Tuesday, December 30, 2008
My husband tells me that visiting Vermont in the winter helps him understand the New England poets better. "Robert Frost?" I ask him. "No, I was thinking of Wallace Stevens' The Snow Man. You get a sense of his search for meaning."
The Snow Man
One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;
And have been cold a long time
To behold the junipers shagged with ice,
The spruces rough in the distant glitter
Of the January sun; and not to think
Of any misery in the sound of the wind,
In the sound of a few leaves,
Which is the sound of the land
Full of the same wind
That is blowing in the same bare place
For the listener, who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.
But the difference between us and the snow man is that we have memory and imagination. We know the cycles of snow, grass, flowers, fireflies and frost. The seasons change and it'll be spring again.
Friday, December 26, 2008
Tuesday, December 23, 2008
I bought my husband's Christmas gift weeks ago. He chose it himself and charged me with finding and buying for myself something SPECIAL I really wanted. Which is a fun problem to have. This is a challenge when you feel you have everything you need and buy things for yourself regularly. What qualifies, then, as special?
For weeks, I've been searching, going through emails from Anthropologie and J. Crew, waiting for lightning to strike. Today, I found this fabulous vintage hand bag à la Glenda Gies. Add a brooch or a scarf and I'm ready for Christmas to begin.
Wednesday, December 17, 2008
Monday, December 15, 2008
You don't have to be a designer to have heard of Pantone, THE leading authority on printing inks and predictor of color trends. Earlier this month, Pantone did a press release announcing the 2009 Color of the Year; Pantone 14-0849 TCX, also known as "Mimosa." According to Leatrice Eiseman, executive director of the Pantone Color Institute, "the color yellow exemplifies the warmth and nurturing quality of the sun, properties we as humans are naturally drawn to for reassurance." I've always considered yellow defiantly cheerful, laughing in the face of anger and all things ugly and mean. Yes, and it's the color of mimosas.
In case you're interested in Pantone's Fashion Color Report for Spring, they've written that too!
Thursday, December 4, 2008
Collier West has a stylized nature theme this year.
On Paper is a lovely shop that sells designer papers from around the world, and can create personalized stationery for you.
I even like the frosty tree at Dr. Mojoe.
Wednesday, December 3, 2008
Thursday, November 27, 2008
I think it's important to live in state of gratitude throughout the year, but this is a good opportunity to remember some of the things I'm grateful for.
1. A warm shower every morning.
2. Generous and loving friends and family.
3. Music and the people who make it.
4. An education where I learned how to read instead of constantly worrying about my safety.
5. Living in a free world where I have a voice.
6. Having a hungry mind.
7. All the artists who came before me, and teach me humility.
8. Hot, dark coffee.
9. A roof over my head and all the things I care for.
10. Having more than enough.
What are you thankful for?
Saturday, November 22, 2008
We all have people on our Christmas lists that already have everything, and buying something they already have in a different color or pattern doesn’t seem like a good idea. I’ve compiled a list of gifts for such people. If you have some of your own ideas, please share.
1. Bulbs to force inside. I gave one to my mother a few years ago, and every Christmas when I visit, I get to see her amaryllis in full bloom.
2. Jeni’s Ice Cream. You can order nine pints of her top flavors and have them delivered on dry ice. • Salty Caramel • Gravel Road • Dark Cocoa Gelato • Pistachio & Ashland County Honey • Black Coffee • Thai Chili • Lemon Yogurt • Queen City Cayenne (my all-time favorite) • Fresh Sorbet of the Day
3. Paul Robinett Candles. When my husband and I bought our house, the previous owners gave us one of Paul’s candles as a housewarming gift and we’ve been hooked ever since. With scents such as basil, leather, and firewood, there’s a scent for everyone. Made by hand in the store in ‘aromatherapy strength,’ there are no other candles like them. My husband’s favorite is cedar, while mine is tomato leaf.
4. Solar Dynamo Radio light from LL Bean. It works on batteries and has a hand crank.
5. For the gourmet chef on your list, these salt and pepper grinders will look elegant in any kitchen.
6. Terrarium. For those of on your list who mark the days until they can go back into the garden, a terrarium is a small reminder that summer can be enjoyed year round. I like this one from Smith and Hawken.
7. For the antique collector, these vintage soda bottles look great in the kitchen or sitting on the bar.
8. A farm animal for a needy family. Choose a meaningful gift to give a loved one and help children and families around the world receive training and animal gifts that help them become self-reliant.
What will you be buying for the person who has everything?
Thursday, November 13, 2008
It has caused me to revisit the topic. I was asked, “How? How have these books changed your life?” and I realized that every one has different criteria for a life-changing book. My answer is not deliberately elusive. What do I look for a great book? The same things I look for in life. I look for poetry and beauty. I look for stories that enlarge my world and give me a greater sense of what it means to be alive on this tiny little planet spinning in space. I look to literature to “say the unsayable,” to quote Richard Ford. I look for the gaps, between errands and projects and duties, that we call life. I do not look for answers; I look for questions.
There is a newspaper clipping about twenty years old on my refrigerator – an article summarizing a speech given by Cleanth Brooks, professor emeritus of rhetoric at Yale. To quote Brooks, “One role of literature,” he said, “is that it focuses attention on mankind’s purposes, wise or unwise, and upon the values for which men and women have died.”
Years ago, when my niece Grace was born, I wrote a poem for her. In it, I told her to “describe everything around the one thing that holds you in rapture.” This is what I look for in literature.
2. Iliad, Homer – A life lived without reading this book is incomplete. Iliad serves as history’s golden mean for what literature is can do.
Monday, November 10, 2008
The litmus test of a good book is that you find new joys in it upon a second reading. Shorter days and colder nights are a good excuse to turn to your bookshelves and pick up those books you've always wanted to read or the ones you want to revisit. Here is a list of books that have enriched my life in numerous ways. Some I've read more than once. Tell me about your list and just try to keep it to ten.
1. Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy. It is said that Tolstoy started this book with the intention of writing about a despicable woman, and fell in love with his creation.
2. Still Life – A.S. Byatt. The sequel to Byatt’s Babel Tower, but a far more poignant story of a family trying to find sanity and love in their disparate lives.
3. Lolita – Vladimir Nabokov. The quintessential American road book that started the genre – by a man whose native language is Russian, no less.
4. The Debt to Pleasure – John Lanchester. A cookbook wrapped in a travelogue wrapped in a murder mystery.
5. The Golden Bowl – Henry James. The only writer who could tell such a gripping story with so little action. Hint: the bowl has a fatal flaw.
6. Jude the Obscure – Thomas Hardy. The story of a brilliant young man who finds comfort neither in his native, bucolic countryside nor the august halls of academe where he so powerfully longs for acceptance.
7. The Sun Also Rises – Ernest Hemingway. Gertrude Stein refers to the men who fought in WWI as ‘the lost generation’ for a good reason. Warning: have good food and wine on hand before opening.
8. Orlando – Virginia Woolfe. A man – no, a woman – er, a person gallops through history finding wisdom through the ages.
9. I Praise My Destroyer – Diane Ackerman. A naturalist, poet and lover of life explores the pain and beauty of accepting mortality.
10. Howard’s End – E. M. Forster. A love story about a house and the people who live in it.
Wednesday, October 29, 2008
No, this isn't a ghost story. This is about a song I've been listening to for years. A song that transcends time and space and speaks to the soul of anyone with ears. A song I thought I knew. But one Sunday evening, I was painting and listening to the Classical music station and a chamber orchestra started playing this piece, without vocals. It was from Corelli or Haydn; one of the Baroques. And if you've ever searched through the repertoires of any Baroque composers, you know they were all quite prolific. But I can't remember who and now have this irrisistable urge to have it. So please, close your eyes and listen ... do you know this piece?
Monday, October 20, 2008
Much the same can be said about fine food.
My husband and I don’t have the opportunity to go out often because of our crazy schedules, but we had the honor of taking my mother- and father-in-law (gastronomes extraordinaire) out for dinner the other night to Z Cucina, a relatively new spot in Columbus.
Before ordering any food, we asked for a bottle of Super Tuscan, Guidalberto, Tenuta de Guido 2002; a plumy, earthy wine that asks to be chewed while you drink it.
To eat, we started with the Z Tavola Tasting plate (Calamari Fritti, Parmigiano Risotto Fritters, House-Made Mozzarella and 3 Chef Creations), which disappeared rather quickly. My favorite was the house-made mozzarella drizzled with balsamic vinegar which, I am sure, was made lovingly in Modena, Italy and stored for seventeen years until it blossomed to perfection.
For the entrée, I ordered the Goat Cheese Ravioli with Spiced Walnuts, Peppers, Onions and Salsa Rosa. I recall this dish with tears in my eyes. For a brief moment, I saw a bright light and the pearly gates opening. The silky pasta, the teasing flavor of goat cheese, the spicy walnuts and the lively flavors coating it all; this is how ravioli should always taste.
There were rumors around the table that the Grilled Trattoria Steak (Olive Oil Smashed Potato, Grilled Asparagus and Balsamic Vinaigrette), Spice-Rubbed Pork Tenderloin Agro-Dolce (Roasted New Potatoes, Wilted Spinach and Rhubarb Mostarda) and Olive Oil Braised Duck Legs (Creamy Gorgonzola Polenta, Roasted Moscato Grapes, Moscato d’Asti Reduction and Spring Greens) were equally good.
For dessert I had a scoop of Jeni’s salty caramel ice cream (nearly all to myself) and a cup of espresso. The birthday girl, my mother-in-law got a complimentary dessert.
The entire meal elicited the same response I have when I see one of Monet’s masterly water lily panels. “I wish I had said that.”
Friday, October 10, 2008
While I find it painful to say goodbye to summer, I like to remind myself of some of my favorite things about Fall.
- Vintage coats in peculiar colors
- A long walk at dusk
- Old leather luggage
- Scented candles
- Wool turtleneck sweaters
- Hats and gloves
- Cashmere shawls
- Patterned tights
- A purring cat on your lap (actually, that is perennial)
- A pot of Butternut Squash Soup. My sister Loranne makes the best butternut squash soup I’ve ever had, but this one isn’t bad either.
Butternut Squash Soup
1 3-pound butternut squash – peeled, seeded, and cut into 1-inch cubes (5-6 cups)
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons kosher salt, pinch of freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon butter
1 large yellow onion, diced
3 stalks celery, chopped (about 1 ½ cups)
1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage (about 6 leaves)
6 cups chicken broth
½ cup freshly grated parmesan
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a large bowl, toss the squash with 2 tablespoons of olive oil, 2 teaspoons of salt, and the pepper. Place the squash on a rimmed baking sheet and roast in oven for 15 minutes. Turn the cubes over and continue roasting for 15 minutes or until they are caramelized. Set aside.
In a large stockpot, heat the butter and remaining olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion, celery and sage and sauté, stirring occasionally until the vegetables are tender, about 10 minutes. Add the squash, broth, and the remaining salt and bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer for 30 minutes or until the liquid is flavorful. Remove from heat. Using a blender or food processor, blend the soup in batches until smooth. Return to the pot and keep warm. Top with Parmesan and croutons if desired.
Monday, October 6, 2008
A few years ago, before I had a cell phone, I went for a shopping trip. It was a beautiful blue-sky summer day and, with the radio on and a complete sense of freedom, I realized that no one in the world knew where I was.
I don’t have GPS in my car, but Columbus is littered with a number of cameras at traffic lights. If you run a red light, you receive a ticket in the mail, the middleman/cop having been removed from the process.
I use a magnetic badge to get into the office where I work. At work, my emails and web surfing are monitored, some even prohibited. Every website I visit registers my presence. Amazon remembers not only what I’ve recently purchased, but also things that I’ve browsed and, every time I visit, I am greeted with new suggestions to put into my shopping cart. Yahoo! Also manages to gather information about me, because the ads on my Yahoo! home page reflect recently browsed pages or searches. If you ever wondered why you need a little card on your key chain to shop at your local grocery store, it is their way of gathering consumer information on you. The coupons you receive with your receipt reflect your buying trends. I know a man who, every time his wife goes shopping, logs into the credit card account online to monitor her shopping spree.
While our Federal Government conducts none of this surveillance, it still smacks of Big Brother. This isn’t about national security and the government tapping our phone conversations, but all the tools are in place. Spy satellites are taking pictures of us all now; some are said to have a powerful enough resolution to read a newspaper from space.
And we are willing accomplices, giving our personal information at every turn without a thought of our privacy. On our Facebook profiles, we tell all of our friends what we’re doing at any given moment. We Twitter, we Flickr, we Digg. We have entire generations that think it is normal to surrender personal information to complete strangers. I’m aware that when privacy issues are mentioned, many people get a picture of a paranoid man living in the woods with a shotgun and a manifesto. I am not that man, but as someone who has had her identity stolen, I can tell you my electronic credit trail tells a very misleading story about me.
While London boasts the distinction of being the city with the most public surveillance cameras, this is a growing trend. Will health insurance companies start monitoring how much wine I drink? Will a potential employer review my genetic records along with my resume? Could I be unjustly fired for transactions on my credit card that were not my own? How far into the future will we see computers like those seen on CSI and 24 that bring up every minute detail of a person’s life?
And what would it take to fall off the grid?
Thursday, September 18, 2008
Our lawns and roadsides are still littered with tree corpses. Many streets lights remain dead and policemen have been directing traffic at the busiest intersections. At work, meetings start with the same question; who has power? It’s a funny question to start a business meeting, especially as it would have had entirely different meanings a week ago. One thing can be said about this storm and its consequences; it did not discriminate. In its destructive forces, it knew neither race, political leanings, social standing nor economic status. According to the outage map at AEP’s website, there are still well over 300,000 Ohioans without power, and they are scattered over the finest as well as the most humble neighborhoods. AEP is bringing in linemen from all over to solve the crisis, but people are getting tired of playing whist or canasta by candlelight.
So, with the recognition that many people are still struggling without power, I’ve created a list of things that I didn’t have and wished that I did in the last week. File this under “Hindsight is 20/20.”
1. Nonperishable foods such as nuts and nutrition bars.
2. Solar Dynamo Radio Light from L.L. Bean. Actually, any of the solar/crank tools from LL Bean.
3. One of the big metal coolers I grew up with, in cherry red with a white top.
4. More candles.
5. A print-out of all my contacts for when my cell phone goes dead.
6. A generator. They’re all sold out now, but I plan on buying one when this thing blows over. Pardon the pun.
7. Lavender oil to rub on my temples.
8. A refrigerator designed by NASA.
Tuesday, September 16, 2008
“Oh,” I said, as though he had informed me that we would be having tripe and pig’s feet for dinner. What would we do tonight, then? And tomorrow night? The drama had given our lives a certain purpose, and now we had to return to the ordinary functions of life.
So, when I got home, I watered the flowers and started a load of laundry. We scraped the wax drippings off the kitchen table and put away the accoutrements of a black-out. The lawn was mowed and looked as fine as ever, save for a small scar where the tree plowed into its grassy surface. I can still hear chain saws from the guys down the street that are dismantling a tree that had fallen on a neighboring garage, and I can still hear the echo of my neighbor screaming over the howling winds, “Have you seen our porch cushions?”
But tonight I’m reading. And when it gets darker, I may just light some candles and keep reading.
On Sunday night, we in Columbus entertained an unruly guest. The sounds themselves tell a story. Six hours of howling winds subsided around 10pm to be replaced by sirens rushing through the streets, and then the planes that had been delayed began taking off again, one after another. The usual hum of LED lights was gone and it became eerily quiet. On Monday morning, you could still hear a few sirens, but a chorus of chain saws and generators up and down the street joined them.
While he caused nowhere near the destruction he caused in Texas, we did have several trees in our neighborhood commit suicide. Ike left a path of destruction, robbing entire cities of power, toppling trees onto cars, leaving us to negotiate dead street lights, and scramble for ice and working gas pumps.
While the frustrations and anxieties with such a fury are obvious, there were several things that caused me to pause and give thanks.
1. No one I know was hurt.
2. I don’t need electricity to heat water for coffee in my French press.
3. I don’t need electricity to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
4. I collect candles.
5. A hot shower is just as lovely in the dark.
6. I have amazing neighbors who helped us chop, split and clean up the fallen trees around our house.
7. Victorian evenings without the television, radio or computer can be magnificent.
8. I don’t have $100 Omaha steaks in my freezer.
9. It’s the perfect temperature outside where you don’t need heat or air conditioning.
Tuesday, September 9, 2008
Saturday, September 6, 2008
I think it was at Bin 36, a restaurant across the street from my hotel on a business trip to Chicago, that I first tasted truffles. I should mention that Bin 36 is of a new breed of restaurants. They don't serve actual entrees. They serve tapas with six carefully selected wines to match. You order six appetizers and get six "flights" of wine to place against them. It's okay, I reasoned. I'm within legal stumbling distance of my bed. While highly civilized, it's pure hedonism.
The truffles were shaved over a cheese I selected. I like cheese. No, I love cheese. It's the fudge of the dairy world. I love mild, milky mozzarella with fresh basil and tomato slices as much as I love the feared Gorgonzola which smells like sweat socks. But the truffles ... while I enjoyed them, I felt a certain reserve. Musky, earthy, pungent – it was almost as if it was inappropriate to eat them in public. There's something utterly debauched about the taste of truffles, which explains their history.
Until recently, a truffle farmer would take his pig out to an oak grove to locate a truffle buried underground. The pig would prance along at a normal pace until he caught a whiff of something and was suddenly filled with this inexplicable urge to locate the exact origin. It smelled like a sow in heat, or, to his nose, his true love. Once he homed in on the origin of this heavenly scent, he would start digging furiously to get to her, never questioning why his true love was buried at the foot of an oak tree.
I'm not sure how this tradition changed. Perhaps the farmer felt guilty for misleading the pig into such disappointment and had to deal with the subsequent depression. Perhaps the pig dug so furiously that he destroyed the truffle itself. Now truffle farmers use dogs to locate truffles, and apparently truffles don't smell like bitches in heat. It seems that the dogs are equally voracious in locating truffles, not for any romantic attachment, but because they taste good. In fact, farmers need to carry treats to replace it so the dog doesn't devour the truffle.
I'm due for another business trip to Chicago soon and plan on staying in the same hotel, and even visiting Bin 36. But perhaps this time I'll order my meal to go and enjoy it while reflecting upon the relationship between the canine and human palette. And I'll remain mildy disturbed at the relationship of the pig's palette to both.
Friday, September 5, 2008
When I was teenager, my oldest sister Carol, who lived in New York City at the time, represented everything glamorous to me. When she would come home for visits, her embrace radiated a scent by Lancôme called Magie Niore. Unapologetically sensuous and feminine, this blend of cedar wood, musk and jasmine became for me the epitome of elegance. It remains a scent loaded with memories and associations to this day.
Carol gave me my first grown-up perfume when I was sixteen. Youth Dew, launched by Estee Lauder in 1953, is an oriental fragrance with a blend of warm rose, geranium, and amber. Wearing it daily, I felt connected to my sister. It became my ‘signature scent.’ Later, I got bold and bought Jardins de Bagatell by Guerlain. It was a heady blend of bergamot, jasmine, gardenia, tuberose, neroli and sandalwood.
Perfume companies understand that fragrance is not merely several scents blended together and bottled. Scents trigger memories, and create psychological associations. Cleopatra, the famous queen of Egypt, understood this when she drenched the sails of her ships with rose oil. Perfumes give us a feeling of being taller, thinner, richer, and beautiful. They wrap us in mystery, instill desire and inspire memories. And for those of us who cannot afford haute couture, buying a designer’s perfume is the next best thing.
Today I own several perfumes, and still manage to lust for new ones. Having married into a generous family, I have Hanai Mori’s entire line of quirky and sophisticated perfumes. I no longer have a signature scent; rather I determine what mood I’m going to set for my day with my choice. With names like Fleurs du Chocolat, Haute Couture, Butterfly, and Magic Moon, each carries its own message. One makes me feel graceful while another makes me feel edgy and tough.
I have yet to find that one perfect perfume that clearly expresses every nuance of my personality, but I’m enjoying the search, one bottle at a time.
Sunday, August 31, 2008
Wednesday, August 27, 2008
As a child, I had stick-straight hair with bangs, freckles, and eyes too big for my face. I wasn’t a wild success in sports and I wasn’t in the inner circle of popularity. I always turned in my homework on time and the teachers liked me.
I try to account for my grown-up interest in fashion; and then I remember that I had to wear a wool plaid uniform for so many years. That restriction was both a saving grace and, for a creative child, a hindrance. Our uniforms leveled the playing field. There was no contest for who had the coolest clothes because we all wore the same thing. So when I hit the open road of high school, with all of its freedoms, I went a little wild. The profusion of colors, textures and patterns rejected all simplicity, and all understanding of a good fit, clean lines, and flattering shapes. But it was the eighties.
Today I stumbled upon a blog called Deep Glamour. The launching entry (August 15) is a thought-provoking essay on what defines glamour. In discussions with friends today, we hit upon the plasticity of glamour, much of that plastic found in wallets. But it’s not just about spending, it’s about spending selectively.
To quote Virginia Postrel, Deep Glamour’s blogger, glamour is much more than clothes.
Glamour is...not a matter of style but of psychology. It is not a physical property but an imaginative quality that creates a specific, emotional response: a mixture of projection, longing, admiration, and aspiration. By binding image and desire, glamour gives us pleasure, even as it heightens our yearning. It is this emotional experience, this pang-filled pleasure, that we hope to recapture once "glamour is back."
Sometimes I wish I could go back to a daily routine wearing a uniform. It would take the guesswork (performed half-awake and in the dark) out of every morning. But this time, do you think Gaspard Yurkievich would design my uniform?
Wednesday, August 20, 2008
I LOVE markets, and I go to them every time I visit a new city, but my review of farmers' markets would be entirely incomplete if I didn't mention the North Market in our own town. Every time I go, I ask myself why I don't visit more often.
My favorite vendor, Jeni's Fresh Ice Creams, has some of the world's most intriguing flavors, and you can have a six-pack delivered to your door packed in dry ice. My pet flavor is Aztec Chocolate. Who knew ice cream could have heat?
With dessert out of the way, you can have some serious difficulty choosing a place to have lunch. With authentic cuisines from around the world, you can have Flavors of India, Firdous from the Mediterranean, humble Mexican fare from El Paraiso, or pick up a bit of Italy from Pastaria.
On your way out, don’t forget to pick up some flowers from Marty and Bob at Market Blooms, a loaf of bread and some cheese from Curds and Whey.
Most importantly, don’t forget to get chocolates from my favorite chocolatier, Pure Imagination. If you like your chocolate with a kick, try the Theobroma, modeled after the truffles made famous in the movie Chocolat. Eat them all yourself or give them as a gift. They are the perfect way to say ‘I love you,’ ‘I’m sorry,’ or ‘It’s Wednesday.’ One taste of these truffles and you’ll think Dan has a crush on you too.
My husband and I received a visit from my sister and a friend of hers this past weekend. As I mentioned before, they are traversing the country with a final destination of Arizona. One of the things they both did to make this move possible is sell all of their belongings, save a handful of things that they either needed or loved, which they squeezed into their cars. While it seems simple enough to say, “I’m selling all of my personal belongings,” it’s an enormously tedious, time-consuming and labor-intensive job … depending, of course, on how much stuff you’ve collected over the years.
While I have no intention of doing this myself, my friends and family have heard more than a few times over the past few years how eager I am to declutter, shed the excess, unload the junk. I have more than my share of odd, quirky, and unnecessary objects that I neither need nor love. I fantasize about a home that better reflects the essence of those who dwell in it, unclouded by the confusion of things that don’t quite fit. A home where you notice the people in a room more than the room itself or the stuff in it. And as Debbie Millman says, "we can either talk about making a difference, or we can make a difference." And, while my husband has more books than God, I intend to leave them alone. (Though on reflection, do we need two copies of Ulysses?)
This is my goal for the balance of the year, a gift to myself; to streamline my material world until I no longer feel distracted by the visual confusion. I want my home to have room for discussions and ideas, and whatever material things remain are there because they have honest meaning and value.
Thursday, August 14, 2008
Monday, August 11, 2008
Here’s my list in no particular order:
1. MAC’s Russian Red lipstick, a timeless favorite for years, with a slight vanilla flavor. And when you've used up six tubes, bring them back to your MAC counter and walk away with one free one.
2. Timberland black biker boots. I know who I am and what I’m about when I’m wearing these.
8. Altoids Curiously Strong Peppermints. An article detailing the effects of peppermint on the human person revealed a happier disposition, aiding the digestive system and waking you up if you’re sluggish. They’re great if you’re about to walk into an accounting class.
9. Aveda’s Madagascar Aroma Oil. I have light bulb rings discreetly placed throughout my home, dispensing this sweet, spicy scent.
Monday, August 4, 2008
Let me preface my story with a little habit of mine. Whenever I'm on the road, I look up for hawks. When I'm on a long trip with my husband, I count the number of hawks I spot. I love hawks. Knowing they have only a 75% survival rate in the wild makes me appreciate them even more.
Over a year ago, I had the privilege of going to the Greenbrier, the oldest spa/resort in the country. Nestled in the Alleghenies in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, what began before the Civil War as a few cabins surrounding some natural springs of sulfur water for the fashionable set to ‘take the cure’ has exploded into a palatial resort with golf courses, restaurants, an artists’ colony, miles of walking paths, a retired underground bunker for the federal government, a television set for a grilling show, culinary arts classes, and a spa with every treatment known to (wo)man.
During my visit, on my birthday, I took a lesson in falconry. Known as the ‘Sport of Kings,’ medieval nobles (before the invention of firearms) would train hawks to partner with them in hunting for rabbits and wild fowl. They would release the bird from a cage and allow them to perch on a tree with a good view of the field or forest. When the bird spotted an animal, it would lunge down onto the prey, perhaps even kill it. The hunter would intervene before the bird had a chance to devour the prey, and trick the bird into thinking he’d eaten a piece of the animal by giving it a small piece of meat from his pocket before the hawk fully realized what had happened.
As we made our way to the cages where various birds of prey were resting peacefully, there was excitement as the trainer opened the door to the cage. All of the birds started to scream, “Pick ME! Pick ME!’ in hopes of a shot at doing some pretend-hunting with the trainer. He chose a Harris’ Hawk, a rather large creature as far as birds go, but only weighing in at two pounds of pure muscle, bone and feather.
Harris’ Hawks can be found in the southwest of the United States, and often hunt in pairs or groups, which accounts for their popularity in falconry. They see the falconer as a partner in hunting.
My question during this lesson, “Why don’t the hawks fly away?” I was told that they rather enjoy these exercises. When the trainer held his leather-gloved arm out, he would flick up a small piece of meat with his thumb and the hawk would fly in from whatever perch it was resting on. Apparently he liked the regular meals.
As the trainer worked with the bird, allowing him to fly out to a tall tree across the field and calling him back by raising his gloved arm and flicking a small piece of meat, it seemed these two had a rather special relationship. I was surprised to learn that raptors never become attached to humans the way a pet parakeet does. They are motivated by one thing and one thing only—food. The bird will respond in the way it has been trained only when it's hungry. Release a raptor with a full stomach and you may never see it again.
Each of us in the lesson was allowed a few turns at bringing the hawk in. The feeling of such a bird flying at you with the momentum of a bullet and then perching on your arm is indescribable.
Finally, still confused about why the bird keeps coming back, I persisted in my question. The trainer answered, “You keep them just a little hungry.”
Monday, July 28, 2008
Monday, July 21, 2008
My friend Shannon has a quirky sense of humor, is a huge fan of Audrey Hepburn, and is the closest I’ve ever gotten to having a little sister. She herself has a sister and will be quick to tell you that she actually asked her parents for "scizzors," not a sister, so you can imagine her confusion when they brought home little baby Colleen. Shannon and I used to work together years ago at an advertising/PR firm and would sometimes escape during our lunch hour to a little enclosed garden at a nearby arts facility and decorate our 'someday' houses. I miss those escapes.
My husband and I went to a wedding shower this past weekend, in honor of Shannon and her fiancé Kenny. Shannon, as much at ease at the ballet as at a barbeque, has always had a special skill with people; she has a beautiful way of making everyone comfortable.
I had never met Kenny before and confess I had some difficulty getting past his charming southern drawl. Everyone with a drawl seems nice. You could eat kittens for breakfast, but if you have a drawl, I’m sure you didn’t really mean to eat them.
Like every single relationship in existence, their's thus far has had a few miscommunications. What I saw this weekend though was pure joy and mutual respect, and one other element, which I myself took a while to learn, and that was forgiveness. No matter how perfect two people are for each other, they’re going to need an ample supply of this. When you have it in your heart, you are not burdened with bitterness. When you give it to someone else, it is a sweet gift.
At the shower, a friend of Shannon’s sang a moving rendition of At Last. Etta James couldn’t have said it better. Shannon, your love has come along. At last.
Monday, July 7, 2008
I was sitting in class tonight. I am one of two adult, non-traditional students in a class of 24 students. We two older students are generally the only ones who participate in the question/answer model of your average modern classroom. The other students are either text-messaging their friends or staring straight ahead. The professor is clearly frustrated at this lack of responsiveness, but seems a little used to it.
Sunday, July 6, 2008
Elizabeth responds: “My fingers do not move over this instrument in the masterly manner which I see so many women’s do. They have not the same force or rapidity, and do not produce the same expression. But then I have only supposed it to be my own fault—because I would not take the trouble of practicing.”
This exchange in the story is a pivotal moment, and is central to the entire theme of the book. It has always held me in rapture because Austin has not only created an instant where two characters, seemingly in jest, connect on a profound level, but it gets at something universally human.
For my own part, I try my hand at a great many things. I fail at nearly as many, but I persist in trying. It’s true that I view recipes as mere suggestions. Ask me to assemble something and I’ll start by throwing away the instructions. I dive in to things where others hesitate and measure and second guess themselves. Don’t confuse my behavior with confidence; it’s more a mixture of stubbornness and impatience.
I once heard a saying, where your energy goes, success will follow. I’ve learned that if someone struggles in learning something new, it isn't necessarily some lack of talent, but because he truly doesn’t wish to learn it.
And so it is with Accounting. After two hours of homework this morning, with historic and artistic thoughts of Luca Pacioli, I’m beginning to understand it. Look at me doing spreadsheets.
Wednesday, July 2, 2008
In drops of sun against water.
He said: to be seen as the light moves,
In bursts of red, greens of summer flaming on the lawn.
In Giverny, where he found his last subject,
He caught on canvas: a river waltzing with the sun.
Light restores what time steals,
But from winter springs the loosening of desire.
Now age and night invade his eyes.
The lilies stand silent in the darkness.
The dark trees sway. Even now he sees
Fires weaving in the particles of water,
Waves of sunlight locked within the leaves.
Sunday, June 29, 2008
It was July 4th, 1976. My family was camping at the Westfield Campsite. It was a particularly hot day, and I was swinging on the swing set. Someone somewhere was playing this on the radio. It has become preserved in my psyche as the epitome of perfect childhood bliss. I swear, every time I hear it I have this uncontrollable urge to find a swing set.
C'mon, I know you want this song as the ringtone on your cell phone too.
Yes, the leisure suits are something, aren't they?
Sunday, June 22, 2008
We went to Pittsburgh Friday to visit the Carnegie Art Museum. If you’ve never been to Pittsburgh; do go, and enter the city from the west via the Ft. Pitt Tunnel under Washington Mountain because when you emerge, splash! You are hit with a dramatic shot of the city. No matter how many times I visit Pittsburgh, I still find this exciting.
My visit to the museum was interesting because when we arrived, on a fine weekday afternoon no less, the museum was packed. With people. There to see art. This is remarkable because not a three hour’s drive away in Columbus, we’re closing the doors on our symphony because of lack of funding and patronage. And here we were in Pittsburgh surrounded by people of every age, class and ethnic heritage coming to see art, which I thought was dead. It baffles the mind.
I’ll tell you about the Carnegie Museums this week, but first I’d like to tell you a bit about the man who is surrounded by so much myth. Andrew Carnegie was born in 1835 to a working-class family in Dunfermline, Scotland. In 1848, the family left Scotland for America where his father hoped to find work as a weaver, but never succeeded. Andrew took a job in a factory making $1.20 per week, though he later found another job at a steam engine factory making $2.00 per week. The factory manager was so impressed by his penmanship and intelligence that he promoted him to clerk of the factory. At the age of 14 he changed jobs again, this time becoming a messenger earning $20 per month. In 1853, Andrew started working at the Pennsylvania RR telegraph office where he learned the ins and outs of the railroad industry. From the time he was thirteen, until and after his father died in 1855, Andrew was the only breadwinner in the family.
In the following years, he invested in sleeping cars and oil, got drafted in the army, and founded the Keystone Bridge Company. It was when he was thirty-three years old that he outlined for himself a plan to retire at age thirty-five and devote himself to philanthropy and his own education. Though he failed this goal, the powerful urge to bring education to the people had him building libraries throughout the country, one of which sits proudly in downtown Columbus.
If this sounds like a Cinderella story, it is in part because it is. He wasn’t a man without flaws. While he was entirely a self-made man, he paid his employees the low wages typical of the day. I myself will never make a fraction of money Carnegie did; nor did I start working at the age of twelve and I can easily say that I’m not willing to work as hard as he did. His interests in art, nature and education might have compensated for his lack of them as a child. While philanthropy and public works were common for millionaires of the day, Carnegie was not like the suave Harvard-educated William Randolph Hearst who became famous for his hoarding of art from around the world for his own pleasure.
The world we live in today is very different from that of Andrew Carnegie. That Victorian spirit of philanthropy is gone, but witnessing the multitudes of art enthusiasts at the museum has shown me that an appreciation for art and culture is still quite alive. Whether or not they know the names of artists represented in each gallery, one still senses that the visitors think it is important enough to explore.
And whatever my feelings for the Carnegies, Rockafellers and Fricks of the world, the legacies they leave behind are bigger than the men who made them and will last through all time.
Thursday, June 19, 2008
The harvest of accumulated
Tasks and errands; of a sprinkler arching
Beads of light over potted plants and mowed lawns,
When nesting birds feed their clamorous young
On worms and bugs caught mid-air.
The daffodil has withered
Beneath the hosta, whose leaves spread
In a victorious gesture like arms embracing summer.
Here, I sit, insatiable,
As passionate as a fast or a prayer,
Forgetting the years as I breathe in
The subtle scent of a summer night,
Mentally marking the moments
To store like snapshots in an album
In this season I hold
Most dear in my heart.
How soon we allow ourselves
To reap and exhaust the rich rewards
Of all our sanguine toil.
We make appointments and arrangements
Spending our innocent future,
Trading past pleasures and duties
For pursuit and desire
Like a tree endlessly blossoming.
Tuesday, June 17, 2008
In 451 AD: Germans and Romans beat Atiila the Hun at Catalarinische Fields. This is a good thing.
In 1793: Eli Whitney patents his cotton gin. Another good thing, threatening the slave trade.
In 1837: Queen Victoria at 18 ascends British throne following death of uncle King William IV Ruled for 63 years ending in 1901. A very important symbolic figure of her time. The Victorian era represented the height of the Industrial Revolution, a period of significant social, economic, and technological progress in the United Kingdom. Victoria's reign was marked by a great expansion of the British Empire; during this period it reached its zenith, becoming the foremost global power of the time.
In 1866: Lord George ESMH Carnarvon born, England, egyptologist, who discovered the gravesite of Tutanchamon, or King Tut.
In 1895: 1st female PhD (science) earned (Caroline Willard Baldwin). Go, Caroline.
In 1945: Anne Murray, Canadian Musician, added to 'cleanse the palette.’
In 1953: Cyndi Lauper, born in Brooklyn, singer. Girls Just Want to Have Fun.
In 1968: Rita Finn, née Rita Turgeon, born in Newport City Hospital. Painter, graphic artist, wanna be poet. Full global impact yet to be known.
A hummingbird is about the size of a cork from a wine bottle, and its heart the size of a baby's fingernail. Comparing the bird’s weight vs. heart size ratio, they have the largest hearts in the world. When you consider that a hummingbird's heart whirs at 500 beats a minute at rest, and up to 1,200 beats a minute in flight, you wonder if they experience time differently than humans. With exquisite eyesight that gives them an ability to catch tiny insects mid-flight, their experience of a second must be more like a minute to us.
All living creatures have approximately two billion heartbeats to spend in a lifetime. Tortoises spend them very slowly, allowing them to live twice and thrice the years of humans. But hummingbirds spend them faster than any other creature, so they live only two to eight years.
Hummingbirds have metabolisms that I can only compare to the speed of light. Their little bodies, completely lacking fat cells, devour oxygen and calories faster than a jet engine. Ambitious in spite of their size, they live closer to death on a daily basis. They frequently die of heart attack. But when hummingbirds sleep, their heart rate slows to about 36 beats per minute, exhausted by the daily marathon.
So, the next time you fall, exhausted, into bed after a stressful and busy day, think of the frantic life of a hummingbird.
Monday, June 16, 2008
- Find something you are passionate about and master it.
- Learn how to mamba. Or bake bread. Or fly a plane. Or play chess, or play the saxophone, or knit, or paint, or write, or speak French. Keep learning things, and whether you make a living from these things or not, they will be your dear friends throughout life.
- Do something a little scary every day. Step out of your comfort zone. Paint a room magenta. Introduce yourself to someone you admire. Sing in your car. Apply for a job that’s a little out of your league. Write a screenplay.
- Keep a few friends who are your friends because they like you, not because they want something from you.
- Buy a garment you can’t really afford and wear it when you need a little boost. Whether it’s a leather jacket, a killer pair of boots, or a fancy hat – putting it on will change your perspective.
- Be generous and honest with compliments.
- Think with your head and feel with your heart, and make decisions accordingly. Had I learned this ten years earlier than I did, I could have saved myself an endless amount of pain.
- Make friends with people who are better than you are at something or other and learn from them.
- Look people in the eye when you talk with them.
- Laugh out loud at least once every day.
And keep these few lines I’ve borrowed from ee cummings in your mind:
may my heart always be open to little
birds who are the secrets of living
whatever they sing is better than to know
and if men should not hear them men are old
may my mind stroll about hungry
and fearless and thirsty and supple
and even if it's sunday may i be wrong
for whenever men are right they are not young
Sunday, June 15, 2008
You know when you hear stories about people who’ve had their palms read or do some past-life regression, they are told they were the Queen of Bohemia or a witch who was burned at the stake in Salem? Not me. I was a milk maid. A happy milk maid, but a milk maid nonetheless.
Concurrently, if my husband and I met in a past life, it wasn’t in Ancient Rome, or 17th Century Paris, or even 1920’s Paris, much to our mutual dismay. We met at the Buena Vista Social Club in 1950’s Cuba. Our eyes must have met in the smoky dinner club, and surely we danced together while Ibrahim Ferrar and Rubén Gonzàlez played Chan Chan for us. Once in a while, in our present life, we turn the lights out and dance in our living room, pretending we’re back at the Buena Vista Social Club.
If you don’t have any of their CD’s or the documentary made by Wim Wenders about them, run out and get one now. Add a little romance to your life.
Friday, June 13, 2008
Tuesday, June 10, 2008
Tuesday, June 3, 2008
First let me tell you a bit about Ted. We lived next door to each other for more than ten years. (And between the two of us, we should have the lion’s share of stock in that Chinese restaurant a stone’s throw away from our old apartment building because we lived on Phad Thai for at least a year. I digress.) He’s a delightful, intelligent and talented man who gave up writing for chess. He’s a great chess player and has taught me a few moves, though I can’t say I’ve ever beat him. He’s also taught me much about art, music and beauty. If you have people in your life who have done that for you, count yourself blessed.
For me, it is perhaps a stunt in my developmental growth that keeps me creating; the need to work on something and in the end, look at it and say, “I made this.” We humans have been doing this for thousands of years and I don’t see an end in sight.
If you look up the Cave of Hands in Venezuela, over 7,000 years ago the tribesmen painted silhouettes of their hands onto the cave walls. There are other scenes of hunting and of women making a refreshing raspberry sorbet, but for the most part the imagery says, “I was here.” The images may also have some ritual use, and isn’t that what artists today are participating in every time they begin?
My own muse has the same navigational troubles that I have and can’t make up her mind about which direction to lead me in, and the message is perhaps more intricate than I’ve made it out. Not only do I want to say, “I was here,” but that I’m here for such a short time and during my visit I've seen magical things that brought tears to my eyes and I want to use my clumsy tools and share these things with others, and hear them say, ‘Yes, yes I see it too.”
So Ted, your muse is still waiting. And I too will get back to the canvas as soon as I get this 6 pound purring beast off my lap.
Saturday, May 31, 2008
Monday, May 26, 2008
For years I battled this lust, exclusively preferring intellectual pursuits until I decided to come out of the closet, so to speak.
Months ago, I saw a PBS special called The Secret World of Haute Couture. It changed my life. Not because I was impressed by the unimaginable wealth of women who sit in the front row at fashion shows in Paris and habitually buy haute couture, but I was impressed by the reverence these women had for designers like Karl Lagerfeld for his genius and artistry. Isn’t this the same reverence late Victorians had for Monet? And if you care about esthetics, then inevitably you have to turn an eye to the art you wear on a daily basis. The shapes, colors and textures begin to tell a story about who you are. Not only are we following the basic rules of decency in covering ourselves, as well as protecting the skin from the harmful effects of UV rays, our clothes are a form of self-expression. The clothes you wear, sometimes in spite of yourself, send a message to the world. If you choose a pair of pink sweat pants with the word “Juicy” on your butt to go to the store, your message is one of woeful ignorance. But far more important than the impression you make on others is the impression you make on yourself. There is a kind of art and ritual involved in putting on fancy shoes and a spritz of fine perfume; and if you don’t believe me, ask a little girl playing dress-up.
If you think, as I once did, that you can somehow remain outside of the fashion conversation, I have to disagree. Clothing is a socioeconomic and heavily politicized industry. Universities have devoted entire quarters to this topic. If you live in the Western World and wear clothes, then you are a part of the conversation. Since you are, why not be deliberate about what you say in this conversation?
My childhood aside when my mother made clothes for us, I have had one garment made expressly for me and that was my wedding dress. Based on a design by Reva Mivasagar called ‘Belle Epoque,’ the dress perfectly epitomized the Edwardian era. Finished with a cloche hat covered in silk tulle and embroidered, satin Mary Janes with kitten heels, I felt like a princess for one day. A remarkable garment indeed, as Colonel Peacock on Are You Being Served? once ironically observed.
But I work for a living and every day can’t be your wedding day. I’ve discovered that in corporate America, I need people to take me seriously and believe me capable. Cargo pants or the latest frock from Forever 21 cannot communicate that point. As a creative member of the team, my range is broader than in, say, Accounting, but the lines become blurred when you consider the fading of Casual Friday and this new trend towards more formal business attire in response to the downturn in the economy. (It’s often been said that the length of skirts on the runway are a good gauge of the economy.)
I say all this with a big BUT, and this is about scale. I’m a reluctant girly-girl, but I’m so much more. But: substance matters. But: how well you do your job matters. But: how kind you are to strangers and whether you recycle matters. But: how patient and nurturing you are towards your children matters. But: how meaningful your life is with a loving spouse, an aging cat and young plants matters because at the end of your life, they’re not going to talk about how great you looked in that Armani suit or who gets those Vera Wang shoes.
Friday, May 23, 2008
Tuesday, April 29, 2008
I recognized you immediately,
One of Rosetti’s models deep in reflection,
Or was it the lady in a Byzantine tapestry,
Skirt trailing in the grass?
Or were you the reason Troy fell,
Honest eyes full of difficulties and wonder?
On the edge of a summer park,
I am not sure which clue I followed.
When you imagine green, think of Monet’s
Blazing water lilies, foliage in a thunderstorm,
Or the peach orchard of your dreams.
Mastering belief, you walk through
The orchard differently today.
The morning air is sweetest
After a light rain.
This imperfect reflection,
A flawless blend of harmony and dissonance,
Face to face, the season’s birds come and go,
As we follow this concentric conversation of
Life’s monuments and tragedies.
You are the kind gathering
I still turn to again and again,
Wednesday, April 23, 2008
For the girl you once were, the music
That got lost in the wilderness of your mind.
Returning again and again to the lost images
Of your own youth, you learned everything
The hard way. Your singing voice
Longed to stretch out
Under this night-painted sky, but
How could such a sleep be sustained
Where time knew nothing but time
In the distilled center of anticipation?
And now it’s the children, offspring
Of some unlearned delight
Of planting heart-seeds
(how you heard that first cry so deeply),
Their hearts full of beginning, worlds
Unfolding in their eyes,
Faces intent on blossoming a flower
Far beyond infancy, drinking from your lips
The one phrase that even your smile
Could no longer contain: everything is possible.
Small fingers poised to grasp this strange fruit
That you tasted and expected to find
Almost too sweet.
It was no single incident.
Couldn’t you put your finger on it?
Their laughter open to the air, every song
Was completed within them. Listen;
It awoke the trumpets in your blood.
Hidden behind petals of sleep,
The forgotten murmuring garden
Where statues play shadow-tag,
And the rain sounds like applause.
Tuesday, April 22, 2008
“… a darkness shining in brightness
Which brightness could not comprehend.”
James Joyce, Ulysses
The night ate their shadowsAs fingertip feathers
Of girlhood birds
Startle them out of their firefly dreams.
The pines of home always
Manage to creep inside my ribs,
And you must listen hard
To all the things they don’t say,
While they stand firm,
Sometimes huddled close,
Arms loosely springing out
Like hopes, as they declare
Their deep, wild smell of green embers
To the young moon.
The pines of home
Used to tug at my hair
In turbulent girlhood games
As the mist moved through me
Like a dream within a dream
When sleep doesn’t come easy.
Sunday, March 30, 2008
We were taught as children that ‘Cleanliness is next to Godliness,’ making a clean home a moral imperative. It doesn’t help if you live in an 85 year-old house. Or if you cook. Or eat. Or have a cat that uses a litter box. Or have skin and hair. Mind you, I have an arsenal of cleaning supplies, tools, and machines; enough to fight the entire civil war on dirt. When I hear that bed bugs have made a comeback because we have ceased to use the harsh cleaning agents that kill germs and bugs but are not easy on the environment, a shiver runs up my spine. Here is where my vacuum comes in. I vacuum my bed. I vacuum the curtains. I vacuum the cat. (By some freak of nature, my cat has decided in his fading years that the carpet-sucking machine is his friend. Perhaps it is because of his failing hearing, or perhaps he has decided that to be closer to me, he must make friends with it. Either way, whenever I fire up the vacuum, there he is, tapping me with his paw for a good going-over.)
Before I make myself out to be a suburban mom from 1950, I might add that my home is not magazine-perfect. But we are a nation obsessed with the fight on dirt, and I am one of its soldiers. And like all dedicated soldiers, I am always looking for the secret weapon that will end the war forever. But there’s no end to this war; there will always be a dust insurgency in the living room, or a germ skirmish in the kitchen. I imagine that when I am able to bring my home to that glittering state epitomized by the ad with the woman lounging on her sofa, for one day my life will be in perfect balance. And I will lounge on my sofa with a book, and a mohair throw over my shoulders.
Thursday, March 27, 2008
Wednesday, March 26, 2008
Monday, March 24, 2008
Plums on a gold background are for me reminiscent of the longing for the rituals of my childhood. The Renaissance painters placed their saints against gold as a gesture of reverence. Today we turn to the fecundity of nature to give us that hushed awe.