May 29, 2007

Flowers and Fruit


It's Andy's birthday today! We did so much stuff already this weekend I don't even know where to begin. I'll start with the farm.


Kruger's Farm is on Sauvie Island, just a few minutes north of Portland. We went out to pick some peonies and get some strawberries. Don't these strawberries feel naive and hopeful? It's all just starting. It's just the promising start.


I do love the farm. It's so sweet. Hayrides and a corn maze, bluegrass and barbecue. Every time we go we entertain fantasies of moving. I would like to lay on my front lawn and look up at the stars sometime in my life. I could get a part-time job at the farm and sell flowers and fruit. Andy could run with the dog down the beach. I could get a pony and a pair of pygmy goats. He could play guitar on the front porch. We'd have lilacs and lazy days and berry jam.

Krugers3 Is that what it would be like?

Krugers2Probably a little bit like that. (That's not me, I just thought her boots were cool.)


Happy, happy birthday, my sweetest of sweet people ever to be born. I hope this year is full of everything you are wishing for and dreaming about. Chocolate-dipped hamburgers and vats of just-sweet-enough kettle-korn. Anything you want.




A million honey sticks, all things golden and sweet.

May 23, 2007



Andy was in Chicago this past week, so I spent seven nights and eight days just bonding with my furry girls. He's home now, and I am just the teensiest bit nostalgic for the quiet house, the quiet dog patiently munching her "chip" at the end of the bed, the quiet nights of bedroom TV with Miss Marple and Mrs. Beeton, the sounds of a DJ and "Mony Mony" at an eighth-grade graduation party down the block wafting through the twilight. It was really great to be with Audrey constantly, and different than when Andy is home. She was glued to my side, day and night, and I got so used to having my little companion everywhere I went. When Andy is in the house she attaches to him, so we sort of share custody of her, throughout the day. But when he's gone she hangs with me, and I like it. I think she does too. It's sort of relaxing for her. She doesn't have to keep her ears peeled for any sound of his truck. She need not wait longingly at the window for hours and hours. She gets used to going out for the last time at 7:30 p.m., when I routinely call it a day and head upstairs.


But oh! the joy of his return! The running through the house and barking! The bringing of every lost toy she's ever had! The jumping and spinning and skidding! He's back, he's back. Ahhhh, thank you.

May 19, 2007

At the Zoo


I went to the zoo last weekend, and I'm going with my niece again this weekend, too. I didn't get around to see everything I wanted to, or ride the train. I also forgot to upload my photos, so I thought I'd better do that before I take some more.


Sometimes I wish I were a sea lion. Actually, no — a sea otter. Yeah, sea otter. Dipping and swooping, no feet.


I'd wear one of these as a corsage.


If I were a alpine wildflower, I'd wave longingly at all the passersby.


If I were a quadruped on the Alaska tundra, it would be twilight at noon.


If I were a woodland owl, I'd sleep through it, and puffle in my ferny lair.


They just remind me so much of Audrey, but in slo-mo. They stood in this exact pose for about seven minutes. The easiest thing to photograph in the zoo.


I'm a great one for the anthropomorphizing, I know. It drove my father crazy. He would say, "The yard is not a 'she, lonely in her finery'!" when I'd complain that we hadn't had a BBQ all summer. That's my family, walking ahead. I guess we like plaid. (I was wearing it, too.)


I don't think anyone goes to the zoo without feeling a bit conflicted. That's not blue sky, it's gray paint, and a twelve-foot ceiling.


Might be nice for the prey, but not for the predators. I don't know.


That fence is actually behind the birds. There is nothing between us at Lorikeet Landing.


Tomorrow I am going on THE TRAIN. He, polished and proud, is awaiting my return. (Isn't he?)

May 10, 2007


Aliciaish1 I think I am genetically incapable of enjoying having my picture taken. My grandma famously threw away most photos of herself, and I am very successful in almost never letting any get taken in the first place. Occasionally, like yesterday, it's unavoidable, and when it is, I behave so immaturely and ridiculously that you'd think I had two heads, or a permanent clown nose, or I don't even know what. My sister says that after a certain age she thinks your house starts to say much more about you than your own appearance does. I totally believe this, though my house is currently a total disaster, but that's a pretty accurate reflection, actually, because I am pretty stressed out this week. I mean month.

I had to take my own picture yesterday and I learned so much about myself, it was really great. Like, I probably wouldn't have known, had I not taken four hundred pictures of myself, that, on top of my many other problems, I have the frizzies, a lazy eye, and now apparently am growing a fricking beard. GRATE. These are two of the only pictures that I liked, and they actually don't look anything like me, so that fits in with my plan rather nicely. I call the above my "I'm gonna git you" look.

Aliciaish2_2 This is my coquettish, "I'm pretending to flirt with someone in the second balcony when really I'm in a messy room alone with a self-timer-set camera two feet from my face." Ah, photo shoots. What we don't see! Must get that remote shutter snapper. I had to get up every single time and reset the timer. I must have walked two miles total, back and forth. On second thought, I hopefully won't have to take any more pictures of myself for another ten years or so, so why bother. When Andy got home last night I showed him the pictures and he said, "Jeez, how many times did you change your clothes?" I think five. When I went back upstairs at the end of the day, there were clothes all over the bedroom. So silly.

I wish my grandma hadn't thrown away her pictures. I guess my dad was really upset with her for doing that. It's weird how a picture of someone eventually becomes so, I don't know, accurate, somehow, and so . . . not exactly. It's like Click! A fraction of a second, and there you are. Ish. But I'm always so grateful, years later, that I have them, those split-seconds on paper. Now on screen, I guess. Should really print stuff out more.

Andy's grandparents made this videotape of old movies of the grandchildren at every Christmas and birthday. And throughout the years in every one of them, no matter whose birthday or what Christmas, there is tiny Andy Paulson, hopping straight up and down. I get teary every time I see it, and even just thinking about it now. Waiting to open presents, Andy's hopping up and down. In the background while his cousin opens presents, Andy hopping up and down. Getting ready to see what kind of pop will be served, Andy hopping up and down. Someone else's new toy train, Andy off in the distance, hopping up and down. It's seconds, maybe minutes at the most, of footage — and yet is says everything about him now, to me, probably to anyone who knows him. The kid's excitement about anything, just pinging straight out the bottoms of his feet, lifting him right off the ground, those happy little arcs of joy.

One time at another party a few years ago, we had a house full of people. When my sister arrived, she'd brought some pictures from Easter. I was looking through them, and I saw this person who just looked so, so awful. I can't describe it but it was bad. I was thinking, "Jeez, who is that?" and in the same split-second I realized it was me, screamed at the top of my lungs, grabbed the picture, ran into the bathroom, slammed the door so hard I can't even tell you, and then a huge framed picture (not of me) fell off the wall and crashed into a million pieces in the hallway (loud). That pretty much brought the party to a screeching halt — no one had any idea what was going on. Except my sister who says she knew exactly what I had, in horror, just realized — that that was really me. Oh man, we laughed so, so hard. I was just doubled over laughing in the bathroom and she was in the hall, laughing just as hard, trying to get me to come out. But I had decided to never come out again. You will never see that picture, trust me.

May 05, 2007

Out for Italian


Friday night, Basta's. My favorite.


In the ten years we've been coming here, we've had nothing but the sweetest of evenings.


I feel so grateful lately.


And I'm glad summer is coming.


I hope I stay up late and listen to music and laugh with my friends and make good dinners and watch cool movies and get invited lots of places.


I hope I go downtown a lot, too. I love being downtown at night, especially Friday night.


It's staying lighter later now.




"All I can see is black and white and white and pink with blades of blue"


Over the bridge, back home.

May 04, 2007

At my window, sad and lonely.


Every time I see the dog doing this I can't help but think of this song. I know it's a sad song and everything, but every time she does this I just laugh so hard. She is hanging over the side of an armchair with her chin on a windowsill (in case you can't tell what's she's doing).

But then she looks at me like this . . .


. . . and I do hope her true love returns from the sea. I really do.

April 25, 2007

Me and Marie, and Tony

House6Wow, who knew the scientific community read this blog. They "coincidentally" announced the discovery of a "new" planet today called Gliese 581c. I personally think the Planet of Small Cute Chairs and Cakes is a much prettier name, but, you know, they probably don't want us getting too excited, etc., as we naturally would. Water schwater. Let us eat small cakes!

Well, I'm hallucinating, what can I say. Actually, isn't there a planet called Zicam? That sounds much more like a planet. That's the one I need to get on.

I didn't get to the Sopranos yesterday. I think I might prefer to watch the edited version on A&E where they take out all the really horrid stuff I don't even want to see anyway, but it looks like I've already missed . . . uh oh, the first twenty-eight episodes. Whoopsie. Though sometimes I catch on to shows really late and have a marathon, like I did with Alias, and I must say, that was awesome, one after another like that. More of a wintertime thing to do when the weather's bad and you don't have to feel guilty about tucking into the sofa and watching episode after episode. I don't know, I'm just in the mood to get into a long story, and I watched James Gandolfini's interview on Inside the Actor's Studio the other night, and you know what happens when I do that. . . .

April 20, 2007

Quiet Comfort

Studio4Everyone around here is pretty tired. Andy's getting over a cold, I've been cutting, pressing, pleating, and stitching bookbags every waking moment (expecting them all to go out early next week, if you're waiting for one — and it looks like there will be more coming after all — I've even gotten some great new [old] fabrics). It's been a long, hard week for our country, making me sort of stop and look around, appreciate the luxury of averageness, of regular un-special afternoons, of repetitive pleasant work, good people everywhere you turn, and a nice soft bed at the end of the day.

Be well, friends. Let's take it easy out there. xo

March 15, 2007

Auntie Squares

Auntiesquare3Lately, my niece and I have been reading together on Wednesdays. We get our OJs from the fridge and clamber into the big bed with our book. Yesterday it was Misty of Chincoteague. You can imagine I am quite an enthusiastic dramatic reader (and it's quite an exciting book!). Nevertheless, my listener could not sit still. She was on top of the covers. Then reaching for her juice. Then under the ripple blanket. Then on top of the ripple blanket. Then under the duvet. Then out from under all of it and flat on her stomach, as I was. Then back to the juice. At the end of Chapter 3 she said, "Let's just read until the beginning of Chapter 4." I said, "Okay. What do you want to do now?"
     "I think I want to learn how to make a granny square."
     Thwap! [book slammed shut by Aunt Alicia]

She went to pick out her yarn and came back with Rowan Cashsoft Baby DK, which is a beautiful yarn (and I do believe in starting kids with yarns of their preference, even cashmerino, because anything that can help add to a positive experience when learning something new is good). I had my D hook on the nightstand, and, though it was smaller than anything she's used before, she was game. That's what I love about this girl: She's totally game. She already knew how to chain and make single crochets, having learned it at school (where they are allowed to crochet while the teacher is reading — oh joy!). But I showed her how to make the "blobs and holes" of the granny square and she was off. (We have such technical terms: "Put the hook in the top of the first stick of that blob and then wrap it." "That blob?" "No, the one next to the hole." "Oh, that blob." I cringe thinking about how they must prefer to explain these at school.)

Anyway, well, she's a genius, of course, and picked it all up right away, and made a tiny turquoise square of her own. She even managed to employ a rather sophisticated sense of crocheting humor as she neglected to wrap the yarn around the hook almost every time she wanted to make a dc, which would routinely send us into howls of laughter and mock-despair. I said, "You keep forgetting to remember to wrap before you pull up the loop." "No," she said, "actually, I'm remembering to forget." More stitches, more forgetting (remembering), more howling and laughter and bed-bouncing. I said, "Do you hear that little voice in your head, telling you to wrap?" "Yes," she said, "it's whispering but it needs to be yelling!" Giggle giggle. Love. This. Girl.


March 06, 2007

Shadow and Light

Bridge1Yesterday we walked across the Hawthorne Bridge and back. It was totally easy, so easy that when we were done we continued on about town, shopping for pickets (for a picket fence). Here I've been worried for years, thinking that walking over the bridge (as I was attempting to do when I had my accident) was some sort of goal, when really, I've been doing probably twice as many steps as bridge-crossing takes daily, without knowing it. That bridge always seemed so long. Not to get too metaphorical here, when really I mean this quite literally -- we walked over, we walked back, it was a nice afternoon, I was anxious to go shopping for pickets, I was more worried that I wouldn't be able to find the exact pickets I wanted.

There is probably a metaphor in the picket fence, but we won't go there today.

Squares7The sun made strong shadows on the ground like the blobs and holes on the granny squares. I officially have no life, by the way, because all I really ever do is sit around and make granny squares now. I have fifteen done, and I need forty-eight. And every time I go up to block the squares, which I do every time I finish two of them, the Bee shows up. It's really weird! She cracks me up. I swear I am waiting for her to start talking. "I don't like that one. No more pink. Quit with the pink already, jeesh. Hurry up, too."

The ripplers are going strong. I love this. So cool.

Thank you, everyone. Sincerely.

March 05, 2007

Forward March

Blooming2_1I'm so glad this is unfurling today. It's the ninth anniversary of my accident.

Things you don't think can bloom, do. Isn't it amazing? I'm always amazed.

February 20, 2007

Horse Day

Horsefarm2 I went with my friend Shelly to her parents' house in the country over the weekend. It was so good to get out of town, and especially to see some real horses. These two were pretty skeptical at first. How cute are they, with their interested ears. Who's here?

Horsefarm3 I brought apples, though — surefire shy-horse flirtation technique. C'mon babies.

Horsefarm1 So sweet. I love this picture of Shelly with them both. Most of my photos were so blurry — I am so not used to taking photos of animals that actually move. And speaking of technical difficulties, my computer put itself through a torturous series of automatic updates over the weekend and I can't stand how it changed everything. For instance, all of this type looks blurry to me, and I can't find my "happy place" (i.e.: when all my fonts and sizes looked good here on my own computer, at least — everything's either too big or too small, even when I change the view size, etc.). So, a Goldilocksian problem. Any PC peeps with advice?

Horsefarm7 Shelly's parents live in a big, beautiful log cabin. It reminds me of a lot of houses I used to see in Montana. Sometimes I forget that "Oregon" is the "West." I was always an English-saddle type, but I can kind of see the appeal of all this honey wood on a cloudy day. It's warm and big and seems to defy all dampness, somehow.

Horsefarm4 And a big huge fireplace is nice.

Horsefarm5When I go to peoples' houses in the country, I'm always amazed at how much room there is. I know that sounds obvious, but it feels really different. Our house has tiny rooms, tiny places, it's densely packed, connected to itself by a dozen doors. It's very close to our neighbors' houses, the street is so skinny you can't park on both sides of it, and I can hear every conversation in every yard. In the country everything is big. And open and bright. I can picture lying on that living room carpet watching TV, or playing a game, or spreading out some fabric and cutting a pattern easily — things I don't do at our house because there are no big, open spaces like that. Kind of a Goldilocksian thing, too, coincidentally. I wonder what is the right size for me. Not that I could ever afford anything like that, but sometimes I do wonder. If you had your choice, what would be the right size?

February 19, 2007

On Vaca

Breakfast3 It doesn't take much to make us happy. Breakfast at the Original Pancake House is an uncommon but always-welcome treat. It feels like Door County there. No matter how cloudy it is outside, all that honey-colored wood makes it feel warm and bright, like summer, like vacation.

Breakfast6 I always get the Swedish pancakes, and eat them with butter and syrup instead of lingonberries. Pancakes always taste better when someone else makes them. Actually, almost everything tastes better when someone else makes it, in my opinion.

Breakfast2 This restaurant is the original Original Pancake House. You probably have one of its siblings in your town now (they're all over the country). We had one in Oak Park. I used to go there all the time. At this one in Portland, there is always a wait. Always. But it's worth it.

Breakfast4_1 Afterward, we went to the Dutch American Market and bought custard mixes, tiny clogs, and giant chocolate initials. If you go there, Ad and Hans will be happy to help you read the food packages and tell you how to cook things.

Aren't they a couple of handsome specimens?

Dutchstore1 I sure think so.

Dutchstore2 Ad's name tag: a little clog. Love this place.

Great day. Hope your weekend was wonderful, too.

Is it just me or did my computer update and change all my stuff? I can't seem to remember what things looked like before, or get it back — oops.

February 16, 2007

Critter Menagerie, and Dangle Earrings

Okidoki1 At Pioneer Place mall yesterday, waiting for our movie to start. A sort of odd little store I've never noticed before called Oki Doki (religious gifts, jewelry and handbags, and . . . a ton of stuffed animals.)

Okidoki2 We couldn't resist buying the big owl for our four-year-old niece, Brooke. So sweet. There were signs all over the display saying "DON'T TOUCH THE DISPLAY!" Waaaah. Now I know how the four-year-old set feels while shopping. (And yeah, I touched. Are ya kidding me? If you think I left without bear-hugging those owls, no way. I'm a rule-follower by nature, but them's crazy-rules!)

Okidoki4 My camera died before I could get a picture of the little stuffed log with three sweet little mice huddled inside. Why didn't I get that one. Or the squirrels in acorns (Stephanie you would love these). Just adorable.

I did get these guys though, for some future Easter baskets for the kids.

Okidoki6 Let's hope they make it that far. Might have to make an Easter basket for myself. I'd like one snow bunny and one pink marshmallow peep. I'm willing to give up the field mouse, but only because . . .  no forget it. I want him, too. Sorry kids.

February 07, 2007

Mise en Place

Sewing3 I read this post over at Ivonne's blog, Cream Puffs in Venice, sometime this past summer. I really love Ivonne's blog — it's the first food blog I've read, and continues to be my favorite. Last spring, Ivonne began attending continuing-education classes at a local college in effort to earn her Baking Certificate. I really admire her for doing this; I don't know why there's always something so poignant about the idea of going back to school as an "adult." Ivonne's honesty and . . . earnestness . . . in this post, written after her very first class, really moves me. She talks about how she discovered she was sort of impatient, and rushing, especially through things she thought she already knew how to do. She said, "I sacrificed the quality of dough simply to appease my own sense of urgency in getting the job done. I won't make that mistake again. I am really going to work hard, both in class and at home, at taking the time to get all the steps right."

I don't know why I, too, tend to rush through things, or where that habit develops, or whether it's cultural, or contemporary, or timeless, or just plain human, and inevitable. When it comes to crafting, I assume it's further complicated because it's often, also, "working," for me. Like with any job, as fun as this one is, there are days when I just want to be done. Free to do my own thing. For which I always feel guilty. And so I rush it, looking over my shoulder, apologizing for taking the time. I think there must always be this conflict, when you turn what you love into what you "do." And when you work at home, the boundaries are further blurred, because they aren't really physical. Around here, the boundaries are pretty psychological. Lots of "work" happens on the "couch." But I feel like I rush things on both sides, the work and the play. I've talked about this before, but it's something I realize is a constant issue.

Ivonne's post moved me because I aspire to approach the things that I do with not just a certain speed (in this case, "slower,") but with the idea that there is inherent value in doing things patiently, happily, correctly — a value appreciated, most significantly, by the do-er herself. (I mean, you, as the receiver, might appreciate that it was done well, of course — but it's really the do-er that reaps the benefits that are part-and-parcel of having done it at all.) And often in order to do them right, I notice that I must slow down, have patience, attend. Prepare. Clear spaces. Get the right stuff together. My mother always used those steel straight pins that were about one inch long and had no glass heads and would send your machine into convulsions when you hit them. The feed dogs on her machine (which was ancient even then) never worked, so you had to learn to pull the fabric through yourself. For years and years and years I pulled fabric, and used the same thick pins, which it turns out, make life very difficult. But that was what we had, and what we did. I must have really loved to sew. Nevertheless, the conditions in which I first learned to do it became conditions I maintained long after circumstances had changed; I could've bought my own pins anytime in the last twenty years, I just didn't, even until recently. And there are so many other things about the way I approach the world, my work, and my spaces and stuff that I want to improve.

Sewing5 Mise en place is a French cooking term used to describe having all ingredients and materials prepared up to the point of actual cooking. This is not often how I actually live. But it is what I aspire to. I aspire to make it my habit, and automatic.

I also kind of want to go back to school. To study history. RANDOM! I do, though. Andy is probably flipping out reading this right now thinking Good grief! What is this girl gonna think of next. I know. I can't help it. It's always something.

January 26, 2007

Out There

Rhcover1 It's a bizarre experience, to see yourself and your stuff in print. I can't quite explain why, and I wouldn't understand it if someone was explaining it to me, about themselves. But I know that when it happens to me it feels dreamy — as in, that dream I have where I'm buck-naked on the subway, desperately grabbing at people's Tribunes to cover myself, while praying that the thing comes to a screeching, sparking stop so I can sprint out the doors and run straight off the . . . planet. In other words, I feel profoundly vulnerable and exposed, and thrilled, and a little bit scared, like I must only look at it through the little shutter of my fingers while my hand is covering my eyes. But I keep looking, trying to take it all in.

Rh2Today I must say, I'm pretty overwhelmed by this. If you've hung around here for a while, you may remember last fall when there were some photo shoots happening around the place and I was cleaning like a crazy person and chattering away about it all. This October afternoon in particular was pretty magical, and yesterday the results hit the stands (or at least some subscribers' mailboxes). This is the March 2007 issue of Romantic Homes magazine with an article about our house. I'm actually a little bit speechless. It's ten beautiful super-saturated pages long. It just kept going and going.

You never really know what these things are going to be; as the subject, you don't have a lot of control. Once you've said "yes," you pretty much have to let go, put yourself out there, and allow it all to be . . . interpreted, however it will. But it's never easy. It's always fraught. You sort of stand, pigeon-toed, off to the side while they do their thing, full of hope and pride and nerves, wringing your hands, crossing your fingers, pretending it doesn't really matter anyway, what anyone thinks. But when it comes out, it's impossible not to care, or feel emotional. I couldn't be more thrilled, or flattered, or nervous today if I tried. I'm thinking of having Andy take my blood-pressure. It's nice to have an R.N. around the house when your magazine article comes out.

Thanks for being here, you guys. My legs feel a little bit wobbly. If we pack really tightly into this subway car then I might be okay.


January 23, 2007

Six Weird Things

Library6paneRosie and Tracey tagged me (thanks, guys!) to tell six weird things about myself so, in no particular order, and as if there were only six:

It is almost impossible for me to call  the parents of my friends by their first names. I only recently stopped referring to my own mother-in-law as "Mrs. P" although I've been married almost ten years and she had been asking me to stop doing this for longer than that.

I had to stop watching America's Funniest Videos in bed at night because I would laugh so hard I'd get a terrible headache almost every time, which would make me incredibly pissy, and thereby completely ruin all the positive effects to be gained from watching people fall off merry-go-rounds, lose their pants, or get spit on by llamas. But I totally love that show, as she does.

I had my handwriting analyzed in the local paper when I was 24. (This was a regular column in the Forest Leaves.) I told Dr. Murray, the handwriting analyst, that I wasn't sure what I should do with my life; I was thinking of either moving to a farm, or going to grad school. (I was, at that time, a waitress in Oak Park.). He told me that, based on my handwriting, I should become a computer programmer, a watch repairer, or a tool-and-die maker. That night I went to my waitressing job and two older, well-dressed gentlemen came in and ordered a stuffed pizza. We chatted and they said, "What's a nice girl like you doing in a place like this?" I said that, strangely enough, my handwriting had just been analyzed and I was told I should be a tool-and-die maker, but I thought I wanted to work in publishing. The two guys looked at each other and their eyes practically popped out of their heads. The one guy pointed to the other guy and said, "Do you know who he is?" I said, "No." He said, "He's the president of the American Tool-and-Die Corporation!" or something like that. I said, "No!" And then the other guy pulled out his business card (which indeed did say President, American Tool-and-Die Corp.), handed it it to me and said, "I need an editor for my tool-and-die trade magazine. Call me first thing tomorrow morning and you've got the job." When I got home that night, I told my parents what had happened and they were like, "You are calling him first thing, missy!" (They were not too happy that I was a waitress.) I never called him and immediately started making plans to move to Montana. Close one!

(I have, however, always wanted to learn how to build rock walls, and think I could've been pretty happy sitting in a field with a few cows and sheep, figuring out which rock to put where, over and over again, for mile upon mile.)

I am afraid to go into banks and do all of my banking through ATMs. I like banks that feel like fortresses. I don't like banks that look like they were IHOPs four weeks ago, as my bank branches always seem to. Also, every time I turn on the news, one has just been held up, so I just avoid them whenever I can. I was also afraid of escalators for a year and couldn't go down one unless someone was standing immediately in front of me.

I went to Italy in college and cried almost the whole time I was there because it was so emotional for me and everyone thought I was completely insane and wouldn't have anything to do with me. Someone spit on my shoes when I was there, too, but I couldn't tell if it was because they thought I was American or German (I was wearing Birks). I decided it was because I was American, or possibly because I was crying. Anyway, that was weird, and I always wore socks after that. Anyway, I had an almost supernatural sense of being "home" when I was in Italy which caught me totally off-guard and left me pretty shaky and I hope someday I can go back, possibly without all the blubbering, which makes it hard to see the sights.

Okay, Jorth, Mary, Valerie, Beth, Amy, Amelia, and anyone else who wants to play, poke poke: You're it!

January 22, 2007

Springtime in Paris (and Not So Much)

Dress I just bought this but now I want these in red for when I don't go to France but pretend I do. I used this to save up for that.


January 21, 2007

The Stare-Down

Doggie Yeah. She won.

Carlene's talking about this post, which still cracks me up every time.

January 16, 2007

Oh! Snow!

Snow5Hear that high-pitched squealing that sounds like a dolphin at her own birthday party? That's me, screeching with excitement and delight. This morning, in the pitch black of 7 a.m., I was lying in bed and heard children screaming with laughter. I couldn't imagine what was happening, so I hopped out from under my pile of down and away to the window I flew; what to my wondering eyes should appear but several inches of perfect, perfect snow, and all seven neighbor kids snowsuited and sledding down their driveway. Oh! Snow!

Snow1_1 The girls came over to tell me all about it. I was so excited for them. Snow doesn't happen in our neighborhood all that often, especially perfect, fluffy, un-icy snow that piles up in big batches and affirms the possibility of not only a Snow Day, but snowmen, snow-angels, snowballs, and any other super-cool snowified nouns. (That stuff that looks like paint on the storm window? It's paint, on the storm window.) It's still snowing now, almost two hours after these little pictures were snapped. In our life, here in southeast Portland, it just doesn't get any better than this. We don't need fake painted snow-flowers today. Oatmeal is happening, and I've got tomato soup planned for lunch, and nowhere to go, and wow. This is one of those days where you are just completely, devotedly in love with self-employment!!!

Audrey5_2And of course, this little thing. Because how on earth could anyone not be utterly and absolutely completely in love with this little thing, especially covered in snowflakes.

We miss you, Andy. I still can't believe you drove in. Do try and look out the window once in a while, sweetie. It's magic! Absolute magic. Can you see us out here in the yard? We're waving to you! ;-)

Okay — not everyone is having as much fun as I am, alas. . . . Watch this and cringe. Apparently, no one was hurt, thank goodness.

January 15, 2007

Stars on Ice

Skating1Oooo, how I love to watch ice skating! I go to a live performance almost every year. A few years ago we were lucky enough to attend Nationals here in Portland (during an ice storm no less — I really thought we weren't going to make it — we had to take the bus and then the train and I couldn't get any traction — Andy and a homeless guy each had to take one of my arms and literally pull me about eight feet up the slightest of inclines to the bus stop where I hugged a streetlamp until the bus arrived so I wouldn't slip back down the hill — ah, the irony! — but that's how much I wanted to go!). Most years it's less intense; Saturday night was just cold cold cold and no medals, just Stars on Ice.

Skating2The show, normally stamped quite heavily by the fairly low-level humor of nicest-guy-in-the-world Scott Hamilton, seems better, more sophisticated, sexier than it has in a while. The video segues could still, seriously, use the services of a professional comedy writer, since they insist on a sort of clowny jokiness that just doesn't seem worthy of this troupe (but I guess everyone loves S.H. too much to mention it), but the skating is really fine.

Skating3 Alexei Yagudin is really amazing to watch. I think I held my hand over my mouth the whole time. Some people are just truly, truly gifted, and very cool. He's rather studly. It's almost like he's not on ice. Jamie Sale and David Pelletier are breathtaking, as well.

But my favorite will always be Ekaterina Gordeeva. Every time I see her I get an enormous lump in my throat. Back in 1998 I read My Sergei and, oh man. So sad. When you see how tiny she is in real life, it's hard not to get a bit misty.

Skating4Here's the zamboni at intermission. It seems like it's going pretty slow but, seriously, try to take a picture of it: not that slow! I like how you can see the little dull stripes that haven't been zambonied yet/aren't reflective.

When I was a child, I skated at the outdoor rink in the park near my house almost every day over winter break. We had a warming room there, and my friend Monica, who lived near me, and I would bring hot-chocolate thermoses and play on the ice all day. We'd stage mock competitions and judge each other until we got so cold we'd have to go in. We were both crafty so we'd work on making bigger and better pom-poms for our skates when we got home. Whenever I watch real skaters, I can't help but wonder if they're picturing themselves alone, mittened, pink-cheeked, on a frozen pond, with crystal snowflakes falling lightly on the ice.


January 11, 2007

Big Lunch

Cheesecake10 Well, it was not really a small day. The Cheesecake Factory, where I unexpectedly went for lunch with my mom for her birthday, made sure of that, if nothing else. That place is frickin HUGE. Is it what Vegas is like? I experience vertigo there.

Cheesecake2I guess it's not that big, if you're used to such places, but I'm not, really. This restaurant is sort of antithetical to the typical Portland eatery, which I think of as sort of indie, organic, in a tilty old wooden house with second-hand tables and mismatched chairs you think might just collapse. But I kind of like the sturdy-chaired CF every once in a while — huge room, huge menu, huge plates, HUGE pieces of cheesecake with a huge blobs of whipped cream next to them. It sort of feels like being at Universal Studios,. You can't help but feel sort of . . . pleasantly swept along by such capable . . . engineering. It's a bit seductive.

Cheesecake4So, no hot-and-sour soup got made, and no real snow fell. I keep hearing reports of it all around, but it didn't happen to be where I was. But now it is official — finally, the "holidays" are over in our family. So, I'm thinking, another attempt at a small day: Let's try this again. Even smaller, actually; I think fasting is probably called for at this point.

January 08, 2007

Rain Forest

Birthday1_1I'm overwhelmed by the birthday comments. I pretty much cried off and on for two days. I didn't think I would do that at all, because it's been quite a long time now since everything happened to be bawling like that, but I did. I was crying in part because I felt kind of . . . looked after. And I don't normally feel that way. But maybe I am, after all. Maybe everyone really is, just like they say.

Birthday2_1I went to a birthday party for my brother-in-law, my mother, and myself on Saturday night at my mom's house. She gave me a beautiful, huge, fabulous toolbox filled with cake-decorating supplies and instruction books and pastry tips and food coloring and all sorts of things I don't even know what to do with. But I will learn this year. I think I'm going to take a decorating class. I just want to do something different, and fun, and relaxing. Girls, put in your orders now, because my kitchen cannot sustain the quantity of cake I have planned for 2007. I started these coconut cupcakes, then we hit the road and drove to the woods.

Birthday9It was so beautiful out there. We took the old Columbia River Highway to the Gorge to see the falls. This is a view from Vista House, the observatory at Crown Point.

Birthday4_1It was raining hard. But it really didn't matter. It couldn't have been more beautiful.

Birthday5_1The blushing womb of Vista House, a shelter for travelers.

Birthday6Or a cathedral. It has hushes and echoes.

Birthday7And quiet, pearly corners. (This is in the bathroom.)

Birthday8Mysteries and views.

Birthday17You get back on the road and drive further down the river. The road has stone walls, covered in moss, bordering it for miles. Sometimes there are entire ferns growing out of the tops of the walls. The place is dripping and slick, very green. The air is made of water. Then, the fairy-tale house appears, in front of its GIANT waterfall (the white streak, to the left). Multnomah Falls Lodge. Bewitching, especially in winter.



Birthday12My birthday brunch table. I think I'll have it here every year from now on, late in the afternoon, after almost everyone else has left the dining room but the two of us. It was perfect.

Birthday13All of a sudden, I heard it: the train. Can you believe it? Right out front. Going west.

Birthday15The Falls gush as if the mountain will crack open any second. That's me, hardly dry, despite my petal-ed effort.

Birthday16Possibly my favorite picture ever.

Birthday19On the way home, we stopped at the market in Corbett where you can get gas and supplies.

Birthday20 Small-town Oregon. Don't ever change.

Birthday21 Of course I had to get them. What's a birthday without ice cream. And Chinese food, and cupcakes.

Birthday23Bring it on.

January 06, 2007


RailroadtieTomorrow is my birthday. It has been, for the past six years, also the most difficult day of the year, next to Christmas. The last birthday present my dad gave me never actually got to me. It was in 1999, and my parents had sent me a box from Corvallis, Oregon, where they were then living, having moved to Oregon about six months after my accident. My dad called me almost every day around when the box was supposed to arrive — I think it was one of those rectangular Priority Mail boxes — and he was so upset that it hadn't come yet. It wound up never coming. Lost. They worried they had overstuffed it. That summer he was diagnosed with lung cancer. He died the following January, on my birthday. His funeral was on my mom's birthday. It was a funeral that was hardly worthy of him. It should've been back in Chicago, where he had lived for all but one of his 54 years. His friends should've been there, our friends and families and neighbors and the people he grew up with and we grew up with, the kids from our block and his band and the Italians, Bob and Jo, John and Sandy, the Mays and the Jessicas and Ann, Tom, Scott, and the softball team, and the Swedes, and the Purple Hearts gang, a hundred people, at St. Edmund's. Instead it was just us, just us few, standing in a snow flurry on the side of a hill in Oregon, playing the Eagles from a crappy little tape recorder with a priest we'd never met, and a hospice worker. There were so many, many people that we left behind when I managed to somehow get my own ass run over while crossing the street. Goddamn fucking truck.

I wish the box had gotten to me. I know there was a big photo book about the Romanovs in it. I don't know what else could've been, maybe a letter. I think there probably was a letter, and that was why he was so upset. Maybe not. I didn't get why at the time. He kept calling and calling: Did it come? I don't remember there being a replacement box, or present; there may have been, but I don't remember. It wouldn't have mattered. Perhaps the original was nothing particularly special at all, and would've been forgotten like so many other gifts are, eventually. What makes me sad now, almost unbearably sad, is remembering our conversations about where the box could've got to . . . his frustration, that weird helplessness, the feeling that it was close, and yet impossibly far. There was nothing we could do. It was the first thing that had ever been lost in the mail, so we didn't know. I was slightly impatient — I don't mind, really, it's okay, really. It never occurred to me it would be the last present. He might have known, I'm not sure.

My dad and I found the railroad spike pictured above when I was really little. It was, he always told me, our first walk in the woods a few blocks from our new house, where our family would live for over twenty-five years. My shoe came off in the mud and I started to cry and he didn't know why for many yards, then went back to get my shoe. I think it was one of the first things we'd done by ourselves, together. He engraved the spike when we got home that day. I keep it in my hallway on a little shelf with some photos and three little carved wooden people that were my grandma's. There's orange crayon scribbled on the bottom of it, classic irreverence. I still have it though, Dad. This gift I got.

I hope the deer are coming to your little forest; I know they like it there on that hill.

I wish there was a train passing through somewhere close by, though. That would make it seem more like home. Snow. Smoke. Bare trees. Music. Sunset behind the house. Your hands and your rings, the dragon, the tiger's eye, the tiny ruby, the diamond, the sapphire, gold. You were going to bury survival kits, water purification tablets, silver, things of real value, for all of us in the woods. Other things in there as well, I'll never know. Well, I'm surviving, I just kinda . . . made up my own. I hope some of the things I put in mine would've been things you intended for me. I'm sure they are. They must be. They must be.

I miss you. I wish you were here.
The first one

December 20, 2006

Baked: Good

BathbombesGood morning, friends. I hope it's as beautiful where you are as it is here right now. This is officially the first day of my vacation, as I was actually able to get all of my work done last night, even though I'd been saying that I would day after day after day (anybody see Christmas Do-Over the other night?). I finally really did it, and then, just as I was leaving the house to go to the P.O. last night, Richard-the-mailman pulled up in his mail minivan and took everything for me. It was a Christmas miracle. Is it wrong to tell the postman you love him? He looked slightly alarmed, but, then, he usually does. I said, as he was loading everything in his truck for me, "Don't you hate those ads that say you guys will pick up all the packages from the porch now?" and he said, nicely, "No . . . not at all" as all of the stuffed padded envelopes cascaded out of the truck and fell on the road. Have you ever tried to "stack" those things? We give our mailman a Christmas present every year. Richard, you are getting an extra-special one tomorrow.

The treats above are a present I was finally able to wrap yesterday, too, a belated birthday present for my friend Allyson, who said that all she wanted for her birthday was a child-free trip to the spa. She loves to bake, too (last year I got her one of these Betty Crocker bake-'n'-fill cake pans — don't you love these things?), so I felt these bath bombes shaped like little pastries would be perfect, since she lives in Wisconsin and we don't have the luxury of having lunch and getting manicures together anymore. The treats are by D'lish, whose products I used to carry at Ella Posie. Everyone always loved them. Last night I ran a bath and threw some of my own in, then plopped down to read Pledged: The Secret Life of Sororities. What can I say, I'll read almost anything.

Winter-birthday girls, of which I am one, run the risk of people just getting mad at them for being born around Christmas. In Andy's and my two families there are only about sixteen people total, and five of us have birthdays within the one week after new year's. My sis-in-law and I were even born on the same day. I try hard to always get the December-January birthday presents out on time, but I usually flub it myself, which makes me feel terrible. I don't seem to be capable of getting personal gifts there on time and it really makes me mad. The day after the birthday is not the birthday. I think birthdays are really special days. I think they're special no matter how old you are, or even if you claim to not care about them.

There are also a few girlfriends with whom I have exchanged Christmas presents for almost twenty years. These are often my favorite presents to find or make. This one — oh, I am so happy with this one.

Cakecarrier1And it is perfect for my friend, I think. She has the most beautiful, strawberry-blond-red hair and peaches-'n'-cream complexion. I can just picture her carrying this to a party. I hope she likes it as much as I do. I wish she didn't live so far away and I could give it to her in person. I wish we could bake something together in her kitchen in Chicago while it snows outside. I wish we could take the El downtown and go the Museum of Science and Industry and see the Christmas trees. It kind of makes me cry to think about it. I miss you, Pammy.

MietteI might like to bake something like this for Christmas Eve dessert, maybe with some powdered sugar on top to look like snow. It's from Miette Organic Patisserie, a bakery in San Francisco. I wrote to them quite a while ago to ask permission to use their photo, and they were so kind, inviting me to visit their real-life bakery. How nice is that. Just one more reason to go to San Fran. You must look at their gallery for the most beautiful, simple, dreamy cakes in the world. I think they're exquisite. When I see things like that, it makes me want to be a better baker, and a better person, someone who gets gifts there on time, who makes things infused with all the love I feel and the beauty I see in the person I am baking for, making something for. I think 2007 is going to be a year of cakes for me. I'd like that. I think I'm going to take a cake-decorating class, or maybe my mom can teach me how to do the roses. She is really good at them. If my other sister, who is a pastry chef in South Carolina, was here she could teach me some things. She knows everything about cakes. There is just something special about cakes. I wish I could send them through the mail to the people I miss. There are so many of those people.

But today my local friend Sarah is making me Vietnamese chicken soup for lunch, and then my niece and I are going to build our little graham-cracker cottages. I feel like I will finally have time to be with friends and family, doing simple things, just enjoying each other's company. Counting blessings. I have been so looking forward to this time. It's finally here. Go slow, clock. Go slow. It's gonna take me a while to count them all.

December 15, 2006

Happy Happy Joy Joy

Baking2Today I plan to do some baking worthy of a Brocket. I can't wait. We do a bit around here; I don't even know how it started or why, but it's like this:

     "Honey, why didn't you call Vet #1 and have them formally transfer all our pets' records to Vet #2?"
     "Because all I ever wanted to do was read."

Or like this:

     "Hun, I told you that you just have to lift up the lid of the toilet tank and fiddle with this little lever in this gross cold dark water every time you want to flush it but you forgot."
     "Well, all I ever wanted to do was read."

And, scene.

Get it? Well, today all I want to do is bake.


December 14, 2006

Holiday Baking (and Etc.) Envy


These muffins, from yesterday, hardly count as holiday baking, as they literally take five minutes (and that's in a messy kitchen — I'd think you could do it in less if you didn't have to make room on the counter first). But they are the first things I've made in a couple of weeks. Bah. Barely anything.

I was catching up on my Tivo-ed Barefoot Contessas last night and I watched the one where Ina and her friends make this ginormous basket of treats for some other friends and decorate those friends' house for Christmas. Are you kidding me? Firstly, I swear the white-chocolate hot chocolate she made must have cost $20 per thermos (milk, half-and-half, a POUND of white chocolate, TWO vanilla beans — those things are like gold). I'm sitting there thinking — Holy. She is a really, really good friend. I aspire to be as good a friend. No, I aspire to have as good a friend. No, that's wrong, I aspire to be as good a friend. Just one more reason to love Ina. Who does that??? (I know she was doing it for TV, but I like to think it was just a little bit for TV. Nevertheless, when her friends came home to find the surprise, I found their response to be fairly . . . tepid. If I had come home to that I tell you my head would've exploded into a million shards of candy canes and then I would've run in a small circle around the living room while crying tears of joy. But perhaps a simple "Wow-www, what's this, hot chocolate?" passes for extreme excitement in East Hampton.) I feel lucky if I can get an e-card out to my friends.

Muffins4It's strange — just a few weeks ago I was reminding myself to hold on to that blissful-though-maddeningly-temporary feeling of being early for things, and now I'm looking at the calendar and counting weekends, and days, to do all my favorite holiday things. On list:

Build graham-cracker candy cottages
Bake star-shaped sugar cookies for friends and neighbors and use amazing sanding sugars received as birthday present from dear friend Allyson (my very own Ina, actually) last year
Attend party this weekend, if no one is barfing
Watch more Christmas movies, including A Boyfriend for Christmas, A Christmas Romance, Three Days, and basically anything on ABC Family or the Hallmark Channel while knitting calmly
Make special shopping trip for Angel Tree kids
Plan Christmas Eve party dinner
Finish family presents and wrap/mail

I guess that's it for now. Those seem like good, industrious verbs. I should think more about it because that all seems sort of manageable and . . . that just can't be right. Can it?

Pho_holi_deer_lgThe rest of the orders are going out today, and for those of you who missed out and have been asking, look! I have a few more deer for you. (Update: Sold out. Sorry! I mean, thank you! Er . . . you know what I mean.) But come and get them quick-like because tomorrow's the last day to order and, well, these go fast. Thank you for all of the food poisoning tips and the hair dryer tips. I may just be writing my morning posts while sitting under a hair dryer in 2007. . . . Andy seems better today (I whisper, not wanting to jinx it), Audrey is almost all better, I really do think, and is back to her tail-wagging self — phew, phew, phew. I didn't like that. She's still not going up the stairs, but her recovery has gone pretty much like the vet said it would, so that's nice, for once. I can't even tell you how much I missed my dog, or how worried I was. For a week she laid like a little Lincoln log, all straight and stiff, perched on her cushions uncomfortably. But yesterday and the day before there was a noticeable curve to her long spine, a sinking-into the pillows that looked familiar and relaxed, a renewed interest in Milkbones, Bridget, and the mailman. Oh joy! Sweet relief. Bridget (the littlest kitten) isn't happy about Audrey's recovery; she enjoyed a week of dancing around the living room singing nanny-nanny-boo-boo and sticking out her tongue at Audrey, who gave no chase, who barely lifted her head. Usually we get a glimpse of the B as she skids past us once a day or so. With Audrey grounded, the B was all in her face about it — playing with toys six inches from her nose, sitting next to me affectionately on the couch while I had my coffee, getting into the empty dog crate coquettishly, like, "I dare you to stop me, dogthing!" Now that Auds is better, the B has, predictably, gone back to her mysterious, invisible ways, and I'll only see her if I'm lucky. Oh well. Almost-back to normal is so, so, so good.

November 29, 2006

Me on Blogging, and My Childhood, AGAIN

Thankyoupcs2This blog is becoming rather meta-blog, I know. But I read a really poignant post yesterday called "To Blog or Not to Blog" by Autum. She was talking about blogging in a way that I thought was so sincere and interesting, and important to consider, especially at the beginning of this season of joy and fun and, let's be honest, busy-ness and potential stress. Blogging can be lots of things. Most bloggers will say that they enjoy the sense of community; the inspiration; the ability to share and be shared with; the nice, neat feelings of being organized somewhere, at least; the profoundly moving experience of being listened to. But almost everyone that I've ever talked to about blogging feels, at some point, something else, something . . . not as wonderful.

I obviously don't know what those un-wonderful things are for everyone — I think they probably vary more for each individual than the positive aspects do. I know that for me, blogging itself — the actual writing of posts and taking photos — comes pretty easily. But I went to school for years to learn how to write and, you know, I actually worked for a photo-essay-book publisher for several years. So . . . that's helpful. The blog is the first time I've ever written about myself, in first-person; I hadn't known how much I'd needed to do or would enjoy doing that. Many times I write things that I never set out to say, and I do wake up every day wondering what the hell might come out of my mouth. The medium seems to fit the natural . . . environment of my brain. But I must admit that the most important thing about blogging for me is just doing it. I love the real-life friendships I've made, I love the supportive community that I'm lucky enough to find myself in, and I love feeling connected to so many people from other countries, regions, and cultures I never knew anything about.

But mostly I really like the sense of organization and expression that my own blogging has given me. I am someone who has always been easily overwhelmed; and expressing oneself in our family was really not encouraged. It actually wasn't even allowed. The smallest of dissentions was typically met with my father becoming hysterical and threatening (seriously) to have a heart attack, the guilt from which (he avidly threatened) would haunt us forever. Many, many times I thought that exact thing would happen, and it definitely did serve to keep us in line. The only conversation I clearly remember having with him about an opinion I had that didn't end in me crying alone in my room happened around 1977, when we both stood in the living room and agreed:

Me: "I love bell-bottoms!"
He: "Yeah, they're pretty cool."
Me: [Smile smile smile smile.]

That's exactly how it went. I still remember it. For years of my childhood I would also say dialog that was not my own; it was how I tested out my theory that there was something wrong with the way my family communicated. I read often and everywhere, and I knew a lot about fictional families. I studied them. I memorized their habits. Then I'd walk into the kitchen, take off my boots, and say, "Snow, which was fun in December, is just boring, dirty, and downright cold in February." I liked that line. It was from A Summer to Die, by Lois Lowry, one of my favorite then-and-now young-adult novels. But whereas in the novel it was clear that when Meg said things like this, her father pleasantly agreed (and probably even thought "My! How clever, her!"), people in my house would look at me as if I'd just farted, say "Shut up," and then go back to what they were doing. I tried this experiment many times, with dozens of different lines, and I never got the same kind of reaction the characters did. In fact, if some twelve-year-old started spewing stuff like this to me now I would know exactly what she was up to, and I like to think we'd be sitting down and having a nice talk about her life. (Actually, if someone else in my family had walked in and said something like that I probably would've told them to shut up, too.) (And actually, there was one time when I insisted that my family gather 'round to do a dramatic reading of Eugene Ionesco's The Bald Soprano and that did not go over well, but if you know that play you might know that they really can't be blamed for that one!) But my dialogic experimentation was helpful in a lot of ways, because I thought that mostly the books were right and mostly my father was wrong, and I still do, and so from a very early age I started trusting books more than I trusted my parents judgment on many things, and I feel lucky that I was able to do that. So while being a regular blogger has helped me stay organized within my life in a way I never have been before, it's also fostered a voice and a place where it's no big deal to lurch about, saying this or that, whatever it is, testing things, figuring out what I think, what lots of other people think. And that is something that has been invaluable to me, something I'd not experienced much before.

Minilanterns On the other hand, I think that for many Reserved (one of the best descriptions of introverts I've read) persons like me (and, I expect, many other crafters) the challenges that come with having any audience at all can be difficult to manage sometimes. All of us want, I think, to be able to respond to everyone's comments and questions, to check-in on our friends, to give help and advice when its needed. But the reality is that there is only so much time in a day — especially at this time of year — and only so many . . . relationships . . . one can do well. The nagging feeling that certain things, people, and opportunities have fallen through the cracks can be frustrating but . . . inevitable? I made a promise to myself early on in blogging that I would give what I could, when I could, because the important thing was to find a way to keep doing it — happily, without it feeling like a burden or another bundle of expectations to be dealt with. As women, I think we are well-trained to do whatever we have to do to meet anyone and everyone's expectations, and blogging can create even more of those. But to me, there are lots of kinds of blogs, and I don't mean genres like "craft" or "political"; I mean: some are sporadic posters, some are personal, some share tutorials, some gather work from others, some show only one's own stuff, some are brilliant at sourcing products, some have ads, some invite conversation and debate, some just put it out there and leave it be, no comments necessary. There's room for them all. I hope we can allow ourselves the freedom to let our own, and each other's, be just whatever they are.

As the postcards say, thank you. As always. For listening, and contributing, how-ever you do.

November 25, 2006

Marie Claire: Mais non. Marie Antoinette: Oui, oui!

Portlandafternoon1I love the holiday season in the city. Everyone is out, going places. Though these folks don't look particularly happy about it, do they? Do you know that little triangle by the door on the upper level of the streetcar that says "Caution: Do Not Stand Here"? I found out why you're not supposed to stand there. You will get squished when the train turns a corner. I took this picture just before I almost got squished.

Portlandafternoon2A Saturday Friday (felt like Saturday, didn't it?), in November, in Portland, without rain: C'est fantastique. We were looking for the December issue of Marie Claire Idees. I couldn't understand why I haven't gotten my copy in the mail yet (subscription). I thought maybe I'd messed something up. But they still had the fall issue at Rich's Cigar Shop and Powell's, so I guess we just haven't gotten the new one in Portland yet. I'm jonesing for that thing, big time. 'Tis the season, as mentioned.


Portlandafternoon4A Benson Bubbler. Though we quenched with chai and Mexican hot chocolate. Portlandafternoon6

Here's the big tree, ready to be lit. And here's the Easter Bunny. Of course. I think it's things like this that inspire the popular phrase "Keep Portland Weird." This guy would not get out of my picture. He had a sign around his neck that said "FREE HUGS." I didn't hug him, but I was giggling pretty hard, and so was the guy sitting on the bench behind us watching the whole thing. I love those moments with strangers, when you've just had the exact same experience and your eyes meet, and you've shared it. We both winked at each other, without actually winking, I think. The Easter Bunny stared at us all, with his big unblinking peepers, silently requesting a hug. I should've hugged him. But I was a little scared.

Portlandafternoon7 And there was a movie to catch.

MarieWe totally loved it. I'm going to see it again. Kathleen?

Portlandafternoon8I'm quite willing to follow Sofia Coppola anywhere, frankly. I'll look at anything she wants to make. Don't bring a camera into a movie theater though. They'll take it away from you, as they did mine. Whoops. Then they tried to give me somebody else's after the movie. The rats! Don't take my camera. What would I do without it?

Portlandafternoon9Opening day. A sweet success.

November 22, 2006

Oatmeal Dinner

Oatmeal3In anticipation of the food-fest Thursday, I simmered some oatmeal for dinner last night. This kind, steel cut Irish, is the only kind for me. We've been so busy lately — Andy is crazy-busy at work, not getting home until 9 p.m. (and he leaves around 6 a.m., so that's a long day) and I've been here, working only, not cooking, not shopping for groceries, not even going out or having anyone over. So, dinner for one at the end of a long day, two days before a feast: oatmeal. Yummy.

Oatmeal1Do you know how to make it? It's not that hard and so much better than instant (to me, anyway). They're barely even the same grain, in my opinion. Steel-cut oats look like Grape Nuts, like coarse sand. Rolled oats are pressed flat and look like flakes. When I make steel-cut oats, I put 3 cups of water in the kettle and put it on to boil. Then I put a tablespoon of butter in a non-stick saucepan (the cooked oatmeal will turn into paste, so cleaning the pan is easier if it's non-stick, but you can use any saucepan and just soak it right away). Melt the butter and then add 1 cup of oats. Stir them around over medium heat for about two minutes; you will start to smell their delicious, nutty flavor.

Oatmeal2When the water boils (and it should be around the same time the oats are finished toasting), carefully pour the water into the saucepan with the oats. It will bubble like crazy, so just give it a stir and turn it down if it's a little out of control. It will settle; give it a stir. Turn the heat so that things are simmering, and leave it all uncovered to bubble gently for about 25 minutes. When the water is absorbed, give it all a stir again and plop it in your bowl.

Oatmeal5Perhaps use a deeper bowl than this one. I was talking on the phone while doing this so things got a little overflowy. I top my oatmeal with the classics — brown sugar, milk, and raisins. I don't stir — I layer, then hunt and peck. Besides being good for you (perhaps with a bit less sugar, ahem), Irish oatmeal tastes awesome.

Tomorrow my family comes for Thanksgiving. I'm very excited to get in the kitchen and get cooking; I feel like it's been weeks since I made anything fancy. It will also be the first major doorbell-ringing test for the new-and-improved Audrey-and-Alicia duo. Thanks for all the advice yesterday. I felt really bad that maybe I was being too tough on my dog, and was just punishing her instead of praising her. I actually think she's relieved to have some boundaries set, but I did want to make sure I was praising the good behavior.

So yesterday when the mailman came, I walked over to her and put her leash on. We walked over to the middle of the room and she sat down. We stood there quietly as the mailman clambered up the stairs and banged on the metal mailbox (which typically sends the dog into a hysterical frenzy, sort of like a squirrel loose in the house; she has jumped right through the screen door to get to him). But this time, nothing. A little whine, a quiver, a shift. I stood patiently. He left. She stayed quiet. I stood amazed, absolutely amazed. I lavished praise and thanks. She seemed very proud of herself. We went to the kitchen to get a treat and — we were out of treats! Agh! It was so funny. But she did so well. What I do feel bad about is not having done this years ago. I don't think she enjoys freaking out like that at all, but we really never effectively prevented her from doing it, or gave her an alternative. And she definitely needed the leash — it's almost like a potential splash of cold water on someone who is hysterical. I'm glad that someone said not to open the door until she was completely calm, and to teach her to sit politely to greet guests. I think we are supposed to have a special place for her to go to, so I need to work on that. That is my big goal. I have been watching the Dog Whisperer show a lot since this summer, when I first saw it, and that has taught me a lot. I hope that we can do well tomorrow when my family comes over, but I am planning on it taking a while before "calmness" rather than "calamity" is the new paradigm. I'm really excited about it, though. I actually haven't stopped talking about it for two days. It feels so good to know, to see, that relationships can change, grow, improve, become completely different. This is something that has been bothering me a lot more than I realized, so, among so many other things, I'm incredibly grateful for this experience. It's so inspiring.

Happy, healthy Thanksgiving, everyone. Thank you for being a part of my life. xoxoxxo

November 18, 2006

8th Birthday

When you love animals, birthdays bring many new critters into the fold.

Bunnybirthday3 Bunnybirthday1

Family2 Family3 Family1

Girlhorsedog1Happy birthday, sweetheart. xoxoxox

November 11, 2006

This One's for You, Jane

ChococherrysoapI forgot my camera when we went out for dinner and dessert with friends last night, so this is a picture of some Black Forest cake soap that I photographed yesterday for the new web site. I took about 200 photos yesterday and most of them were crap. It has been dark as living deep inside a forest for over a week, and every time the sun does come out, I am nowhere near the camera. But anyway.

Our friends Deb and Jason, with whom we had dinner, are the kind of people you want to see every day. I love them, and Deb's a fellow Chicago girl, and went to college with several people I know from high school, so it's always fun to find the random details that link us, thousands of miles from home, and I feel, then, happier, and as if my life is one continuous length of fabric instead of scraps from here and there. We both miss snow very, very much.

I begged her to tell me again about her siblings' names, because she'd told me once a long time ago and I'd forgot, though I'd tried to tell the story (lamely, of course: "It's so funny — my friend — her brother and sisters all have regular names, but then they have these other names, and sometimes two of them call each other other names — anyway — seriously, it's . . . really funny," etc.) many times. This time I wrote it all down (when I wasn't falling off my chair giggling) in a chart (it's quite confusing). My friend is Deb, but everyone calls her Mumsie. Her twin sister is Linda, but everyone calls her Margie. Rebecca is called Ratio, or, commonly, "Rache." Julie is called (obviously) Rhombie. Except that Julie and Rebecca call each other "Yvonne." And Deb and Linda (the twins) call each other "Bippy." No one else calls either of them Bippy, or Yvonne, except the other. David, their brother, is called Stymie. George, their dad, is called Chuck. And Joan, their mom, is called, quite strangely, Joanie. What happened there. See now, this is why I regret not writing fiction anymore. Who on earth would not want to read a story about these people? You just can't make this stuff up. Deb's husband just shook his head and smiled and said, "I still can't keep them all straight."

Thought you'd like that one, Jane. And Sarah (whose favorite found gem is "Ca$h").

October 26, 2006

Fog in the Front Yard

Foginfront3While we don't get much snow here in Portland, we do get this deliciously mysterious, frosty fog that settles into the hills and dales of town and down our street. This morning, it really feels like fall is here in its more quietly Novemberish (rather than its blazingly Septemberish) way.

Foginfront2I have so loved the comments that have come in here this week — thank you for all of those, especially yesterday's, about influences and what engenders them. It's funny to stop and think about it, really; when I woke up this morning the first whispering thought in my mind was Oh, Arthur! Arthur Rackham, a huge influence in my life. He captured these frowsy, sylvan atmospheres (my favorite kind of weather) in almost every painting. I could look at them forever.

FairiestiffThis is The fairies have their tiffs with the birds, for instance, 1906, from Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens. When I was studying in London for a little while in college I lived just blocks from here, on Queen's Gate, and I sat in front of the Serpentine for hours, trying to imprint it. I wrote my senior thesis on Arthur Rackham in 1991, a year-long project where I analyzed Rackham's fascinating blend of magic and the prosaic, fairies dressed in tattered calicoes. I had been mesmerized by his paintings all my life — my mother was since childhood and is to this day a great lover of fairy culture — and Rackham's work still moves me. In 1990 it was difficult to find information about Arthur Rackham, believe it or not — a major biography came out about him that year, just after I was finishing my own research, but previous to that it was hunt and peck, at least from my study carrel in Denkman Library. Around that time the Grunge and the Waif movements were happening in fashion, so there was a bit of a Pre-Raphaelite revival, too, and it became easier to find images and information about John William Waterhouse, for instance, whose art also had this same blend of magic and realism, with its tangly haired, melancholy beauties in their moody realms. There have been some gorgeous books published on Victorian painting in the last decade, and I now have a few. Doing research was so different before the internet. Wow. Now it's all here, in seconds. Then it was hardcover editions of the Reader's Guide to Periodical Literature and a bunch of inter-library-loan-request slips, and weeks of waiting, or a long, blizzard-blinded drive out to Iowa City to use the University of Iowa library.

Foginfront1I've had a conflicted relationship with the forest all my life, and that stems from childhood. It's what happens when you have a father who wakes the whole family up at 3 a.m. to head out to the woods and help him search for wild dogs. I can imagine my mother, zipping coats over our own torn nightgowns, dragging her three little girls through the dark streets to the edge of our neighborhood forest preserve, and then inside that pitch-black otherworld, my father stumbling ahead of us. It makes my heart hurt now, just thinking about it, the fear I felt both about the wild dogs and the adults leading me to them.

With some influences, there is little-to-no mystery about their genesis. I only rarely feel at home in the woods, though I long for them some days. My front yard has, most of the time, magic enough (dogwood buds with fairy wings and silken-stranded cobwebs) for me.

October 18, 2006

More Love of Little Things

Audrey4_2Oh how I love this doggie. I love how she curls up in her little bed. I love how she is so soft. I love how she wags her tail every morning when we wake up. I love how she tolerates my thousand kisses a day. I love how she looks at us with those worried liquid-chocolate eyes. I love how when she's had enough of us she goes back to her little bed and her little thrifted quilt in her little corner and watches. She always watches.

Audrey2_3I love how every night she comes upstairs with whatever toy she's chosen to work on and chews it for a half-hour while everyone's getting ready for bed. Every night. I love how although she has a million toys she plays with every one, democratically. I love how she lets me kiss her, right here, right between the eyes. I say, "Do you even know how much I love you? Do you even know??? I think you do. You do, don't you?" Do you think she does?

Audrey3_2It's back to business around here, babycakes. My crochet class yesterday was a lot of fun. I really had a great time. We have five people now including me and that's probably the perfect number for that space. I would say that the pie was well-received, too. A++ for everybody!

Audrey1_3Today is the first day in a long, long time where it is just a normal day. No getting ready for anything, no one coming or going, no nothing special. I'm a little relieved. Andy and I went out to dinner last night and I felt like cheering, "We made it! We made it through the past two months! Yay! Yay! We made it! We made it everybody [looking around to see if anyone cares, they don't, that's fine]!" With pom-poms. And a bullhorn. We made it!!!

If anyone needs me, I'll be here on the couch, stitching, right next to this dog. She's been waiting, rather patiently, for me to quit fooling around.

October 15, 2006

Rainy Portland Sunday

Sunday1Let's go do something.

Sunday2Lunch and a beer at the brewpub in our old neighborhood

Sunday3_2 Pioneer Square

Sunday4_1 Broadway Street from the back seat (where I don't usually sit, but it's great to take pictures from there)

Sunday7_1 Central Library

Sunday8 The Schnitz. Love the Schnitz.

Sunday6 Where I get the really special birthday presents for the really special stuffie lovers.

Sunday11I like a good Sunday afternoon movie in this tower to the left.

Sunday12 We were a little late but it was okay.

Sunday5 Autumn is here in Puddletown.

October 14, 2006

My Nature, No Trees Involved

BakingoutfitMy baking outfit yesterday. Made the sock (not yesterday). It all reminded me of my old River Forest friend Jenny and what she used to wear to volleyball practices in high school. The most mismatched collection of dolphin shorts/sports bras/Flashdance sweatshirts/scrunchies you've ever seen, with a ponytail right on top of her head. Where are you now, Jen. Must call you.

Andy's dad is visiting from Chicago (our hometown) this weekend so I've been keeping the boys in dinner. Chicken, specifically. Thursday night it was (this is all Ina's) Chicken with Forty Cloves and Roasted Winter Veggies; yesterday it was Parmesan Chicken with salad on top, and Spinach Gratin, then Ivonne's Apple Cheesecake and a marathon round of Uno — our last game, a single game, took almost an hour, and I, the mocked loser who at one point had nineteen cards in her hand, quietly beat 'em both. Hrumph.

CheesecakebuddyMy cheesecake buddy. Didn't do the creme-brulee top on this because 1) didn't know if we had one of those little blow torch things and 2) it came out kind of dark already. Really good, though. And yes, if you hadn't already guessed, we are a rather lactose-tolerant household. Our people migrated to Chicago from Wisconsin, you see.

Do you think cities have personalities? And if they do, does the city itself engender the personality in its residents, eventually, or do people with the same type of personality just tend to gravitate toward certain cities? I almost always feel very Chicago-ish around Portlanders but I know that whenever I go back to Chicago I feel like it's way too intense for me now, like there is no way I would cut the mustard there anymore, would probably wind up blubbering in the parking lot after getting yelled at for not understanding valet parking, or looking like some kind of bumpkin in dog-hair-covered sweatpants on Michigan Avenue.

Native Portlanders (and Oregonians in general, to me) are a rather wholesome bunch. They are very even-tempered, a bit mild, frugal, earnest though not given to fits of passion or expletives. They're fairly quiet, polite, well-mannered, sort of friendly, not at all flashy, did I say quiet? I have never seen and actually can't imagine a  native Portlander, for instance, drunk and laughing so hard they fall off the front porch onto the stump of a shrub. Or getting so worked up while telling a story at a restaurant they get a bloody nose and start screaming but insist on finishing the story with a napkin stuffed up one nostril. Or calling one's very good friends "slutbags" in public. That's just not something I see people do here. This is more Chicago-type stuff, it seems. This is my very subjective opinion, of course — I know you will tell me these things happen all over town. If they do, tell me where, so I can go there when I feel homesick. I think I am spazzing in general far more than I see most native Portlanders (except for one, and you know you are, and thank God for ya, darling) spaz out, and the New Yorkers spaz a little bit more (so I always like hanging around with them). I'm genetically programmed by generations of Chicago-Italians to spaz, however, so I think that part's sticking, no matter how acclimated I become to my new home. I don't mind. The embarrassment that generally follows feels like a treasured and familiar hand-me-down. I would never want to lose the few souvenirs that I still have, however uncomfortable their keeping might make me. Or others, actually. I apologize in advance for anyone in the wake of my next public display. I feel it's my duty.

October 11, 2006


PumpkinpastaA little shrine dedicated to the end of the day. I set it up yesterday to remind myself that at the end of the day I would have a little reward: cooking. I decided that I was going to use the stove; I would hold off on the dutch oven, but I would use the stove. Rigatoni with Pumpkin Cream Sauce — the perfect fall treat, very rich but very special. We add broiled, sliced, sweet Italian sausage, and it would all be fantastic with a spinach salad — are we allowed to eat spinach yet? I miss it so much!

Anyway, so, yeah, my house and I are officially "over" each other. Not really, but for now. Very capricious, I know. After my big "I care" speech and everything. But like best friends occasionally do, we find ourselves . . . ready to hang out with someone else for a change. She's like, "Get OUT of here already, good grief," and I'm like, "Man, I am so sick of you, no offense." The photo shoot is going well so far. Today will be a good, though long, day. I'm excited about it.

But I'm also actually wandering around, dreaming about all the things I want to do when I can once again leave the property. Here's my list, in no particular order. See The Departed. Cannot wait for that. I don't want to know anything about it, so if you've seen it, don't tell me. Next weekend, see Marie Antoinette. Go to the pumpkin-carving party (need wood carving tools to make pumpkins like the ones Kathleen and Yvonne like — so pretty). Get Marie Antoinette soundtrack (is anyone else who grew up in the '80s loving hearing New Order again?). Take walk in forest (Portlanders, if you have any recommendations for foresty walks that are easy/flat/possibly paved/close to where you can park/dog friendly/have nice smells and views I would love to hear — thank you in advance!). Have a caramel apple and watch some square dancing. Cook some good food for Andy's dad when he comes. What else. Oh yeah, I think it would be wonderful to spend a whole afternoon in a coffee shop, chatting and people watching, reading new knitting books. What's a good coffee shop for this? Somewhere in the Pearl? Or Mabel's. I guess that's enough for a while. Eight things. That seems like a good number. Oh wait, "bike ride through leaves." One more. Nine. Oh shoot, I forgot apple festival, this weekend or next! Never miss that. Ten, then. Who's with me.

September 30, 2006

One Year

SilhouetteThis is a silhouette of me, at 20 months old, made by my mother — very coincidentally — on September 30, 1970, thirty-six years ago today. My mom, who was then ten years younger than I am now, wrote the date on the back of the board and her handwriting is exactly the same as it is now. I'm not even sure how she made this — did she actually trace my shadow? It is life-size. When I look at the profile, I think, "That's me. I was like that. I was there." Of course, the only memory I have from that apartment is a little china duck on a shelf, and the sun coming through the window above my crib. I don't have pictures of either the shelf or the room; I should ask my mom if either really existed, or if it's just what I think there was. It seems like a real memory, but who can say.

What I really want to ask her is if there was anything about me then that signified a future me, me at 37. Would she even remember? It was so long ago. My father always pointed to two wrinkles that appeared at my inner elbow every time I bent my right arm, and the one uncomplicated wrinkle made by my left. He said I had all three at birth, this funny asymmetry. I blushed whenever he would mention it, and would immediately straighten all appendages in embarrassment, but still, it was amazing: Someone knew something about me that I didn't know! This small, strange thing, almost nothing! Almost everything I thought about myself seemed invisible to others. What other surprises might I yield, things unknown to even me? Was my portrait so readily available, and I was the one who couldn't see?

It's my blogiversary today. The Typepad spell-checker doesn't know how to spell that. Might it, this time next year? Probably. I do and don't look forward to that. I like thinking that we blog writers and readers are a secret society. Will blogs be special when "blogiversary" doesn't get red-lighted, when blogs are as common as microwave ovens? When we got our first one, in the '80s, our parents told us to press start and then stand far back from the oven door, halfway across the room. There was no telling what would come out of the things. It turns out they're sort of taken for granted, slightly maligned these days, but they still bake a potato in four minutes. I always think about how excited we were with that first one, and feel a little twinge of melancholy over our sweet naivete, those glossy and surprising new things that we quickly take for granted though they are no less enchanted for being familiar, really. Even now, I press the "start" button on my 'wave and feel a little flutter in my chest, as if I should run.

I've changed. All my life I've felt a little separate, a little bit apart, with my alien blood and my prissy ways, riding my imaginary horse down the middle of the sidewalk; but I'd stomp my feet in frustration when I wasn't understood. If someone would say, as they sometimes did, "I had no idea you felt that way," I'd fly into fit of hysterics, more radical than ever seemed warranted or expected, blotchy with tears and accusations. "Nobody listens to me!" I'd shriek, alone, into my pillow, then smooth it — I'd embroidered it, after all; no point ruining the stupid thing. I'd always planned to leave, take my pillowcase and find my places, was sure that I could, though it always has taken me a long time to get to them, as it takes us sloths. Sometimes I'll walk through the living room now, and I'll see Andy in his brown chair, hunched over the laptop. He'll smile, laugh, scan the screen, smile again. "What are you reading?" I say. And he says, "The blog." He reads every post and every comment. Each comment is a wave — Hi, friend! — a wink, a hug, a giggle, a shrug, a squawk, a total miss, a tiny kiss, a hand held out, steadying an elbow. Insert sob here. Look at all the listeners, he says. Blotchy, I look up from the pillow/keyboard and see you, right there, yours hands cupped toward me around your ears. How you got here is a mystery to me, but don't leave.

Often he goes back to read the posts again, weeks, months later. It's all a love letter to him, and our life, the one we got to have, after all. I've never told him that, but he knows. He gets it. He's heard me, seen me, all along.

September 29, 2006

Frenchified and Forever 21 (if Only on the Inside)

Forever216 I took the whole day off. My friend got back from France less than a week ago and I was lucky enough to have her all to myself for a few hours yesterday, for shopping and lunch. (We said to our waiter, simultaneously and inappropriately, "Hi handsome!" and "Hey, good looking!" followed by "Wow." I'll say she said the "wow." He looked like he just stepped off the runway, or the pro-football field (as in quarterback, not defensive end). We were flirting in the French way (actually I would assume the French are far more subtle and sophisticated, but I'll tell you, even our dork-attempts worked, because we got excellent service), just for the Frenchified fun of it.

Forever217 She was wearing a little black top with tiny polka-dots on it and a cute neck-bow thing and it was totally clear that it was from France. It was adorable. Unfortunately, my behavior was not, and it was a typical American Alicia Paulson–ish conversation, resulting in the following appalling content-analysis: 50% Alicia talking about her five-minute trip to France fifteen years ago; 10% Shelly talking about her two-week trip to France FROM WHICH SHE RETURNED FIVE DAYS AGO; 40% Alicia falling off her chair and into her lunch trying to apologize for monopolizing the conversation with talk about herself, totally missing the irony that she is actually taking up even more time talking about herself. It wasn't that bad, but close.

Forever212Presents, as always, assuaged my blues. She brought me French buttons, postcards, a fleur-de-lis patch, and a little antique wire cage — a child's "cricket keeper." We went to Powell's and got my drawing books, then hit Anthropologie and coveted many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many things there. I'm sorry, but we did. Late last night while lying in bed in the dark I couldn't stop thinking about how much I love clothes. I stared up towards the ceiling and said to Andy, "Do you ever, like, just sit and think about clothes, about maybe what you'll wear or what you want to wear?"

He: "Um, no."
Me: "Never?" (Mind you, we have had this conversation about four hundred times so this is really just some kind of exercise in I don't know what — me maneuvering an opportunity to talk about myself again, I think.)
He: "No. I mean, I do think about them when I'm dressed inappropriately."
Me: "Oh, I love clothes so much!!! I love them! Sometimes I just think about them all the time!!!"
He: "Man, we learned so much about geology at school! The entire fossil record . . . paleozoic . . . [etc., I actually have no idea what he was saying.]
Me: "I mean, how do they make all these clothes? Where are they coming from? Who's designing this stuff? It's so cute! It's so cute. Ohmigosh, there was this jacket, with an empire waist, and these big buttons and little pleats, and, seriously, it was adorable hun, and . . . "
He: "ZZZZzzzzzzzz."
Me: "Darn."

Forever214After Shelly dropped me off at home, I couldn't sit still. I went back out to the regular mall to see what was happening there. Not much. Except for at Forever 21. I don't know where I've been, but HAVE YOU BEEN HERE? Good grief. Can I just say that all of these pictures are from Forever 21, and everything is between $18 and $34? That dress, above, is less than $23. This store had more clothes than any store I've ever been in in my life. There were clothes stuffed onto racks, falling off shelves, so many clothes you just wouldn't believe it. (At least at Clackamas Town Center.)

Forever213I don't know a thing about this place, and I am clearly nowhere near 21, I can't stand it when clothes are on the floor, I try not to shop at these big chains, but I couldn't get out. I could not get out. I was sucked into the vortex. The music was great. It was like a museum of cuteness. Everywhere I turned I was assaulted with something cute. Look at this little jacket. Please. Hello Mia Farrow. How cute would you be sipping cafe au lait in that!

The stuff is small, and they have an insane return policy — can't return, only exchange or get store credit, and you have a small window of opportunity to do so. But I got two shirts and let's just say I am feeling much, much better about fall.

Forgot to say: If you want to pee in your pants laughing listen to David Sedaris talk about Paris on This American Life from July 28, 2000 (episode 165). I listen to this every couple of years when I remember to and it is one of my favorite ones, especially the part where he sees Judge Judy. . . .

September 28, 2006

Some Days

Cabbage1I have a guilty pleasure. I often go to Chinese restaurants at two o'clock in the afternoon and eat lunch alone in the middle of the week. I realize how indulgent this sounds; I'm always sheepish in the parking lot, in case I am spotted, by anyone. It's one of those things maybe only the self-employed and childless get to do regularly. There is often no one else in the place; the private, genial conversations of the employees swirl around me in Chinese at high volume, but I can barely hear them, not understanding, as I don't, a single word. It's white noise, reassuring and off-silent, not-quite-but-almost silent. I guess it's actually like off-white noise. Two p.m. is their slow time; often they are sitting at a table just one over from me, eating their own lunches. What are they having? It's probably what I should order, but I'm always the same: barbecued-pork fried rice. I stay a long time, and become invisible myself, which is nice. Eating lunch alone with a book is one of my favorite things.

Cabbage2I went yesterday, on my way to the P.O. I thought about the summer and felt really sad, actually. I miss the beach. I miss when the plants were babies, tender and green instead of frowsy, old and scarred. I miss those extra two minutes on the sides of each day. I miss our dinners under the lantern. Thank you to everyone for your calendar suggestions. I'm so calendar-dumb it didn't occur to me that it's actually one of the best times of the year to get a calendar. Doi.

Cabbage3There's beauty in it all, of course, blah blah, but it doesn't matter. I feel the sadness anyway, inevitably, every year; it seeps in through my faulty seals and I let it, as you must. Andy has patients he can't talk about this week, they're too sad. One man can't talk himself, is frustrated and confused, but calls Andy over throughout the day to hug him. That makes me cry. One, in her 80s, asked him to pick up the Interview with the Vampire DVD, which he did on his way home last night. She has a picture of a man — her late husband? — propped on her tray all day. She just sold her house with everything in it.

Cabbage6Today I'm going to the bookstore to get a drawing book, an Ed Emberley–type, turn-your-thumbprint-into-an-elephant-head, a tea pot. My niece probably has what I'm really looking for. She made me a little horse out of clay over the weekend, in the hours she had at home before coming for her sleepover; she was excited about it and needed something to do. As with all of her critters, Muzette (as I named her) is imbued with a gentle, slightly amused curiosity; she does it with the eyes, the posture. The mare's lying down, with all legs tucked under, relaxed. I wouldn't think, if I lived a hundred million years, to sculpt a horse at rest. But this girl is a natural.

Cabbage5Last night we watched Sydney Pollack's biography of architect Frank Gehry on OPB. I rewound and re-listened to the part where Pollack says something like, "I think all talent is actually liquid trouble. It's frustration with the world as it is, and an attempt to make something else out of it." I also thought it was so interesting when Gehry told how at sixteen he went to a lecture by an old guy with white hair. The guy talked about the stuff he was doing in a way that was appealing to Gehry; he tucked the ideas down deep and did some other stuff with his life. Years later, after he'd become an architect, he could see that his work was very much inspired by Alvar Aalto. He went back and looked up who'd given that lecture, back in 1946. Of course it had been Aalto.

September 23, 2006

The Tiny Bit

Acorn Mmm, home alone. Just me, coffee, cats, and a corgi. I like it. It felt so good to get out of the house last night and go to Melissa’s, I could hardly wait. I was all dressed up at least an hour before I needed to leave, waiting with only my pie, my present, and the beer for Andy to get home. He was late, so I had another half-hour where I was just waiting in the quiet house, thinking. Add that to the half-hour I spent in the dentist’s chair after my teeth had been cleaned, waiting for the dentist to come in and tell me about my cracked filling. Sitting in the dentist’s chair for a half-hour with no magazine, nothing to look at but scary plaque posters, dental machinery (equally scary), dentist’s lamp (eeeew, creepy), or out the window, which from that chair-tilted angle revealed not a single tree branch, rooftop, or chimney, but just an expanse of wispy-clouded sky, you just relax. When she finally came in, she practically had to wake me up, I was so drowsy and vegged out. So all-told I had about two hours, two whole hours, of quiet solitude in which to ponder. Even though I said I wouldn’t think anymore. (I am stopping after this, seriously.)

I went to the library on Wednesday to get the essay I mentioned, Gary Saul Morson’s "Prosaics: An Approach to the Humanities" from volume 57 (1988) of American Scholar. This is an essay that’s available on-line as long as your local library subscribes to a periodical data-base and makes it available to you as a library card holder — Multnomah County library does, which is pretty cool; you enter your library card number on their web site and then have access to the stuff. (Don’t write and ask me how to do it, though — just be brave and give it a try, and if you can’t figure it out call them and ask, because they get paid to answer.) But otherwise you can walk right up to your local librarian who is just waiting for you to say, "Hi, I'm a taxpayer and I need to read this, please." And then in about two seconds she will print it out for you. And you will say, "My God, why do I never come here??? This place is awesome!!!"

Anyway, that is how you can read the article, which is well worth doing because I find its implications for novel-readers totally fascinating, and its insights for us crafty bloggers weirdly prescient. This will, of course, be a shallow interpretation of an exponentially much-better-thinker-than-I-am’s idea because I’m done with school and no one makes me think that hard anymore so I almost never do. (But, if you are lucky enough to be in school, let's just say, you should think, think, think as much as you can because it’s really the only place you will ever have the time or the wherewithal to do it, you just don’t realize it yet, so do all your assignments on time and take copious notes and raise your hand in class when your prof asks questions and please don’t write run-on sentences like this, etc. Trust me on this. Anyway.) (That was my disclaimer, BTW.)

As I mentioned, this essay is just one of two I’ve carried around with me from town to town over the past fifteen years (the other is Jonathan Franzen’s manifesto "Perchance to Dream: In an Age of Images, a Reason to Write Novels" from Harper’s, April 1996 — you could get that one while you’re at the library, too). I was sort of right, when I was remembering it here, though I barely scratched the surface and am about to barely scratch it again (go read it, seriously). But anyway, Prosaics, says Morson, is "a way of thinking about human events that focuses on the ordinary, messy, quotidian facts of daily life — in short, on the prosaic."

But the idea is that it’s not just about having mess, it’s not that having things messy makes you a better person or something, as I hope I didn’t imply. It’s that the natural state of the world is mess (both literal and theoretical, I think) and what is interesting about it — what is, in fact, profound about it — are the efforts we make to tidy it, continuously, in a million little ways resulting in a million "tiny alterations of consciousness." It’s the fabric — the background — created by the result of those efforts that, although not necessarily dramatic, is important, and maybe even the whole point.

I wrote a while ago that I hadn’t "seen" things this way before my accident, but clearly I had at least read of them being so, in this essay, years before. I guess what I meant was that I hadn't "known" them this way, before. Though the moment of the accident was a major event, it was a random disaster, tinged with the regret of negligence, but with its own vaguely inevitable bearing. The cleanup, however, was comprised of a hundred million intentional gestures, from scalpel-wielding to tear-drying to "get-well-Alicia"-letter-writing, made in effort to close the wound. I saw the janitor’s efforts and the surgeon’s, then. It all seemed the same, and equally neccessary, to me. My desperation required every form of effort — janitorial, social, medical — in order for it to be salved. I remember once after I had returned home but was still in bed, I had a visiting nurse coming to change the dressings twice a day, and one morning when she was there a bird flew into the kitchen. Panicked, it flapped through the apartment. I became hysterical, from my bed, and bawled, "Oh no! Oh no!" She left my foot to catch the bird and throw it back out the window as I cried. I don’t even know why I was crying; she came back in (after having washed her hands of course), shaken, then continued to dab away at my poor, shredded foot. One thing at a time. It could be no other way. The bird was free. My foot looked good that day. Dab dab dab, smile. Those moments are the things I remember and, at the end of the day, the things that changed me more than the truck itself. Morson says:

"Most historians and philosophers tend to focus on the big events — on wars, revolutions, dramatic incidents, critical choices, and decisive encounters. Individual people, too, tend to tell themselves the story of their lives in terms of exceptional events and big decisions. But what if the important events are not the great ones, but the infinitely numerous and apparently inconsequential ordinary ones, which, taken together, are far more effective and significant? . . ."

And this:

"It is often the small items in the background of old photographs that most powerfully evoke elusive memories of the past. The things barely noticed at the time and included only by chance may best preserve the feeling of life as it was lived. The furniture long ago discarded, a spot on the wall, a picture we had long ignored but that now suggests the habitual life we lived beneath it — these small items remind us of how it felt to live in a room. The intended subject of a photograph can seem much less important in comparison with its background; and perhaps that is one reason why professional photos without a background so often seem to miss the very point of photography."

The characters of Leo Tolstoy (who Morson considers to be perhaps the greatest prosaic thinker) "achieve wisdom when they learn not to seek the great and poetic but to appreciate the small and prosaic," when they learn that the truths they seek are "hidden in plain view" like a picture on a wall we fail to notice though we "see" it every day. They learn that meaning is not "deep and distant, but here and everywhere." Selfhood is not something to be discovered but made, "an aggregate of habits, contingent facts, and clusters of order that continually interact with one another and with the hundred million diverse facts of daily life. . . . Our choices are shaped by the whole climate of our minds, which themselves result from countless small decisions at ordinary moments."

In participating in each "ordinary moment" we develop the habit of evaluating and correcting our thoughts in small, undramatic ways. Nevertheless, the moment — and the cumulative effect of these moments — matters. Chekhov, he says, always attributes ruined lives to daily pettiness and "petty squabbles." A reason, perhaps, to always let in someone trying to merge, to smile at the person who rings up your Big Gulp, to treat telemarketers with cheer instead of contempt? Countless small decisions at ordinary moments. You can change who you are with every one.

Morson says that of all literary forms, novels are best able to capture the messiness of the world, and in the great ones, "the texture of daily life is described with a richness, depth, and attention to contingent particulars that no other form of thought or literary genre offers. In novels we see moral decisions made moment to moment by inexhaustible complex characters in unrepeatable social situations at particular historical times; and we see that the value of these decisions cannot be abstracted from these specifics." Novels provide the details of peoples’ thought processes and experiences "thickly," and as we read them, we practice our reactions to particular kinds of people and situations. "Practice," says Morson, "produces habits that may precede, preclude, or preform conscious moral judgments in daily life." Novels for me, at least, have always been my religion.

It’s always been a curious phenomenon to me why certain books speak so strongly to certain people, and not at all to others. Apparently, there are a million infinitesimal reasons, specific and particular to each of us. (It also helps explain why it’s so impossible to tell someone else "what the book’s about," or why you liked it — only the process of reading it can really serve to say "why," and therein lies the paradox, no? Book reviewers and dust-jacket-copy writers would be unemployed.) Someone in the comments mentioned recently that they always watch movies to see what’s going on in the background. I do this too, and it’s why I almost never, ever remember the "plot" of anything, and I can almost never tell you "whodunit," though I can probably tell you what her wallpaper looked like, and if I liked her clothes, and whether the tone of her voice pleased me or put me off, or whether I thought she should’ve apologized, or been kinder there, whether she tried and failed — and all of those things are different than the things that you’d notice (and they are always different than the things Andy notices, and yet we are perfect for each other, etc., and how strange! and yet how not!) — but we each, we all, have our own things. (You see here, Jane, that I really do still love you even if you hated Prep!)

I don’t know exactly how blogs are like novels in all of this — I wouldn’t presume to know and I’m getting tired now and I bet you are too, but it’s somehow. I just know I’m happy to write mine, and happy to read others’, eager to see what’s in the corners of your homes, willing to show you mine, and I expect that the reasons why have everything to do with Prosaics, and my sincere attempts to be someone, however flawed and spastic, who seeks to improve, who starts with and believes in the small — and I bet you are, too, though our "smalls" are similar yet as varied as snowflakes. Morson says:

"Of course it is easier to remember the conclusion, summary, or interpretation of a work than the whole process of reading it. But if prosaics is right, then the process itself affects us as least as much, for good or ill. When Tolstoy wrote that the only way he could tell what Anna Karenina was about would be to rewrite it, he was, I think, stressing not the intricacy of his text as purely formal artifact, but rather the complexity of reading as a series of small decisions and moment-to-moment judgments. This process is not just indispensable to the point of the book; it is the point of the book. Like true life, art begins where the tiny bit begins."

Now, let's all go outside!

September 16, 2006

In Rows

Kitchen8 Dear little kitchen, I have missed you so much. First you were painted, so you were all messed up with all your things all over the place so I couldn't get in you to make some dinner for days. Then I went to the beach and left you behind, and though the beach kitchen was adorable, still, it was not you. Then I started spending all my time with another girl named Booth and eating take-out for efficiency's sake, since we were on a deadline. But yesterday — wasn't yesterday fabulous, sweetie? It was just you and me (and of course Mrs. Violet Paulson, the windowsill percher), back together again. Serenity now.

Kitchen7 What a week. It felt not only busy but busily emotional. The stupefying specter of September 11 permeated, and I find I am no closer to understanding than I was on any other of its anniversaries. The hole seems gaping, and now possibly infected, in need of emergency treatment, antibiotics, though no one seems to know what sort of medicine to prescribe, how best to heal the ragged, oozing thing. Band-Aids. Even I know those won't work, and I know almost nothing. I wish I understood more. But even when I try to listen (the causes, the symptoms, the prognosis) I just get more confused and despairing. I don't want to be irresponsible, but I'm no doctor, and have no wish to be. Have no talent to be. I cry too much, too easily. Or so they tell me. What do we, the hospital visitors, the patients, do? I don't know. I stand in constant awe of and have the greatest reverence for the human spirit — both its tenacity and fragility — if nothing else. I wish to be moved, daily, by such examples of it, in even the smallest of ways, a small smile, if absolutely nothing else.

Kitchen1_3After September 11, 2001, I remember feeling chronically, sickeningly disorganized. I'll never forget it. The tremendous pain and sadness and sympathy and confusion that we were all collectively feeling sank like an black anvil on top of the obviously smaller though somehow even larger (to me) feeling that my ducks were not in a row, my beloved ducks were not only out crossing streets, flying in planes, working in high-rises, willy-nilly, by themselves, but scattered all over the house, equally beyond my reach — anything, at any time, could happen.

A big revelation to those of us who grew up in screwy families is the new idea that there are things within our control, and things that are not in our control. I didn't actually learn that until I was 30. What? I had figured, obviously, that everything, everything that happened to everyone, had something to do with me, something to do with something I wasn't doing right. Well . . . yeah. Something like that. (Still don't totally believe it's not true, but let's just say.)

After that day in 2001, I couldn't sleep. Everything felt messy, the world, the house, my life. I didn't know where things were. Drawers overflowed with junk. Closets exploded with textiles and piles of shoes. I hadn't a clue what was in the refrigerator, scavenged for meals as if I were swatting at tennis balls somehow — things fell off shelves and I cooked them, or rather we argued about who had to cook them, backhanding them into pots on the stove then onto our plates without much of a care. It had been this way for a long time. I had lived as if it were all temporary, somehow, or too much to handle. But it's not. The outside world is. Routinely. Too much to handle. It is what it is. I alternately engage with and protect myself from it, in effect. I'm not saying it's right. I'm no genius at modern living. I do the best I can. The inside world, these 1,900 square feet and the people and the stuff and all the things that happen within this little house — my ducks — you guys are getting in your rows whether you like it or not. You get in there, baby. Get. In. There. Right there. All in your places, with bright shiny faces. Now, you all know I love you, right? I know you do. Get back in there. Where are you go— . Okay, but just a little. That's enough, darling. (It's tough. They always want to come out. [Sigh.] )

September 12, 2006


The Paulsons' re-entry to the real non-beachified world has been swift and painful. So much of what went on in the days before we left for the beach (moving an enormous shelf into the bedroom and re-doing all the books and magazines, bleaching and repainting the bathroom, repainting the kitchen, making many, many ruffles) and after we came back (repainting the living room, moving ginormous table upstairs) has not been documented here. I barely wanted to be living it, let alone re-living it. Time off work for Andy usually means a flurry of house projects, and these had been on the list for quite a while. I'm thrilled with the results, however, and will show you soon. A houseguest arrives tonight so things are still a little hectic as we race to put at least her room back in shape before she gets here.

I moved into my antique-market booth yesterday, too, and should finish it up today. It's at the Monticello Antique Market in southeast Portland (Stark and SE 86th). I'm very pleased with how it is turning out, and I'll be sobbing with relief when I've got it in shape — not yet, but close. I ran into my friend Denise Sharp while I was there yesterday (she has a display there now, too) and we talked about being busy. She said she felt body type had a lot to with personality — she considers herself the "tug-o'-war anchor" type, not too rattled by much of anything, which I thought was a completely hilarious image. I immediately pictured a sloth for myself, slowly but surely creeping along her tree-branch following the shade, rumbling along, turning glacier-slow with that spaced-out "Who, me?" sort of countenance. Have you ever seen video of a sloth? When I see sloths I truly feel a connection there. The poor things even fall off their trees in slow motion.

Unfortunately, since the regular, non-beachified world requires me to regularly zim-zam around like some wiry, birdlike, hyper-thyroid type, the result of such speed and stress on the naturally slothlike attitude I inhabit is entirely language-based. It results in me speaking both at fever-pitch speed and a decibel level that would hurt a dog's ears, and, content-wise, saying things like, "I'm so busy!" to any and all.
     "Welcome to Taco Bell, can I take your order?"
     "Ohmigod, I'm so busy I need an extra-large Pepsi [they don't have Coke] with extra, extra ice and HURRY!!!"

Okay, I didn't actually say the "hurry!" part; it is simply implied in the shrieking by which I employ all dialog.

I worked on the booth from about 11 until 6 yesterday, got home and did some paperwork that was sorely overdue and had already caused problems, and then marched out a few final, slogging steps nervously watching Andy switch the "dining"-room table with the guest-room table. All this while sighing loudly with exhaustion. "Ow, my foot," I said, or "Oh, my back." Eventually, while lying on the couch, I said, "Ow, I have a stomach ache," and Andy said, "Hun, you can only have five problems at a time. You can't have a foot ache and a stomach ache at the same time."


Feeling better today, but . . . gotta go! Miss you guys. I'll be back tomorrow with pictures, I promise. xoxox

September 09, 2006

Time to Go Home

PicketflowersEnd-of-summer pink, and it started to feel like we were leaving

Antiques2Seaside Antique Mall, but I was thinking about all I had to do at home

TotalbabeGratuitous total babe shot.

Totalbabe3I'm sorry, but what a specimen. Can you believe this guy?

BeachdoorOne more time out the door

Beachmoth_1Noticing the little things

Beachbye_1Goodbye beach, love you so much.

ByebeachYou have been so good to us.

September 08, 2006

Beach and Ball

Audrey3_1Oh, ocean!

Audrey2_2Give me some waves and a ball and I'm happy all afternoon.

Audrey1_2Oh, and a bit of shade for when I get hot.

Audrey4_1Later, we'll build a bonfire.

Audrey5_1And yes, there will be a ball.

Audrey6_1But really it's about the bonfire.

Audrey9_2Did you know the Oregon coast is owned by all Oregonians?

Audrey8_2When she gets tired, she apparently prefers to use the table and chair legs as a pillow.

Flowers2_3 Flowers_3

The next morning, we leave her home and go to get some breakfast.

Flowers4_1But dogs are everywhere we go.

Flowers3_1We are friends to all.

Audrey7But there is always one we love best.

September 06, 2006

Dispatch from the Side of the Sea

FrontdoorWeathered welcome

Seside1How the clouds cover

SailorsThey bought hats and couldn't see me

Parchesi_1Clam chowder and beer bread here

SamsIf you like that sort of thing, which we do 

WindscreenAndy-made windscreen

FountainChai and wi-fi, for a few minutes

Ecola_1Fall moves down the creek

BellbuoyWhat swims in the sea

BellbuoydisplayEventually lands in the case

Bellbuoyshirt Or on a t-shirt

TopsidersEverything's sandy

BeachkitchenThe beach kitchen

Beachkitchen2Charming, but could use a few more pots and pans

MoonoverhillsThe moon rose over the hills after dinner

Sunsetwalk West-coast sunset

Sunsetwalk2The Promenade 

August 25, 2006

Scenes from a Dogwalk, Late Summer

Dogwalk1Oh, we did have fun, Audrey and I. We walked all around our little neighborhood yesterday, checking things out. It was pretty sleepy-quiet out there, just the way we like it. This is our neighbor's dappled driveway. I love scenes like this. All these photos are of things a few blocks from our place.

Dogwalk2One of my least favorite and most-lingering effects of being run over by a truck has been losing the ability to walk around the neighborhood the way I used to. As a child and teenager and even when I lived there for a couple of years after college, I walked every inch of my hometown. I had skipped, ridden, galloped, sauntered, slapped my way down Forest Avenue a million times, probably two million. I did not own a car until I was thirty years old. I walked everywhere, in every kind of weather, like a mailman. One snowy, cold afternoon, my next-door neighbor, that lovely, soft-spoken, grandfatherly Irishman Joe May was pulling out of his driveway and saw me walking to work (two miles away), asked if I wanted a ride. Oh no, I replied, cheerily. I have plenty of time. He shook his head, chuckling, and said, "You are crazy. Beautiful, but crazy." It was one of the best moments of my whole life. I mean, I already knew I was crazy. I didn't know about the other thing. I was warmed all the way across town.

Dogwalk6 My parents really were nutters, pretty much, and I knew this from a very young age. I spent as much time out of the house as I could, dreaming of other houses. I didn't know that I lived in a special town. This was Oak Park (and River Forest), Illinois, home of Frank Lloyd Wright and dozens of his houses; they litter the place like exotic butterflies, but your friends live in them, they're just places you walk past on your way everywhere, school, the library, the bakery. I mean, it's completely outrageous, how pretty those houses are, how magical those streets. In my pedestrian travels around OPRF, I noticed every yard, every front porch, every flower planter, every lightpost, and took copious mental notes. In my anxiousness to escape my own and live in any other house, I bundled parts and pieces of all the houses that I saw and created imaginary ones of my own; my fantasy houses were sophisticated and extreme, filled with dumbwaiters and Prairie-Style great rooms and carriage houses in back gardens, and trees growing straight up through living rooms.

Dogwalk9 I know that working on these "houses" saved my life, for I did feel that I was working as I was walking. I knew, I just knew, there could be a better way, that spaces could change everything, that someday I would be old and get to leave and be in charge of atmosphere. I would not let anyone smoke in my house. I would make people go to bed at regular times, and there would be nice sheets. I would never, ever have blinds closed during the day. I would give everyone a little table of their very own, at which to do whatever kinds of things they wanted. I would actually care if the residents of my house were unhappy.

Dogwalk7 I'm all grown up now, and have my own dear little house. It certainly doesn't have a dumbwaiter — it doesn't even have a garbage disposal — but it is very happy. I knew it could be, and I was right, I was so right. Your space can change your life. I still love looking at houses, though. Our little neighborhood in Portland, where these pictures are from, is a mix of big old houses and squatty little cubes and overblown gardens and dried-up yellow lawns. It's full of working families and shared driveways and shabby apple trees that drop their gloppy packages on the sidewalk, and nobody, including us, bothers to clean the stuff up. There are gargantuan roses and vegetable gardens planted in front yards and sagging moss-covered roofs and peeling paint and entire sun-blasted streets where the tree trunks are only four or five inches around. And there are streets with big old oaks that make me feel like I'm back home.

Dogwalk10These are the first pictures I've ever taken around my neighborhood, for some reason, though this is our familiar dogwalk route. That brick house up there is my favorite. It actually doesn't fit in the neighborhood at all, I don't think — it's much too fancy and well-kept for our crowd. I drive past it every couple of days to see if they've put a "for sale" sign out front. I've told Andy that the minute they do I'll sell everything I have in order to get it. It's a joke, of course; we could never afford that beauty. But I do like to go by and say hello to her when I can. I think she's just lovely.

Dogwalk12_1 God, I miss walking. It's a different experience now, with the crap foot. It's like the walking itself, the steps are the real thing, because they hurt and you feel them. Before, the walking was nothing, automatic in that way; I never thought about the action itself. It was the invisible vehicle that allowed me close access to the houses, and gave me time to think. And now the houses are sort of there, but they're secondary to me counting steps in my mind — how much farther can I go before I need to turn back. You must stop when you've reached the halfway mark, because the way back makes up the second half of the steps you get to take. But, whatever. That's life. You can't stop walking, even if it's not the same. But oh! the luxury of the un-noticed, un-felt step!

Dogwalk3_1 I think about the people displaced by Hurricane Katrina, all those suffering war and dire trouble, soldiers in bunkers, children in unhappy homes, refugees without places to rest, and I feel such panic on their behalf. Sometimes when I'm out and I've walked too far, and am worried about whether my foot will make it back home, I think of them: that feeling of being caught out in elements, at the mercy of the home-ful, dependent, out of place, trying to get back, looking in every glowing window and knowing it is not your own, the flickering room on the other side as far away, as untenable, as the sun, all forms of warmth and comfort.

Dogwalk15_1 When I was eleven I loved a book called My Side of the Mountain, about a boy who runs away and lives in a hollowed out tree with a pet falcon. I read it over and over again. That same winter my dad and I found a little hand-built house in our urban forest preserve, hidden by snow in a grove. Someone was living there, just like the Boxcar Children, though this was a very professional, survivalist arrangement. He said the person was probably in the snowy trees, hiding only feet away, watching us, though we never saw anyone. I've never forgotten it. Often I would walk down my street in the winter, at quiet twilight, with all those black branches against that white, white sky, and I'd think about the street when it had been just forest, when Indians lived there and padded the deer trails with their hushed, moccasin-ed footfalls, tracking. Somewhere in my trunk of things downstairs in the basement is a notebook with my notes about how I'll do it, how I'll build my own little mudhouse, use a tin can for a chimney, should the need ever arise.

August 18, 2006

Coffee for Two: Cracked

Coffeefortwo2Yay, I know it's Friday because Andy's home. Last night started with a science lesson:
     He: "So, how would you define 'gravity' then?"
     Me: "Um, things fall down?"
     He: " . . . "[Rethinking marriage, I guess.]

CoffeefortwoMy lack of understanding of basic physics (let alone astronomy/ astrology) might be part of the reason I am such a crap mover (that whole "it won't just fit through the door?" thing, remember), but we'll put this to the test this morning, as begins the first day of moving out of the shop. Wish me (him, really, poor guy) luck!

August 17, 2006

Let's Try this Again: Coffee for One, Thursday

CoffeeforonethursdayGood morning, friends! I feel fairly confident that today is Thursday. Isn't it? I'm not sure if this is the right group to ask, actually, since it seems, from many of the comments, that I was not the only one who thought yesterday could've been anywhere from Monday to Friday. Oh man was Andy cracking up when he read those last night. Anyway, I'm pretty sure today is Thursday. Though you can see from the lighting in this photo that it's a bit . . . later . . . than it was yesterday. I'm getting a slow start.

Speaking of lighting, and in response to several comments I've gotten lately asking me what kind of camera I use, I use a Canon PowerShot A80 and I love it. My sweet friend Misha (wife of the very clever felt-donut-stitching Stuart) pointed me toward this camera several years ago and I love it. (Though it does drive me insane how it turns itself off all the time, resetting everything that you just spent time adjusting; but otherwise I love it. Thanks, you guys!)

I think it's sort of middle-of-the-line as far as digital cameras go, I don't know. But you should know that I also Photoshop every photo that you see on this blog. I wrote about how I do it in this post last winter. That's still pretty much how I do it.

I mentioned there, and it surprised me to remember when I reread that post this morning, how much I HATED taking pictures before I had this camera, or, for that matter, this blog. Oh, it was awful, like that whole earth goes around the sun/moon goes around the earth (I think, doesn't it?) thing, and all of them are spinning really fast, maybe — can't really keep it that straight, no matter how often it's explained to me, and now it turns out there are more planets so ??? And I felt that way about taking pictures: Blank stare. The aperture is what now? Depth of field . . . Shutter speed what? . . . What what? Aaaagh!

Inventor of the Canon A80 — I love you. You changed my life. You've allowed me to continue on in blissful ignorance while still being able to capture so many moments I would never, ever remember if I didn't have a photo of them, because my memory (like, apparently, my comprehension of first-grade astronomy [at least I didn't say astrology] ) is atrocious, and that's all I really wanted to do — look at life in a slower way. Give me some evidence that it even happened at all. Have a record that I existed there, and there, and there, and here. I was here. Now, keep on going. You'll take a picture when you get there. And it will come out good.

August 16, 2006

Coffee for One

CoffeeforoneGood morning, friends. What day is it. Oh yeah, Tuesday. Morning. Gotta get back in the game here, reluctant though I am. Andy's back at work today, and I have piles of things to attend to. I apologize to everyone to whom I owe (well, not owe, but you know what I mean) emails, letters, phone calls, birthday presents, warm thoughts. I'm gonna finish this cup of coffee and start hacking away at the raspberry bramble of activities I've been neglecting. Where are my pruning shears. Need those.

UPDATE: Oh. My. GOODNESS. It's Wednesday. Nice, Alicia. Thanks everybody. See, what would I do without you???

August 15, 2006

Round Trip

Airport2The airport. Time to go. Andy's mom is on her way back to Chicago.

Airport1 I used to love going to the airport, but of course it's so different now. Even though (for the past ten years) I can't bring myself to get on the plane and feel like throwing up whenever I picture actually being in the air, I love the airport, the way it used to be. I love the feeling of travel, that efficient, weightless feeling of being suspended in time, the happy calmness of waiting for something (train, boat, bus, plane) to leave or arrive. I miss being able to go all the way to the gate to look at the planes and sit with your friend until her flight is called. There is something about the airport that makes me feel so incomparably sad now.

Airport3My mom's flying this week, too, out east to visit my sister. Our moms are so good to get on planes and come to us. It's one of the challenges of living in a country (and world) that's so big. People you love are so far away. We miss the prosaic workings of each other's lives, and those are often the things I cherish most. Knowing how someone likes their soda (diet Squirt, in a big glass, with lots of ice), what kind of bag they carry, what color they polish their toenails, that they love Costco — I like knowing these things. I don't always know. Can you all please start blogs so I can find out

Flowers1_2 Flowers3 Flowers4 Flowers2_1

Feeling sad, I took a Valium and we hopped a plane to Paris to cheer us up. Here are some gorgeous bouquets at the marche aux fleurs! Aren't they just beautiful?

Airport9Kidding. It's Costco, where we went after we left the airport, in an attempt to prolong the spirit of Sue's visit. Feeling slightly overwhelmed (we only go here about once every year or so, and it really does feel like a foreign country to me) we came home with popcorn kernels, roses, stretch pants, and mailing labels.

Yes, I said stretch pants. It was Costco, people. They don't let you leave the place without them. Anyway, I need them, because I'm not sure we stopped eating once all week.

What a great visit, round and full. Gosh. Thank you so much for coming. We miss you already, Mom P.

August 14, 2006

Oh, Ocean!

BeachMmmm, the beach. The edge of the earth. Every time I'm there it occurs to me that I could easily have become a beach bum. Open a surf shack, watch the waves roll in, live on the sand. Nevermind that I've never surfed, can barely swim, and get totally freaked out by constant wind, I can lay on the beach all the livelong day, for days in a row, and be very content. This is the Oregon coast at Cannon Beach.

BeachcottageOf course, a beach cottage would be lovely, too, for an occasional salt-water rinse-off and a sandwich. How cute is this, where we went to a garage sale yesterday on our way down to the water. There are so many little cedar-shake houses like this on little sandy side-streets in town. And the flowers, oh man. Billowing out of every little rock wall, seashell flower-pot, and window box, and all of them flopping around in those salty breezes. Oh, beach cottages! Flowers!

Beachaudrey1Miss Audrey: thinks cottages and flowers are a colossal waste of time, just get that girl down to the water's edge but quick, please! Run and run and run and run some more, until she's barfing up sand and her eyes are glued shut by wet sand and her tongue is practically touching the ground she's so tired. She sometimes stops and digs a big hole in the shade of our beach chairs and gets in it for a sec. You can usually tell by her floppy ears and half-closed eyes how tired she really is.

AudreyatbeachIt doesn't stop her, though. That sandy, disgusting tennis ball comes back out and that little doggie is after it. Who can possibly sit still on the beach?

Audreyatbeach3Oh, I can! Not a problem. No problem at all. Just leave me here. I'll be totally fine.

August 12, 2006

Campfire Crochet

PancakesYesterday was so fall-like, I had to pull out a sweater. After blueberry-pancake breakfast, we headed out to the river for a picnic afternoon and some bluegrass music around the campfire. We were so sad that Audrey couldn't come with us (dogs aren't allowed at the park), but then we saw a bunny that looked just like her and felt a little better.

CampfirebunnyThis picture is a bit blurry because I actually took it from the car (i.e.: quite far away) as we drove in, and the bunny was in the yard of the ranger's house. Isn't she adorable? The park is so nice. It's on the edge of the city and there is a little promontory we like that juts out over the river, and is covered in nice soft pine needles.

Campfire2It's so quiet in there, which is what I like about it. We'd been here once before. Down by the beach part there are usually at least a few groups of rather obnoxious people, but up on the ridge it feels like a fairyland. We brought our dinner (sandwiches, potato salad, spinach dip, beets) and several quilts and I tell you, I could've easily fallen asleep for the rest of the afternoon. I still wish Audrey had been there.

Campfire6 Today we are going to a party on someone's houseboat, and tomorrow the ocean beach. It's so nice when people come to visit because you yourself kind of get to stop and do some things you don't do often enough. We haven't even been to the beach yet this summer, and the summer's almost over. It's only an hour or so away, too. Oh well. Tomorrow. I can't wait. Anywhere near the water makes me happy.

Campfire5When we walked down to the river, a bald eagle was flying overhead. I didn't get a picture of that. Later a blue heron streamed right by. The sun was setting. Andy swam across the other side. Two teenage boys screamed at each other about who was going to jump off the big rock and who was too scared to do it. Then some teenage girls came along to watch and further complicate the situation. My mother-in-law and I crocheted on the sand and listened to the back-and-forth. The "chicken" finally jumped. Mind you, I didn't think he was chicken (his friend was calling him something much more offensive). I thought he was the only smart one among them, personally. But a half-hour of constant peer pressure is a persuasive force and jump with a nervous, bellowing yawp he finally did, then jump again. Good for him., I guess. He survived.

Campfire4_1 The campfire program on Friday and Saturday nights is pretty cute. Live music, storytellers, and nature programs entertain campers and visitors in the amphitheater every weekend during the summer. Last night it was a local father-and-son bluegrass duo — very sweet. We crocheted until it got too dark to see. It's the great thing about easy patterns. Once you get going it's so addictive. I have a hard time sitting with nothing going on in my hands.

CampfireMaking Ina's apple cake tatin (well, that's what she calls it — I myself didn't really know what a tatin was, but I looked it up and it means a type of tart with a caramel glaze that you turn out and upside down) for the houseboat party this afternoon. It's a cool, overcast morning again, which feels like a treat, somehow. The smell of the campfire reminded me of fall. It's funny how the seasons always seem to work out just right, somehow. By the time the weather turns, I'm getting ready. It was fun to wear a sweater last night; nothing sounds better than some mellow, caramel-y apples today.

August 04, 2006

No Plan in Sight . . . Yet

Pho_house_teaforone2_lgSomething happened to me yesterday that I don't think has ever happened to me before. I went to the fabric store, and came home with . . . nothing. Thank you to everyone who pointed me at different dresses based on the ones I was talking about yesterday — I did wind up buying the Simplicity pattern (I actually like those billowy sleeves on the pattern dress better than the ones on the Boden dress), but I couldn't find a single bolt of fabric that I liked, and I couldn't find anything for Arden's dress, either. How weird is that. I don't . . . it's weird.

I came home with these little made-in-Japan salt-and-pepper shakers, creamer and sugar bowl, and mug, which look cute with my new (thrifted) apron. Cute, though not much to show for a whole day, because then I wandered around aimlessly, stabbing at different chores without much being accomplished, making bigger messes of things than I was taking care of. I felt like I was standing still in the middle of the room, pigeon-toed with my pinky finger in my mouth going, "Huh?"

Part of it, I think, is just the anxiety I always have about moving. I historically become quite pathetic. I decided I needed to make a conscious effort not to fret about it, and figured that my brain was flickering with warning, as in "about to blow a fuse." I am so dreading the physical part of moving our stuff out of the store I can't even tell you. I suck at moving. So bad. All my life. I don't even know why, since mostly my role in activities like that is to sit on a box and shout out directions. Well, that's what they tell me I'll be doing, but it never works like that, ever. I never can resist getting in there as much as anyone, and then crumpling into bed at the end of the day, heaving sobs of panicked exhaustion — we're-never-gonna-be-done-boo-hoo-hoo-hoo! kinda thing. It's ridiculous, it's so ridiculous, for a grown woman to behave this way, I know. Have I not matured at all when it comes to moving? Must I revert to petulant teenager when the going gets rough, gearing up the hissy fit in secret hope that everyone will get so frustrated with me they'll tell me to stay home (ah, home, where it's nice and clean and organized) and proceed to take care of it themselves, like the adults they apparently are? Oh that would be so great, says the selfish pig. Even risking my reputation as a fairly reliable, I-can-do-it kind of person seems worth it when I'm standing there trembling, finger in mouth, overwhelmed by the boxes, the dirt, the cleaning that lies ahead, the logistics of how to get that thing off the wall/through the doorway/down the stairs (agh!!!), not to mention the figuring out where the hell to put everything now. But it's so not worth it. Oh no. Because what then  follows are the inevitable gales of shame and embarrassment over my immaturity, the impassioned vows to change, and then the desperate attempt to blank out all memory of public hysteria/grouchy snapping at spouse in front of others/general bad behavior. And that, my friends, can be even worse, as I plead for anyone listening to tell me not to worry about it. But it's the sort of "don't worry about it" that really means "I'm so glad I'm not you — and please leave now."

I am going to try so hard not to freak out, I promise. I will make sure I have lots of Big Gulps, breaks, and no-boxes-here buffer zones so that I keep my fragile sense of humor intact. I will find a notebook and start up a plan. The move is still weeks away — and I have a most excellent reason for putting it all on the back burner: Andy's mom arrives from Chicago for her week-long visit on Tuesday, and I have been looking forward to this for a year. I love her visits so much. We enjoy doing so many of the same things, and, at the end of the day, we plop into our respective chairs and contentedly take out our crochet, don't we, dear? How cool is that. My wonderful mother-in-law, I promise that I will not be a distracted wreck when you are here, or talk incessantly about myself like I usually do, or about the upcoming boxes-and-dirt, or anything like that. I will consult my list of things to do in Portland, and make a plan for the second week of August that includes nothing but family, fun, and fretlessness. I want to go to the beach, the rose garden, the Cheesecake Factory, the farmer's market, the backyard, and anywhere else you like with nothing but the intention to play and relax and enjoy every precious minute. I will get plenty of sleep, take my vitamins, and practice much deep-breathing and perspective-seeking. I'm going to do the move differently this time, I swear. This is my plan. Being a bit slow in the "Oh, I get it!" department, I'm starting now.

Actually, even just writing this was a bit cathartic. If I have the virtual hissy here, maybe I can forgo the real-life one?

July 20, 2006

Lovely River, then Delicious Dinner

Anniversaryriver2This is kind of what I imagined Oregon to look like before I moved here. That's Andy, in his orange swim trunks. He spent a good chunk of the late afternoon sitting on his floaty raft, paddling around. I laid in the shade and read, and took deep soul-searching woodsy breaths, inhaling that soft, soft pine-needle smell of the forest. I have rarely been in the forest since my accident, and although as a child I hated the forced marches our father took us on in our neighborhood forest preserve, as an adult, living in Montana and Oregon, I realize that I do love the huge, quiet pine-treed woods (so often to be found within city limits here) and do not get to them near enough. If I could manage to set up camp like Amy does, I would live there, I think. How in the hell and the hootenanny she managed to get a full-size bed into the tent I really don't know but . . . is that allowed? Wow. This changes everything.

Anniversaryriver_1 We left the river around 5:30 and made it home an hour later to start dinner; I thought eating by candlelight might be nice. I made something that we call "Lasagna Rozale," named after the apartment building where we lived when we were engaged in Missoula, and where we first made this. From the February 1996 issue of Martha Stewart Living, these lasagnas are not smothered in red sauce (which I personally can't stand) the way so many seem to be; they are layered with bechamel and an only vaguely tomatoe-y sort of Bolognese sauce.

Anniversarydinner4Though the recipe originally called for polenta "noodles," dried porcini, and veal, we modified things to be much more Orange-Street-Food-Farm (our very small neighborhood grocery store) friendly, using regular noodles, button mushrooms, and Italian sausage. Nevertheless, it is our hands-down all-time-favorite romantic meal. I thank you all quite sincerely for the kind anniversary wishes you left for us yesterday. I share this recipe with best wishes for many happy years and romantic dinners of your own.

Lasagnas Rozale
Serves 2

For the sauce:
8 oz. mushrooms, chopped
2 t. olive oil
2 t. butter
1 carrot, finely chopped
1 celery stalk, finely chopped
1 small onion, peeled and finely chopped
1 clove garlic, peeled and finely chopped
3 oz. lean ground beef
3 oz. ground pork
3 oz. Italian sausage
Salt and pepper
1/2 c. red wine
12 oz. chopped tomatoes (boxed or canned)
2 c. chicken stock
1/4 t. nutmeg

For the bechamel sauce:
2 T. butter
2 T. flour
1 c. plus 3 tablespoons milk
1/4 t. salt
1/4 t. nutmeg

Other ingredients:
6 lasagna noodles
10 oz. frozen spinach, thawed and drained
3/4 c. freshly grated Parmesan

Anniversarydinner_1 To make the sauce:
1. In large skillet, heat olive oil and butter over medium-low heat. Add mushrooms and cook, stirring occasionally, until they are soft and have let off their liquid, about 5 minutes. Add carrot, celery, onion, and garlic; cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are translucent, 3 to 4 more minutes.
2. Meanwhile, in separate skillet, break up and brown all meats over high heat, stirring occasionally, about 4 minutes. Add 1/2 t. salt and 1/8 t. pepper. Drain off fat and add meats to skillet containing vegetables; mix everything together. Add wine and cook until liquid has evaporated, about 2 minutes. Stir in tomatoes, stock, and nutmeg. Lower heat to medium low and slowly simmer, stirring occasionally, about 35 minutes. Much of the liquid will evaporate but sauce will remain very moist. It can be made 2 days in advance and stored in refrigerator. You will have extra sauce after lasagnas are assembled to use over pasta, etc., for lunch the next day, too.

To make the bechamel:
1. In a saucepan, melt 2 T. butter over medium-low heat. Add flour and cook, stirring frequently, 5 to 6 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, bring milk and salt to a boil. Slowly whisk the milk into the flour mixture until completely incorporated and smooth. Add the nutmeg and reduce heat to low; simmer, stirring occasionally, until thickened, about 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from heat.

Anniversarydinner2_2 To assemble the lasagna:
1. Boil lasagna noodles in large pot of salted water until about a minute before you normally like them to come out. Drain and rinse with cold water, then cut (shorten) to fit two 12-ounce individual ovenproof casserole dishes.
2. Heat a medium skillet over medium-high heat; add spinach and a pinch of salt and pepper. Cook, stirring, until wilted and tender. Remove from heat and drain in a colander. Set aside.
3. Heat oven to 375 degrees. Spread 5 T. meat sauce into each of the casserole dishes. Cover with 1 lasagna noodle and spread 5 T. meat sauce evenly over. Spread 2 T. bechamel over the meat sauce and evenly distribute 2 T. chopped spinach over the bechamel. Sprinkle with Parmesan and cover with 1 lasagna noodle. Repeat layering process. Spread 1 heaping tablespoon of Parmesan and dot with butter.
4. Bake until tops of lasagnas are golden and juices are bubbling, about 20 to 25 minutes. If the tops are not yet brown, increase heat to broil and place lasagnas under broiler until tops are speckled brown. Let stand 10 minutes; serve with red wine, simple salad, crusty bread, fancy deserts, and lots of love.

Oh — and I forgot to tell you a tip about the parasols hanging from the pergola thing (thanks for the reminder, Hildy!). So, we have one of those trellis things, I never know what it's called, over the patio area, pictured here. (The lantern is several years old, from Smith & Hawken.) My friend Nancy told me about something she'd seen her friend do over her trellis thing in Italy once, while she was waiting for stuff to grow up and cover it. She floated parasols above the boards on top to give a bit of shade and extra romance. You just push the parasols up between the boards while they're closed, then open them. I would say that if you do this, it would be best to weight down the handles of the parasols somehow; I had four up there and two blew out and across the yard, even though there wasn't much of a breeze. The things act like sails. But I would think a couple of little bags of rice attached to the handles, or something like that, would help? Pretty idea — I'd been meaning to do it for ages. Would even be lovely with jelly-jar lanterns hanging from the handles for a little extra candlelight, no?

July 18, 2006

Strange Collection

MantleWell, I know, this is kind of weird and all over the place for the living room mantle — casserole dishes, teacups, canisters and vases — but that's kind of how I'm feeling lately. Scrambled. I look at it all/myself and say, "Is this working?" Too bad if it's not — best I can do today. Hmmm. Lots of odds and ends in life right now, between tying up things at the shop, planning something new, continuing with what's not changing, finding time to enjoy the process of change (er, okay — trying). I'll get there. Deep breath. Maybe the polka dots/cookware/mustard yellow (and perhaps even this metaphor) is all working after all. Who knows. I'll know when I look back at it, next month, I think. For now, just gotta keep moving. I can do it.

July 17, 2006

Great Weekend

WeddingI love going to weddings. I always get choked up, though. This time I didn't get that bite-your-lip feeling during the ceremony but during the slide show they played just before the ceremony of their engagement pictures, pictures of them playing around out at a farm on Sauvie Island. This couple is about 21 years old. So young. The sweetest people.

I've been thinking about weddings because Andy's and my ninth anniversary is this week. I usually botch the anniversary present (and most other presents) to him. I wish, I really, really wish that we had way back when embarked on a routine that would have included the traditional anniversary gifts. Ninth is pottery. I, of course, want the big white Le Creuset dutch oven. Is that pottery? I don't think so. Iron. Darn. Should've gotten it for the sixth. Oh well. Anyway, need to think about good present, quick.

BreakfastpresentsBlair and Stephanie came on Sunday morning with lovely presents — adorable pin cushion and tiny dollhouse treasures, as well as book (started it last night, B, and miracle of miracles, I like it! Thank you! Phew, 'cause I couldn't sleep [having slept half the day, see below]! ). It's always so great to meet bloggers and discover that they're just as wonderful in person. Andy helped me by making waffles for the girls, and smoked salmon. I made Ina's basil frittata (just finished the leftovers of that for breakfast this morning, in fact). I love having people over for breakfast.

BreakfastThere's this illusion that, after breakfast, everyone will have the rest of the day to do something else, when in fact I went into the living room for just one quick second to sit down and wound up falling asleep. By seven, after I'd fallen asleep and woken up about four times — each time I woke Andy was watching either Miss Marple, Poirot, Barnaby, or Monk — I was so ready to head for bed. We were supposed to have gone to the antique expo in town for the weekend, but actually never made it out of the living room, or, in my case, off the sofa. Great weekend.

July 13, 2006

Why I Don't Write Historical Novels, for Instance

DuckitOh man, I so realize I am in serious danger of taking up permanent residence under the bell jar this week. Those letters, coupled with the Woody Guthrie biography (sad, I thought) last night on OPB — good grief. Having my daisy dinner party tonight, thank goodness, which got postponed from Saturday when I found myself living exclusively in 1945 and couldn't get out. I cannot even tell you how distracting that was — I really felt like I was in some weird wrinkle in time. I took myself out to dinner alone at a Chinese restaurant after work on Tuesday night, intending to read my brand new Vanity Fair, which I thought was in my bag and would help me re-enter the 21st century, since I seemed to be having trouble doing so. What was actually in my bag, what was the only reading material in my bag was a copy of a 1951 needlework and crochet magazine called The Workbasket. I could not believe it. I'd forgotten that I'd cleaned out my bag. I begged the waiter desperately for a newspaper, a newspaper dated July 11, 2006. The only ones he had were in Chinese. I gave him a panicked stare, then sat and ate my salt-and-pepper squid and read The Workbasket with great petulance. I absolutely cannot eat alone without reading. I think the waiter and the hostess were so shocked that someone would show up for dinner alone (this was the kind of gargantuan restaurant where you routinely see tables of twelve, next to other tables of twelve, all members of the same party) that they seated me directly across from the only other guy in the whole restaurant eating alone. He didn't have anything to read either. He played with his Blackberry, and I felt like I could not comfortably sit there and stare into space, being right next to him as I was like that. So, once again, I found myself reading about ladies' clubs, boiled icings, and the latest in doily fashion. I seriously thought I was going to walk out of the place to discover I was wearing a circle skirt and a cashmere twinset. Aaagh.

Anyway, feeling much more 2006 now, and wanted to say a heartfelt and very contemporary thank you to everyone who left comments on the store closing — I really appreciate those. If you are a Typepad blogger, you probably know that Typepad was down for maintenance yesterday, and deleted a whole bunch of comments that were made during that time — so sorry about that. I can't believe how nice the people that read this blog are. Where were you when I was thirteen and my entire school hated me (yes, Lorraine Schalk, I'm talking to you here). Thank you for all your kind words, honestly, though I'm starting to wonder about the antique market thing. Given my apparently extremely sensitive response to the past lately, I'm beginning to think I should, like, stop estate saling and take up hip-hop dancing, get a cell phone, and shop at Costco like everybody else so I can at least maintain, if not seek to improve, my already wobbly pace in the present day. Dude. Seriously. Get a grip.

July 10, 2006

The Second Group

Typedletter2Monday afternoon. Perfect weather here. Seventy degrees and sunny. I have Ivonne's Cherry Coffeecake in the oven and a sleeping corgi at my feet. Life here at the Paulsons' in the summer of 2006, my friends, is good.

Nevertheless, all the letter reading of the past few days has left me pensive and a bit melancholy. It has been hard to stay detached from this story, I must say. I have found myself distracted from my other things and drawn repeatedly back to the pile of envelopes until this afternoon, as I try and summarize things, just for my own peace of mind, I guess. Many people who commented seemed surprised to hear that I was not going to keep the letters; I don't think you'd be surprised if you'd read them. They are quite intense. I'm not sure exactly what I'll do, but I have done a bit of research and have found a couple of people in the family and will contact them directly first, to see if they are interested in having the letters returned. If not, and with their permission, I will donate them to a historical society. But, not just yet.

The second group of letters are written mostly from around 1950 through 1961 between a mother, Hazel, and her son, Roy, with several from Roy's sister (the aforementioned Clara, though she is only referred to as "Sis" or "Sister," and signs her own name this way consistently). These letters are related to the first group by the vaguest of connections — Hazel is Ray's (of Mary-and-Ray, from yesterday's post) aunt, though that is never specifically mentioned, and I only figured it out when I could see that Ray's mother Muree was writing to Hazel and talking about "Ma," — the mother they both share. Ree (Mu-ree) is also mentioned several times in Hazel's letters, and one time Clara says something like "Mother paid Ree the money she owed her so at least that's over with." Not a huge ton of affection between these two sisters, Hazel and Muree, from what I can tell. How all the letters wound up together I'm not sure. Of course, I could easily be wrong about all of it.

But let's just say I got it right. This second group of letters, then, is to Hazel's son Roy, not Ray (and not Ree). Roy sailed for at least these ten years with the States Steamship Co., a fleet of lumber vessels based out of Portland and traveling mostly to the Philippines. It's hard to tell how old Roy is from his letters, but his handwriting is so formal and childlike it's hard to imagine that he is much out of school when they begin; nevertheless, it hardly changes over the five years he writes, so I guess that's no clue. There are dozens of letters, mostly from his mother to him, with many from his sister, and many written by both of them together. (One is dictated by Hazel and typed by Sis while Hazel waits for her perm to set.) Sis/Clara is married with two little girls; she and her mother spend a lot of time together, as evidenced by their repeated references to each other throughout the letters. They are a hardworking, very kind pair, and are quite close. All three seem very close; there is never any mention of a father, and Hazel and Roy have different last names, so I'm not sure what that's about. The letters are interesting in their one-sidedness — they are made up almost entirely of the details of Hazel and Sis/Clara's (and the little girls' — rarely is Sis's husband Harry mentioned, but when he is it with regard to him working the night shift, or working around the house) daily lives. Often letters will be interrupted by things happening while they're trying to write — children needing to be put to bed, someone having to run to catch a bus, a visitor dropping by. They so clearly attempt to keep Roy involved in the prosaic happenings of their lives that it is hard to imagine what they must have thought life was like for him, at sea for weeks at a time. His letters are so empty of personal detail, anecdote, or emotion; consistently they appear much like this:

"Dear Mother and All,
     "Will arrive at Yokohama this afternoon about two o'clock to take on bunkers for about 6 hours will leave around 8 o'clock tonight for Singapore another week or so before we will arrive there.
     "How is everyone find I hope.
     "We had pretty good wether coming over. Suppose to be three months maybe longer.
     "Right now is raining to beat heck.

"Your Loving Son Roy"

Always, though, they are signed "Your Loving Son Roy" or, sometimes, "Always Your Loving Son Roy."

Hazel's letters are, by contrast, full of affection and conversation and a total lack of affectation. It often sounds exactly like she is talking to him in real life. There is almost no sort of formalized, letter-ish voice about them. Many of them are typed on a manual typewriter, and it is clear that she and her daughter share it, and take it back and forth between their houses, a couple of miles apart. In October of 1956, Hazel has all her lower teeth pulled out in preparation for having dentures made. She writes in great detail about the procedure, and the diet of mushy food she must eat, Sis's little girl's birthday party the weekend before:

"Will try and finish this now I was getting so hungry I went a fixed me a big bowl of chickednoodle soup and some graha m crax. as I was out of bread and will get sometonite when I goout to mail you letter. Well the sun went down clear hope she comes out in the A.M. the same way. I think I told you in the last L. Evy had her Party 2 wks ago Sat. She had 10 girls and her and Sally made 12 at the table. She called me then and said G. Ma I set the table and put all the cards and all the trimings on it sure looks Pretty. Sister make cupcakes and frosted them with pink and white. and put a candle on each one and they were lit and each on took theres home AS there was to much other things to eat at the table. She made red punch 1 gal. and those girls drank it nearly all she said. . . ."

She closes almost every letter similarly:

     ". . . Everything thing is all ok. here. so dont worry about me Ill be all right soon. Justtake care of your self and eat plenty. An The Good Lord is always with us Son and every thing will work out all rite, when you carry that thought in mind at all times the same as I do. Well I don't have anymore news I can think of now. and I dont here it raining so I will put on my big coat and run over on 49th. and put this in the mail box and it will go out 9pm.
     "Ree said to tell you she sends her best. just called. and Aunt Fanny . said the same. and Of course Sister and H. and then Evy. and Sally both send U. Roy there love.
     "I will close for now and hope to hear from you soon. Be sure and rite me Son. God Bless You And Keep You Always

     "All My Love.

I had such affection for Hazel (or "Fern" as she is often called, just to complicate things) by the time I'd read everything she'd written to Roy — her gentle, reassuring manner was so devoid of worry, or loneliness, or any kind of obvious longing that would upset him. It is obvious, too, that her letters are very important to her  — toward the end of them I started to realize that she probably really enjoyed writing the litany of her daily routines as much as she enjoyed keeping him informed. She has several addresses over the years, all around my neighborhood; for several years she works as a caretaker for a wealthier family to whose house she must ride two buses. Several times she mentions ships coming and going, and often there are newspaper articles cut out of the Oregonian and tucked into the envelopes about other ships in the fleet leaving and coming into port — she is knowledgeable about the company and Roy's constantly changing ports of call. Often she signs off with "Be seeing you Son," and always "All my love, Mother" or some variation. On every letter, even sometimes after the signature, she writes, "God Bless You And Keep You Always."

The last letter from her is dated in November of 1961, to Roy at port in Vietnam. I believe that Roy came home to live in Portland with his mother until her death, sometime in the late '70s, I think. Sis/Clara lived in the house where the estate sale took place until recently, I guess — I don't know. There is one letter from her on vacation, written to Roy in 1987 at the same address at which he lived with Hazel, and it's one of those fill-in-the-blanks "Lazy Lettergrams": Dear Ray, I am writing to you from Victoria. I arrived here on Wednesday and I wish I was staying longer / richer."


I'm piling all the letters back together — separated and organized — and putting them in a box. I'm not ready to let them go yet, but I will do it soon, and get on with my own life. It's been an enormous adventure and privilege to have read them. I drive around my usual routes so differently now, somehow — "Hazel lived there, she mailed the letter there" — I can't explain it, but I'm sure you know. I'm going to take some of Andy's love letters to me and tuck them away somewhere in this house, for someone to find, just in case, someday, someone might be wondering. . . .

July 09, 2006

The First Group

I'll just start by saying that today was a really weird day. I woke up with a really achy kink in my neck and shoulder that just didn't go away all day and made my whole body feel uncomfortable. My foot, strangely, was also aching — possibly because of the weather, which was hot, hot, hot — and I was just feeling generally out of sorts. I finally turned on the air conditioner around 6 p.m. and started to relax. My mind was awash in names and dates and places and voices.

I read all of the letters yesterday. It took me forever to get them organized because, as I mentioned, they were all split up in different bags. There are around one hundred altogether; the first, written in July 1935, is from a landlord discussing potential rental of a beach cottage ($1 a day, 50 cents extra for electricity). The last is a xeroxed Christmas letter, dated December 1988. The authors are many, the recipients mainly a few members of what looks like two different but related families. Eventually, toward the end of the afternoon, and with a notebook on which I scratched drafts of family trees, I parsed out the relationships and moves — not to mention the handwriting! — that made up their story. Part of their story. It was surprisingly difficult to figure out who was who, actually. Several people used nicknames or middle names, and a whole group of letters was signed "Mother" or "Sis." I read probably twenty letters from Sis, and saw her referred to as "Sis" by her mother another fifty times, before I figured out from one letter only that her real name was Clara. I believe it was she who lived at the house of the estate sale, since some time in the '50s.

The letters were essentially broken into two groups — the first group, from about 1941to 1952, is mostly letters to one family, many from a young man named Ray who writes to his parents in Portland (his mother, I ultimately deduced, was Clara's mother's sister). They start in the spring of 1941, when he is a freshman at the University of Oregon in Eugene. Though he writes again a couple of times while in army training, there are no letters from him while he is overseas; it isn't until he returns to the University of Oregon in 1946 that he writes again to his parents. This first letter, from April, 1941, is a giddy scramble of happiness as he excitedly tells his parents about a visit from some of his Portland friends. It is particularly poignant as it is the only one written before the war:

"Dear Mother and Dad,
     "Boy, and how are you. I am in a very happy mood with reason to be. Guess what! I had the very happy experience of having a whole car load of guests come all the way from Portland, just to see little me. . . . I spent the most enjoyable Sunday that I have spent since I came to college. . . . The crowning glory was the beautiful summery weather that spring term at Oregon is noted for. I was surely glad as anyone of the 6 had never seen the campus before and I wanted them to see it as beautifully as possible, and it most assuredly was. They were so much fun to see. I'm happy in the thought that any of my friends would want to spend 5 hours (both ways) driving in a hot automobile just to see me for a period of 4 hours. No foolin' I'm highly flattered to think that these kids would drive 242 miles just to spend the afternoon with me. Well, maybe they enjoyed the drive.
     "Saturday I got a postcard telling me of their visit. It said, quote, we are coming down to see you . . .
     "Well, I didn't have anything to say to begin with and I have used up an entire page in saying it so please excuse me as I must to bed.
     "As always Your Loving Son,

"P.S. May I again say that I have had few if any happy experiences that could surpass my joy and appreciation of the wonderful time I had today. The only black mark on the entire day was that I only had 2 cents and therefore could not pay any expenses. I owe those kids so much that way in entertainment that I fear I shall never be in a place to return the compliment."

By January 1942, he is at army boot camp in California, and writes to his folks about a dozen times before being shipped out, to where it is not clear.

Then there are about fifteen letters written to Ray three years later, all over a two month period, and all from his fiancee, Mary, as she eagerly awaits his return home from the war. (Interestingly, Ray's initial letters to his parents do not mention her at all; it is unclear where they met, though they were both from Portland.) Mary begins writing to him at the end of August, 1945, from Lawrence, Kansas, where she works at a plant. Her letters — voluminous and articulate onionskin stacks written in her fast, sketchy hand (very unlike his careful, loopy script) are a remarkable collection of everything from the businesslike and prosaic working out of details (where will they get married, should she take the child-welfare job she's been offered in Eugene while she waits for him to get back, will she be able to find a suitable apartment for them, as housing is very tight) — to the aching loneliness of her longing for his touch — to philosophical ponderings about the war. She is an independent, practical, straightforward person in her letters; clearly she is faced with making many decisions alone and she outlines her thinking for him quite distinctly with regard to each one, rebutting his often abstract reasoning (which we hear when she literally quotes it back to him, saying, in effect, "I don't think so; I'm doing it this way; this is why; I trust you'll come around to agree"). For several letters they seem to debate whether, when he returns, they will live in Portland, where he will get a job with the railroad (and where he apparently would prefer her to take several months off to "keep house" and "get used to married life"), or move back to Eugene so that he can finish school while she works full time, having already graduated. Though she outlines her reasons for needing her own fulfilling job quite succinctly, (they do ultimately return to Eugene), and her response to his uncertainty throughout all her letters is forthright and commanding, interestingly she seems to sometimes betray a sort of "homefront" naivete that he (apparently) no longer shares. She writes:

     ". . . You are quite wise to face so clearly the factors which you feel will be involved in your return to civilian life and jobs. I think you underestimate the effect of the pressure which veterans will have in getting what they want, but that is a little beside the point. Along this line, I have never been able to understand why you had so much question as to your ability to qualify under the education clause of the GI Bill of Rights. If America did not keep faith with the laws which she had enacted, there would not have been much point in any of your fighting. . . ."

In other letters, she muses at length on her clothes, dreaming up outfits she imagines might please him, saying at one point that she knows clothes don't really matter but she doesn't think he will mind if she tries to be as pretty as possible. One very lengthy, rather dreamy letter that I love is written on her train trip from Kansas back to Portland around September 6, 1945. I've ridden this route many times myself, and I can picture her writing this, dreaming of the simple things that one longs for most when away from one's love, filling the thirty or so hours it must have taken with musings — many of her previous letters talk about not really having enough time to write (though she does write every other day or so) so it must have been luxury to sit and "talk" to him at length during that long trip, a trip that would ultimately end with their reunion, and marriage. After much discussion of "showers" (a euphemism they seem to use to discuss, politely, sex), she uses the segue to talk literally though still, somehow, quite provocatively, I think:

     ". . . Perhaps in Oregon, where climatic conditions are more favorable, I will not be so obvious, but I always feel dirty after a day's work. I used to feel pretty drippy when you called for me at the office in Lawrence. Besides if I'm going to be on a fairly heavy schedule, a shower and change of clothes is most refreshing. Thus I'd like to be able to get home and get this done before hubby arrives. It's really not important if you don't mind kissing a dirty face. Anyway, Ruth said I was a pretty speedy cook, so I shouldn't hold supper up too much.
     "Incidentally, you will find that for the most part I like to be dressed — meaning I may wear shorts and halter if it's hot, but I shall not dash about in my slip. Certainly work mornings I would dress before breakfast. Sunday may be a different affair, since I'd like to add fruit juice or coffee to your plan of going back to bed. Maybe we'd both want to have the remainder of our breakfast on a tray in the living room. In which case maybe we could both wear robes. I wonder if you have thought of what you would like me to wear evenings we planned to spend at home before the fireplace. I don't have any quilted lounging pajamas, but they would be warm for sitting on the floor and soft to the touch. There will be a lot of these evenings and I'd like to have your point of view. In line with this, I do hope you like popcorn because it makes a good combination with a fireplace and companionship. . . ."

Lump in throat, once again, and I've read it three times now.

In the same letter she explains her reasons for wanting a charge account at Meier & Frank ("occasionally, sales at M&F result in real savings in needed items. It is an advantage to have an acct. then for this reason. Suppose we want to send a gift to someone. M&F would wrap and deliver. It's a little impersonal but would be an advantage in a pinch. I'm not saying this is a must, but I do think it's worth considering"). She also pushes heartily for an account at the grocery store, for the milk to be delivered, and concludes, "Also, if possible, I'd like the luxury of a telephone." Interestingly, in many of Ray's later letters to his parents from school it's clear he is studying business, and knowledgeably discusses the markets; in many of Mary's letters to Ray she frets over her debt.

Surprisingly, given the fairly genial tenor of Ray's early letters to his parents, it was strange to hear their discussions about his not wanting their parents at their wedding, which Mary frenetically arranges for the day of his return. At some point, she encourages him to have a more "mature attitude" and allow their parents and a couple of close friends access to their ceremony, which she schedules at an Episcopal chapel downtown, though neither or them shares that faith, and she admits she is nervous that the minister might balk because she is not baptized. She is surprisingly unromantic about their wedding plans; it's amazing to me that they are desperate to get married the actual day of his return. Throughout the letters there is also reference to a private ceremony to they've arranged to have occur between the two of them the night of the wedding, and she searches for a place with a view for them to go to. She concludes that there are no buildings tall enough in Portland to provide the setting for what they have planned, and suggests the Columbia Gorge Hotel. She winds up leaving her parents' home in Portland after a month and going to Eugene on October 5, 1945, to start the job that's being held for her, and to wait for Ray — there seem to be many delays in his return — and the last letter is really just a note forwarding him Mary's address: "Son grab a cab and come out if you have time. I'll pay the cabbie both ways. Lots love, Mother."

No letter follows this until July of 1946, when Ray, now married, writes to his parents again from the library at the University of Oregon. Notes that follow, always addressed to his parents, come both from Mary and Ray but they are short, and usually thank-you notes for something that has been received. One particularly poignant one is the second to last, from December, 1946, which rattles along with the usual, vaguely shallow chit-chat about school; but this same envelope also includes a separate note from Ray to his mother, discussing his knowledge of his father's illness, and encouraging her not to become distressed. The next and second-to-last letter from Ray is addressed to his mother alone, in July of 1947, and explains that Mary is pregnant. In April of 1948 there follows a strangely comical letter written from the perspective of Mary and Ray's then-two-month-old twins. Lastly, in February, 1951, there is a long letter to his mother outlining the furniture arrangements in their new house in Sweet Home, Oregon.

The second group (remember Clara?) I'll save for tomorrow. It's 10 p.m. I'm completely exhausted but I had to write it down before I lost track of what I was thinking. I've already decided I won't be keeping these letters. I wish you could see them in real life, too. Okay, gotta go to bed.

Old Letters

LettersYesterday  I spent the day by myself, making the rounds to different estate sales in my neighborhood. Estate sale-ing is always a hit-or-miss, slightly fraught experience; if it's a good one, there is a tension in the air that I find absolutely maddening, remembering the morning my parents held my grandparents' estate sale themselves, not knowing, I guess, how traumatic that experience can be for the family, which is why they're often handled by agents. I remember my mother immediately hustling us out of the house after the initial stampede of shoppers — people had been lined up down the sidewalk, waiting for us to open the door, and they literally pushed their way into the house. My sisters and I sat wide-eyed and appalled as they rushed to grab things off the walls. I doubt either of my parents had ever been to an estate sale before. It wasn't their thing, and I know it was painful for them to watch scavengers carelessly tossing things about as they looked for treasure. I think they always regretted doing it that way, but at the time it was the best they could manage, and once it started, what could they do?

Most of the amateur estate-salers I know are fairly responsible about the activity, I think; we have an appreciation and respect for the lives indicated by the wide-open cabinets exposing Sweet & Low packets, half-used Avon handcreams, piles of handkerchiefs — all now for sale. It's impossible not to enter these spaces without being reminded of one's own mortality, the impermanence of all our careful plans, efforts, and evidence. Nevertheless, sometimes what's left suggests so much. Sometimes you walk into a place and think, "Wow. She was just like me." There is a stocked pantry in a cool corner of the basement. There are sewing supplies carefully organized. There are stacks of greeting cards and letters wrapped in bundles. There is a collection of teacups and saucers obviously chosen for their spritely, delicate decorations. There are magazines saved from decades long past.

Yesterday was one of those. I wandered, slightly overwhelmed, bumping into others who were bumping into others, all of us scanning surfaces. On an enormous table were boxes and boxes of old greeting cards and various ephemera, as well as several small sealed bags filled with air-mail letters. I grabbed a couple of bags of them, along with some other stuff, and went on my way. Later that afternoon, many hours later, I went home and sat down to look at the letters. I read a couple and scanned through the envelopes. It became quickly apparent that there was a story here, one spanning several decades and at least two families. It was 3:40 p.m. I called Andy at work and told him what I'd found, and he encouraged me to go back to the sale to see if I could find the other letters. I raced upstairs, changed out of my pajamas (yes, I put them on the minute I get home), hopped back in the car and zoomed back over to the sale, which was closing in six minutes. There were two bags of letters left so I grabbed them, along with a few more magazines, and spent the rest of the day trying to organize the letters chronologically. It took hours.

Several big gaps are apparent. It's amazing to me that someone in the family didn't want these. I feel so upset that the group of them is now broken up — obviously, whoever organized the sale took stacks of letters and just split them up into different baggies and sold them off individually. I can see that someone in the family had been living at the address since the '50s. Whoever it was had kept letters going all the way back to the '30s, many written during WWII and the Korean War. They are an amazing collection of primary documents. I'll have more to say about them, I think, when I'm done reading the ones I have — I'm probably only halfway through. Perhaps many families have boxes of such letters — I don't know. Mine didn't; this is the first collection like this I've ever seen in real life.

July 07, 2006

Ask and Ye Shall Receive

Teaset1Sometimes. If you are very lucky that day. And the stars are lined up perfectly at the Goodwill. For some recharging, I went thrifting alone all day yesterday and was intensely happy to rescue these from a bottom shelf — the whole set for $8. It's making me think that I don't need any more of the Lazy Daisy (except maybe the bottom of the butter dish, which would be nice — and thanks to everyone who directed me toward pieces on-line — gonna check with the original Mrs. Paulson to see what she has in her basement first, though) because these seem to harmonize so nicely. I think Andy was surprised when he got home, to see how '70s I was going. But I just want a mix of things, anymore. I don't care where it's from or what decade; I just want it all to feel happy, and to have only as much as I need.

I found a little trove of craft magazines called Decorating & Craft Ideas Made Easy from the '70s at Goodwill, too. I read one while I ate my lunch and had to flip back to the cover to see what the date on the mag was, it sounded so relevant and contemporary. I know we've talked about this before, many times, but I had to share this. From the June 1972 (when I was three, my mother was 27, and my parents had just bought their house) issue, then, an article by Durelle Van Zandt called "How to Recapture the Spirit of Summer" (and be sure to note the "Martha" reference, which is actually to the biblical Martha and not Ms. Stewart, as we 21st century–types might immediately assume):

"I remember, don't you, when summer seemed to last forever. Delicious days with nothing to do but dream and explore and plan projects which sometimes became realities, but most often did not. Still there was fun enough in just thinking about doing them.

"George Gershwin was right when he wrote those famous lyrics 'Summertime and the livin' is easy.' The livin' was easy back when.

"And though, technically, the living should be even easier now, we have somehow lost the spirit of summer. How can we recapture that uncomplicated, uncluttered, sun-glazed serenity which was summer as you and I used to know it? . . .

"First . . . Unclutter your life. Simplify. Do what must be done, and shed all unnecessary busy-ness. Make summer a casual time — keep your household chores easy. . . .

"Second . . . Be good to yourself. Take the time to listen to beautiful music, to read a good book, to look inward; and above all, as the kids put it, don't get uptight about anything. Or if that is impossible, don't stay uptight! Keep your cool. Make yourself this promise at the very beginning of summer. In other words, let it go. Chances are the world won't end before fall, no matter how relaxed you become.

"Third, and probably the most important for a summer of renewal and reflection, for you and every one in your house: Respect each other's need for privacy, the need to be alone. Tree houses are great for little ones. They are synonymous with freedom and adventure. Hammocks are marvelous for day-dreaming adults and children alike. Giant 'Do Not Disturb' signs on teenagers' door should be respected. And you, and every woman, should reserve a little private time to do what is important to you, as an individual person. Something of your very own. Maybe it is tennis — maybe it is macrame — maybe it is just taking the time to get a gorgeous, golden sun-tan. Whatever it is — do it.

"Fourth, Encourage Creativity — but don't try to force it. . . .

"That remarkable man, Goethe, said, 'He is happiest, be he king or peasant, who finds peace in his home.' Peace cannot be handed to us, like breakfast on a tray. But there are some ingredients which are as obvious as the paintings on the wall when you walk into a happy house. They have to do, I think, with respect for, consideration for each other. And a freedom to be oneself. There is deep interest in and encouragement of one another's chosen pursuits. Destructive criticism and sarcasm are unknown here. And invariably there is a woman, a woman with an understanding heart, who is mainly responsible for this happy, healing kind of place . . . a kind of place which cannot help but give a feeling of security and peace to those who live here.

"For us busy Martha-like mothers and wives this may sound like an impossible dream. . . . To avoid being shattered by trying to be all things in too many directions, let us seriously consider a summer of slowing down, of sorting out — a summer of letting things go that are not of real importance, and of recapturing that blithe 'spirit of summer' that will keep refreshing us and renewing us long after the last leaf has fallen and winter is here again.

"I will if you will."

I'm totally starting with the golden sun-tan. Then the macrame, then the tennis. You?

July 06, 2006

Lazy Daisy

LazydaisyOkay, back to business around here, though off to a poor start, really. It's almost ten and I'm just now dragging my carcase to the coffee maker. The most wonderful, don't-even-feel-bad-about-it-being-ten-a.m. part is that I am completely, entirely caught up with all orders — so if you don't receive yours in the next couple of days, give me a holler. I'm knocking wood right now that it all works out okay with the P.O. I've gotten lots of lovely mail the past few weeks I need to say thank you for, too, so am feeling enlightened and loving towards the P.O. right now, determined once again to change my testy relationship with them to one of at least mutual respect.

About these plates — Andy's parents' wedding china. Oh how adorable! I am so loving it right now. Remembered that we had a box of it when we left Illinois in 1994, carried from Chicago, to Missoula, and here to Portland. Andy brought it up for me yesterday and I absolutely adore it. Unfortunately, it seems we only have four dinner plates, four salad plates, and the top of the butter dish, which seems just ramdom enough to suggest there is more. Do we have the rest, somewhere among our many boxes? Or is this all that came with us? I'm not sure. It's called "Lazy Daisy" by Taylor Smith Taylor, and a little bit of it is available on-line. I'm going to do some mother-in-law-accompanied remembering, and see what we have, then at least get four cups and saucers, and the bottom of the butter dish elsewhere, if necessary. Oh, the joys of finally having a basement! In it one can store all things that haven't yet begun to re-appeal! Now, if we can just find the stuff down there. . . . Either way, daisies are blooming in the front yard of house recently vacated by former neighbor (ready for clandestine picking), so daisy dinner party for girls-only on Saturday night. Can't wait. What do you think? Lemon chicken and cupcakes? I think so, too.

July 05, 2006

Holiday Weekend

Bananabread2How nice to laze around with Andy Paulson for, what, five whole days at one time. Amazing. Make that six — he's off today, too, so we are going to finish up some chores, go pick up my dollhouse, and finally see The Devil Wears Prada. And go thrifting, because I am on the hunt for some china. . . . I'll tell you about it after I wash some of it that I already have.

I think Audrey has grown up a little bit this last year. She didn't try to suffocate me last night, even though from 10 until 11 p.m. the riot of fireworks was deafening. I think she was just too tired from our little party. Being constantly on her guard in case one of the kids drops some banana bread and no one else sees it can be very exhausting. Barking incessantly at "snaps" and sparklers, as well as the new neighbors' visiting parents on the other side of the fence all make for one extremely wiped-out though seemingly more-mature dog at the end of the day.

Sparklers_1 Andy and brother-in-law Michael, however, are all kid — kids we can't require to stay away from "fireworks," as lame as these ones were. As you know, the Ieronemo sisters are not huge fans of the things — one even less so than the other (and that one is, surprisingly, not me). We all watched as the boys daringly lit sparklers for us.

Ovalsoros_1 And Uncle Andy thrilled the crowd with the interpretive dance he likes to call "Ovals, or Os." It was a great success and received a standing ovation from a seven-year-old whose enthusiasm is always genuine, vocal, and much appreciated, who jumped up and down, clapping plastic hand-clappers wildly, and shouting "Bravo! Bravo!" while I fell off straight off my chair in a fit of laughter. Good times.

July 03, 2006

Public Apology to Bloglines Subscribers

The lovely Molly has just kindly informed me that Bloglines tells everyone every time anyone changes so much as a comma in their post, after publishing it the first time. I am completely mortified. Mor-ti-fied. I change things in my posts all day long. All the livelong day. If I see anything wrong, or I don't like how a line broke, or I find a better way to say it how I meant it, I change it — I do. I used to get paid to change it — I got in trouble if I didn't change it — and the habit is chronic. It will drive you crazy. Be glad you're not me. It's the legacy former editors drag with them forever after. Nevertheless, because I can't stand reading things in Bloglines and never use it, I had no idea that I was bombarding subscribers' in-boxes with repeated posts of pretty much the exact same thing, up to sixteen times a day, so I'm going to go die of embarrassment now. Thanks so much for reading Posie Gets Cozy all these months. It's been really great knowing you. Bye. I mean " 'Bye."

July 01, 2006

Hot Town

JamisonsquareSummer in the city. I've always liked it. Urban fountains attract people like flies to cinnamon honey. This one's neat because it comes and goes like a small tide pool -- a chlorinated tide pool on a piazza. The brilliant part about it is that in the early evening, the lawn is shaded by big buildings, but the rocks are sunny and hot, with cool water bubbling out from their nooks and crannies. Love this park. Come here a lot.

NoalcoholI'm not writing from jail, not even close. I think if you're an adult, sitting next to a baby stroller, you can be right under this sign drinking strawberry margaritas, as we were, as long as they're in sippy cups, as they were. At least we didn't have an unleashed dog, or any wheels under our feet.

SippycupmargaritaIt's going to be another day of glorious weather. Blues Fest is downtown this weekend, too, and while the Blues aren't really my thing (though they do remind me of home) I love seeing all those people downtown, enjoying the riverfront. I actually don't like Fourth of July weekend very much in general -- my pets get so freaked out by firecrackers (and I don't love those either -- actually, I just don't like the drunk people who tend to be throwing them toward me, most of all). And it's not a lot of fun to be home with a corgi endlessly trying to sit completely in your lap, or push most of her trembling, freaked-out body up against you every time you sit down. The worst is at night, when you're lying in bed and she is trying to sit on your neck. Corgis are small, but they're not that small. If it gets really hot, there's always The Devil Wears Prada. We are huge Anne Hathaway fans around here.

BridgebikerThis afternoon, however, my avian-inclined friends are stopping by to pick me up for some antiquing out in the country. My doll house is ready for me to come get it, too, and my quilt squares are all cut, so really -- what on earth could be better than two days of all this, firecrackers notwithstanding? As my niece likes to say: Zip, zero, nada! Summer's here. Shake it, baby! Just don't blow your hand off.

June 29, 2006

Why Can't the World Be like the Fabric Store?

QuiltfabricYesterday was kind of a pain in the rumpus, and I don't even know why. Lots of problems, and deadlines, apparently "corrupted" email software, computers that wouldn't print, and other small irritations all on very little sleep, for me. I had been sleeping really poorly -- I expect others had, as well, around town, because of the heat. The traffic guy on the news said that was true, anyway, which I thought was interesting, that he would know. He can tell by the traffic, of course; when it's hot, and people don't sleep well, they get a late start, and traffic is a mess. It's cooler now, and that is a relief. Last night I was a log.

Thank you for all your kind comments for Aimee yesterday -- I know that she will love reading them. She only knows what a blog is because I have one, I think, and she's not all show-offy like I am -- so I know your kindnesses will be an extra-special treat for a modest, non-blogger like the sweet, shy, extraordinarily sparkling little Aimee.

I liked reading what people had to say about inspiration-after-doldrums, too. I actually don't think about inspiration very much at all; I think it has simply become a . . . habit . . . I follow regularly, because staying inspired is part of my job -- and sometimes, some days, it can be one of the harder parts. Making things, for me and for most of you, I bet, is a part of daily life that is about creativity, and inspiration, and expression -- but I think it's also about what happens to us physically when we are working along. Everything relaxes, blood pressure comes down, breathing slows, we focus in a pleasant, interested way on one thing at a time -- instead of the fourteen things the regular world requires us to focus on as a matter of course, and I'm sorry but some of us are not hardwired to eat lunch/talk on the phone/and drive the car all at the same time, even though it is apparently very, very easy for some people (you know who they are), etc. . . . Not me. One thing for me, possibly (some days) with a side of Ina's parmesan smashed potatoes and a sturdy chair, please.

I'm convinced that our collective interest in re-inventing and re-discovering "old-fashioned" crafts and handmade stuff is about more than just nostalgia; I know it's physically healing, as well. And that's always good, in this hectic, overpacked world. That always works. But there is a big difference between being inspired to make something, and making something when you feel flat, and pinched, and unmoved by the magic you know you've felt before. You need both the magic -- what behaviorists call "flow" (must write that love-letter to Wikipedia) -- and the simple, soothing action of the work itself, no?

Sometimes when I read too many blogs or look at too many magazines or watch too much fancy TV, I don't feel inspired -- I feel anxious, and overwhelmed, and sort of exhausted. I think it's important to protect your own creative energy by blocking everybody out, and returning regularly to the source -- the materials of your craft, and your own two hands. I must block out some of the pressure of overstimulation. (You know how sometimes when you pet a cat too much, and she seems to be sort of enjoying it well enough, sort of, but then all of a sudden she'll turn and chomp ya in a wild-eyed, terrifying little frenzy? And you're just like, "Whoa! Nice kitty! Owww! You little . . . butthead [shaking hand]." Like that. Overstimulation. Makes ya grumpy.) Must. Turn. It. All off. Who cares what those guys are doing, anyway.

For me, fabric itself inspires me endlessly -- more than yarn, more than patterns, more than paper, more than other kinds of art supplies, although I like all that stuff well enough. For years after my dad died, I would regularly spend my birthday at the fabric store, alone for most of the time -- just puttering, pondering, picking things out. That day is always one that I just do not know what to do with, and nothing feels right about it, so . . . fabric store. For me, a really big, really good fabric store is the cure for most of what ails me when I feel generally out of sorts with the world.

Yesterday was one of those days -- vague shakiness and a suspected potential for bursting into tears when listening to the '70s radio station -- so to Fabric Depot I headed. After wandering for an hour, I ran into Melissa and Mariko, and it was excellent to see them and visit on that territory, beloved to us all -- you can be sure, for the most part, that anyone else at the fabric store is also probably loving the fabric store, and feeling pretty lucky to be there (unless they are a whimpering child, have a whimpering child, or are an employee).

Oh, it took me forever. I wanted to never leave. As Mariko and Melissa were leaving, I was circling the bolts -- round two -- "I need more gray/must . . . stay . . . longer." Eight more bolts into the cart later, I took everything back up to the cutting counter where I got an older, experienced quilter for a cutter this time. I loved our conversation. I told her I was making just a simple square patchwork. She suggested that someday, when I felt ready, I might do something more complicated. I said I doubted it. (I said it nicely, but I really do doubt it -- I very much like the squares, honestly.) She nodded agreeably, and said her friend had a rule about making quilts -- the best ones, says she, are Fast, Fun, and Finished. Amen to that! said I, quite happy to be understood. I took out all my fabrics and showed them to her. I was practically doing a jig. I think she actually liked them. I told her my plan. She said, "Now, your style of quilting is what they call 'Folk Art.' " How nice of her was that! To suggest that I had some sort of style! I just had such a good time, in so many ways, at the fabric store yesterday. And I think I got way too much fabric (one of the side effects!).

Anyway, after the fabric store it was the P.O. Which, as you know, is a sure buzz-kill. But you know, there's a certain comfort in knowing that certain things can be counted on to make you feel certain ways. Hence, the wistful title of this post.

June 27, 2006

It Feels Wrong (or, Like I Really Care)

June_26_012My "I-love-summer" orgasm of last week seems so precious and naive now, I must say -- it reached, apparently, 101 degrees here in Portland yesterday, last I heard. Chagrined even further by my incessant running of the central air conditioner (and my only excuse is that the previous owner installed it, an amenity I scoffed at originally -- air conditioning? in Portland? wimps! -- but have now of course come to worship the thing), I refused to turn on stove or oven to eat dinner, or leave the house to run down and get salad rolls from Thai Thai II. So ice cream seemed better than anything cold we had -- cereal, lettuce, and my God enough with the turkey sandwiches already. Every day for lunch it's nothing but turkey sandwiches on toast around here, every . . . single . . . day . . . and I just couldn't bear another one for dinner. So, air conditioner blasting, I sunk further into shame by having this sundae for dinner. And yes, the Paulsons do keep a steady supply of things like whipped cream, crushed peanuts, and maraschino cherries on hand. And if you were wondering, just for fun, when the maraschino cherries expire, it's 2009. Nine. So, it's okay. Bring on the mocking and harassment, attack the easy target; I do deserve it. When the power went out on the entire block for a few minutes around 10 p.m., I was sure it was all because of my being a decadent, pleasantly chilly pig. I had singlehandedly overwhelmed the power grid.

Bittyicecream4These gallons of Neapolitan and pistachio, however -- they are beyond reproach, being only about one inch tall! These got packed up and sent off to one special someone who loves little things yesterday. I was so very relieved last night because I finally managed to get all of the orders that came in before last Tuesday packaged and out the door. I am sorry that it took so long to get them all done, but I promise I couldn't have gone any faster and kept my sanity. Nevertheless, I wound up with one more Little Bitta Paper pack than I should have, and I don't know how -- if anyone winds up with anything missing, (or wrong, or insufficient, or generally disappointing, heaven forbid!) please let me know right away. I'm hoping that I just miscounted somehow, and that all of the orders will actually be correct, but that is just a hope. I would be totally shocked if I didn't mess something up. I was looking at a pack of vintage wallpaper that the illustrious Pam, my original fairy godmother, sent me a while back and noticing with amazement how her papers were all cut with scallop scissors, and looked all charming and dainty. My edges, you will notice when you receive them, look like they were cut by a cleaver-wielding lunatic on a tight chopping deadline, so I do hope you will forgive that. I opted for haste.

June 23, 2006

Howdy, Summertime!

Berries1_1 Oh, summer, I love you so. I love you raspberries. I love you strawberries. I love you cherries, and sage, and lavender. And jam. I love you sunshine. I love you breezes. And parks, and barbecues, and public pools. And corn pudding and  roses. I love you long nights. I love you, June.

June 19, 2006

Horse Girls

Horseshow1 A true Horse Girl never loses her passion for the creatures. My niece has apparently inherited the recessive, horse-loving gene that I, too, share. My love affair with all things equine controlled my life from about age 9 until age 15. I've talked about it before. I stopped riding when I was in high school, but I've never lost my love of horses. This is an actual picture that I took yesterday at the Hood River Classic, a hunter/jumper show that draws over 400 competitors from all over the West. I can't exaggerate how gorgeous this location is. This is pretty much the very first thing we saw when we walked in. That's Mt. Hood.

Horseshow5It's kind of fascinating to get a glimpse of a life you could've had, if things had been different. I never owned my own horse, but I dreamed of it, had stomach-aches over it, and kept notebooks chronicling fantasy horses/tack/saddle blankets/pedigrees and stable names for most of my childhood. Watching the girls walk around in their breeches and oxford shirts and tiny stud earrings I remembered what it felt like to be agile and single-minded; they are as cool and alluring now as they were then, though I was always only a weekend rider, riding rented shufflers on well-worn trails or over tired school fences, and as such only barely one of the tribe. Also, I was an inconsistently talented  rider -- I think I had some natural aptitude for it, and good balance, and a gentle touch; but I lacked confidence, and fell off regularly. One day I'd be wonderful, the next I'd be tossed head-first over an oxer and wander home wobbly-kneed, covered in mud, and tears. My parents patiently indulged my obsession for as long as it lasted -- it was very expensive to ride in the city, and the stables we frequented were not close to home. I was forever envious of girls who were in 4-H, which was something I had only read about; it was something that country girls got to do, along with everything else that was wonderful. I thought nothing could be better than sitting on your own pony bareback, reading a book while Pony contentedly munched dandelions in the shade. I'd seen a picture of a girl doing just this, and the image burned itself into my brain to the extent that my mind's eye visited it frequently, and I got flustered with longing if I thought about it too much. I could only imagine such a life of luxury, could only imagine what it would be like to stay in the saddle for longer than my one hour a week. I rarely, rarely missed a Saturday lesson in six years.

Horseshow2When I was ten, I was in my first horse show. I won a pink, 5th-place ribbon, and it was the happiest day of my life. I mean, I clearly remember standing there, having my picture taken, thinking, "This is the happiest day I've ever, ever, ever had." I was probably only in six or seven shows after that, and I can't remember if I got any other ribbons, though I think I did. That pink one was the best. I know I have the picture somewhere. This picture, taken yesterday during the Grand Prix, pleases me. I can't figure out how to get my camera to open the shutter exactly when I press the button -- there is always a delay while it focuses that makes taking action shots difficult. I have to go read the manual, for the sixth time. Doesn't that mountain look like some kind of fake alpine backdrop? It's real though. Didn't even Photoshop it. This shot was just pure luck.

Horseshow4_1 This shot, on the other hand, is pure clown. A camera-shy nephew under an inside-out horse sweater. If you look closely at the picture above, you can see my niece  holding her little stuffed horse, Buttermilk, as she claps for the ribbon-winners of the tot class. She worked on her horse activity workbook all the way back to Portland, as we wound through the breathtaking  Gorge. I don't know what she was thinking about, so quiet she was in her seat. What a wonderful day.

June 18, 2006

Forgot about this intelligent after-dinner conversation. . . .

He: Hon, I forgot to tell you that I didn't record something that I really, really, really wanted because it was overlapping with your Barefoot Contessa.
Me: Oh, hon! I'm sorry! What was it?
He: The Rock-Paper-Scissors Championship on the Discovery Channel.
Me: Oh. Wow! I guess you really do love me.

June 16, 2006

Red Friday: Homage to Carl Larsson

Red2 It's so dark in Portland today I literally couldn't get a picture of anything in the house. I was very excited to do red, because I have red accents in almost every room of the place, but today is so gloomy it's hard to tell. I saw this little glass on the windowsill, given to us, appropriately, by Sarah, from, appropriately, Anthropologie; and then I saw this little compote given to me by my friend Aimee who got it in China several years ago, and she, appropriately, is leaving for China again this afternoon. So. The strawberries are fake. Though red. And my geraniums are all abloom throughout the yard. When I put it all together, it reminded me of my Swedish heritage. Oh wait, I forgot -- I'm not Swedish.

I practically am, though. I have been around the culture, at least Swedish-American culture, for most of my adult life. And I love it. I went to Augustana College, one of the small, private Swedish-immigrant-founded schools that pepper the upper Midwest (like St. Olaf, Macalester, Gustavus Adolphus, Carlton, probably others I just don't remember). My father wanted me to go to this school because he, although thoroughly Chicago-Italian, had always had an affinity for Scandinavian culture, and his best friend was Swedish. I remember that when I told people I was going there, everyone said, "Oh, that's the school where everyone gets married." Really? I graduated with nary a boyfriend, but then about a year afterward I started dating Andy, who also went to Augustana, whose entire Swedish family (grandpa, grandma, other grandpa, aunt, uncle, other uncle, mom, dad, and sister) all went to Augustana. And then of course we did get married. And so did about ten other people that I knew from there -- marry each other, that is. So I guess it's true. I think it's because there was absolutely nothing to do in anachronistic, monotoned Rock Island, Illinois (at least when we were there). More on that some other time. But if you're looking for an MRS to go along with that BA, Augie might work for you. Did (blissfully) for me. I'm just kidding, it's a great school.

Red1I loved my school. I wasn't always happy there, and I do think it's a really weird place in some ways, but I'm weird, too, so that's okay. After I left, and especially after I went to graduate school at another university, I appreciated my education at Augie more than ever. Those four years completely changed my life. The people I met there completely changed my life. Completely. I know everybody says that but I truly feel like I became a totally different person. I felt more myself there than I ever had at home. Martha, Pam, Jeanne-Marie, John, Pat, Beth and Drew, even you Ann, you loser, I miss you guys. Come visit us. I miss you.

June 10, 2006

Alicia, May 1988

Aliciainbluedress This is not a happy girl in a Peter Pan collar. Just sayin'.

Julie, did you take this picture? I mean, did I make you take this picture? Stop laughing. I blame Morrissey, completely.

"You stay away from my tree."

No wait.

"Sigh. Only my tree understands me."

June 09, 2006

This Freckled, Hairy Underbelly

Audrey1 Wow -- that was quite a response. I spent most of the day yesterday reading comments, trying to listen well to what everyone was bringing to the conversation, and I have to admit, I was a little overwhelmed. Those are some hefty comments down below. I was trying to think through everything and figure out what I had been saying in the morning, when I wrote the post, and how I felt by evening, when I turned off the computer.

I'd thought that my firmly planted-in-cheek tongue would be obvious, but I fear it wasn't, so much -- for the record, I'm not bummed at being marketed to nor even bummed that corporate sales teams have a profiles of their target customers -- nah. Of course we are marketed to, and of course they have a profile -- I market to and think about my own customer's profile all the time. That's what being in retail requires. I don't think it's creepy -- I actually think it's interesting, or I wouldn't be in the business of doing it myself.

But what was interesting to me about the description in the article (and it is worth restating that it was written by a journalist, and not the Anthropologists themselves -- but when I read it I thought, "My God! She's/they've got my number!" although obviously many other people thought it was bollocks, etc.) was that I felt sort of caught out and exposed -- my own (I thought) equisitely personal psychology detailed and laid bare by my shopping habits. It was almost like experiencing the weird feeling of recognition-mixed-with-disbelief that one has at hearing one's own voice -- That's what I sound like? That's what I'm up to?

You may not agree that the profile fits most Anthropologie shoppers, let alone you -- many, many of your parents are still married, as you've mentioned, and your grandma didn't have filigree glassware (though, as Steph points out, it's a metaphor, baby -- my p's were married, too) -- but I know that there is ample evidence in this blog to suggest that the profile fits me. If you're a regular reader, I'm sure you'll agree (ignoring my narcissism in assuming that you'd even care to notice). But it was interesting to me, at least. My blatant attempts to recreate a specific atmosphere based entirely on a history that was only barely ever mine litter this place -- I could point to ten separate posts that I've written that expose me as a Longer of just this sort in a million ways. And there is something vaguely depressing about it. I know that I often feel sad that our homebase was blown to bits; I often stud my life with the trappings of what what I wanted life to be in a way that is purposeful and a little desperate -- and some days even I find this practice thoroughly burdensome, extremely annoying, even futile. But I don't think there's something wrong with me because of it.

What surprised me is that although to me those particular pains felt exquisitely and profoundly personal, it didn't occur to me that they perhaps only mark me as just another member of my generation, and as such they're the stuff around which brilliant marketing strategies by large corporations and small indie businesses (my own) are planned. And I'd just never thought about it in exactly that way before. I had thought I was just buying and making stuff I liked, and I suddenly saw it as part of my own larger attempt to find Comfort. You may insist this is not what you're doing and honestly -- I absolutely believe you! I wouldn't presume to know you. All I'm saying is, "Kinda interesting, huh?" and "Damn irony! Turns out the salve for my own personal heartaches can be bought at a store that has a scanner!" And I thought I was so special and unique!

The post elicited a lot of strong feelings about Anthropologie in all sorts of ways, and it made me think about lots of things I hadn't considered. The larger, more generally obvious point is that Anthropologie is marketing to and in some ways representing our collective sense of nostalgia, our dissatisfaction with the ever-increasing hold that technology has on our lives, our yearnings for slower, simpler, more old-fashioned things. And I think many of us are conflicted when these things, things that feel rather "alternative" and special, go mainstream and "corporate" and take on the trappings of Mother Big-Business, suckling us while selling to us at the same time. We're conflicted because we want it even though we feel a little bit manipulated by it.

My mind crawled around the comments and these ideas all afternoon, especially as I headed over the bridge to go to Anthropologie, thinking that I would take a field trip to see the evidence first-hand. I walked around with heightened senses. There's no doubt the place is provocative in a million ways. I've always had a love/hate relationship with the Portland store since it opened a couple of years ago -- I am both an occasional customer and a constant competitor; I'm a dreamer and a purveyor of the same sorts of dreams. At Ella Posie I carry some of the same product lines and offer things of a similar aesthetic, though Anthropologie is always crawling with customers and my store is often empty. Insert petulant foot stomping here. My store has things that are actually made by hand; Anthropologie has things that only seem to be made by hand, or are made by underpaid/overseas hands, and yet their prices are higher than ours. And there is something sort of overwhelmingly orchestrated about it, even down to its authenticly rustic imperfections -- a potted plant on a shelf was real, and shedding dead leaves and dirt in a charmingly disheveled way that I was sure was intentional. Nevertheless, I can't help but feel I should bow down to the geniuses behind it all, faults notwithstanding. I'd never say there wasn't heart in it. If I lived in Philadelphia (where its corporate offices reside) you'd better believe that on my worst days with Posie, I'd be applying for a job there in a hot second. I could be getting a regular paycheck for fantasizing customer profiles!

Of course, at the end of the day, I don't really give a rat's butt what Anthropologie does or doesn't do, or what it implies intentionally or unintentionally. I'm just Alicia, doing my thang, carrying my baggage (in a flowered duffel), wearing my Peter Pan collar with or without irony, and putting it all together as best I can. What do I know, anyway. Gotta go eat some lunch now.

June 08, 2006

I Looked Deep Into My Soul and Found the Real Me: Just Another Anthropologie Customer

Companyinfo_homeYesterday, my friend Ellen sent me a link to an article about Anthropologie in the New York Times last week called "Peter Pan Collars in a Vintage Never-Never Land." I read it and then looked down to make sure I had clothes on -- I fully expected to be stark naked. I felt that the target customer described me to an embarrassed, gulping, wistful tee -- I had no idea that my personal longings were simply a very well-understood profile circumscribed in corporate offices by the Anthropologie marketing department. I feel played like a fake vintage viola.

Alex Kuczynski, the writer, describes the new 12,000-foot Anthropologie store on Rockefeller Plaza, and discusses the general aesthetic of the brand in a way that makes me cringe with recognition and admission. She says:

On a philosophical level, there is something about Anthropologie that is well intentioned but makes me profoundly depressed. The old bicycles, the old-fashioned Marvis toothpaste, the etched-glass candleholders, the calico pajama sets, the teacups and saucers -- all are the trappings of a grandparent's or a parent's home.

But the 30-something generation that shops at Anthropologie, among the first to be widely defined as children of divorce, no longer has access to those homes, which have long since been dispersed. There is no longevity in their parents' houses. The romantically weathered chests of drawers and stacks of pristinely aged National Geographic magazines were all put into storage, sold or dispersed among the various interested parties.

This is where Anthropologie steps in: It helps the shopper create the illusion of household continuity by allowing her to reimagine a place where Grandma might leave out her pre-fluoride tooth powder, to simulate a life in which Mom and Dad still live together in a house with European teacups and flocked bedspreads. In a world of Anthropologie furnishings and clothing, the consumers can reclaim lost childhoods, lost marriages, lost virginities. The store's philosophy takes the colloquial and sad world of regrets and realities and wraps it up in a swath of vintage calico, tied with a satin bow.

Lord! What I'd thought was simply my own personal motivation for my aesthetic preferences -- admittedly a little precious, self-consciously twee, flush with a manufactured nostalgia for a past that was only vaguely ever mine, haunted by homesickness and longing for the butler's pantries of my old neighborhood -- is actually just a corporate brand! That is depressing. And it's knocked-off, manufactured overseas, and can be bought for the (too high) price on a computer-generated Urban Outfitters-ish pricetag. Crap. How irritating! But man they've done it all so well that I sort of, in spite of myself, want it anyway!

Nevertheless, I insist that, whatever else I am (and come on, you love/hate Anthropologie, you [maybe] are, too), I'm not longing to reclaim my virginity. It was overrated anyway. Peter Pan collar or not, I'm glad that's long gone. And my vintagey bicycle works great and I think mountainbikes are just plain ugly and I ALWAYS WILL. So there. Hrumph. (Cringe. Hide. Laugh. Back to sew some calico flower pins.)

June 05, 2006

Balancing Act

Bobbie12All last week I'd been having conversations with my girlfriends, most of whom have regular jobs, about how stressed out everyone has been lately. Too much to do, too little time. I've been feeling it again, too. It reminded me of how I felt at the end of last summer, when I was having a really hard time balancing everything. I know I've talked about it before, but I wanted to remind myself of how I felt and what I did so that maybe it would help me not let it happen again.

Last summer, I felt like every aspect of my life was taking every ounce of energy I had. An article about my sister and me had come out in a magazine a couple of weeks earlier than we'd thought, and I was in the middle of redesigning the Posie web site -- and I do mean middle. It wasn't done. It wasn't even on-line at all, and it was all I had. When publicity like that happens, there is a small window of opportunity to take advantage of it (before the next issue comes out) and you really need to be ready. I knew this, because I'd been in the magazine before; the volume of orders/phone calls/emails/letters and other stuff that comes with it can be overwhelming even if you are ready. If you aren't ready, it can be a nightmare, not in the least because it should be such a good thing -- and when it turns into kind of a stressful, extremely challenging thing that you are just trying to get through, not enjoying at all, psychologically that's kind of a bummer. You feel like you've let yourself down, if not other people. I was sure, every day, that I would crash and burn. I felt, as well, that no one could really help me; what could they have done? Only I knew anything about everything that I was doing. The best that anyone else could offer was maybe a P.O. run, returning with a Big Gulp. I'd heard horror stories of this happening to other designers, and I remembered listening to their stories with a kind of  skeptical naivete -- how hard could it be?

Bobbie4And it wasn't that I'd slacked. I'd been working every day for months. But it wasn't enough, and when the schedule got moved up, my carefully budgeted timeline hit me with full force at warp speed. I buzzed everywhere I went, and my voice took on this panicked, wavery, high-pitched quality that made even the dog whimper with pain. Eventually, after a week at the beach in September, and as the phone stopped ringing so much, I collected myself with an earthquake-force shudder, chagrined by the blatant and rather embarrassing evidence that I truly hadn't been balancing my life with my work very well .

Bobbie1As the weather cooled down and the rain started, I felt relief. I began taking Sundays off, completely -- and I mean, in every way. I wouldn't do anything related to Posie unless I felt like it. I wouldn't work on the computer or do anthing that had to do with white paper. Even if someone called me and wanted me to do something, I would say no unless I really, really felt like I wanted to do that. Somehow work, social obligations, family stuff, errands, chores, and sleep had filled up every single minute, as they do so often and for so many people, until the days were bursting -- it was like there wasn't a single empty drawer in my life.

So I started with Sundays. And I decided that no matter what, I would do exactly what I wanted, even if it meant doing absolutely nothing. Andy usually works on Sundays, and I actually came to cherish those long, quiet empty days. If I wanted to hand-sew an entire sock dog -- this literally takes about six hours (at least, it takes me that long) -- I would. The therapeutic benefits of handwork had gotten superceded by the "work" aspect of the handwork, and I didn't know what else would bring back that sense of peace and calm that I'd had when I first started doing it years ago.

Bobbie3 I think I was truly regretful that I'd turned my "love" into my "work," and I couldn't admit that. I mean, I didn't really understand that that's what had happened. I started looking for something else to do, something that definitely couldn't be confused as "work" -- but it turns out that doing handwork is, at the end of the day, still my love. So I tried to separate Sunday, and things that got done on Sunday, from everything else. Doing handwork that was just for myself gave me my love back, somehow, and it didn't take all that many Sundays for me to start feeling better. Just knowing that I had given myself a pocket of space to play in again was a huge relief.

Bobbie5These are bobby pins. They happen on the sofa, on Sunday. They take a long time. I make them take a long time, rather. I'm choosy about which colors to pick. I put my feet up and stitch slowly. It makes me happy to look at them when they're done. Yesterday I made these and apple muffins (Ina's Cranberry Harvest, except with apples), remembering with cinnamon how it felt last fall to breathe deeply, and rediscover that feeling of getting things right, at least for a day. It was really nice. I want to start this summer with balance, instead of ending it, sobbing, with a renewed and adamant vow to install it (with a shoehorn if I have to dammit!), again. Is it possible for Balance to be a constant, low-simmering ever-present member of the family instead of something that needs its own melodramatic, chest-thumping commitment ceremony every six months, and only after the Nervous Breakdown whacks you in the shins, and you're begging for mercy, and a solution?

May 13, 2006

First Rose (Just Start)

Firstrose Gosh, well you guys took yesterday's admission really, really well -- thank you for understanding! -- though Blair was a little disappointed at the degree of difficulty of that whole confession, which I thought was very nice of her. I'll admit maybe I was a tad dramatic. I told her I was going to see how the cleaning lady thing went before I told you about being a crack whore, too.

Oh, I'm just kidding. Craft whore maybe. But you knew that.

Nevertheless, I started thinking about creative blogs in general last night, and what I like about them. What I like about them most of all is how you can ultimately, eventually, "hear" people in them, maybe even hear them in a way you wouldn't necessarily hear them in real life, somehow, and watch their travels near and far. Don't we read novels for the same reason -- to find out how it was for them? To see how it was, might have been, maybe will be for us? I want to know. And my favorite blogs are not the ones that are most pretty, or informative, or most prolific -- they're the ones that have a voice. The ones where the people behind them sort of shine past the photos or the punctuation and grammar (so what about that anyway -- never let that stop you) or the crafts or any of that stuff -- I like voices. I like thinking, "Oh, she's gentle, " or "Bah! She's hilarious!" or "Wow -- how thoughtful," or "Mmm -- I see now," when I hear people -- and then I like it when those impressions grow and layer, like puff pastry, into something thrilling and full. I like watching people discover things, I like how the blog changes and develops by sheer virtue of  its happening at all, those magic moments when someone discovers something, understands something. When I used to write short stories, there would often be this point when the magic happened. You'd be writing (hammering) along, thinking you were going in one direction, when all of a sudden you'd feel this force enter the room, and you'd be channeling instead of writing, the way made clear, the old ideas suddenly facile and incomplete, the new ones crystallizing ahead of you as you scribbled to keep up. Then: You've gotten to somewhere new, a place you don't know, you can't know, when you start.

Have you ever read people's first blog posts? The stilted, brittle "Well, here I go, I don't really know where to start, er. . . . Is this thing on?" Every single one I've ever read feels like that, though in no time, the endeavor seems to find a rhythm, however shallow at first, and a momentum that encourages its author to continue, audience or not. An audience is nice, though it's not about that. (And, weirdly, there always is an audience, no matter how small or invisible, which I find strange and fascinating and reassuring -- you are not alone.) But a private notebook works, too.

Audience or not, I think there is every reason in the world to do it, just to see where it goes -- take a crap picture, take a good picture, don't take a picture, say something stupid, say something smart -- who cares. It's all for you, baby. It'll be whatever it is. Your job is to follow it, and see what happens. If it winds up meaning anything to someone else, that's a gift you can't expect, nor can you let it intimidate or particularly encourage you. Annie Dillard, in my favorite book about writing (but to me it's also about all forms of creativity and expression), The Writing Life, says that putting a book together is "life at its most free. Your freedom as a writer is not freedom of expression in the sense of wild blurting; you may not let rip. It is life at its most free, if you are fortunate to be able to try it, because you select your materials, invent your task, and pace yourself. . . . The obverse of this freedom, of course, is that your work is so meaningless, so fully for yourself alone, and so worthless to the world, that no one except you cares whether you do it well, or ever."

I've always believed that everyone can write -- if they want to. I absolutely dread the title "Writer" when it's used to exclude or separate people, as if it were something special, like "Trumpet Player." Not everyone can play the trumpet (though of course, what's to stop you from trying, nothing, except needing a trumpet) but everyone has a pen and a piece of paper and a dictionary. And what is beautiful about writing is just that you've done it -- though you do have to actually do it, you can't just intend to do it. And many, many books have been written about how to get the marks to the page -- therein lies the rub! But that's why it's called "writing" and not "thinking." There's a difference. Annie says:

     "Every morning you climb several flights of stairs, enter your study, open the French doors, and slide your desk and chair out into the middle of the air. The desk and chair float thirty feet from the ground, between the crowns of maple trees. The furniture is in place; you go back for your thermos of coffee. Then, wincing, you step out again through the French doors and sit down on the chair and look over the desktop. You can see clear to the river from here in winter. You pour yourself a cup of coffee.
     "Birds fly under your chair. In spring, when the leaves open in the maples' crowns, your view stops in the treetops just beyond the desk; yellow warblers hiss and whisper on the high twigs, and catch flies. Get to work. Your work is to keep cranking the flywheel that turns the gears that spin the belt in the engine of belief that keeps you and your desk in midair."

The chasm between thinking about doing it and doing it is huge. And small. Writing is just like making things, and making things -- making dinner, a dress, a garden, a letter, a sock, a fun afternoon -- is magic. Unmysterious magic -- you just do it. Crank the flywheel. If you want to paint, get a paintbrush. If you want to make a stuffie, get some wool felt (or, hell, some acrylic -- just get some). If you want to write, get a pen. Do something, anything new that you've always wanted to do -- even something that you don't even know you want to do yet. Who knows what you will discover? Play tennis. Get a dog. Learn to surf. Crochet one granny square. Do another one. Start a blog. When that gets boring, pick something else. Leap. No one will care if you don't.

There you go! A toe touched down on the other side. Get ready to take off again; you're flying now.

May 06, 2006

"It's horrifying. It's like a freaking nightmare."

Gilmoregirls_1 Did you hear? Amy Sherman-Palladino and Daniel Palladino, the writers on the Gilmore Girls are leaving. Andy just read me the TV Guide over the phone and the whole story is here (but be aware, there's a spoiler in the interview!). Contract issues, naughty studio. I second Amy's quote in the title of this post. It's horrifying. It's like a freaking nightmare! And just when I'd decided that before making any decision I would ask myself:  "What would Lorelei do?"

WWLD. Which is really like saying, "What would Amy and Daniel make Lorelei do?" And now we'll never know. And I'll have to make my own decisions? Nooooo!

Gonna go cry now. Second to finding out that Stars Hollow, Connecticut, isn't real, this hurts, this really hurts.

April 25, 2006

My Sister's House

Livingroom2_1I spent yesterday afternoon photographing my sister's house for her. She needed some shots for something and she hates taking pictures the way I once used to hate taking pictures. I really enjoyed doing this. It is different to photograph someone else's stuff, somehow. It is also different to see things through the lens of the camera. Some things you notice more -- that slipcover looks more wrinkled through the camera than I ever notice in real life, that pillow has a zipper sticking out the top; and some things you notice less -- no time to vacuum, oh well it won't show on film, etc.

Livingroom1My sister and I have a lot of things in common, though like most sisters we know we are very different. We are aesthetically fairly different -- her palette is generally much earthier than mine, and though her living room is this pale, shell pink, she teams it with her favorite color, mushroom brown, and other warm tones, whereas I usually go with the bluey-green. The lady in the portrait above center is our Grandma Lucie. The lady just to the left of her with the hat (and the glare) is our other grandma, Angie. I think our littlest sister, Susie, has tastes very similar to ours, but even better, somehow. She always manages to find beautiful things at places you'd never expect to find them.

Studio1 I see the effects of our overcrowded childhood in our similar present-day needs for things to be simple, orderly, rather decorous, really. My sister's and my houses have very similar floor plans, and they share the exact same placement on our streets, though she's about ten blocks directly south of me. Both of us are rather taunted mercilessly by memories of our hometown, and strive to recreate it within the more urban, edgy, weedier neighborhoods we live in now, but it doesn't work that well. For one thing, we all walked or rode bikes to school every day until high school, and that's not something most kids in Portland can enjoy. That makes me feel so sad for them! Walking to and from school is one of my best memories. I felt so much a part of my neighborhood then, and I know that walking, especially walking alone, had everything to do with it.

Kitchen5 It may be the burden of everyone who doesn't move away until well into adulthood that they are constantly striving to recreate childhood neighborhoods. I feel fairly contented with my new (er, eight years isn't really "new" I know) city until I talk to my sister, who is more restless. But she has kids so I think she compares what we got to do with what things are like for them, and worries. We grew up on a quiet, kid-filled dead-end street one house away from an enormous oak-studded park. It had a forested train trestle on a hill on one edge and on the other an adorable elementary school, where we hit tennis balls for endless hours against the outside-of-the-gym wall. We didn't think we were particularly lucky then -- we were oblivious, as most kids are -- but that neighborhood and the park have taken on mythic proportions in our respective adulthoods. The school's not even there anymore, but the park has been remodeled. Will you take a picture of it, Hillary?

Kitchen1_2 I'm incredibly lucky to live so close to my sister now, though we are 2,000 miles away from where we all started. I can't imagine living far from her and her family anymore. We were not particularly kind to each other as children or teenagers, though we have been very close for the past ten years, around when life started throwing beyond-average sorts of challenges at us, and we were far from home. We started our businesses at about the exact same time, though the genesis of each was completely independent. We had been privately working on our ideas, only to find the other was well on her way to something similar by the time we each admitted them.

Kitchen2_1 Our preferred mediums are very different, however. What we're good at is usually different. I'm a scheduled, extremely habitual person; my sister never has two days alike. My sister is a researcher; I'd rather rip my own head off my body than know too much about anything. My sister has always been extremely athletic and coordinated; I am famous for falling face-first into things like ice and gutters, and have the scars on my chin to prove it. I love to cook; my sister doesn't. When I open the door to this little spice cabinet, I say, "Okay, go get me a vintage apron to hang off this door."

Her: "I don't have a vintage apron."
Me: " . . . " [Staring at her in confusion.]
Her: " . . . " [Staring at me in ______ .]
Me: "What is wrong with you."

So that is a dishtowel.

Basement1_1Parlez-Vous is entirely my sister's creation, with technical and conceptual help from her husband. From the art to every aspect of the business, they have invented it for themselves. Michael is an artist, too. They have known each other since high school. Conveniently, he and Andy are best friends and still, after knowing each other for over fifteen years, engage in exchanges of such enthusiasm and energy we just all sort of stand back and marvel that anyone in the family likes each other that much. I always think of those boys like two adolescent puppies, barking. They are not quiet ones.

Basement3_2 I like taking pictures of spaces. You'd be surprised at how much stuff I moved around and set up to take these shots. I do this at my own place, but it was a lot easier to have an assistant to pouf up pillows, move chotchkes, and clean up all the little messes I made as I went through (at least it was only some of) the house. Julie said she would've taken about four pictures; I took probably 50 or so. But it's so nice to have these little periodic glimpses of what life looks like. I wish I had more of them from my old life. This was the Smiths', April 24, 2006.

April 07, 2006

All I Want Is a Normal Life

PrepWell, if you're back, reading this today, you either liked the what color quiz had to say about you, or you've forgiven me for sending you toward it. I don't know if Andy's forgiven me yet. His profile was so negative and so wrong about him -- it was almost like it was describing the opposite of him -- though it disturbed him enough to give me flashbacks to when we'd taken the test several years ago, when Mo sent it. Pretty much the same thing (impassioned proclamations of sanity, and cursing of crap internet quizzes) happened, for hours afterward. I'm really sorry everybody!

The phrase "All I want is a normal life" is a bit of an inside joke in our family. My father gave me a button (like a campaign button) that said it about ten years ago, when he came to visit me in Montana, and he thought it was so funny. The button hung attached to the basket that held bananas in my kitchen for many years, until it got discolored and faded, and we threw it away when we moved. But I didn't need a button. I and everyone else knew that I wanted, and felt I didn't have, a normal life, and it was all his fault. My dad was not like other people, and our family wasn't like other people, and our life didn't seem like other peoples' lives, and this was exacerbated by the seemingly advanced state of normalcy achieved by everyone else we knew. River Forest, where we grew up, is a place of tennis clubs, and golfing fathers, and Labrador retrievers, and flag-waving block parties. Our father was a rock musician who smoked and drank, and blew up a big pile of gunpowder in the backyard to celebrate my sister's birthday. He played records of wolves howling at 2 a.m. at my slumber party. He stayed up all night and ate dinner while we were getting dressed for school. He gave us lectures about how to protect ourselves from the black bears that roamed rampantly through the campground to which he was taking us for summer vacation, and I cried into my pillow in terror and begged not to have to go. For many years, while growing up, I desperately wanted to be Amish, or, later, go to Culver Military Academy. I felt that either would've fit me better than my own life seemed to.


Of course, you know, life isn't normal for anyone -- or rather, everyone's life is "normal," whether they see it that way or not -- no matter what our circumstances bring, most of us sample every aspect of the human condition in strikingly consistent sorts of ways. And of course I always knew this in the back of my mind, too, but it never stopped me from striving for balance, stability, peace, regularness. Sometimes when friends call me and they say, "How are things? What's new?" I say, "Things are totally average! Nothing's new!" and I say it with such joy and relief you really have to have had some trouble in your life to appreciate what that kind of boring averageness really means. It's wonderful.

So, I am always drawn to stories of people that are even more awkward, self-conscious, and uncoordinated than I am. Curtis Sittenfeld's first novel Prep is one. A bestseller last year, I read it in three days, straight -- on a hammock, stopping only to get more lemonade. I read a lot, but I am rarely moved to read incessantly, on porches, in cars, at table, on hammock, in bed, at work the way I was when I blew through this novel. It's the story of a girl from Michigan who decides she wants to go to prep school, and does. Many reviews mark this book as an adolescent novel, but it doesn't feel that way to me at all. Maybe I'm still mentally an adolescent. The scene where her parents visit her at school was so finely wrought I don't know that I've ever seen or will see another as good. I read it out loud to Andy immediately after getting through it the first time, and choked up, unable to finish it with composure. My friend alerted me to an upcoming dinner to benefit a few local literary organizations here in town -- Curtis Sittenfeld is the guest of honor, and the dinner is limited to 12 guests. Initially I thought about going, but then I remembered what happened with Marilynne Robinson (who was one of Sittenfeld's teachers at Iowa's Writers' Workshop) and thought I'd spare myself the potential embarrassment . I'm rereading the book again now. I'm three days in and only a quarter of the way through, so I've calmed down about it a bit, at least.

Countrylife Last week I reread Rachel Cusk's The Country Life, which I read first about six years ago (recommended by my so-very-missed MFA-school friend Rhian, from whom all the great book recommendations come). I read again every year or two, just because it's really densely packed with things you don't see the first time, somehow. It's the story of strange Stella Benson, who leaves her life in London to become an au pair for a wealthy family in the country. I wrote a review of it on Amazon a long time ago, and I looked it up this morning. I'd forgotten how many intensely negative customer reviews there were of the thing (and Rachel Cusk herself has run into intense dislike since, for some of her books, especially one about motherhood). I remembered that I was shocked to hear that people didn't like The Country Life, and wrote then:

"I wince when I say I loved it . . . cause I've read some of the reviews below, and I see what they mean about Cusk's sort of blousy, self-conscious, detail-infuriating style -- but so what. It's perfectly tuned to this character -- it's her voice, after all--and her moronic escapades are wrought with such sympathy and interest that I found myself covering my mouth with my hand as I watched her blunder about, burst through hedgerows, sunburn herself into tears, lie about knowing how to drive and then doing it anyway. These things sound funny, but there's a disturbing edge to this novel that will make you nervous and intrigued by this character, and render you willing to follow her around the countryside, filled with barbs and doofs and demented delight. Give it a chance."

Recommendations, anyone? I really need something new.

April 06, 2006

"Seeks to Share a Bond of Understanding"

Blueygreen1Everyone's talking about color this week! The ever-eloquent and thoughtful Jane had a beautiful post yesterday about working through the process of designing a quilt, and of course at Mecozy there's a little challenge to explore the colors of different days of the week. Today's not bluey-green, it's orange  white/brown/black, but I never do these things at the right time [clearly -- since I don't even know what day it is]. Two days late feels rather early to me, really.

I'm excited because yesterday I found a copy of Romantic Homes magazine and got to see my first-ever published photograph in it. I've never had a photo published before, nor been called to speak as an expert on anything, but I have to say, when it comes to bluey-green, I'll take any opportunity to wax. Clare Miers, who wrote the article "Blue & Green with Envy" in this month's issue, asked me several months back to tell her why I loved the color. At the very moment she asked, I was actually unpacking some little bluey creamers I'd just found while antiquing, so I sent a photo of them (with some of my other things) over to show her. I said that one of the reasons I loved bluey-green was because it works in any season -- with pinks and whites in spring, reds and blues in summer, orange and brown in fall, red and silver in winter. Don't you think?

Blueygreenpottery72dpi_1I wrote about this fantastic quilt made by Andy's grandma here, in the original post this photo illustrated, and just seeing it again makes me want to get it out and put it on the dining room table as the spring tablecloth. I think Martha S. made this color really popular in the last few years, which I don't mind at all -- I really like being able to get things in shades I like while they're trendy, because I know eventually the trend will pass and I'll still have my pink or my bluey-green. When I was a little girl my favorite color was mint green, which I'm thinking is also due for a bit of a comeback, no? Along with, say, topsiders? I miss both of them.

When I look around my house and my work, I see a lot of bluey-green. I made a Flickr set of the color because I noticed that it kept showing up, over and over, in my photos. It's so fun to read peoples' comments saying they love the color, too.

It's interesting to me that people usually have a favorite color for their whole lives. My mother-in-law is a dedicated, unwavering purple lover. (I've noticed that purple people are extremely loyal to their purple, by the way.) Our friend Maureen sent us this color quiz a few years ago, and I looked for it this morning and took it. You put some colors in order a couple of times -- it's so simple you won't believe it -- and it generates a profile for you. I have to say, um, wow.

Existing situation: Seeks to share a bond of understanding intimacy in an aesthetic atmosphere of peace and tenderness.

Stress sources: Wants freedom to follow her own convictions and principles, to achieve respect as an individual in her own right. Desires to avail herself of every possible opportunity without having to submit to limitations or restrictions.

Restrained characteristics: An unadmitted lack of confidence makes her careful to avoid open conflict and she feels she must make the best of things as they are.

Desired objective: Seeks success, stimulation, and a life full of experience. Wants to develop freely and to shake off the shackles of self-doubt, to win, and to live intensely. Likes contacts with others and is enthusiastic by nature. Receptive to anything new, modern, or intriguing; has many interests and wants to expand her fields of activity. Optimistic about the future.

Actual problem: Fights against restriction or limitation, and insists on developing freely as a result of her own efforts.

Actual problem #2: Takes a delight in action and wants to be respected and esteemed for her personal accomplishments.

Take it and tell me what you think! I feel like mine is eerily, embarrassingly accurate!

Update: Andy has taken this quiz twice and we think his profile is totally inaccurate. So, as with anything else, please feel free to throw it in the garbage!!! Who knows who makes these things up! If you don't like your result, please tell us so that Andy knows he is in good company. I don't know if I can take a whole day of him stomping around going "I'm not psycho! I'M NOT PSYCHO!" Okay, okay, we know! Honey: You are PERFECT, even if you did pick black first and yellow last! (Weirdo.)

March 24, 2006

101, But It Feels Like 463

BunnyWhen I popped into Typepad to write this morning, I noticed that yesterday's post was my 100th, which seemed like a lot, but then maybe not, so I thought I'd just let Steve Martin (who has not given me permission to reprint this) explain how 101 feels like . . . so much more.

From The Jerk by Steve Martin, Carl Gottlieb, and Michael Elias

Navin: "Marie, are you awake?
. . . Good. You look so beautiful and peaceful -- you almost look dead. And I'm glad, because there's something I want to say that's always been very difficult for me to say: I slit the sheet, the sheet I slit and on the slitted sheet, I sit. I've never been relaxed enough around anyone to be able to say that. You give me confidence in myself.

"I know we've only known each other for four weeks and three days, but to me it seems like nine weeks and five days. The first day seemed like a week. And the second day seemed like five days. And the third day seemed like a week again. And the fourth day seemed like eight days. But the fifth day, you went to see your mother and that seemed just . . . like a day. But then you came back and later on the sixth day in the evening when we saw each other -- that started seeming like two days. So in the evening it seemed like two days spilling over into the next day and that started seeming like four days. So at the end of the sixth on into the seventh day that seemed like a total of five days. And the sixth day seemed like a week and a half. I have it written down but I can show it to you tomorrow if you wanna see it.

"Anyway, I've decided that tomorrow, when the time is right, I'm gonna ask you to marry me. If that's okay with you, just don't say anything.

"You've made me very happy."

March 09, 2006


Frosting2I expect this scene played out in more than one bedroom across Portland this morning.

6:01 a.m.
The Hubby (dressed and on way out door, running upstairs to say goodbye): " 'Bye, hon. I love you."
Me (asleep): "M mmmm mmm, mmm." (That's "I love you, too," in Sleep-ese, the universal language of sleepers.)
Hubby: "I have to go right away because I have to go ship all your thirty packages you asked me to ship on my way to work."
Me (feigning sleep): ZZZZzzzzzzzz.
Hubby: "It snowed."
Me (bolting upright): WHAT?!?!?!
Hubby (trying to push me back down): "Shhh shhh! It's okay!"
Me (screeching): WHA-WHA-WHA-WHAT?????
Me: "My anemones!"
Me: "My primroses!"
Me: "My SAXIFRAGIA!!! That cost $7.99!!!"
Me: "And also, there are only fifteen packages, not thirty. Oh and, but, thank you for doing that, too, anyway, never mind." (He was already gone.)
Me: "Where am I."

A frosting of snow on the rooftops, pretty behind the plum blossoms, though striking fear in the hearts of spring worshipers. It feels pretty warm out there to me now, at 7:45, but there must have been quite a bit of snow, because it's awfully slushy on the porch.

In case you're wondering why this would elicit so many exclamation points, it's because, well, we barely ever get any snow, even in December let alone March, and I was talking to my girlfriend who lives in northern Wisconsin (who used to live in Portland) last night and really kind of rubbing it in about how pretty and green everything was turning here already (my subliminal tactic for getting her to return to Portland), when they are still mired in icy slush. (Nevertheless, I was gnashing my teeth with pure envy when she said that all of her friends live within walking distance of each other -- ah, to live in a college town again! Man!) She reminded me that it once snowed in June when we all lived in Montana. That's just wrong in ever so many ways. Rooftop snow in March in Portland is enough to make me twitch.

Update, 9:29 a.m.: Snow falling everywhere!

Update, 2:08 p.m.: Seems to have stopped completely. I am okay with that.

March 07, 2006

Hole in the Sky

HeartsSpring, with rusty little hearts all a-bloom. The front yard looks great! (The back yard is another story -- there is nary a blade of grass to be found: all mud, all the time. It seems it will not grow for us -- it goes from mud to bone-dry dirt.) But the front yard looks great. I'm so glad I got bossy a little bit earlier this year and used "feel sorry for me" weekend to get a little yard work out of Nurse Paulson. It's not just for me, though, it's for everyone (this is what I told him), including passers-by, because who doesn't feel sheer joy at seeing those fronds unfurling out of the muck. Spring in the Northwest, if you haven't experienced it, is absolutely magical. It's like a fairyland, tiny petals falling everywhere.

Wall_1 We are full-on amateurs in the garden. My guiding principals are like "If it grows, that's great. If it doesn't, rip it out. If it sort of does, chop it back to something green and see what happens." I do much, much better with fake flowers than with real. I will say, however, that I used those little water crystal things last year -- I don't know what they're called, but they come in a package and you mix them into your potting soil for your potted plants and they swell up with water and keep your plants alive about a million times longer -- they are worth every penny. Can you see the little daffodil bulb sitting on top of the dirt on the left of the picture above? So cute. It must have popped out over the winter.

Clematis2 My old teacher Bill Kittredge wrote a book called Hole in the Sky. I think the phrase is used metaphorically to describe many different kinds of things, but I take it literally. It's what I (and probably a bunch of others -- duh) call that phenomenon when the sky is dark, and thick with purple clouds layered back like waves. And then there is a little hole in the dark clouds, and the sun shines through that little tiny opening and lights everything on the ground, turning the greens fluorescent and the air clear as water. The first time I experienced it was when I lived in Montana (appropriately -- this is where I knew Bill) and it happens here in Portland quite often, usually around sunset when the angles are low. It is gorgeously beautiful when it does, and it never lasts long; you must drop whatever you're doing and run outside, and look all around, at everything. You can sometimes tell it's happening from inside the house because the interior light will change -- it almost feels like a solar eclipse. It happens a lot in the spring, when the sky is melodramatic and given to capricious excesses.

Of course, a hole in the sky is a metaphor, too. And this blog has felt like that the past couple of days for me. I poked a little hole out and shined a bit of wavery light. You blasted me right back with a million candlewatts. It was one of the most beautiful moments of my life. Thank you.

March 06, 2006

Him and Me = We

AnemonesThank you. For each and every one of your comments, and your kindnesses, we both thank you, from way deep down inside. For the past day we've been in and out of the house, and occasionally one of the other of us would stop by the computer to see what someone had said. There'd be silence for a few minutes, and then you'd hear sniffle . . . sniffle . . . . Then we'd switch places and the other would hear sniffle . . . sniffle . . . . Then a couple of times you'd hear BOO hoo hoo hoo hooooooo! Hoo hoo hoo! (that was me). He'd rush over and start reading and it'd be real quiet and then I'd hear sniffle . . . sniffle . . . . . . . . . snort [nose blowing].

Thank you, everybody, for listening. It means a lot, to us both. Thank you.

Love, a

March 05, 2006

An Anniversary

Foot Today is the eighth anniversary of my accident. Exactly eight years ago I was plowed over by a garbage truck while I was crossing the street. I was in the crosswalk, crossing with the light, and the garbage truck turned into the street I was crossing and mowed me down. The guy said the sun was in his eyes and he never saw me, and didn't know that it had even happened until he heard the scream. I just said one word: "No!"

This was before September 11, or the tsunami, or Hurricane Katrina, those horrifying, unthinkable things we watched for paralyzed minutes thinking, "That can't really be happening, can it?" It's what I was thinking when I realized that the truck was accelerating and I wasn't going to make it entirely out of the way. I wish it had occurred to me just a few seconds earlier that indeed it was happening. (I'm grateful, of course, that it didn't occur to me one second later.) Sometimes I think that if I had watched those towers fall before the morning of my accident I wouldn't have wasted a single second believing that the world couldn't possibly blow apart in such a . . . prosaic . . . way as that colossal giving-over-to-gravity was. He got my ankle and foot. I hit the ground. I had what is known as a "de-gloving," and that's as literal as it sounds; the tire that ran me over stripped my ankle and foot entirely of soft tissue and skin like it was taking off a glove. Tendons and busted bones remained. It was 50/50 try to save it/amputate it. We chose try to save it, but it was a tough call. They amputated my toes, and reconstructed my foot out of a big muscle from my back, and most of the skin from my left thigh, all the way around, and butt cheek. I was 29, a newlywed, newly arrived in Portland. If you had asked me where the hospital was, I wouldn't have been able to tell you. We barely knew our way around town. I was still unpacking presents and putting them away.

I remember seeing Andy's face above me in the ER. I knew things were bad from the way the docs were acting. Everyone was moving very quickly. I truly believed that their IVs, their machines, wouldn't work on me; I wasn't like other people. All my life I had never felt like anyone else, and now that would bear out, and everyone would know what I had been trying to tell them -- instead of blood I expected to leak green slime. I had never been in a hospital before. I was shocked to wake up after -- to have survived -- the first surgery, absolutely shocked. I know it sounds bizarre, but I truly didn't think that the laws of nature applied to my physiology, and every day, as the doctors came in and said that things "looked good," I was filled with a sort of cosmic, timeless relief: I was human. My systems responded to treatment. I knew I would need every possible advantage I could get in order to recover, including professional encouragement, and regular human blood, which it turns out I do in fact have. If they said to me, as they made their rounds each morning, "You're such a good healer!" I would quiver with a sort of sobbing gratitude that was about so much more than a foot. If they forgot one morning to say it, I would ask desperately, seriously, "Am I still a good healer?" Yes, they would say, you still are. I felt entirely unequal to the situation in every possible way. Andy slept in a chair by the side of my bed every night. He met the docs at the door at sunrise each morning with a legal pad of questions. He held my hands and brushed my hair. He was not a nurse then, he was a geologist. We knew on the first day in the hospital that he would become a nurse, though. He had that look of epiphany about him. He did become one in 2003. Visitors came and went. Nurses, total strangers, cared for me so tenderly, changing my dressings and washing me, it broke my heart. I got a lot of flowers. I remember one day when I was getting a ton of them. On the fifth or so bouquet of the day, a gargantuan arrangement, I wailed, overwhelmed by the outpouring of floral support. The nurse who brought it in started to cry, too. We looked at the tag to see who the roses were from. Lo and behold, they were for someone else entirely; she had brought them to me by mistake. Oh God we laughed at that. It was the first time I'd even smiled in weeks. I don't remember many, many things about the hospital, but I remember that moment, when we laughed. I had a vision about the world when I was there. It came to me one night as if a little door opened and I looked through and eavesdropped on the truth. I saw that the world was constantly falling apart, it was always in a state of little things always falling apart, and then there were these brigades of individual human angels, with kind eyes, apples and stitches, repairing, fixing, mending, patting, bandaging the wounds of the world, and putting it back together, piece by tiny piece. I hadn't known that repair was done on a gestural level, a cellular one. It shocked me that I hadn't seen it that way before.

It was a sad, scary time. I cried constantly. I was very, very scared. I was in the hospital for a month. When I got home, it was suddenly spring and I was so grateful I hadn't missed it. I watched it roll into the yard from my bedroom window and I felt hopeful watching things bloom in slo-mo. I was in bed for months as my patchworked skin grew back, my re-routed blood vessels networked, my back muscle became foot, my bones reknitted themselves. The cat plastered herself to my side and growled if anyone got too close to me. Andy went back to work full-time, and continued to do all the cooking, shopping, laundry, and the general endless bussing and fussing required by someone who can't walk, not to mention the emotional coaching and salving of heartache, and panic. Every night he slept on the floor, next to the bed, and I woke, crying again, at 2 or 3 a.m., needing to be put on the bedpan. (Sometimes now, when I'm too lazy to get out of bed in the morning, I will say to him, "Hon, can't you just bring me the bedpan?" and he will scream, "Hon! No!" and we will think this is hilarious, the way that only people who've used bedpans in the first year of marriage do.) I don't remember him as anything other than cheerful, hopeful, confident, endlessly energized, though I'm sure that when he wasn't with me he was as scared and tired as I was. It took six surgeries over six months to fashion me a sort-of foot. I walked for the first time, unaided, almost ten months later, because I forgot my crutches at Thanksgiving. It took years before I had the wherewithal to think about other things. But I will wear this stuff forever. It protects my foot and allows me to walk. I don't take a step without all of it. Obviously I need some new stuff. I never see it from this angle.

Occasionally, I feel a weird nostalgia for my time in bed. The long quiet afternoons. The backyard cats quietly stalking each other under the bridal-veil bush. The absolute removal of all of my responsibilities. My intense focus on whatever I was embroidering. The imaginary world I created in the handwritten scrapbooks I made from my old travel diaries. The reassuring vapidity of daytime TV. The birds that came to the feeder a few feet from where I sat. Letters. No computer. The joy of short and long visits. I heard a story on This American Life several years ago about the strange longing for prison that sometimes affects ex-cons. (It's Act V of Episode 119.) It was really good. I feel that sometimes. It was an incarceration that felt a bit like childhood. You don't usually get to experience that sort of dependence, and boredom, as an adult. There was something incredibly decadent, and illicit, about it somehow.

Last week I could feel March 5th approaching. I'm not big on anniversaries in general, really, but of course, the subconscious always remembers the big ones, doesn't it. This may account for the hissy fits at home, in coffee shops, at work, and a-blog, or possibly I'm just psycho. I wasn't exactly pitch-perfect before all this happened, believe me. Nevertheless, I hope you will forgive my excessiveness lately. Posie means so much to me; it is the Second Alicia. The first one was nervous and flirty, a long-distance walker who had never owned a car, and traveled abroad by herself. This one makes gardens out of fabric, fusses about the house, and tries hard almost all the time. But you know this one. I absolutely do not believe that everything happens for a reason; I never did, and I still don't. I believe that we fashion sense out of the things that happen, and create a kind of meaning in the result. And at the end of the day, you just gotta plow on through! There is no time to waste or worry. There are so many more Alicias to be, I know.

Thank you to everyone who helped me survive, including Dr. M, my plastic surgeon, boy wonder, wherever you are. I am so happy to be alive.

February 24, 2006

The Goldilocks Theory

Book_1Every month or two I threaten to pack it all up and move to the country. Lately, I've been thinking about wine country in the Willamette Valley, just outside Portland, where the hills roll smoothly away from the ocean, and little vineyards trace diagonals across the fields. I think it frustrates Andy that I'm always doing this; we live in a fairly urban neighborhood, and he is quite happy here. Maybe he'll want to be a country nurse practitioner someday, I don't know. . . . I feel like there must be a place that's "just right." But that might be wishful, wistful thinking, and I don't want to be one of those people that can't be satisfied. No no no. I really don't. Nevertheless, neither do I want to be someone who pines, when it wouldn't be that hard to make a change, really.

BookdetailThanks for the comments about home yesterday, and thanks for the head's up about the stuffed houses  by Cassi at Bella Dia and Heidi at My Paper Crane. I'm sorry I didn't see these, you guys -- they are adorable, and I'm embarrassed to say that even though both of these blogs are on my list, I missed them. I will do something very different, I promise! I looked at my list and moved some things around in my sidebars last night, and thought about how there's been some chat around the blogs lately about how to include links that you like and keep things manageable -- and even visually manageable -- at the same time. I have a subscription to Bloglines, but I never use it; I like to look at people's blogs the way they design them, and I don't like the way that Bloglines makes everything look, though it seems more convenient. Nevertheless, I have just about the worst memory on earth, so unless I put things on my list, I'll forget to check them (and obviously even if they are on the list I forget to check them). I usually go through things on Tuesdays and Fridays when I'm at work and have wi-fi, otherwise it's no fun to wait for pictures to download. But then there's the issue of having a gazillion blogs on the sidebar, and that just . . . doesn't look nice. Except that I think people really appreciate having them. Not to mention that I sincerely believe in and do try to support the people who have supported me.

I have this theory that's been cooking around in my head, ever since September, when I started shopping exclusively at our little, independently owned neighborhood grocery store, Zupan's. Nevermind that we live two blocks from a Safeway; I can't stand the place. When I told the sales guy that their milk refrigerator smelled extremely bad and was caked in nasty, crusty old milk, his response was, "Well, it's pretty hard to keep clean." When I told another worker that I repeatedly find expired food on their shelves, in every department, he said, "Well, I've never seen any." That was the last time I shopped, like, for-a-whole-week-shopped, at Safeway. Zupan's, though more expensive, fits me just right. It's the right size, it's beautiful and pleasant and clean, they're always extremely nice to me when I'm there, and most of all, I feel like they've actually edited their collection of stuff in a way that makes my life easier and nicer. Instead of having a billion things to choose from, I let their choices be my guide. It feels like a small-town, old-fashioned grocery, and though like I said, it is pricey, I know that I am investing in my own mental-health and my community by shopping there, so I never mind. I know that a lot of people love Costco and places like that, but when I go to stores that are that big, I feel so panicky and overwhelmed and the experience just feels so wrong it negates all the money I supposedly save. Even the carts are enormous and unwieldy. I feel like Alice, freaking out in large-o Wonderland.

Nevertheless, I'm calling my theory the Goldilocks Theory, in honor of  that other searching girl, and it's about finding a thing, a size, that is just right for you. Whether it's a house, a yard, a city, a store, a group of friends, a number of blogs, a job, an amount of work, a number of emails you can answer well, a number of handbags, a number of new product lines for spring, even when people are yelling at you for more, and for more faster. There's just got to be a size, a pace, a place that's "just right," within all these genres, don't you think? And if we try to find the things that are just right, do you think that adds up to happiness and peace?

I'm not sure. I might just pretend that it does and see what happens.

February 18, 2006

Worried Pets

Audreyviolet This is a picture for Andy. Honey, this is a picture of how the pets look when you're gone. 2/3 of them have turned into little old men, anxiously staring out windows, awaiting your return. 1/3 of them (not pictured -- as you said, taking a pic of Bridget is like taking a picture of a fairy) are completely oblivious; in fact, I did see her flutter by this morning so I know she's still here, but I don't think she's pining for you, somehow. Big surprise. Violet (cat) actually hasn't much left this spot (though we've run out of her little foil bags of food and it's freezing here, so I am too lazy to go to the store -- she's eating dry Iams until it warms up), and Audrey (dog) refuses to sleep upstairs. This is also for anyone who might have been wondering why I'm not allowed to have nice pillows. As if that weren't extremely obvious. Good thing she's so damn cute.

We miss you, hon!!! We really miss you!!!

February 17, 2006


Towels2 Here's me, last Sunday, standing at the cash register at the antique mall, to myself, out loud: "Oh, I don't know what to do! I really want these! But they're $45! But I want them. But I shouldn't have them. They're in perfect condition. I want them! How cute are these! They go with my kitchen! But of course I'd never use them. That's just wrong. I can't have them! But I want them! Oh no what do I do!"

This little performance was accompanied by me sort of marching in place anxiously and flinging my hands to my cheeks dramatically and the salesgirl staring at me with pure loathing and impatience. She betrayed not one hint of advice or encouragement. She was wearing a black corset that actually looked very cool in a not-too-Victorian way. I thought about complimenting her but she didn't like me and I could see that only getting my hiney out of there would change that. Occasionally she looked past me hopefully, to see if anyone else was waiting to check out. They were not. I could not be rushed or intimidated; I stood there for ten solid minutes. Eventually someone else did want to check out and I said, "Okay fine! These too!" and shoved them toward her. My sister gave me a set of day-of-the-week dishtowels once and I got really weird about using the towels only on the day indicated; like, if it was a Tuesday but the only towel in the drawer said "Friday" I would become sort of twitchy and worried that I shouldn't use it, and grab a big handful of paper towels. I have some weird ticks. Another is standing and watching the blinking stoplight four blocks away from my upstairs bathroom window; if I see it blink once, I have to stand there and wait for it to blink three times before I move. It sucks. I love these towels a whole lot; I could save myself the OCD moment and just not use them -- they would get so trashed here. They're all hand done.

Anyhoo, you're sick of me now, too, no doubt. I know. I'm even driving myself crazy lately. Kitchen spaces are not my natural territory, but every couple of months I seem to make a push to reclaim them, somehow, in the hopes that I can figure it out; there is no single exchange that makes me want to scream like "What should we do for dinner?"-"I don't know, what do you want?"-"I don't know" does.  Thank you to everyone who commented on the pantry stuff, and to Meggiecat, who always knows where the good stuff is, including new shelf edging (dare I go to Wal-Mart?), and to Donna for the Martha pantry list, am ambitious array of provisions to be sure! As Donna says, "I would feel triumphant if I had a fourth of the ingredients on hand at any given time." Me too. Here's hoping.

Oh -- and Fred Flare just announced the call for entries for the Next Big Thing 2006, if you can stand the heat in that kitchen. I'm also so loving their interview with MS Kids editor-in-chief Jodi Levine. I love her.

February 12, 2006

Where I Sit and Contemplate the Future over Breakfast

Calicos3 Thank you, everyone, for your get-well wishes (I am feeling much better) and condolences for my being so dumb and losing my own quilt. Thank you so much to Nikki for pointing me toward I was flabbergasted at the number of lost and stolen quilts out there. Can you imagine? Have these thieves ever heard of a little thing called karma? I can't even think of an object that embodies more . . . spirit . . . than a quilt. Maybe something hand-knitted. You know what I mean. Anyway, I've listed my quilt on their web site. It was fascinating to see that people have been reunited with their quilts eleven years later. It would be amazing, absolutely amazing, if it were found.

Anyway, after thinking about my quilt, and as I mentioned last week after reading the new Cath Kidston book, I feel an restless urge to return to sweet mini-floral calicos lately. My bags this spring for Posie will feature these heavily (oops -- oxymoron) because they just seem so light and fresh to me after winter, of course, but also after some of the bigger, more stylized floral patterns I used last year. I'm clearly mourning the loss of all the little neighborhood JoAnn Fabrics stores around here, too. I don't know if this is happening where you live (if you live in the U.S.) but here in Portland, Oregon, they are closing down just about every little "independent" JoAnn's and consolidating everything into their Superstores.

I think I'm more upset about this than I thought. All my life I have lived within a few minutes of a JoAnn store. My mom sewed piles of stuff for us when we were kids, and the JoAnn's was in biking distance then; I can't even count how many hours I've spent shuffling through those bolts of cotton, a crying child howling somewhere in the recesses of the pattern department. I loved those little machines they had with the dials that counted yards of fabric as you ran it through its little slot (though those are long gone). Whenever I have been sad, or confused, or scared, or just generally freaked out, I go to the fabric store, where you can wander all afternoon without anyone bothering you; you can just think, and dream, and plan. Hours tick away. My blood pressure comes down. That's so much better.

Here in Portland I haunt each fabric store regularly, and have a pretty good idea of the inventories of each: Mill End for silks and wools and flat-folds, not so much printed cottons; Fabric Depot for ginghams and polka dots and high-end print cottons, and sales, and crafty things (though they've cut back on their inventory of some of these things of late, I think); JoAnn's for crafty things and cheap calicos and all manner of phony floral, including little birds and miniature strawberries and paper flowers and imported everything-weird you don't find in other places. Nevermind that the place always looked like it had just been ransacked, or that the employees very rarely stopped having their own personal conversations about various anachronistic medical ailments (goiter, gout) long enough to cut your fabrics or help you find something (as if). I used to complain about this to the point of hissy fit; over the years the place seemed to be getting more and more trashed. Still, it was a reliable source for so much of what I needed. I would take all my complaining back now, if I could.

I try, as much as I possibly can, to shop local, independent stores for the things I need, going corporate when necessary but mostly making every effort I can to keep our little locally-owned businesses alive. JoAnn's is corporate, but you'll often find them not in big strip malls (though they are there) but right in the middle of a little neighborhood business district. Superstores, at least in Portland, are on the edges of the city. I took a trip way out to a JoAnn Superstore in the Portland suburbs a few weekends ago. I had heard nice things about it, and I needed some stuff that the little neighborhood store, now on its last legs and clearance-ing everything, no longer had. I admit that I was excited. Well. That didn't last long.

I don't know how I didn't see this coming. It's big, very big, but somehow so much smaller. They seem to have consolidated their weird little lines, so quirky and wonderful, into JoAnn's-branded super-lines -- similarly packaged, corners rounded off, reduced in scope and quantity. Now it's polarfleece, and the same scrapbooking stuff you can get anywhere else, and acrylic-y novelty yarns. (Of course, I'm oversimplifying, but this is the effect it all had on me.) I felt there was nothing to discover that hadn't been sheared of interest to me somehow. Everything was neat and bright and . . . boring as hell.

Maybe I'm being unfair. Perhaps, as usual, even maudlin. I can't help it. JoAnn as I knew her is gone.

Even though I talked meanly about you behind your back and bitched about your disheleved appearance, you were a reliable, faithful friend. I'm certainly no prize, myself, and have been known to wander your aisles unshowered in pajama bottoms and glasses, so I should have had more compassion, and appreciation for your hidden depths. I'm sorry.

I'll miss you, dear girl.

February 09, 2006

A Gaggle

Ichiban I am one of those weird people that actually still keeps in touch with people I grew up with. I lived in the same house all my life, and went to neighborhood public schools, all the way through high school. I went to Oak Park River Forest High School. Our graduating class alone had about 900 people. It was a huge school.

But our little group of girls stayed more or less the same, picking up other little groups along the way, losing some. This picture is probably fourteen or fifteen years old. We were mostly volleyball players, at one time or another. It's hard for me to remember that I once played volleyball (not for long and not very well) and that I was a cheerleader (no comment). I actually, like, ran laps in a gym. Wow. And I don't know if you know this but in Chicago everyone plays softball. Everyone. We played on a pretty good neighborhood team against other pretty good neighborhood teams well past college. I pretty much sucked at it and was regularly hit with the ball while running between bases. Many, many people could not understand how I was unable to avoid running into a ball that had just been batted. (FYI, if this happens to you, you will be called out, and several people will yell at you.) Softball involved a lot of nicknames, a lot of drinking, and sometimes people peeing in their pants on the field in a fit of laughter, as most sports in Chicago do. (I won't tell you which one in the picture above did that, but she played shortstop. Spectators from both home and away nearly fell off the bleachers they laughed so hard. I believe she was laughing at me. I had spazzed out for about the thousandth time on the field, flinging myself and the ball here and there. That was the night I was named Mad Dog, I think. My other nickname, since junior high, was Baldy. My whole school knew me as this. Ah, good times.) There are about ten of us in this little pack. Two are named Margaret Elizabeth, two are named Patricia Ann. I went to kindergarten with two of the people in this picture. Two of them were sorority sisters together. Almost everyone was Irish, or Catholic, or both. They were all big partiers. I wasn't, and was harassed and made fun of regularly. I did inherit the particular OPRF brand of potty mouth, though. That's something I left Chicago with and have managed to keep intact.

I seem to have very little in common with my high school girlfriends now -- probably none of us has very much in common anymore, but we are all in touch fairly regularly. We have turned out wildly different in most ways. We live in L.A., Lake Tahoe, Colorado, Portland, Chicago, Montana, and New Jersey -- very spread out. Nevertheless, I think what bonds us is the love we still seem to have for our hometown (I don't know of anyone among us who doesn't love it, in some way). I rarely go back. When I do, I always cry a lot. Sometimes I wish I still lived there. Other times I'm happy that I don't. Either way, I couldn't afford it now. Nevertheless, it was a pretty ideal place to grow up, though I didn't always see it that way then. It is good to have people who knew and loved you before you became who you are now, especially when you live very far from home, don't you think? Those people are so few and far between.

The girls try to get together about every year or so, somewhere. Oftentimes I miss out because I'm afraid to fly. Word has it that they may be coming here, to my little corner of the world. I'm trying not to get my hopes up, but then I think What kind of life would that be, to never let your hopes soar? So, they're up. They're rising like a red balloon. This June, the girls might come to me.

We need new carpet. We need new caulk in the bathroom, or a whole new bathroom. That's what I told Andy yesterday afternoon, "Well the Girls might come in June and we need new carpet and a new bathroom." In one sentence like that. Poor thing was sick on the couch. I think he thought he was hallucinating. He said, "Wha?"

February 05, 2006

She Was Known for Making a Big Huge Deal Out of Oh, Nothing Much

Nilla6 Meet Nilla. Short for Vanilla. This is my new little lamb. She was made for me by little bird Stephanie and is as sweet and gentle and kind as Stephanie herself. Thank you, Stephanie, for making one of your lovely, lovely little creatures just for me. Nilla has a little tiny bell that is hiding behind her ribbon. Her stitches are so small and perfect. She is a wonderful lamb. I still can't believe I have my very own Stephanie stuffie.

Andy and I had dinner with Stephanie and Lisa last night, and the charms that are so evident in their blogs are even more apparent and vibrant and endearing in real life. It was so good to get out of the house after this long, dreary winter, and laugh and talk with new friends. I felt in every way blessed to be sharing that evening. I adore these girls.

Lisa2 Lisa brought me wonderful treasures, too -- thank you, dear, sparkly Lisa. When I got home last night, I set them all up on my new dresser with my vintage handbag (which has beautiful hot pink satin lining, a gift from my friend Shelly) and some of my favorite barrettes. I looked at each thing carefully and thought about it -- wooden spools, cigarette cards, little ads, tiny plastic birds, alphabet flashcards, buttons, locker tags, a little burlap pocket, my name punched out in scripty letters. I arranged it all and then stood and considered the composition. The light from the little lamp was very warm and vanilla-y. I felt so pleased with my room. I thought about how my life has changed since I started my blog.

One of the way it's changed is that I've discovered that I really enjoy setting up still lifes. This is something I didn't know about myself. I had never made space, either physically or mentally, for little collections of pretty things that weren't in the least bit functional. Perhaps that is the Midwesterner in me -- who really deserves, who can afford, to have spaces devoted to oh, nothing much, really? No one. I thought, I guess, that those were only for other girls, or magazines, or people with easier lives -- even when I had to take product shots, which are important to me, I knew I should try to make things look cute, but I couldn't get myself to let go. I woodenly propped shots with whatever was around, and then just stopped trying and hoped, basically, that I could just get the thing in focus. It really felt like the "work" part of work. My life/dresser was bursting with the reality of too many cluttery necessities, anyway -- receipts; precious earrings without mates; funeral cards I should have kept but couldn't find; clothes I wouldn't put away; a giant unsharpened pencil; piles of junk to go through; the small, punishing flotsam of adulthood -- I had no room for still lifes. (I even sort of marvel at the people who buy my own products -- I myself carry my keys in my hand, and stuff debit card into back pocket, instead of tucking them all into one of my own cutie-pie handmade handbags. They are for other people, somehow. I just don't even know what to say about that. Some psychiatrist out there is probably shaking her head right now with pity, and a ready diagnosis.)

Lisa3Turns out, something about me that I didn't know until a few months ago was how much I love putting things together and looking at them, for no other reason than because it pleases me. It sounds small I guess, but to me it's sort of big. I guess that's what a blog is, too -- a collection of little things that aren't, on their surface, very functional. But oh, the depths. At least for the curator. When I set up my spools and birds last night, and saw how special and interesting it all looked together (at least to me!), and felt the generosity implied in them, my satisfaction was palpable, and tinged with something new -- a sort of generalized gratitude, a different kind of contentment. It was almost like they set themselves up.

Now I am a girl who has little collections of pretty things and stuffed animals on her dresser. And someone gave them to me because they thought I would like them, and would appreciate them, and would keep them special. And they were right. I can do that. I didn't even know that this was who I could be.

January 31, 2006

Oh, to Be in England!

Loop3 The not-so-secret Anglophile, me. All my life I have wished I were English. I have even told people I was (don't panic -- I was 11). I really can't even pinpoint why; my family is not even a percentage point English, I didn't know any particularly English people (and still don't), and I didn't get to travel there until I was 22. I stayed in London for six weeks and aside from the crippling food poisoning (this came from Paris) and the fact that my luggage didn't arrive until I was almost ready to leave, and the fact that I had to take a bath every night (with Crabtree & Evelyn cherry soap, sadly discontinued) just to get warm, I was in heaven. I loved every single thing about it.

I was a horse-crazy girl, so I guess the images that rooted in my imagination were fed by that equestrian context, as well as the blinding passion I felt at the time in general. They were quintessentially English: mossy stone walls; bright red doors; creamy cotton ruffles; huddled, window-boxed villages; ponies bobbing through green dales; purple clouds moving quickly through gray skies. I wrote my senior thesis on a children's-book illustrator named Arthur Rackham when I was in college. His calico-ed field mice and fairies who used pots and pans had been staples within the imagery of my childhood reading. I had been researching, too, the Pre-Raphaelites and John William Waterhouse (who was really only sort of a Pre-Raphaelite, I guess), who managed to blend magic and the mundane in such a strangely accessible way. That's how England has always seemed to me, really: deeply magical and prosaically domestic, all at once. It still seems that way, and I am still under its spell.

Loop1_1 Not surprisingly, I also have serious farm fantasies. Dilettante farm, not real farm. Like the kind of farm in the movie Babe: thatched-roofed, tiny, and with talking animals. When I learned to knit six years ago, I became obsessed with Rowan Knitting and Crochet Magazine and its aesthetic, that tattered-city-girl-with-mummy's-pearls-in exile-at-the-country-house thing. I discovered Debbie Bliss and wanted to knit near her. I discovered Nancy Mitford and wanted to have met her. I discovered Raffaella Barker and wanted to be her. I discovered Cath Kidston and wanted to buy everything in her store. I discovered Nigella Lawson and just wanted to be invited over to her kitchen and have a fairy cake. Alas, all I really have is most of their books, Country Living (British Edition) magazine, evil gruesome chilblains on my fingers, and severe adult-onset fear of flying. If someone says, "Did you already go to lunch?" I will occasionally but automatically answer, "I did do." I know. Dork. You don't have to tell me.

Loop2_2 Still , I became nearly apoplectic with excitement the other afternoon when Susan from Loop, a gorgeously beautiful yarn shop (as you can see from these, their photos), called -- called -- to ask if she could carry my crochet patterns in her store. She said, "I'm calling from London," and I sputtered, "London? Like,  London, ENGLAND?!?" I got so excited I started babbling nervously about how much I love England (as mentioned, the babbling part is a problem, too. Especially at like, $4/minute or whatever it must have been costing her to call -- sorry Susan!). Loop, aside from being a darling yarn shop, also has one of the prettiest, most functional, most inviting web sites I've ever seen. You can spend an afternoon just browsing through their "designers" section, which features talents like Donna Wilson, Claire Montgomerie, and Catherine Tough, artists whose products they actually carry at Loop. I'm so excited to have my crochet patterns (the one part of my product line I do sell wholesale) there. I'll be sending a sample or two, as well, so if you are a Londoner, stop by Loop in a week or two and it should all be there in real life.

As I was sitting here writing this at the shop, something very, very exciting happened. The mailman came. He brought me an unexpected package. It's from LONDON. I am not kidding you. Oh! Wait 'til you see what's in it. I'll show you tomorrow. It deserves its own special post. For now I'm just going to sit here and look at it all with a very contented, extremely happy, thoroughly amazed sigh.

January 20, 2006

Oh, I Said "Thank You" Alright

My sincerest intentions together with my sophisticated pretensions resulted in a deadly cocktail of emotionally explosive gibberish, as well as an enormous lump in my throat as we all stood uncomfortably and silently and I blubbered, "The . . . book. . . ." I held it out for her to sign with a bright orange pen (which thankfully didn't have any Hello Kittys on it, further reducing me).

"Thank you," I said, "BAM!" That was the sound of my head exploding a la Andrae of Project Runway as I disintegrated into a fit of unintelligible gibberish/sobbing life-story, not very unlike the time I was benched during my 7th-grade presentation on Cuban ballerina Alicia Alonso (and yes, everyone else picked normal people like JFK or Colonel Sanders to report on, but oh no, not me), the first word of which launched me into a geyser-force torrent of nervous giggles that at first were funny and then just embarrassing and then full-on loonified, as my teacher admonished me to "breathe," "breathe," and "look at the clock." Shamefully, I took my seat and continued to shudder with my head down on the desk. Well, this was much like that (in my opinion, though I've been assured by my witness that I am, as usual, exaggerating).

It is a frustrating though countless-times-proven fact that when something is important to me, I will, with remarkable consistency, hurl myself into such a frenzy of nerves and longing that the encounter itself results in a borderline medical emergency, as I have an emotional and public seizure at the moment of contact. Andy looked on in horror as I told Marilynne Robinson my life story in the four seconds of awkward silence following the "thank you," ending with the "I loved college!" to which she could only reply kindly, "Uh huh!" Strangely, I don't think she was flattered by the part where I shakily announced that she had inspired me to not be a writer. That was when she started looking around the room. And I had thought all this time that she understood me!

Oh my God. Chalk me up another night of shame and mortification. How did I not see this coming. I can't even put a photo on this one; thank goodness the evidence is only burned into my brain (though I did spend a sleepness night shaving off the corners as I replayed events enough times as to render them smooth and bland, sighing at 2 a.m. with a final, "Oh, who cares anyway." Of course.) Andy reassured me that a sanitized, composed encounter wouldn't have been . . . memorable . . . at all to M.R. in the same way that my head spinning around might be, and said with his usual wisdom, "Look, hon, I'm sure she's seen worse. You can't write a book like that and expect it not to be an emotional experience for people." So, in true Alicia fashion, I've utterly bought into his version of me and my behavior, and move forward from this point on in contented resignation, however deluded. The reception was full of much older, very-well-dressed people, and then frizzy me, clutching my tattered paperback. I was shocked not to see anyone else carrying a book, as well as to see M.R. standing almost alone at the edge of the room. I could say I just wanted her to know that someone cared. . . .

Oh yeah, and the lecture itself. Speaking to a full house, she was engaging and philosophical and challenging in every way. We had patron seats (yes, we know people), in the first row, and could see her rubbing her foot against the back of her leg every time she got to a part in her text that was particularly abstract/intense. It was an amazing, provoking, and inspiring evening, and I hope I don't ever forget it.

I just read this aloud to Andy and he said, "Why don't you put a picture from The Exorcist up there?"

January 18, 2006

Marilynne Robinson

Housekeeping_1 "I was afraid of everything. I was afraid of needles. I was afraid of an inchworm. I was afraid of other people. I thought other people were treacherous, particularly in elementary school, which I thought was a dangerous time in life. I remember sudden, inexplicable shifts in friendship; you'd go home for one day with a cold, come back, and everything would be different. I also tend to be now -- and apparently was then -- a governed person. I never understood what the rules were, but I lived in terror of breaking them. Reading seemed like a pretty safe activity, compared to the horror of the rest of it."
     -- Sue Grafton, from When I Was a Girl (Pocket Books, 2003)

As I've mentioned, if I consider myself anything, it's a reader. My father was one too, and it was not uncommon for us both to be at the dinner table with our left hands holding down books, our rights forking in peas, the conversation of others swirling past and beyond us. My sisters and mother don't share this obsession, but their tolerance for it was barely even remarked upon -- for years and years we ate dinner like this and it never seemed weird to me until I got older and felt strangely bored eating over at other people's houses with nothing to read. For this particular genetic inheritance (reading in general, not the reading-while-eating skill, though it's handy to have) I am grateful.

Tomorrow night I'm going to see Marilynne Robinson, the author of one of my favorite -- probably my very favorite -- novels,  Housekeeping. I always think of it as the novel that made it possible for me to be something other than a writer, and I'm intensely grateful for that, too. I felt a preternatural affinity for this story when I first read it, and I still feel that; telling my own story exhausted and eluded me, and seemed like something I would never be able to get right. Housekeeping was the first book I'd read that gave a strange kind of substance to my own strange, melancholy childhood, though its plot was nothing like my own -- but its essence, the unraveling and re-knitting of its ideas and images, rang so familiar and clear that I finished it with huge relief, and quietly started making plans to do other things.

First published in 1981, it has been in and out of print since then; back in, of course, now that she's won the Pulitzer for Gilead, her second novel, written 23 years later. If you're not familiar with the book Housekeeping, you may have heard of the movie, which is lovely itself, and patiently captures the tension and mercury-glass mood in its perfectly wrought details and subtle performances, especially those of the young actors playing the the two sisters (Christine Lahti plays their aunt, and she's very good, too). But even viewing the film is far enhanced by reading the book, which reveals itself in the smallest and most delicate of ways, and before you know it you're knee-deep in the most lacy of metaphors, trembling. It's hard for me to really talk about it, because I feel clunky and heavy-handed no matter what I say. When you read the book, you even feel like you should hold it carefully.

When I went to graduate school in creative writing at the University of Montana in 1994, Marilynne Robinson was discussed by the writers around town in hushed tones. She had been a visiting professor there, I think, before my time -- I could never quite get exactly what she'd done at U of M -- but she was originally from Idaho and had some connections with the Missoula crowd. I remember walking to the bar one night after class with one of our teachers and she said that Marilynne was known for being kind of cagey about the book, and didn't like talking about it -- I think my teacher said that she'd felt she'd said all she had to say in the book itself and was impatient discussing its implications or origins.

I remember being utterly in concert with this idea, and also the notion that someone might just have one great novel in them. Housekeeping had always seemed to me like a book she'd needed to write, not because she was trying to be a famous "writer" but because the story compelled her to tell it -- I had no idea if this was true, but it felt true. My colleagues were much savvier about the "business" of writing than I; they openly admitted to being there to make connections and find publishers (and did -- many are quite successful now, and I get to see them at Powell's when they come through on book tours). I was completely ignorant in this -- I even felt, in my naivete, that there was something a little obscene about it, and the idea of having to court publishers the way one might rush a sorority filled me with dread and panic. It seemed that Marilynne Robinson could not be swayed by the machinery of the industry, and yet her book was the best; it seemed that she'd written it, and walked away. It reminds me now of something our niece said when she was about four or five. She'd been bandaging up a big stuffed whale (more on why we would have a life-size stuffed killer whale around here later) with first-aid tape and band-aids. I watched her for a while as she diligently taped every fin. I said, "Oh, my, what a good doctor you are!" She ignored me. "Should we call you 'Dr. Arden' now?" She ignored me, bending closer to her whale's injured fin, hoping I would shut up. "Oh, Dr. Arden, your juice is ready!" I sang out. But she'd had enough, and turned to me with a withering stare (I'd never seen a "withering stare" until this one, though I'd read of them many times) and said: "I don't care what you call me, I just care about the work."

Well. Out of the mouths of babes.

Of course, Marilynne Robinson didn't literally write the book and walk away, but in a sense she did, and at 24 this seemed to me an incredible act of independence and confidence. I clung to it as a possibility during those feverish, confusing years at school where I couldn't hide my limitations, and bared the backs of my knees to the workshop while they pummeled those soft white hollows with their little sticks. There is something still so inherently reassuring to me about the book and the way she delivered it, as someone who makes things and puts them out in front of the world for all to see, and buy, and say something about. Housekeeping seems almost holy in this respect, like a prayer. It is an entirely noncommercial novel, and yet it has managed to find a passionate, grateful audience because it is so beautiful.

I've not kept up with Marilynne Robinson's career, or the world of literary fiction the way I used to, though I do know that she teaches at the Iowa Writing Workshop, which is sort of the ultimate destination in MFA programs. I looked up Housekeeping on and was shocked to see that there is only one copy of something called Reading Marilynne Robinson's Housekeeping which is all of 70 pages and selling for $197.48. I've picked up Gilead countless times but have never read it, afraid I wouldn't feel the same infatuation for a 76-year-old Congregationalist preacher-man as I did for Ruthie and Lucille. I wouldn't read any of the countless on-line reviews, and I don't want a new copy of the book, and I'm sort of nervous about going to the lecture. So many people have discovered her while I've been off the scene. For so long I'd felt like Housekeeping was my book, somehow -- a secret I shared only with those I trusted completely, and I would offer it up to them two-handed, with an earnest, twitching hopefulness: Love this (and me), please.

But I bet that Marilynne will be just like I think she will be -- beyond all of this nutterbutter. And all I'll say when I meet her is Thank you. Thank you so much.

January 16, 2006

Corners and Questions

Corner4 Uncharacteristic efficiency. Here, in one post, is one of my "corners" for Soulemama's fun assignment (as usual, not sure what "day" this was supposed to happen, Amanda), Lisa's pillow included (oh how cool it is -- thanks again, L -- just have to commit to a spot for the little collage now, can't decide exactly where), and my answers to Sarah's tag. I've never been "tagged" before, so I hope I did this (and tagged my taggees) correctly. (I keep seeing the word "meme" and I don't really know what that is, but maybe this is it. Also, I apologize to anyone who's invited me to join a Flickr group; I neglect Flickr and my in-box over there quite a bit, unfortunately, though I always enjoy playing with it when I have extra time. I haven't managed to figure out how to tag [different kind of tag] things so that they show up in the "groups" they are supposed to, etc. I don't know why this seems hard for me; I think I just haven't read it carefully enough.) Anyway, it's kind of fun to pick favorites for a list. I always mean to invent one of my own sometime, and include things like Something I Know How to Do Better than Anyone: Set up sprinkler so that it hits only the lawn, and not any of the sidewalk. If I'd Only Had More _____ , My Life Would Be So Different: Hair. Anyhoo.

Four jobs you've had:
Candy girl at the Lake Theater, Oak Park, IL (loved it)
Waitress at Gepetto's, also Oak Park (loved it)
Administrative Assistant, Missoula, MT (LOATHED it)
Book Editor, Portland, OR (loved it)

Four movies you would watch over and over again:
Wedding Crashers (new)
Seems Like Old Times (old)
Waking the Dead (serious)
Meet the Parents (gets funnier every time)

Four places you've lived:
River Forest, Illinois
Rock Island, Illinois
Missoula, Montana
Portland, Oregon

Four TV shows you love to watch:
Gilmore Girls
Arrested Development
Dirty Jobs with Mike Rowe
Veronica Mars

Four places you have been on vacation:
Manistique, Michigan
Toronto and Montreal, Canada
Europe and the U.K.
San Diego, California

Four web sites you visit daily:
Well, none daily, I must admit. But I try to keep up with the blogs on my list pretty regularly ;-)

Four favorite foods:
Stuffed shells
Green curry shrimp
Spinach souffle

Four places I'd rather be:
Lying on a beach somewhere, anywhere, warm
At the library
With my high-school girlfriends at Tasty Dog

Four bloggers I'm tagging:
Amy P.

You're it!

January 07, 2006

My Birthday

Dadandus Today is my birthday. It's also the same day that my dad died, six years ago. He was 54.

This is one of my favorite pictures of him. It is my sister Susie, my sister Julie, and me with him at Julie's wedding many years ago now. He looks really happy in this picture, I think, and sort of boyish. There is something about the way he is standing --as if we pulled him into the picture and he wasn't quite sure what to do -- that I find incomparably charming. This is the way I like to remember him, sort of pleasantly surprised with the world.

He was a complicated, charismatic person. People have told me all my life that they've never met anyone like my dad, and I have never been able to successfully describe him, or what it was like to be his daughter. It wasn't easy. When I remember him, I try to put together all the little things I thought were sweet and nice. He wanted me to open an herb store, like one we'd seen on vacation once in Galena, Illinois. He thought I should marry a farmer and have a simple life. He pronounced the words "salad" and "talent" and "balance" in a really weird way I could never imitate. We both liked those programs at the end of the year that showed all the highlights of things that had happened. He liked Martha Stewart and Cheryl Ladd. He had one speed (slow). He bought my cat Violet gourmet cat food, though he claimed to not like cats. He liked vikings. When he met Andy, who he adored, he said, "I like Andy. He's irrepressible, and he's a lot taller than that little black cloud that follows you around." He wouldn't let me go to one of the colleges he visited with me because the graffiti in the bathroom was too stupid. He loved the farmer's market in Missoula, and couldn't believe how beautiful all the peeled onions looked together. His favorite album was the Eagles' Desperado. He loved Northern Exposure and was very sad when Joel left. He always liked to stop and get a Cinnabon at the mall. He wanted me to be a writer. He made us take walks in the woods all the time. He never once complained about the clothes we wore, or said we couldn't sleep over somewhere or have someone else sleep over. He called our friends our "little friends." He liked to say "Good enough for rock 'n' roll," "Right shoulder up!" (so that I would self-correct the slight curve in my spine), and "Stay alert, stay alive." The last two of these would enrage me when I heard them. He made excellent chili. His favorite cereal was Sugar Corn Pops. He always had a boat but couldn't swim, and wore a life-jacket on shore. He was afraid to fly. He always wanted to travel to Africa but never did. He had very green eyes. He loved wolves.

I miss you Dad. I hope you're okay up there. I wish you were down here.

January 04, 2006

I Love Nurses

Andy Especially this one. I had a bad dream this morning and didn't get to see his smiling face before he left for work at 6 a.m. and wanted to see it today, somehow, so this.

He tells me funny stories about the hospital almost every night, but it is hard to make him laugh. I don't know why. He is frugal with his laughs and saves them up, I think, for the truly deserving. I am indiscriminate and will laugh at almost anything, even when I'm not supposed to. I think the wrong things are funny. I usually don't know they're wrong until after I laugh inappropriately and see others start backing away. I think this is what crazy people do, come to think of it. Uh oh. We both agreed that this was cute, however (phew) -- the first page of the 2006 Nurse-A-Day calendar:

As the pediatric RN listened to six-year-old Timmy's room over the intercom, she detected some sighs and whimpers. So she pushed the send button on the intercom to check on him:

Nurse: "Hi, Timmy. Are you all right?"
Timmy: "What?"
Nurse: "I'm asking if you're all right. You aren't scared or anything, are you?"
Timmy: "Huh?"
Nurse: "Timmy, please talk to me."
Nurse (more urgently): "Timmy, please answer me."
Timmy (in a scared, small voice): "What do you want, wall?"

I love it when he laughs. He is the funniest person I know. Also the gentlest. Also, the most generous. He is truly graceful. Before I really knew him well, back in college, I watched him once from a window in the library. He was playing hackysack on the quad. He reminded me of a baby horse, all legs and big teeth. Wherever he went there was a circle of people around him, wanting to be near him. I pondered them enviously from my study carrel. Who the hell is that guy? There is a sparkle in his eye that makes everyone feel included within the radius of his attention. He has an uncanny ability to connect, and it has sharpened as he's matured; I think it's because he meets people where they are, instead of where maybe they should be -- he can see where they want to be, and adjusts. I know this has always been true with regard to me. He finds me where I am, twitchy and confused, and scoops me in. I have never felt so included. When that face comes through the door, every single time, I feel like everything is going to be all right. Like it could even be great. I think that must be how his patients feel when he comes in the room. I know they do, actually, because they write notes that say so. None of this is to imply that it comes easy. He hardly rests. I think he needs more rest. I don't mean sleep, I mean more . . . rest. More pockets of space and time.

But he isn't really one for sitting down! If he could do fourteen things while sitting down, then, maybe. . . .

December 30, 2005

January Toss

Dressers6 Though not quite January, the Tossing is already in effect (thank you Erica for that apt descriptor -- I'd never heard it before but I'm now going to go around saying it to myself daily). Yesterday, I got two new dressers. How excited was I. These are my first grown-up dressers, believe it or not, and the sock, underwear, and t-shirt tossing that went on yesterday afternoon was like early New Year's Eve in Times Square -- the hooting, the tossing, the exclamations. "I'm going to have a drawer just for my bathing suits!" shouted I.
     "How many bathing suits do you have?" said he.

It turns out that I actually didn't wind up having room for a bathing suit drawer, after all, but never mind. I couldn't have been happier. All my clothes fit beautifully in these two pieces -- hardwooded with dovetailed joints and brand new knobs -- and my newly cleaned up closet. When everything was refolded, extra unworn stuff turned out, and all placed in neat stacks and on its own hangers, it became very clear: I don't need any new clothes, I needed new dressers. I counted 47 skirts. That seems excessive, actually. But I love skirts and made (or designed) most of them myself so it was nice to see them hanging so expectantly again. Previous to yesterday they had been folded up willy-nilly and stuffed into one of those hanging shoe bag things. That's just wrong.

Childhoodbedroom It's unbelievable how happy storage makes me. I sat for about 45 minutes on the dog's bed and stared at my dressers in a state of utter peace and joy. I'm not kidding. When I mentioned in a previous post about the background in photos being a singularly reliable way of remembering how it was, and perhaps indicating something about how it will be, I was thinking entirely about this picture. It's my sister Julie in our childhood bedroom circa summer 1994, right before we both left home. When I look at this picture even now, I remember the panic I felt in that clutter then; our house was 1,200 square feet (and over 100 years old, with only two closets in the entire place), and five of us lived there for over twenty years (my parents for almost thirty). My sisters and I shared a room for much of that time, well into high school and vacations from college. I wish I could say that this particular picture shows something unusually cramped about the state of our quarters in general, but it doesn't; it's quite an average glimpse, and yes those are her dresses hanging from the ceiling. My childhood dream, aside from wanting a horse, was to have a small, empty desk with a few sharpened pencils and a banker's lamp where I could do my homework. I had gotten a Laura Ashley decorating catalog somewhere around eighth grade, and I bonded with it so ferociously that those lightened, calico-ed spaces imprinted themselves and became synonymous with my vision -- both childhood and adult -- of comfort and order and serenity, and happiness.

I love my new dressers. Thank you so much, lovely husband, loveliest of people, for this early birthday present. You see me as no one else ever has.

December 06, 2005

Christmastime and the City

Ardenwindow2I love being downtown at Christmastime. I try to make almost all of my presents and then go downtown to special places for a hit of holiday cheer. Yesterday Arden and I went to Santaland at Meier & Frank, and then up to Pioneer Square to look at the giant tree. We stopped for a hot chocolate and cinnamon roll at Starbucks (we wanted to go to the Georgian Room, the old-fashioned restaurant on the 10th floor of M&F, where Cobb salads and hard-boiled eggs flourish, but they closed at 2:30 and I honestly couldn't think of anywhere else to sit and sip within walking distance). We sang  "The Twelve Days of Christmas" as we pointed out cute stuff in the Twelve-Days-themed windows of the department store, the last bastion of old-fashioned department-store-ness in Portland (unfortunately, as big old-fashioned department stores are the greatest), and I have to say, I felt a tinge of regret that we don't live in a  bigger city. This feeling hits me most of all at Christmas, when winter sunsets trigger  memories of snow, of going up to the top of  Sears Tower after shopping on Michigan Avenue all afternoon, of Christmas vacation days spent lingering at the Museum of Science and Industry, of taking the train down to go ice skating under the skyscrapers. As a child, I took all of this for granted, as one does everything in childhood, and though I love my adopted Northwest city, sometimes it feels too . . . mild . . . in every way. Like, Christmastime is here, yes, but mildly here in Portland, it seems. Downtown's not quite the same without the snow, the skyscrapers, the El overhead, Marshall Fields, the thousands instead of dozens of rushing people, the lake effect.

To make matters worse, I went home and watched my TiVo-ed Rick Steves' European Christmas special, where he traveled to city and countryside in England, France, Norway, Bavaria, and Italy during the holiday season. Oh, the longing to be sledding down a mountainside with torches, dragging our family's Christmas tree behind in midnight procession! It is my dream to someday spend the holidays abroad. If I could, I'd probably choose to go somewhere in Sweden, especially for Santa Lucia day. Andy and I both went to Augustana, a small Swedish college in the Midwest, and what I remember about the way we celebrated holidays there (and the way his family, almost all of whom also went to Augustana, still celebrates) is the singing, and the snow, and those single candles signaling welcome in so many windows. Our little school huddled against the hills above the Mississippi River, and everyone was always singing, or going to some kind of singing practice, or some kind of singing performance. The choir did The Messiah every year and everyone went. The whole school. It was just what we did, slid down the many stairways down the many hills in our wool coats and sat for hours, listening.

To a child, I guess, the whole season is tinged with magic, no matter where you are. I remember being keenly and consistently excited with a desire for the presents, and an obsession with wrapping my own gifts to my family in fancy ways. (My mother actually banned me from spending another dime on wrapping supplies one year, since I was clearly getting overwrought and carried away.) I remember reading Little House in the Big Woods one of those Christmases and marveling that Laura could be happy with something like an orange in her stocking. An orange? Please. That was appallingly prosaic. But now I realize that she was actually writing as an adult, and it is the adult's memory of being a child that makes that orange glow and bloom with bittersweetness, and pure light, and that special longing particular to December.

November 14, 2005

Happy on the Poorly Bed

Poorlybed Well, one of us seemed to be. Quite a cozy little nest she made for herself, eh? I, on the other hand, didn't look anywhere near this cute during the last week and a half that I spent next to this thing on the sofa, blowing my nose, downing my Airborne, coughing my head off. All better now, but jeesh -- that was not too fun.

Wednesday was fun, though. The lovely Amy from Angry Chicken, my blogging inspiration, sent her readers over here, and I woke to a mailbox full of very sweet  and very funny comments that cheered my day (and I will respond to the requests for further information about the bag, the recipe, the books, and something else I can't remember right now tomorrow). Amy is pretty much entirely responsible for my having a blog at all, and I barely know her. I met her in real life a couple of months ago when I was interested in carrying some of her cards at Ella Posie, and she stopped by to drop them off.

I didn't do a lot of internet surfing (other than struggling to keep my own sites up, which seemed like more than enough, somehow) until a couple of months ago, when I bought a laptop and we got wi-fi at the new Ella Posie. Um, wow. Now I get it. Previous to that, I would look at people's sites and blogs occasionally, but think, every time, "How do people find time for this?" When I got the laptop, and the wi-fi, and found myself in the shop with several quiet hours on hand every day when customers weren't in and chores were completed, I discovered where I might find the time to explore this medium -- at work, of course. Now I see! The craft blogs are so beautiful. I've been a subscriber to Martha Stewart Living since 1994. When I was younger, when I lived with roommates and only dreamed of having my own house, I used to spaz out every month when the issues would arrive. I'd retreat to a corner of whatever university coffee shop I haunted, and spend hours going over the pages, dreaming. The craft blogs feel to me the way that MSL did once -- like indulgences, collections of dreams, representations of the best kinds of creativity and inspiration. They're also just so very sweet, and everyone who writes and reads seems so kind and sweet -- that really appeals to me.

Anyhow, as I've mentioned in a previous post, by the end of this summer, I felt fairly shredded. I also felt a distinct disconnect starting to happen between who I am and want to be, and what it takes to have a successful little crafty business, especially when that business is something you used to do just for fun and relaxation. Turning what you love into what you do full-time for a living results in some tricky maneuvering, as we all know (or can imagine), and all artists struggle with this, sometimes more, sometimes less, as things progress. The constant pressure of making enough money to support oneself looms daily, for the reality is that if you can't support yourself by doing what you love, you won't be able to keep doing it. As much creative energy necessarily goes into keeping the bills paid as goes into cooking up new adorable product lines -- sometimes more, if you want to know. A product starts as a creative idea, but quickly becomes limited by reality: If you are to make a living financially by making the thing, that thing needs to be developed affordably, produced in (albeit limited, but still, the fifteenth one you make is nowhere near as fun as the first one you made, I'm sorry) quantity, marketed, and sold, all while retaining the highest quality of craftsmanship and style. This is not easy. And whether or not I'm successful in my Posie-ish endeavor truly remains to be seen. It is an expensive job to have, financially. It is the ultimate job to have, creatively. The struggle to balance those two . . . situations . . . is a struggle I wage daily. I don't share the struggle part with many people: To other designers or creative types, it is obvious and just kind of comes with the territory. To other people who have "regular" jobs that they don't particularly like and are dreaming of doing what you do -- well, when you're doing what you want to do and they're not, they are not too into hearing you complain, for whatever reason. And I can understand this, too -- I am reluctant to complain. But I think of the monologue not so much as "complaint" as an exploration of solutions, a constant effort to seek a better way, to make it work. . . .

But anyway, as I was saying, at the end of my not-too-gracefully-endured summer, sweet Amy came into the shop one morning. We  chatted  about her blog and she told me that I should do one, too. It was shocking to be encouraged in this way, as if I could participate. It hadn't even occurred to me. I quickly said that I might consider it if I could do it in the service of the business, blah blah.  As it came out of my mouth, I wanted to run screaming away from myself. I could see I was scaring my new friend. She hadn't known that I was a corporate automaton, apparently unable to consider doing anything that wasn't somehow in the "service of the business." I started to back-pedal and make excuses, but I got confused; however, an awareness of something was creeping in.

"Well," she said, "it's really good if it can come from the heart."

Now, I don't know if you've met Amy, but this girl actually glows with sincerity and generosity, and the beauty she creates and represents in her blog is wholly apparent in her person. She radiates. Not everyone has this, but Amy does, and the effect that it had on me was profound. I suddenly couldn't remember the last time I'd done something that wasn't for Posie, the business of Posie, somehow, and I realized that I couldn't even remember how to do something that wasn't "work"-related, because all the creativity and even fun that I have is funneled into the business. (Occasionally, I go bowling, because it feels like the absolute opposite of owning a boutique and manufacturing a product line. )

My response was so automatic I hadn't even realized that I was thinking in this way, because I always feel so behind. There are always so many things to do and not enough time to do them that I simply couldn't imagine allowing myself to do anything fun or creative that didn't have some end work-related purpose. What really alerted me further was the suspicion I'd been having that I wasn't happy -- but I hadn't spent much time trying to figure out why (too busy). I'd thought it was just that I wasn't working hard enough and that I was worn out from feeling so "behind" in all the things I need to do to keep Posie happening, even though I truly felt like I was working all the time. But perhaps it was that I was working in the wrong way.

That afternoon I went to the TypePad web site and figured out how to put the page together with the sole intention of doing something just because I felt like it. I decided that I wouldn't care who read what I was writing (in case they didn't like it), I wouldn't care what they thought about it (in case they thought it was stupid), and I would allow myself the opportunity to make room in my life for doing something just because it was fun. I would make some room for making things just because they're fun to make, for sharing things when and how I wanted to, in a different way from the sometimes relentless burden of the actual Posie and web site, from the thick-skin you have to build up when you have a retail store and you're there selling (or not selling, as is often the case) your own work to people directly day after day.

I do believe that all my work comes from my heart -- of course I believe this. What I do is, in a million ways, a labor of love, a labor I toil at in earnestness, with the best of intentions, to the very best of my abilities. I honestly know I couldn't do any better than I am trying to do, and I'm very proud of what I've put together. But I know that part of making it work means continuing to love it, and that may mean a little less work, and a little more play. In this one place, at least, I'm here to play. And it feels really great. Thanks, Amy. I really needed that.

November 08, 2005

Felting Myself

Feltybag I don't know if this happens to other people who have TiVo, but I've noticed this strange tendency in myself during the last year that we've had it to not pay very close attention in real life, thinking (mistakenly, of course) that I can just rewind and re-listen if I really want to. If you're not sure what TiVo is, it's basically a digital recorder that is always "on" when you're watching TV, so you can record things with the press of a button on your clicker. You can then fast-forward and rewind at will (and also use the search engine function to search for movies or actors or subjects or whatever you want, but that's another topic entirely).

Anyway, when you're watching TV and you have TiVo, you have the perpetual option of rewinding everything, immediately, and re-watching it with ease. It's hard to explain how simple this is until you try it, but suffice it to say, when you get your TiVo, you will find yourself rewinding live TV constantly. For instance, last night on Arrested Development we replayed the scene of Lucille "laughing" about three times, and it got funnier and funnier. The rewind function is also good if you didn't hear what someone said, or if you just want to see something in the background this time, etc. You get what I mean. It's extremely convenient.

Well, a couple of months ago Andy and I both confessed to a separate but persistent tendency to want to "rewind" regular life, just for a sec, to hear something more clearly, slow it down, watch it again. Me: "What'd that guy say?" He: "I don't know, rewind it." Me: "Can't. It's real life. Darn real life!" Of course, this is the obvious result of way too much TV in general, yes, but I would be curious to know if any regular-type TiVo watchers want to do the same thing. Do you do this?

I've noticed the same thing happening with regard to . . . felt. Like, I keep thinking, as I go through my day, "Well, it'll probably look a lot different (i.e.: better) when it's felted." Which is true if you're actually knitting/crocheting something to be felted, but decidedly not true of things like your hair. Dinner. This outfit. When you knit or crochet something to be felted, you basically make something about twice as big and floppy and droopy as you can stand, because during the magical felting process, all is tightened, smoothed, and squeezed into permanent shape.

But, when you are getting dressed in the morning, something that doesn't work is to be too lazy to blow dry and smooth out your hair and just think, instead, "No problem -- it'll look better when it's felted." If you overcook the pasta, and ruin your whole dinner, something that doesn't work is to think, "Can't we felt that?" If you are trying to get dressed after a week of laying on the couch with the flu and your outfit seems generally wrinkled, floppy, and disheveled, don't think, "I just need to felt all this." If you're butt has actually grown during the week you laid on the couch, unfortunately you won't be able to felt it. You can want to, but it won't work. I feel like I could really use a good felting, and get these puckered edges smoothed and shrunk.

October 18, 2005

What I Did on My Summer Vacation

Audreybeach When I look at this picture of Audrey on Cannon Beach this August (you should click on it and see it big, if you can), I can't help wishing I was back on vacation. I honestly think that watching dogs run on the beach is one of the best things in the world. The dog was so happy -- Andy or I said, probably a hundred or more times a day, "Ohmigod, she is so cute." We laid on the beach, day after day, watching the water and watching the dog play. She was a different little lady by the end of the week. More of a grown up, somehow. Maybe the way a kid looks taller, older after returning from summer camp.

It was a hard summer. After moving the store this spring, and being (frankly) overwhelmed by the process, and the sheer physical toll it took on me, I wasn't really ready for the publicity coming in Country Living in August, although I was so excited about it. I spent every day of May, June, and July getting the Posie and Ella Posie web sites redesigned and rebuilt, and every minute I wasn't doing something on the computer I was crocheting something, or sewing something, or in the shop, or on the phone trying to fix some problem with something somewhere. By the time the article hit, I was feeling sort of floppy and light-headed. I could hear the pitch of my voice rising in even the most casual of conversations. I was so strung out to begin with that when the orders started coming in, I could only feel a remote, wavering happiness somewhere beyond my exhaustion as I packed and shipped and packed and shipped. It made me sad, because I was so looking forward to the article and the experience and when it finally came I felt in some ways like I was just trying to survive it, more than anything else. I was so worn out.

There's something about owning your own one-person business that over the years has manifested itself more than once. It's the strange solitude that accompanies the big moments. I don't know if solitude is the right word. It's probably, actually, "aloneness," or something closer to that. I remember when I worked in offices, as part of  various "teams," going through crunch times, doing major pushes to finish a book we were working on by deadline, or get a catalog out before a sales fair. Small breaks felt like stolen and decadent luxuries. I once made a dramatic performance out of pouring a can of Coke into a big glass of ice in the conference room where we had been proofing bluelines for hours and hours -- "Yummy," said I. People looked on, longingly.

My boss said, "Hmm, that looks really good. I should go get one." (The Coke machine was down the hall.)

"Oh, you should," I said. "Absolutely. It's so great." Then, whoosh!  I knocked my full glass over and flooded table and bluelines with pop and a million cubes of ice. Everyone at the table sprang into action, lofting the huge, dripping papers to safety. My co-workers looked at me in terror and disbelief, as if I had just started singing at the top of my lungs. It was so horrifying and ridiculous that we all started sort of laugh-crying with exhaustion. I burst into paroxysms of apology and embarrassment, sure I was about to be fired. But my boss was like, "Dude, calm down. It's fine. We'll deal with it. No biggie." Carry on, troops. Things happen. That's life. Let's just fix it. (And that was a super-cool boss moment, too, which made me love my boss and pledge to act as cool when some doofus wrecks my project -- but I suspect there is no way I will, being hardwired to have hissy fits, as I am. . . . Anyway, Tim Frew if by some fluke you ever read this, thank you for that lesson.)

I thought of that day with the Coke and the table often this summer, and thought about my old friends at work, and how there was a irrepressible  camaraderie in sharing the stress and tight deadlines and impossible tasks that seem about to overwhelm. Even though everyone has their own job to do, there is something comforting in the collective  suffering -- a shared context that  doesn't need explaining. But when you own your own business and do almost everything yourself, you sometimes miss that context (not to mention, of course, the physical help, but that's something else completely). You have to tell complete strangers how busy you are -- you tell the mailman who's bringing you more mail-order yarn, "Oh man, I am so busy! I'm freaking out!" and he's like, "So what, who cares?" Because there's no one else in your "office," no one who is really a part of the hard times, when things get messed up or aren't going right, when balls that have been dropped need to be picked up, and, often, to be launched back into the air. It's just you -- little, overwhelmed you, in sweatpants and glasses with no time to eat lunch -- who bears the responsibility and the challenge. You don't want to crash and burn. At the same time, neither is there anyone who has had a significant hand in the work around to celebrate when something really great happens -- a big order, a little publicity, a pursued opportunity granted. You walk around the studio grinning like a fool, and calling your friends who are in other offices, doing other jobs, on teams of their own. Bearing the brunt of stebacks and successes, is, for the most part, your task alone, and finding the ability to keep in all in perspective -- well, it can be lonely sometimes.

Don't get me wrong; I mean, I am never happier than alone with a new skein of yarn, a hot cup of coffee, and a private plan. But still -- some days, the harder days, there's nothing like a team to get you through.

Anyway, by the end of August, I was beat. We hightailed it to the beach for a vacation planned months before we knew what a busy month it would be. I was extremely anxious about leaving at such a busy time. Turns out, it was just what I needed. I am the type of person who can lay on the beach from noon until night and not get bored. We stayed at our friend Susan's darling beach house, and it was so lovely to be there surrounded by Susan's sweet touches (she is an interior designer, to boot) as opposed to staying in a hotel or an anonymous rental. I felt myself finally deflate. The dog was so tired every night she lay contentedly flat on the linoleum floor and barely lifted her head until morning. Andy worked on a paint-by-number of whales breaching and got tan and happy. I read mysteries about Italian cops and closed my eyes in the sun. It was so great to get a break I can't even tell you. I think I need to work more beach into my regular life.

October 15, 2005

Who Doesn't Love a Stuffie?

Pho_stuf_mickie_lg In the midst of our recent decorating binge, I went through our shelves of personal photos last month. On top of the neatly arranged albums I made when I was in my photo-album phase was a plastic grocery bag filled with odds and ends that had gotten left out, somehow -- handfuls of childhood photos, high school embarrassments (remember the Disc camera?), and absolute piles of pictures of my horses. Model horses, that is. Posed realistically in puddles, in leaf piles, next to tiny twig fences, wearing felt horse blankets and pleather bridles. On the back of each picture, in my curly-cued 7th-grade handwriting, were the names of the horse, her "sire" and "dam," and her stable (Autumnbrook Farm, i.e. the Ieronemo residence).

For those of you unfamiliar with the  secret world of model horse showing, you aren't alone. I personally have never met anyone in real life who had this same obsession (what else is new, for me), but what you do is take pictures of your model horses, and then send them to another horse-crazed girl across the country who is having a "show." The horses are entered in "classes," where they "perform" against other (often the exact same) Breyer model horses -- meaning, that girl looks at the pictures and decides which picture she likes better, I guess, since like I said the horses are often exactly the same. Then she sends your pictures back to you with some, often homemade, ribbons. I still have a few of my ribbons, which are cross-stitched by hand to say "First Place" alongside a cross-stitched picture of a horse. Amazing. Who made these? Where is she now? We would probably be fast friends, I think.

But this was back in 1981 or so, when I lived in a constant state of horse-craziness (though I didn't have a real horse) and pen pal mania (I did have pen pals -- many pen pals). All day long, in school, I drew pictures of horses and wrote letters, mostly full of made up lies about myself -- I had a twin sister and a puppy, was a ballet dancer, was from the Isle of Man (I have no idea where I got this idea -- I'm sure I barely knew where the Isle of Man was, but I told people this a lot, for some reason). Not one of these was true; in reality, of course, I was only a fantasist, and horses occupied most of my imagination -- and imaginary horses occupied much of my reality. I cantered home from school each day. I was pleased when my parents built a new red and white garage, because it looked like a barn. I knew exactly how much it would cost for us to keep a horse "at grass" and rattled off long catalogs of facts about Pony Club (which of course no one I knew had ever heard of, this being suburban Chicago). My parents stared at me nervously -- where did I get this one, and when was it going to end? I stomped my hooves. I shook my mane in disgust. What was wrong with everyone? Why couldn't we move to the country?

Lots of girls fall in love with horses. I haven't thought about it in a long time, but I'm sure there are dozens of dissertations out there analyzing this special obsession particular to teenage girls, and maybe even to city girls. But I know that part of my own love for the creatures had everything to do with their sweet, soft noses blowing oat dust into your hand, their sad eyes so earnest and willing, their impossibly soft-but-hard ears flicking toward the slightest breeze. I loved the velvet whiskery-ness of their noses the best. I had read somewhere that you should always stroke a horse's face the way you would stroke a bird, and I did this, wandering up and down the aisles of the riding school where I took lessons, softly petting each and every old beast waiting at the gate. The physical reality of horses still makes me cry when I'm around them. I've never gotten to own one; although I rode them in lessons for many years I've always lived in urban areas and I've never been rich. But to this day, whenever I see a police horse on the street downtown, or a pony in paddock on the side of a highway, I get a actual jolt of love and longing that rivals anything I've ever felt.

Well, sniff sniff. All that said, who the hell doesn't love a stuffie. We city dreamers take it where we can get it.

October 11, 2005

A Double-Agent


This picture of felted balls represents the sum total accomplishments for my weekend. The paranoia can't be photographed, but it's there, too. It's the result of an entire Sunday watching Alias on DVD to try and catch up with a show I'd never watched until about two weeks ago. Being a Spy Girl wanna-be (Harriet the Spy, Veronica Mars), I am shocked that we are so slow to catch on to this. I've never watched a TV show on DVD until this, and I have to say -- FUN. No commercials, plenty of behind-the-scenes, gag reel stuff to satisfy, and none of that "Ohmigod-I-can't-believe-that-just-happened-now-what-are-they-gonna-do?"-until-next-week stuff. Now we just keep pressing play, play, play. And we still have several seasons to get through.

That said, however, and feeling completely secure with the choice to do absolutely nothing on a beautiful fall day -- you just gotta have one of these every once in a while -- a new, more paranoid reality seems to haunt my non-TV-watching life. A guy crossed our street yesterday afternoon carrying an umbrella and talking on a cell phone. He glanced up at our house. I happened to be passing the window and instinctively ducked behind the curtain. So he wouldn't see me, apparently. I don't know. A few nights before I dreamed that I was part of SD-6 and we had invented a new kind of Swiss cheese, but it was called "coco." We had also invented a new kind of lunch meat, but it was called "wormwood." People chased me all night long trying to get to them. Unlike Sydney, karate kicks don't come naturally, and I dragged legs made of sand around after me, through the foggy, orange-y streets. . . .

The antidote to this high-tech brain melt appears to be felting balls, by hand, all afternoon. It's the absolute antithesis, I think. Spy Girl/hand-felter. I'm a double agent.