Saturday, December 27, 2008

Market Baskets and iPhone

I have often remarked about my Little House on the Prairie ideal vs. my husband's Star Trek ideal. This year, I relished in giving books and market baskets. His big gift to me and himself were matching iPhones. I am used to getting tech gifts from him. That's fine. Something I wouldn't give myself. I tend to buy Mark more books than he can read. (I was good this year and only got him a subscription to Runner's World.)

Now part of my LHOTP wistfulness is a wish for a simpler time. Self sufficiency, community participation, direct contact with the food chain. I am not a technophobe, but what bothers me about technology is that I constantly have to update my skills--especially after I have managed a degree of proficiency with the old technology so that I can work it with the fluidity of muscle memory instead of brainpower. The other thing that annoys me about gadgetry is that I have to live in a state of dissatisfaction. I can never be happy with what I have; I must be constantly alert for updates, in both software and hardware.

Now I must backtrack a bit. I've been carrying a big purse lately to accommodate my day planner, journal, books, etc. I also tend to carry my market bag with current projects or books. But this past week, I have suffered a bad back. I do long for simplicity, but being confined to a sofa with nothing to do but explore iPhone applications, I am beginning to see that simplicity can come in many forms. If I set myself up right, I could be carrying one tool for use in/as navigation, diet log, calendar, grocery list, wine guide, phone, iTunes, pedometer, knitting patterns, address book, email, flashlight, clock radio, reading books and articles, diary, personal trainer, surfing web, art gallery, meditation timer, and restaurant locator. It's like the Swiss Army knife of life. If it could function as a corkscrew, I could probably be set for life. WOW! Now all of this will take a bit to set up, and a bit longer to be comfortable with it. I am going to be very hard pressed to give up my paper day planner, but I think that bad back will prevail, and I will at least try a paperless version.

For some time, I felt that maybe technology and subsequently my husband were at odds with my values of simplicity, but I think I am beginning to see what gains I can make in my life.

1. Going paperless will save on resources. No more printing maps and directions
2. I won't expend as much energy looking for all my stuff and cursing myself when I forget it.
3. I can further save on space by downloading books--something I am not eager to try, but with dwindling bookshelf space, I must think about.
4. One device to plug in. One power cord to keep track of.
5. In sync with my hubby.

So, I may at times give commentary as to how I am doing, making the iPhone a tool for my life, instead of making my life fit the phone. I've already thought of an application I have yet to see: Produce stand/local food source locator. Can someone get on that? I need to fill my market basket.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Gifts I like to give

1. Books. Hands down number one present to give and to receive. Mark is a techno-geek who reads one book a year. I probably buy him two books a year. He buys me things to plug in.
2. Cookbooks. I know this is a sub category. My poor brother-in-law gets the brunt of this gift because he the only person within my gift-giving circle who cooks. I have been known to get people who don't cook some cookbooks. My husband has received books on biscotti and breads and sushi. He has expressed a desire to make those things, but it seems more of a pipe dream despite my overt encouragement. Last year, I gave me mother-in-law a cookbook that came from a restaurant in her hometown of Marshall, Michigan. She knew the family. So that was appropriate.
3. Art and journaling supplies. What can I say? It is who I am.
4. Personalized stationery. Okay, so snail mail is going the way of the dinosaurs, but kids especially still like getting mail. They like seeing their name on things. And hey--I'd like to think that the Thank You note is not dead. (Although I do tell recipients of this gift to save their stationery for fun letters.)
5. Baby rings. I started a practice of giving my neices and nephews rings for their first birthdays. The boy rings are cool--made by a friend of mine, Suzy Arrington. That tradition started because Jonah saw Maren's rings and wanted one for himself. Later they can wear rings on a chain or give them to their kids. This is not my orginal idea. Got it from my sister-in-law.
6. Personalized Back Packs. I like to give these to little kids. They see their older siblings, cousins with these and they love carrying their own. Plus--it is great for parents. No toys to clean up and store.
7. Gift Certificates to movies, plays, museums, cultural events. Again--a gift that doesn't clutter the house.
8. Pajamas. Love to give and love to get them. My favorite are Gilligan and O'Malley from Target and Vera Wang at Kohl's. Love the Vera Wang stuff--especially anything in purple. Don't own any--yet. Cool PJ bottoms for men.
9. Music. I love giving CD's of things I know others will like but may not know about. I like giving Carla Bruni, Chris Botti, Herbie Hancock, and local artists. Maybe I'll have to switch to downloads soon.
10. Puppets. Better than stuff animals, puppets encourage storytelling and playacting and reading. Tell your child to make the puppet read aloud a page of the story and then have the child read in his/her normal voice. If I was ahead of the game, I would make my own. I have a feeling my friend Elena from will be making some puppets this year. Someday I want to own an Elena Nazzaro puppet and have a stand for it. Sculptural art.
11. Clothing. I still love to dress people up. Maybe it isn't the best thing to give. People tend to have their own ideas of what clothes they like, but at least Mark likes the clothing I get for him. And I like to see him wearing the stuff I picked out for him.
12. Something homemade. It has been awhile since I have done this, but I do like to put the effort in and have it received. Past offerings: stories, knit sweaters, salsa or hot pepper jelly, jewelry, framed photos, felted mittens or slippers, poems. If I didn't make it, then it is fun to give something made by local artists.

paper, music, lights


First off, let me say that I cringe at most holiday wrapping papers. I guess it stems from years working in fabric design. I think most wrapping paper is tacky. Where is William Morris when you need him or M.C. Escher for that matter. Or Even Keith Haring--now that would be fun paper. And the red and green combo doesn't work for me. If it was up to me, I would wrap everything in brown paper with satin or velvet ribbons in shades of plum or chocolate with a little jute twine and/or gold cord for contrast. A brown gift tag with plum spirals and gold accents. A muted palate with lots of texture. Mark doesn't like the brown paper look. He thinks it is a step above wrapping in newspaper.

I saw some lovely wrapping paper at Pottery Barn displays this year. It looked like birch bark and had great red velvet ribbons around it. They didn't have it for sale though. Last year, they had graphic black and white paper with some presents wrapped in newspaper. I took pictures of that display to show Mark.

What I end up wrapping presents in is IKEA black and white paper. It seems to represent the dark/light themes of the solstice. This year I have striped, big dots, and checker board. I use one for thewrapping and a contrasting paper for the tag. Then I dress it all up with brightly colored (but not Christmas colored) curly ribbons. It is fun and graphic looking. I have a few presents wrapped in brown paper that I decorate with the black and white stuff.


I do love me some Christmas music though. I have a huge collection of Christmas music. Every year I get a new Christmas Album. There is something about a good carol. And I listen to them when I wrap and when I cook. Basically I listen to nothing else from Thanksgiving until Christmas. If anyone has any good recomendation for albums, I am listening. I think my favorites are The Roches, Sarah McLachlan, Charlie Brown. I also like playing Christmas music on my friend's piano. I took piano lessons for 7 years and can't play a lick, but I can pick out Christmas carols. Maybe I should rent a piano every December. My favorite carols are Oh Holy Night, What Child is This, Santa Baby, So This is Christmas, and Grown-Up Christmas List.


I have a hard time with outdoor lights. I like them, but I am looking for the perfect and doable light display. I like it simple and classic. White. No gymnastics on the roof. Every year we put out colored lights. Mostly purple and teal--leftovers from a themed tree gone wrong. We don't have any lights out this year. Mark has had to work a riduculous amount of hours this month, so it just didn't get done. But it keeps me looking over other people's lawns and wondering what my ideal display would be. No blow-up Santas, no grapevine animals, or creche scenes. I like a lit wreath and a greens and light covered lamppost. Maybe some greenery at our second story windows and some candles. I do like our tree and Moravian star in the front window--that is there. The Moravian star is decoration that is native to our home town of Lititz.

Maybe if they weren't so expensive, I'd just get a bunch of them and hang them from our two trees out front. I like them the best. The warm glow is so pretty on a dark night. And it reminds me of childhood.

Gift Receiving

I had a post about gift giving. Here is my post on receiving (to complete the cycle). I know what gifts I like to recieve. Part of this is that they are things I won't buy myself--or rarely do. In keeping with the songs Favorite Things and Twelve days of Christmas, I've picked out my 12 favorite presents--not in any order.

1. Pajamas
2. A book of Poetry (Mary Oliver this year)
3. A cookbook (Last year my choice was Bobby Flay's Mesa Grill. This year it is Jamie at Home)
4. Books or GC to a bookstore. This year I want the new Wally Lamb novel. He is one of my very favorite writers.
5. CD. I still have not gotten used to the whole MP3 download thing. I have an iPod, but my brain still operates in CD mode. I like getting something unusal that I don't already have to round out my rather staid collection. Maybe Dolly Parton or Miles Davis or Nina Simone or a Soundtrack Album I can play while cooking dinner.
6. Cooking gadgets or items. This year I would like mini spatulas. I keep breaking mine. I have looked around for them, but haven't found them--otherwise I would stuff my own stocking. Mark got me a pair kitchen scissors. I have a working pair but the handle is broken and he seems to think I need a new pair.
7. Bath stuff. I am a girl. Gotta have my bath stuff. But I have become more particular over the years. I love Bath and Bodyworks Vanilla Lavendar Bubble bath, but I also love the handmade soaps at Radiance--especially a scent called Moondance.
8. Uncle Ken's Homemade Salsa. This used to be one of the Pollyanna style presents at our extended family gathering, but my sister and I fought over this so much, that Uncle Ken had to start giving it out to everyone.
9. Wine. Cheese is also accepted. This year, Maren asked for her own personal hunk of Parmagiano Reggiano cheese in her stocking instead of chocolate. She and I also came up with an idea for a cheese advent calendar, but we have to figure out a way to actualize that. She and I are big fromage queens. Maybe I could do a wine advent calendar as well. Hee hee! At any rate, I think that leaving wine and cheese for Santa would net bigger gifts.
10. A sweater. There is something about getting a new sweater for Christmas. Especially if the person you are getting it from has a good sense of what is tacky and what isn't.
11. A necklace. My in-laws normally get me a necklace. In recent years I have picked them out for myself, but in the past, they have given me some that I still wear and cherish. I love me some funky (non precious) necklaces. My earrings tend to be staid and non-commital, silver hoops or diamond studs. This year I picked out a necklace of cobalt blue glass leaves. They remind me of the cobalt bottles that line my kitchen windowsill.
12. A copy of the DAC slide show. My brother complies digital photos taken by all four siblings (and parents) over the course of a year and puts it together in a slide show that we all watch together. It has been getting longer and longer each year. But it is so neat to see the path we've all taken. I think we are about in our 5th year.

As you can see, I am not about the big gifts. I really like and appreciate the little things. Last year, Mark did surprise me with a sculpture. That was one of the most awesome gifts I have ever received. (Art over fine jewelry--ANY DAY!) But it is not an expectation--just a thrill.

Jill and Mark plus eight

My daughter and I have been watching some of Jon & Kate Plus Eight. They live in the same county we do, so we get to see some local attractions when we watch. Plus it is fun to see the chaos/discipline dichotomy in action. I have already told my daughter that if she has eight kids, I will never come to visit her. I know my limitations. I love my children, but I also know what I can handle. People who know me, know my saying. "Uno, Dos, Snip."

That said, I love the naming process. So when Maren asked me what I would name eight children, I wanted to play that game. For the sake of our game, we went with even genders--four girls and four boys. It goes without saying that two of these names are already in play. It must also be said here, that I have not sought approval from Mark on these names. (But if you ask him he might say that about the current named children. He had some choices in the matter--but mainly the names he picked out ended up being for the kids of the opposite sex. We didn't know the sex of our children before they were born.)

This game is also fun for me, because I was playing it with my brother and his wife before their son was born in September. Now that the son is named, that game is over.

Without further ado...
The girls:
Maren Alexandra
Alma Julia
Pheobe Amarah
Violet Sabine

The boys:
Jonah Miles
Calvin Isaiah (Had Maren been a boy)
Boaz Nathanial
Reese Mathias

*Jonah would have been Anna Devon had he been a girl. When it came time to pick Maren's name, I felt I didn't want a Jonah and an Anna. Too many na na nas.

**Had Jonah been born in December, his name would have been Jonah December. Billy Dee William's full name is William December Williams. I always thought that was cool. Jonah would have loved to have been named after Lando Calrissian. As it is, Jonah thinks his name means Jedi Knight. Jonah (Dove) + Miles (Soldier) = Peace Soldier (Which is the definition of a Jedi knight).

*** Maren was named after grandmothers Marty and Karen. The old joke is that we were either going to name her Maren or KMart. Maren is also the Swedish form of my middle name, Marie. She has swedish ancestory on Mark's side.

****The name I would have named brother's baby is Ever James. It didn't make my list because Ever Wood sounds like a rehabilitation facility or a golf club.

*****Alma and Mathias are family names. Alma was my paternal grandmother. Mathias was the middle name of Mark's maternal grandfather. Nathanial is a derivitive of my brother Nathan's name.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Gift giving

Above is a message about holiday gift-giving. Stop shopping. In this time of economic hardship for so many, it is time to return some thought to the process that has become automatic. We are all looking for meaning in our religious traditions. This holiday season, why not stop and think about the way you spend your money and time. What are you really giving? What do you take away from the holidays?

I am not going to stop shopping, but we have reduced the number of people we shop for. I would like to replace those gifts with something meaningful. Also, the gifts I do buy? I am rethinking about where I shop and how I spend my money. Rather than going to the catalogs for all my presents, I am seeking out local stores and businesses in my area. The Susquehanna Sustainable Business Network has a new brochure of businesses in my area. These include organic farmers, stores that stock free trade gift items, and local businesses.

Our family has a book exchange among the kids ages 2 months-14 years. All of them are readers and they get plenty of toys, so the books are something they actually look forward to each year. I usually put a big order into an online bookstore. Maybe I will again this year, but I am starting to think in new ways. We have an independent bookstore that is not too far away from us that sells new and used books. It is possible I will try them first.

The purpose of this post is not to make people feel guilty in a time where we are all already bogged down with dictates of culture and restraints of finances. But maybe we question the way we do things this year. Then we formulate a plan for next year. Maybe I'll seek out my books earlier--keep a list in my purse for when I do have more physical time and more time before my deadline.

In the meantime, I have bought some items at local stores. That is a step in the right direction. And if after watching the above video, anyone wants to give me a certificate for some homemade curry, color me grateful.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

AS you can see...

I kinda dropped the ball on NaBloPoMo. But I am writing. Good thing when you call yourself a writer. And I scheduled some studio time to paint. Good thing when you call yourself a painter. (I haven't finished a painting since March.) I am hoping I'll have something to show for myself soon.

Also did a whole bunch of workshops recently. It is hard in this economy to fill my workshops, but I have been doing them as long as someone shows up. The energy is wonderful for me and--dare I say--the collective. Last night's healing workshop created some great vibes, and I sent it out to friends of mine who need some healing right now.

So moving into the holidays, I am taking a very gentle approach. I am getting things done. They may not always measure up to my intentions, ambitions, or proclamations, but I am moving forward.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Pinch me!

Folks who know me, won't be surprised that I voted for Hillary in the primaries. Though I was disappointed that she didn't get the nomination, switching my allegiance to Barak was not difficult. As Gloria Steinem said (Paraphrasing here) we had an embarrassment of riches from which to choose. I was more excited about either of the two presidential candidates for the Democratic party than for any in recent years. But after seeing Barak Obama give his victory speech, I am glad that he won over Hillary.
First, I want to start off by saying that he gave his speech in the same park where I ended my marathon 5 years ago. So that place has significance to me as a place where you end a LONG journey. (I never again ran a race over 5 miles.) I overcame a lot to run in that race, and to this day it ranks right up there with the birth of my daughter in the enormity of the physical challenge and the high when it was over. So enter into my personal temple of endurance, the first black president-elect of this country and his family. I saw the looks on the faces of the people of that park. I have known the scars that slavery has had on this country. I just finished reading a book on Lincoln, so I feel refreshed in that history. Sometimes, we don't know how hard an opression is and how it affects all of us (white or black) until it is lifted. Maybe I would have felt the same way to see a woman up there. But one thing that is in Obama's favor over Hillary, is the way the world is looking at us and seeing that we have challenged the old regime. A woman could have accomplished that, too, but another Clinton couldn't.

I received an email of Michael Moore's "Pinch Me" letter from the same woman who sent me the prayer a few days ago. Ordinarily Michael Moore's tactics turn me off. As much as I agree with his message, I think he goes overboard and alienates the very people he is trying to persuade. Or maybe he is just trying to embarrass--in which case he is accomplishing his goals. But this letter really expressed the way I was feeling. In a word--expansive.

Here is my favorite paragraph from the letter.

The arts and the artists will not be seen as the enemy. Perhaps art will be explored in order to discover the greater truths. When FDR was ushered in with his landslide in 1932, what followed was Frank Capra and Preston Sturgis, Woody Guthrie and John Steinbeck, Dorothea Lange and Orson Welles. All week long I have been inundated with media asking me, "gee, Mike, what will you do now that Bush is gone?" Are they kidding? What will it be like to work and create in an environment that nurtures and supports film and the arts, science and invention, and the freedom to be whatever you want to be? Watch a thousand flowers bloom! We've entered a new era, and if I could sum up our collective first thought of this new era, it is this: Anything Is Possible.

Can you imagine equating the election of a president with artistic blossoming? And lest you think it is a joke, I received this letter in the evening. Earlier today, in the dawn of this new administration, I sat at my computer and wrote like I haven't been able to write in months. I probably produced more pages than I have in 6 months total. Wow! Pinch me.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008


I have been on edge for a while now. I don't like when things are up in the air. Election season is just that--a time of unknown variables. And it is contentious. With so many friends on either side of the fence, I am afraid to speak my mind. I was recently at a book club with women I am getting to know. I'd been warned away from bringing up politics. But the conversation turned to Sarah Palin. Slowly, we all started to voice our disappointment. For some it was outrage. We had common opinions, but good manners had kept us from an open discussion. I bring this up not to showcase my own, "Do you think I am that stupid?" moment when her candidacy was announced, but to say that this election, and most elections, bring up divisiveness. Walking to the polls today, I thought, I am really excited to be casting my vote, but mostly I am glad to end the phone calls, the political ads, the speculation, the picking sides. I am ready for some mending on all fronts. Walking out of the polls, I was able to breathe the fresh air and let go of some of the tension I had been holding onto.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Prayer for Election

In between all the emails and phonecalls, I received for the election, I received a note from a friend with the following prayer attached. It comes from a translation of the original Aramaic of the line "Thy Kingdom Come" from the Lord's prayer. I did a little research (Google: Aramaic translation Jesus Prayer) and found that the Lord's prayer "Our Father..." has many translations. The Aramic language is rich with layered meanings, so that translations are varied and complex. (Something I was not told as a child when I had to memorize THE perfect prayer.) I am sure that this election, when so many people are struggling, will inspire many diverse prayers. For me, this prayer of unity and peace speaks to my needs and hope for our country. Thank you, Linda for sending it to me.

From the ARAMAIC PRAYER of Jesus
Tey Tey Malkutah
(Usually translated as THY KINGDOM COME)
Create your reign of unity now-
through our fiery hearts
and willing hands.

Let your counsel rule our lives,
clearing our intention
for co-creation,

unite our “I can” to yours, so that
we walk as kings and queens
with every creature.

Desire with us and thru us
the reign of universal fruitfulness
onto the earth.

Your rule springs into existence
as our arms reach out to
embrace all creation.

Come into the bedroom of our hearts,
prepare for the marriage of
power and beauty.

From this divine union, let us birth
new images for a new world
of peace.

Transliteration by Saadi Niel Douglas-Klotz

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Halloween, All Saints, All Souls

Halloween is a prickly subject in these parts. People are divided. Is it satanic? My belief system doesn't include a devil. In my religious practice, Halloween is a time to remember the dead and in that remembering, to know that our lives are finite, and we need to live to the fullest. My grandmothers died on dates that bookend Halloween. October 18 and November 5. So I am already there in thought. The veil that separates us at this time is thin. Dressing up is part of the ritual because it allows us to transform the bounds of our daily life. Our church even has a parade during Sunday morning services to show off costumes. What do you aspire to be? What are you afraid of and want to conquer? Life is finite. Question your boundaries, and have a little fun in the process.
I think that next to Thanksgiving, Halloween may be my favorite holiday. This year we had white chicken chili and cornbread. My daughter, the actress, dressed up as Marilyn Monroe. My son, the sci-fi enthusiast, dressed as some sort of robed, skeletal creature. I was told, I should go as a "normal" mom. Something I have apparently not achieved in life. My mother always spend sthe holiday with us. She dresses as a clown--or some variation. This year she was a clown with a batgirl mask. She is 65, but she went door-to-door with my kids, receiving candy--enabled by the fact that she is shorter than my son, and he got to go trick-or-treating.

The next day was a continuance--a day to exemplify this life-cycle we are in. All Saint's Day. My nephew turned 12. We feted him over a dinner of (coincidentally) white chicken chili and cornbread. Also, I found out that my friend's father died that morning after a long bout with cancer. Tomorrow I will make a pilgrimage to hug my friend. My arms--a circle. This life--a circle.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Passing the torch

Today, we visited my 91-year-old grandpa. It was a momentous day. My brother and his wife were down from State College area with their new baby boy. He is the 21st great-grandchild for Gramps, but the first male who will carry on the family name. So we took a picture of 4 generations of Althouse men. Sometimes, the name gets passed down, but the genes take on different physicality. Not so in this case. These Althouse men have a direct line from one to another. It was a joy (and a bit of a fright) to see. Perhaps this was more noticeable because 3 out of the 4 A-men were bald. That tells you about their physical appearance. The fact that a few of them sported my daughter's halloween wig (she was Marilyn Monroe) will tell you about their personalities. They are quite the corkers--at least the older three. Baby A is in for quite a ride with these men as his mentors.

Another torch was also passed today. My husband ran against my son in a 5K. This is the first time they raced against one another at this particular distance. My husband just completed a half-marathon in September. My son just completed his first season of cross country. His race distance was 2 miles at the junior high level. He is 14 and my husband is 40. Today youth triumphed over experience, but both had great times. Jonah ran his 3.1 miles in 20:05, and Mark ran in 20:19. I am proud of my guys. I won't tell you who I was rooting for.

NaBloPoMo (II)

If I can figure out how to get the NaBloPoMo badge back on my website, I am going to attempt 30 blogs again this month (NOVEMBER!). They will most likely be short, but I want to connect with words again and this commitment is a good way to start.

Monday, October 13, 2008

More pictures

Fall Fairy

This weekend was a glorious fall weekend. My daughter and I decided to do an outdoor photo shoot of her in her ballet costumes. We were aiming for a fall fairy look. I took hundreds of pictures, so it is no surprise that we got some that turned out really well. I would love to paint some pictures of some of these. I think my friend Elena Nazzaro's style would work extremely well--not that I could duplicate it even if I wanted to, but she has done inspiring work in the past with fairies and curly haired girls. My daughter has always been an outrageously delightful model for me. She is game for anything. The actress-in-her knows how to give the director-in-me what I want. She also gives recommendations for certain shots I never thought of but that she would like to try. She's a great kid, and I love documenting her childhood in these fanciful ways.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Forbidden Love--the postscript

I am going to make homemade pumpkin ice cream. Let's see my family wrestle with that dichotomy.

Forbidden love

Have you ever been in love, but your family disapproves quite vociferously? Okay, well I haven't...until now. It's fall. A glorious time to be a foodie. Except for one fact: my family hates winter squash in any form. Now my kids have learned to like a lot of foods over the years. Squash will not be one of them. Why? Because my husband carries on. If I serve eggplant which my kids hate and Mark likes, he will tell them to eat it; it's good. But with squash, he vehemently defends their rights to mutiny at the dinner table. Now, really, I have never been one to care about specific dislikes when cooking for my family. That may sound cruel, but out of the three of them, someone is bound to object. Daughter dislikes barbecue sauce and mashed potatoes, but likes escargot and calamari. Son likes chili and ribs but is only recently learning to like salads. And husband doesn't like: corn (unless it is fresh creamed), winter squash, sweet potatoes, blueberries, cooked carrots or cauliflower or broccoli, peas, sauerkraut (except in a reuben), blue cheese, or lentils. (I am sure this is not the complete list.)
So my solution to all of this has always been to cook a variety of foods. Like the weather in Pennsylvania, if you don't like what you get--wait a day. I try to use ingredients in unique ways, varying my presentation of said disdainful food so that the customer may find one preparation tolerable. That's how we found out that Mark likes fresh creamed corn and reubens.
Back to the romance. I made a recipe last night that was easy and to die for: Spaghetti Squash gratin. I adapted it from Wegman's website. Nuke the squash, spoon it into a dish with some grated asagio cheese, fresh herbs (which I still have), light cream cheese. Bake. Voila. Perfection. Served it will some sausage. We had Kielbasa, but smoked sausage would have been a good choice, too. I don't often post recipes, but I will for this one because I loved it so much. Alas, I am banned from making it ever again, but lucky for me, I got to eat all the leftovers for lunch today. Think of me when you are eating this or better yet--invite me over.

Spaghetti Squash Gratin (aka Romeo)

1 spaghetti squash (2-3 lbs), halved, stem to blossom end, and seeded
1 clove garlic chopped
Several T of fresh chopped herbs. I used oregano, thyme, and parsley
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp coarsely ground pepper
1 pkg (8 oz) Light cream cheese
1 cup grated Asiago cheese (You could use Parmesan or Romano)

You'll Need: 2-qt shallow casserole dish
Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
Place squash, skin side up (one half at a time), on microwave-safe dish; cover with microwave-safe plastic wrap. Microwave on HIGH 10-12 min, until tender. Let rest covered 10-15 min, until cool enough to handle; carefully remove plastic wrap to avoid steam.
Run tines of fork lengthwise over cut surface of squash to loosen spaghetti-like strands; scoop out strands. If necessary, drain excess liquid. Set aside.
Combine garlic, thyme, parsley, salt, pepper, cream cheese, and 2/3 cup cheese in small bowl. Fold into squash; place in shallow ovenproof casserole dish. Top with remaining cheese.
Bake 20 min or until lightly browned.

Chef Tip(s):May be cooked in individual ramekins.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Going Green

Two things have happened in the last week that have made me launch into some obsessive behavior: the market crash and the threat of frost. I watched the presidential debate last night and listened to Obama and McCain talk about the economy. I think I am one of the Main Street folks they keep talking about--even though my address labels say I am even further off the beaten path. This downturn in the economy has affected our family and those around us--has for years. Several years ago, my husband lost his job. More recently he left a job under the threat of extinction. If I hadn't left my job, I am sure I would have been shown the curb. We've had holes in insurance coverage. My brother-in-law is currently out of a job. The latest Wall St/mortgage crisis is hitting home. I am personally nervous. It's not just that I don't have the green--its that money itself isn't as green as it used to be. Where is the security?

Enter the frost warning. My garden is lush with herbs. Beautiful. Verdant. Thriving now that the days aren't so hot and dry. It is a bounty I don't want to squander. I don't know what the economic future will bring, but I have herbs. NOW! So with my trusty pug, kitchen shears, and a large basket I go to harvest what may be my last harvest. The stuff comes in by the bucket full. But what to do? With apples I can make pie or sauce. Some herbs can dry, but I am not looking for dry herbs. So, I plug in my food processor, empty my freezer of all kinds of nuts, get out my trusty jug of olive oil, and do the only thing I know to do. I make pesto.

Walnut Parsley pesto
Lemon Arugula pesto
Sage-basil pesto
Oregano-Chive pesto
Tarragon Pesto
Mint almond Pesto
(I already made and froze traditional basil pesto in September.)

I didn't have enough containers, so I started freezing batches in ice cube trays and then popping them into freezer bags. You wouldn't believe the shades of green I encountered. Sage basil was olive in color because I added some purple basil to the mix (Think $5 bill). The oregano was the lightest, most yellow. Mint was dark too, more like evergreen. The arugula was perhaps the brightest green because of the fact that I blanched my arugula before using. And after each batch I taste-tested on a cracker with goat cheese. My palate got a little tired, so I really can't pronounce a favorite. I really liked the tarragon, but that was my first.

So, now I've socked some green away for winter. Looking back at the products of my two-day surge with the food processor, I admit the obsessiveness of it all. My freezer is basically green and red (from a similar bout of tomato mania). Who does that? But, if economic conditions persist, I can feed my family with a box of spaghetti or a cup of cornmeal. And, who knows, maybe the garlic in pesto will keep the financial scavengers away.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Haiku with sullen teenager

My son didn't want to go to the country music Fall Fest. We forced him. I have pictures of him reading his book while his sister is dancing. It was a long day. I tried to entertain him in the lull between singers. Save him from his boredom. I sent him a text on his new phone.

Lets have a Haiku contest. Best Haiku wins. Loser buys winner a funnel cake.

He sent a text response.

how about we not
its not a good idea
and I don't want to

I bought him a funnel cake.

Country Poet

This weekend started off at the Lancaster Literary Guild with a poetry reading from Barbara Buckman Strasko, Lancaster's Poet Laureate. Sam Atlee also read some of his shorts stories. I ended the weekend by going to a country music concert with many artists and headlined by JoDee Messina.
Poetry and country music. Makes me want to get dressed tomorrow in a black turtleneck accessorized with a rhinestone belt.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Finally. . .

School started for my son on August 25th and for my daughter on September 2nd. It is has taken me a month to acclimate to all of it. It was a month of transition. My son is involved in a new sport. My daughter finished up the dinner theater run on September 13th. (I am not going to tell you how many miles I put on my car.) Her new school started in a staggered start, first with the cyber portion and then gradually with the performing arts sector. As of last week, the list of needed school supplies was still trickling in. I think we got it all covered from notebooks, to sketchbooks, to sports clothes, to dance tights and shoes.

It was a new experience for me to be my daughter's home facilitator. I am not homeschooling. She has teachers. But the first weeks of her school were spent learning the technology of such an educational environment. We had to learn to record her voice for her French class. She needed to take screen shots, scan drawings, and learn PowerPoint. She needed to figure out how to link up to attend scheduled chats and how to upload her picture so she could be represented visually by something other than a smiley face. Sending emails, IM's--all new to her. That was just her technical education. She (and I, too) are learning to use our time effectively. In a cyber school, she doesn't get a break to move around. She is sitting before a computer most of the day. That gets hard for a girl who has some attention issues. (Did I mention that she, at least in part, gets that from her mother?) Just this past week, she has begun to work more independently, freeing me up to get some of my work done. Still, I am looking over her shoulder, answering my facilitator mail, and fixing lunches and snacks.

I don't begrudge this work. She is getting a top notch arts education two days a week at the performing arts school. I know that she really must want this, because the nature of the cyber school is such that it takes the remaining five days for her to get it all done. No days off. Part of my personal code is to promote arts education and to encourage women and children to use art to express themselves in ways that empower them to live more fully. Even if I am not getting my own artwork done as much as I would like, I feel as though I am moving forward on my life's agenda.

I don't think I am a particularly selfless mother. In some ways I think I am downright unsuited for the task. I am undisciplined, unkempt, and unorganized. (Did I mention that during this month of adjustment I took my son to the wrong orthodontist office, my daughter to the wrong birthday party and managed to forget my purse when going school shopping?) I am also unwilling to give up my own agenda. (I do modify my course of action, but never surrender entirely.)

Still, I am learning to surrender to the way life is for me at this point in my journey. I won't always have the kids at home. My son had a birthday last week. In two years he will be driving. In the next presidential election, he will be voting. So, I am learning to let go of expectation. Perhaps I won't be able to take the art world and literary world by storm. (The fact that I am trying to tackle both at the same time should be grounds for a) divorce b) commitment into a mental facility or c) a sitcom starring Tina Fey. So, I am taking things slowly. Next week I will attempt to write, paint, and exercise. I don't remember the last time I have written, painted and exercised in the same week. I also am going to go to my son's sporting event, be my daughter's facilitator, take on the hosting responsibilities for a Lancaster Literary Guild event, teach a class, meet with my art coach, and help with classic film/dinner night at my daughter's school. And yet I feel calm and positive about the week ahead. In comparison to weeks past, I am optimistic that I will find some equilibrium.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Cyber School

Today is my daughter’s first day at her performing arts school. I am so excited for her. Even the air at the school has the quality of enrichment. I can’t wait for the long drive home to hear of her exploits.

Energetically speaking, the last two weeks have been scattered. Maren’s play run ended over the weekend. Good timing. I won’t be lurking in the back lots of the theater at 10:30 at night any more. For some that may be an early night, but I wake each morning at 5, so it seemed strange for me to be conscious, much less out and about. My son started his school before the Labor Day holiday. Luckily for both of us, he is in the third year of Middle School. So as we experience novelty with his sister’s education, his is stable and a repetition of years past. To supplement the performing arts school, my daughter has been doing cyber school. After today she’ll be on a schedule of three days a week online and two days a week at the physical school (an hour from our house). Though she has teachers, I have been given the title and responsibility of home facilitator. I am thinking of having that title printed on my business cards and given its own paragraph on my resume now that I see the effort it requires.

I realize that it will take us some time to learn to navigate the system to a point where we are fluid and Maren is more independent. I am used to having my days to accomplish my own agenda. In my mind, there was this pleasant little scene. Maren would be doing her school work at the efficient work station we set up for her in the dining room. I would be nearby on my laptop, floating over to her like a fairy godmother when needed. Somehow, I blocked out the way we typically interact with each other when frustration runs high.

Day one: the sites were bogged down by keen new students. While we waited for page after page to reload, Maren was rolling on the floor with the dog.
Day two: I banned her from going to her room between or during lessons.
Mom, I’m stuck.
Don’t mention the fact that I am flowing with my work only to have it interrupted time and time again. Maren’s teacher called to check on her progress since she hasn’t seen any work in math or science. Whoops. We thought we had submitted it. I am pretty savvy on the computer—or so I thought. We are learning together. The great joy has been to listen to the French lectures together and then to roam the house speaking in tongues: English, French and Franglais.
Comment ca va?
Ca va, et toi?
Pas mal.

This is all sure to be an adventure.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008


Hubby and I did the tapas restaurant for our anniversary. We went to our first tapas restaurant 3 years ago in Puerto Rico. In fact, we went to 4 tapas restaurants in PR. We went to Culturas in Lancaster which has been open about 6 months. Being someone who like to order off the specials board--give me something different!--I really like the ideas of trying many different plates of food. We tried the fried avocado with balsamic reduction and wasabi cream. A much better use of avocado was as a dip for the crab and cream cheese packets. Avocado is so luscious that frying proved to be overkill. The same dish would have been delightful as a plantain under all that sauce. But the fillet Mignon kebab with Peruvian corn (bigger, starchier kernels--more like lima beans) was unique and fun. The ceviche was refreshing. Our favorite dish was probably the potatoes stuffed with ground beef, egg, black olives and raisins. We toasted with a bottle of Argentinian Malbec, and topped it all off by splitting a piece of chocolate cake. All said, the meal was reasonably priced. The atmosphere and decor were inviting. I'm not usually one to write restaurant reviews, but being the cook that I am, I don't journey to them often. We will visit Culturas again--maybe with a crowd to try even more dishes. But in the meantime I am thinking of having a killer tapas party (I like to cook!) for a small group of adult friends. We can celebrate the kids going back to school.

Apple Crisp

I am not a baker, but this summer I've been glorying in the fruit. Just made a killer apple crisp from our own apples. So far this summer, I've made strawberry shortcake, blueberry muffins, peach cobbler, apple crisp, zucchini bread (okay--so not a fruit, but I was baking!), and though I didn't make it, I had a friend's homemade wild black raspberry pie. I also made a cherry pie, but those results were less than remarkable--in fact, I should probably refrain from remarking that I made one. Still, it has been a glorious summer for fruit here. And not over yet!

Monday, August 18, 2008


I have 2 anniversaries today. My husband and I were married 18 years ago on this day. That's the porcelain anniversary for those keeping track. A funny thought.
As far as years go, it was a challenging one for us on several fronts. Mark changed jobs in February. Previous to that, he was in a period of uncertainty at his old job as the company laid people off and he assumed some of the responsibilities of his fallen co-workers. It was a scary time. He got his job. My car broke down beyond repair. Then, when he got his job and was between insurance plans, my daughter broke her arm. This is about the pace of the past year. Lots of little stresses that accumulated and sent us reeling emotionally. We are a good team, but we were tested mightily. So it feels appropriate to be at this place celebrating something strong and good.

The other anniversary is the last day I had a job, which was two years ago. This is a bittersweet anniversary for me. I love that I don't have to punch a clock anymore (or in our case, write down hours), but I am little vexed at what the next stage is for my career. I am so immersed in family activities that I either need to make a new pattern or accept that this is where my priorities are right now. Still it doesn't help when everyone I know keeps asking "How's the book coming." How many different ways can you say SLOW! And, too at this anniversary, I am pulled back to the scene of the crime of my last job. I just heard that my old company has laid off a lot of people--including people I worked with and admired. I am sad for those whose careers are ending or redirected. These are uncertain times. I am also sorry for those left behind. They are working in a environment which is going through an era of scarcity of money and time (having to take on the tasks left by those who got laid off). I know it was right for me to leave that all behind. But today, I am sending out thoughts to all those who I used to call colleague.

I think that for me, I will use this day to regroup and plan out what I want for myself. Make some goals. Do some visualizations. With the start of school just days away, it feels a little like a new chapter is coming for all of us.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Moon phase

I feel I am entering a period of more feminine energies.

To begin, in yoga, we are exploring the moon salutation. This was created at Kriplau to be a balance for the more warrior-like sun salutation. The moon salutation celebrates the physical, emotional, and spiritual cycles of a woman. To me it seems that we are exploring a more vertical axis, descending and opening and returning, in a path not unlike that of Persephone. The sun salutation seems more horizontal-- hero's journey across many lands.

Also, this fall, I am co-teaching a curriculum called Rise Up and Call Her Name which is a study of the feminine divine in all forms, around the world, and across time. I took this course 12 years ago when I was pregnant with my daughter. I didn't know I was incubating a girl child. But after the deep immersion into the stories and myth of female archetypes, it didn't surprise me that she burst forth in a dramatic birth and, in the process, broke through several all-male generations on the Wood side.

I am getting into some more intense creative coaching, which I am hoping will translate into creative action and product. More birthing process!

And also in November, I am again gathering with women to celebrate in Woman to Woman event which, besides being a collective of women's wellness, has raised over $7000 for domestic violence services. This year, the event has more meaning to me than ever before.

All in all, I am feeling the pull of the moon. The call to the watery ways of being a woman.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Beer Can Chicken

Yesterday we smoked a chicken in the smoker. Beer Can chicken. Spice rubbed chicken is vertical over a half-filled can of beer and spices. In our case it was an empty soda can filled with locally brewed Maibock. For dinner alst night we had the chicken, mashed potatoes, red chile gravy (Bobby Flay is king!) and homemade spicy baked beans. All with the beer. It was such a heavy meal that we went for a long walk after dinner and still felt like dumplings, but it was GOOD! Speakingof which, I'm going to go for some leftover potatoes and gravy for lunch. Sans chicken--that's reserved for a cobb salad later in the week.

Bring it on

Fall sports practices started today. I took my son to cross country practice. My daughter was at home with me. We logged onto her school. She is doing Cyber school this year in combination with a performing arts school (live and in person). For the last week I have had everyone's schedule sprawled on my dining room table. I have been putting everything on a master calender and making notations. This should be fun!

Yoga for Moms

Yoga should be mandatory for moms. I don't know how I coped without my weekly session. I wish I could do it three times a week. When all the activities and school starts up again, I don't know how I'll afford it time-wise or ecomically speaking. DVDs are not the same. Somehow, I have to figure out a way to keep this in my life.

That's so Buck.

My TV addiction is over. Our family loved So You Think You Can Dance. I don't get into American Idol. But this, we love. I am a visual person and love the movement and dynamism of it all. We voted, too. For Josh and for Katee. So we were very happy with the results on Thursday. And now my husband is excited for football season and the Ohio State Buckeyes. I wish I was as thrilled.


Currently I am in week 4 of my Couch to 5K program. This week I walk for 5 minutes warmup. Then I Run 3 minutes, walk 1 1/2 minutes, run for 5 minutes, walk for 2 1/2 minutes and repeat. It is working well for me to run three days a week and have a day of yoga in there to work out the kinks. I am hoping to run the 5K at Denver Fair time. Hard to believe that 5 years ago at this time, I was in the last stages of training for the Chicago Marathon. Maybe I should watch some Olympics to inspire myself.


My produce stand--the one a mile from my house, is closing at the end of August. Seems they just opened! I think they are opening later and closing earlier. Seems I was just there getting strawberries. Maybe I'll go everyday until they close. Today I bought 2 dozen ears of corn. I am going to freeze some creamed corn for Thanksgiving. Hopefully I won't burn my fingers whole processing them. (I usually do.) So I'll have burnt fingers with no nails. But I'll have a taste of summer to be thankful about come November.

Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants 2

I went to see SotTP2 with my daughter. The movie was okay. It still made me cry. I think I would have chosen art school guy over Greek fisherman guy, but whatever. I wish I had a magical pair of pants or even a cool pair of pants. If I were to embellish a pair of jeans what would they look like. HMM? Notice, I am not wishing for girlfriends after seeing this movie. Girlfriends, I have. Great wonderful girlfriends who I have been leaning on. Thanks Marsha, Jodi, Becky, Kathy, Jan, Patti, Sharon. If I had great magical pants, I would share them with you.

Maroon 5

I am having quite the week. Quite the past two weeks. This isn't the time to complain or go into detail. It is the stuff of frustration, sadness, fear. Pretty universal. Who cares about the particulars. My friend Becky wanted me to go with her to see Sara Bareilles, Counting Crows, Maroon 5. I grudgingly agreed to go. When the time came, I really didn't feel in the mood to nod my head to any beat, let alone dance. Too late to back out. I went, and we had a most fabulous time. Someone even gave us their 3rd row tickets when they were leaving. We were ten feet from the stage for the last 2/3 of Maroon 5's performance. I could see all of Adam Levine's tattoos. Pretty cool. The music was awesome. I did dance.Thanks Becky! I needed that.


In yoga class a few weeks back, our instructor asked us to dedicate the day's practice to somebody or something. What a wonderful idea. Imagine how much more invested we could be if we dedicated certain tasks to others or issues. I could dedicate a day of painting or writing to my sister-in-law who is at that pregnant, ready to burst, stage. I could dedicate my walk/jog to my kids as they are getting ready to start a new year of school. And, in it all, I could transcend my small egoic mind that gets so self-absorbed and thinks everything has to be about me. Make it bigger. Be expansive.

bloody stumps

I've been biting my nails like never before in my life. I can't even scrape the leftover food off the dishes that supposedly come clean out of the dishwasher. It's bloody. It hurts. I'm lucky nothing has gotten infected. If I bite anymore, I'll be typing with my knuckles. Lots of stress right now. Some of my own making. I think the world is stressed out now. Gas prices, the economy. The lack of proper summer vacations. Makes people irritable. Little problems become messes. My only goal for the week is to grow my nails to cover the nail beds and maybe not be so defenseless against predators.

Ten Quick posts

I am going to attempt ten quick posts--here and now. Like Haikus only not that spare and beautiful.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

A final thought

***I do not intend a running commentary on the events taking place in my community. I hope to make this my last statement on the matter until the time when a verdict is reached, but I did want to add to my previous blog.

Today my neighbor, the husband and defendant in the murder case, released a statement through his lawyer that he is not guilty of this crime. Knowing the children and the family, I want more than anything else for this to be true. He deserves a fair trial in our system. I debated about taking down my earlier post, but I think it is a fair snapshot of what I and numerous others are experiencing as we move through this tragedy. Beyond that it is a testament to the scourge that is domestic violence. If this man is innocent of murder, then he, too, is a victim of domestic violence as it casts its large shadow over our society. Imagine a world in which law enforcement no longer needs to look to a spouse as the prime suspect in a murder investigation.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

The sun will rise

In my blog, I make it a point to be candid about my influences and the sometimes frenetic life of a mother/artist/writer. I have not had an entry for two weeks because the latest issue is nothing short of tragic. Two weeks ago, a mother of four (my ten-year neighbor--until the family moved in January) was murdered. She was beaten, stabbed, strangled, and drowned. After an almost two week investigation, the police arrested her husband.

I live in a tiny neighborhood in a small community for whom these events have been devastating. I have personal sorrow over this. This sadness includes watching the pain that others are experiencing as they grapple with not only the questions of a spiritual/emotional nature but also the uncertainties of physical requirements. Four children, besides being parentless, are displaced from their home. Family businesses are at stake.

I cannot begin to catalog the atrocities that stem from this singular attack. The ripples, of which I am but a small one, fan out in all directions. I was struggling to confront my new novel and embrace my paintbrush before this happened. Now I am paralyzed. How can I make meaning out of the unimaginable? How can I do something so frivolous as telling a made-up story when the gravity of such a reality is on everyone's mind? If I, a casual friend of the family, am feeling this much anguish, imagine the anxiety and grief of the close friends, the blood relatives, the church, the community. My children feel it. How can I talk to my own children when I don't understand?

But, this is not a singular event. According to the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence, there were 120 domestic violence related fatalities in Pennsylvania in 2007 alone. Multiply the pain of my community by 120. Multiply that by the number of years it takes a community to heal. In the past, I have done workshops at the local shelter that houses and transitions survivors of domestic abuse. In the time I have spent there, I noticed what appeared to me as a deficit of women from upper/middle classes. Domestic violence knows no class boundary. What is the stigma that keeps these women from self-preservation? I don't have answers. What I have is question after question looping through my brain.

And yet there is surety amidst the chaos. The sun will rise. I know enough about my own inner processes to know that when I find my voice again--and it may take some time--this tragedy will inform my art. How can it not? Art is the computer through which I personally process the world. The results? I am not talking about heavy-handed message or great social activism here, though that is possible and certainly within my reach. But there will be nuances--some so subtle that I, as the author or painter, might not be aware. For this I am grateful. Because of this, I know that art is no little thing, and I have to make no apologies for being an artist when humanity is flailing. Guernica, anyone? I am not Picasso, but I know that I have to be the transformation I wish for those who are in mourning--and art can be a great converter. Good art or bad. It doesn't matter. It is the action, steeped in optimism and intent, that transforms pain into purpose, into beauty. Maybe that will be the motivation that allows me to make that not-so-trivial first stroke with my paintbrush.

*Please click on the link to Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence to find out more including the article "31 People Die in 31 Days During Deadly Wave of Domestic Violence in PA". Also Click to Empower . Your click will provide a dollar toward education and job training programs which will help to financially empower survivors of domestic abuse.

Monday, July 21, 2008

A Place of My Own

When I have trouble falling asleep I imagine being in a cabin in the woods. That's just the start. I imagine I am building such a cabin. A little one. Maybe the romance of building my own little teeny house began when I saw the house on the Tumbleweed website. Much as I love living with my family, there is such romance in having a place of one's own. I imagine a site to do my solitary work--the writing and painting--where distraction doesn't enter into the labor. I imagine looking out a window at a wooded scene that becomes fuzzy as my focus softens to catch up on a new idea that is germinating not outside but in my own imagination. I imagine a loft for napping or reading and a front porch large enough to sit and rock or perhaps lay a yoga mat for a few stretches. Maybe I'll take my sun salutations out to a clearing. Some hiking trails to meander on when I need time and space to delve into issues of plot or character. I do think my place of solitude would include a dog bed. My pup is a silent companion who really doesn't ask more of me than my company and a timely potty break or too.
I have been reading Michael Pollan's book The Omnivore's Dilemma. I am enjoying this book immensely--more on this later. I went on Michael's site to find out more and stumbled upon his book entitled A Place of My Own. It was the picture of his Place that startled me. It was my imagined place. I immediately ordered the book. Used. Sorry Michael. It is the story of how he builds such a place. I know it will make the best bedtime reading.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Summer J list

Oprah has her "O" list

These are a few things I love for summer

Johnson's Cucumber Melon Babywash-- We got this in a gift bag from a run. We don't have a baby, but the scent is very summery and I've been using it for bubble bath.

Night Blooming Jasmine Body splash--(Bath and Bodyworks) For when you've already showered but have gotten a little clammy from the hot day and need a pick-me-up.

Homemade Limoncello Spritzers--I made a batch of limoncello. Very sweet, but good summer cocktail when combined with club soda or Prosecco (Italian sparkling wine).

So You Think You Can Dance--When it is too hot to get off the couch--watch other people dancing the Rumba or the Pas de deux. My daughter is a dancer, so we really get into this show. Basically, our only TV show over the summer.

Dry Rose--My summer wine of choice has replaced a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. (Not that I don't still like them). I like the Roses from France. We also stocked up with a bunch from the Finger lakes when we went and they are great.

Watermelon Feta Salad--MY new favorite summer salad--and I am not a huge watermelon fan. It's easy. Cube watermelon, add torn arugula, crumbled feta cheese, thinly sliced red tomato, and a dressing of two tablespoons each extra virgin olive oil and white wine vinegar. This might sound strange, but it got rave reviews at my book club.

Gazpacho--Nothing says summer like this cold tomato soup.

Gilligan and O'Malley Sleepwear--Target has this great stylish and comfortable (mostly cotton) line of sleepwear seperates. I love them. Will probably be my gift to give this year.

IKEA--With the redo of several rooms of our house, we've been making many trips to IKEA. I just love going there. Lots of inspiration.

Brightly colored chalk pastels--Got a new set for my home blackboard/menu board. So much fun.

Iced coffee--For some reason, I can't make this successfully at home. So I always have to buy it on the fly and make excuses to do so.

Slow food--We are really appreciating local produce and our garden. Having made an anti-fast food pact this summer--initiated by my kids--we are looking at our little farming community with new eyes and appreciation.

Outside copper torches--I love summer evenings, sitting in the yard while our torches blaze.

Mama Mia--Went to see this with my Mom. It was truly a delight. Women--don't take your husbands. It's a girl movie. I saw SATC movie earlier in June with my friend Marsha. Once again--a girl movie. I think that girl movie time is a must. I hadn't done it for ages, and now I've done it twice. I think I need to plan more of them.

Allergy medicine--Don't tackle the summer without it!
As I think of more things for my favorites, I'll add them. This is a good start though. I have to think about music. And I'd love to hear about the favored summer items of other people. Please feel free to post in the comments section.

Monday, July 14, 2008


We just returned from vacation. Love vacation. We go to a place that is beyond relaxing for kids and adults. A friend's hilltop retreat in Ohio that is part barn, part spa, part field, part woodlands. The kids have fun playing, frolicking really. This year's pastimes included stargazing, toad catching, birdwatching, hoola hooping, swimming, hiking, treasure hunting, labyrinth walking, fishing, playing water tag with a domesticated deer, picnicking, throwing football, skipping stones, roasting marshmallows, toasting each other with good wine over grand buffets, setting off illegal fireworks, catching lightning bugs, watching the sun go down, hoola dancing (not to be confused with hoola hooping), playing cards, taking pictures, reading, and taking naps. AHHH!
It was most relaxing. But as with all good dreams, the dreamer must awaken to reality. We got home mid-week in time for my daughter to start her rehearsals for the Sound of Music which is pretty much a daily thing until the end of the summer. And then there was the mountain of laundry which we finished at the same time our 16 year old dryer decided to heave its last breath. Speaking of mountains. The Hills Are Alive with baskets of produce! One week plus lots of rain yielded one large mountain of squash. I've been gardening and and baking and processing zucchini ever since. (Apparently you can grate it and freeze it in bags.)
Every year, I try to see how long I can hold onto the vacation magic. Last year, we took home a lot of produce from the garden at Moondance where we stayed. As we ate some of our stash each night with dinner, I pretended to be ingesting that vacation calm. This year we didn't raid the garden, possibly because our own was doing so well. So I guess I lost the vacation magic rather early. But luckily for me, I took about 400 large-file digital photo which take forever to upload to where I will turn them into the annual vacation album. So I do get to look at them as I take an entire week to upload them. I remember. I sigh. Even after my new dryer buzzes to tell me that the load is done (a new feature), I pause and offer thanks to our supreme hostess, the good queen Susan, and all the vacation gods. You've given me a screen saver, a load of calming memories, lots of recipes to try at home, and the push to keep going until I can vacation again.

Blue tape

You've heard the expression--Cut through red tape. Well at our house we are cutting through blue tape. You'll remember that in January, we, in a state of cabin fever, changed up our living room a bit. That seemed to carry on. Recently we replaced old carpet and kitchen linoleum. Really, these needed to be replaced years ago, but something always came first. Heat pump. Car repair. You name it. Now was the time, but we needed to spruce up the paint job in the house. We have lots of color in our house, but a lot of white walls, too, that were still painted that industrial flat white that our builder used over 13 years ago. We chose to replace it with a soft gray that almost changes shades as the day goes on and the sun moves around the house. And then there is the trim which needed redoing. Mark doesn't like it when I wield a paint brush. I get a little too expressionistic for his liking on flat walls. He doesn't mind painting, but we must do it on his schedule. I can be patient. I can! But we are working on over a month of that blue painters tape in various parts of our house.
In the mean time, I have been using the time to reorganize cabinets and shelves as we invariably have to move them to paint. It will all be good when it is done. Fresh paint. Fresh flooring. An organized living space. But this cutting through the blue tape is getting old. I'm ready to get to the other side of blue.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Perez Hilton vs NPR

Last week I went to my first board meeting for the Lancaster Literary Guild. I was asked to be on the board by the founder of the guild, and I took it as quite an honor. I also knew that it would be a commitment--two years, minimum. In addition to monthly meetings, I'll be asked to attend and help at functions and to help on committees. I was a little leery to accept such a call. My kids are picking up speed in their activities, and my amount of parental involvement in these activities is a bit of an unknown. True, I am giving up PTA committees at Reamstown Elementary, but who knows what my daughter's new school, a performing arts center, will ask of its parents.

Looking around the room at the literary guild meeting, I am pretty sure that I am one of the few with kids still at home. But I am willing to give it a try. It will stretch me in more ways than just effort. Already the discussions were flying around the room. I heard phrases like posthumanist philosophy and questions such as, "Did you read that story in the New Yorker?" It isn't that I felt stupid or ignorant sitting with this group, but that I felt out of touch. A lifetime ago, I was one of the informed parties--at least informed enough to carry my own weight in a conversation. I am not going to say that having children has dulled my intellectual powers, but there is something to be said for having to devote part of your brain to survival of the young. The incessant voice that seems to play out: Stay aware in the parking lot. Eat your salad; I am sure it's the only green thing you've eaten all day. Your teacher emailed me and you are missing three assignments. Do you have your shoes for dance? Both pairs? Where are your rubber bands. Do you want to wear those braces until the end of time?
Is it any wonder that when I get a moment of downtime, I go to Perez Hilton to peruse the stupid doings of celebrities and wannabees? Now, here is where I say that I've kicked the habit. If you go to the history list on my computer, you won't find Perez listed. (It isn't that I think that smart people and Perez readers are mutually exclusive--just that my brain can't handle the dichotomy of desire to name Angelina's twins with the ability to discuss the the lineage of magical realism in literature.) Maybe I am ready to get back into the intellectual game. I used to listen to NPR when I was at work. Now that I am writing, I don't listen to it anymore. I can't write and listen at the same time. I could paint and listen, but I do better work while listening to Tina Turner or Maroon 5. Locally, I have trouble getting NPR on my car radio, but I did manage to get a classical station going while I was driving home from the meeting. (Listening to Britney Spears and Miley Cyrus would have really undermined my resolve.)

So what is a woman to do to feel smart and informed? If only there was a blog where I could get in tiny little hits of information with pictures like Perez. Last weekend, I went to the Perelman Building at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and saw three small exhibits: Fashioning Kimono: Art Deco and Modernism in Japan, Designing Modern: 1920 to the present, and Transcending the Literal: Photographs by Ansel Adams from the Collection. The shows were small and digestible, but left me with the feeling that I had expanded my horizons. Maybe that's what I need to do: each week make a small effort to branch out and add something to my knowledge base. It may not be much, but I am a work in progress.

Thursday, June 26, 2008


I had my first meeting today with my coach (career, creativity, life). During one sitting, I had compiled a list of roughly 130 questions to use to whittle down to one we could work with as a touchstone for our work. (She assured me that most, if not all, the questions would eventually be answered through this process.) She had me read the questions aloud while she took notes. Some of the question included:

How can I balance writing/art/workshops?

Should I focus on one area?

What do I see myself doing in 7 years when my kids have left the house?

What do I need in order to feel successful?

How does money affect my ideas of success?

How does my spiritual life inform my work?

What gender issues come into play in my work?

What is my last project trying to teach me about my future work?

After we reviewed the questions, Kathy asked for more details about my past. Why did I quit my job? Do the reasons I quit still apply? What do I think is the essence of Jill? (I had a hard time with that last one.) I filled her in on my creative and working life of the past ten years. Many a-ha moments later we came up with the question, How can I live my life to the fullest? This question was punctuated by a crashing leap by Kathy's cat. AMEN!

It may seem like a very broad question, but it encompasses so much of what I am trying to do. When asked leading questions about where I see my focus, I say I want it all. I like the painting and writing and workshop giving. I like raising my kids and making dinners. I like taking it all in and spitting it out in different forms. Like a conduit cable made of many wires.

Some themes did emerge. It became pretty apparent to me (Okay, Kathy told me and bells started going off) that I shut down when I receive criticism and direction. I don't like being told what forms my art and writing should take and this often has paralyzing results. We also discussed money which, interestingly enough, seems to be innately linked to gender roles in my mind. These roles are a big part of my process and art.

I am most excited to be going on this journey with Kathy. A former fiber artist who has studied gender roles in artmaking. That could describe me. I'm not sure where all this is going, but already today, I have written more than I have in the past month. I hope to journal a lot and make sense of this---starting with one large question.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Gentle Yoga

I was zipping around the universe trying to get working papers for my 10-year-old daughter so she could perform in dinner theater. Apparently, the school district where we reside has never seen such a beast as this form. There were calls to the state. I had to visit two schools to obtain signatures from unsuspecting school administrators. What is this for again? Then I needed to get my signature notorized in another place entirely. The notary happens to be in a little grouping of shops that includes a yoga studio,The Yoga Place. I have been eyeing this studio for years--it is the one closest to my house. Considering my kids' needs, in units of both money and time, I never signed myself up. But this time, I was frustrated by the run-around and felt the need to reward myself for the valiancy of my effort on behalf of my daughter's dream of summer stardom. This time, I saw a chunk of time between the end of school and our summer vacation that I could manage a short class. The only class that truly worked into my schedule was the Monday night Gentle Yoga class, but I was going to do it. Why else would my treasure hunt have ended at this little cluster of businesses? I would trust the flow.

I have always been physically active in some form or another. I have taken a smattering of yoga classes over a twenty year period and own quite a few yoga videos. Had my schedule allowed for the full choice of classes, I would have picked something like the aggressive yoga with the hot studio and endless sun salutations done in rapid fire succession. Or maybe I would have chosen another class that hinted at a goal--restoration or mindfulness, perhaps. This is quite funny. I have never had flexibilty or grace. I possess some strength and, thanks to my large flat feet, balance. And the idea of stillness? If ever one needed remedial yoga--it would be me. First night out--I rushed to the studio-- getting there late and having to find a place in the dark. Relax. Relax. Relax. What I was hoping would come off as a mantra was more like my inner drill seargent commanding me to do 100 pushups, but I made it through the beginning meditative stillness. When the lights came up, I saw the room I was in, and the beautiful shade of raspberry paint on the wall. It was both tranquil and enlivening at the same time. A huge stained glass artwork of lotus flowers hung illuminated at the front of the studio space. This was my kind of place. Maybe I didn't have to try so hard.

And so became my weekly June ritual. I have done three classes so far. Gentle Yoga seems made for me. Suzanne leads the class so I never feel as though I am exerting greater effort than rolling over in bed, but by the time the class is over, I am like a putty creature. Claymation Jill. My spine is a slinky. My ride home feels as though I am traveling by hover craft over a meadow instead of by minivan over potholed roads. I quite honestly feel like I've just had a full body massage and half a bottle of wine. And I sleep like a baby on Monday nights. I realize I've just exhausted the reader's tolerance for metaphor. But I don't think it is a coincidence that I started taking yoga class and am writing poetry again. Perhaps my poetic devices were trapped in the rigidity of my spine and limbs. Or maybe a purple room makes my brainwaves sing. Or maybe the lesson is that too often we try for and get discouraged by the grand gesture when it is small effort that yields big results.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Remembering Tasha Tudor 1915-2008

When I am asked what art exhibit has meant the most to me over the years, I always talk about the Tasha Tudor exhibit I saw at the Abby Aldridge Museum of Folk Art in Williamsburg, VA. We were down there on vacation with my parents and extended family. The month was August. I am going to guess that it was just this side of ten years ago. My mother is a huge fan of The Secret Garden. Her library includes many copies of the Francis Hodgson Burnett classic by many different illustrators, but her favorite is the one illustrated by Tasha Tudor. That's how she came to learn about this marvelous writer/artist. As we journeyed south for our vacation, my mom, still in her Tasha discovery phase, was reading a book about her life that included wonderful photography. Imagine my mother's surprise upon arriving in Williamsburg to discover the Aldridge Museum was featuring a huge exhibit of Tasha Tudor's life and work.

For the unitiated, a little background (and make sure to click on the above link): this remarkable lady lived in Vermont. She raised four children on her own in an era that was not easy on single mothers. To make money, she illustrated and wrote books. Her children put on plays and elaborate puppet shows as a way to make money. They made all the puppets and sets themselves. I hate to try to condense Tasha's life in this place, but I want to give a sense of the woman. She lived simply and off the land. She collected and wore a wardrobe of dresses from the 1830's--her favorite time period. Her idea of making a shirt was to grow her own flax. She ate a diet that included goat's milk from goats she raised. She drew upon her life for her illustrations which included several children's books featuring her beloved corgis.

The exhibit, my introduction to Tasha Tudor--other than an article I saw in our local newspaper; included short films; reproductions of rooms in her home; the huge dollhouse that she and her family created, furnished and decorated for each holiday (including the tiny valentines the dolls exchanged). There were dresses from Tasha Tudor's antique collection. Original illustrations. A display of the technique for turning flax into a shirt. The colors of the walls were rich to hold in the lushness of the displays. My heart sang as I rounded each corner to find a new discovery. This was a woman who lived creatively, lovingly, outside of society's dictates, and inside of her own imagining.

I have been on the Tasha Tudor e-mail notification list for many years. Today I received an email that told me that Tasha Tudor, at age 92, had died at her Vermont home surrounded by loved ones. I am in awe of the woman, and happy that she touched my life as a mother, an artist, and a writer. Last week I cleaned my bookshelves (a byproduct of a painting project which is the byproduct of new carpeting) and came across the book A Time to Keep: the Tasha Tudor Book of Holidays. It reminded me again the importance of pausing to notice and mark the seasons of our life with ones we love.

I hear that the Tasha Tudor foundation is working on a permanent museum to house the collections and exhibits. I for one, will be making a pilgrimage to see it one of these days when it is completed. Road trip to Vermont anyone? I promise, you will not be disappointed. As for today, I will pay homage to Tasha by enjoying my dog, spending some time in my garden, rereading her books, and spending a slowed-down dinner with my family in enjoyment of the season.

Thursday, June 12, 2008


I started off my day watching the Oprah Soul series interview that Oprah did with Dr. Wayne Dyer where he explains coincidence as a mathematical term used to describe two angles that fit together perfectly. Oprah countered with, "There are no coincidences." She used the word in the way we tend to use it today--as in surprise happenings.

I taught a workshop yesterday on Creative Journaling for artists. It was deeply satisfying. I got to explore the art making process and connect types of journaling to each part of the process. Then--to further instill it in my own mind, I got to teach it. I left my house with a smile, telling my son I was off to work. He said, "Yeah, but it's a job you love." That wasn't to discount my work, but to reinforce it.

I stopped in a cafe for coffee before my class and had some Ethiopian blend while journaling and finishing the final chapter in the Art and Fear book I am digesting. An interesting thing happened. I put off reading the last part of the book and instead wrote two poems. It has been a long time since I wrote poetry. I don't usually share my poems. Sometimes I take bits and pieces of them and use them in my novel writing. It was wonderfully freeing. Totally emboldening. Dare I say. . .decadent? I am being reunited with my words after a trial separation, and I am finding we are compatible. Why did we think we weren't?

I went to the workshop feeling light and happy. Eight people came, which is a great group size for me. Large enough to justify my time (and gas allowance) and small enough to interact. We brainstormed about what it is to be an artist. I read from Sue Bender's book Everyday Sacred. In the group itself, I reconnected with longtime participants and met some new faces. Though I travel 25 miles to teach this class, the newbies live three miles from my house. We discussed the local school system, where to buy raw milk, and cheesemaking. I found out that my new acquaintance is the baker who makes my favorite bread.

After the class, I again felt light. I bought some herbal bug repellent in Sarah's shop. My husband loves the scent; so if I can repel bugs and attract him, I am good for all the best possibilities of a summer evening. In addition, I had just finished reading Everyday Sacred which has as a running theme the symbolism of begging bowls. Tibetan monks go out and beg with their empty bowls and they learn to be grateful for whatever comes their way. I had been looking for a new summer purse. Radiance has lots of options made by Hemp Sisters. I picked up a particular bag that was woven with colorful fibers with black & white print accents. The print has a picture of a simple bowl. If that wasn't enough, when I found out that the colorful fibers were actually recycled Indian saris, I knew it was mine--in spite of the fact that my pay for giving the workshop was going to be seriously compromised by all my expenditures. And so, with my bug repellent/husband bait and my new purse, I left the shop and headed back to the cafe for my lunch date.

I was meeting a new friend Kathy who came to the labyrinth workshop at the end of May. She is a former fabric artist who is currently taking a course called Biography and Social Art at Sunbridge College in New York. We connected on about one hundred different levels. She was finishing a book by the author of Art and Fear so we discussed the things we both discovered from the books. We are both knitters, though Kathy is more actively so. She is doing an in-depth study of artist Judy Chicago for school. Judy Chicago had a great deal of influence over me and my art when I was in college and to this day. And Kathy's daughter lives in Northampton, MA, a town I love. So when Kathy asked if we could work together--she needs to practice coaching individuals as part of her program--I immediately agreed. With my scattered art and business practices I have been feeling the need for some unifying forces and direction. Coincidence? She asked that I come up with a central question around which to center our work. (Since the meeting, I've made a huge list of questions from which I hope to whittle down to one at our first session.)

If that wasn't enough, I came home to a surprise check in the mail. I sold another piece of art--one that, frankly, I forgot was hanging in a gallery. WOO HOO! I put the check in my begging bowl purse with much gratitude.

A cap on my day, I watched the movie Becoming Jane (about Jane Austen) with my daughter. (She is a big Anne Hathaway fan, and although she is more in the realm of The Princess Diaries--for literature as well as movies--she has watched Pride and Prejudice with me in the past.) We then proceeded to spend the rest of the day curtsying and perfecting our English accents.

A day of serendipity and light.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Late for Yoga

I arrived just on time to the yoga studio yesterday--after being late for my class last week. I asked the woman beside me if it was counter-productive to rush to yoga. The instructor overheard and laughed. She said she was going to get bumper stickers made that say, "Get out of my way, I'm late for my yoga class." I still have yet to get a new bumper sticker. This may be the one.

More on my yoga class later---it's a new undertaking.