Wednesday, December 31, 2008

A Very Rasta Christmas

Yankee Swap goes Jamaican! The third (or is it the fourth?) annual installment of the family Yankee Swap succeeded in the revelation of an object of desire. This year it's the most irie knit cap with dreads included. The family models it for you here, mon.
Notably absent from the fashion spread is Dan, Jr., who entertained the group with everything BUT the hat, including a headstand that was quite a smash (literally). I an' I wish you happy holidays and Jah bless.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Reflections on a black belt test

When I got into Tae Kwon Do 10 years ago, I never imagined I would reach black belt, much less keep at "the way" of martial arts for a decade. I also swore -- up, down and sideways -- after the test for my second Dan (second degree) in 2003 that I would never test again. After all, I had proven myself as a thirty-something female "non-athlete" time and again.

To get my second black belt, I ran two and a half miles on a cold, dark, outdoor track, with an egg in each hand, after being clobbered by men half my age in a brutal sparring session. I did hundreds of jumping-jacks, push-ups and crunches the next day in the traditional portion of the test. At the very end of the test, in a ridiculously EASY part of the test, I sidekicked the air with my left foot, put my foot down, and promptly rolled my ankle, creating a nice loud POP that caused gasps from the observing crowd. It hurt, and I couldn't put any weight on it. "Keep going!" the judges said. And I did, because the adrenaline was much stronger than the pain. At that point, all I felt was joy. It was almost the end, it didn't hurt THAT much, and I hadn't hurt myself before having to spar and run. I went home, soaked in a tub, iced my ankle, and got x-rays the next day. The fracture meant I spent about 6 weeks wearing an aircast and really drab open-backed flat shoes, but that was the worst of it.

So, I had a black belt with two gold stripes on it for five years. I was invited to test again this fall. The invitation told me something. Mainly, it said that my instructor could see through my veil of indifference. I never stopped training, even after enduring the most daunting test ever of my physical abilities, and suffering an injury. His invitation also told me that I tend to sell myself short, just as I did as an underbelt, when I refused to acknowledge any desire to test my ability to achieve the goal of black belt. Why wouldn't I go for the 3rd Dan? I was healthy, uninjured, and I'd been training right along.

I had to get back into sparring. That was incredibly intimidating, but I did it. And I got tagged a few times, by guys, girls, teenagers, and even little kids, much to my chagrin. I doubled up on classes to keep my endurance up, and the cardio workout in KickFit was the charm. I doubt I could have passed the test if I hadn't been going to KickFit classes. I resigned myself to the idea that I would not get through this test without an injury. I had to overcome real fear of getting hit, getting hurt. I thought about what the worst thing was that could happen. For me, a broken rib, a fractured ankle or a bruised trachea was going to really suck. But that kind of pain eventually heals. Once I realized that I was not going to be happy about getting injured, but that I would eventually be OK, the fear subsided. I could focus on just being there and doing what I've trained to do for ten years. As it turned out, we didn't end up sparring, but I needed every ounce of energy and toughness to get through what we were asked to do.

Reflecting on the test has me looking back and thinking about how and why I got into this sport in the first place. I had never been athletic, but I'd always had a lot of energy and I knew my body needed to be moving for me to be happy. As a new student, I experienced the culture shock of the discipline of martial arts. Wearing a uniform, bowing to instructors and fellow students, and saying "yes sir" were not part of how I imagined I wanted to live my life. In the practice, however, all my excuses vanished.

Being female was not an excuse. The fact was, I joined Perry's Tae Kwon Do on the recommendation of a female friend who was a beginner student there. Being a non-athlete was not an excuse. This friend was at least as uncoordinated and uncompetitive as I was, yet she was involved. Knowing zilch about martial arts was not an excuse. I just watched the other students and followed their lead, and focused on what the instructor said during class. It was only several months into my training when I became aware of my instructor's status as a world-class competitor in sport karate. And by then, I didn't care much, because I began to make progress in ways that thrilled me.

For instance, I could actually do push-ups. Real push-ups, on my hands and toes, not my knees. I could do ten, then twenty, then more. I could remember and successfully execute a series of moves called a "Taegeuk" or "form" - and learn more and more forms as time went on. I lost a little weight and gained a lot of strength. I started to have dreams that I could run up walls (maybe that came from doing a bunch of flying sidekicks). I trained with a sense of excitement, joy and fun. The fears that I felt were overcome, one by one.

I think that's been the most exciting and counterintuitive thing about training in martial arts. Lots of people assume that this activity is fear-based -- that one trains in martial arts because of a fear of weakness, a bad experience, a need to overcome fear of being hurt or attacked. I won't say that I've never had a bad experience or that I've never been afraid of being hurt. But I didn't come to this sport with that particular goal, of being able to protect myself. I needed an activity in a classroom setting to motivate me and let me have some fun. And I certainly got that. I also got big doses of confidence, at different times, in different ways.

I drew confidence from realizing "Hey, just last week I didn't know how to do this kick, and now I do it well." And, "Holy crap, I can do more push-ups than that guy who's half my age!!" And, "My presence, my voice, my attitude and my perseverance inspire my fellow students to do their best." I've also found great inspiration in my fellow students, male and female, young and old, of every race, creed and background.

Now, as a forty-something woman who has made this practice a major part of her life, I guess I can say I'm no longer a "non-athlete". I still don't like to run, though I wish I did (two of my sisters-in-law and several of my friends are inspirations). I'm the first person in our dojang to achieve 3rd Dan, other than our instructor. I can jump around like a maniac for 45 minutes three or four times a week and live to tell about it. Some of my kicks may not be the prettiest, but I can still break a board with my left foot after leaping and spinning in a jump-spinning-hook kick. Practicing Tae Kwon Do has helped me acknowledge not only the need for regular exercise to live a balanced life, but the need for joy and connection as well.

Monday, December 1, 2008

The Joys of Travel

Here is a list of the songs played at Orlando's International Plaza Resort and Spa pool area. How do I know? I know, because I have been hearing them loud and clear through my walls in my room next to the pool since 3:15 p.m (it is now 6:15 p.m.). According to the young lady at the front desk, this is just the way it is. The hotel is full for the next five nights so I am here in this room for my measly one night stay. I’ve managed to get some work done by listening to my MP3 player and I ALWAYS travel with earplugs so I am hoping to sleep. I was not reassured when she told me that they always stop playing music at midnight.

And here’s our top 11 (ok, our ONLY 11, repeated in sequence)!
  1. Julianne – calypso-ish Spanish song that is apparently about Julianne. Lyrics: Bom, bom, bom-bah-bom – Julianne, Julianne, Julianne.

  2. New age-y jazz instrumental – trumpets, sax and groovy guitars. Quite loud. Reminds me of a jazzy dentist office waiting room.

  3. Unintelligible lyrics but it sounds like Jimmy Buffett singing something about a Pokemon telegraph. Chorus goes “LAAAA LA LA LAAA LAAA” with little whoops and trills. Maybe it’s coconut telegraph (ooh, I just googled, it IS Coconut Telegraph! How stupid!)

  4. More repetitive Spanish lyrics, flutes, guitars, bongos. Sounds like what our Honduran building super used to blast from his boom box when he was painting our apartment in Brighton.

  5. Drums and maracas! A more sly and sexy sound of blessedly softer Spanish lyrics (maybe they turned the volume down finally after 3 hours….or I’m going deaf, hurray!). Not a bad beat for bellydancing (almost a saidi rhythm) but I am not in the mood.

  6. Grazing in the Grass? No. Slower, more bongos, more doo-woppish background singing.

  7. Steel drums and guitar instrumental, HIGHLY repetitive.

  8. Ah, and what EVERYONE enjoys listening to as they relax at poolside: Billy Joel, “River of Dreams” – and they only play about a third of the song! Should I be happy or disappointed? I’ll only have part of the song stuck in my head for days…

  9. Segue from Billy right into a quasi-reggae sound – more drums and cymbals on this one.

  10. Now a happy bunch of upbeat steel drums and maracas! This is the kind of song you could do the Hokey Pokey to quite easily. I miss Julianne, where is she? Oh, wait, there are some voices in the background of this song – no idea what they are chanting, but it’s still happy.

  11. Another selection in Espanol. Sounds a little like Roy Orbison’s “Leah” but not nearly as good. And the good news is – now we’re back to Julianne! Woo-hoo! Oh, and that volume thing just worked on song #5…

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Random Thanksgiving Thoughts

I spent most of the early evening tonight helping coordinate a "Turkey Brigade" from our Tae Kwon Do school to families in need in the Waltham area. LOTS of food was donated and many folks donated cash as well, which was so heartwarming. I ended up delivering three of the full Thanksgiving meals replete with frozen giant turkeys. I drove around Waltham with two of my fellow black belt candidates, who are male and aged 13 and 21 respectively - the 13-year-old is bigger and stronger than me and the 21-year-old put together, so I felt extremely well-protected. Plus I didn't have to struggle with a huge box full of turkey dinner all by myself. I was very thankful for that help tonight. I also felt so thankful for a bunch of other things - primarily that I don't have to worry about where or whether I will eat my next meal, but also for my home and my family too.

Though I've chosen to spend a quiet Thanksgiving at home with my husband this year, to take a day off from our crazed schedule, I have a lot of good memories of more raucus T-days past. High school football games come to mind, especially the year my sister Yvette was in the color guard -- you know, the kids who march ahead of the band with the flags. In Quincy, their role was also important as the official instigators of trash talk. They had a favorite chant that went this way: "We're going to smash the Raiders like mashed potatoes." Two things to understand: first, the North Quincy High Red Raiders were the archrivals of the Quincy High Presidents; second, in Quincy, "Raiders" rhymes with "potatoes" (try "RAY-duhs" and "buh-DAY-duhs").

Family events were no less crazed. Six people with one bathroom made for a kind of hypercharged existence on a normal day. Add to that a bunch of other relatives and ten or eleven things cooking in the kitchen all at once, and the vibe was quite jangly. My very, very favorite thing that happened one Thanksgiving when I was about eight or nine was when my Uncle Paul sat in the kitchen demonstrating his mighty strength by palming whole walnuts, squeezing them in his fist, and crushing the shells. I ran to share the news with the adults who were finishing dessert in the living room. "Mom, Dad!" I cried. "Uncle Paul's crushing his nuts in his hand!" Even if I didn't think this was funny at the time (or ever), I would never be allowed to forget it.

Though I might possibly have resented the fact that our small house always necessitated a kids' table for seating, I don't remember this bothering me much. In fact, by the time the siblings and cousins were in our teens and early twenties, we were all very delighted to still be at the kids' table so we could gossip and joke and generally get away with conversation inappropriate for older ears and avoid the annoying prodding from our parents and other adults.

The only Thanksgiving where I was ever truly miserable was one spent in England as an undergrad. The university tried to give its sizeable minority of American students a dinner that would replicate the holiday meal. At least it is difficult for even the British to really mess up turkey, so the food was reasonably edible. But it was a formal evening meal, at cocktail tables set with white linens, inside a museum space that looked like a glossy airplane hangar. Where were the mismatched chairs and the elbows bumping mine at the too-crowded table? Where was the dog or cat begging for scraps? How was I going to get my late-night turkey-stuffing-cranberry-sauce-gravy sandwich fix? It would have been much better for them to stay truly British and ignore us bloody colonials altogether. Some of us foreigners got together later in the week and made a meal that was much more realistic, including a bit too much alcohol, fighting over the best way to make gravy, and wonderful family stories shared at table.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Travels North

In the last three weeks, I've been to various parts of Alberta, Canada, as well as Duluth and Grand Marais in Cook County, Minnesota. All work-related but really great fun.

The Alberta trip started in the Calgary airport area, where my Canadian entourage (members of a group on wildfire called Partners in Protection) picked me up, brought me to my hotel, took me out to dinner, and presented me with goodies from the Calgary Fire Department. The next day was a journey north through Kananaskis Country (part of the provincial park system) and on into Banff. While we talked a lot of business (homes at risk from wildfire, prescribed burns in the national park, and responding to fires that might ignite wood roofs), the weather was beautiful (50s-60s with bright blue skies) and the scenery eye-popping. I realized this as we walked past some cottages in the wooded area of Kananaskis and came out to this view.

If there is one common theme of all the places I've visited where they have a wildfire risk, it is that they are all beautiful places. If it wasn't for the view, I sometimes think, we might not have a problem at all with people wanting to live in high-risk areas.

Views in Canmore and on into Banff were similarly gorgeous, especially with the fall color of the aspen glowing in the sunlight (tamarack, a conifer that turns color and loses its needles in the fall, was also spectactular). The glaciers at Bow Lake and Athabasca were unbelievable, as was the view from the top of Whistler's Mountain (arrived at by taking a little tram car up 7,800 feet). Creatures including bighorn sheep, elk, moose, and yes, a black bear, were on view - mostly far away, though the male elk was presiding and stopping traffic at the entrance to Jasper Park Lodge. (I only got brave enough to photograph him by the time he was ready to walk away. Unlike the people in the foreground, left, I did not relish a very close encounter with a male elk during rutting season).

My only moment of real concern was standing in the middle of the prescribed burn area (a meadow) in Banff National Park with the fire manager, who was holding a can of bear spray (at right). My friendly entourage, many of whom had worked the parks for years, regaled me with stories of grizzlies "coming out of their ears" in the good old days when they didn't keep their park dumpster lids sealed. I tried to stay very close to the man with the canister...

The bear we finally saw was at the treeline at Whistler's Mountain as we descended on the tram. Crammed in the middle of this metal and glass box with 20 or so people, I couldn't get a photo, but he or she was definitely discernable by the human eye as a bear - and a big one at that. Looking down from the summit was "like being inside an aerial photograph," as one of the guys put it. My brief stay at Jasper Park Lodge outside the town was really great, and I enjoyed meeting everyone at my presentation on the last day of my visit.

The trip to Duluth and Grand Marais was also scenic, though the terrain is very different. Fall color at dawn along Lake Superior was beautiful, interrupted only by the ugliness of the mining operations facilities plunked along the lake highway in one lengthy interval. Grand Marais looks like a seaside town (they don't call them the Great Lakes for nothing) and luckily we found great coffee, good burgers and a warm reception from the local County staff and property owners happy to show us all the work they had done to be safer from wildfire, including humongous piles of slash and woody debris that would be burned in February when several feet of snow would ensure a safe burning day. Judith, my Firewise partner-in-crime, got great photos of the area, the slash piles, and a pair of female moose mucking around in a roadside swamp on the Gunflint Trail. We celebrated our safe return to the big city (Duluth) by finding the only Thai restaurant downtown, that turned out to have extremely good food and possibly the best cold salad rolls (aka goi cuan in Vietnamese restaurants) I have ever eaten, and that's from a serious goi cuan fan.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Cute food rocks!

Last Sunday a class I was in for work got done early so I went shopping at Russo's. It takes a certain amount of patience to be there during a popular day of the week/time of the day, so I take many deep breaths and "zen out" as much as possible before entering the fray. It is a little like going to the New England Mobile Bookfair for just one book (they even have t-shirts at this bookstore mocking the naive who think they can escape without a cubic ton of reading material). I ended up spending way too much time - but as always, not too much money - in my spree, realizing as I walked out I would have to cook like a maniac this week to use up what I bought before my next big trip.

I found lots of good varieties of "the usual suspects" - wonderful mushrooms, super-fresh greens and herbs, great bread, and some things I don't usually get, like pea shoots, a mess of eggplants, and poblano chilis (note to self - buy some damn latex gloves for preparing even the mildest of hot chili peppers). And I decided to grab some bocconcini - "mouth-sized" fresh mozzarella - to go with my homegrown Cherokee Purple heirloom tomatoes ripening on my kitchen counter.

Wednesday was the first night of a mad cooking frenzy involving a ratatouille to use up lots of the produce I bought (and nearly blinding myself with poblano chili juice because I didn't wear protection). I figured I better make a caprese salad with my wonderful, all-too-mortal tomatoes, basil from my garden, Russo's Boston lettuce, olive oil, balsamic vinegar and of course the mozzarella. I grabbed the container and a small knife to slice up what I assumed would be little spheres waiting in their brine. I skewered the first blob I could skewer and pulled it to the plate, gasping in delight. There was a sweet little knot of cheese, literally a hand-tied knot of fresh, milky mozzarella, waiting on the plate, created only a few days earlier at Gigi's in Everett. I have no idea if it was better or worse than any fresh mozzarella I have eaten. It was doubtless the cutest piece of cheese I have ever consumed. I was inspired to make a beautiful looking salad that we ate up in a hurry.

Nicely complementing the cute food trend of the week was a lovely birthday gift from my sister Yvette, who sent an adorable wooden box stuffed with Burdick's chocolates, including his signature chocolate mice and penguins. Some might say they are too cute to eat. While I sympathize, I have to say I haven't met any food to cute for me to eat yet.

Friday, September 19, 2008

More eating adventures

Just a few of my (recent) favorite things:
  • Mushrooms, and not the ones growing on my lawn after all the rain this summer. Russo's has the best, most gorgeous produce I have ever bought. In addition to being beautiful, delicious and usually cheaper than elsewhere, it is somehow magically resilient. A forgotten bag of peapods lived for possibly 3 weeks in the crisper and were fabulous the other night in a Japanese-style broth with tofu and chicken. Mushrooms from Russo's are varied, lovely and of so much better quality than anywhere else (SO disappointed with Whole Foods!) that I gird my loins and march into the chaos of tiny aisles and crazed shoppers to grab shiitakes and oysters (and occasionally splurge on bluefoots and other exotics). We made a fantastic vegan meal of those shrooms along with braised bok choy, tofu and jasmine rice. One of the best things I ate at a restaurant this summer was an appetizer of mushroom crepe (crespelle al funghi) at Panzano in downtown Denver. Normally I avoid cream sauces but I wanted to lick the plate on this one. I had a similarly happy experience this week enjoying the halibut with wild mushrooms at the Beacon Hill Bistro and the special lobster-mushroom-corn souffle appetizer (I could've eaten about 5 of these myself).
  • Slice - Giving tours in downtown Boston for Boston By Foot meant I had the opportunity to gorge myself on the finest offerings the Hub has on hand. I almost uniformly chose pizza to satisfy my palate. Ernesto's on Salem Street has traditional and oddball choices. My current fave is chicken and hot yellow peppers. Sadly, the mala femina (a crazy woman's slice with artichoke hearts, tomatoes, no sauce, and blue chese) is only available as a whole pie, and even I am not a crazy enough femina to order that by myself. Regina's is my other standby - and yes, it is awesome, even the slices in the sweaty press of humanity that is the Quincy Market food hall. Get a fresh slice of anything there and you will be very happy. I stay away from Haymarket Pizza due to the ancient prohibition of my husband who had a very unpleasant experience there. But if memory serves, they have the only meatball pizza worth eating on the planet.
  • Banh Mi - It's been too long since I had one of these unbelievably delicious Vietnamese submarine sandwiches. Cheap, fresh, delicious. The last time I grabbed one I sat in the bum's venue across from the Registry and the Essex Street T stop and chowed down, baguette crumbs everywhere. Will post more details next time I have the chance to eat one.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Octopus for breakfast

Seattle on a sunny Sunday morning, and I found a place that serves octopus for breakfast. Life is good! Actually, it was more like a funky Northwest meets Japan meets Greek diner kind of dish at Lola, a surprisingly upscale place on the edge of Seattle's Belltown/Downtown neighborhoods. A sunny side up fried egg on a mixture of sauteed spinach, green peas, crispy pork belly and grilled chunks of Pacific octupus, with a dollop of Greek yogurt, with some sourdough toast to soak it all up. Hot strong coffee and a complimentary starter involving a tiny bowl of grapes, a perfect strawberry, two cherries and a date.

A stroll through Pike Place Market followed breakfast and I have to say I've never been in Seattle on a more beautiful day. On my way to Orcas Island this morning, so the visit through the bustle, sights, sounds and smells of Pike Place was brief and bittersweet. I could happily spend a week just exploring this place (and eating way too much!).

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Digging in the dirt

Just dealing with my yard a little at a time. Russo's had perennials on sale if you bought 10 --just the right number to start filling in the bleak space along my fence facing the front. I also had to go out and get a new hose as an extension (one hose just doesn't cut it for all the perimeter space I have to deal with). National Lumber in Newton had pink hoses! Wow!

I would have bought one anyway, seeing as I needed a hose, and this was pink and how the hell cool is that? Even cooler - the manufacturer is an official corporate partner of the Susan G. Komen foundation for breast cancer research. The guys at the counter kidded with me. "Whoa, someone's buying a pink hose!" they grinned. "Tell me I'm the first!" I hollered back. "First on your block, lady!" "You know, I have to be careful with this hose 'cause I live offa Route 9," I told them. "You don't know, the grammas in my neighborhood are gonna steal this off me," I added to much laughter.

It felt good to dig up some dirt this morning and put some things in the ground that will come back every spring - butterfly bushes, coreopsis, meadow sage. Just a little at a time will do it...

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Batty Batty Batty

I was so proud of all my planning today - here I was, sitting in the living room of my brother Ted's rental house in downtown Newport, relaxing and surfing the web on my laptop after a long day of presentations and touring in Rhode Island for my Firewise work, waiting for a call from my in-laws to tell me when to swing by their timeshare for dinner. Yes, a successful day and time to relax! Amazing how the body will defend you even when you think you've let your guard down. My peripheral vision (left eye) suddenly bolted to attention, tapped my brain on the shoulder and said, "Hey, what was that black thing that just zoomed through the kitchen?!"

Brain replied, "Geez, what, a bird flying past the window? Chill out, will ya?" Body reminded Brain, "You know, it's the first time we've been in this house, and do YOU remember seeing any windows besides the tiny ones over the sink?" As the scary-movie music started and Brain pondered this oddity, Body let my jaw drop as a little brown bat (note - that's the naturalist description - my description would be, a not-so-little black rat with wings) flew past my nose and swooped around the living room. Body then proceeded to pump adrenalin all over the place until my heart felt like it was going to burst through my skin. I had the presence of mind to leap up and shut the bedroom door to limit the bat's options for rooms to roost in, and open the door to the outside. Then I called brother Ted, who rightly proclaimed, "This could only happen to you." I observed the bat hanging ever so battily upside down on the kitchen side of the doorway between the kitchen and living room. It actually cocked its pug-doggy little head towards me and tilted its ears at me while I talked on the cellphone.

Keeping Ted on the phone so I could give him the play-by-play, I ran across the kitchen to try to close the doors to the back hallway and the bathroom to further cut off bat hiding spots. The bat followed me around for a moment, accompanied by my whoops and squeals of ridiculous girly fear. I know the damn things don't nest in your hair, but their behavior indoors feels very much like a dive-bomb attack. He (she?) ended up in the living room clinging to a little boat. "He's on the boat!" I shrieked into Ted's ear. "What boat?" "The friggin' boat statue over the TV!" Ted (or at least his rental-house roomies) are clean folk, so there was a broom handy. There was no way I was going to try to whack the bat with the broom, but I wasn't going to try to touch it either.

How I wish I'd read this guy's great blog about his battles with bats before taking on my critter. I poked the bat with the broom but it just clung onto the boat with its tiny claws and kind of crawled around a little -- ugh! I tapped it again and it opened its ugly, toothy little maw and hissed at the broom. Crap! Meanwhile, Ted is relegated to speakerphone and listening to my high-pitched shrieks of frustration and horror. The damn thing swoops around some more and lands on top of the fridge. I investigate and see it clumped up there like a piece of moldy bread. Ugh again. Ted and I are discussing options when my mother-in-law beeps through. I hang up with him and get on with her, determined to bravely not say a word about the fact that I'm about to have heart failure over this bat. She asks if I'm sure I want to come all the way (2 miles) to their timeshare for dinner, it's such a harrowing drive (they've just come down from Maine through Boston during rush hour, so she really does think it's a bad drive). Oh, yes, I reply, so anxious to get the hell out of this room that I'm shaking. She puts my father-in-law on to give me directions. I'm jotting down the turn rights, turn lefts when the bat cruises directly past my nose once more, eliciting a strangled shriek from me into the phone.

I apologize and say, I didn't mean to do that, it's just that there's this bat in the house..."OhmyGod!" he says, in a tone that means "Get the hell out of there now!" I agree and promise I'll be there soon. Bat is now on the kitchen floor huddled up under the sink cabinet. I figure I have to scoop him up and find the only couch-arm slipcover with which to do the deed. I throw it on top of the bat and it doesn't move. I try to scoop it without touching and it starts wriggling and making angry little squeaks. Oh God, please let us both survive this! I grab one end of the cloth and try to bat the bat (argh) across the floor to move him toward the living room again. That sorta works but the bat is up and flying again. Now I'm really pissed. I need to get the hell out of this room but I also need to come back later and sleep. I start swiping the bat with the cloth and yelling at it to get out. This is a busy street I'm on so I'm a little surprised no-one's dialed 911 by now. I get it knocked to the floor and in two more swoops I get it out to the pavement on the stoop. I slam the door victoriously and phone Ted to boast of my conquest of Public Enemy Number Bat.

Poor pathetic bat - I'm sure its adrenalin was going bonkers too. It lay on the pavement for several minutes gathering its strength (I peeked) but when I went back to take a picture of it, it was gone. So I didn't kill it, thank goodness. I quickly washed my hands, splashed my face and brushed my hair, hoping my heart rate would slow down by the time I got to dinner. I took it slow going outside to make sure it wasn't lurking. As I stepped out to close the door, a sparrow fluttered away from the stair rail and I screamed my head off. Poor pathetic person!

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Driving Mr. Pinsky

OK, it was really fun to chauffeur the former U.S. Poet Laureate around Cambridge and Waltham. His new book, Gulf Music, is great, and the reading at Back Pages Books was underattended but still cool.
I was hanging out at Back Pages stocking up on reading for a number of consecutive business trips (not business reading, just something to take my mind elsewhere while sitting on planes for hours), when I overheard Alex, the owner, freaking out that he did not have a way to get Robert Pinsky from his home near Harvard Square to the bookstore the next afternoon for his reading. His own car was dead and he couldn't find a Brandeis student available or able to help. What was I doing on a Sunday afternoon, besides laundry and packing for the first of a bunch of business trips? And my car was pretty clean...

Anyway, it was extremely cool to meet Mr. Pinsky and be his driver for an afternoon. During his reading he suggested that a good assignment for poetry students is to task them with anthologizing 10-20 of their favorite poems. "I had that assignment in college," I piped up. "Really?" he replied. "Who was it?" "Frank Bidart was lecturing at Brandeis at the time and..." "He stole it from me!" the poet grinned. "No, really, he did. We're good friends. In fact we are having dinner together tonight, or maybe it's tomorrow night..." Then he gets on the cell with Frank Bidart and sends him my regards. "She had such a promising start, and now she's reduced to driving me around..." Did I mention the former U.S. Poet Laureate has a sense of humor?

I told Alex that my sister lives in the same town as another former USPL, Donald Hall (one of my favorite writers in the world). He told me that the current USPL, Charles Simic, had moved up to good old Wilmot, New Hampshire because Hall and he are buddies. Not sure my sister will feel like escorting two Poet Laureates to Waltham and back anytime soon, but maybe if the price of gas drops in the fall I will feel like a road trip...In the meantime, Robert Pinsky is staying busy with jazz readings and as the poetry editor for Slate magazine.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Spring has yet to sprung

I know, stop whining...but when your wedding anniversary's the classic date of the vernal equinox, and it still feels like the North Pole around here, whaddya want?

Snowflakes flying earlier this morning under a blue sky reminded me that we take nothing - I mean nothing - for granted in New England. My sister's been buried in serious snow in central New Hampshire for eons, it seems, so yes, I am really whining when the ground is still dry here. Being in San Diego for a few days did not help, in spite of the gorgeous sunshine and colorful flowers there. I met a wonderful local lady who organizes New Year's Day events in her neighborhood. She described their bicycle ride to the beach and then their "historical/hysterical" tour where she leads about 100 people around their little area. All I could picture were parkas and Chapstick. Then I remembered there are no such things in southern California, not ever.

It was all quite cheerful but coming back yesterday afternoon to glowering skies, just-above-freezing temps and a shredded driver's-side windshield wiper smearing gunk across my line of vision as I meandered out of the airport and onto the Mass Pike just made the contrast more glaring. There is not a bud swelling on a tree or shrub that I can perceive. Lawns are dank and khaki-colored and detritus swirling in the March winds has snagged in bushes and on median strips, adding clutter to the harsh landscape. This morning's bright blue skies gave way to a tiny flurry and persisted in fooling most to venture outside for the light, only to be driven back indoors by the severity of the chill.

I missed the Flower Show this year, so I'm sure I have brought down the curse of never-ending winter on the land. This is probably the first time in a decade I haven't ventured to South Boston to pay a small ransom to be sprung from my winter prison into the intensely flavored, colored, odored simulation of Spring that this event provides. I missed the sharp scents of pine, cedar mulch and soil that mark this fantasy, and even more the saturated colors of every kind of blooming thing that fits under the roof of the Bayside Expo Center. Every year, we ooh and aah over the creative minds and feats of logistics and engineering that allow this thing to be. "There're your jonquils," I whisper to my mother when I spot their bright nodding heads in a verdant patch. She nudges me back when she spots English daisies, or a particularly pleasing herb garden display, or a bonsai exhibit. I'm also fond of fruits and vegetables worked into artful displays. We work our way around each juried exhibition of flower arrangements and try to guess the theme before we read the cards. We offer our opinions aloud, whether they match with the judges' decisions or not. We look forward to this year's real Spring, and remember shows past, when Nana used to come with us, when we went with Linda and her girls, when Mom used to tie a balloon to Teddy's wrist to make sure not to lose him in the crowd.

I had some lovely trips this late-winter-early-spring, to San Antonio, Sarasota, and San Diego. But nothing inspires like the possibilities in your own back yard. I'll keep dreaming of a green April and hoping for temperatures above 50 for a few days in a row...

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Good Mood on Moody

I spend a lot of time on Moody Street -- that's not a euphemism for the blues, it's a fact of life and geography. Waltham has a Main Street, but to me it's all about Moody. It runs from Moody-and-Main -- where the Sovereign Bank lives, the Cafe on the Common, and the Common itself, in back of and around the City Hall -- down past the historic mills and over the Mighty Chuck, where it boasts a dam and riverwalk area, along into a gritty and sometimes pretty amalgam of furniture stores, pubs, ethnic restaurants, martial arts ventures, nail salons and Indian groceries.

I'm making it sound tawdry, and perhaps to some it is. But I get it all done on Moody Street, where my going-on-ten-year love affair with martial arts and working out hard at Perry's Tae Kwon Do is still happening. I found Queen Cleaners, where it's so convenient to drop my dry-clean-only stuff some weeknight and pick it up on Saturday morning. When Steve and I need to reconnect for a few minutes in all the busy-ness, a pint at The Skellig is a welcome respite. We're a known quantity at Bison County, where we get some good 'cue on occasion and the best turkey tips around. It's hard to get a bad meal on Moody, and there are so many options, from Ponzu to Guanachapi's to the venerable Tuscan Grill.

My pal Susan and I spent a few hours on Moody yesterday. First we got our pizza on at The Upper Crust, whose Moody Street outlet does not disappoint. Being the chief home executives that we are, we realized we both were in the market for vacuum cleaners. Mr. Sweeper on Moody let us play with the fancy Mieles (yeah, that's why their floor looks so clean, 'kay?) and even offered a trade-in discount. We hit Compleat Gamester on the even-numbered side of the street and played with puzzles and brain-teasers (slightly less work than vacuuming up sand at Mr. Sweeper). We traded restaurant and drink recs as we passed The Lincoln (wicked good Dirty Martinis where Frosty's used to be) and Tom Can Cook, which is fabulous for pan-Asian (but not fusion as it advertises - go to Ponzu for that). Next stop was Back Pages Books for a re-nunion (yeah, I said it) with Patrick, Steve and Alex Green (the owner). I scooped up great used volumes recommended by friends on Good Reads and didn't feel the least bit guilty (my credit from selling Alex some books earlier in the year kinda helped).

The street is a scene and it's always changing. It makes me so happy, how much it's changed since my days at Brandeis when Grover Cronin was crumbling and you only went to Moody for Indian food and then got the hell out. I forgot to tell Susan we needed to get to Gourmet Pottery for cool gifts and cards, but she remembered to check into an afternoon tea reservation for next week at The Tea Leaf, a delightful place we explored for a few minutes in our jaunt.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Just enough holiday insanity

Steve and I promised not to get any gifts for each other this Christmas. I had surprised him with a birthday/Hanukkah couple of items (a book that I could not resist, and an old TV comedy series on DVD). We are both up to our gills in books, music, food and all the other stuff we like. I told him that just the pleasure of his company during this lots-of-down-time holiday season would be enough for me. To which he replied, "In that case, let's get each other gifts." You have to know him to appreciate that...

Anyway, he was the one who caved/covered his butt by surprising me with a copy of Julia Child's My Life in France. I've only just started it but of course it is wonderful. Our "real" holiday celebration was the classic combo of Christmas Eve at my aunt Patti's and Christmas Day lunch and gift exchanging at my brother Dan's.

As usual, about 30 adults and kids invade Patti and Jim's tiny cottage on an overlook in Hull. The lights and decorations can be seen from space. The kids race from one end of the house to the other (not a long distance), weaving in between the adults, collapsing to the floor to shred the paper from a new toy or gadget, and disappearing periodically into a small bedroom where there is - YES - a computer they can fight over to see who gets to play the latest game. The adults usually hang out, catch up on family gossip, and drink too much. This year we did that but with the added insanity of a Yankee Swap a la my mom, who had a method that proved to be madness. It all worked out in the end and everyone had a good time. I thought it was successful as Steve and I ended up with the same two items we brought.

Dan and Chrissy's Christmas hosting was great as usual, with a successful "pot luck" approach resulting in far more delicious food than even the fairly big crowd could consume. I brought a pan of roasted sweet potatoes and onions to go along with all the meat (roast turkey, roast ham, roast beef) plus the gifts for the kids and the adults' "secret Santa". Chrissy's brother Bill entered with raw ingredients and proceeded to make a to-die-for shrimp scampi that started with two sticks of butter. Her dad, Jim, made his traditional grape leaves - one of those things I have to have, no matter what else I eat that day.
We cap off the day with a birthday cake for Nick, the Christmas baby who is - gasp! - 8 years old. Brother Joe always has to have the first taste of frosting. This family togetherness is fun for me and right about the right-sized dose. I get to see the kids all excited to open presents and check out everyone's Christmas tree. We haven't had a tree in probably 10 years or more, and I don't miss it at all. We make the rounds and visit and provide the ooh and aah for those folks who really put the effort into the decor. Seems to work!