Friday, February 27, 2009

Yet Another Call to Now

My blogging is off schedule, as I am thick into several projects these days.   Amidst it, I've been reading a book by Kim Stafford, Early Morning. Kim Stafford is the son of poet William Stafford, and his book is a rich narrative of the very complex relationship between the two writers. I am enjoying it no end.  

Sometime next week I'll write much more about Kim Stafford's book, but for today, I give you a particularly buoyant poem by his father, William Stafford. He is one of my absolute favorite poets, because so many of his poems sing as well as this one:

You Reading This, Be Ready

Starting here, what do you want to remember?
How sunlight creeps along a shining floor?
What scent of old wood hovers, what softened 
sound from outside fills the air?

Will you ever bring a better gift for the world
than the breathing respect that you carry 
whereever you go right now? Are you waiting 
for time to show you some better thoughts?

When you turn around, starting here, lift this
new glimpse that you found; carry into evening 
all that you want from this day. This interval you spent
reading or hearing this, keep it for life--

What can anyone give you greater than now, 
starting here, right in this room, when you turn around?

William Stafford, from The Way It Is

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Tuesday, February 24, 2009

My hands

I've been  thinking about my hands lately.   They're small.  They are plain.  I don't do well with polish or long nails because they chip and peel, and sometimes I bite my hangnails.  Gross, I know.

I wear three rings--my wedding ring, my engagement ring, and a cocktail ring that belonged to my mother, and before that, my great grandmother.

I've been thinking about hands lately because I take such terrible care of mine.  The skin on the backs is often rough and cracked from too much cleaning without gloves, and they are cut up from working with paper crafts.   They are a mess.

For years, I've been telling myself that my hands are like this because "they're useful."  It's the height of Midwestern haughty to tell yourself that you're hands are busier than someone else's, to act as though your rough paws are that way "on purpose."

When I was 12, there was a girl in my class named Lisa, who had long, perfectly shaped and polished nails. She made a show of it, tapping them on cans of soda, complaining in typing class about the risk of breaking them. She would sit in class and scrutinize her nails, turning her hands this way and that--palm out, fingers outstretched, then palm facing in, her fingers curled down and nestled together. Bringing her hand toward her face, she'd make little tsk sounds, examining the moon-shaped nails for chips or other imperfections. Sometimes I'd watch her and wonder what it felt like to have those colorful additions to my fingers, lively and bright as small birds.

I was plain, my hands matched my clothes--sort of tossed together carelessly. I had a small wardrobe, and I basically wore the same things over and over, rotating each weekday. I had one small ring that I wore: a treasure that had been my mother's when she was little girl. The band was gold, and had some detailing. But special part for me was the emerald-green glass set into it. I wanted desperately to believe it was really an emerald, and I must have said it was. The glass, though, was obviously old and scratched, and clearly not an emerald, and I was teased for wearing a ring from a gumball machine. Having messy hands didn't do much to enhance it, I imagine.

The funny thing is that I have always loved the look of my hands. I like the bend of my fingers, even my bizarre, hitchhiker's thumb. I really like the color of my nails without polish; their pinkish-lavender moons remind me of the inner layers of tiny seashells. I love how they fly over the keyboard, and I like the short nails on them. They feel so, well--me. Perhaps I romanticize them because I'm defensive of that little girl whose hands told so much about her life.

Thinking about all of this makes me ask why I continue to neglect caring for my hands? The smallest things would make a difference--wearing rubber gloves to clean, putting on moisturizer at night, trimming the hangnails (or just using cuticle cream). I resist. I do believe it is part of a story that I tell myself about the "busy hands." It's a story that carries into other areas of my life--the same reason it is easier to do something for someone else than it is to do something good for myself. It's also springs from the fear of becoming too outwardly focused; I harbor an irrational anxiety about turning into an adolescently mean girl, my perfect nails turned talons to sharpen on the weaker spirits of women plainer than myself.

Like I said, it's an irrational fear. I don't think mean and beautiful necessarily go together. I'm not the meanest of sorts, and I love feeling beautiful. I love makeup, and good skin. I love clothing, even if I don't always dress much beyond my LLBeany -uniform. I am somewhat vain about my hair, and I have shoe lust as much as the next woman. And for all that, I have never felt myself becoming that bitchy-type teenager, though there are some days I wish I could call her into service to give my confidence a boost.
The bottom line is that I neglect myself because I labor under the most common of burdens: When it comes to meeting the needs of those around me, I feel as though I should come second--or fourth, or last. It's pervasive. I serve my plate last at the dinner table. I wash my clothing last. I "sneak" into the study to do my writing only after I've done (yet another) load of laundry. I get to my artwork only after I've done a project with Esme. If there is a good side of the apple, I give it to one of the girls and eat the bruised side myself. I bathe when everyone else is clean, and if my clothes get ironed, it's only after I have finished all the other ironing (not often!). You get the idea.
It is good to be able to set aside one's own needs. It is often necessary as a mother to do so, I realize. But I have taken it way too far, I think. Must I feel a guilty twinge at such a small thing as when I put moisturizer on my hands? Because I do feel guilty, even for doing the simplest of things for myself. Probably the saddest thing is that the guilt isn't coming from anywhere else but me. There is a part of me that is self-defeating. This part of me is convinced that I am not worthy--of time or respect or care, I don't know. But it's there. I see it in the way I treat myself, in the way I treat my hands.

I'm not alone in this. There are lots and lots of other women who must feel this way, obliged to be last on the list, whether from fear or self-loathing or a firmly-instilled (and misguided) sense of "what makes a good woman." I wonder if they think about this, and if thinking about it makes them as lonely as it just has made me...

I started this long post talking about hands, and it is to my hands that I look now: the way that I treat myself is, in fact, in my own hands. As this year progresses, I am seeing more and more that through simple changes, I can shape the way I see my own life. Perfect or imperfect, I create all sorts of things with my hands. It's time to create something for me.

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Friday, February 20, 2009

The Kindness of Strangers, or Seven More Things to Make Me Love NYC

Please note: this post will be filled with more than my average use of the word "wonderful" and lots of gratuitous and sometimes cheesy-sounding "yea!" Please chalk it up to my infatuation with the city.

New York has a special place in my heart, and we were lucky enough to spend our Valentine's Day weekend there. NYC is like my Disney World--a special place, filled with interesting people and things to do. And the best part of it: the people who live and work there. Here are some of the highlights from our trip: 

1. Dinner out. A lovely evening at Park Avenue Winter. Because our babysitter came with us to the city, we were able to leave the children with her at the hotel. In other words, my husband and I ate dinner alone, at a gorgeous restaurant on the Upper East Side. Park Avenue Winter is a seasonal place, which means that it changes decor and menu each season. A few weeks from now, it will rechristen itself Park Avenue Spring. What fun it would be to visit it with each incarnation. Our meal was delicious, and we ended the night with a long, pleasant walk back to our hotel. 
When we visit a wonderful city like New York, we aim for restaurants away from tourist central. Our concierge helped us find Park Ave Winter, and she was exceedingly nice about it, spending a good deal of time with me on the phone last week as we weeded through the myriad choices. She even sent us champagne at the restaurant! Thank you to Norva! Yea for Park Avenue Winter! Yea for babysitters!

2. Cupcakes. We were greeted at check-in with treats from the fabled Magnolia bakery. Ada and Esme were nothing less than thrilled by the luscious chocolate cupcakes and red and white versions of the black and white cookie. 

3. Chinatown. Our favorite place, our "must see" place of NYC, is Great NY Noodletown. It's in Chinatown, and we have visited it unfailingly for each visit since 1994. If you read any review of the place, you'll see mention of the hyped salted seafood (shrimp and softshell crabs are popular), and the restaurant's namesake noodles. Believe it. It is wonderful food, cheap and authentic, and worth a trek to find it. We like to order the chow fun (thick noodles), roast pork (swoon-worthy), and lo-mein with ginger and scallions. There are tons of other delights on the menu. Go visit and discover some for yourself.

For me, the highlight of this visit to Great NY Noodletown was meeting Sandra, a lovely woman who was sitting at the table next to ours, where her daughter was making little stars from paper strips. Sandra shared a few multicolored strips with our girls, and soon we were talking, exchanging emails, and learning how to make a rubberband star, too. Before they left the restaurant, Sandra made a few recommendations for our future visits to Chinatown. In particular, she recommended little egg-shaped boiled dough cookies from a street vendor. We said our goodbyes, and she and her daughter left. To our surprise and delight, she returned a few minutes later with bags of cookies for each of us.  Here is a picture of the rubberband star Sandra's daughter showed us how to make:

4. Bryant Park was in full fashion week regalia. While we didn't have time to linger, we did manage to see some beautiful people, beautifully dressed. People watching is so fun, watching fashionable people, so much the better.

5. F.A.O. Schwartz is still a wonderful place to visit. On Sunday morning, Esme's eyes grew wide with excitement when she heard there was a place in New York where you could dance on a "floor piano." A short taxi ride later, we were in toy-wonderland. Esme and Ada explored mountains of stuffed toys, elaborate displays of Playmobil, and of course, the piano. They danced on it, and when it was over, Esme was tearful about leaving.
We managed to visit the baby clothing section of the store, where Ada was in heaven. She found a hat and blanket for her baby, which the salesgirl carefully wrapped in striped tissue and bows. Ah--the perfect souvenir for Ada. As we were leaving, Ada had a sudden fear of the escalator, and I accidentally got on with Esme before I noticed her hesitating at the bottom. Before I could even say, "wait a second, honey--I'll be right there," the salesgirl from the wrapping counter gently escorted Ada up the escalator behind me.

6. A particular highlight for me was on Sunday night, when I met up with my dear friend Kristen, a long lost friend from grade school. Too often lately, I've caught myself extolling the wonders of facebook. Sunday night's meeting was a prime example of the wonderful reconnecting I've been doing. Kristen is as interesting, funny, and fun as I remember her being when we were ten years old.
We could have easily stayed at the tapas restaurant, chatting well into the wee hours, but Ada and Esme were wearing out our babysitter. So we met our little girls in the hotel restaurant, where Kristen and I entertained them with a version of the Presidents' song that we learned in fifth grade. Ah, joint humiliation! Only a true friend would agree to that to amuse some sleepy kids!
We parted that night with a new understanding of a new/old friendship, and with excitement for the new path our friendship will take. It was a fantastic night for me.

7. The above mentioned tapas restaurant, Euzkadi, was very reasonable and had delicious small plates and wine. It was a perfect backdrop to meeting an old friend. In my excitement, I left a favorite hat and scarf behind when we left. And do you know? When I phoned the restaurant to see if they had found them, a kind waitress named Danielle offered to pop them into the mail for me. They arrived here, via priority mail, a few days later. Yea for nice people!

I may have grown up thinking I was a "city kid," but our kids are definitely small town girls. We are always encouraging a wider worldview for them, and we make a point to go to cities on a regular basis, not only so the girls can experience the beauty of them, but so my husband and I can remain sane. Small town living is great in so many ways, but, counterintuitively, the city is a place to recharge.

I did notice that I had a sense of wonder about the place. (Can you tell?) As cosmopolitan as I consider myself to be (okay, well, sometimes), there was a moment when I felt as though I had stepped into a wide-eyed role in the musical Oklahoma: When I saw the "newfangled" televisions and credit card touch screens in the taxis, I caught myself humming, "Everything's up-to-date in Kansas City/They've gone about as fer as they kin go." It's been awhile since we've been to big civilization, and I missed it.
We are already talking about our next trip there.

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Friday, February 13, 2009

If you've read more than a few posts here, you know how much I love poetry.  When I was teaching, I was adamant that I wasn't "teaching poetry," but rather introducing some poems to people who hadn't read much poetry for pleasure--my students.   

While most of my students had a good sense of poetry, some of them really believed that poetry was written with the intention to confound kids in school.  They believed that most poems existed in some weird vacuum, useful to "artsy teachers" and maybe a few overly sensitive people.  
My mission became focused: I had to debunk these assumptions about poetry and the intended audience.  So I started bringing in poetry from current sources, from songs, from contemporary anthologies.  Little by little, some of my misbelieving  students woke up to it.  

One of my favorite moments in the classroom centered around some poems I brought in for Valentine's Day.  I taught English at a university where the student population is overwhelmingly male, and a few of these young men had asked me for suggestions of good poems for a girlfriend.   So I created my own little anthology of love poems, some of which we read aloud in class.  Among them was the poem "Variation on the Word Sleep" by Margaret Atwood.

When I finished reading this, there was a palpable hush in the room. I looked up from the paper and saw some of the guys shaking their heads slowly, or nodding in appreciation. As class ended, a few of them asked me if they could keep the copy of that poem. And I knew that some of them had felt the living, moving force of a poem that spoke directly to them.

Here is that poem, in a new context, powerful and important as ever. Happy Valentine's Day Weekend!

Variation on the Word Sleep

I would like to watch you sleeping,
which may not happen.
I would like to watch you,
sleeping. I would like to sleep
with you, to enter
your sleep as its smooth dark wave
slides over my head

and walk with you through that lucent
wavering forest of bluegreen leaves
with its watery sun & three moons
towards the cave where you must descend,
towards your worst fear

I would like to give you the silver
branch, the small white flower, the one
word that will protect you
from the grief at the center
of your dream, from the grief
at the center. I would like to follow
you up the long stairway
again & become
the boat that would row you back
carefully, a flame
in two cupped hands
to where your body lies
beside me, and you enter
it as easily as breathing in

I would like to be the air
that inhabits you for a moment
only. I would like to be that unnoticed
& that necessary.

Margaret Atwood

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Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Open Heart Letter 3: To My Husband

Over the years we've given each other countless little notes, most of which are too private to share here.  But I must include him in the open heart project, because, you see--he opened my world.

Here is a little note to the biggest love in my life.

My dear husband:

When we met, the color of the sky literally became brighter for me. It was as though a film had been peeled from the glass, and I could see the richness and the depth of the colors in the world.   All of the cliches of being lovestruck applied:  the birds really did sing more sweetly, every love song spoke about us.  I knew from the moment we first kissed that my life was about to change.

Sixteen years later I smile to think of that kiss, and thrill to think I was right.  What a gorgeous world we have made together.  I am, in every sense, the luckiest wife in the world.

Of course, we are not always stepping to the same rhythm.  We have had our disagreements and fights.  But the trust, the love, the oneness we have--it remains, true as the earth beneath us.   We walk together, in the same direction.  And with each step I take in this world, I reconfirm that there is no better partner, no bigger love, than you.    

*The photo is a heart-shaped piece of labradorite he brought back for me on a recent trip to Africa.   It is my favorite gemstone, fiery and modest at once.

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Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Another house story

You know, as I was re-reading this last post on the tent house, I saw in myself the shadow of someone I recently described to a friend in a not-so-kind way.   How easy it is to throw stones, especially if you live in a glass house!  

Here is a snippet of my own experience as the newcomer the neighbors wondered about.  I recently wrote this in an email to a friend of mine to describe one sort of "welcome" I received:
We live on a little island.  Our town is immediately recognizable as the classic New England village, with fewer than 4000 people in the wintery off-season.  I discovered when we moved here that many people had the curious habit of rocking back on their heels and saying with smugish satisfaction, "Yep, I'm born and bred." I had to hear that from four different people before I figured out that they meant "I have always lived in this state." Some of them have always lived on this island, in fact. When I heard this born-and-bred expression from the fifth person, I wanted to say, "yeah, I happened to have been born and raised, too. It's pretty common for humans." But I bit my snippy tongue.

These multi-generation islanders don't always take kindly to people like me, who move here from parts unknown to promptly remodel a decrepit house beyond recognition. When Ada was four, I once had a well-meaning woman (4th generation town resident, thankyouverymuch) visit our home for tea. It was the strangest thing--I had asked her to come because she was always seeing Ada in town and giving her little trinkets, etc. She went so far as to write an editorial in the local paper, saying she had found an angel named Ada, and she wanted to become her adopted Aunt (I was a bit uncomfortable at her blithe use of adopted, let me tell you--let alone that she wrote the editorial at all). She started referring to herself as Ada's "Aunt Nancy," stressing that Ada pronounce it "Ah-unt", a challenge in itself since Ada was used to my midwestern twanging of the word to "ant."  In any case, we kept up the pleasantries for a few months, and at some point I asked her to tea.
She came, a vase of lilacs from her garden in hand. It was one of the odder encounters I've had, though. I love having tea, and we had a little spread with cookies, etc. It was a bit of an effort for me at the time because I was pretty pregnant, and Ada had a bladder infection and needed "to go potty!" every 5 minutes. But we managed, and I recall being pleasant and welcoming. Nancy, however, seemed suddenly much colder than she had when she talked to us in town. The kicker was when she sat at our dining table, waved her hand around, and said, "I know there are a lot of people in town who don't approve of people who move here and do (here's the wave) all this. But I'm more open-minded." I don't recall how we ended tea, but she stayed for almost two hours total, I think. Funny, it was such a strange visit that if she hadn't left the lilacs, I swear I would believe that I dreamed it. She never called or spoke with us again. Some of it must be that she changed jobs, and we didn't see her in town. But there were no more calls, either. I left a message on her answering machine a few times, still nothing. I still have the vase and some trinkets, so I know she really did come. Did I say something wrong? I have no idea. I do know that I was one of those "new people" she referred to. 
I felt a little set up--she knew where our house was before she started talking to me in the grocery. Did she just want to see the inside of the house? Maybe--but what a lot of effort. So bizarre. And our house is just a remodeled 1980 cape, not a mansion, or even very large or anything worth wanting to see...

If you read my post about the tent house, then see my anecdote about curious "Aunt Nancy," you must see the contradiction.  I recognized it when I reread my post this afternoon, and I am stunned by it.   It is embarrassing to be caught as the judgmental one. I am blushing as I write. 

I considered deleting the tent post before too many people saw it, and saw me for the mean person I can be (a shameful blush again).  Should I perhaps try to convince you otherwise by making excuses--Do you care that my house isn't a sixteenth the size of that guy's, or that we built it green, or that I was the general contractor myself, accountable for all the ruckus we may have caused? Would any of this convince you?  It doesn't convince me.   I myself built the custom house of my dreams, albeit smaller ones.  The dreams of Mr. Tent house are just bigger.  

So, at the remove of years out from my own arrival here, do I now have I the mindset of the oldtimer myself?  Or am I still the new and ostentatious neighbor renovating at will and whim?  I have no idea.  

If I let myself think past my humiliation, I do know that I am capable of holding contradictions in my own perceptions, and I see the dangers in assuming that I am free of judgment myself.  As open-minded as I proclaim to be (just like Aunt Nancy), I'm a prisoner of my own limitations, my own assumptions about other people and their desires, their actions.   It's okay to admit this weakness; recognizing it in myself will make me a stronger and more empathetic person.

I am pretty sure that won't be going to tea at the "tent house," under the guises of a welcoming party or not.  But I do think I should prepare my own mind for being truly open to new people and their experiences, as different from mine as they may be....

I am a work in progress.

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A Tent House

Not the kind of tent house we make around here in our nest.  Ours is made from my grandmother's quilt and the cushions from the sofa, filled with board books and stuffed bears and dogs, and little bowls of cheerios and chocolate chips.  That's a tent house.

This white form behind the trees also is a tent house.  Because we live in a cold climate, building a new home exposes it and the crew to extreme weather.  This, in turn, causes delays.   If you've ever had any work done on your home, you know what I mean.

But this home, situated on the water and boasting at least 6 acres, must have an owner who is determined to avoid delays and weather.   This owner has contracted to have an enormous plastic tent erected around the entire structure of the home.  A few years ago, a similar home was built on the lot next to it, with the same tent method.  The kicker is that the crews on both of these homes work on continuous shifts, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  Huge work lights illuminate the site and drive the neighbors batty.   There are local discussions of noise and light disturbance, and the owners are being asked to take breaks during evenings, weekends, and holidays.   

I'm showing this to you today because I'm nosy, I'll admit it.  I am curious about who that owner might be.  I'm curious about what sort of life must produce the need or desire or right to build in such a way.  I drive past this tented project from time to time, and each time I marvel at the the size of this project.  It seems a certain kind of hubris to building such an ostentatious home so ostentatiously, especially in these times.    I wish the owner well, but I wonder if building a house this large will generate a happiness that fills it completely... 

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Monday, February 9, 2009

Look what I got in the mail!!

The fabulous Bari J. sent me this bag last week--Look at the theme "Three Little Chickies."  I'm crazy for this bag.  I have a thing for trees in art, and this bag is every bit as lovely in person as it is in this photo.   It's got lots of sweet detailing, like extra pockets inside, and a key holder, and a brooch attached  to the tree.  

As it happens, it arrived to me on my blogoversary.  How perfectly fitting.   

Bari has great line of handbags and accessories, and she's designed a luscious set of fabrics for Windham that will be arriving in stores this spring.   How lucky am I that she designed this bag just for me?!

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Saturday, February 7, 2009

The Tale of Mr. Mouse, part 2

The Mr. Mouse story is the first part, if you missed it.

Anita was breathless from screaming. She caught her breath and looked furtively behind her toward the house. Had anyone seen her? Heard her? She was humiliated at such a reaction. First, because Martha would be disappointed in her--"Really, Anita. Such drah-ma." And also because, as unrealistic as it was, Anita felt responsible for keeping all of the house tidy and orderly, including these bins. It was a poor reflection on her as a housekeeper to have a mouse infestation. She vowed to herself to get rid of the problem before Martha found out about it. So Anita indulged her stubborn side by standing perfectly still on the path in front of the bin, her baking tray poised and ready to clobber any rodent making a run for it.

If her heart hadn't been pounding so hard in her ears, Anita might have heard the rushed breathing of Mr. Mouse as he struggled to gain composure. Calm, he thought. Calm. Smell the food, breathe the air.  If he could only lie down in his bed again, he promised, he would never, ever invade the humans' garbage again. Through the slats, he could just see the tips of Anita's sensible shoes on the path. His little heart beat mightily in his chest and he wondered if he would have the chance to keep that promise.

Anita stood still for 15 minutes while her adrenaline rush subsided. Deciding she didn't want another face-to-face confrontation with the furry creature--had it been a rat, God forbid?--she headed toward the house, tray swinging, her head down with determination.

As Anita retreated, Mr. Mouse felt relief and then profound exhaustion. It was nearing sunset, as far as he could tell, and his wobbly legs reminded him that he simply couldn't cross the yard again.  The garbage bin was to be his bed tonight, like it or not.  

He rustled around in the heap and pulled a few cupcake wrappers free.  Laying them underneath him as a relatively neat little mat, he gave into his wobbly legs and curled into a ball.  As he drifted to sleep, his thoughts ranged from images of Anita's square-toed shoes, to image of his baby sister swaddled in flannel, to oozing pools of pink frosting, to strange, squarish forms that floated in the sky and blotted out the sun.   He woke several hours later to the hollow sound of his old companion (but not friend), the short-eared owl, and he realized that he was hungry.  And for once, food was plentiful.  

Though the cupcakes had lost some of their appeal for having slid into the mess of other garbage, they were soft and fragrant and sticky.  His paws were still covered in icing, in fact, and there were bits of cake stuck to his left haunch.  A bath, he decided, would be a good start to his meal.  When he was done, he was clean, and now hungrier than ever.  Martha's cupcakes were legendary for a reason, and once he started, he couldn't stop himself.   His promise to leave human garbage alone notwithstanding, he dug into the remains of coffee cake, and cupcakes by the dozen, until his belly was so full he was certain he wouldn't fit through the slats to leave in the morning.   Exhausted and almost sick with sugar, he fell into a deep, dreamless sleep for the rest of the night.  

Anita, for her part, had been busy for hours in the night as well.  She had spent hours touring the grounds with dozens of mousetraps.  By the time she went to bed, she had armed almost every place conceivable:  the pantry, the basement, the attic, the garage, the stables, the greenhouse, the wine cellar, the root cellar, and the chicken coop.   All except the garbage bins.  She was embarrassed about it, but she was afraid to go out there in the dark, worried that that creature might run out from between the slats, perhaps across her foot this time.  It gave her the shivers just thinking about it.   That trap could wait for daylight.  She fell into a fitful sleep, full of strange dreams of a parade of cupcake floats and squealing rodents.   

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Thursday, February 5, 2009

Three Little Chickies is 2!

Today is my "blog-o-versary," and I'm celebrating!  Yea!  

So silly, but I love my little blog.  This past year, I've made new connections through it, started telling people about it, made good on commitments to make things, and found a sort of rhythm in almost daily! writing.  All of these are unexpected bounties from a venture I started on a bit of a whim two years ago.  

I stumbled into blogging by accident.  In fact, until January 2007, I knew of one blog--Dooce.  And when I remembered to read it, I loved it, her sharp wit and fierce stance.  But it didn't feel like something I could do.  If it had dawned on me that I could write a blog, I would have said right away that I didn't want to write like that myself, actually.

In January 2007, we were readying for Ada's homeschooling, which was to begin that summer.  We were dealing with sleepless nights, as Esme was only a few months old, and I was hoping I could find a little time to get back to making stuff in the studio.  I had crafts on my mind, and I wanted advice...

On a Google search for ways to use chalkboard paint, I found a link to a mom who had painted entire walls of her home in chalkboard paint, and written a lovely post on it, called "Cover the World in Chalkboard Paint."  On closer inspection, I realized that this woman, Blair, was writing a blog called Wise Craft.  Not a commercial and herculean blog like Dooce's, but a little blog, a blog in the sense that it was less about who read it, and more about the she who was writing it...does that make sense?  It felt like something I could do.  As I looked through the photos of things she'd made, I saw that these photos homey and personal, not unlike the ones I took.  

And I started looking at the links there.  Exploring blogs.   Discovering a new bloggy language.  I was hooked.  

And so emerged 3littlechickies, on February 5th, 2007.   Here is my first post. Almost 200 posts later, it is a different thing from what I imagined it to be.  As am I.   

I'm so glad I started this journey.  I like what I'm creating here.  I like it even more that you're reading it, and therefore creating it, with me.  

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Wednesday, February 4, 2009

The Tale of Mr. Mouse, part 1

I am still at work finishing Mrs. Mouse. She is a soft brown velveteen, and she's nice to hold. She's also patient. For the past three nights I've managed to get out my sewing kit, but not I've not actually sewn her. She just sits contentedly in my hand while I've gotten caught up on past episodes of Lost.

It looks as though she might be staying here for awhile. She and Mr. Mouse have definitely become good friends.

I don't believe I've told you much about him yet.
Mr. Mouse has been around our home for almost 3 years now. He manifested after Ada and I started talking about him in stories...he just showed up one day in full form. (Well, he showed up without a leg--Ada couldn't wait to play with him until I was done sewing.)

He has a strange history, this mouse. You see, as the story goes, he belongs to Martha Stewart. Yes, that one. When she was four years old, Ada had a fascination with Martha, from her magazines and her show. Through that, Martha somehow entered our story of a mouse. Before we knew it, there were other important characters finding their way into the bedtime stories I'd spin, and soon, there was a whole fleshed-out universe of Martha, her compatriots, and Mr. Mouse.

Would you like to hear how Mr. Mouse arrived in Martha's life?

Mr. Mouse used to live in the woods behind Martha Stewart's house. He lived in a hollowed out stump on the edge of the forest. He lived alone, and he spent a good deal of his time making his house comfy with castoffs--winecorks for chairs, bits of old flannel for blankets, a wobbly table made out of a champagne cap. The pride of his little house was the spiral stair he had created along the wall by notching and chewing spaces in the rotting wood. It took him ages, but when he was done, the steps spanned more than half the house, circling up and around to the splintery wood outcropping that served as his bedroom. He loved to trot up the stairs, nestle into bed, and dream of making things and going places.

On a particularly damp and blustery afternoon in February, Mr. Mouse caught the scent of cupcake on the air. It was strong enough to wake him from a sound sleep, and he scampered down the stairs to the doorway to get a better read on it. He took a few steps outside and debated facing the threat of an open yard to find the source of that smell. In the spring, especially, hungry hawks made the rounds over grassy spaces, looking for food. Mr. Mouse didn't want to end up taking an unexpected flight in the talons of a starving bird. But that day, he wanted cake more than he wanted safety. Taking a deep breath, he ran for it.

Mr. Mouse didn't know it at the time, but it would be worth the trip. Martha and her housekeeper, Anita, had been baking cupcakes for hours. Martha's original plan had been to bake 200 cupcakes cupcakes for the staff, crew, and audience of her television show. She liked to use her own kitchen; it was so much more relaxing than her television studio. Unfortunately, the cupcakes weren't working out. The baby pink sugarpaste hearts kept sliding off the too-loose swiss meringue frosting. It just wouldn't do. So, out to the trash heap with the cupcakes, all 200. (Well, almost 200. Anita secreted away a stash to share with her friends after work.) Mr. Mouse would have 189 cupcakes for himself, if he made the trip.

At top speed, Mr. Mouse could cross from the woods to the the trashheap in less than 10 minutes. He'd been up late the night before, though, scratching a pattern on the wall of his bedroom, trying to recreate the image of his brothers and sisters nestled in their childhood den. He loved to draw, but the scratches never came out as well on the bark as they did in his mind. Frustrated, he'd finally fallen asleep sometime after the short-eared owl had stopped shouting its lonely song.

In any case, today he was overtired, and slow. The grass was wet, but not yet the soft damp of spring. Instead it was old winter grass, yellowed and scratchy, and it resisted him. Between the thickets of grass were patches of ice, and big lumps of earth that the skunks had overturned while looking for grubs. Here and there were also scattered twigs and a few large branches that a recent windstorm had strewn about. Each of these things posed an obstacle for a little mouse. Though his nose implored him to run, his little legs were weak, and he slowed to a walk. In doing so, he looked up, and saw, for the first time ever, Martha's house.

Strange how we don't look up. You can go through your daily life never noticing the tops of the trees, or where the telephone wires intersect, or the shape of the spaces in the sky through the winter branches. For his part, Mr. Mouse had never looked much past the tops of the grass blades, as he usually took this path to the garbage at night, in a dead run.

There, looming god-like above him, was Martha Stewart's sprawling home. He gave a start when he saw it, and literally stopped in his tracks. While he lived near humans, he didn't live among them. He was a woodland mouse, not a house mouse. He ate humans' garbage, and was a fine connoisseur of their cast-off food (sweets and fried things being favorites), but he didn't know about their homes. Martha Stewart's home filled him with a mix of fear and curiosity. Who know there could be something so BIG, so angular and imposing? Looking at it so intently on that cloudy day, Mr. Mouse's vision got a bit blurry, and the house seemed to thrum with energy. What was it?

As Mr. Mouse was contemplating the foreignness of the house, Anita was crossing the yard with the last tray of cupcake discards. She hated to toss them, but she couldn't save all of them, either. First, Martha wouldn't have it. Secondly, she snuck enough treats each day that her pants now needed elastic waists, a shameful fact she'd finally admitted to herself in December.

As Martha had instructed, Anita had not bagged the cupcakes for the trash. Instead, she carried them, tray by burgeoning tray to the third bin in the waste area. Martha had devised three categories for non-recyclable trash, and they were organized in much the same way all things "Martha" were organized--with precision and labels. Set squarely into huge beds of pebbles were three slatted box containers, each weathered entirely grey except for its shiny chrome label. The first was sensibly labeled "Compost," and was filled purely compostable-material such as vegetable peels and coffee grounds. The second bin was for real garbage (tissues, #5 plastics, and other unmentionables). The third and largest bin was ambiguously labeled "Items that might be compostable." Anita visited this bin the most, for reasons not unlike today's cupcake fiasco. With surprising deftness, in one swift move she hefted the lid of the bin and the tray, dumping the last of the cupcakes. They tumbled down the heap to join the remains of failed coffee cake, soggy teabags, and spoiled pizza dough. She was just turning away to head back to the house when Mr. Mouse streaked past her foot and dove between the slats and into the mess.

Anita screamed. As her tray clattered to the stone path, Mr. Mouse dug faster than he thought possible, through a flurry of cake and goopy icing, furiously moving his feet until he could get a foothold. A new character had entered each of their worlds, though neither of them knew it yet.

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Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Evening Feeding, a work in progress

Surprising after yesterday's mammoth post, but it sometimes happens that I quiet the words in my head and on the page.    My hands busy themselves, and my mind is silent.

Here is a painting that I've been working on for years (years!), glazing and reglazing very thinned layers in oils.  I usually have four or five paintings on the go, and this is my favorite.  It gets pushed out of line by the other paintings because I'm so invested in it, and I want it to be "perfect."   I'm working on letting go of that.

From time to time, this painting calls to me to finish it, and I think I will answer it soon, paintbrush in hand.  Just thinking about it makes me smile.

Its working title is Evening Feeding.  I'm looking for suggestions on titles--ideas?  

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Monday, February 2, 2009

On the blog, part 1

It's the week of my "Blog-o-versary," and I've got blogging on my mind. Okay, I've frequently got blogging on my mind anyway. Just ask my family. Ada routinely points out when something would be "good on the blog." And now I have people actually asking when I'm going to post, which I find oddly thrilling--as though someone has ordered a subscription to my "magazine."

Except this isn't a magazine. Or a diary. Or a gallery. Or a conventional conversation. Or an essay. I would like it to be all of those things, and it has shadows of each playing behind it.

What is this blog, anyway, and why am I so heady for writing it?

The first thing I can say for sure about it is that I am writing almost every day now, and that is the biggest boon of this blog. There were many periods of my life in which I wrote on a daily basis: As an undergraduate, I majored in English (quelle surprise!) and wrote papers constantly. For various other jobs I've had: I wrote ad copy for a publishing copy, and promotional materials and procedure for a university, and a human resources manual for a private company. In graduate school, I wrote countless papers on rhetoric, composition, education, and all sorts of topics related to these. And I started writing poetry. In earnest.
In between these times, I've written overly long letters to friends and intimidated them unintentionally by the length of my notes--a few people been apologetic that they can't write back at such length.
Even when I was teaching English, I wrote the assignments with my students--that is to say, I assigned myself the task of writing the same topics the students did--a very worthwhile exercise for determining if an assignment "worked" or "flopped." In the same vein, I wrote daily "feedback" for myself to recap the day's discussions, and to figure out if I was taking the class in the right direction. I also wrote massive letters of feedback for each student, and my assignments were written with the detail of a novella (quelle surprise, you say).

During that time, we also started the process for adoption Ada, and as part of it, I was asked to write a brief history of myself. You can imagine how shocked the social worker was to receive my 26-page, single-spaced piece. Brief it was not, but important for me to write, yes. And important that Ada have it one day for herself, to see me at that moment, on the brink of parenthood. The real audience for that history, as I pointed out to the social worker, was me. And future Ada.

I am verbose.

But for a few years, I was silent, at least in writing. My letters dwindled to postcards, my poems dried up. My essays and pontifications in writings....gone.

Some of my energy went to making art--sewing, painting, etc--but much of it went to folding clothes, cleaning bathrooms, morning sickness, and just life. I wasn't able to blend the writing and the doing.

Enter the blog.

As you know from this post alone, I continue to pour my heart out. From a rhetorical perspective, the blog is a perfect space for this type of writing. My friend La Belette Rouge wrote an amazing post today on writing her way through something without knowing her destination, and that is what my blog posts are so much of the time: writing through and creating a space.

Having a blog has allowed me to literally create a space (with images, spacing, color, photos, etc) in which I can pour my heart out and find out where I am in the world. In that regard, it's like a diary. But because of the audience of you, dear reader who has made it through this meandering, this writing has more of a shape. It is shaped like the space between me and you.

I am a generous and more selfless in real life. But on paper, I am a selfish writer, going on and on. I have never meant to intimidate with the length of the letters or the posts I write. I write and write to capture the play of words that run through my mind all the time, like insects beating against the night window. Like a lepidopterist, I pin the thoughts to the wall of the blog and examine them to see if they are light and lovely like butterflies or dark and insidious like moths. They are, invariably, both. And some fly away. And as with all collectors, it is really only me who is most pleased by my collection of words... I look back at what I've captured and I see myself.

If you have made it this far through this post, I thank you for sharing this odd and sometimes disturbing or tiresome collection. ...

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