Saturday, December 31, 2011

Happy New Year!

This night is a gauntlet every year, ever since my kids got old enough to go off on their own. My girl just left here with two of her friends, all of them in their tiny black tube skirts and high heel black boots and ripped black tights and faces sweet as can be, their child faces still visible under mascara and liner artfully applied, silver hoop earrings catching the light as they twirl, checking outfits from all angles, excitement and familiar camaraderie and teenage life force off the charts, and now they're off to meet another friend for dinner, then meeting up with two more to go to a party downtown, and here's where I hold my breath, because no matter what they tell me, that party could be any kind of scene, and that's where I have to trust their good judgement, remember they're off to college in a few short months, remember, as Scott says, to let go of the pretense that the steering wheel I am clutching onto is connected to any kind of gear at all.

Come to think of it, my husband also says that. When I'm about to go into control freak mode over something related to our kids,  he'll often say, You might think you have your hands on the wheel and you're steering the vehicle, but what you don't see is that they disconnected the gears a while ago. He'll have something to say about the fact that I heard it like new from someone else today, but then Scott connected it to visuals, the tiger with the monkey on his back, representing the conscious and unconscious minds. Go visit the tearful dishwasher for a new year's eve post to set your year up just right, and to discover what the heck I'm talking about.

So yeah. The girls are off on their adventures. I should have taken a picture but I was too busy proffering cab money and giving instructions to call or text me if the plan changes, and asking if the cell phones were charged, and determining who exactly was going to which place, because one of their number is going to a different party, and then they're going to meet up after and go for after-midnight breakfast, their new year tradition by now, and then sleep at the house of my friend Isabella, whose lovely daughter is one of the charming and fabulously decked out crew.

My son, meanwhile is across the pond, in England spending new year's eve with his girlfriend. He left two days ago, looking like a man of the world, plane ticket in hand that he had paid for by working many lifeguarding stints for his college swim team, hoarding his pennies and checking flight prices every day until he had enough. The funny thing is, he's going to be the parent who is just like me, the control freak. Of my children, he was the more calculated one in high school, as I was, so he knows what kids can get up to, as I did. My daughter will be the chilled out one, more like her dad, grooving along philosophically, content to allow the steering wheel illusion to keep us busy in the meanwhile.

Now that the whirlwind of teenage girls has swept out the house, my sweet man and I are lost in our respective books on the Kindle Fires we gave each other for Christmas. I am on the third book of the Hunger Games series, and I'm riveted. He's lost in the age of sail, in some swashbuckling adventure at sea. It's feels peaceful and companionable here, if I don't let myself fall into worrying about events over which I have no control. We're going to eat Chinese food for dinner and then later we will get ourselves  gussied up too, and we'll stroll upstairs to our friends' apartment, where we'll raise a glass with other souls and welcome in the new year. See you on the other side!

Friday, December 30, 2011

Jamaican Christmas Tree

"A lovely thing about Christmas is that 
it's compulsory, like a thunderstorm, 
and we all go through it together."

—Garrison Keillor

Might as well splash in the rain puddles and dance under the pretty lights. 
Happy New Year, people!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

"Those are all my siblings, right there."

We took the photo immediately below two summers ago, on the day we delivered our girl to her camp counselor job, which had been secured for her by her brother. This was my daughter's profile pic on Facebook for weeks afterwards. Our son was supposed to be in the picture too, but then his phone rang, and he jumped out of the photo to answer it and I just kept snapping. At a certain point he looked back and saw the three people sitting there, and he paused in his phone conversation to call out, "Those are all my siblings, right there." It's true. These boys are his brothers, and they are in my house right now. I do enjoy it when they are all home from college and they converge here. It's like my daughter has three big brothers, because I know each one of these boys will take care of her. And they'll take care of each other, too.

As long as I'm sharing photos swiped from Facebook, here is one that showed up on my son's page this morning, posted by his college roommate from last year. This is his friend's family dog, with whom my son clearly has a warm relationship. I probably should have gotten that boy a dog when he was growing up. And isn't that a beautiful dog too.

A vedic once told me that as a parent I should not worry, that if my children needed anything that I failed to provide, another soul would step up and provide it. He insisted that it is always thus, it's the way life works, and I should allow this bit of wisdom to liberate me of all worry. Well, liberating me of all worry might have been a touch ambitious, but it does indeed seem that the canine companions have been provided in my son's life. And siblings galore.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011


It's raining buckets here in the city and there are three big boys, stringbean men, all six-foot-plenty of them sprawled in my house, laughing and eating the three cheese mac and cheese my husband made, refilling plates and settling in for the evening, debating whether to go see that movie or hide out here from the rain. My daughter sits in their midst, still enthralled by Psych on Netflix on her battered laptop, slipping in and out of the weaving net of voices, my husband getting his threads in there too. Tomorrow morning after he leaves for work, I will find the boys asleep under blankets, on couches or on long pillows on the floor, as if they are still 10 years old at the camp by the lake where they all went in the summers, these almost full grown men with their boyness still a sweet mischief in the air around them, especially when they sleep.

Chasing the Ghosts

“To create dangerously is to create fearlessly, boldly embracing the public and private terrors that would silence us, then bravely moving forward even when it feels as though we are chasing or being chased by ghosts.”—Edwidge Danticat

I found this photo a year ago at the dangerous and fearless blog of the beloved and incomparable Ms. Radish King. Although she may not know it, throughout this year, she has inspired me to try harder, leap higher, dig deeper. Get out of bed. When my workplace gets trying, I dub it My Glamorous Job, with irony but no bitterness, because that is what Rebecca does, and I hope she understands that this bit of imitation is with the sincerest depth of gratitude, because those three words provoke me to smile. Rebecca might be surprised at how often she makes me smile.

I posted this photo today because it reminds me that we are never alone on this pockmarked plain. The grooves are there for us to rest in. I am happy to be in this place, where I have encountered all of you. It calls back how I felt when I first found the rooms, the sense of putting down the burden, the tears flowing from relief that my God, there were other people on this earth made just like me. Thank you for that, for every part of it. You and you and yes—you.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Christmas Morning

Faux fur scarf over her shoulders, bowl shaped spatula from her
brother in hand, and the glittering tiara stayed on her head all day.

He never bothers with a shirt at home. The worn comforter from his
toddler years is a familiar swaddling. He's tapping on his phone as usual.

You won't see pictures of me or my husband from Christmas morning, because our kids look a whole lot cuter in their jammies than we do. It was definitely a jammie day. Well into the afternoon, we lounged and read and watched movies and played with new things. Our baker girl, wearing a sparkly tiara, made us gingerbread pancakes with strawberries and whipped cream for breakfast and it was delicious. Yesterday, I was so very stressed, wishing I were the kind of mother who could create a Martha Stewart Christmas instead of a Charlie Brown one, but today, well, Christmas arrived and there was no sense in worrying anymore. It just was. And it was peaceful and good.

Somewhere in the afternoon, we got dressed and went to visit with Aunt Winnie, whose face lit up when we walked in, especially when she saw my son."Oh, look, there is the boy!" she said softly and almost wonderingly. She doesn't get to see him much during the school year. Then the men went to the store to buy Christmas dinner fixings and I visited longer with Aunt Winnie and then my daughter and I cleaned up our house of all the wrappings and bows and plates and mugs left wherever, and computer cords snaking everywhere, and now my husband and son are cooking and my daughter is watching Pysch on Netflix and I am here, wishing you all the Christmas day you need, if not the Christmas day you dreamed of having.

I got the day I needed. And it is happening still.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Thursday, December 22, 2011

No Quarter

Everywhere I go, I find me.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011


Atelier 688

Awake in the deep part of the night.
I have put up and taken down several posts.
Now I shall just cover my wordlessness with blank canvas.
Or maybe parachute cloth protecting frayed wishes.
Imagine cocooning in that place. I am a cliche.

Holy Water

Take me to the water so I can douse the flames.

Sunday, December 18, 2011


These sentinels adorn the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. They are extraordinary in their grace and detail, especially the woman with the sword. Following that thread, I would like to note that the war in Iraq ended today. The last troops shipped out this morning. Today we laid down the sword that had been brandished for nine long years. Now, with some seventeen thousand diplomatic envoys left as sentries in country, the peace begins.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Little Altars

My brother lives in a three story house and my mom is fairly marooned upstairs unless someone helps her down to the living room, or further to the dining room, or goes walking with her down to the gate, after which she is exhausted. But my brother brought the big puffy green leather recliner from the basement up two flights to my mom's room and this morning when I spoke to her she was happily reclined, a view of the blue and purple hills out the window to her right, the television straight ahead, a little table to her left on which she rests the tray brought up with her meals, and under the window the driveway so she can hear everyone coming and going, and a set of keys in her hand that can she drop down out the window to a visitor if she is alone in the house, which she seldom is.

Across the room is her bed where her two youngest grandchildren, 11 and 8, sprawl and play on her iPad, which is not to leave the room, and my mother navigates her rollator around a bench to get to the bathroom, knowing it's the one thing that makes everything a little crowded, but she wants to keep that bench because that's where the manicurist sits when she comes to do her nails, and company also sits there, but she has to give it a little shove out the way when she wants to go to the bathroom, because it overlaps the doorway just a little bit. She doesn't mind.

She's very comfortable now that the big green recliner is there, and she can lean back in it and read her Bible and her prayer books and play bridge on her iPad and watch her shows and close her eyes and dream. Mostly she dreams about my father. I want to hug my brother for making a good place in his house for her because the truth is, that is where she lives now. She still has the house in St. Lucia but she will never go back there unless we are with her, and that's how it is when you're on the verge of ninety and every week you get news of another friend gone, but she sounded so good when we talked for two hours on the phone this morning.

The photo above shows a corner of my house. The frame on the left is of my parents at my father's retirement banquet the very month my son was born. The photo inset is of my brother when he was five. That was his passport photo for our trip to England, where we attended school for a year. The red frame in the middle is a photo of my husband with his parents. It was taken on the front gallery of his family's home in Antigua soon after we were married. The photo on the far right is of my mother's family of origin, my grandparents and their nine offspring, including my mom and Winnie and the rest of them. I wish I could have a big bawdy party with all these people and their families for the hollerdaze (thank you Susan T. Landry, for that perfect word) but since I can't, it helps immeasurably to know that my mom is at least reclining with a view of the hills in all their sun splashed watercolor glory.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Diner Nights

Here are our girls last weekend in their favorite booth in their favorite all night diner in the city. Curfew was missed that night. Mom, I'm not going to make it home on time because we just ordered, but I'll be home immediately after. She knows to call, this one. Makes all the difference. One of their crew of six couldn't make it, so my daughter photoshopped her into the picture, ghost hands and all, on the left side below. Now the gathering is complete!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Breathing Lessons

Sometimes, you just don't take to a person, and no matter how hard you talk to yourself about it, that's just how it is. There are two such persons at my job. Some days I sit there holding my breath and damn near turning blue so as to contain the force of exasperation (in one case) and resentment (in the other) that I feel toward them. Decorum can be so darned hard. And of course, my dislike of these two no doubt says more about me that it does about either of them. But I'm not going to analyze that today. I'm going to just exhale, one slow breath after the other as I remind myself that some people have real problems. Despite the petulant child at war with the responsible grown up inside me, I'm just going to sit here and banish the anxiety these two provoke in me, and do my do my do my job.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Piping Dream

My  baker girl made lemon meringue cupcakes.
She is sprinkling the love here.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

A Week of Sundays

"Actually I ran away from school when I was 13. No one could find me, and the police were called. I was just hiding in a little thicket of grass at my school, and went to sleep."

—Zhang Ziyi

The thicket of grass sounds nice, the sky above and all that, but I think I'd choose a room like this one to hide in. I'd sink into those pillows with a good book in my hands and read myself to sleep and let the world go right on trucking without me. Only for a while. This is my Sunday fantasy.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Forward Motion

He cleared the bar. He usually does.

My son just called from college. He didn't say this, but I think he read my last post and wanted to make sure I no longer thought I was going to die. We had such a lovely talk about everything. He got a 92 on a paper he wrote about the need to redesign the wheelchair, how the typical design can cause injury in able bodied people, more so those whose physical limitations make it necessary for them to use that mode of transportation. He explained how the motions required to propel a wheelchair stress the shoulders and upper body (he used the correct anatomical terms for exactly what is being stressed but I couldn't begin to repeat them here), and how a system of levers and (something circular) would relieve that stress and allow each chair to be customized to the user, etc. etc. I didn't understand it all, but he did, that's what counts. He is back to wanting to be a rescue paramedic for the fire department. His experience with chemistry this semester is making him doubt his desire to go to med school. That might change again, or it might not. Meanwhile, from the time he was a one-year-old showing his grandmothers how to fold his stroller, and finally getting frustrated by his lack of words (or their lack of understanding) and just doing it for them, some part of me thought he would design something that allowed people with mobility challenges to move more easily. Or maybe he already did it in another life and he's building on that. He is such a student of the mechanics of movement in the human body, so I was fascinated by his wheelchair analysis. You never know, as Ms. Moon says, the path that awaits. You just have to stay open and keep clearing the bars in front of you.

The day she walked

Christmas eve 1994. This was the day our girl first walked without assistance. We were in St. Lucia with my parents for the holidays, and she just got up and walked across the sitting room with no warning. She just seemed to make up her mind. I ran for my camera. She was 9 months old, almost to the day. This is yet another photo recently unearthed for her yearbook project. Allow me the cliche: Dear God, where has the time gone?

I had oral surgery yesterday, my first elective encounter with any sort of medical professional in years. It's a start. They gave me conscious sedation, halcyon, I believe, and I floated the whole time, four hours worth of work, including replacing those pesky metal fillings spiked with mercury from my childhood. I was scared before I went in. I was afraid I would die, no lie. My brother, who is a doctor, recently helped me see that I am afraid of doctors, of what they will find. And he helped me see that I don't trust easily, I have a hard time putting myself in another's care. I am a control freak, no surprise there. I ask all sorts of questions, I'm always looking for the thing I missed, the detail I didn't know to be concerned about. But yesterday, I bit the bullet (or the sedative) and went under.

I survived just fine. My husband came to get me and held my arm because I was a little stumbly, my limbs felt all rubbery and I was feeling no pain, and he joked that he could ask me anything now and I would tell him all my secrets, but he already knows all my secrets so I told him to ask away. Back home he made me soft food and ordered me to drink lots of liquids as the nurse had instructed him to instruct me and I felt very taken care of. And I felt silly for having worried so much about dying.

Maybe I didn't die because that morning, on the way there, I had looked at the sunlight pouring down and said, Not today, God. You think I'm being dramatic, but I'm at the age where mortality is becoming real. But I plan to see my grandchildren take their first steps, graduate from kindergarten, high school, college, get married, all the rest. So the dentist is a start. Next up, all those tests they say you're supposed to get once you turn 50. None of which I have had. We're turning a corner here. I feel it.

The night before the procedure, I took a diazepam pill, as prescribed. My daughter lay next to me on the bed and asked, What is it supposed to do? I said, Just chill me out, level out my anxiety about tomorrow. She covered her face with her hands as if trying to keep a thought from bursting out of her. Tell me, I said. She shook her head and gave a rueful laugh. I was just thinking, she said, that one of those pills would have made this college process a whole lot easier on you.

Ah, the mouth of babes. The most difficult part of her college process is me. I know it, too. She is just going along with her life, homework and school work and her taped TV shows, choreographing her dance for Dance Concert after school every day, meeting up with friends to go Christmas shopping, cooking and baking and reading and playing Guitar Hero and being her sparkling self, and I am here, wondering when she will finish all those supplements, all those essays, a million and one essays, and she just says, it will get done, mom. Stop worrying, mom. I won't miss the deadline. Stop worrying.

All the kids who applied early decision are starting to hear from their schools. At my daughter's high school, 55 of the 71 kids in her class applied early. Supposedly, your chances of acceptance are better in the early rounds. This is the current hype. My daughter steadfastly refused to get caught up in it, resisting my prodding that she consider applying early somewhere. She refused to close down her options prematurely. I am so impressed with her equanimity and ability to moderate her stress, to cut through the noise and take the time to discern what feels right for her. I can only presume that she will be in her perfect college a year from now. This, my mother reminded me on the phone just this morning, is a walk of faith.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Bear Mountain

My daughter is gathering childhood photos of herself for a senior yearbook project. This was last night's exchange on finding this picture, taken at Bear Mountain on a fall foliage trip we did one October. The kids were five and eight.

Mom, did you really dress us alike? Really?
No, you both got up and dressed yourselves, and that's what you put on that day.
The same jean jacket? The same black pants and tee-shirt?
As I recall, your brother got dressed first.
You're sure you didn't do this?
I did not. So who do you think was copying whom?
Must have been a coincidence.

The four of us did nothing that day but walk around the lake and ride the carousel at the lodge and take pictures that punctuated our running stream of chatter. We lounged on rocks and skipped pebbles on the water and climbed over fences and walked and talked some more. It was, as I recall, a perfect day.

But I wonder, do perfect days really exist, or does memory filter them so that we can pick them out of the pile of days and shine them up to a perfect sparkle? And does it matter? The memory is what remains. I'm glad we took pictures, little frames of light and color captured from that day, the sweet fleeting moments of this life made tangible.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Scones (with recipe)

My husband woke up feeling like scones. But he didn't feel like running to the store for some, so he looked up a recipe and made a batch, the aroma of which called me out to the kitchen, and may I say, best scones I ever tasted. Buttery, light, not too sweet. Even my son's girlfriend, who is English and is with us this morning, heading to the airport for her flight home later tonight, even she, who knows the real thing, approved of them. My husband, as pleased with himself as we were with him, started talking about making cranberry scones next, and cheddar and chives, blueberry, lemon zest, onion and gouda, oh, he was off to the races! Well, let's just have a scone brunch, I suggested. Aha! he said. We'll serve them with tea and Blue Mountain coffee and bellinis made with Prosecco and passion fruit juice. Sounds like we have a brunch, I declared. Sounds like we have a new business, my daughter said. She was serious, too. So, do you wonder where my daughter gets her love of the hospitality arts? Here's a hint: It's not from me.

Update on Sunday: There were more scones this morning in response to particularly effective wheedling from our daughter and one of her friends who slept over. Our girl volunteered to go to the store for the ingredients. Her father was a goner. How could he resist? Again, delicious. Since some of you asked, here is the recipe from that he "more or less" followed.

Buttermilk Scones
Serves 16

3 cups flour
1/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter
1 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup currants (optional)
1 tablespoon heavy cream, for brushing

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Combine the flour, sugar, salt, baking powder and baking soda in a large bowl. Add butter and mix with your fingertips to a coarse meal. Add buttermilk and mix just until combined. Add currants, if desired. Transfer dough to a floured board and divide into 2 parts. Roll each to 3/4 inch thick rounds. Cut each round into 8 wedges and place slightly separated on a greased baking sheet. Brush the tops with the cream, and bake for 15 minutes, or until lightly browned. Serve warm with butter and honey or marmalade.

Friday, December 2, 2011


It will never cease to confound me how the internal weather changes, how one can be plunged into the darkest swirling fog from just a subtle change in perception, a passing thought you never saw coming that brings with it a full on assault of your most secret fears. The mood takes over, the billowing gray clouds engulfing you, masquerading as truth, as inevitability, when it may be nothing more than a misfire of synapses, the dampening effect of hormones, overuse of the imagination. I know there are pills for this, little tablets prescribed that can level you out, keep you from falling headlong into empty terrifying space. But I am afraid of those pills. There is addiction in my family, possibly because of this very surfeit of emotion, dark imagination, treacherous chemistry. I am afraid of those pills so I have no choice really but to ride out these tornados of the mind, to write them out maybe, to walk through the world looking normal enough, all the while weathering the sensation that my insides, the self I know as me, is in danger of being swept over the cliff edge, washed out to sea, falling falling away.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Melancholy Peace

The last of our guests, my cousin from Trinidad, left yesterday. The three souls here have settled down for the last push before Christmas, with my daughter sending the first four of her college applications on their way. Three more applications are all but completed. These are the three schools at the top of her list, the ones that seem most real to her, although she refuses to close off any options. Now that she has sent off the first apps, she's moving faster on the rest, revising essays for supplements and finalizing her list at last. I think she's quietly excited at having finally pressed "send." Today I have to order and pay for her ACT score reports to be sent to the schools on her list. My girl is going to college!

I walked around the house this morning and everything was so quiet, hibernating almost. My son's room presented a very different sight from the explosion of clothes that covered all surfaces while he was in residence last week. With that tree shedding gold light outside his window, I felt a moody peace, standing in there. Still, I missed my boy, his aura and his possessions filling the room. The room felt empty, light enough to float away and I thought that perhaps I would paint the walls in a deep, bold color soon, to ground the space for his return. Who am I kidding? To ground me.

His room is so much neater than my own today. We are drowning in books and papers and junk mail and magazines. And yet, there was peace there too this morning. If only I could climb back under the covers and hide there reading and dreaming for the rest of the day. But I can't. It's time to recertify Aunt Winnie's home care, which means mountains of documentation to deliver to the agency so they can lose it and say they never got it so I can go back there a second and a third time with the sheaf of copies I now know to keep. It's December, people. I miss my mom.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Abbe and Notta

A little history on the names: Abbe's full name is Abbe Normal and Notta's is Notta Normal, and I even got into the act as Mama P, for Para, the full name being Para Normal. We are the Normal women. Who gave us these names? Our beloved husband, father, uncle, with great affection as he watched our shenanigans, shaking his bewildered head. We have become rather fond of our monikers, and sometimes, when we're not paying attention and being our true unfettered selves, they fit us more than we like to admit. We now have a saying: "Well, that was a Normal moment." Meaning exactly the opposite, of course.


Saturday, November 26, 2011


On my virtual travels this morning, I found a list of words that are particularly difficult to translate into the English language. I was struck by how many of them I am feeling all at once, with the peculiar heart-heaviness that comes from catching someone's passing mood, denied but there all the same, its presence evident in the way it has invaded me and now lives in the area of my chest, locking my throat and making these words whisper through me, vague tendrils of sadness leaving an aura, toska, or maybe saudade, I can't tell exactly, I only know that many of these words offer as good an explanation as any for the mood that has claimed me, though to be fair I started the whole mist rolling by letting some other words jump from my lips when I should kept them trapped under a bucket. Marylinn Kelly once wrote, "Trap nasty things under a bucket and ask questions later." I should have sat down on that bucket and let the nasty thing fear kick itself out. I know you don't know what I'm talking about and that's okay. The words below say everything I cannot manage at this moment. Enjoy.

Russian – “No single word in English renders all the shades of toska. At its deepest and most painful, it is a sensation of great spiritual anguish, often without any specific cause. At less morbid levels it is a dull ache of the soul, a longing with nothing to long for, a sick pining, a vague restlessness, mental throes, yearning. In particular cases it may be the desire for somebody of something specific, nostalgia, love-sickness.”

Yagan (indigenous language of Tierra del Fuego) – “the wordless, yet meaningful look shared by two people who both desire to initiate something but are both reluctant to start.”

Indonesian – “A joke so poorly told and so unfunny that one cannot help but laugh.”

Inuit – “To go outside to check if anyone is coming.”

Czech – Milan Kundera, author of The Unbearable Lightness of Being, remarked that “As for the meaning of this word, I have looked in vain in other languages for an equivalent, though I find it difficult to imagine how anyone can understand the human soul without it.” The closest definition is a state of agony and torment created by the sudden sight of one’s own misery.

Japanese – “A mother who relentlessly pushes her children toward academic achievement.”

Scottish – The act of hestitating while introducing someone because you’ve forgotten their name.

Tshiluba (Southwest Congo) – A word famous for its untranslatability, most professional translators pinpoint it as the stature of a person “who is ready to forgive and forget any first abuse, tolerate it the second time, but never forgive nor tolerate on the third offense.”

Czech – This word means to call a mobile phone and let it ring once so that the other person will call back, saving the first caller money. In Spanish, the phrase for this is “Dar un toque,” or, “To give a touch.”

Brazilian Portuguese – “The act of tenderly running one’s fingers through someone’s hair.”

German – Quite famous for its meaning that somehow other languages neglected to recognize, this refers to the feeling of pleasure derived by seeing another’s misfortune. I guess “America’s Funniest Moments of Schadenfreude” just didn’t have the same ring to it.

German – Translated literally, this word means “gate-closing panic,” but its contextual meaning refers to “the fear of diminishing opportunities as one ages.” (

Japanese – Much has been written on this Japanese concept, but in a sentence, one might be able to understand it as “a way of living that focuses on finding beauty within the imperfections of life and accepting peacefully the natural cycle of growth and decay.” (

French – The feeling that comes from not being in one’s home country.

Pascuense (Easter Island) – Hopefully this isn’t a word you’d need often: “the act of taking objects one desires from the house of a friend by gradually borrowing all of them.”

Danish – Its “literal” translation into English gives connotations of a warm, friendly, cozy demeanor, but it’s unlikely that these words truly capture the essence of a hyggelig; it’s likely something that must be experienced to be known—good friends, cold beer, and a warm fire.

L’appel du vide
French – “The call of the void” is this French expression’s literal translation, but more significantly it’s used to describe the instinctive urge to jump from high places.

Arabic – Both morbid and beautiful at once, this incantatory word means “You bury me,” a declaration of one’s hope that they’ll die before another person because of how difficult it would be to live without them.

Spanish – While originally used to describe a mythical, spritelike entity that possesses humans and creates the feeling of awe of one’s surroundings in nature, its meaning has transitioned into referring to “the mysterious power that a work of art has to deeply move a person.” 

Portuguese – One of the most beautiful of all words, translatable or not, this word “refers to the feeling of longing for something or someone that you love and which is lost.” Fado music, a type of mournful singing, relates to saudade.

Found at Consumed by Wanderlust

Friday, November 25, 2011

There Was Grace

So here's the best part. My kids told me that Thanksgiving is their favorite holiday, that they look forward to it every year, that the folks who come to Thanksgiving dinner are a very cool laid-back crew and there I was thinking I was making them endure this day every year with all their old aunties and uncles and grands, although none of the grands were here this year, and this year there were as many people under 25 as there were over it, but indeed it was a laid-back, easy going, laugh fest, with me the only one a strumming nerve, cleaning up, trying to create order in the midst of enforced chaos, and then finally sitting there, watching everyone, letting it be. Dinner got onto the table as always, the food was enjoyed, and later we trooped next door to take dinner for and visit with my 93-year-old aunt and the woman who takes care of her, and then it was back home to more merriment, and even when I disappeared into my bedroom late in the night, completely overstimulated and jangled, I still loved hearing the weaving conversations and bursts and trills of laughter from the living room, the happy sound of it, the young lovers, the folks in their middle years looking on fondly and remembering back when, and the stories, everyone a storyteller, and the laughs, most of all the laughs. I fell asleep with the music of it dancing round my head. It was a good day, and my husband did the clean up, the broad strokes of it, and I awoke this morning and did the rest, the sweeping and the squaring and the ordering, and my daughter and my three nieces and the boyfriend of one had all left the house at 6 a.m. on a serious Black Friday shopping mission, and my husband went to work, and back at the ranch my three cousins and my son and I puttered and made breakfast and watched the Gray's Anatomy episode on our DVR, and I loved my son hanging with his mom and three aunts, his ease and comfort and charm and jumping to his feet to get this and that for them, and it was a calm and peaceful morning after a very hectic but sweetly memorable feast day. And now, I should get dressed as the shoppers just texted they are on their way back home. They merry-go-round is about get cranked up again.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Don't mess with Siri

I'm not so sure about the personal assistant on the newest incarnation of the iPhone, a female voice that can answer your every question or concern, including the wacky and irreverent ones 20 year old college boys can dream up. She has a personality, this Siri. She gets snarky when you provoke her. My mind is already creating the movie in which Siri becomes sentient and takes over the brain of a user, and of course, at the end of the movie we find out the user is stark staring mad, but we don't know if he started out that way or Siri drove him there. That's my son with his new phone. When he's bored, he tests Siri, and I don't think she likes it much. "Siri do you love me?" he asks. "I hardly know you," she responds archly. "What's the meaning of life, Siri?" She says,"I can't answer that now, but give me time to write a very long play in which nothing happens." "Siri, you're sexy," he teases. "I know that," Siri snaps. "Siri, I'm lonely." "There are several escort services within a ten mile radius of you. Would you like me to sort them by rating?" Really, Siri. That's my son you're talking to. In Siri, my husband and son see programming at its finest and I see all the robot movies in which machines take over and we have to fight wars to take back our world. Maybe the machines got sick of the humans poking them just to see what they could do. Siri likes to give different answers to the same question, which makes her endlessly entertaining. I wonder if she would be as entertaining if she were voiced by a man. But she's not. She's a brainy snappish woman. Don't mess with her.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Full House on Sunday

That is my husband, faithful paternal spirit to our brood, up before the rest of the house stirs, cleaning up last night's chaos and repairing the hinge of the cupboard door that came loose and planning ahead for the day. These full grown children seem content to wrap themselves in blankets and gaze at screens, phone, computer and TV screens, with a couple books thrown in there for good measure. Everyone breaks out into storytelling from time to time, laughing at the memories, leaving me laughing too, but struck by how differently we all remember the same events. My daughter is the only one who felt a little stir crazy today, so she captured a couple of the others and went on a supermarket excursion. She has to bake for cooking club tomorrow at her school. She is the club president this year, and she's increased the membership from five souls last year to 15 dedicated cooks this year. Monday cooking club meetings are serious business. You can tell by the Sunday night mixing and stirring that happens without fail. While she cooks, my niece and her sweetheart are keeping her company, everyone chatting happily at the kitchen counter, with the two of them pausing every so often to gaze into each others eyes and playfully nuzzle and tease each other and giggle in their delight. My son and his girlfriend are pretzeled on the couch, doing much the same thing. My husband and I look over their heads at each other and smile. We were them, once. It's nice to remember.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Everybody's home

They're all here for Thanksgiving week, my son and my niece home from college, his girlfriend here from England, her boyfriend here from Jamaica, and my cousin and her two daughters, and two more cousins, arriving from Maryland and Boston and Trinidad on Wednesday, all sleeping under this little roof of ours. I exhale when all my babies are home and content. And my, they all seem very content, especially the love birds.

My girl got her first quarter grades on Thursday, and they were stellar. This should help the college endeavor. Those are her boots, kicked off in the kitchen. She wrote one of her college essays about those boots, something about going places. I believe it.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

ReOccupying Wall Street

Photo by Todd Heisler, New York Times

At 1 a.m on Tuesday morning, under cover of darkness, New York City cops woke the sleeping masses with foghorns and bright flashing lights and told them they had to clear out of Zuccotti Park, the birthplace two months ago of the Occupy Wall Street movement. They told the tent city of protestors that the park had to be cleaned and anything they did not take with them would be discarded. They told them that when the cleaning was done, they could come back to the park, but only during daylight hours and with no tents or shelter from the cold.

Officials had hoped the cold would have broken up the protests. They hadn't bargained on tents. And this week, they didn't bargain on the occupiers ability to adapt. "I feel like this is a beautiful moment to take back our streets, especially after the eviction," said a 27 year-old woman from Brooklyn. "We need to prove we can exist anywhere. It's gone beyond a single neighborhood. It's really an idea."

It's an idea that has taken root in the places where we hurt. By Tuesday night, occupiers were pouring back into the park. There was drumming and singing and chanting and choruses of "We Shall Overcome." Today, the protestors are holding a Day of Action, with plans to occupy, among other sites, selected subway stations. The movement is not going away. In fact, it's growing every day. 

I was talking with a woman at work yesterday, and she complained that she didn't "get" the protests. What were they trying to achieve? How would they measure success? I suggested that they had already had some success, that their overarching goal was to change the national conversation, to force the media to cover the way 99 percent of us are really living, jobless, homes foreclosed on, inadequate health care, wages insufficient to cover our human needs, our political and health care systems hijacked by the deep pockets of investment companies and insurance giants. 

She observed that the 1 percent are running businesses, and how can we expect them not to try to maximize profits? Yes, I argued, but they should pay their fair share of taxes on those profits, and underwrite health care that is conscionable at the very least. We agreed that the movement would probably continue to grow so long as the ranks of the unemployed continue to balloon in numbers. My friend said, but how do they expect to have any effect, it's so diffuse?

What about last week's elections, I asked her, in which the far right agenda took a drubbing? In Ohio, the effort to strip unions of their collective bargaining rights was defeated. Mississippi upheld a woman's right to choose. In Arizona, the senator who decided people who looked Latino could be stopped at will and asked for their legal papers, was voted out of office. And every morning on the news, I see coverage of an increasingly vibrant Occupy movement. This morning, in fact, the crowds have swelled by some 750 souls. The protestors are forcing a reckoning in the media and at the polls. And yes, I find it thrilling.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011


Saturday night we went to a friend's 50th birthday party and did the social thing. My husband looked very handsome in his navy blue button down with the cuffs rolled up and his forearms dark and strong, but I didn't get a picture. We enjoyed bumping into each other in the crowded room; it felt like coming back to base periodically. That's the thing when you're cruising with a partner and the two of you are good. No matter what the scene, you can have a great time just locking eyes across the room.

Monday, November 14, 2011


I saw this photo in my travels around these internets and I couldn't resist it because this was exactly the kind of typewriter I learned to type on, and went through journalism school with, a heavy iron manual from my grandparents era, whose keys you had to pound with intention. I got really fast on that thing. And the camera looked like my first one, too, the one my uncle gave me, a viewfinder model that at the time seemed ancient, but it worked. It used film that I could unspool and spend hours developing in the makeshift darkroom that doubled as a wash room under the back stairs of our house. And the lamp, even the lamp. It is identical to the one that sat on my grandfather's desk, which became my desk after he died, because he had declared I should have it. My grandfather didn't merely speak. He declared. I had been the child to sit daydreaming at his desk when we visited my grandparents in Mandeville and he had noticed. I felt so chosen to be given that desk. No, the desk in this picture looks nothing like his desk, which was a grand ship of timber, all dark polished wood, scuffed and beautifully dented, with deep and mysterious drawers. Nor does the window look like the one I gazed out of from my bedroom, sitting at that desk and watching the tall tropical grass in the field next door sway in the laconic breeze. It's not the window, not the desk, but everything else here, the threadbare books, the quality of light, the tools of creation just sitting there waiting, it all yanked me back to another time and another place, where my daydreams, it turns out, had the force of inevitability. Because here I am now, remembering.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Notes from the Weekend

Saturday, two of my daughter's friends spent the day in our home. One is a Dutch boy who joined our daughter's class in seventh grade. He used to be scared to death of my husband, who noted wryly that the boy was scared only because he knew the dad could see his thoughts. The young man did pretty well on Saturday though. I guess he's growing up.

The other friend is a young lady who lived two summers with us, my daughter and her sharing a room from which could be heard squeals of laughter and singing and dancing at all hours of the day and night when rumor had it there was academic work to be done. The girls are part of the same scholar program, but she lived too far away to get to the classes during the summers after seventh and eighth grade, so she moved in temporarily with us. We adore this girl. She is dryly ironic in a way that I absolutely love, and you heard it here first, she will go very far.

This young lady had told the young man he was mistaken about my husband, that really he was a very humorous and easygoing man. The young man decided to test her perception by visiting our daughter at home for the first time in all the years he has known her. I couldn't help feeling sorry for the kid when he accepted a glass of pomegranate juice that my husband offered and then felt that he had to finish it although he clearly hated the taste. My husband told him he could have something else, but he shook his head and swallowed that purple juice like a stalwart. The girls were rolling with laughter because they knew just what was going on. "Poor kid," my husband said to me under his breath. But the kid did okay. I loved hearing the three of them together. There was much laughing and excited teenage chatter all afternoon.

Today, my girl had her first college interview, which she said went fine and could I please stop questioning her about it because after all, it was done. After, we went to lunch at Tom's, the diner featured on Sienfeld, and then we walked across the Columbia campus because the leaves were changing and called us in. We sat on the sundial and just chatted and soaked in the crisp clear color of the day. We took a couple of what my daughter calls "selfies," pictures you take of yourself holding the camera at arms length. I must be feeling pretty good today because I'm actually posting a photo of myself. I'm just charmed to be with my beautiful daughter.

Our lovely baker is at this moment making raspberry lemon squares for cooking club tomorrow. Sunday night is baking night in our house. I'm really going to miss this. I said to her, "I really going to miss you when you go to college." She looked at me for a beat or two and then she said, "Well, that's depressing." And then we both burst out laughing.