses of the most irrational and destructive behavior. Since when do I need to agree with something simply because I know someone?? Where has our independent judgement gone?

Perhaps we allow or approve so as to leave room for our own possible indiscretions?

Are we splintering our evaluations? Fragmenting our ethics?

Please don't misunderstand--I am guilty beyond measure of several of the issues I raise....and I know it. Today I listened as a teacher at a local college told me how dumbfounded she was as she had caught two students cheating. And at the end of class, another--previously completely unknown--came to her and said, "I too, cheated." She almost hugged her.

Screwing up is human. Mistakes are not optional--they're part of our genetic make-up. It's how we learn, how we grow.....every chef has burned hundreds of meals. Every dancer falls, every painter paints one...make that dozens, that she covers in white gesso....and begins again.

However--it is in the knowing it is a mistake, in the admission....that is where we grow. To excuse is to stunt.

I am heartsick at some of the twisted shriveled vines that might have been magnificent trees....simply because they excuse, rather than admit.

Two of my favorite quotes:

"Don't compromise yourself; you are all you got." Janis Joplin

"You don't get to choose how you are going to die. Or when. You can only decide how you're going to live. Now." Joan Baez



Choose well.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Sexy

Yesterday afternoon my nine year-old came running into the house to tell me there was some wild bug in the back yard I just had to see. He grabbed my hand, pulling me toward the door while I was laughing and trying to dry off with a kitchen dishtowel; leaving a half carved roast on the counter. We were almost to the door when he stopped and turned my hand over to look at the palm. His fingers were gentle as he touched the rougher thickened spots. "Mom, what are these?" "Callouses honey, you get them from working hard." "Why do you work so hard Mom?"

"Cause your daddy thinks it's sexy."

Sexy. What a universe is contained within such a small word. It encompasses ideas so varied, so open to interpretation....googling it may be more frightening than educational. In this crazy maze of variety and taste, (yes, I did once find a calendar in my college roomie's closet--smack me now--it had overweight men in lingerie. I considered lysoling my eyes.) the ideas of what is "sexy" are as varied as the proverbial fish in the sea.

There is a woman I pass frequently in the grocery isles. I probably pass the same 58 people on a regular basis and never realize it--however she is a tad memorable. Possibly a distant relative of Mimi on the Drew Carey Show, she has a passion for ice-blue eye shadow, meticulously applied orange lipstick, and garish Hawaiian print dresses. She resembles Mimi in more than just appearance, I might add. I nearly swallowed my gum when rounding a corner to hear her say to a small boy, "Ya little cracker, takin' up space with yer stupid boots, move it!" While I'm sure she has an endearing sweet side, the ensuing verbal battle between Mimi-twin and Cracker-mom was enough that I skipped the baking isle that day. Cake is simply not worth that particular mess.

But what occurred to me, was that sometime that very morning, she stood in front of a mirror before she left the house and thought, "Damn, I look good!" Most likely she has a husband who thinks she is the cat's meow...and I am truthfully rather grateful for this. The older I get the more I realize that if everyone liked the same thing, half the planet would be screwed! (not literally, mind you)

Which brings me back to sexy. I really wasn't kidding when I told my son that yesterday.

It was August. You could taste the heat....like salt and yellowed grass and pavement. I had been in my studio painting. My hair pulled up, I had paint--as usual--everywhere. My hands, my neck, my tank top was smeared with the colors of sky and sand....I smelled like acrylics and sweat. When I answered the door he said, "God, you're sexy." I laughed....and then we forgot about going out to dinner.

I was raised on a ranch which resulted with a hard ass case of physical labor addiction. Two days ago I spent nearly nine hours sanding and painting the entire front porch (which looks smashing, I must say) and am still sitting here with bruised knees and slivers in my fingers. But I love it. I adore the ache in my legs and the stiff muscles of my back after a hard day of work. And when nine times out of ten, he comes home to this....


Ummm.....yeah. That's me, week one, just after we bought the house last summer. Drywalling.
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Rock. On.
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I know, I know--how can anyone find that sexy?? He does. And this sweat inspired arousal is certainly not one directional! I'll never forget the day--we had been dating only a few months--and he had to change the fuel pump in his jimmy. One of those things that you think will take 2 hours and it takes 6. He came in covered with grease and oil and gasoline...I handed him a beer. And then knocked it to the floor as I nearly tackled him. He now jokes about making a Cologne, "Hard Labor," that smells of a garage.....I get breathless just thinking about it.

However, it raises the question: do we find only the aroma of hard work attractive.....or is it more than that? Could it be possible that the very IDEA of a man working hard, who accomplishes things, makes/builds/fixes things....productivity and creativity and sacrifice--that this is what flips my switch? In a world of couch potatoes and complainers, this dude throws down some scraped knuckles and damn, I melt. Perhaps my pheromones have met my perspicacity? Intelligence encounters lasciviousness.

Hang on....he's just turned off the lawnmower. Catch ya later.....

Sunday, May 2, 2010

May Second

Evening draws near. The day almost done...rain has filled the air with the smell of grass and wood and the last of the lilacs. Air so heavy; condensation ripples down my wineglass...pools on the desk. Dark liquid reflecting the glimmer of merlot. Quiet. My skin damp, kissed by the mist from the window. I can taste him.

May Second. The day everything changed.

First, rewinding....

A summer's night, warm and lovely. A sundress of lace and colors lush...draped over garden tanned shoulders...hours spent thinking, wondering. I had softened my hands with jasmine oil, my pulse fast and slick with anticipation. I glanced up through the restaurant window....my heart paused.

Him.

He "never shared his food"... (soft smile) but I switched our plates of crab-stuffed lobster and succulent blackened salmon when he was picking out the second bottle of wine....and he smiled. We ate. I licked the butter from my fingers as his eyes burned into mine.

A month later.




Why does this feel like recognition..........not discovery?

Souls entwined like morning dreams

Translucent

Sheer threads in a tapestry of color

Is it possible?

This wave of emotion

Threatening to sweep me out to sea

How amazing

To drown and soar in the same moment.



How many of us have hesitated...frightened to take the leap that crippled us the first time. Years pass....and trust grew. The slowest of seedlings. Gentle hands, whispered promises. Dawn, wrapped in one blanket, my head on his chest. New beginnings. Honor. Commitment.

May second.

Dusk. Ivy twined with crystal lights....draped across the mantle, the windows. An ocean of candlelight. Warm breezes caressed my back. White sundress, bare feet.

"I do."


He calls me Butterfly.

Monday, April 26, 2010

The Murder of Quiet

Driving home from the market today, I sat at an intersection next to a mini-van with children in it. Certainly not that remarkable, I assure you...however, there were also tv screens. Three of them. Attached to the back of the seats in front, all three had a different program on....and three little heads had three sets of earbuds and while mom was chatting to whomever on her blue tooth, there was an air of....what? Peace? Not exactly. Isolation? Detachment?

Flashbacks of my childhood grocery days...my sisters and I rattling on, joking...laughing. (to the point that my mother actually used to PAY us a quarter if we could be quiet the whole way home--cheeky thing) But none the less, there was a curious satisfying mingling....ideas and thoughts and...life. Family.

I turned the corner and headed home. Parking I noticed the neighbor cutting his lawn...i-pod attached. A couple walked by, pushing a stroller with a toddler...she was on her cell phone, he was messing with a black berry and the toddler? Had some kind of hand-held game that was maniacally beeping and buzzing to his obvious delight. I walked inside the house, dropping keys on the entry table. Kicking my shoes under the bench I made my way to the kitchen with my culinary loot. The window was open...a breeze tickled the back of my neck as I slid the onions into their basket, nestled peaches and plums together in the bowl....packed away the eggs and cheese and milk. I could hear the birds in the backyard...a distant dog barking...and leaning against the counter, I just closed my eyes and smiled. You know that feeling? So good to be home.

Dinner begun, slicing bacon and onions, the sizzle in the pan...delicious aromas filled the room and I thought about my day. What I'd said, whom I met....and it suddenly occurred to me, "I wonder if that couple thinks....through the noise."

The incessant blur that is our technological revolution. It's a barrage...an attack on the senses and the mind as we rise each day. The "convenience" we demand: portable everything. Music everywhere we go--cellphones and crackberries and games--oh, the holiest of grails: entertainment. Heaven forbid you actually might have to wait in line at the post office without having a game to play.

And I wonder....

Could we design a study....concoct a thesis....could there really be a correlation between the moral disintegration of our society, the eroding of our families.....and the simple lack of quiet.

In the quiet, there is only you. In the quiet.....there your actions are to be faced. Decisions made in haste are rethought...apologies composed as you hear your own angry words reverberating in your mind. In the quiet, goals are set. Dreams are discovered, plans made...ideas go from mere wisps to full-fledged intentions.

The quiet is not always comfortable. It holds ghosts...mistakes. But it is within this very discomfort that we surpass the animal world--where our humanness thrives--where we become....more.

There was a time, when going for a walk meant thinking about your day, not sifting through the latest playlist. When we mowed our lawns or planted our gardens...we examined our lives. Have we lost this in the endless quest for entertainment and distraction? Can we not ride the bus and actually have a pleasant conversation with a stranger? Must we all be surrounded by a wall...a distance created by cords and headphones.

Are we "entertaining" ourselves into isolation? And in this individual plastic creation--are we becoming so self-centered, so absolutely used to having it "our way"--that the slightest detour from this--the inconvenience of another's schedule, wishes, taste in music for goodness sakes! becomes an intrusion?

Some of the greatest moments of my life, the beginnings of glorious love and friendships and joy...were inconveniences and interruptions.

The greatest epiphanies in my heart--both blissful and agonizing--occurred in the quiet.

Today....tonight, on your commute, on your walk...turn off the noise. Unplug. Just listen. Listen to your heart, the voice of your soul....you may be wonderfully surprised by what it has to say.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Deliciousness of Dirt

Sometimes I can almost feel the calcification of my bones in the cold. It seeps into my tendons and muscles, permeating tissues...they petrify.

And then one morning, shuffling to the car...a pause. What--a breeze? Not the acrid scrape of winter's breath, but something warm, soft...sweet. Time lapse photography would document the melting of snow, the green mist that crept across the yard...and perhaps the daily lightening of my steps. Secret smiles beneath the curtain of my hair as careful fingers plucked blackened leaves from tiny nubs, tulips and daffodils gasping for air. The brittle smack of tape and plastic peeled from the ancient 15 paned window in the dining room; the hand crank turns and glass glides and creamy sheer curtains billow into the room....sweet spring.

My knees are sore...the left one stained from the tear in my jeans. The sun was irresistible--and the light glow on my shoulder blades testifies to my careless abandonment of the sweater I ventured out in. Spaghetti tank straps have left ivory shadows behind. Ahhhh...the seduction. Dark and loamy, vital...the smell of soil. Alive. Plunging my hands deep into the bed, breaking clumps, churning the earth, burgeoning with the promise of basil and rosemary....fresh tomatoes, cucumber salad with prawns and dill.

Kneading the dirt, I wonder at the miracle that takes the dead, the digested...the waste of our lives and with heat and light and time...creates the perfect medium for new growth. Last year's mistakes, miscalculations....become life.
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How often we miss this. Frantically I have tried to rearrange, reorder...rethink. Perhaps I have lost the marvel that is the garden. Renewal. Rebirth.
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My fingers seek out bits of tangled roots, the weeds of last season desperately clinging to the hope of invisibility. Have I let the weeds in my mind take root? The smallest of seeds can grab hold...invade. Do we evaluate our lives with the care that Home Depot assumes we take with our lawns? What do we cultivate...what do we thin. Our work, our homes....schedules, family, commitments. Do we plant the extravagant as well as the healthy? Mint and lavender and plums...


Every garden is temporary. Each has a season. Casual hands bear spindly fruits. It's the careful heart, the attentive soul, the calloused palm...that reaps succulent bounty.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Treading Water


The ocean...I crave it. The delicious tang in the air that teases my tongue with memories of salty sweet taffy, the resounding crash of the surf against rock and golden sand, the endless cerulean blue horizon...it soothes me. Perhaps this urge to loose myself in the rhythms of the waves is merely part of my soul, an amniotic reflex... Perhaps it's deeper than that.

Water itself is the absolute--life cannot exist desiccant. It's our chemical make-up, the strength of our bones, the scent of our hair, the texture of our skin. Who can deny the healing powers of a steamy bath at the end of a taxing day? The invigorating rush of a shower to rinse away the night...the sensuality that awakens as the heated caress of a hot tub surrounds our thighs...

And so it comes as no surprise that my favorite view of life, my inspiration, is the sea. A vast aquatic pulsing ocean that we live within. Sometimes we swim desperately for our lives, thrashing against reason and tide. Sometimes we float on tropical rafts with frothy cocktails sporting jaunty umbrellas.

Some have a definite destination; long smooth strokes propel them purposefully toward their goal. Others flounder about, knocking over rafts and banging into fellow swimmers causing conflict, confusion. A few struggle, doggy paddling...barely keeping their heads above water.

Some drown.

Me? I'm treading water.

My muscles are on fire, aching. I've had several months at a frenetic pace--pushing myself beyond comfort zones, tearing tendons, stretching muscles as well as preconceived notions. I'm weary...
A pause. A rest.

Lift my head, still my limbs. I tried floating but the sky was so brilliant, the lull of the waves so tender, my eyes fluttered...sleep so seductive.

The sea is not a place for naps.

So I tread. Considering....taking stock of distant land masses. Watching the clouds for signs of of a storm. The black underbelly of cumulus entities that herald perilous winds and treacherous waters. I can see others all about me, their own struggles...triumphs and joys...doubts. I wonder if they know how fatigued I am. Can they see the muscle spasms beneath the glittery blue surface? Perhaps I need to head for shore...stretch out and work the knots from my back, the kinks in my sinews. Life is more than the expenditure of force.

For now....considering options....treading water.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

I've Lost My Today, Have You Seen It?


Lately, I've found myself evaluating. It's a bit of a process, must say. To assess, to survey. You see, I think there is an epidemic going round. It may sound strange...but an epidemic of tomorrow.

The funny thing, is that I feel that it began with an epidemic of yesterday.

I have a pet peeve that at times erupts in the most awkward of circumstances. It's those people that continually harangue about what should have been. What might have....what could have or would have, in my humble opinion, has absolutely no value. Ziltch. Repetitive clamoring over the job she almost got, the date he should have had, or what happened at last year's holiday bash that wrecked my neighbor's shot at a raise.....well, it's over. The only thing that truly matters, is what IS. I do NOT want to hear what a great doctor you would have made...but now you're a stripper. Seriously.

I suppose it makes my heart ache a bit, for those souls that live by re-living. They miss out on so much and seem perpetually starved. As if they've never tasted the delicious thrill of what IS. Is life so disappointing? Can it hinge so imperatively on past choices or events that recovery is impossible? Did you know...there are entire cook books on what to do with lemons.

But then, we rebounded. The oceanic surge of Oprahesque promise and Philenthropic (ha, I slay me!) hope has nearly asphyxiated us with tomorrow. Bulging eyes and blue veins throbbing, we are clutching the future with desperate claws, a death grip on aspiration. For we have believed a lie...

That we can have it all.

It's a lovely lie. A cozy, soft warm lie. It's wrapped in tasty layers of potential and possibility. Anything could happen, right? Pretty Woman taught me that. But this lie is a devastating thief. Such a nimble one, nearly invisible we don't even suspect that he's there, in the room with us....stealing the jewel. Our today.

I'm truly not insane and I don't mean to imply that we should never plan or prepare for tomorrow--grocery shopping every day would drain me before I even began the feast. However, I've known so many people, who are living for tomorrow. "When I get a raise...when we buy a house...when I graduate, when I'm skinny, when I'm married...." These things are indeed there, just up ahead....but not today.

Today is splendid. Today is real. Wrap your arms around it and embrace the astonishing miracle that is...now.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Hell Has Another Name.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010.
Official Record.

Previously: Best Friend calls to initiate contact. Frivolous discussion about said friend's upcoming trip to Florida; beaches, swimsuits.... lovehandles. "Um.....shall we go for a walk this week, to exercise a bit?" she says. " There's a park near my house with a lake."
"Sounds lovely! Tuesday perhaps?"

Now to be absolutely fair, BF did indeed casually mention that it was five miles. As I tear up about eight in twenty minutes on my stationary bike every other day or so, I thought very little of this.

I pick her up in my blazer, we are dynamically jolly on our way to the lake.
My, that is quite a lake, eh?

We arrive and park, stashing coats in the back seat as the sun is gloriously shining, warming the 43* air to a delusional "warm spring day." I glance about....the women in the parking lot are...a bit intimidating. Folks, I'm wearing jeans. And old tennies. A t-shirt with some bar logo on it and a sweater I often paint in--leaving it dabbed here and there with various pigment additions. These other women have apparently stepped out straight from Shape magazine. Glamorous athletic outfits with glowing piping and detail. Hell, they have matching shoes and headbands! (when did flashdance come back in? Oh wait--those are ear warmers...) They're flipping bouncy pony tails as they tuck designer ipods into tiny waistbands...I hate them.

Mile 1

Picturesque. Blazing sunshine glints off the ice, regal geese meandering through the grass, we stride; long steps and deep breaths. We throw back our heads and laugh, jaunting along, giggling at the construction guys that are actually getting into wet suits. (for some reason they were into the lake under the ice...um, insanity?) Nonplussed, we parade on. The clouds are so fluffy...

Mile 2

Slight wheezing. BF requests that I slow down. So thoughtless of me! Of course, my dear...I'm six feet tall and darling Ag is five foot foot three, completely unfair there. We notice the geese rather stink. We chuckle as we comment that every runner passing us looks to be in pain. Ha, ha, what IS their problem? Is that a hill? My goodness.

Mile 3

The chafing begins. Perhaps they could post a warning, "G-strings are highly unrecommended for long ventures." There was that awkward sideways step with a hop as I try to inconspicuously grab the string through my jean pocket. Ag: "Thats why they make active wear." Wench. "Who's idea was this?" "I don't know, but she's dead meat."

Mile 4

Oh. My. God. *gasp* "Is that the end of the lake?" Ummm....no. That's just where the trail takes off up the MOUNTAIN there and then bends to the right, circles around and then we have to go all the way back down the other side. Damn geese shit is everywhere! There is now a distinct burning sensation in my hip joints. I'm seriously considering hitching. There is a nice mother and children walking a sweet dog coming our way. We're passing. I smile....perhaps it was more of a grimace as she immediately put one child behind her protectively. Ag: "She's got car keys around her neck. You grab the keys, I'll take out the kids and we'll drive back to our car!" Sheer panic on the woman's face. I smack Ag, "Quit scaring the pedestrians!" In the distance I hear the woman say, "Now THAT is why you should never talk to strangers!" Dear Lord, we've become today's lesson in stranger danger.

Mile 5

I'm now serious about hitching. My right calf has seized. I joke about a ride and some pervy 55 year old man on a bench gets up, "Hey baby, I'll give you a ride." Ag: "Walk FASTER DAMMIT!" I consider replying. But I cannot breathe.

The parking lot.

I'm dragging a leg. Ag sounds like a thrashing grouper. We're nearly crawling and she says, "I know this hairbrained idea was mine, but I'm the crazy one in this relationship here--you approved it! You're like MANAGEMENT!"

This morning I can hardly move. I made it down for coffee...and nearly had a seizure trying to put my socks on.
I'm firing management.


Monday, March 1, 2010

The Evolution of Love

Now that the dreaded month of February is fading in all of its loathsome pastel fluffery, (shudder) I can finally of speak of love. Not the Hallmark misty commercial type, not the the damsel-in-distress with torn clothing and breasts bursting the seams. Not even the gasping shadows that wear diamond baubles and kiss....but real love. The love that buys cheese.

"For one human being to love another: that is perhaps the most difficult of all our tasks; the ultimate, the last test and proof, the work for which all other work is but preparation." Rainer Maria Rilke

I've known love. From infancy my mother loved me; gentle, sweet, softly. My father too--although his love was more gruff, harder around the edges."I know the horse threw you, get back on it!" (chuckle) Between them, life on an isolated ranch in the Colorado rockies shaped me. My two sisters were great pals--I, in the middle--classically was more of a loner. But there was love.

School years passed, tenth grade bringing sweet first infatuation...inept awkward advances, hasty kisses and stolen moments. I would have sworn to you I was "in love" while now, looking back, I had merely scratched the surface of such a thing--barely inhaled a waft of its scent. The pain of that separation was staggering at the time...but it would not be the last.

As we live...we love. We fling about this word and apply it to movies, cars, ice-cream...nail polish. We seek it in our friendships, our pets, long for it in novels, sing about it at the top of our lungs in the shower. (my college roomies would testify to this) We dabble in physical contact attempting to make a soul-deep connection. Each experience--every joyful discovery and then exploration and celebration...and then disappointment and the injury of the end....adds dimension to the enigma of love.

I used to believe that true love was when someone would adore me and make me laugh and we'd romp and play. Sure enough, my first husband was just this. We traveled, lived in Mexico, explored jungles in Guatemala...and I was shocked to find myself...lonely. For the first time I realized that he didn't...get me. He liked the fun, happy, laughing me....but not so much the "first on the scene of an accident" organize people and stop the bleeding and the weeping me when we lost her. The quiet that followed that night...dark poetry. He didn't want that.

We returned to the states and had a son. There--in the agony of labor--my heart was cleaved in two and I discovered the depth of maternal love. Love that captures your breath, that you would give anything and perish for. And the remarkable miracle that it can happen again, with my second son....the mystery that is the human phenomenon of unlimited love. To unearth this well that never ran dry...was stunning. I couldn't love enough...I couldn't kiss enough or hold or cry myself empty. There was always more.

Parental love amazed me. Taught me. Tested and pushed and rewarded me. And despite this...I was lonely. For parental love--even at its peak--is a one way path for the first 15 years or so. I have known others that have twisted this. Asking for hugs, instead of giving. Taking rather than providing...and in our nation of broken homes and shattered hearts--this can happen without realization, without notice. But the cost to a child is immense.

I needed more. I was....alone.

Divorce.

Strangely, the days passed settling into the routine of life. The routines that save us. When a part of our heart, our soul...shuts down.

My quest for love has spanned decades. And as I've plumbed the depths of my own self, so I've realized that there are so many kinds of love...but a single definition for me: the people that love me...get me. It's not always fun. It's not always easy...and it's certainly not simple. It's a bit like the weather. Seasons. Storms and sunshine, wind and hail...once in a while there's a hurricane. But this "weather" brings us the air we need to breathe...hot, cold, wet, or angry--we breathe.

My best friend knows that on rainy days...when the sky is black and tumultuous clouds roil above...my bones ache on these days. But I paint. I must. She knows.

My new husband called today. My voice sounded a bit off. He asked what was wrong, and I miserably told him, "we're out of cheese." He shouted at the top of his lungs into the phone, "OH MY GOD, HOW DID THAT HAPPEN?!?" which reduced me to a puddle of giggles on the living room floor. He gets me.

When you find someone who will rearrange his entire day to leave work early enough to get to the deli before it closes....to buy cheese. It's love.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Olives


I’ve become a foodie. *sigh* You see us in the market--we’re actually sorting through the green onions…people wonder why. We debate over tomatoes, compare squash. The evil eye has been shown in the bakery. Seriously though, have you not just sat back and marveled at the wave, the surge....the tsunami of rebirth in the world of the edible? Once you begin to follow that lovely yellow train of thought (permeated with lemon zest and grated ginger) you could nearly bathe in the ocean of culinary programming. The food network couples with the world of PBS member weekends lavishing granny's biscuits and church picnic endorphin euphoria. TLC satisfies your quick urges with Weeknight Meals and Bourdain makes one absolutely yearn for lovely crispy pieces of porkish delight. Julie and Julia brought us to tears. Rachael Ray perks up your dreary afternoons while Tyler's Ultimate adds inches in theory alone. All the while, desire begins to burn....

Why settle for ordinary burgers with imitation american--when gorgonzola filled patties of ground steak mountained with crispy onion fries await thee? The promise of gastronomical heaven is just around the corner....do you see it? Just there...beyond the tuna helper and oodles of noodles....

My waist has grown. As has my dream of an Italian wine tour with me in a long, empire white dress, hair flowing down my back...my eyelashes make shadows on my cheeks as I glance over my glass of sangria....um.....ahem. Where was I? Oh yes. The cost of my food addiction. My family has had meals covered in cheeses they cannot pronounce. I have gone grocery shopping with a list of 27 things and come home with 42. All because Ina said potato salad had to have fresh dill....and pickles...and homemade mayo. And lemon zest. I have scandalized the PTA with chili and anise biscotti at the "Spirit" bakesale...and flaunted my fabulously empty trays as I SOLD OUT before their brownies were half gone. I have experimented with scrod.

I find this rediscovery freakishly aligned to our nation's return to the indigenous. The authentic. I felt this realignment of the universe far before the economic shift so please don't plead poor...it's too real for that. I think there is simply a vacancy left from years of fast food and microwavable wonders. We actually feel a space....a vacuum as we dispose of plastic wrappers and cardboard “heating sleeves.” It's not simply taste bud gratification--but the realization that ultimate satisfaction has a direct and undeniable correlation to investment.

Such is love.

As we travel this life, sometimes slogging--dragging our exhausted limbs through the dust of decisions regretted....sometimes plunging headlong into the glorious clouds that fill a sky of golden promise and bliss...we voyage. We love. I love. I love my husband, my children...the smell of greenhouses. I love poetry and techno; whiskey, freshly painted toenails, and cheese.

I love olives.

Life is a bowl of olives....you can eat it simply, or crammed with decadent dairy delight....soaked in spirits, sliced over salads, baked into bread and meat and fish....and every way. Every time. Is delicious. However, beware the ignorant one who snatches such a thing from the vine...bitter sour venom will be their reward. So is recompensed the gentle hand that gathers...sifts, sorts, washes and dries. The hand that saturates in lovely oils and herbs, folding the fruit in layers of luscious flavor for time to fill with magic...the bounty that awaits is splendid indeed.

Such is love.

Could the resurgence of our savory obsession be connected with the disintegration of our impermeable hearts? Which turned out to not be so resilient. We wrestle with independence even as we ache to belong. The contradiction and conflict that riddle our decisions is nearly overwhelming. 60 hour work weeks, 24/7 child care, instant food, abated sleep, short hand lives. Quality is better than quantity....and then. The realization that two days in Belize is not even close to nine eating hot dogs and listening to the crickets while you count the stars. That "date nights" can never fully replace weekday snuggles and toddler-interrupted scrabble games. Dried herbs will never taste the same as fresh...especially those that grew slowly...on the porch next to the daisies, drenched in sunshine and surrounded by laughter.

No matter how it's frosted or glazed, life is better done slowly. Slow roasted. Slow kisses. Microwave a love affair and I'll show you a pending divorce. "Just add hot water" to freeze dried parenthood and weep...as the canyon between child and parent gapes wider. There is no instant life.

And so I cook. I research how to draw the essence from a lobster broth...and from my husband's heart. I seek answers to why my milk curdled too quickly or the quiche was dry. I seek for hours to understand my sons…their dreams, their hopes. The television raves over faster, easier, cheaper....when the result is exactly that. Fast, easy & cheap. Not worth a damn.

Today, tonight...hug longer. Kiss slower. As you simmer soup, roast the potatoes....marinate and blend and grill...write recipes for life. For honesty. No lies, not even small ones. No short cuts. Kindness plus admiration mixed with encouragement equals marvelous success. Love without intimacy and vulnerability is like chicken without rosemary...soup without marrow....martinis without olives.

With the passion that we are rediscovering our most organic of delights....may we look at each other. The hunger...the appetite. May we take the time to cultivate, weed, harvest, and savor the relationships that give life itself meaning.

Love is like olives. Fancy, plain, in the morning or late in the night....they're absolutely splendid.