Wednesday, November 9, 2011

once again

I’ve been wanting to get back to this space for weeks -- er, months -- now. I think about it often. I imagine that little thing I wanted to share. I even imagine an image that would perfectly show that little thing. But then life -- er, work -- intervenes. Not only have I not been present here, but I’ve not really been present to myself. Whole parts of my life -- the creative, the meticulous -- have fallen away under the pressures of a new job.

Instead of painting -- and then sharing -- the window trim that has been glaring at me for a month now (ever since I ripped down the interior shutters in a hasty move to get more light), I try to figure out how I’m going to teach Whitman on Thursday or paragraphing next week. When I do snatch a free moment to vacuum -- that most satisfying of domestic duties -- I find myself thinking about next semester’s syllabi instead of extra-academic projects. And god knows, I don’t want this blog to be exclusively about syllabi and my students’ comma splices.

I thought about abandoning this space altogether, letting it sit as a memorial to my past self, but I’m not quite there yet. I want to believe that I can find something back here because finding something back here means finding some kind of balance for myself. It means taking the time to see Homer. Taking time to eat up his sleepy loveliness.

It also means taking the time to get to my knitting group on Monday evenings. On weeks when I’m feeling moderately sane, I join a group of five women, most of whom are mothers, some of whom live off the grid, all of whom get me out of my teaching mind.

It also means eating slowly. J and I are often moving frantically in two different directions. Occasionally, though, one of us gets home early, warms the stove, and surprises the other with a dinner fully formed. We light candles and inhale. I keep hoping that this might happen every night, but given everything else, I settle for a couple times a week.

So I want to get back here. I need to get back here. I really am going to get back here.

Monday, August 29, 2011


The best thing about actually living with your partner is that you don’t have to spend all weekend in the airport thinking about all of the things you’d rather be doing. You don’t have to settle for slimy stir-fry from Panda Express because you can make pesto from the basil on the patio. You don’t have to debate the merits of wheelie bags or fight with TSA about shoving those wheelie bags into the overhead bin. You get to buy shampoo in bottles larger than 3 oz., and you get to stay on the ground.

You also get to wake up on a Saturday morning and decide that the dining room chairs that the former owner kindly left are just too gross to keep using. You can then jump in the car and spend $8.96 a pop for new high density foam. You can also gloat about the fact that you were inspired to buy exactly two yards of heavy weight japanese linen on your summer vacation, even though you never buy more than a yard and a half, and even though you had no idea where you’d use it.

You can then look at your watch and realize that you have all evening to reupholster the chairs, unconcerned about catching a flight or having to go to bed at 8 pm for the cheap 6 am one. You can perfect your process as you go, layering foam and thin batting and fabric, developing a heretofore unseen intimacy with the staple gun. You can even go to sleep with 3 chairs done and wake up on Sunday morning, drink a pot of decaf with the Sunday Times and then leisurely move to finish the last 3. You can finish it all by noon and then clear your desk and get down to schoolwork. Ah, weekends. Ah, short-distance relationships.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

first dayz

By now I’ve met them all. There are just 43 of them in three classes. All week I was nervous about the start of the semester and I felt the familiar panic as I walked into each classroom. I couldn’t help but worry. These would surely be, I told myself, very different students. There would be men, for one, and after two years at a women’s college, I wasn’t so sure that I’d know what to make of them. And in one important way, I was sure, they’d seem unfamiliar. After all, the college where I now teach exclusively accepts poor students and primarily those from Appalachia. They’d be coming from some of the worst high schools in the country and I was warned to check my expectations before I walked through the door. I read about “culturally responsible” pedagogy and promised myself that I wouldn’t assume anyone had heard of Walt Whitman or Harriet Beecher Stowe. A colleague warned me to “forget everything you learned at Bryn Mawr.”

After I met them, though, I realized that there was no need to forget. Because students are students, pulled into the classroom by desire, by curiosity, by command, by mistake. But no matter the reason, they’re there. Sitting and eager and ready to give me a chance. So our conversations might sound a little different; they surely were on the first day, but they were conversations nonetheless and I feel privileged to be having them.

Sunday, August 21, 2011


The syllabi are coming together. Tonight is the opening faculty convocation. Homer gets a walk in the mornings and a run in the afternoons, just like Arlo, his predecessor (whom he resembles more and more each day) did. We grocery shop in the evenings. I buy vegetables on Tuesday and Fridays at the farmer's market. We started the final season of “Friday Night Lights” last night, curled up together in bed around the laptop, just like we did in graduate school. J met his advisees yesterday, all seventeen of them. We both wore regalia and marched into the students’ dedication ceremony yesterday afternoon. I was jealous of the chemistry teacher who sprung for the Carolina blue robes. J’s colleagues are becoming my colleagues. I’m still cooking through Super Natural Everyday. I finally finished my revision, with lots of smart editing from J. We both do the dishes.

Life is settling into a rhythm that still feels new and unfamiliar but each day also feels a little more ordinary. Each day we love this funny mutt more and more.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

end of summer

The weather has turned. At least temporarily. It's cool at night and you can almost smell autumn on the horizon. We're frantically writing assignments and plotting out syllabi. I'm finishing article revisions and day dreaming about hosta and fern plantings.

My Dad came for a visit last week. We barely kept up with him. In two long days, he managed to replace a broken window, fill lots of cracks, glaze the basement windows, hang pictures, fix half a dozen doors, install a range hood (we have light!), fix the electrical problem in the kitchen, give me a closet doorknob, fix the shutters, hang curtain rods, bandage my wounds, and probably several other, life-saving things that I'm somehow forgetting.

We also had a good hike, and even down a lung, he kept us moving. It seems so terribly hollow to say that I feel grateful for visits like this one. But I feel grateful for visits like this one. It's been eight months of worry and sorrow, and so visits like this one feel nothing less than blessed.

We bought summer treats at the farmer's market, like the exclusively grass-fed meat that he can't find in Michigan and lots of tomatoes. Last night I made tomato preserves with our leftovers. I'm sure that I overcooked it, but it was my first foray into canning (another Dad lesson), and now I know what not to do.
I'm thinking about buying a bushel of tomatoes on Friday and canning them whole...Ah summer, ah tomatoes.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

sampling life

My calendar says August 14, but surely that’s a misprint. It must still be July. What happened to June? Where has the summer gone? How is it that I’ve found myself in the middle of August with not a single complete syllabus and classes beginning in just ten days?

I suppose that I could blame the puppy. Or I could curse the house that needed so much love. I could blame myself for driving off to Michigan and then back East for quick vacation with J. I could accept responsibility for planting lantana and clover instead of drafting assignment sequences for composition classes. I could reckon the time it took paint the house against the time I spent at my computer. But I won’t.

Instead, I’ll scramble this week and next. I’ll feel unprepared when the term opens and probably still unprepared when I turn in grades in December. Because that’s the way it always feels at a new place during a new year. New students, new problems, new questions, new curiosities. Such, such will be the joys!

Last night I finished up my single needling creation of the entire summer. As I corseted it to the frame, I wondered how it could be that I have not a single knitted gem to share. I guess that’s what happens when a former, hour-long commute turns into a five-minute walk to school, when evenings spent with phone buds in my ears and hands free to knit turns into an actual, live relationship. That might be why I’ve had sheepishly little to share here.

Except this, a late summer foray into crewel, the design by Alicia Paulson. I finished most of it during a long, long car ride East with J behind the wheel. The whole while I felt like I was channeling my 18th century sisters, working our first samplers to practice our stitches and prove our domestic prowess. I’m not sure where it will hang, somewhere, hopefully, where people will appreciate the A, B, Cs.

Monday, August 1, 2011


The previous owner of 408 (the seemingly appropriate name for our manse from here on out) had a thing for window coverings. These were the kind of curtains that a poor Maria von Trapp would have made into knickers. For a dozen children. They were so bad that J almost refused to buy the house because they made every room look like it was 1977 in Kentucky. Oh Kentucky. I, on the other hand, saw money signs in my head. Bad decor = lots of opportunity.

But home gyms from 1984 = kinky delights or just pure danger? We were undecided.

Anyway, this was the "master bedroom," an add-on in the 1960s and one that has been settling ever since. The floor is so sloped that you can drop a tennis ball at the doorway and watch it pick up speed all the way to the far wall. The room did have two gloriously large cedar closets (no fights over hogging hangers) though little else to impress.

But after getting a new ceiling and several coats of primer and paint (we're not sure how long we'll stick with the color. It might just be too passive), we ended up with this decidedly more airy bedroom. This was no quick fix and will be a work in progress for the foreseeable future.

It now needs some appropriate curtains. I'm thinking light and gauzy, hung high and extending a bit beyond the window casing to make those skimpy panes look a big bigger. It also needs a funky textile for above the bed, a good, clean rug, some bright art, an ottoman, bedside tables, ceiling lights, this and that.

But for now, it works. And so much better than before. And that glory in the middle? Well, that's our marriage saver, a Tempur-Pedic mattress, our best investment yet.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

The good, the bad, the electrical

I had some vague idea that this summer would be relaxing, that I could leisurely undertake some modest home improvements, that I could spend a couple hours each day working on a creative writing project, that I could imagine my courses for the fall as I planted hostas and watched my jalapeƱos grow. I thought that just maybe J and I would drink cocktails on the patio in the evening, marveling at our good fortune and savoring the fresh summer dinner that I’d just whipped up with delights from the farmer’s market. I’d even open the dreaded dissertation manuscript and start the revisions. Oh, and we’d surely travel to Michigan and then out East, for a meandering road trip in our new car.

All of this seemed possible as I packed my bags in Philadelphia. After all, the blogs I read each day make it seem so easy, so beautiful, so perfectly uncomplicated. So unreal. How did I forget that home improvement doesn’t actually happen in the space of a blog post? How did I forget that my relationship to writing is so vexed that I’d rather make the bed, mow the lawn, and pick up dog shit than sit down and put pen to paper? Why didn’t I remember that having a puppy is like losing an arm and having to work one handed, the other one constantly throwing the ball, removing the bottle cap (or the rock, the sock, the sleeping pill bottle (!), the drano bottle (!!), the shoe, the sandal, the rug) from that damned puppy jaw? And wait, what about this whole marriage thing? Why didn’t occur to me that it would actually take time and energy, patience and fortitude to negotiate all of this with another?

And so now, as we scramble to get out of town for one last breath of coastal air before the grind begins, I feel frantic, made ever more so by the first major house problem. A little bubble on the kitchen ceiling, one that I diagnosed even before I’d mounted the step stool turned into this:

Well, actually, this is the brand new fix. I was too horrified by the problem, I guess, to get a good picture of the old lead pipe (yes, it was actually lead) that was so contorted that it had practically split in two and was spilling toilet “water” into the ceiling. I’m trying to forget the fact that we had just had this ceiling redone a few weeks before. I’m also trying to forget the fact that this drama was playing out on top of our refrigerator. Gross.

The plumber was here all day yesterday, dashing out every hour or so because he was missing yet another part or tool to fix this decided singular set-up. He spent most of the time sawing cast iron and lead pipes, spewing metal filament all over the kitchen. In the fruit bowl, on every plate, glass, and mug. He draped the kitchen in a black snow. And so I spent last night drinking a stiff gin and tonic and mopping up the mess. This all would have been well and good had I not insisted on standing on the counter to wipe the top edge of the window trim. It was then that I noticed that all of his banging had actually dislodged a new light fixture above the sink. I was annoyed and wanted to see if I could sort of jimmy it back into place. I grabbed the metal bar and zap, I felt the shock shimmer up my arm. The light went out and I thought, huh, that was sort of weird, but I didn’t register the problem. So I turned off the switch and grabbed it again. Another zap and then another. I thought maybe I was losing my mind and so I made – forced, really – J to try it also. And of course, electricity knows no favorites and he got zapped also.

This struck me as truly bizarre. How could a fixture be zapping us if the circuit was turned off at the wall? I still don’t know. But a quick google search suggested that we were liable to burn our whole house down. And faced with an unlabeled breaker box (now on “the list”), we decided to be safe and flipped the entire house breaker. Good thing it’s summer and we found the flashlights beforehand. I took down the fixture today, resigned myself to calling an electrician, and I’m forcing myself to just walk away from it for the moment. Argh.

But wait, wasn’t this post going to be about everything evening out? About finding balance in the midst of struggle? Wasn’t I planning to linger on the good, the beautiful, the moment of grace that washed all of this away? Well, I was. Really, I was. But come to think of it, this moment has no beauty and has no grace. It’s just a hot day in Kentucky with a hole in our kitchen and a few singed hairs on our arms.

That last bit, well, that’s just a bit of narrative exaggeration for rhetorical effect. Arm hair remains healthy and growing.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

outtakes from a fortnight away

After six weeks of moving, painting, hauling, and settling, I was ready to hop in the car and head north. I came for these sunsets over the bay. Each night I’d sit outside, usually with Homer biting my ears, and try to impress the reds and blues in my mind, storing them for the waterless year ahead in Kentucky. It was hot, though, even in Michigan, and Homer took to wading in until his undercarriage was submerged.

I arrived with great ambition. I was going to get started on a conference paper and write my fall syllabi. Instead, I read a mediocre novel and a couple good memoirs, and I delighted in seeing my family. I drank with my Aunt and hosted a visit from close pals. But mostly, I just slowed down, lay on the hot sand, and tried to quiet my mind before the frantic push of the new school year begins.

Monday, July 11, 2011

marital edibles

It’s funny how marriage makes you eat differently. What’s suffices as a perfectly adequate meal for one tends to flop as a dinner for two. J’s standard issue pile of beans and canned chicken -- yes, I said CANNED CHICKEN! -- doesn’t go over well with me. And my overcooked scrambled eggs on a soulless corn tortilla from a bag hardly passes the muster with him. But we both end up stretching here and there. He’ll eat the whole wheat blueberry waffles when I make them (even if we have no maple syrup), but he’d rather just grab a fistful of almonds and get to work. I’ll try yet another stir-fry, usually persuaded after a bite or two. We haven’t quite found a rhythm though. It’s unclear who is going to cook what and when and how. And all the while, we have a real dining room mocking us. It’s this dedicated space calling out to us, to eat, to put our work away, to throw Homer out the door, to break bread -- err, kale -- together.

And small town Kentucky certainly prompts one to cook. There’s a semi decent Indian place about ten miles up the road, but you can only eat Indian so many days a week. Instead, we troll the farmer’s markets and pick through the “World Foods” aisle at Meijers. I’ve been working my way through Heidi Swanson’s Super Natural Everyday. This is the first cookbook that just absolutely works with my ideas of good, simple food. A couple days ago, faced with the slimmest of slim pickings in the fridge, I flipped through its pages looking for lunch. The micro greens that I haphazardly “planted” (i.e. I tossed seeds on the ground) a couple weeks ago were going crazy in the soil, but I needed a vehicle for them. Swanson answered my call with an open-faced egg salad sandwich that uses plain yogurt instead of mayonnaise. I picked some thyme and threw it all on German whole grain bread. The next day, with even slimmer pickings, I tried her chickpea salad recipe, added a couple slices of local tomatoes, and J and I both swooned. Now if I could only find black mustard seeds and rye flour in the land of Hamburger Helper and Mountain Dew.

Saturday, July 2, 2011


When you get a puppy from the roadside, you can’t be sure what you’re going to find. Homer is delightful in so many ways: he’s peppy and happy, free of solemn brooding of Arlo. But he has several idiosyncrasies that prove rather challenging. He loves, and I mean really, really loves, to bite our ankles with his jagged puppy teeth. Sometimes he gets a running start and just barrels into our calves at a full sprint. We both look like we’ve been sleeping on a barbed wire bed.

He’s also terrified of the leash. As soon as we clip it to him, he nosedives into the nearest brush and plays dead. Utterly unwilling to move, he gets his entire little mass onto the ground so that we have no choice but to surrender, unclip him and proceed with the walk. And then there’s the issue of his walks. In some strange twist of marital encouragement, Homer will only agree to walks if both of us are with him. Otherwise, faced with just one of us, he flops on the ground and simply refuses to move.

I suspect that we’ve quickly become hopeless slaves to his whims. But this hasn’t been all bad. We’re working on the biting and we’ve found ourselves walking together each evening. Last night we headed to the nearby Pinnacles for an evening, July 1st hike. I think we both like the fact that Homer has brought us together for these romps. We coo over him and look like absolute saps, delighting over his log hops and trail navigation.

But what do you expect, we’re a childless couple with a new puppy and it’s summer.

Friday, July 1, 2011


There are still stacks of boxes (lots of them) and unpainted trim upstairs and old ceiling tile that needs replacing. The walls -- newly coated -- are bare. I haven’t hung a thing, save for a single painting by my Aunt Mimi. Rugs are a distant hope. As are curtains. Reupholstering the couches is on the list, but it keeps falling below the more urgent need of the day, like fixing the hissing toilet or replacing the lousy shower head or making a vodka run to the next county over. My painter, the one whom I hired just to paint the ceilings but who has now become a third member of the family, can only work in the afternoons because he is -- and I’m not joking -- a bounty hunter the rest of the time. He’s not working today because he’s on a hunt with his pepper gun in some strip mines in Eastern Kentucky. He’s twice offered me a job, once to be his partner, “50/50 all the way!” and once to photograph children riding his miniature donkeys -- still not joking -- at county fairs. Extraordinary.


But this isn’t about my painter turned bounty hunter turned breeder of donkeys. It’s about the slow changes happening around here. When we moved in, the living room was a creamy beige and all of the walls were shot through with old nails and anchors and holes. I spent the first week here filling and then sanding all of those holes. Hundreds of them. My mom came down -- bless her -- and we painted the next week, in the 95 degree heat. Though she and J had some initial misgivings about the color -- it’s “moonshine” by Benjamin Moore (I ask: how can you not paint your walls moonshine if you live in Kentucky?) -- everyone fell into a kind of dreamy rapture once it dried. It’s downright gray on the paint chip, but it’s blue on the walls. We were all so smitten by it that we went ahead and gave the dining room and kitchen the same treatment.


The couches are old and I’ve loved them since I was a child. They spent their first years in a mid-century house in Midland, Michigan with my grandparents on my Dad’s side. They’re Danish, teak and wicker on the sides. They even fold down into little beds. I’m not sure, but I think they’re from the late 60s. After awhile, they traveled north and resided in my hometown. Eventually, they ended up with my Aunt Barbara, who moved into my grandparents’ house at some point in the early 90s. Or was it the late 80s? I don’t remember. After that, they ended up in the East Village with my cousin Margaret and her boyfriend, in a fourth floor walk-up with narrow halls and steep stairs. As soon as we bought this house, I knew that I needed them. So I begged my Aunt -- who kindly obliged, even if she was mystified by my ardor -- and J and I went and fetched them in a rented zipcar before I left Philadelphia. They’re perfect for this space, even if they desperately need to be recovered and are virtually begging for some funky pillows.

After again.

The space is certainly inchoate, but it’s coming. Slowly. For now, I like to fall onto a couch, catch up on my stack of unread New Yorkers, and pretend that I’m thinking about my syllabi for the fall. Homer sleeps on my chest and J fusses in the kitchen. It’s happening. We’re settling.

Thursday, June 30, 2011


Meet Homer. The Homebot. Nugget. Sir Puppo II. He showed up right after I did. We were out for drinks with friends when one of them mentioned the puppy who was living on her porch. She had found him a couple weeks earlier lying in the middle of a country road in Jackson County. He was all alone, a few weeks old, nearly bald with mange, and eager to hop in the car with them. I'm not sure I would have been so generous with my backseat. When I first met him, he looked a little like an old and wrinkly man. I should post a photo, but I wouldn't want to embarrass him. At first I volunteered just to take him to the vet and pay for the medicine that he needed to combat the mange. And I really did maintain some kind of healthy distance from him for a few days,or at least until I fell hopelessly in love with his high pitch yawns and his baby suckling noises.

We wanted an old-timey, straightforward name for a pup with such modest beginnings. But J wasn't having any of my suggestions. Then I remembered a friend's doggie nephew, another Homer, and we decided that it was okay to plagiarize a dog's name from Connecticut. We tell ourselves that they were channeling the poet; we're channeling the country. Neither, let's hope, were going for the Simpson.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

going analog

Three years ago, J and I were at a wedding in Florida. It was June and hot and I insisted on floating in the bath water of the Atlantic until just before the ceremony, my hair a salty tangle as I slipped on my azure silk dress. The minister, a middle-aged-pleated-pant-wearing-kind-of-guy, took his place at the arbor and clutched his e-Reader to his chest. He greeted us all extemporaneously and then dove into his electronic bible. All was well and good until it froze, in the middle of a psalm. He cleared his throat, paused, looked up sheepishly, and confided that he’d need to “reboot his bible.” If there’s ever an analog-only event, I thought, it’s gotta be a wedding.

But, it seems, there are other analog-only events:
moving to kentucky
buying a house
finding a puppy
buying a car
settling into real married life with someone you hardly remember

For the last six weeks or so, I’ve kept the computer off. I mean really off. Sure, I check email three times a week on my phone, but I’ve had little desire to record this crazy transition here. I haven’t even been reading other blogs nor have I written a word. I’m not sure I can explain my desire to turn it all off. I suspect it has something to do with leaving a job in which I sat in front of my laptop in a cubicle for nine hours a day. Now I spend nine hours a day unpacking, painting, shopping for new toilets, sanding kitchen cabinets, and trying to teach little Homer to stop -- just stop for god’s sake -- biting my toes.

And then there’s the matter of what this space will become, now that 550 square feet have multiplied into 2000 and my quiet life of one has become the negotiated life of two. I find myself looking for the familiarity of my studio in Philadelphia as I hang artifacts of that life in Kentucky. There are traces, of course, but so many unrecognizable differences. Perhaps that’s what this will become: a record of difference, of change, of the new.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011


For most of my life, I’ve looked young for my age. I don’t hear that so much anymore, but that may just be because I married a man who looks a decade younger than his peers. When I was very small – and much of my childhood was spent that way – I sensed a kind of eerie dissonance between my form and my interior, between the way I looked to others and the way I felt myself. This wasn’t a kind of teenage angsty discontent, but rather a simmering sense that it did me no good. I got carded at an R-rated movie when I was 25. I had to sit out from the roller coaster rides on a youth group theme park trip when I was 10 because I wasn’t the requisite 45” (which, to be honest, wasn’t all that disappointing). When I was 19, I had a fake i.d. that claimed I was 26, and it still shocks me that it actually kept me in beers and bars throughout college.

People always said that I’d be thankful one day. That seemed like a shitty consolation, perhaps because I knew, even then, that it wouldn’t pay off. It couldn’t.

After work yesterday, I redeemed a lovely spa gift certificate to get a massage. I warned the guy that my back was, as always, a mess. Bad backs seem to be a genetic gift that I share with my dad and sister and aunt. They extend through the branches of our family tree like that sinewy wild grape vine that withers a perfectly healthy oak. The masseuse tried to untangle the mess of my shoulders, the Gordian knots in my neck, stretching and pulling my muscles back into place. Once I emerged from the foggy warmth of the session, he said, “Man, you got a really intense back.” He might as well have said, “Little sister, that back of yours, it might look like 29 and a half, but it feels like 60.”

In other words, the dissonance, instead of gradually harmonizing, seems to be getting louder. Now my body has surpassed my age and I still have yet to glean the wonders of being mistaken for 33 instead of 35, for buying a gin and tonic without flashing my gummy grim.

Maybe I should drink more gin and tonics and my back would feel better. But would that take away my crow’s feet?

Monday, May 9, 2011


I’ve been thinking a lot about knitting lately, trying to figure out what it would mean to create meaty prose about purling and dragging yarn over and over and over again. My sister-in-law Lisa has escorted me to the yarn harlot and knitting daily, and as much as I appreciate the former, the writing on neither really piques my interest.

And then there’s those blog readers -- those modest few -- who tell me that they skip my posts whenever I write about knitting.

In any case, I realized this morning, on a bumpy train to work (only 10 days left!), that the reason I’m interested in writing about knitting is because -- and perhaps for me alone -- it’s the stuff of muscle memory. Or rather, it’s somehow and quite literally often the fabric of my emotional landscape.

Like yesterday. On a perfectly balmy mother’s day afternoon, I meditatively continued on with a teal summer cardigan in Philadelphia’s under-appreciated Fitler Square. This sweater features the kind of lace knitting that I actually have to pay attention to or I’m apt to misinterpret a knit-two-together as a slip-slip knit. Yesterday, though, my mind was drifting off and I could -- for the first time in more than twenty five years -- recall my very first piece of knitting: a mustard yellow acrylic patch, one of those misshapen numbers that my mom told me was most definitely a doll’s blanket. Too bad I didn’t like dolls.

I recall neither the yarn passing through my fingers nor what became of this scrap, but I do remember showing it to my mom and sheepishly pointing out the mistakes. And this is where it gets at something I want to remember. My words are missing, but in some resonant way I recall blaming that acrylic for the skipped stitches, the little holes that surely meant a doll’s toes would catch cold. What I remember even more clearly was my mom telling me that it wasn’t the yarn that had erred. It was me.

I’m convinced that I remember this moment amidst all of the other fogginess of my life because of it was such an anomaly, a moment in which my mom actually called bullshit on my bullshit. I like this moment, then, because it’s one rare bit of critique amidst an otherwise hazy morass of adulation and encouragement. I want to believe that this moment made me a more careful knitter, that it implanted some shed of self-reflection, and for it I’m thankful.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

a fine prospect

I’ve begun to write four posts in as many days. Each time, as I’m ready to finish one up, I get distracted or my plane lands or I decide sleep is better than blogger. I’m hoping to find the time and space to work on these hibernating posts more this week and, in turn, get this little blog hopping again. That may be wishful thinking. I have a feeling that chaos will ensue until I land permanently in Kentucky at the end of the month.

For now, though, I’m determined to post. J and I finally -- and hopefully conclusively -- decided on a house this past weekend. I made an unexpected trip back to Kentucky on Saturday to check out one lingering possibility, a lovely and rambling old place that in the end needed more work (and thus more money) than we thought we could muster over the next couple of years. So we decided on the little brick abode that we first turned up a few weeks ago.

It’s not without its problems, but this morning I woke up more convinced that we were making the right choice given the options that we have. I also woke up thinking about how polarizing this experience has been. Since I’ve known J, he’s extolled the virtues of renting. In fact, my first doubts about our relationship arose during one of his particularly vituperative monologues about the idiocy of home improvement. I was crestfallen. How could this otherwise brilliant, generous, caring, and creative man have such a blind spot?

He was, after all, calling foul on one of my core commitments. (Oh god, I can’t believe I just self-referentially used the expression “core commitments.”) He was, unknowingly, throwing stones at my imaginary glass house. I couldn’t take it.

I have, I’ve had, I’ll always have domestic desire.

You see, I was reared by a mother who was always crafting and recrafting her interiors, who was thinking about ways to make kitchen traffic flow or finding the perfect shade of butter for the living room walls. We always had stacks of interior design magazines and architectural books about small houses as our bedside table companions. I particularly remember a book from the 1980s about tree houses -- one of those old Sunset publications, I think -- that singlehandedly constructed arboreal retreats in my young mind.

Sadly, our recent house hunting was massively compressed. We had, essentially, one weekend to find a place in a land of generally abysmal architecture, in a state that’s given over -- hook, line, and sinker -- to the excesses of new construction. I had dreamed of a big bungalow on a rolling hillside with cultivated gardens, but not surprisingly, that wasn’t exactly available during the 48 hours we had. And so we’ve compromised.

We’ve taken the pretty good instead of waiting for the perfect. I like that we’ve made this compromise, mostly because I think it will help me to not over identify with my house. The yard is small, but carefully tended. The kitchen hasn’t been touched since the year of my birth, but is pleading for a facelift. The light doesn’t flood in, but there are these lovely, delicate wooden shutters on the inside of the windows that are ready to drink up a coat of brightening white paint. There’s enough to do, but not so much as to scare me from even starting.

Still, I've only half convinced my other half that this is a good decision. I see the worry in his eyes when we talk about replacing the furnace. I hear the tightness in his voice when he bemoans the lack of a disposal. But in the end, I think he'll come around to home ownership.

And it seems, in fact, like this little brick number might just be the perfect place to start.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

peeping out of the woodwork

Oh man, it’s been awhile.

I’ve officially transitioned into the inured-to-the-present-living-in-the-future mode. This is neither good for the blog nor good for my soul. My teaching (finally finished today) has become stale. My projects at work need thoughtful conclusions. My mind is already in Kentucky.

The last couple weeks have been full of house hunting and offer making. J and I chose a sweet little brick number, but then in the last few days, we’ve been racked with indecision and may well end up in a more rambling tri-level from the 30s. We can’t decide. Either way, though, we’ll have a home soon, a place to nestle in and try out cohabitation for the first time in our relationship. It seems extraordinary that this two years of distance is finally -- finally! -- over. J gets to Philadelphia on the 17th and then we’ll pack up and drive west into the hills.

The real reason that I felt compelled to inch out of my silent shell was the arrival of this fantastic wedding treat:

It's a lovely tiled silhouette of me and Josh (mind you, it's a much more flattering silhouette of me than actually exists) with the Whitmanian "Camerado" from our vows underneath. I'm totally smitten with it. It comes from the wildly talented hands of my high-school-roommate-turned-art-teacher Maggie. I'm loving the fact that soon we'll have an actual real house in which to hang it. I think that she should start up a little side business...

Okay, I'm headed back into the shell now. Perhaps I'll come out again soon, especially if we survive an actual home purchase. No matter where we end up, we have lots of home improvement in our future.

Friday, April 15, 2011

{This Moment}

headed to Kentucky this morning with the newly-blocked, quickly-finished Ishbel in tow. Balm for airline travel = lacy madelinetosh shawl. Bring on delays, the pat-downs, the misery. Happy weekending.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

still looking

Finding bits of beauty on my way out of this city. Kentucky-bound this weekend to find a place that feels like home.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

tick tock

It can’t possibly be true. There’s no way that I’m really 35 today. It must be some kind of mix up, some cruel calendrical confusion.

Last night I was talking to a novelist who, reflecting on his career, offhandedly noted, “life is long.” It instantly reminded me an ex-boyfriend who, reflecting on our years of mutual torment, used to coax me back into romantic revery by saying the same thing. At 25 it seemed true enough. At 35 it feels patently false. Those ten years, for instance, well, they’re gone. And save for a dozen new wrinkles, I have little account of them.

A dissertation? A PhD? Somehow they don't add up to a decade.

When I told the novelist that life felt anything but long, he said that having his two-year daughter changed his account of time. It reminded me that when you’re a child, each day and each year feels a like a century. Having a baby, he said, was like resetting your own internal clock back to a child’s time. I hope that’s true.

My celebrations today are modest. I bought a cheese danish that I’ve been thinking about since January. Each morning when I buy a desiccated, painfully healthy, whole grain roll, I longingly admire the cheese danish. In early February, I decided that I’d splurge on my birthday. And so it began: 3 months of cheese danish imaginings.

I think it might be perverse to dream about a danish for three months. It might be the sign of instability. Or it might just be a way to pass the days. Because that's what it feels like I'm doing here, at the end of this post-doc, passing the days, waiting to move on, to leave behind, to start again.

Mid-life is just time to do that.

Friday, April 8, 2011

a day, a year, a life

O happy day.

This might just be your hardest fought birthday yet. But I’d hardly call you an old man. As I awoke this morning, I tried to imagine you gathering your gear for an end-of-season Vasa visit. I thought about how it must feel to strap boot to ski and enter the soon greening woods. I tried to feel the snow glide beneath my own feet as I saw the solemn Michigan skies above.

I couldn’t begin to feel what it must be wonder if this ski and the next might be the last, the last of the season, but surely not the last of a life. The snow will return before long.

I realized recently that I’m old enough now -- the wrinkles can attest -- to remember your life at my age. And as I flipped through ancient imagines this morning, I tried to see me in you. My form, though, seems to be my mother's, even as my mind often resembles your own. I see your peace on the water, and peeping out, I too float amongst the lulling waves.

I can just barely recall this day in Washington, at the National Zoo, when I saw a monkey for the first time. You must have been just a year or two older than I am today, with three kids already and a whole lot of life in front of you.

[I also realized that I've married a man who now strives to capture the very style you seem to have perfected in 1982. But that's another story altogether.]

For now it's celebration and good cheer.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

a long time coming

I've been meaning to get to this project for a long time. My friend Maura has been making these -- and at one point selling them as well -- for years. Recently, I found myself in an art supply store, with a coupon in hand, and about five baby showers on the horizon (ahh, the joys of being in my 30s). I wanted a project that was less time-consuming than a sweater or a quilt, something I could whip up in no time and maybe include with an old-fashioned, store-bought present. This is the first attempt, for a baby who burst onto the scene a bit ahead of schedule. I think it needs a companion with a "gets the..." and a picture of a worm.

I intended this to have just one bird, but I accidentally dribbled paint on the side and so had to add the second purple winged thing. I'm not sure what I think, but I do have many other designs in mind, any number of which depend upon a convincing rendition of Abe Lincoln's mug.

Monday, April 4, 2011


It's Emily Dickinson this week. That always means a lot of furrowed brows, a lot of tentative glances, a lot of shots in the dark. It seems only fair to deal with Dickinson with a belly full of chocolate goodness. And this chocolate goodness isn't half bad.

I give you the "Asteroid" (source: an email from an email passed along from another email with a scan of an old recipe)

1 cup brown rice syrup
1 cup almond or peanut butter
1 cup malt-sweetened non-dairy chocolate chips (or just regular old chocolate chips)
3 cups crispy brown rice cereal

In a large sauce pan, heat rice syrup and peanut butter until creamy. Stir in chocolate chips until melted. Remove from heat and stir in brown rice cereal until well-incorporated. Let cool a bit. Shape into balls. Let cool on wax paper. Makes 1.5 dozen balls.

They're out of this world and low on the glycemic index. Yes, I am teaching Dickinson and combatting obesity all in one fell swoop.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

looking up and down

During a period of unabating creative malaise (a.k.a. the end of the semester), I find myself looking for bits of beauty wherever I can find them. Before I leave this city, I hope to discover just a hint of something beguiling beneath the grime --

First up: the first bold gesture of spring.

Sunday, March 27, 2011


In 1999 or maybe 2000, I stole a shirt from my sister Molly. “Steal” may be too strong a word for that process of slightly hostile sisterly exchange that must go on in all families. But “borrow” also doesn’t work so well, because at least in this case, I never intended to give it back. It was paper-thin, light blue linen. It was a kind of short tunic that I wore hundreds and hundreds of times for most of the last decade, until it was so threadbare that I might as well have been going out nude. In the end, I couldn’t even bring myself to give it away. It seemed an insult to Goodwill. So did the unthinkable: I trashed it.

But I haven’t stopped thinking about it ever since. I cursed myself again and again that I didn’t unpick the seams and turn it into a pattern. So you can imagine my glee when a year or so ago I came upon a version of the shirt. It was from Jenny Gordy’s lovely line, Wiksten. It’s the tova top and dress. I’ve followed her blog for awhile now have long admired her simple and breezy style. I was particularly exuberant when she started publishing a couple of her patterns last year. Unfortunately, I missed out on the first round of the tova pattern, but managed to snatch one up the second time around this winter.

I bought the blue linen a few weeks ago and I spent four evenings this last week tracing the pattern (I didn't cut it out because I knew that I'd want to make loads of these), cutting out the fabric, pinning and more pinning, sewing, and hemming, and finally, admiring. I did a little bit each night, which actually made the process more fun than slogging through it on a single day.

And the pattern? Well, it's terrific, both because it recalls the earlier shirt and exceeds it (it’s a bit more fitted; it’s not threadbare; it’s longer; and it can also be a dress!). Jenny’s directions are wonderfully clear and precise. I still struggle a bit with gathers (on the yoke, the sleeves, etc.), but I didn’t have to unpick more than a couple seams the entire way through. My only annoyance is that I didn’t make the dress length and I didn’t make two versions at the same time. But I will. Soon.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

tongue and pen and hands

I've had no time -- I mean really very little time -- to get to my own work in the last two years. I know that I've said this before, but there's nothing like beating a dead horse with work-related sorrow. Instead of shaping my dissertation (finger down the throat) into a publishable monograph, I've been diligently serving the institution. When I first took this job, I had hoped that the time away from my dissertation would make me pine for it. It hasn't. But it has provided endless opportunities to hone my guilt about turning away from that project, one that just feels so massively messed up, so narrow, so timid, so hopeless problematic. So unsexy.

But occasionally, like yesterday afternoon when my archival skimming malaise had reached heights heretofore unseen, I come upon a little nugget, a gem, something, dare I say it, almost precious. The above is a scrap from a M. Carey Thomas commencement address at Bryn Mawr in 1912. She introduces Jane Addams as the "tongue and pen and hands" of a "great social movement" (social justice, I presume). I know it's a silly little bit, but I just love that formulation of Jane Addams, as the tongue and pen and hands.

If only we could be hear the story that she begs permission to tell....

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

somnambulist cooking

I want to start a fan club for recipes with less than four ingredients that are, in their very simplicity, perfect. The first on my list is this one from smittenkitchen that is quickly becoming an old standby here.

Picture it: It’s Monday night and you’re exhausted. You’ve managed to get through the day, but you have absolutely no energy to cook. None. You don’t even, in fact, have enough energy to pick up the phone and order take-out from across the street. Right across the street. You can’t bear the thought of walking out your door.

So instead you convince yourself that you can: a) open a can of tomatoes, b) cut an onion in half, c) peel the wax paper off a stick of butter, d) transfer all of this into a pot and turn it on. Once the aroma of buttery tomatoes perks up your spirits, you further convince yourself that you can manage to: a) put a pot of water on the stove, and b) boil pasta. It’s tough, but you manage it.

Because you’ve discovered a shred of vestigial energy by opening and closing the refrigerator door and wielding your knife for one swift blow through the onion, you manage – for the first time now – to dump a bag of pre-washed spinach into the bowl where you’re going to dump the hot pasta and sauce. You feel momentarily self-righteous because you’ve managed to turn a fatty carbo load into a fatty carbo load with a hint of iron and some fancy minerals.

You’re inspired now and manage to open the fridge once more and pull out the off-brand-and-also-pretty-bland parmesan cheese. You think you can just manage to sprinkle it over the top of the steaming noodles.

You scoop it onto a plate. Open the book for tomorrow's class. Convince yourself that you're reading. But really, you're just letting the carbs take you away to some magic land where hundreds of calories fly off your body just as they enter your mouth.