Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Quote of the Day

Courtesy of my friend Shelly, who's normally very nice :-).

"Sometimes when I get up in the morning, I feel very peculiar. I feel like I've just got to bite a cat! I feel like if I don't bite a cat before sundown, I'll go crazy! But then I just take a deep breath and forget about it. That's what is known as real maturity."  ~Snoopy~

Friday, August 13, 2010


These little guys devoured my fennel plant down to a nub. Truth be told, I bought the fennel accidentally – I was in a fluster and grabbed it thinking it was dill. When I got it home and realized my mistake I wondered what I would even use the fennel for.

Still, a pest is a pest and has to go.

The first time I tried to pick one of these off the fennel, though, it shot out a long yellow antennae-like thing from behind its head and tried to fight me off. I’m sure the neighbors appreciated my scream.

This made it even worse. Instead of just a funky, harmless caterpillar, this thing became something to fear. The yellow thing was obviously a weapon of some sort -- what if it could sting?

I then enlisted Todd, who, using some chopsticks he found in the kitchen drawer, picked them off the plant and dropped them onto a nearby bush.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t until after we did this that I was talking to a friend and, sitting there, she typed the description into Google. Duh. Why hadn’t I thought of that?

Turns out these funky looking things that we’d judged to be pests are the caterpillar of the Eastern Swallowtail butterfly. That weird yellow thing is called an osmeterium. It releases a bad smell that’s meant to run off predators. But it doesn’t sting. And it’s harmless to people.

The caterpillars like to feed on fennel, dill and parsley. Apparently fennel is their favorite, since they left my parsley untouched.

We’d already spotted several of the butterflies around the yard. It's hard to tell from the photo, but this guy was at least 6 or 7 inches across. Spectacular. When we saw them, we’d stop what we were doing just to watch and to appreciate how incredible they were.

Once I realized what we’d done by picking them off their food source and tossing them away, I felt sick to my stomach. And sad. Regret is the worst feeling of all, I think. Had I known what they were, I would have nurtured and encouraged the caterpillars – and seen them as the gift they were. But in my ignorance, I judged wrong, and maybe even killed the little guys. Because I acted out of fear and ignorance, I cost the world – and myself – something truly wondrous.

It never even occurred to me that they were something special.

I try so hard not to make prejudgments, particularly about people – and I think I do pretty well at not judging based on the BIG things – skin color, religion, sexual preference. But this made me wonder how often I make erroneous judgments based on smaller details without even realizing what I’m doing.

We have a temp at work -- a pretty, intelligent young woman who does a great job. But she walks around with a sour expression on her face much of the time and rarely meets anyone’s eyes. After seeing her expression day in and day out, I began to think of her as just a surly person, not friendly, not particularly worth getting to know. But then the other day her supervisor mentioned to me that the girl has been facing some hard times.She doesn't smile because she's miserable.

So she’s not a surly person unworthy of friendship; she’s an unhappy one who probably desperately needs kindness.

Maybe underneath she’s actually a butterfly.

This weekend I’m going in search of another fennel plant. Keep your fingers crossed that my “pests” consider it an invitation to return. And next summer, there will be a whole patch of fennel.

I drafted this yesterday, and this morning I saw an Eastern Swallowtail butterfly in our yard. I'm choosing to believe at least one of our poor caterpillars survived our mistreatment.

And the young woman I mentioned? After a presentation I gave today, I received the nicest note from her telling me she'd enjoyed it.

In this moment, all is well, and that's about all anyone could ask for.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

How cool is this?

I picked up a copy of Travel & Leisure magazine the other day.

Inside was this:

It's a story on "Undiscovered Tuscany," in the case of this photo spread, the town of Lucca.

That photo of the scooter in the center rang a bell, so I went through the ones I took when we were in Lucca last year. I found this one:

If you look closely (you can click to enlarge the top one), you'll see it's the very same street.

Writing and shooting for a travel magazine is one of my biggest dreams. Maybe it's not all that far out of reach.  :-)

What's your biggest dream?

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Working without a script

A number of years ago, I had the privilege of copy editing a book of newspaper columns by a veteran reporter. All of those columns had been written on deadline, in the heat of the moment. They were wonderful, but with the luxury of hindsight, he saw every place where they might have been better. He fretted that this book, essentially his legacy, would be judged harshly because the columns were not perfect.

I came across this poem today and it reminded me of that reporter, whose fears I understand more and more the older I get. It would be nice to rehearse our lives, wouldn't it? To take the time to think through every action, to know "what the play is about." 

But we just have to take it as it comes -- and forgive ourselves when the action in the moment doesn't quite measure up in hindsight. 
Life While-You-Wait
Life While-You-Wait.
Performance without rehearsal.
Body without alterations.
Head without premeditation.
I know nothing of the role I play.
I only know it's mine. I can't exchange it.
I have to guess on the spot
just what this play's all about.
Ill-prepared for the privilege of living,
I can barely keep up with the pace that the action demands.
I improvise, although I loathe improvisation.
I trip at every step over my own ignorance.
I can't conceal my hayseed manners.
My instincts are for happy histrionics.
Stage fright makes excuses for me, which humiliate me more.
Extenuating circumstances strike me as cruel.
Words and impulses you can't take back,
stars you'll never get counted,
your character like a raincoat you button on the run ?
the pitiful results of all this unexpectedness.
If only I could just rehearse one Wednesday in advance,
or repeat a single Thursday that has passed!
But here comes Friday with a script I haven't seen.
Is it fair, I ask
(my voice a little hoarse,
since I couldn't even clear my throat offstage).
You'd be wrong to think that it's just a slapdash quiz
taken in makeshift accommodations. Oh no.
I'm standing on the set and I see how strong it is.
The props are surprisingly precise.
The machine rotating the stage has been around even longer.
The farthest galaxies have been turned on.
Oh no, there's no question, this must be the premiere.
And whatever I do
will become forever what I've done.
 -- Wislawa Szymborska

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Where I've been

Last week I had the chance to travel to Maine on a business trip. My husband couldn't go along, so I turned it into a bit of a personal retreat. The fact that it was the week directly preceding my birthday made it a perfect time for reflection.

I always prefer to have Todd with me, but I also realize I tend to depend on him a lot to navigate us through unfamiliar situations. It was good to remind myself that, while having someone to depend on is a lovely luxury, I can manage on my own when I need to.

Everything you've heard about the beauty of Maine is absolutely true. It was a lovely trip. I'll definitely be going back -- and taking Todd with me next time. Here are just a few of the hundreds of photos I took.

Portland. This public park slopes down to the water. People were there walking their dogs and lying in the sun. Heaven.

Wiscasset, just before the clouds broke.

Boothbay Harbor

Boothbay Harbor

Along Route 238 on Capitol Island.

Cape Elizabeth

The view from Cape Elizabeth -- that's Portland in the distance.

Another view of the Cape Elizabeth lighthouse. There's a marker here on the stone where Longfellow sat to write "The Lighthouse." Note the little sailboat between the rocks.

And of course, the lobster. One of several I had while there. I have equal parts pleasure and guilt over this. In the moment it was mostly pleasure.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Milk Bones

Today, as I drove back from lunch, a falcon flew across the road just in front of my car, a white mouse in its beak.

For a moment, because I was feeling preoccupied with my life's little dramas, I wondered if it was some sort of omen, a metaphor for something. And then, only half seriously, whether in that metaphor I would be the falcon or the mouse :-)

Tonight as I walked my dog, the nice old lady who sits on her porch and talks to the passersby called to me. She lives alone. Her children live far away and her husband died years ago. "I have water for the dogs," she said, "And Milk Bones." She doesn't have a dog.

I walked up her driveway to chat a minute, and to my surprise my finicky dog not only accepted the Milk Bone but laid her head affectionately in the old woman's lap.

"A robin built a nest outside my back door," the woman told me. "Between the two lights. One of the baby birds was flapping, flapping, flapping its little wings, and it fell out of the nest, onto the patio. I watched it, just lying there, trying so hard to fly. Its little legs were like sticks, but with the mother's help, it crawled away under the bushes.

"The mother will take care of it. As long as no critter finds it, it will be all right."

"Life is a struggle," she said. "From the moment you're born." She smiled and shrugged as if to say there was no help for it.

As I walked away, she called to another neighbor, and I saw that woman head up the driveway to chat a moment.

At home my roses have burst into glorious pink blossoms. The hydrangea, planted three years ago, has finally put forth some buds -- hundreds of them. And the little peony managed a second bloom.

The cat lolled in the driveway, and the dog lay down in the thick grass nearby. It was a perfect late-spring night. I let go of the things that had been bothering me and just let the beauty of the evening soak in.

We all have our struggles. Sometimes we're the falcon, sometimes the mouse. Sometimes we're the baby robin, flapping desperately just to stay alive.

Sometimes we're the person left all alone, through no real fault of our own.

There's no help for it. We can sit inside our empty houses, letting life pass us by, or we can buy a box of Milk Bones and set out a dish of water.

When given the choice, choose the Milk Bones.

The peony's second effort. Hard to believe this is the same plant as the one below.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Redemption Cakes: An Allegory of Tastiness

In anticipation of the "Lost" finale last night, I made some special treats:

 Cupcakes that were half angel food-half devil's food, topped by an "ocean" of blue cream cheese frosting and a Reeses' cup "island."

I'm still processing the show, but the cupcakes were heavenly.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Nature vs. nurture

This is me with my two older sisters, visiting the Florida Keys.

Is it any wonder I have no fashion sense?

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Synchronicity II

I'm starting to wonder if the converse of the post below is that when you're off track, the universe keeps whopping you upside the head until you get the message.

It might explain a lot ...


Last week I read a wonderful article in O Magazine by Martha Beck. I think almost everything Beck writes is wonderful, but this one struck a chord with me. It was about using visualization, particularly vision boards, to make your dreams come true.

Beck admits, as do I, that the idea seems hokey. But she also says it works. (I’ve been a believer ever since the book Creative Visualization by Shakti Gawain wrought huge changes in my life a decade or so ago.)

The idea is that once you commit fully to an idea, and form it completely in your mind, it seems to find its way to you – sometimes in surprising ways.

Last night I had coffee with my friend Whitney. She’s an immensely talented writer who not all that long ago decided to commit herself fully to making her writing dreams come true. She’s been doing the work and taking big steps in the right direction.

And the universe has responded with some pretty amazing encouragement.

I told her these gifts – seemingly out of the blue – mean that she’s on the right track, that when you’re doing what you’re supposed to be doing, the path seems to clear for you.

I haven’t seen a ton of that for myself lately, but I realize it’s because I haven’t fully committed. I’ve been hanging back, letting my fears restrain me from genuinely trying for what I want.

In the last few weeks I’ve been downright stuck.

But when I left Whitney last night I felt energized, and more committed than ever to my own writing and my own dreams.

Then this a.m., I received an email with this quote:

"Dream lofty dreams, and as you dream, so you shall become.
Your vision is the promise of what you shall one day be;
your ideal is the prophecy of what you shall at last unveil."
                                                       – James Allen

Maybe the universe is encouraging me, too.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010


Two summers ago I bought a peony. Not a full plant, just one of those sad plastic bags that contain a root and a handful of soil. It was a whim -- had I been thinking more clearly I would have just gone to the nursery and bought a big, healthy plant. But I fell victim to the gorgeous picture on the bag, and I grabbed it up.

I brought it home and planted it, and lo and behold, it eventually emerged from the ground. I was very excited. That is, until my neighbor's teenage son stood in our flowerbed to trim the bushes that were reaching over from their side of the fence. I'm sure he never even noticed the tiny thing just an inch or so high, and it was demolished.

The next spring, though, it poked its head out again. It lived! I nearly cried when I saw it. And then I got the numb-brained idea to move it to a "better spot" in the same flower bed. I dug it up and moved it, realizing too late that I'd made a big mistake. At the hands of my mistreatment, the poor thing vanished again.

I was sure I'd finally done it in for good.

This year, though, it emerged yet again, and, with no interference from silly humans, it put out its first bloom.

I'm so glad it did.

It smells as wonderful as it looks.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Blame it on the wind

Remember when we were kids and dandelions meant, 

  not a blight on our perfect suburban lawns,

but an opportunity for wishing? 

Go ahead, make a wish and blow the seeds away, just this once.

And when all those dandelions come up next year it will be, not defeat, but a proliferation of wishes.
(Just don't tell the neighbors it was you.)

What are you wishing for?

Friday, April 30, 2010

Which wolf?

This photo isn't mine, but I don't know whose it is to give credit. Isn't he gorgeous?

Earlier this week, a coworker reminded me of this little story.

Just a few hours later I found myself very much in need of this lesson. I am thankful it was so top of mind. Coincidence? Sometimes I wonder if there is such a thing as coincidence.

Here's the story:

An old Cherokee Indian was speaking to his grandson: “A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy. “It is a terrible fight between two wolves. One is evil – he is anger, envy, greed and resentment. The other is good – he is peace, love, hope and serenity."

“Which wolf will win?” the boy asked.

The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one I feed.”

I'm still struggling a bit, but I'm trying hard to feed the good wolf.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Good days and bad

Today's tally:

1 angry coworker, yelling at me first thing this morning for something I was not guilty of, followed by some vaguely conciliatory gestures but no real apology.

4 lovely emails from friends containing kind remarks about this blog.

1 extraordinarily nice compliment from an old man, a fireman long retired, who sells me an ad once a year for his county search-and-rescue team's annual fundraiser. (I've never met him in person, but we chat on the phone every year, and his voice and his gentleness are all Hal Holbrook. His kind words today made me glow.)

And yet, so drained was I from the early confrontation that my initial feeling was I'd had a bad day.

Clearly, I need to change my focus -- and revise my calculations.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Gentle reminders

My Christmas cactuses were a gift from my friend Rica, who also gave me most of the other plants I have in my house. She would bring me tiny cuttings and tell me exactly what to do to make them thrive.

Rica had a way of making everything -- and everyone -- around her thrive. She brought simple acts of kindness with her wherever she went -- and she refused to think anything bad about anyone.

She would come into my office every day and say something like, "I love you, Ami. You are so beautiful." It didn't matter that she said the same to everyone else. It was so heartfelt and genuine that it just made everything better.

Rica died of an aneurysm two years ago this week. She was only 49. I think of her nearly every day, and I try to share with others a little bit of the light she shared with me. When my cactuses bloom -- this is the third time this year already -- I consider it Rica's way of reminding me that you only need to look closely to see the good in the world.

"Love everybody," she says. "Even those who don't seem to deserve it. Just love them."

I miss her.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

A little bit of lovely

I came across this little chalkboard on Etsy* right around New Year's and ordered it immediately. I've never ordered anything online by impulse -- I usually travel back over and over before making the final decision. But this one just called to me and I had to have it.

I wasn't disappointed. It arrived just a few days later in its own special packaging, with a tiny eraser and a piece of chalk. It felt like a dear friend had sent me the most thoughtful gift.

The fact that it was just around New Year's is probably one reason I fell so hard for it, so fast. It fell (falls) right in line with one of my major goals for 2010: To live a more artful, thoughtful life in small bits each and every day, rather than letting days go by unnoticed while waiting for the "big" things to happen.

"Life is what happens when you're busy making other plans," John Lennon said. And that's been much too true for me.

So I have this little chalkboard near the door of my bedroom to remind me as I go out into the world that I should seek out loveliness -- and create loveliness -- even in small ways every day. I don't always succeed, but there is joy in the trying, too.

Have you done something lovely today, for yourself or someone else?

*The artist is Mary Kate McDevitt, and you can find her site here.
I like this one, too:

Friday, April 9, 2010

The bob

True love may be hard to find. But a good hair stylist – nearly impossible.

Over the years, I’d tried lots of relationships on for size. Most were setups from friends – “oh, go to so-and-so – she (or he) is perfect for you.” I’d go in full of hope and trust, but almost always come out disappointed.

There was the one who scheduled a lunchtime appointment then made me wait while she ate, talking with her mouth full the whole time. The one who hacked at my hair as if she was angry with it (I wasn't sure what it had done). The one who complained about her new husband’s ex-wife (bitch), and the one who talked so much and so fast that I felt like birds were pecking at my head. That’s only the beginning: It’s a very long list.

There were a few I liked, but they gave me bad haircuts.

I’m not ashamed of my indiscriminate past – a girl has to do what a girl has to do. But I was starting to think I would never find the one. I’d grow old with only my Flowbee to keep me presentable.

Finally, I’d gotten frustrated with – or maybe I just ran out of – friends’ recommendations. I called a random salon and made an appointment.

Brandon was what I got. All 6’6” of him.

He talked softly when he did talk, which was mostly to call me “Sweetheart.” He gave me a wonderful, super-gentle scalp massage with those enormous hands. He listened – and he cut my hair exactly the way I wanted it.

I walked out feeling like a million bucks, and I was smitten.

The next time, I made the appointment, but they called to tell me Brandon was ill. Did I want someone else, or did I want to wait for Brandon?

“Oh no,” I said. “I love Brandon.”

I’m assuming that got relayed to him, because when I went back, he talked more. This time he told me how he was “Jessica” in his spare time. He was a drag queen, and he was making his own Lady Gaga-inspired gown for the next pageant. (It's tough to buy evening gowns off the rack when you're 6'6" – and not actually a woman.)

He showed me the fabric for the gown, which would be head-to-toe lace but with a flesh-toned lining for modesty. And he pulled out his camera and showed me pictures of himself as Jessica. Gorgeous.

Who better, I thought, to advise me on how to look feminine and beautiful than someone who’s had to work at it – and obviously mastered it?

I was head over heels.

I told my husband, “I love Brandon.”

He did not feel threatened.

But then, things changed. I called, but Brandon had changed salons. Utterly loyal, I called the new one. And I went. The atmosphere there, though, was much hipper than the previous one – all glittery décor and thumpy music. I felt more than a little out of place.

“Just a trim,” I told Brandon. “Start the layers at my chin.”

“Really?” he said, “That short?”

This should have been my clue, but I thought little of it. I wish I could remember exactly what I said. What I THOUGHT I was saying was that the chin layer should be the shortest layer.

Content that we were on the same page, I took off my glasses and sat blindly while he cut.

After a little while I felt the scissors skim my neck. I reached up and felt – nothing.

“How short did you cut it?” I said, my heart sinking because I already knew.

And so, while I’d gone in looking like this:

(not actually me)

I walked out looking like this:

Bob. Horrible bob. Short bob.

"Mullet bob,” my husband said, because Brandon had tried to salvage some longer layers at the back.

My hair was the one feature I hadn’t been disenchanted with. Now it was gone.

I whined and complained, of course, until everyone including me got a little sick of hearing it. And then I let it go.

But now it’s four months later – and I need a trim.

Do I chalk it up to miscommunication, go back to the super-hip salon and give Brandon another chance? Could he still be “the one”? Or will I only end up broken hearted with a(nother) ugly haircut?

A good stylist is so hard to find.

*Name changed to protect the availability of appointments.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010


Yesterday I got my first-ever rejection for a magazine submission. I’ve been writing as a journalist for years, but I haven’t shared much of my personal writing with anyone, and I’ve never submitted it for publication. This year, I resolved to finally change that.

As I jokingly tell my husband, “You caint ketch fish if you don’t put out a line.” (Hokey accent optional.)

This blog is one of the things I’m doing to try to keep my writing wheels in motion. I also resolved to submit things and to be focused primarily on the goal of getting them submitted. Acceptance is something I can’t really control, so I patted myself on the back for sending the essays in, and then I hoped for the best.

When I was in college, living in the dorm, the seniors in the business program all lived on one floor. As graduation neared, they sent off job applications, and then posted their rejection letters on their doors. The goal was, of course, to get a job, but they made a game out of getting lots of applications out there. The more rejection letters, the more chances that they would land that one plum job.

So, while the rejection I got yesterday – a short, simple “We didn’t have room for these” stung a bit, I’m celebrating my first rejection.

It’s a step in the right direction.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Sweet dreams

A week of spring allergies that leave me dopey (preferable to the allergy medicine, which makes me a raving bitch somewhat irritable), plus company over the weekend have conspired to put me behind on pretty much everything, especially my blogging.

But as I head off to try to sleep off my pollen-induced stupor, I'll just share this:

It's called Young Love, and it always makes me smile.

The artist is Jonathan Fenske, and you can see more of his work here.

Monday, March 29, 2010

A nice way to start the week

I seem to be coming across Mary Oliver poems at every turn lately. Here's a new favorite that's definitely worth sharing.

It doesn't have to be
the blue iris, it could be
weeds in a vacant lot, or a few
small stones; just
pay attention, then patch

a few words together and don't try
to make them elaborate, this isn't
a contest but the doorway

into thanks, and a silence in which
another voice may speak.

(from the collection Thirst)

Happy Monday.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Delayed gratification

Spring flowers -- especially crocuses -- that have to be planted in the fall are, in my opinion, the loveliest possible example of delayed gratification.

Unfortunately, I tend to prefer my gratification without the delay.

 These belong to my neighbors :-)

My mood today ...

In case you can't read the words, it says, "As much as I try to be an easygoing, stretch your wings and fly type ... I just can't stop trying to burst people into flames with my mind."

It's turning into that kind of day :-)

I love the sharp-edged wit of this artist, Erin Smith. You can find more about her and see more of her work here.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Misadventures in domesticity

This week I've learned:

1. That VW key fobs are machine washable. Not only did mine come out of the washing machine sparkling clean, it is thankfully still working. (Don't try this at home.)

2. That when you press the release button, the canister on our new vacuum opens from the bottom, not the top. And if you're unaware of this and therefore not holding it over a garbage bag at the time, you not only get to vacuum the gray nasty pile a second time, you get the added pleasure of vacuuming your own shoes.

2. That sometimes it's best to just follow the recipe. This is a tough one for me. For whatever reason, following someone else's directions (or worse, using a mix) without somehow making it my own seems like cheating. It feels like a "real" cook does not need directions.

But I had two culinary failures this week. First, I made chicken pot pie. Instead of following the tried and true easy recipe I've used a million times, I decided to "fancy" it up a bit. It was intended as a gift for our neighbors, who just had a baby. So I changed it up, adding sauteed onions and mushrooms, and using a bit of heavy cream along with the milk. Then instead of my usual pie crust, I used frozen puff pastry.

I am sorry to say that I gave the new parents their pot pie before trying the one I made for us. The filling was very tasty -- at least there's that -- but for some reason the sauce was thin, not thick and creamy. And the puff pastry was soggy and gross.

I'm holding out hope that the sogginess was because our version sat in the fridge for several days before we had time to cook it, and that if our friends cooked theirs sooner, it wasn't so bad. In any case, I'm sure they're too polite to ever say anything, so I will probably never know. (The brownies I sent along with it were scrumptious, so there's a degree of redemption in that.)

The second mistake was adding real strawberries to a strawberry cake mix. I was improvising: We had no breakfast food in the house, so I was making "muffins." I tried to make them a little healthier/more muffin-like by adding frozen strawberries. Well, not only did they not rise very well, but they too came out mushy.

I'm chalking it up to creative experimentation. And like my fifth-grade teacher Mrs. Vincent said, "An experiment never fails." Sometimes it just teaches you to follow directions.

Addendum: The cake turned out fine (yummy, actually) when I baked the rest of it. Perhaps it was only my impatience that caused the goo problem.

Monday, March 8, 2010

The Fading Light of Day

My mom left me a message just before lunch today. She rarely calls me at work, but today I was expecting it.

My uncle was going to be passing through town this week while driving from his longtime home in New Jersey back to his current home in Colorado. She'd said she would call to tell me which evening he’d be coming, so we could all  meet for dinner.

My uncle, a former fireman, is in his mid-70s, diabetic, overweight, has smoked a pipe as long as I can remember, and has already had several coronary bypasses. He's charismatic, reckless and impossible not to love. I was excited to see him.

He had driven to New Jersey with one of his “lady friends” to attend a firemen's reunion.

So I called my voicemail, expecting to hear the plans for his visit. Instead, my mom’s voice – somber in the best of times – said only: “Caryl won’t be coming this week. Call me when you can.”

Now, I’ve accepted that my mom is a bit of a drama queen. I also know that her voicemails ALWAYS sound like bad news. (When we first got answering machines, my sisters and I called home frantically so many times that she started leaving messages that began with, “There's nothing wrong …”)

In this case, though, it seemed warranted. Not only is my Uncle Caryl in poor health, but so is their older brother Bill, who’s in his 80s and has been hospitalized lately. The middle brother, George, has also been ill.

I was sure that if something hadn’t happened to Caryl, it had happened to Bill or George.

I tried to call my mom, but the line was busy. And busy. And busy.

I left to meet Todd for lunch, and in the Chipotle parking lot, between attempts to reach my mom, I started to cry.

I thought about my uncles, who are so colorful and fun and bigger-than-life. About that trip Todd and I have been meaning to take to visit all three of my uncles, who are strategically placed for a loop through the West.

And especially about that family history I’ve been meaning to write.

Damn, damn, damn, I thought. I shouldn’t have procrastinated this long, and now I’ve lost my chance. (My mom was the youngest and was only 2 when their mother died, so I need my uncles to fill in the gaps.)

After lunch, I tried my mom again and finally reached her. But the news I got was not what I expected.

It turns out that once they got to New Jersey, my uncle’s 53-year-old girlfriend had had a series of massive heart attacks. Her life is touch and go, and of course my uncle is staying there with her.

The lesson here? Never take life for granted. It’s not just short, it’s unpredictable.

As soon as my Uncle Bill gets home from the hospital – happily he’s on the mend – I’ll be calling to do that family history. Or maybe he’s bored where he is and feels like talking.

Todd and I are thinking early summer would be a good time for a trip out West.

We’re also vowing to start taking better care of ourselves: 53 isn’t as far away as it sounds, and it’ll be here before you know it.

And we've vowed one more thing: To never listen to my mother.

What have you been putting off?

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Good Day. Sunshine.

After literally months of gray, gray, gray, I woke up this morning to find this:

Well, okay, I took the picture at lunchtime. But you get the idea: The long-awaited sun had made an appearance. I was downright giddy.

Then I got to work and found this:

My coworkers are under the impression that I can be bought with Nutella. I have not tried to convince them otherwise.

Good day.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Jiggling is good

My friend Belinda, whom I had wondered about for years after losing touch and was thrilled to reconnect with through the wonders of Facebook, is one of those rare people who manages to be sunny and optimistic without being trite and cloying.

She’s all the time posting status updates that make me think, “I should write that down.”

Recently she posted this:

Everyone has the keys to happiness in life. Just like with locks, one key does not fit every situation. Never give up on trying to find the right key!! Jiggle the lock a little! You deserve to be happy :))

I love the idea of jiggling the lock when it doesn’t open right away. We'd probably all be happier if we jiggled a little more :-)

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Signs of spring

Live in each season as it passes, breathe the air, taste the fruit, drink the drink, and resign yourself to the influences of each. 
--Henry David Thoreau

I love having four seasons. I lived on the Gulf Coast for a while, and while there are definitely advantages to having warm weather most of the time, I missed the cycle of the seasons and the sense that time was passing.

And so I try to enjoy each season as it comes, especially since they all tend to be relatively mild here. But this winter has been drearier than any I remember. I can deal with cold, but the days and days of gray wear on me.

So today I was thrilled to spot this little scene next to my front porch. Daffodils!

Spring -- and brighter days -- are on their way!

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Winter Yumminess

I hosted my book club this week. We rotate, and since there are about 15 people (all lovely, highly articulate women) in the club, we each end up hosting about once a year.

I took the opportunity to cook up a winter feast of green salad with toasted almonds, dried cranberries and bleu cheese crumbles; Jamie Oliver chicken stew (his basic stew recipe is awesome, and the flexibility of it makes it one of my go-to recipes); and Paula Deen's chocolate bread pudding, which is absolutely to-die-for.

Although everyone served themselves dinner, when it was time for dessert, I sneaked off into the kitchen to fill the bowls with bread pudding and a scoop of ice cream. Women will always say, “Oh, only a little,” and I didn't want them to have the chance to do that. I wanted everyone to feel like they could indulge. So I filled the bowls up with substantial scoops of the warm bread pudding – and was gratified when not one single bowl had a morsel left in it.

There's a time for restraint, but a cold, snowy evening spent with friends sharing a scrumptious dessert is not it!

The one thing I forgot to do in the busy-ness of preparations was take photos, which I must remember to do if I'm going to master this blogging thing. But follow the links to the recipes and I promise you wont be disappointed. (A couple of notes: I added red potatoes, quartered, to the stew to make it a bit more filling since I was serving 12, and I doubled the amount of chocolate chips in the bread pudding. I dont think Ms. Deen would mind :-)

The book this month was March, by Geraldine Brooks, which won the Pulitzer Prize. It's the story of the father from Little Women, while he's away in the Civil War. (It made me want to reread Little Women, one of my childhood favorites.) It was worth reading, although I prefer Year of Wonders by the same author. How someone can write about the plague (yes, THE Plague) and have it come out inspiring and uplifting is a true marvel, but Ms. Brooks manages it beautifully.

I'm reading more lately after a long phase where I didnt make time for it. I read a lot for my job and sometimes forget how nice it is to read for pleasure. Lately I can't get enough. Read any good books lately?

Another question, someone in my book club said every girl who read Little Women saw herself as Jo. Is that how you felt? Were we all Jo Wannabes, or are there some Beths, Megs and Amys out there?

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Not Ready for the NBA

Watching a college basketball game the other night. One of the players, an extremely talented “big man” with a promising future in the game, had gotten angry and frustrated when things didn’t go the way he thought they should. He talked back to the ref, threw his headband when the coach sat him down and repeatedly contorted his face in anger. And, because he couldn’t calm himself down, he missed shots he should have made.

“He’s not ready for the NBA,” the announcer said. “He shows too much emotion, lets the game get to him.”

“Nope, not ready,” the other announcer agreed. “He’s got to learn to control those emotions.”

It was a theme they came back to over and over.

I couldn’t make a layup on a regulation goal if my life depended on it, but I can relate to the “big man.” I’ve struggled all my life to keep my emotions in check, to hide behind a cool façade when I’m upset or angry.

I like to blame it on my Irish genes, but really I don’t know where it comes from.

“You have no poker face,” a former boss told me.

Another was more pointed: “You have an edge,” she said. Never mind that she agreed the person I’d stood up to had completely deserved it.

Neither was being unkind, or really that critical. They were just giving me well-meaning advice.

I have learned to control the worst of it over the years. I’m no college freshman, and I’ve learned some degree of self-preservation.

But still I often show my hand long before I get a chance to play it.

But what I’ve never figured out is how to care about something without SHOWING you care. The college player can channel his emotions into better basketball, and walk away the clear winner because of it. It doesn’t seem that easy in the “real world.”

This week has been a challenge. Some things have not gone my way; some people with what I call “petty power” have used that power to make themselves feel bigger – and I’ve wound up feeling small.

The trick, I know, is to not let it get to me, to “kill them with kindness” as some of my friends advised.

Doesn’t letting it bother me just grant them the power they’re looking for? And if I can deflect it, brush it off, don’t I get my power back?

Still, I struggle.

I called my husband after one of these episodes. I was angry and needed his calm reason to help me defuse it. “I’m not ready for the NBA,” I said without preface when he answered the phone.

He laughed. I didn’t have to explain; he knew EXACTLY what I meant. I didn’t know whether to be chagrined that he knows me that well, or grateful that he loves me anyway.

I decided on both.

I might never make the big leagues of emotion control, but the more I realize that the way to win is through subtlety and strategy, the better I’ll be.

Of course if I could just get a lucrative endorsement deal, then all bets would be off!

Monday, February 15, 2010

'The Summer Day'

It's cold and snowy outside, practically all I can see out my window is gray, gray, gray. But this poem -- one of my favorites -- always makes things brighter, and reminds me that even gray can be beautiful.

The Summer Day
Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
                     --Mary Oliver

What are you planning to do with your wild and precious life? What about this one day?

Thursday, January 7, 2010


My first post. I've spent lots of time thinking about what I want this blog to be, and I have lots (and lots) of ideas, but what it comes down to is that I hope it's worth your time.