Redux redux

Be careful what you wish for. As I was living my glamorous life yesterday, picking up piles of dog poop from the yard, while the H sniffled and coughed inside, I was hoping for snow, both to hide the stuff I couldn't pry loose from the ice, and to return my yard to the pristine smoth-complexioned beauty that only a coating of fresh flakes can provide.

It started last night, just as predicted (I am still getting used to weather, its forecasting, and the accuracy of those forecasts--as an addendum to my earlier snide posting about weather prediction in L.A., let me just add that though there was little weather to predict, what prognostication was offered was more often than not completely wrong) as this morning, everything is blanketed. No wind means a lush white impasto along every tree branch.

It also means deeply covered roads, and that the new au pair's fantasy trip to Times Square to see the ball drop has been delayed a couple of hours. I cannot express how little I would ever have wanted to spend New Year's Eve in Times Square, but that's her heart's desire, and heaven knows I want to keep her happy. That sounds snarky, and I don't mean it to--I genuinely want her to be happy, and if that means occasionally inconvenient trips to the train station, so be it. Today's, sadly, is incredibly inconvenient, because she wants to take the (much cheaper) commuter train, and the station is forty minutes away from us. In the snow? Who knows. Double that, maybe? It's going to be a long morning, though I got up at 6:15 to tell her that the 8 a.m. train was out of the question and she'd have to wait until 10. She looked a little shell-shocked, and I am hoping she understood that this is about safety as much as convenience. She's a lovely young woman, and she eats vegetables, which is more important than I could ever have imagined.

The lovely Swiss, who visited us this weekend to all of our delight, has the eating habits of an eight year old child from Suburban, U.S.A.--white food, meat, cheese. I shouldn't slander suburban children, because my son eats that way, too, and my daughter, despite her occasional affection for carrots, emulates her big brother and isn't much better. But to live with a European who only wanted fish sticks and pasta was rough. The Japanese, let's call her Shi, has a nearly exhausting enthusiasm for trying new foods, and the greener the better. I am, ridiculously, in the habit (only recently identified and admitted to) of cooking to please my au pair's palate, but this time around, the palate is a whole lot more sophisticated.


Good morning

From the rainy northeast. Vermont's gorgeous snowfall did not extend south to our little town, and last night, we got more rain (on top of a deluge last week), which means that our sledding hill is now just a slipping hill, and the whole world is patchy and indecisive.

Yesterday, my friend and I took a walk through her woods--they own acres and acres of forest along a ridge in southwestern VT--first visiting an old family gravesite (not her family's--the family who presumably farmed their land in the 19th century. Five graves, only two marked with names, the rest just with initials. One is a child, not even three years old. I wondered, looking at them, if those families thought that their ancestors would always be working this piece of the world, so no names were necessary? Or could they only afford to pay for three letters on the tiny stones?

After the gravesite, we followed fresh deer tracks as we wandered across a new bridge, along the top of the hillside and then down through great tracts of tall evergreens. Deer had been everywhere, big ones, along with fox and coyote. We heard from a neighbor here this week that he photographed bear tracks in his snow, so I've been seeking bear everywhere. So far, they remain in the realm of the imaginary, but I'll keep you posted.


Wonderland Redux

We survived Christmas--barely, truth be told: survival required Valium, hours of tears and more movie time for my children than I care to admit--and have come out onto a better, other side. We are still we, which is saying something these days, and we're both trying really, really hard. I tend to blame the H (either flippantly or deeply, depending upon the circumstances) when things are rough between us, but to be fair, I also have things I need to deal with, and I am working. Enough about that, except to say, again, thank you to all my friends who've been so diligent about sending thoughts my way.

We are back in Vermont, though we go home today, roads permitting, visiting our dear, dear friends, the neatest people in the world, and basking in their warmth and kindness and really good wine. It doesn't get much better than that, except when the children go off and play Playmobil for hours without fighting or beating on each other. Or when the husbands can sit in front of the fire playing go, also for hours, and my friend and I can cook osso buco and laugh about how funny it is that twenty years into knowing one another, we've become cooking buddies. It seemed unlikely, perhaps, back in college.

It's beautiful and profoundly quiet here, and we'll be looking forward to our next visit. Meantime, some things to share, photographically speaking: the first full dozen of my eggs, gathered on Christmas day; some of those eggs broken into a bowl--the yolks, yellower than the photograph allows, are so rich, and getting bigger, it seems, as the hens mature; some of our Christmas decorations (for you, Monika!); and an image of the beautiful bare trees here in W. Rupert.


Death in Henice

Do you ever wake in a dark funk, irritated by everything and everyone, no matter how benign? Do you ever, then, manage to talk yourself out of it, aided by strong coffee, a bite (or three) of a child's Nutella-smeared crepe and an lovely interlude of knitting by a crackling morning fire while children amuse themselves without whining about their need for television and computer games? I did all this this morning, and then, to top it off, I decide to convey myself down to the barn to do my chicken chores on our new, two person, inflatable sled.

If you have looked at any of the picture of where we live, you know that our house is perched atop a hill so high and gently rolling that I could probably use it as a skiing bunny slope. It's a great sledding run, and we've been enjoying it since this week's alternating melting and snowfall rendered the hill solid and slick enough (beneath a nice powder topping) to let us slide instead of sink. I sat atop the sled, holding a snow shovel, a grocery bag full of kitchen scraps for the chickens and an empty egg carton to collect my prizes. The trip down was exhilarating and erratic; I used my one empty hand to brake but still managed to hurtle downhill (part of the time backwards), fly over the lip of the barn drive and slide a bit more down the road before stopping about a hundred yards from the barn itself. I was laughing when I landed, in spite of a bruised and frozen left hand (brake.)

I left the sled in the road and took my provisions to the outside chicken pen to dig out the area in front of the gate so that the birds can continue to range in the snow. I noticed the other day that they seemed agitated: the Rhode Island Red rooster, Poo Poo Jolly (guess who named him?) pecked maliciously at one of the guinea hens and the Leghorn rooster, Spot, flew at my legs, talons out, when I came to refresh their food and water. I attributed the tension to their being, sorry for the pun, cooped up due to the snow piled up outside. I thought that if I could open the gate during the day, as I was doing before the snow came, they might settle down.

It took only a few minutes to clear enough snow to get the gate open, and I scattered the scraps--celery root peelings, stale bread and bagels, leftover arugula salad (with grapes and blue cheese, no less)--under the canopy that shields part of their outdoor pen from the weather. Then, back inside the barn, after first shoveling the entry by the big sliding door; this was my first trip down with a shovel since the snow fell, though we've had the road plowed, mostly out of fear of not being able to reach the chickens once the snow gets much higher.

When I slid open the door to the horse stall that serves as our chicken coop (the previous owner converted it, completely enclosing the roof and walls in chicken wire, opening it up to an outdoor enclosure that in turns opens into the electric-fenced outdoor pen--it's quite an elaborate set-up, and one I credit with the relative success we've had in keeping our birds safe from predators) I noticed one of the hens sitting still in front of one of the guineas. The guinea's position was odd--her feathers fluffed, but neither head nor feet visible. Sleeping? The other hen moved and I realized. The smallest guinea, the one the kids named Rudolph (as in Red Nosed Reindeer) lay dead, her head at an odd angle, its blue color dissipated, her feet stretched out beyond her body towards the back of the stall.

I don't know what happened. This bird was somewhat crippled; one of her feet had gotten tangled in some string, and though she seemed to get most of it off, I could never catch her to see if she was healing. Was she the one that Jolly was pecking? Were the roosters, certain to become aggressive, everyone tells me, responsible for her death? I don't know. I took the pitchfork my L.A. girlfriends gave me as a going away gag gift, and gently lifted her body. She was heavier than I expected, and it took some careful maneuvering to slide her into an empty feed bag so I could carry her to the end of her ignominious end, in our trash can. I took the egg carton into the coop, and gathered eight eggs. I refilled the waterers, and the outside feeder, and then carried Rudolph, the shovel, the eggs, and the sled back up to the house. I thought about the darkness of the morning, the euphoria of my slide down the snowy hill, and the death (and life) that greeted me in the barn. Inside, I scrubbed my hands, and then carefully washed and put away the new eggs.


Two great posts, from Heather of Dooce, and her husband, Jon, about the realities of depression and the miracles of meds. I related to them both; worth reading if you deal with depression in your own life or see it in someone you know...

Monika, this one's for you...

One more thing before I try to sleep--Monika, how do you feel about brussels sprouts? I have a no-fail recipe that even haters love. If not that, a divine broccoli puree, perhaps? Give me more about what you like and I'll make more suggestions, but those two are the first that come to mind--they're my holiday standbys.


Feast your eyes...

I should be sleeping. Thanks to everyone who's checked on me these last few days; I'm hanging in there. The storm isn't over but we're in the eye of it and hoping for a change in the wind.


Searching for inspiration

I'm in that bad mode of blogging my head again, but mostly, I think, because time to contemplate (that is, quiet, alone, time) is in short supply at the moment. Our new au pair is wonderful but still acclimating, my mother is here, the Babe has started her "big girl" school (doesn't officially start until January but she's going this week to get acclimated--she's in heaven, which is reassuring), the H is in his customary holiday funk, and I am frantically trying to get Christmas organized for us and our extended family. I've done inspired things like somehow not having Amazon gift wrap my nephew's presents, and having them ship my mother in law's gifts here, instead of to her in Seattle. Sigh. I love and loathe Christmas simultaneously.

But it is winter wonderland here, and that is some sweet and serious solace. The H yesterday, driving in Lenox in the evening, said, with wonder in his voice, "Christmas decorations are so beautiful against the snow." (Or something like that.) My mom and I laughed--this is a guy who grew up thinking that the blue and white snowflakes hanging above Wilshire Blvd. in Beverly Hills were holiday decorations. He is through the looking glass here, and it is fun to see it through his newbie eyes.

Feast your eyes on the winter views of our barns, and the chickens, cooped up inside in the poultry penthouse and slightly peevish about the snow.



It's been snowing on and off all day today, which meant a slippery drive to the Albany airport to pick up my mother, who's visiting until Thursday to see the kids for an early Christmas celebration and to look at houses in the area, since she's planning to join us here sometime next year. I'm especially happy to see her, given the stress I've been under at home; she's been exceptionally kind, responsive and helpful to the issues the H and I have been having, without any judgement to make me more stressed than I already am. I'm truly grateful, and I love seeing her with Dido and the Babe; they are so connected to both their grandmothers, and I find it really moving to seem them engage so deeply.

Meanwhile, things at home are better, at least on the surface--maybe a blanket of new snow will do that. There's no resolution to speak of, but everyone is behaving nicely, and that's worth something. A lot. (Everyone, that is except the Babe--that's her, above, "reading" in bed next to me as I type this--mind you, it's ten p.m., long, long past her bedtime, but, according to her "I NOT TIRED!".)

I want to thank all the friends who reached out in person or via email or comment to check on me this week--it means a tremendous amount. Huge. It takes courage to admit you're suffering, but it also takes courage to reach out and acknowledge pain, so thank you.

I am going to go to sleep and see if the little not tired-one will snuggle up next to me and drift off, too. More to come.


Stormy Weather

It started snowing at 11 o'clock this morning, and didn't stop until after 8 tonight. There are about eight inches of sparkling powder on the ground; it is as magical as I remember.

Unfortunately, snow is not the only storm I'm facing. I don't mean to be cryptic, but things are a little rough around my edges right now, and I could use some good thoughts, so please send them my way. I need the support of my friends, real and virtual, right now.


I need something to read

My house is full to bursting with books, some, ok, many, of which I have never read, either because they're hardcore history tomes belonging to the H aka the amateur historian (history--never my best subject--dissect at will, Freudians among you) or because I fell in love with them in the bookstore but then they let me down on the second date.

For a while after we moved here, I couldn't read at all. No focus, no concentration. Then, slowly, I started again, basically by reading a really wonderful book written by a new friend. I only started because I like and admire her, but then I loved the book, too--bonus--and kept on going. Not so much later, I was lucky enough to encounter another talented writer turning into a new friend, so I read her book, too, and laughed and wept and didn't want it to end and was proud to know someone so wry and wise. Ok, there've been a couple of others in between. But nothing (besides those two) that has really captivated me, made me tell everyone I know and love about it, and so on.

I don't think the problem is all me--truth be told, now that I am once again taking SSRIs, I can focus again: I can read entire articles and short stories in the New Yorker, which probably sounds like a ridiculous, vaguely meaningless thing to brag about, but trust me, it's an accomplishment.

Back in L.A., I had a dysfunctional but still wonderful book club which at least made me focus on a particular volume every few months. They were all really smart, if not all really good, and if they weren't good, I had fellow travelers to whom I could bitch. No book club here. Does anyone out there in the 'sphere have any interest in a virtual one? I should put it right out there that I am a huge snob when it comes to literature (if that New Yorker reference didn't already start to make this fish smell from the head, now it's positively putrid, right?) I don't like most popular literature. I don't read chick lit. I like biography, incisive and profound non fiction, and extremely well written fiction. I laughed at the H earlier this year because he was forced to read a novel for work (a possible adaptation job) and he adored it--I think it was the first novel I've known him to read in about ten years. He couldn't believe how profound and beautiful it was, and I rather gently, I thought, tried to explain that there's a universe of that kind of writing out there.

Can any of you help me find more of it?


The Ice Storm

I don't remember ice storms occurring with such resolute frequency during my previous tours of duty in the northeast. We had one last Monday (it struck before we arrived back from L.A., leaving every tree we passed completely encased in ice for most of the morning) and another one last night, and a nervous person (say, like my husband) might argue that the first snowy day we experienced also started out as an ice storm--even I would have to agree that it was sleeting that day, at least at the outset.

There was ice half an inch thick on our driveway yesterday morning, and as a result--we stayed home. The little girl across the street came for an afternoon playdate, which broke up the kid tedium and kept the television off most of the day, which felt like a great personal victory.

We (well, the intrepid H--I slept in, because I went to the airport at 11:30 last night to fetch the new au pair, the lovely Japanese, who will get another nom de blog as soon as my clever switch kicks over) got the kids to their respective engagements this morning and now as I type this, there's a steady rainy drip of melting icicles falling on our copper roof. The clouds are blowing through the sky pretty fast,and though there's sun above them, rain is predicted for today. One thing I like about living in weather is that the predictions are often wrong. In L.A., there was no point in paying any attention to forecasts, because they didnt' much matter anyway.

Darling Monika (a lovely and loyal reader) has asked about Christmas plans and menu....our tree is up, as are gorgeous wreaths, all procured from a local tree farm. The H and Dido actually sawed our fraser fir down themselves, and we dragged it through the snow to tie it atop our car and bring it home. It was coated in ice and so we left it in the garage for two days to drip dry before bringing it inside to, as the Babe said, "decoration it." We built a gingerbread house (from a kit--god bless my favorite, Trader Joe's) and decorationed that, too. Now all that's left is wrapping and hanging stockings by the chimney with care--and planning a four person festivity when we're used to entertaining a dozen every Christmas morning. I need to start a new tradition, and I feel a little stumped, though I'm sure something will come.


Welcome, visitor from New Delhi!

Welcome, and you win the prize for this week's best Google search culminating in a visit to my blog: "stories: seeing navel of friends wife."

Now I just have to figure out what prize might be...appropriate.

More stories later from the frozen northeast. I am looking up at the sky from our guestroom window, and there are icicles along the copper gutter and snow all over the slate roof. The woods are very nearly a black and white photograph, and I can see all the way to the top of the rise, sunlight shimmering up over it. Ah.


Say Good Bye to Hollywood, or, Home Again

We're baaaaack. It's snowing. And I'm glad.

Our visit to L.A. was unremittingly fantastic. I have small complaints--I didn't get nearly enough time with my friends at our annual ice skating holiday party (if you read, live in L.A., and didn't' get invited, I am sorry, and let me know, and you will next year. It's a rocking tradition and one I am inordinately proud of, especially since it's the lowest effort party EVER.) I didn't get any time at all with one of my dearest friends in the world, because she and her partner and kids couldn't make it to the party, and we were swamped at every other moment with family and party prep and arranging times for Dido and the Babe to see THEIR much-missed Angeleno pals. I missed eating at one favorite restaurant, M Cafe de Chaya, which totally rocks, and whose salads (curried cauliflower, chick pea and kale with sesame dressing) I would happily die eating. (Cookbook, already, PLEASE...) Otherwise, we got it all in. The sushi I've already written about, take out divey Mexican with my mom and our dear friends and hosts, Yang Chow (yummy Chinatown staple), and soon-to-be-history Sam's Bagels all stuffed us to the gills all weekend. Oh, and don't forget Bob's Donuts--we had their donut holes at the party and I forgot to eat one and then they were ALL GONE. But my kids ate about seventeen of them, so I cannot complain. Dido proved himself an ice skating superstar, taking off on the ice with no parental accompaniment whatsoever--this freaked us out at first, but when he started doing 360 degree spins without panicking or falling, we were just proud. And as icing on the cake, both flights were smooth as could be and even the snowy drive home was uneventful and, need I say, beautiful.

Tonight, the snow is falling: those big, powdery, sparkling flakes that shimmer on the porch and look slightly unreal, they're that beautiful. Dido's school was canceled today, and I have a feeling that if the snow keeps up, it may be tomorrow as well. It is cold here, but magical, and our time out west reminded me of everything I love there. The city looked less crowded and less dirty than I remember it, which I take to mean that I love being there, not living there, and I have made the right choice. To all, a good night.


Home again, Part II

So last night, at my request insistence, we went to the best sushi place in the world (or, at least, my favorite sushi place in the world) Sushi Ike (pron. "Ee-Kay.") Ike-san, the owner and chef, has been in his location at Hollywood and Gower, in a crap-o minimall (like many other great L.A. restaurants) for probably fifteen or twenty years. He is passionate about his fish. Scoff if you will, but this guy is dedicated, and I have never had better fish anywhere. He goes to the fish market downtown every morning, selects everything himself, and doesn't do spicy tuna rolls, or anything else dumbed down for an American palate. He's a purist, and, I suspect, a bit of an iconoclast.

We started going to Ike after five years of my trying to get the H to try it. Sigh. Story of my life. He doesn't do "new." But after L.A. Magazine named Ike one of L.A.'s best sushi joints, that, and its proximity to our old house, convinced him to try it. Either our best decision ever, or a big mistake, depending on your point of view--Ike has totally spoiled us for any other sushi ever, except, I suppose, what we would get in Japan. When we go to Ike (which we used to do two to four times a month, when we lived here) we order "omakase", meaning "chef's choice." Sushi aficionados no doubt more knowledgeable than me will tell you that ordering this way is a sign of respect to the chef: he is in the best position to know what is best on his own menu on a given day. Unlike some of L.A.'s famous omakase restaurants, like Sushi Nozawa in the Valley and Sushi Sasabune in West L.A., the menu actually changes depending upon what Ike has selected that day. (If you go to either of those other two, you can count on pretty much the same selection, in the exact same order, every time, and you better like ponzu sauce and a lot of attitude.)

Last night, as Ike welcomed us to the bar with his easy smile and usual wry twinkle (the guy's sweet, and has a great sense of humor, and genuinely seems to like getting to know his patrons, some of whom have been coming every week since he opened the restaurant) we enjoyed a typically amazing and well-curated selection of sushi. He always offers an opening amuse-geule (I'm sure there's a Japanese word for this I don't know) which last night was tiny octopus tentacles in a mild marinade with a tangle of olive green seaweed. Gently sweet, and delicious. The first sushi was two pieces of tuna: one bluefin, slightly darker, and as our friend said, more opaque, than the accompanying big eye. Then onto yellowtail and amberjack; salmon served two ways, one piece with a paper thin slice of kelp and the other served plain; amazing red snapper with shiso, lemon juice and a sprinkle of sea salt (no soy sauce!), halibut; hama hama oysters, a negiri toro handroll that was completely transcendent, and for the H, who was still not full, a Japanese sea scallop and finally, some uni, which is an aquired taste that we only indulge at this restaurant, because here it is always clear tasting, smelling of clean, briny sea.


You can go home again, part I

So here I find myself, in improbably rainy Los Angeles, and so far so good. Mostly what I've experienced thus far is traffic (surprise!), the inside of a dear friend's cozy house, and a quick trip to the bank and to my favorite L.A. cooking emporium, Surfa's. (Tellicherry peppercorns? Not so easy to find in small town New York, believe it or not. Ditto, curry leaves.) None of this has provoked any of the anxiety I was anxious about having before we left yesterday; in fact, the whole trip west was so smooth (despite the six hour and forty minute flight time) that I am slightly concerned about what lies ahead (which just goes to show you how insane I truly am, in that the slightest bit of good fortune precipitates the presumption that immense pain and suffering must lie dead ahead.

But until the doom arrives, I can continue to enjoy a city that I always thought looked better when wet (witness the number of wet-down streets you'll notice in just about every film ever made) and that does, in fact, seem less crowded and cleaner than my memory of it. I'm sure this is the rosy view of a visitor, and in fact, my overwhelming feeling thus far is that I really like visiting L.A.; I just don't really want to live here. So all good.

Now I am gearing up for tomorrow's big festivities, a skating (yes, ice skating, in L.A.) party with a bunch of families and their nearest and dearest all hurtling around a Pasadena rink while enjoying hot pretzels and cocoa. And in the moments before and after, I hope to steal some quality time with a few more near and dear ones, including family members still slightly miffed at us for taking the two most precious children in the world to the frozen northeast.


Better Google search culminating in a visit to my blog....

"where pigs live and what they eat."

I cannot make this stuff up, which is why I am not a striking screenwriter.

It's all about the H

First of all, I'm pretty sure he might have created this under an assumed name:

And second, he was nominated yesterday for an Independent Spirit award (like the Oscars, but lower rent and arguably more fun) for A Mighty Heart. Props to my darling husband! If you feel like shelling out $95, you too can join Film Independent, and vote for him. Imagine if the Oscars worked like that!


It's time for flannel sheets

Baby, it's cold outside. 28 degrees as I type this, colder in the wind, and yes, I know that's not really cold. I grew up in Chicago, after all. The H has requested flannel sheets, which is saying something, considering that he's the king of thread count. Meanwhile, a few brief notes, which I'll try to expound upon tomorrow:

1) WWYD is my new motto; Y is short for the name of my dear friend Yael, with whom I stayed in Vermont; she and her husband are truly the two neatest (as in tidy, not as in cool, though they are that, too) people either the H or I have ever encountered, and I have been inspired by her example (maybe following so closely on the heels of the Swiss experience?) Anyway, I am trying to turn over a neat and organized new leaf. (I know, I know; I'm always trying to turn over that leaf. I can dream.)

2) Heritage small farm turkeys really do taste better. A lot better. More on the turkey(s) of this holiday weekend, their modes of preparation and ensuing deliciosity later.

3) I go to back to LA for a quick visit in three days. I'm a little freaked out about it.

Off to sleep, if a screaming small child will allow it.



The Snowy Day, part 2

Best google search culminating in a visit to my blog

Last Wednesday: "end of life brown vomit." Okey dokey then.


Our expedition to Vermont, and our holiday with our friends, were both beyond expectations. We relaxed, the kids played, my friend and I cooked together all day Thursday and the meal, which I had no hand in planning, was divine. Our friends, a college friend of mine, architect turned movie producer, her husband, an IT genius who manages systems for a major investment bank, and their six year old son are some of the kindest people we know. She and I have known each other for around twenty years, so there aren't too many surprises for us, just the comfort of a constantly renewing and deepening friendship. The husbands, on the other hand, have met only a few times over the years, and though they have liked each other very much , you never know, I find, how men will or will not connect with one another--or maybe this is just my man. In any case, they quickly discovered a shared interest in the Japanese game go; this kept them occupied in every free moment--they were like teenage lovers stealing away from the adults (in this case, the wives) in order to make out.


Wish I could have been there....

This is too, too good.


The Snowy Day

Do you remember that wonderful Ezra Jack Keats book, The Snowy Day?

We had a little bit of that wonderment today with our first real winter storm. When we woke, there was a dusting of snow on the ground, and it was beginning to rain. Warm enough, we thought as we readied for the day, that the drive to school would be uneventful, if a little slick. By the time we all piled into the car (both kids had school today, and it was "Family Sharing" day at Dido's, which meant that we had to both be in the classroom at 10:30, so we decided to drop them both off, grab breakfast in Lenox, and then go to school, rather than doing the drive twice in one morning) the flakes were falling again, the kind of wet, large flakes that sound almost like hail when they hit your car. Our driveway was white, the road was white on top of icy wet, and we felt our first slight skidding shudder as we headed down the hill that is our road.

The H has only driven in snow maybe four times in his life, two of them in the last year (once here, when he arrived in April, the other in a big storm in Mammoth, CA with our friends last winter) and he doesn't like it so much. Plus I think he spends the whole time he's driving in bad weather thinking about how much scarier it would be if I were the one behind the wheel (he puts little faith in my driving ability in dry, sunny weather, so combination of me, snow and automobile gives him fits.) He was grumpy and white knuckled by the time we hit the "highway" that takes us out of NY state and into Massachusetts, and the two cars we saw slide off the road did little to improve his mood.

In Massachusetts, the snow seemed heavier and thicker than in our little town, and there was nary a plow to be seen. The trip that usually takes 30 minutes took almost an hour, and it was scary. If it hadn't been the last day of school before the Thanksgiving break, we probably would have turned around and just called it a family snow day. But we pushed through, breakfasted at (not nearly as good as I remember it from my New Hampshire high school days) Friendly's, and showed up for Dido's big day, which was lovely. After fetching the Babe, we all headed home to play in the snow (them) and work on taxes, mail and other fun (me.)

We ended the day with a field trip to pick up our locally raised, heirloom breed turkey from a beautiful farm about 30 miles away, in the south part of the county. (My friend over at The Town Tart used to live in this part of the county, and if I'm not mistaken, on my travels today, I may even have driven by the biker bar she used to own. Maybe she'll stop by and let us know for sure.) In any case, our beautiful bird will not be eaten on Thursday as planned; we accepted a last minute invitation to visit friends in Vermont for the holiday, and I'm thrilled. I'm thrilled even though the only thing I'm expected to prepare (and it's already done--I made it tonight) is cranberry sauce. This represents something of a change for me, and my attitude about my favorite of all holidays, and I'm still puzzling over the metamorphosis.

I've posted before about my Thanksgiving mania ( really--it's a disease- see here and here, and here), a truly unattractive need to be in total control of the food and festivities, to the exclusion of good spirits or good manners. I've been a real bitch about it in the past. This year, I could care less. We were supposed to have family visiting here for the holiday, but an ugly falling out, as yet unrepaired, has kept them from coming to us. I'm really, really sad about that, and for the last couple of weeks, until we planned to go away, I was anxious about the holiday, worried, I think, about the four of us sitting forlornly at home, trying to be festive.

Thanksgiving also has a history, for the H and me, of consistently being a rare day of raucous, explosive, f*** you fighting; he has a sour mien most Thanksgivings that culminates in no fun at all...but as he keeps remarking, delighted and surprised, he doesn't feel pressured and awful this year. He attributes it to not having overdue work (hard to have when you're on a work stoppage) but I think it's beyond that, and I wonder if, for us both, it's a kind of freedom in leaving behind the many profound relationships we had in California. Their many blessings also entail great and welcome responsibility, and although all that responsibility still weighs on us like a warm blanket, there is also a sense of joy and fleeting freedom in throwing it off and running outside into the cold air. Of course, this feeling is only a good one if you know you can then run promptly back inside.

Happy Thanksgiving, all. What will you be doing for the holiday? (This would be a good time for a little quick commenting, a little de-lurking, if you're so inclined, dearest readers.)



The Internet! Too New!

The H, apparently, is so taken with the powers of the blogosphere (who knew?) that he's setting up his own little corner of it. Sorry--family and friends only (but then, most of my readers fall into that category) but I think it's just hilarious. He's using Apple's iWeb software to set up his site, and when I tried to explain why that's not necessarily the best blogging tool (wholly uncustomizable, for one thing) he just looked at me. He's very busy building a couple of pages with adorable pics of the kids--this is what unemployment will do to a man, apparently. Anyway, it's sweet, and oddly flattering, and we'll see how long it last.

Meanwhile, we had our first noticeable snow fall on Saturday--light, lofty flakes coming down when we woke up, and within what seemed like nanoseconds, the kids had pulled on their snowsuits, hats and mittens and run outside. The total accumulation was maybe a quarter of an inch, and it all melted that afternoon, but for fifteen minutes, they were transfixed. It was a magical start to a lovely weekend, and I blame the loveliness (and the general busy-ness) for my absence from the computer. Now it's Monday, the day of bills and paperwork and no fun, and I'm digging in.

Tomorrow, I'll try to be back with something more interesting to say. In the meantime, enjoy a little Jon Stewart.


The Stranger, Part II

I feel the need to quickly explain myself from that last post. Here's the deal--it's different here than in California. Duh, right? But the differences are subtler than I anticipated, and more difficult for me to navigate. I had an assumption (bred, I think, in the unique California culture that I probably need to go immerse myself in Joan Didion to define) that I would easily navigate the social waters of my new home. And, to some extent, I have. I am making great, wonderful friends (many, many of whom, it bears mentioning, are not from around here.) And the prevailing culture is different--not worse, not better, just different--from what I had in L.A. And being away from L.A. lets me see nuances there that I was missing, or blind to, before.

I am, I fear, neither fish nor fowl, a bit of an outsider, which is, truthfully, how I've felt everywhere, my whole life. Maybe we all feel that way.


Stranger in an unstrange land

One thing about trying to post every day is that I definitely feel the pressure to dig a little deeper--for meaning, or theme, or something...--in my daily experiences in order to come up with something more scintillating than, say, the weather, to write about. Sometimes, it doesn't work out. But other times, the muse is on my shoulder. Ah, but I flatter, and get ahead of, myself.

Today, the H and I (and the Babe) took a drive across Massachusetts to visit our nearest Trader Joe's. Anyone who's read this blog for any length of time (or who knows me from my old life) knows how I feel about TJ's. In L.A., I pretty much only shopped there, and the Hollywood Farmer's Market. Here, given that my closest outpost is an hour and fifteen minutes away, it's a little harder to stay so loyal (or stubborn.) But with a bare cupboard and an attempt at strike-induced economy, the trip made sense. (Let's just say that the flour tortillas my kids live on are half the price--half!--there than at our closest market; pasta is a quarter of the price. In the Prius, the trip makes sense, at least economically.)

After our mega-shop to stock up for winter (the most money I have ever spent at TJ's, and that's saying something) we headed a little further east, to Amherst, to have lunch at a Chinese restaurant that Gourmet magazine highlighted as one of the country's best farm-to-table dining experiences. Amherst Chinese was good, if not fantastic; certainly the best Chinese food we've had since we moved here, but we're spoiled, coming from L.A., which is probably the best place outside of Asia to eat Chinese. Nevertheless, we had good scallion pancakes, which made us both sigh with contentment, and the sauces on the other dishes didn't taste like corn syrup, unlike the faux-nese we've eaten here. We were happy.

Neither the H nor I had ever been to Amherst before, and the town is charming, centered on a long rectangle of a village green, with restaurants, bookstores, inns and so on all around. A pretty picture-perfect New England small town, and we were both sorry we didn't have more time to explore (we had to book back to Lenox to pick Dido up at school.) As we were heading out, the H made a comment (as he often has, since our move) about me feeling at home, feeling that here, I'm among "my people" (his words.) I've been thinking about this lately, about whether or not I am truly at home in the northeast, if I really identify more strongly with the culture here than in California, which I still (somewhat secretly) think of as home.

What I realized, pondering this during our drive back, and tonight as I was putting the kids to bed, is that during our months of slow extrication from Los Angeles, I spent a lot of time justifying our decision (to move) to myself (as well as, no doubt, everyone else.) That justification took the shape of a critical view of what I posited as the predominant culture in L.A.--celeb & money centric, possibly shallow, narcissistic. Not my friends, mind you, none of whom deserve a molecule of those labels, but the world around them and us. And, to a large extent, I think that's true. But having been away now for six months, I can also see (highlighted, standing out in relief against the new culture in which I am immersed) the positive elements of Los Angeles that I ignored (or, perhaps, truly could not see) in my desire to leave. Parents in L.A. are rabid about educating their kids. They immerse themselves in their children's school communities and donate unbelievable amounts of time and money to improve those communities. People are open and welcoming.

[to be continued...and none of the positives about L.A. should be construed as absent here in my brave new world...just different; I'll elaborate when I finish...]


Back to the source

Trouble in my dear Mieke's life prompted me to go back to the beginnings of her blog, to the very first entry. I had no memory of it, though I read it probably the same day it was written, almost four years ago. What I found made me unspeakably sad; if you catch up on her current entries, you'll understand why. That's her story, and not mine to tell, but as I have before, I encourage you to send kind thoughts her way. She needs them.

As I've written recently, Mieke's enthusiasm for her blog encouraged me to start mine, which began here. For reasons I don't remember, I started it on Salon, back when they had a blogging section, and there I discovered my first blogging friend, Alyssa (who doesn't blog anymore, which bums me out, but I love her anyway.) My beginnings were not so inspired, but hopefully, my writing has gotten more interesting over time.

When I go back to read some of my past entries, I'm struck by a few changes--I used to post a lot more about politics, and I used to post a lot more recipes. I haven't done either of those in a long while, and I think I need to get back on the diet of KOS and White House Briefing and Raw Story that fed a lot of that energetic outrage. When Bush got reelected, I kind of gave up--I think a lot of liberals feel the same. With an election on the horizon, I am trying to find it in me to try again, the way I tried in 2004, to contribute to the discourse (at least in my tiny corner of the world) and to effect some change. I have not yet decided who I support among the Democrats, so maybe it's time to really delve in, stake a position, and get to work.

As for the cooking, well...I started my food blog at the beginning of the summer to track my cooking-from-the-CSA-box adventures, and that adventure quickly--uh, burned out. I may try again, because I enjoyed it, and got great feedback from those who read it. I am hoping, at some point, to do some more formal food writing, as I ease back into trying to actually work for a living. In the meantime, you might have to endure some food posts here every once in a while...

Back in the present tense...things are getting much, much better for me. After a rough time, I am feeling much more myself and on top of things. And we've even had a respite from the cold--it's a balmy 46 degrees here as I write this. Ah, New England.


Nearly six weeks until winter

And it's 24 degrees outside. What in the world was I thinking?


Flexible Flier

Here in the northeast, it's starting to get cold. As I type this, the temperature outside is 30 degrees F, and headed south. My joints are not sure they're really ready for this return to winter, and they're even more uncertain after spending the afternoon watching scary human tricks, aka Chinese acrobats, none older than 20 I am sure, all flexible and strong beyond belief. Rather than making me feel the exalted possiblities of the human form, though, watching them today made me wince--repeatedly. Something of a shift, I think, from seeing their abilities as superhuman potential and instead, as indicators of my own looming frailty?


These are the good old days

Or, they were, when the Lovely Swiss helped put my kids to bed and clean up the kitchen after dinner. Alas, she has left us, high and dry, but I learned one thing from her: tis a greater glory to completely clean your kitchen at night than to leave it for the morning. Our neighbors came to dinner tonight, for Cuban roast pork and frijoles a la Edith, and my kitchen is spotless. I am only slightly red-wined, and off to bed. The day was hard but ended well, and that feels like an accomplishment.


Pink is the antidote to blue

It should come as no surprise that someone who has bothered before to post about pink nail polish would amuse herself by painting her daughter's fingers and toes pink in the name of passing time, amusing said daughter, and elevating her own mood.

It worked, for both of us.

For those who might be concerned, this is not the formaldehyde-laden polish we all know, love and fear. It's Aquarella, supposedly less harmful.

The moral of the story

Never quote really depressing songs on your blog, or, do, if you want lots of friends to send you worried emails. Thanks to you all; I love you and although I am not fine, I am ok, if that makes any sense at all.

Meanwhile, the Babe is busy "writing" a note to her daddy, possibly all over the new mattress in our guestroom. When I said I had to send Daddy a note, I meant an email, and when she said "I want to write a note, too!"--she also meant email. When I handed her pen and paper she looked at me like I was a total moron. "No. A NOTE. On the caputer. With the email button."


The Blue of Blue

The blue of blue
Is mostly grey
Ain't no silver line
No brighter day
Last of the coming up
Didn't come my way
Looks like I'm down here to stay...

Not mine. Nicholas Holmes and Carly Simon

Rough day. Nothing to do but quote sad songs.


And another thing...

Folks keep asking me about the Writers Guild strike. For the best information on what is really going on, visit journalist Nikki Finke's site, Deadline Hollywood. The mainstream press and the Hollywood trade papers (Variety and Hollywood Reporter) have not been reporting accurately about the issues that motivated the Guild's decision to strike.

And yes, it's incredibly stressful, and I am in good company hoping that it will be resolved swiftly and equitably. Lots of people's livelihoods depend upon the business of Hollywood staying in business.

Welcome, Husband

We interrupt our regularly scheduled post to alert the seven regular readers of this blog that indeed, the earth has spun on its axis. The H actually read my blog today, and dare I say it, I heard him laughing. He also mentioned that it's a little depressing and that he's not sure he comes off so well. I say to you all, there's nothing I say about him here that I wouldn't say to his face--only the timing might differ a bit. So bid my striking spouse welcome, and share my awe that he finally paid attention. (I jest--but only a little.)


Day 5 of NaBloPoMo

So it's only my 4th post. It's still a hell of a lot more frequent than I usually manage, and no snide remarks, please, about regularity. Not in the mood.

No progress to speak of on the au pair front, though thanks to Sitemeter, I discovered that the Czech Flake does seem to check my blog obsessively. "Of course she does," said my best buddy. "She wants to see if you're writing about her." Ok, there you go. Now stop coming by. I'm done; there's nothing here for you.

Meanwhile, I am interviewing about a million 20 somethings by email and growing increasingly zen about the whole thing. B today noticed that I was in a "really good mood" (which just shows you how dark it must have been around here the last few weeks) in spite of it all. I realized that the really good mood was occasioned not simply by my giving up chilling out about the au pair drama, but by my husband performing the hated afternoon drive to pick up the kids...I had a whole afternoon to sort piles of old bills in my so-called office. You cannot imagine the joy, as I contemplated actual filing (remember the Freedom Filer post?) instead of shamed hurling of unopened envelopes into stylish fabric storage bins. Now if I could only get my tax info pulled together found, all would be right with the world.


Family circus

Yes, that is the circus train, going through our closest little town. It was impossibly long, and seeing it was one of the highlights of an otherwise pretty tense week.

We told Dido tonight that B is leaving. He cried, he sulked, he hid, he acted out and I wanted to die. Ok, not really; that's melodramatic (see where he gets it?) But it was awful...I think it drove home for her that her departure is going to have a big impact on all of us, which I guess I was sort of horribly glad about, but I felt sad for her, too. No one wants to make a six year old boy cry. She didn't know (I hadn't told her yet; I didn't want to complicate her departure plans, which I knew she had already made based on the supposed arrival date of the girl I will forever think of as the Czech flake) that the Czech had, uh, flaked. As for the Babe, who has finally, I think, started to accept B (she's liked her the whole time she's been torturing her, as only a two year old can do) she was sad for about a nanosecond and then start gabbing away on her horrible new purple Barbie cell phone.

Have I mentioned that I think our (fifteen year old) dog might be on his way out, too?

Oh, and right, the writers' strike starts in, what, six hours?

Good times.


More errors than comedy

First off, let's just acknowledge that the Nablopomo pledge has already been broken. I am going to choose to view this as taking the pressure off, rather than as some kind of highest order character failing.

Now that that's out of the way...

A few more fun things. As I wrote the other day, our lovely au pair decided a week or two ago that au pair work is really not for her; she'd rather be on a beach in the Dominican Republic. (If there are any mothers of two year olds out there who wouldn't rather be on a beach on the Dominican Republic, please let me know. I'd like some of whatever you're taking. In other words, her decision is entirely sane and understandable, if a bit solipsistic and inconveniently after-the-fact.)

I spent the next weekend emailing prospective au pairs. One, a Danish girl, was really interested, couldn't wait to talk to me, but was in transition leaving her former family. She'd call me, she really would. She disappeared for two days. No one else responded to my emails. Finally, the Dane emailed me proposing a phone interview the next day. We set a time. Two hours later, she emailed again to say sorry, no thanks, she'd taken another au pair job with a different family. Ok....

In relatively short order, I found and interviewed a Czech girl who was already in the States, au pair-ing for another family, but unhappy in her situation and wanting to move. We had a nice conversation, she seemed smart and good with kids and cheerful and entirely committed to being an au pair--this last was important to me, given the experience with B. The H and I discussed it, agreed to give it another shot, and I told her we wanted her to come here. In short order, she agreed. After much buck-passing, travel arranging began. This all happened on Hallowe'en and the day after. Then, yesterday afternoon, I received a terse email from the Czech--she'd changed her mind. She was going home to her parents. Oh, so when I asked her, repeatedly, if she really wanted to do this, and she said, repeatedly, yes, yes yes--that must have just been a passing feeling. I see. Ok.

At what point in life do people actually start to consider commitments they've made to others? My dear friend, who came from north of Boston for the night yesterday (along with her delightful daughter) and I agreed that the magic age of responsibility might be 27. I think that's about when it kicked in for me.

If I believed in destiny, which I don't think I do, I might say that I am, clearly, not meant to have an au pair. The H keeps telling me that now that he's going to be on strike, he'll have more time to help me with running our lives. Stay tuned...



In addition to the arrival of the first two eggs, we've had three more, for a grand total of five. Mind you, I have eleven hens, and they're supposed to lay around five eggs, per bird, per week. I'm just assuming that I have a hen or two who is precocious, maybe even slightly slutty, and that the others are late bloomers.

I scrambled a couple of the eggs for the kids' breakfast yesterday--the first one had a double yolk, and as everyone had predicted, it was sunflower yellow. I didn't try any (though I plan to) but the aroma was incredibly rich and, yes, eggy. The H and tend to like our eggs poached, so that may be on the weekend breakfast agenda, especially since I acquired these seemingly ridiculous but incredibly handy tools. If you prefer to support small, local businesses instead of corporate behemoth culinaria conglomerates, I bought mine here.

As to other events, a few worth noting are first, Halloween, which yesterday, duh, was. My kids' costumes are self-explanatory, but of note was our first localish 'ween celebration, the town parade in Lenox, MA. Two fire engines, the high school band in a flatbed truck, and a bunch of costumed kids and parents marching up Main Street. It doesn't get much more fantasy-American than that. If only there were a way to have the kids eat great local candy, like a particular brand of local fudge (Fiddle Fern) which is so unbelievably good that I have been pining for it like Proust without his madeleine since I received it as a holiday gift from this illustrious personage about 8 years ago. It is, inconveniently, not available for online purchase, but if you're a fudge freak, email me and maybe I'll get around to sending some out. Meanwhile, we've got big bags of candy crap in the kitchen, and no doubt I'll have sugared-up crazy kids for the next few days until I make the rest of it disappear.


A little blue perfection

Our chickens made these today. I found them on the coop floor--the nesting boxes I so carefully mounted a few weeks ago remain unexplored, the wood shavings I filled them with lofty, pristine and untamped.

The kids were waiting for me in the car this morning, while I ran to open the birds' pen so they can range, and then into the barn to check their water. When I came back cradling these treasures, they were awestruck. So am I. For one thing, I can now be sure we won't starve during the seemingly-unavoidable Writers' Guild strike, that could begin as early as next week. Now if I can only talk the H into the sheep.


Monday, Monday

Oh right. It's Friday. Just feels like Monday, or, more accurately in my personal lexicon, like Tuesday, which, when I was working like a dog in a paying job, I referred to as the "Day of No Hope." Or maybe, today is actually Wednesday, because yesterday definitely felt pretty bleak.

In the last four days, the Lovely Swiss has decided that au pair-ing is not for her, and she's going to leave as soon as we find someone else (or the beginning of December, whichever comes first.) I am frustrated, and trying hard not to be angry, and a little bit--ok, a lot--at the end of my personal rope. The last six months, in truth, the last year, have been incredibly intense, from the decision to move, to getting our old house ready to sell, to juggling two houses, to moving, to fixing up this house to the H's exacting specifications, to dealing with the H being an invalid for a couple of months before and after his back surgery, then having him working seven days a week for pretty much the entire time we have lived here, meaning he was unable (or unwilling, you decide) to pretty much ever give me a break from the kids. Did I mention that the Babe is two with a bullet and completely willful, really f-ing smart, and prone to hysterical, cannot-be-assuaged temper tantrums and occasional sleep boycotts? All this--stress? stuff? pressure?-- led to a whole bunch of conflict between the two of us, between us and other family members and, to be fair to my husband, resulted in him admitting that he doesn't do his share of family stuff and that he needs to do better. I know he wants to, and I hope he will. (Let me just say that I know my problems are not divorce, or cancer, or poverty, or despair. They are, however, my problems, and I feel them, and they f*** up my life. So bear with me, and please don't tell me how lucky I am. I have enough guilt about my good fortune to choke a barn full of horses.)

So with B electing to leave (not, she says, because we're so awful, but just because she doesn't really want to do this, which makes it worse, somehow) I hit the wall. I pinned too many hopes on her helping me get caught up (remember the chaos post of a few weeks ago) and now I'm getting the payback for anticipating that one change would change everything. But today looks somehow brighter. I have found a couple of new au pairs to interview, B is still here (and at the moment wrangling a screaming Babe) and Dido, super big boy that he is, read his first book (Green Eggs and Ham) last night. This week, he also lost his first tooth. Change is afoot, and I just have to get on board.


Life and Time

It has started raining here again, after a long period without. We had our first storm in a while about a week or so ago, and it's raining again tonight, not hard, not too windy, but a steady sound made more pronounced by our house's copper roof. After many weeks of feeling fragile and blue, I feel better. We have pits and peaks and plain bad days, but we're all hanging in there, treating each other (mostly) with care and kindness, and as a very important and very dear friend said, describing what another wise soul told her was truly necessary in life, mostly we are moving forward together.

Meanwhile, I have friends who are lurching forward on rough waters without sound charts.

If you read me, you may read my darling Mieke, too. Mieke is the entire reason I blog. So for those of you who have (a lot of you, lately!) sent me such incredibly nice feedback about my writing, and your enjoyment of this little window into my little life, you are already connected to Miek. It's her fault that I do this, though I did almost stop when, Mieke, on her third glass of wine at our (misbegotten?) John Kerry fundraiser in 2004, outed me and my blog to about a hundred people (including Arianna Huffington, our guest of honor.) I wanted to kill her (Mieke, not Arianna.) Nobody knew I was blogging then, but luckily, most of my friends had also had too much wine, and promptly forgot. A couple, mostly people I didn't know very well, cornered me and asked for the address, and I wanted to drop silently into the ground under the cocktail tables. Since then, I've apparently become much more of a verbal exhibitionist, and I out myself, constantly. I think Mieke gets the credit for that, too. She is one of the freest, warmest and most utterly open human beings you could ever have the pleasure, or the awe, to know. She is a force of nature, and right now, she's having a tough time, and not much will make it easier, except more time. So take a minute, and send a kind thought her way. She deserves it, and right now, she needs it.

I am, for those who don't know me, one of the least "new age"-y people I know, in spite of my penchant for yoga, meditation, and images of Buddha. (I'm not a Buddhist, I practice a vaguely Hindu form of meditation but without any basis in faith, and I pretty much reject all organized religion, though I do love the ritual and the music, and being in church at Christmas time. Call me what you will.) In any case, I don't so much know what the power is of those good thoughts sent spiraling off into the ether. But I do know she deserves them, and she needs to know that she is surrounded by hundreds of people who all feel some thread of attachment to her, some kinship with her and her struggle to survive and eventually transcend a very painful path.



A couple of mornings a week, I work out at a small gym across the street from Dido's school. Today, sweaty and rank (as I am after every workout--but that's a good thing, right?) I decided to pop across the street to a cool outlet store (in the same complex as the school) to get some new sheets for our guest room-to-be (B took the real guest room, but we have a spare room on the floor with our family bedrooms that is now going to be for guests. They now have to share a bathroom with our kids, but I'm not feeling sorry for us or them, because, let's face it, we're all living very comfortably. I digress....)

As I pulled out of the parking lot, I had to drive by the front of school. Today is Picture Day. In its honor, Dido pulled out all the stops this morning: collared shirt, beautiful green crew neck sweater (hey, folks, it's chilly here now!) and even let me comb and glue down with gel his (two) cowlicks. He couldn't have looked more handsome. So as I drove through the parking lot, I glanced to my right towards the school. Picture Day was in full swing, and who was perched on the stool in front of the gorgeous, still blooming zinnias, but my boy, grinning ear to ear, looking so big and happy and proud. He didn't notice me as I drove by; he was laughing about something with the photographer, totally engaged in his own joyful world.

Last night, I was beating myself up for not being as good as I'd like to be at all these tasks I've taken on--especially the parenting ones. Seeing him like that, unexpectedly, gave me so much joy, and made me think about what I want him to be and to have in his life. And here's what I came up with (and thanks to my old friend Gretchen over at The Happiness Project for helping me clarify these....since finding the site, I've been thinking a lot about what she calls the Commandments for being happy...)

1. Be yourself.
2. Be kind.
3. Keep learning.
4 (Hopefully as a result of the above) Be happy.

The trick for me is to not let my frustration, aggravation, insecurity and fear get in the way of my kids achieving the above. Today was a great reminder that the most important thing I need to do every minute I am with my kids is to allow myself to really, really feel and express all the love I have for them, which, as I tell them constantly, is bigger than the sky and the stars and all the planets.


Status report

The H is in L.A., holed up in a fancy hotel (thanks to his potential next job,) trying to finish the current job. He left on Monday morning, flies home tomorrow. B was away in NYC Sunday and Monday, taking the train back up here Tuesday night. While it hasn't exactly been the Fortress of Solitude here on the farm, it has been different.

I felt funky from Monday morning on--agitated, stressed, craving (and enjoying) chocolate, and any other sweet-y, starch-y comestible comfort I could lay my hands on. Yesterday was more of the same, culminating today in an agitated, spacey morning where I missed a yoga class and ran aimless, not entirely necessary errands just to fill time while the Babe and B went on a playdate with another au pair'd child. Driving through Pittsfield (which is not as bad as the name suggests--thanks, Cupcake, for allowing me to rip that snappy thought right off from your blog), I had the Homer Simpson-esque "DOH" moment. In a flash of insight, I knew what was wrong. I was lonely. Lonely is not something I have much allowed my self to feel. I am an only child; I crave solitude; I am good at entertaining myself. I like it when my husband is away: I treasure the rare moments I have alone in my house. These are closely guarded rules of how I think about myself. But there was no need and no desire to try to walk (or drive, or munch) away from this reality. It was simply there, solid, calmly filling every bit of me. And as soon as I recognized who, or what, was lurking in the corner of my head, the anxiety drifted off.

It was too early to call any friends in L.A. Sending emails wouldn't guarantee contact. I felt weird calling the few people I know well enough here yet to call about, well, feeling lonely. So instead, I sent a text to a friend (I text now; this is what happens when you live with a 24 year old.) A new friend. One who lives here. We're having coffee tomorrow. I feel much better.


Of nature and nurture

This blog has been shocking lately in its lack of indignation. I used to blog politics all the time, and then Kerry "lost", and so I lost nearly all will to read the s0-called news. The impulse to outrage seems to be coming back, though instead of focusing on the horrors of our so-called democracy, I prefer to focus on really stupid public figures. So many! So little time! Interestingly, Bill Maher, despite his propensity for bimbos, is someone I usuallly find intelligent, if a little smarmy, and belligerent about some of his beliefs. This time, though, he's been just plain dumb in his rail against, of all vulnerable and exhausted targets, breastfeeding moms. You can watch it, and read my brilliant friend Sarah's noble riposte, here.

That pink sky up above? It was reflecting into our pond this morning, making the surface of the cloudy water shiny and pink (just the way the Babe likes, well, everything these days.) All that's missing is the quiet sound of deer eating just inside the edge of the woods, and out of sight, and the concurrent sound of my roosters, crowing.


Seeing the branches, and the trees

Now that the Lovely Swiss is here (I cannot, cannot, despite some readers' evident desire, call her the Swiss Miss. That's just too--weird) friends and mere acquaintances keep asking me what I am going to do with all my free time. Hmmmm. I want to answer, "What freaking free time??" and run out of the room, but that would be antisocial and not too productive. I do have more time; right now, as I type this, I can hear the Babe and the Swiss playing downstairs, and better, all seems to be amiable, which has not been the case every day. Having a new babysitter around seems to have made the Babe realize just how swank it's been for the last six months, free of babysitter fetters, free to cling to my legs, arms and abdomen all day, pretty much every day, save a few hours here and there in the playroom at the gym, the two-day-a-week daycare we started over the summer and a morning here or there "helping" our housekeeper clean. The lack of constant mommy has been translated into emphatic, "I no like YOU"s, directed at poor B (the Swiss.) So to overhear tantrum-less engagement is reassuring.

The truth, the ugly truth, is that I need to catch up. Our files, our finances, our basement, all the things in a family life that most require organization--none of them have any. I have to set up systems anew, since the ones I moved from L.A. were on life support, at best, during the year after the Babe's birth. I meet moms of little kids who seem to have everything so pulled together; if only. That is just not me. So the question becomes, after I catch up (and I have my Freedom Filer system glaring at me from across the floor) then what? That is the real question. My goal (and I'm putting it onscreen to taunt me) is to get all of the chaos under control by the end of October. Then, maybe, just maybe, I'll figure out what it is I am supposed to be doing with my life. (On that subject, visit here for some inspiration.)

Meanwhile, the leaves that started to turn two weeks ago are now falling, dancing like red and gold snowflakes in the exhaust wake of pick up trucks going too fast down our country roads. There's an old, fragile looking maple outside my window that is nearly bare, but the oak next to it is still green, except at some of its outer branches. Do you remember, if you live somewhere without fall, what eddies of leaves look like when they swirl suddenly on the ground?


Tuesday Meld

I am all betwixt and between today. Our new au pair, the lovely Swiss, arrived on Thursday. She couldn't make a better first impression. The kids adore her, fight over her, won't leave her alone. Meanwhile, my terror that she will implode from bucolic boredeom is manifesting by giving me the most intense feelings I've yet had that this has all been a terrible, disastrous, ill-considered, cliff-jumping, um, mistake. "This" being the family rural relocation, of course.

Mind you, I don't really think we've done the wrong thing--it's great here. (Fall, anyone? It is truly divine.) We are finally making real friends. Dido loves his school so much we wonder what the heck was the matter with the old one. The Babe is, well, The Babe--demanding, opinionated, prone to screaming temper tantrums, preferably in restaurants, and so obscenely cute that we forgive her all of it. The H is happier than I think I have ever seen him--calm, less moody (really! LESS MOODY!), loving and focused on his work. And I--I feel like the same disorganized flake I was before. Aha. My old shrink warned me about this. She told me when I announced our plans that she thought I was just changing venue in the hope of escaping the bag of flabby demons I have slung over my shoulder at any given time. I feel like Anne LaMott trying to write her school report, before her dad gave her (and she internalized) the "bird by bird" advice.

Any advice out there for me?


Something to consider....

A dear friend, who's known me (ulp) more than a quarter of a century, wrote this after reading through this blog for the first time,

" Do you know what is interesting though - that occurred to me as I read them and thought of just seeing you - is how you seem more breezy, blunt, caring and also matter-of-fact in person - and then on these blogs - caring throughout but also much more contemplative, less assured, less edgy and more observer."

I have to think about this. This friend happens to be an extremely meticulous observer herself, so I have to really ponder this as truth, and figure out what it means....Anyone else who actually knows the real me, as opposed to the virtual one, I'd love to know what you think.


We interrupt the self-pitying navel gazing...

for a message from a neighbor.

Many, many afternoons after I pick up Dido from school, or, in the case of what we'll kindly call our summer "schedule", retrieve both kids from their two-day-per-week day camp, we stop on the way home at a place we call the General Store. It is not actually named General Store, and the lovely couple who run it are not actually named, as I tend to refer to them (mostly to clarify for the H, who can barely remember my name, let alone two names of two men he's only met once) General Store J----n and General Store H---. My children adore this place. It closes early most days, and we nearly race there (we would drive faster if I were not living in fear of speeding tickets in two states) to get there before closing time. Mostly, the kids like it because there, I let them choose snacks I typically ban: Doritos, crappy ice cream sandwiches, even an occasional soda. The store doesn't have a huge selection of healthy snacks (though they're adding some, as one of the guys proudly and sweetly pointed out to me the other week) and sometimes, I think a little junk food at the end of a long day is just fine. But I think the kids also like it because they feel a connection to it: it's near our home; the owners treat them with love and respect; they feel both empowered and safe there.

Yesterday, we got to the front door about 3 minutes after closing, but the guys were sitting up front apparently having a meeting and, as ever, graciously, sweetly accomodated us. Instead of sitting inside where the Babe could smear ice cream sandwich goo over every (just cleaned) surface, we moved to the front porch, where we were joined a few minutes later by an even-later, post-closing patron; he'd missed lunch and purchased some salads to down before heading off--wherever. His pickup was parked at a rakish angle to the front door--he too had raced in, hoping not to be disappointed.

He was probably in his fifties, and gracious about my kids racing back and forth on the porch as he tried to eat and relax. The kids were being pretty good, but arguing about sharing their treats, and highly resistant to my suggestion that they simply sit down. He watched me for a bit, as I attempted negotiation and occasionally sighed; he made a comment about his own daughters, now teenagers, and then said, very simply, "You know, don't you, how rich you are?"

Often, I forget. Thanks to the stranger from North Hillsdale for the reminder.

Part II

The sad truth is, like Her Bad Mother, I cannot write about the rest of the strangeness. Unlike Part I, the improbably story of finding unknown family here in the back woods, the rest of the strangeness was all bad, full of pain and hurt feelings and probably some much-needed personal growth, too, because they usually all travel together...but that doesn't mean it was good or kind or wished-for. I am, to use cryptic and uninteresting words, still processing it all.

Meanwhile, here at the ranch, uh, farm, I am having my first moments--now turned into days--of regret, indecision, and overt, teary sadness about our move. (Hey, I have some problems feelings my feelings, so maybe it just takes me a while? And maybe it's related to the emotional beat-down of last week? ) I'm not sorry, exactly, to have moved, but I have been feeling desperately lonely, completely inept, and downright woeful. Some of it, I think, is also about the turn in the weather: not just leaves are falling, but temperature, too, and it reminds me of short, dark, cold days to come. The breeze and the loamy smell of wet leaves that greet me on my morning walks this week are replacing the ethereal waft of ripening apples. I signed up for all this, of course, in moving here, but I fear it, too.


Strange Days, Indeed

First, something lovely. Every morning, almost, I walk Pasha the puppy and sometimes Tinker (our fourteen year old border collie mix old man dog) up our road for a while. We usually end up taking forty five minutes or so to walk a couple of miles, with plenty of time for sniffing (them) and waking up (me) on the way. Our road travels up hill (our house is already at 1100 or so feet, but the road rises more than that behind us,) past an enormous gentleman's farm owned by an amazing couple who have been so welcoming and kind to us that we sometimes pinch ourselves, past another old farmhouse with a beautiful Dutch-style barn, and finally starts downhill, changes abruptly from asphalt to dirt, and wanders through an enormous stretch of land still owned and farmed by a family that's been here for generations. Early in the morning, heir cows pasture far off the road, but you can hear them lowing, which always makes Pasha perk her ears.

One neighbor, on the paved section of School House Road (and indeed, the old school house is right across the street from us,) has a couple of old, feral apple trees in his yard; they seem to have been purposefully planted, like relics from an old orchard, but they stand alone near the driveway, with no other trees around. Another apple is improbably roadside, and I've been watching its fruit all summer. When I first noticed them, the apples were tiny, crab apple size, but they're now nearly big enough for eating and starting to color. Today, the dogs stopped right beneath the roadside tree, and I instantly knew why. As soon as I inhaled, my whole body filled with a lilting summer scent, so sweet and floral that it seemed impossible.

Continuing on, I found the first colored maple leaf fallen on the ground, and later today, when we were driving across Massachusetts for our very fun field trip to the Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, Dido said, "Mom! Look! The first leaves are turning color." Not many, not yet, but he was right.


That's the good part, not the strange part. The strange part started with lots of breakage: plates, glasses, a silver baby cup mangled in the disposal, culminating in a collapsing shower door shattered all over the H and Dido in the bathroom (they're fine.) I've written before about how things breaking always indicates or presages a period of some kind of instability, and this one was no exception.

My mother arrived in the middle of it for a nice, if somewhat too harried visit. (When am I not too harried? I'd like to know.) We were all so happy to see her, delighted to share our amazing new home with her, thrilled that she seemed to soak in the place and all the characteristics of it that make us think she'd love living here. We had our usual arguments (they are, ever and always, exactly the same--why IS that? We'd both like to know.) but it was a good visit nonetheless. Her first night here, we had a dinner party with some friends we adore and thought she would, too. One of them grew up in the same town as my mom and dad, and is around the same age, so I knew my mom would enjoy either reminiscing or dishing, depending upon how she related to L (our friend.)

Within moments of L's arrival, a bomb fell. Her aunt was my father's stepmother. We are, in some strange way, cousins. This is odd and coincidental, of course, but also thrilling. There is so much I don't know or don't remember about my dad (who died when I was seventeen, for those who don't know) and I have had dropped in my lap someone I really enjoy who knew him as a young man. I am still reeling from this news. L was very close to her first cousin, my dad's stepsister, who died when I was quite young. I don't even know how to write about this because it feels, as my mother said, like something you would scoff at in disbelief if it happened in a novel.

Stay tuned for Part II.



Sunday was a glorious day--beautiful weather, cool and clear, perfect for exploration and meandering, and, apparently, for a foul storm of moodiness for the H. The kids and I cleared out and left him to stew and work until he felt better, or at least, companionable.

We went to a local farm where the Babe got to feed a baby goat with a baby bottle, no less, and let's just say that I think we'll be going back. The place had a taco stand, and an ice cream shop, not to mention fresh produce for sale, so it was a monster hit for each of us.

Upon returning home, the H's clouds were still a little black, but we hung out outside together on the new swing set and made do. Pasha the Puppy (now nearly as big as our old dog, Tinker) was tethered on a long lead to prevent her from chasing the cat into the woods (their favorite joint activity.) The H decided she wouldn't run off (sometimes, it's true, she doesn't) and let her off lead. He went inside to get a glass of wine, while I watched her....chase the cat into the woods. I followed them a bit up the grassy bank that leads up the hill from our house to the edge of the (dense, as yet unexplored by us due to fear of deer ticks) forest. I stopped at the brush lining the larger trees, distracted by a wild blackberry bush--I picked one and it was unbelievably sweet. I wanted to share these with my family--started picking to find four perfect ones (not many were yet ripe) when I felt something prick my sandal-clad foot. I looked down to see my right foot aswarm with yellowjackets.

"Stung! Stung!" was the only thing I could say as I ran screaming down the bank, slipping and sliding and kicking off my sandal as I fell. I ran in the back door to the kitchen, clutched the counter and screamed some more. (As someone who's experienced the pain of unmedicated labor--at least for a little while--and a herniated disc, I can say with authority, this was worse.) My poor kids started to cry as I grabbed for the baking soda and a large steel bowl, poured some soda in, mixed some water and plunged my foot in. Dido got some ice for me and we added that, too, as the whole family looked on in horror. As I stood there, now whimpering, I felt something scratching my leg, inside my jeans. I haven't disrobed that fast since reuniting with my college boyfriend after a two week separation. The stalking wasp flew around the kitchen for a bit, prompting the H to chase it wildly with a flyswatter (thanks) while I continued to ice and soak.

I got off light, considering I stepped directly into a ground nest--only four stings, three on my foot, one on my leg. They hurt, a lot, for about 24 hours, and now just itch. I will never go near our woods without muck boots again.

Welcome to the country, sucka.


Lots of clever titles, come and gone

I've gotten back in the infuriating and unproductive habit of mental posting. John is in L.A. for a week, which means I'm flying solo with the kids, but I kind of like it, in spite of adventures that have included power and phone outages, a possibly broken toe (mine), a near miss with a New York State Trooper (Merry Christmas, again), several episodes of pee on the floor (child, not puppy), one mysterious animal skeleton on the mudroom floor and the joy of tax prep. I've had one glass of wine since the H left, and I think that's VERY impressive.

Meanwhile, bucolic joys continue.

Witness my chickens, my commute, and my view. Life could be much, much worse.


Sunset redux

A few weeks ago I posted a picture of one of our sunsets, proclaiming said sunsets of unending beauty and constant variation. But the picture kind of sucked. So here's another, better one.

Yesterday, unusually, showed us no sunset at all. For the first time either John or I could remember for the 4th of July, it was pouring rain. Not even lightning and thunder to stand in for the drowned-out fireworks. So we grabbed the kids and headed off to Great Barrington for dinner. With no particular plan, we decided to try a Mexican place that we'd heard was good. Unfortunately, what folks here think of us good Mexican food can be pretty awful (witness the much-extolled Mexican Radio restaurant in Hudson, which is so bad that even the kids aren't happy with their quesadillas.) Phew. This place was actually good--decent sauces, good refried beans, and margaritas better than those at the place we always went to in L.A. None of it was amazing, but all of it was good enough to help the homesick Angelenos perk up.

We have been homesick lately. We've had lots of visiting friends which is wonderful, but also a reminder of how many people we've left behind. Saying goodbye, again, is hard on all of us, even though we wouldn't ever pass up the opportunity to see our buddies or to show them why we're not insane for making this move. (It is to all of their credit that none of them have made us feel nuts, even if that is what they believed--for this, we all thank all of you.) John also went to L.A. last week for work, which seemed to make him doubly homesick, for homes old and new. (He did, however, get to eat both real sushi--definitely not abounding here--and Mexican, so no sympathy, really, for him.)

On the other hand, our new life continues to delight, at least me. We have chickens now, nearly three weeks old, pecking away in one of the stalls in the barn. Six guinea hens (apparently champion tick-eaters, which recommends them here in the Lyme Disease capitol of America), 3 Leghorns (white egg layers), 4 Rhode Island Reds--3 hens and one rooster, Jolly (or, as the Babe calls him for self-evident reasons, "Poopy Butt")--for brown eggs, and 7 Araucanas, six hens and a boy, now named Striper, for their gorgeous, Martha Stewart-endorsed pale blue and green eggs. It takes about five months for a hen to begin to lay, so it will be late fall or even early winter before ours are ready, which means that we may not see much from them until next spring. But they're sweet, and soon enough I'll have a use for the beautiful pitchfork and overalls my L.A. girlfriends gifted me with at one of my farewell parties. The kids are really into them--as though we have 20 new pets in our family, and I suppose we do, though I have been known to insist that at some point, we'll be eating some of them. I suspect I'll reverse that position, as more of them gain names. Chicken pix to come.