Wednesday, December 31, 2008

good snow, goodbye

So I thought it was good, the two weeks of snow. It’s good to have weird, big events in our lives, the kind of things that create befores and afters. Of course many big events, the kind that create a before and after, are terrible. And I don’t mean to overlook that aspects of the snow were terrible – what it cost to the city, the inconvenience, the car accidents, the bitter cold.

But all that aside, there was something to it. To being completely stopped for awhile and being stuck at home. Not thinking about what you need to buy or where you need to go. Not drumming up activity just for activity’s sake. The kid loved it. She’s not a big fan of gear switching these days and so it suited her just fine. Hunkering down on the couch with a pile of books. Glue and paper and paint at the dining room table. And I loved it too. It was restful. And, miraculously, I felt like I had space. A feeling which comes, apparently, from having lots of time and nowhere to go.

Back in my twenties I lived West Virginia for a while and I became friendly with the mailman. His wife was a hard working farm woman and they’d lived in Heaters their whole lives. They worked so hard, all the time, every day, despite the fact that they both must’ve been close to 70. When they’d tell a story it was almost always introduced by the year. And the year was always marked with the big event. “Back the year the barn caught on fire…” or “The year they built the church…”

When you grow up in the suburbs you don’t learn North from South. And when you grow up in the suburbs you don’t learn to tell time by years. It’s a matter of context, orientation. I feel like modern life, city life, whatever you want to call it, lacks context. It lacks places and events that clearly orient us. It lacks a tangible timeline.

So it’s good for a city to have a big snow. Because we’ll remember this year. Our memories of this Christmas will be, I’ll bet, more vivid and specific. Because we had a big weird event that pulled us out of our patterns, pulled us out the blur of days and double yellow lines and faces at the mall. When I think of this Christmas I’ll be oriented, grounded by gingerbread men, wet mittens, a handful of gifts and plenty of space.

Monday, December 22, 2008

what is with this weather?

snow angel

We've gotten, who knows, at least a foot of snow here in the last two days. Even by Michigan standards this is a pretty bad storm. We've been loving it...making gingerbread men, home made Christmas tree ornaments, watching the muppet show and generally just kicking back and having fun. They weather folks are calling for more snow so there is no end in sight.....

night walk snow

Friday, December 19, 2008


I avoid writing about losing my mother. Even as I sit here my mind battles me (“No one wants to hear about this. It’s such a downer.”) My fingers rebel -- reaching for the backspace button every time I get a sentence down. My eyes well up. I keep my neck tight. When I allow it, the grief is close to overwhelming. And now, here I sit, in my cube at work, dabbing my eyes with a tissue, my mind racing to locate a private place to cry place in this huge, over-populated building. (See. This is a downer. And can I say that it is inhumane to have a work place with no safe place to cry!)

But today is her birthday. And year after year I let days like these sail by. Her birthday, the day she died… Anniversaries that mark an absence. Anniversaries that measure time-away.

When my mother died I inherited her sewing machine. And it’s a beauty. A top of the line, for the times, Bernina that lived, most of my childhood, on the floor of the guest room closet, only coming out for a quick mend here and there. In the last twenty years I’ve hauled it from town to town, taught myself to sew on it, manhandled it, misused it, broken countless needles. But, such an excellent machine, it refuses to quit. And now I use it to bust out puppets, dolls, tiny pillows for teddy bear heads. The stuff of childhood. The creations of mothers.

The sewing machine has a little storage area and, ever since I’ve owned it, my mother’s “storks” have been tucked in the top drawer. I dug them out the other night and put them down on the table next to my “storks”. (My storks were snatched up, new and shiny, back in my estate sale shopping days in Michigan. I thought of my mother immediately, grabbed the scissors, and in the next moment felt grateful that I was raised to recognize a quality pair of indispensable scissors when I saw them)

When I saw the two pairs of scissors on the table, side by side I was floored. And, as it always seems to be with death, I was sad in a new way. Her scissors are old. They are fragile, no longer useful. They are rusting away. And, doing the math, I realized my mother would be turning eighty this year.

Most of my life I haven’t really understood the appeal of fairy tales. Or, honestly, the function. They’ve always seemed old fashioned. They seemed indulgent and hokey. If you listen to a professor I worked for at the University of Michigan, they are all Freudian and perverted. But something about my mom's storks seems so fairy-tale-ish to me. I feel like a little girl, frozen in time, desperately clinging to a pair of magical, disappearing scissors.

I've been wrangling with this last paragraph. I had something philosophical (mildly) and distant and melancholy. It was about death and myths and what the living are left with. But the truth here is a simple one. I miss my mom. Despite that fact that I have no idea what it is that I'm missing anymore. I just miss my mom.

still life

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

carl warner is a tom waits

Remember when you were in seventh grade and you called the radio station to make a request? Maybe it was "Hotel California" for that babe in your English Class. Maybe it was "Opposites Attract" because Paula Abdul was cute like a little crazy button. Anyways, now when you call a radio station it's called a suggestion. I'm shaking my head right now as I write that. A suggestion. How lame. Team Member. Store Associate. Flight Attendant. Climate Change.

So we've had a request. A dedication. A suggestion. No, no....a contribution. Yeah. A contribution to the tom waits pool. The artist Carl Warner. His art might make your stomach hurt. But there's no denying it. He's a tom waits. Go see. Thanks, Doug!

would someone please come hit me?


I’m serious. I feel like I need a nice, violent change in outlook. Best case scenario, you’d knock the neurosis out of me and I'd know what it feels like to be secure, to be where I want to be, to feel completely inside of my own mind. Worst case scenario is that my head would hurt and I’d quit whingeing about my existential problems. See, it’s win - win.

Here’s the problem: I’m a victim of the human condition. Or at least my human condition. I turned forty years old on August 16th. And it’s still bothering me. For so many reasons, some that make sense, some that don’t. And underneath it all I know that there is nothing I can do. Short of lying about my age. Which I’ve considered but rejected because I was raised Catholic and I’m a truly shitty liar.

It’s a battle between the material me and my higher self. There are things I want to be able to say about myself. There are achievements I’ve meant to, well, achieve. And I feel that I regularly stand in my own way. But on the other hand I know that life is a gift, that love and kindness are more important than anything. And I know that regret is a waste of energy. And there the argument splinters off into things like risk and courage and truth and gut instincts and(oh stop me! The more I re-read this paragraph the bigger it gets!)

Back in Grad School, I became friends with a tall, bright, and (it seemed like) fearless woman. She was a writer from New York, who stripped there and, during Grad School, stripped at the classier of two seedy clubs in Ypsilanti, MI. She wore stiletto heels in the middle of winter (in Michigan, mind you), she was a brilliant chef and she had a remarkable way of cutting through bullshit judgments – a skill that put me on edge but also thrilled me. Her existence in my life was an affirmation of the I-must-be-cool-if-she’s-my-friend kind.

We were walking to class one cold Michigan night and I was whingeing away about how who I was wasn’t who I thought I could be. That this was not my beautiful life. (Mind you this was years ago. At the wee age, let’s say, of 30)

She told me a story about a high-up professor at the University of Michigan. A Chairman of some or other department. A client of hers at the strip club. She told me that he paid for a lap dance and then, during, complained to her about his life, that he wasn’t where he’d expected to be. That there was more out there. That this was not his beautiful life.

“Everybody feels like that, Kate.” She told me. “It doesn’t matter who you are or what you’ve achieved. Everybody feels like that.”

For some reason that story has always stuck with me. I don’t know. Maybe I just need a lap dance.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

super steve's a tom waits...

super steve

This guy takes his balloon animals seriously. And they last for weeks. He says it's because he's learned how to handle the ballons gently. And that penguin he's holding, it's brilliant. We see him at random spots in downtown Portland, and he's usually at the Saturday Farmer's Market on the PSU campus. He's Super Steve, he's a balloon artist, and he's a tom waits.

Friday, November 21, 2008

i don't know...


Okay. I'm at odds. I want to post a picture of the dog pancakes I made for Addie last weekend. I want to talk about the beauty of the simple things. But people all over the country are watching their worlds crash down. I'm especially worried about folks in Michigan .

My father grew up in Oklahoma during the depression. He was born in 1924 and so was a kid when the stock market crashed. All my life he downright refused to talk about his childhood. When I was six he told me he was born at the age 21 and I pondered that. Was he a man-sized baby or a baby-sized man? Could he talk immediately? Did he come out of his mother's stomach wearing a suit and shoes?

Of course I now understand that he meant his life really began at 21. That there were things about his childhood he wanted to escape. He never really talked about what those things were.

There is one thing he told me about his childhood. "When I was growing up I used to eat beans out of a can." He said it as a reprimand one night when I was crying and complaining about some middle class high school injustice -- I wasn't allowed out or, worse, wasn't allowed to drive the car. It was one short sentence but it said a lot. Disgust, regret, anger, sadness, distance-- but those are just guesses. I was left with the feeling that I would never really know what that sentence meant to him. That it was more powerful than I could ever understand. That it deserved respect.

And now, for the first time in my life, I think we could have another great depression. It is completely plausible that thousands and thousands of families could be left with no working parents, no income, and no place to live. And how long has it taken for the economy to tank? A couple of months? How in the hell did this happen?

I have some friends who, from time to time, have explained to me some theories developed by Rudolf Steiner. He had a lot of interesting, curious things to say about the world. Explanations that he believed were revealed to him from the spirit world. I don't know about that. Some of his theories stick with me, albeit probably poorly grasped and half-assedly retained. One is the theory that humans are evolving back toward a higher consciousness. That somewhere along the way we lost our connection with the spirit world. Maybe this financial downturn is a step in our evolution as humans. Maybe we'll finally move away from the "to be a good American you need to spend more" mentality. Maybe people will stop caring who Paris Hilton is dating and why Heff broke up with his girlfriends (I'm not there yet, I want to know…) Maybe this grassroots movement of home crafting, knitting, canning, making musical instruments from household objects, maybe this is gonna hit the mainstream. Maybe life is gonna get simpler.

My dad worked hard his whole life. He socked money away and, when he died, left it for his kids. He’s the reason I don’t have one of those screwy loans. He’s the reason I have a car that works and a good education. He’s the reason I can wake up groggy, but smiling, and make dog pancakes for my kid. He’s the reason I have the leisure to ponder the beauty of simple things.

dog pancakes

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

she's a tom waits

Okay. So I'm a little bit behind on my promised and much anticipated (thanks for reading, Nealla!) first installment on "Who's a Tom Waits?" I don't know Elsa Mora but her paper cuts blow me away. There is a deep kindness and heart in her postings and her artwork. Dang it. She's rocking the world in her own particular way. Hat's off to that! Check it out...

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

who's a tom waits?

When RT and I moved in together (about 8 years ago or so) Rollie’s dog Angie came to live with us. She was a sweet mutt, somewhat wolf-like in appearance. She was an old dog when she came in to my life and I like to think that I put a sparkle back in to her twilight years. We walked our street twice a day, all the way down to the cider mill and back. She got lots of treats and lots of gentle talk.

RT had a game he played with her. It was called “Who’s a fawn?” Basically he’d ask her that, “Who’s a fawn?” while he touched her little gold eyebrows. Then he’d say “You’re a fawn.” You have to imagine his voice – not quite baby talk but tender and sweet with a little bit of goobie-goo thrown in. And you have to imagine her sweet face, happy for the attention but nonplussed. (I love the word nonplussed. An emotional word with a mathematical feel.)

So in honor of Angie, I’m launching the “Who’s a Tom Waits?” portion of my blog. It’s to be asked in the same tone. Sweet. With Goobie-goo.

As for why Tom Waits. Tom Waits has become my symbol of an artist who is an individual, artists who make art that no one else in the world can make. Artists who are fearless (or overcome their fears) to make honest art of true vision. (Not, necessarily, that the vision is truthful – although to me it seems that it usually is – but more in that the vision is true. Narrow and specific. True like a bicycle wheel.)

Really, I don’t need to explain Tom Waits to you. If you don’t know him, just listen and you’ll probably get it. The songs he writes, his voice, his arrangements, they are a particular view of the world. They’ve got intelligence, they’ve got balls and they’ve got heart (heart -- profoundly important.) They are art. They relieve people’s suffering. They impart joy. And they give me hope, for me and for my world.

And so soon I’ll launch my “Who’s a Tom Waits?”

I guess I should also say that I think we’re all Tom Waits’ (Pronounced “Waitses”) We’ve all got our own particular way of looking at the world. We’ve all got the goods inside to translate our world into art (whether it’s a nicely made sandwich, a straight yellow line painted on the highway, or a high falutin’ painting) that can affect other people, affect the world. And life is just the journey we take to find, or maybe a better word is uncover, what has been inside us all along.

How’s that for some goobie goo?

Monday, October 27, 2008

I can’t bring myself to write a blog entry. I sift through the ideas in my head, I’ve got plenty, but none of them seem good enough, inspiring enough. Or is it just that it seems like too much work and I’m tired? Or is it that I’m predicting defeat. That is, thinking of a first sentence and then, scared of not coming up with a second, just deciding that it’s no use. Or am I just lazy?

It really just came to me. Honesty. Just now as I whinged away. It’s an issue of space. I don’t feel like I have the space in my head. Work is taking up a lot right now…Life in the cube. Toss in some worry. And the life-in-vibrant-colors activity of raising a toddler.

In an ideal world writing -- doing -- wouldn't be dependant on mood, on energy, on my little tiny feelings. I've spent a lot of time fretting over my consistency, or lack there of, of production. Because lack of product can equal lack of value. And lack of value equals waste of time. And waste of time puts me that much farther from what I want. Who I think I am.

So this minute, right now, that cheesy song pops in my mind. "Turn, Turn, Turn." I hated that song as a kid. I don't like the refrain. "Turn, turn, turn." It's sort of spooky. Turn, Turn, Turn. I can say I've been doing a lot of thinking. Turn, turn, turn. So that's something.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

in defense of self help books...


Well, I really should just come out with it. I'm trying to generate money with my mind. Or, to be more specific, my perception of reality. It's a long story, one that can be explained in this book.

I'm a book person, and it's never been a big leap to self-helpy books. Maybe I should be ashamed, embarassed, for having a long list of self-helpy books under my belt. (Saying "self help-y" seems to take the edge off, somehow.) Only one, this one, actually brought me to tears and was banned from the house. (I broke down when thinking I'd never even manage to develop the first habit, let alone the other six...) I've read a bunch of them ranging from a book that encouraged me to view my negative thoughts as gremlins to the ever-eye-roll-eliciting "The Artist's Way". And, you know what? If any one approaches me with a new way of thinking or looking at the world, well, I'll listen to that too. Anyways. There. I've outed myself as an occasional self help book reader.

So I'm trying to generate money with my mind. Not all the time. I'm not sitting around obsessing about it. But I'm putting some energy in to it. About as much energy as it takes to keep my teeth clean.

About a week after I started I recieved a $50.00 check in the mail from someone with whom I have not spoken in, probably 10 years. (It's not a long story, but I won't tell it anyway.) I immediately decided not to cash the check, because it seemed weird. This person was, more or less, paying me for doing something any decent person would've done. But then a friend pointed out that I'd been working on generating money. And to say no to it, once generated, made zero sense. And that made a lot of sense. A tremendous amount of sense.

So started saying yes to a lot of things, recently, that I would usually say no to. Stupid things. Silly things. Like "Want a candy bar?" or "Can I do that for you?" And it's interesting. Because life gets a little easier when you start taking people up on their offers. And then I found out about this website. It's a blog by a woman who is asking for something every day for 365 days. I like that. I like it a lot. I'm gonna ride the offer train for a while. Then I'm gonna start asking.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

isn't it just that way

Doesn't it just make sense that I start a blog, send everyone to it, and then get overwhelmed by work and life and don't have any time to update it? It's that dark shadow that comes after you make a decision, take a risk, step toward something you want. I've seen it so often, it's almost like an old friend. Obstacles. They are a sign that good is just around the corner.

So I wanted to say that. And I wanted to make a quick plug for the butt end of bread. So neglected, so underloved, so....abandoned. Everyone, or just anyone who wants to, should go out of their way to eat the butt end of their bread loaf today. Pick it first. Make it feel special.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008


summer 2008 pickles2

RT is obsessed with making pickles these days. Or pickling. He started another batch of pickles last night while I made zucchini bread and Addie "helped". RT says she helps like a cat. Anyways, if it's not pickled pickles it's pickled carrots (these I will eat, and they are good), pickled peppers (for real), and two failed attempts at Kimchi. He googled last night, to try to find the cause of his pickling obsession and his craving for vinegar. He learned that it was a pre-menstrual thing. Very interesting. Oh, he also learned it could be because his body is too alkaline. Which it could be now that he's glutonium free. It also has to do with insulin and sugar....and RT's never liked sweets.

Anyways, the pickles look dang pretty in jars and he's developing a little cult following. I think people befriending me just for a shot at his pickles. Wait. That doesn't sound right...
summer 2008 Pickles1

Friday, September 26, 2008

damnit janet

Really good art. I'm grateful for it. I'm opinionated about it (although my opinion can be easily swayed by a good argument). It's what makes me happy. It helps me be brave. And so I'm always looking for really great artists, balls-out people, people who see the world differently, people who do what they do because they are the only ones who can do it. People who create without worrying about what's considered good or valuable or worthy.

And I love collaboration. It warms my heart. It makes me smile. It's good stuff.

So I was happy today to stumble across this article on how the Rocky Horror Picture Show turned into a phenomena. It's a fun read and I love the part about the guy who stubbornly put newspaper over his head every filming for three weekends until the idea finally caught on. I like the image of this guy with a paper over his head and his friends making fun of him. And now it's one of the more popular things to do when you see Rocky Horror. There you go. Persistence can pay off.

Thursday, September 25, 2008



Lots of people dream about losing their teeth. I wouldn't call that a phobia so much as a collective-unconscious-fear-thing.

Well, just to be clear, that's not what I'm talking about here. What I'm talking about is a phobia. Or just a fallacious way of thinking. I don't know. I'm thinking too hard.

Here's the story. One night I parked my car on my friend's farm in Michigan. I left the window down. It was a warm night. Balmy. I had a beer, hung out, then it was time to go home. Well, driving back to my place I became consumed by the idea that a raccoon had climbed in the window, fallen asleep in the back seat, and was, as I drove, just waiting for the right moment to pounce. I kept turning around, searching for the critter in the pitch black, waving my hands around in the air, all the while, bracing myself for the moment he bit.

Crazy, right?

Well, that raccoon has become a little bit of a symbol for me. A symbol of all the stifling things I let myself believe, all the things I let cloud my enjoyment of this long, pleasant ride home we call life.

So here's to getting rid of the non-existant raccoons in the car. (And hats that make you look like a turkey...)

Monday, September 22, 2008

pop up pancakes and last night's beer can

Well, I was partly inspired to start a blog because I enjoy reading them so much. Blogs like this one or this one are just two that I love. There are a ton more,and I like skipping across them, link to link, like a virtual wandering. Inevitably I end up finding something really good, or interesting, or inspiring. And I always notice the photos are gorgeous – showing art and home in its finest light.

Well, I
was jumping around and found this recipe for Pop Up Pancakes here . I made them for the kid that following Saturday along with strawberries and raspberries (that we picked this summer!) I simmered in a little sauce pan with some water and sugar. Dang, they looked pretty, and tasted even better. As a homage to the blogs I love, I show the “blog” photo above… This was a dish I fixed up and took across the street to our neighbor because the kid and I had eaten our fill.

But, because our house is always teetering on this side of chaos, I feel it's important to take a real picture, too. Because life ain’t always as pretty as it is in blogland. (It's a shame about the teletubbie. He was so young.....)

summer 2008 288 edit

Thursday, September 18, 2008

I heart alleys

summer 2008 327

We have these amazing alleys in our neighborhood. Well, amazing may be a bit strong but shoot, I get paid to use adjectives Anyways, these alleys are a weird blend of beauty and creepiness...lush, delicious blackberries and, two steps away, a broken bottle and an empty paper bag. Before Addie came I walked them every morning with the dog - rain or sun. It was a way to defragment before the day started, and Rhodie loved it. Then, when Addie was a baby I'd strap her in her snugglie and we'd walk them together. In the early days she'd just blink and stare, but time passed and she began to learn the words of the alley "dandilion, rose, stick, rock".

There is a vulnerability. Occasionally the out of place person walks by, a weird looking guy with a stick or an aimless homeless type looking for returnable bottles. But I love our alley. It’s like the park equivalent of a hole-in-the-wall. The trees have had their share of hard knocks; the weeds just want a little something to drink. And hey, isn’t beauty just a little more beautiful when you have to search for it?

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

First Post

Okay. Let's get this over with. Here's my first post. I've been wanting to jump aboard the blog wagon for a while. As a way to capture my thoughts. As a way to document the fun I'm having with RT and Addie. As a way to keep in touch with family far away. And as a way to expel some personal demons. So. Ready or not. Jump that bridge.