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.