Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Fun with Zippers

My college roommate emailed me two bits of information today. First of all, the two of us were profiled in University of Delaware Department of English's newsletter. Pretty good since I graduated with an art degree. Anyhoo! That explains why I didn't receive a paper copy, and she did. So she set about scanning a copy for me. Her new scanner sent it to Snapfish. To retrieve it, I needed to set up a Snapfish account complete with billing information--even though the scan was free. Then I found that all my zip programs were outdated. Zip, Zip! It took me a little bit of doing, but I finally got the profiles which were well-written and cohesive considering the jumble of information I sent the writer. The page was highlighted with an inset that read: Did you know? Sharon Naylor and Jill Althouse-Wood were college roommates at UD?
It was a fitting tribute to our friendship and more touching considering that I will be Sharon's matron of honor in the spring. Which brings me to the other email and zipper. Sharon has decided to go with silver shoes for the wedding. I happen to have a pair from my brother's wedding, so I decided to try them on with the dress to see how they fared together and to take a picture for bridal approval. When I first got the dress in August, it didn't exactly fit. It seemed the left side of the zipper was not on speaking terms with the right side of the zipper. You'd think it was political or something to do with movie studios and writers' contracts. Add in a few holidays, an election season, and a writer's strike, and the rift between the two sides of my zipper became greater. I put the dress away in December and vowed not to think of it again until sometime in late February when, with the arbitration skills of a few carefully selected New Year's resolutions, I would set up some renegotiations. I wasn't planning on going to the bargaining table so soon, but with the shoe detail, I decided to try. Let's just say this zipping session went better than the one on my computer. In spite of the fact that I like to cook, I managed to close the deal on the bridesmaid's dress. And the shoes? They got the thumb's up as well. Now I can go out and buy running shoes instead--since I am still hoping to lose a few pounds before Sharon's big day. But for today, I can live with my modest success.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Dinner time

Dinner time is my favorite ritual of the day. At our house it is a big deal. We are a family who eats together. We often eat in the dining room. We do use the good dishes and table linens. (My daughter is great at making tablescapes and placecards.) We burn through candles like crazy. At least once a week, we clear the table and play games immediately after eating. It is a very rare occasion that we eat out. Why do we need to? We have different zones in our house that we have designated as different restaurants.

Depending on the mood we are trying to achieve or what's on the menu, we eat in different rooms. Often the kids get to choose. For instance--the kitchen table is pub food, comfort food. We call that The Blue Bottle. The dining room is higher end with French and Italian specialties. That's called Chez Julianne. (Julianne was my name in French class.) Downstairs around our bar is Jasmine's (named after a pug we once owned). It features dim lighting, jazz music, and great steaks, fondue, and tapas. And the outdoor arenas? We have the upper deck which is Giovedi (the Italian word for Thursday). Mark and I used to put the kids to bed early on Thursdays and have date night on our deck on balmy evenings after his golf league. This is the place for awesome grilled seafood with a glass of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc or Pittsburgh Steak salads. (For the uninitiated--that's a salad with french fries! MMMM!) Our lower patio, comfortable seating around the chimnea, is The Whale and The Mermaid. This is named for the kids, Jonah (the whale) and Maren (the mermaid). We write the menu on our huge chalkboard. Everyone helps to set the stage.

I like to cook, and our kids are great about trying almost anything and finishing most of what's on their plates. I start the process weeks in advance; making up a menu and writing it on our wipe-off board along with appointments, doings, etc. On nights when we have things going on, I try to make a meal that can be made ahead and either reheated or served from the crock pot. I am meticulous about using what is on special or in season, varying the menus, and using leftovers creatively. I never have to think about what to serve; I can concentrate on cooking--which I love. It is probably the most zen thing that I do--even above painting and writing. Last night we had roast rosemary and garlic chicken with buttermilk mashed potatoes. The night before was lamb chops in fig compote with thyme tamales. Both were dining room dinners. But tonight will be turkey burger sliders on waffle fries, so that will be in the Blue Bottle.

Looking ahead, our spring schedule has the potential to be quite hairy. Both kids look to be starting new time-intensive activities. My husband is starting a new job that is a greater commute than his present employment. But we have great conversations around our table. Everyone is relaxed. So we will try to continue the tradition as best and as often as we can--making a big ta-do when we have our first alfresco dinner of the spring. Dinnertime with my family--it is something that feeds more than just our bodies.

Saturday, January 26, 2008


My friend Jodi and I had lunch the other day and pondered this question:Why do the newspapers make such a big deal about the decision put before black female democrats? Should they vote for Obama because he is black or Clinton because she is a woman? How come you never see them raising the same issue with white men? Should they vote for Obama because he is a man or Clinton because she is white? HMMM?

Monday, January 21, 2008


Can I just say today that regardless of how I end up casting my presidential vote, I am happy that our country's options include a person of color and a woman? I am not a political person. I hate getting into it with people over issues. It flusters me. I know what I stand for and what I'd like to see in this great country of ours, but not how to charge that vision with words or actions. There is a reason I've been outside the political process: I HAVE BEEN OUTSIDE THE POLITICAL PROCESS. What have I seen in my lifetime that would draw me into such an arena? Men of another generation arguing over the way things should be run. I felt as welcome in that dialog as a dandelion on a front lawn. So, yes, I want my daughter to see a woman in the highest office in the land. Maybe then, she will feel like a full-fledged participant in the way our country is run. I can imagine that people of color have the same wish for their children when they see a black man campaigning. For too long, we have accepted the cultural metaphors not just for power, but for human dignity. Pull out paper currency and whose faces do you see? Look for a flesh colored band-aid. What color is it? These are messages of domination so deeply ingrained in us as a people that many fail to see the problem. Is it any wonder, the hope I experience now in the primaries? A black man. A white woman. Running for President of the United States. Today is a day to dream.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

100 things

I collect ideas for journal writing. The latest of these, which I shared with my journal writing class is the List of 100. I can't say who coined it. I do know that I have done lists of my own, but I often go to 50. First you come up with a topic. Anything. 100 things I am scared of. 100 things I am grateful for. 100 things I want for my birthday. 100 things I could live without. 100 things I could do for a living. The proponents of the list of 100 say that the breadth of the list, done in one sitting, is what makes it work. You go beyond the scope of normal answers and get to some pretty creative thinking and may even crack your sub-conscious mind. Use it to solve problems. Use it to brainstorm. Use it to crack through mid-winter depression. A list of 50 things I am grateful for works for me every time. I am sure 100 would make the effect even more profound. If that isn't enough, I just read an article in O Magazine by Martha Beck about how one woman, Alice Gorman, used the list of 100 to find love. She wrote 100 qualities she wanted her man to have, put the list away, and...well...it's a feel good Oprah article--what do you expect? She a landed the man is writing a novel. Miracles aside, it still makes sense as a tool to have in your journal-writing tool chest. If nothing else, it is a mental game to keep your mind sharp and your writing open to possibility. Speaking of which...I'm off to make my birthday list!

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Off my Rocker

I was reading Not So Big Life and it referenced a photo book Material World: A Global Family Portrait in which Peter Menzel and 16 other photographers traveled to 30 countries to photodocument the houses and belonging of statistically average families. I haven't see this book, but I can imagine what an American household's material wealth looks like spread for all to see over a cul-de-sac.

In light of this culture of materialism, one of the exercises of the book is to take a look at something that the reader (that would be me) has her heart set on acquiring. I guess it is supposed to make you think long and hard about your longings. Perhaps it is even designed to make you decide, "I really don't need that." But the exercise just fueled my desire for the latest object of my heart's desire--a rocking chair. Not just any rocking chair. A reproduction Eames molded rocking chair that my husband says is butt ugly and will not enter our home. (I'll give you one guess as to whether his abhorrence has cooled or increased my ardor for this rockin' piece of art on runners.)

So one question that NSBL asks is: What is it about this thing that seduces you so?

Last year we bought new living room furniture. We really needed two chairs to finish off the seating arrangement, making the room more conducive to socializing and conversation. I always liked this rocker, but didn't want two of them. (They are kitchy and two would be overkill.) Now with the way we rearranged the living room, it would only take one more chair to complete the look. I love the curves of the Eames Rocker. It was designed around the same time (late 1940's) and has the same feel as our Heywood Wakefield Dining room set and our Eva Zeisel serving pieces, all of which are visible from the living room. Plus I really like the fact that the Eames pieces were designed by a husband/wife team. I like the playfulness of the piece and the movement of the rocker. Rockers always remind me of motherhood, but this is an off-kitler kind of rocker, and my kids would agree that I am an off-kilter kind of mother.

This may be a moot point. We have other needs. The empty spot in our living room is a low priority. It is my extravagant wish of the moment. And I do believe that sometimes you acquire things in mysterious ways. So I will visualize owning my rocker. I just need to decide which color to visualize, the blue or the orange. Either would be smashing with the new pillows I am making for the couch. As far as Mark's declaration? I think that Ray and Charles Eames would agree that even great marriages require a little compromise. He lets me imagine a rocker, and I'll let him imagine I don't have issues against us owning an X-box 360.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Winds of Change

The last three days have felt like a retreat. I've gone for walks on all three days without a coat. I've opened up the house and let all the fresh air in. My kids have gone from runs around the neighborhood where lawns are starting to sport yellow dandelions. In Pennsylvania? In January? Global warming? I wish it weren't so. But am I going to miss out on such a day? Nope. There is something so invigorating about such days in the middle of winter. I felt like I was trying to swallow the sunshine whole like it was a multi-vitamin to get me through the rest of of the dark, cold days of winter to come. And, too, I got that charge you sometimes get around spring where you want to clean everything and make it pure. My husband and I have been making our bed every morning. We are not make-the-bed kind of people.

And then, my friend came over. She hadn't been to my house before, but we've been reading the Not-So-Big House and Not-So-Big Life books together. She had also recently read an article by a woman who on a dare has been trying to move, throw away, or give away 27 items in her home for 9 days. This helps change the energy of a house and helps us each to question what are the things in our life that we really value. So, with these readings as a guide, and with the gusts of sweet January air pouring through the open window, my friend started to rearrange my living room. I've had my sofa in the same position for 12 years. I'd never thought of putting it anywhere else. She moved pictures and plants. (Okay--I only have one house plant, but she recommended I get a few more. Ones I can't kill.) I have to say that her new arrangement is very pleasing. I like the way the flow in my house has changed already. It still needs a little work. New pillows, a side chair, a narrow entry table, new picture hooks, and perhaps a reworking of the bookshelves. But it isn't the kind of thing that should take too much in the way of time or money. It is doable. Projects for the cold, dark indoor days to come.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Yeah Friends!

I need to honor my friends' successes right here. First up is Sharon Naylor. She made an appearance on Good Morning America this week. If you want to search for her segment it is titled Nice Day for a Cheap Wedding. She is a wedding expert and has written 35 books on the subject. Also she is showing off the dress she selected for her bridesmaids--which includes me. The green-eyed girl gets to wear a pretty green dress. Cool!

Next up, my friend Michelle Abeyta is releasing her first how-to book based on the series of pet portraits for which she is known. I know how hard she worked on this and I can't wait to see it! Check it out. Better yet, buy a copy. Give one as a gift. I know how hard it is to market your first work, so I am asking all of you to spread the word.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Green-eyed Girl

I just read online that green is the rarest of eye colors existing in only 1-2% of the population. I have always liked having green eyes. They were like blue--but more exotic because not everybody had them. That identification must have been pretty strong. I remember reading once in a teen magazine that those with green eyes should wear purple eyeliner. At my young age, I didn't realize that each beauty hint from Seventeen magazine was not a dictate from God to Moses on the mount. If they said that purple eyeliner was the way to go to highlight what I considered my best feature, then--by the God of Moses-- I was going to wear it--as soon as my Dad gave me the okay to wear make-up. (Okay--I sneaked it on in the bathroom at school. A tricky and brazen maneuver considering that my father taught reading in that school and was in fact MY reading teacher.) But I persisted and eventually won my argument in eighth grade. Wearing the purple eyeliner led to me seeking out purple clothing. Pretty soon, I was incorporating it into my bedroom decor. Before I made the leap to high school, it became a signature color, until now---25 years later it is the base color of my personal website.
I have said before that everyone has a very personal relationship with color. Think of a color in your life and tell its story, the way it happened to you. I love blue bottles--collect them, make sculptures with them. Why? Because a blue bottle was on the table once when my mom and I had a special mother/daughter outing. I like Gerber Daisies for the same reason. They were in the blue bottle at the time. If you go to my artwork page, you'll find a series of Gerber daisy/blue bottle pictures. Red was a school color. Gold was the shade of some pretty awful carpet in my parent's living room. And green--sure it is the color of nature, but it is also the window to my soul and/or the color of the naughty M&M's.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Walking with basket

Another Little House on the Prairie moment. Remember the scenes of Ma walking into town with her basket of eggs to sell? This afternoon, my daughter and I walked the mile to our egg source--the outbuilding of a Mennonite home. In the summer it is a large fruit stand. In the winter, it is desolate with only the hum of the refrigerator parked close by the door. We deposited our coins into the lock box and put 2 dozen brown eggs into the basket.

Maren asked why we didn't just buy our eggs at the grocery store. I told her about the significance of buying locally (saving fuel, supporting local economy, buying organic) and that I was seeking out more local sources for other things such as meat, chicken, and goat's milk for making homemade cheese. I told her, too, about eating seasonally, how I wanted to expand the garden in the summer with her help. It was a wonderful introduction to a study she will be doing. Her art teacher is starting a book club for the fifth graders after school. Starting next week, the book they will be studying is Chew on This, which is a version of Fast Food Nation for younger readers. In the coming months, the kids will learn about food choices, the marketing that goes into fast food restaurants, where food comes from, etc. They will also try a variety of food. Maren will be ahead of the game on this count as I do serve up a wide variety of plant and animal foods. She is not shy about trying new things.

I am happy that this new program is receiving such enthusiastic response from the kids in her school. I hope I'll be able to sneak in and observe. Or maybe help out. I am not a food activist by any means, but I am slowly alligning my actions to my belief systems.

Clothes make the woman?

Before my grandmother died in 1986, she discovered the sweatsuit. You know the kind: pullover top, bright colors, knit with fleece underside, elastic cuffs and waistbands. I still remember giving her hugs and the feel of the knit fabric. I had grown taller than she was by that point and there was something empowering in giving my cute, little, sweatsuit-wearing MaMa hugs in which I had to lean down and not up. My mother was younger when she discovered the sweatsuit. She loves rainbows, so she had a different color sweatsuit for each day of the week--and crazy socks, too. Initially she just wore them for her daily walks, but when she retired and became a full-time grandmother at age 58, they became her uniform.
I have always loved fashion--watching trends, accessorizing, etc. But something happened when I made the break from going to a job to writing and painting full-time. I am not one of those writers who works in her pajamas, but T-shirts and sweatshirts have become a staple. I seem to wear either slip-on leather clogs with rubber soles. (I have not caved to Crocs yet, but am thinking about it) or running shoes. And make-up? Fuggetaboudit! I do feel like a real schlump most of the time. I am not sure how to rectify this. I walk or do yoga or lift weights. I paint. I cook. It seems pointless to wear "real clothes" that will only get dirty.
I have been looking through yoga catalogs. I'd like a daily uniform that looks like I am on retreat at Kripalau or Omega. Not quite sweatsuits, but stretchy clothes in soothing colors or some baggier over layers in natural fibers. The only thing is that the people wearing them are all long and lithe. I am built like a Hobbit. So while you contemplate a Hobbit doing downward facing dog in powder blue yoga pants, I continue the search for the best day wear.
In the meantime, my daughter dressed me for Friday night. Both kids were going to sleepovers, and she insisted that I get out of my husband's hooded college sweatshirt and don something presentable for our grown-up alone time. She was my stylist, picking earrings and makeup. We weren't going out. We had spent our fun-time allowance (both money and calories) on a steak dinner out on New Year's Eve. So it was just going to be Baja fish tacos at home by candlelight. But I did feel better--more grown-up, presentable. Maybe that's why my grandmother discovered manicures, red finger nail polish, and gemstone rings from Service Mercahndise around the same time she discovered sweatsuits. She had comfort and polish all in one personalized fashion statement.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Soup's on--Come on in.

It is 19 degrees outside. I just finished making a roasted cauliflower and poblano pepper soup for tonight. It's from my Mesa Grill Cookbook, and the prescribed serving suggestion is to float goat cheese taquitos on top. Who am I to deviate from such lusciousness? However, the soup is so smooth I may veer from the recipe and forgo the extra splash of cream at the end. Even with the small amount of cream, it is still perfect for January when one (in this case, ME) is trying to atone for holiday indulgences. Basically, it's just a vegetable and broth smoothie, but the roasting brings out some big flava in the veggies.
I love soups. I make them every Thursday afternoon. My daughter has a LONG dance lesson on Thursday night. I drop her off and have grown-up girl time with one of the moms over a glass of wine. After our meeting of the moms, I watch the remainder of Maren's lesson while I knit or read. Then we go home to soup--already made and warming in a crockpot. It almost feels like I didn't have to cook. And I never resent having to run the kids around. I've made it into a fun ritual for myself.
My friend Jodi and I are reading The Not So Big Life (Sarah Susanka) together and doing some of the exercises. It was a cosmic coincidence that she was listening to the book on tape over the holiday while I was snuggling up and reading Susanka's first book, The Not So Big House. (I am an armchair architect. Or a design enthusiast who has interests in sustainability.) Susanka's most recent book is more of a self-help book that came out of her work designing homes that are meaningful to the owners without giving in to the monstrous footprint of the of the starter castle. The consciousness that Susanka applies to the design process advocates smaller houses with more impact, intentionality, and functionality. (Think Frank Lloyd Wright's Usonian Houses.) Foremost in the design process is a blueprint that coincides with the owners' lifestyle. How will the space be used for hobbies? Will entertaining be a factor? Do they want to highlight a collection or a special piece of furniture? Are books and reading a way of life. What about music, art, and dance. Do they work from home some of the time? What is important?
The questions in Not So Big Life the question is not--does this space work for the life I want to live? Rather, it asks the question Does my life work for the way I want to live? It is an important questiont hat I revisit often. I feel I have done a really good job of living out some of my ideals and finding balance in lots of areas in my life. My Thursday night ritual is a perfect example of that. But I am always on the lookout for ways in which I can customize space and time and make them work for our family. I'll let you know what I discover in this process.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

New Year

I really like the celebration of New Year's Day. One of the reasons I never party hard the night before is that I really do some soul-searching on the first day of the year. Typically, I journal, go for walks, take a long bath, and for the last two years, I have been making large New Year's collages with my daughter by my side. It's fun. We surround ourselves with magazines and cut out all the things we want for the coming year. The results are a fun visual of your hopes and dreams. Active visioning. This year's collage is very similar to last year's, but I am amazed at the color differences. Last year had a lot of blue and red in the mix. This year has yellow, pink, lime green, and lavender. I find them both to be interesting, because I wouldn't say that either representation is typical of me. Lots of active pictures in both. Women dancing, playing drums, knitting, taking pictures, painting, writing, running, doing yoga, and drawing. Lots of design. Imagery of nature, doors, windows, flowers, candles. Tuscan landscapes.
This year is the first year I am not hyper focused on achievement of some sort whether it be selling my book or quitting my job or publication. I am just me, enjoying the process and seeing what life has to offer. It is a place of great emancipation, and I think my collage reflects this.

Old Year

After a somewhat hectic Christmas, I have to admit that the the celebrations leading to the New Year really surprised me with their flow and enjoyment. Friday night we had an impromptu enchilada party with our neighbors. It was casual which meant there was no pressure. The next night, Saturday, Mark and I met friends at a new brew pub in Lancaster. I am not usually into the whole bar scene. I'd much rather have close friends over to share a meal and a bottle--or so--of wine. But we had a wonderful time going out with friends from Michigan (In-laws of in-laws--which means our association is totally voluntary and falls under the dominion of friendship.) We were celebrating our friend's engagement. Bring on the sunglasses. She had serious bling.

After a night of socializing, I went the other direction and went to church and then to visit a friend who lives in a farmhouse that is situated in the middle of a spiritual retreat center: complete with labyrinth and art gallery. Jodi and I are new friends, but we found our commonalities to be startling and a little euphoric. How great is it to look over someone's bookshelf and recognize all of your own books? Those books you don't own, you want to borrow. I left with an armful. I was particularly enamored with the the on-site art/yoga studio that was carved out of an old chicken coup. I may rent the space as a birthday present to myself.
Speaking of birthdays--Jodi took a look at my astrological chart. According to her short analysis, I am a great spiritual teacher (the words Dalai Lama were uttered) with a stubborn streak and strong appetite for pleasures of the flesh. HMMMM? She didn't mention my sense of humor! Anybody with that combination of traits would have to have a sense of humor.

Back at home, my brother and his wife showed up. We had a dinner of Pittsburgh steak salads in Jasmine's Lounge. Have I ever mentioned that we name the rooms of our house as if they are restaurants? That's a blog for another date, but Jasmine's (named after a beloved pet) is the bar in our family room. We dim the lights and play jazz music.

Maybe it sounds like New Year's Eve would pale in comparison to our social schedule leading up to the event. We were low-key. Mark had to work on New Year's Eve. We met friends to see the movie I am Legend. While we were watching Legend (a compromise film to accommodate all four tastes in film), I realized it was the first theater movie in 2007 that I hadn't attended with my kids. I wasn't feeling any pain. A big screen and my Netflix, and I am good to go. After the movie, we had dinner out. I was home and in bed before 11 PM, but some midnight fireworks woke us from our sleep and we were able to utter sleepy grunts of New Year sentiment.