Run me and the dog.
Write this week's column for Rural Intelligence. If only a single source would return an email or a phone call, this would be a bit easier. Just a bit.
Finish researching and writing pithy, capsule descriptions of a zillion movies--for the double secret project.
Finishing reading two books and write something witty and wonderful about them--for the double secret project.
Feed the chickens. Gather the eggs.
Pick up the dry cleaning. Drop off the dry cleaning.
Buy the things I forgot to buy at the grocery store yesterday.
Mail things at the post office.
Shower,dress, and look presentable.
Drive to Lenox to get the small people.
It's nearly noon. The forecast is definitely cloudy.
Over there on the far left, you see a nest, made by one of our hens. There are more than 20 eggs there, and she carefully cleared that spot, laid those eggs, and then sat on them diligently until the non-farmer (that would be me) foolishly decided to bring her some food, and scared her off. That was a few days ago, and they're now abandoned. Before I toss them into the woods to be eaten by the foxes and raccoons, I wanted to memorialize her effort. Mostly, domesticated chickens don't do this. They have had the "broodiness" bred right out of them; their instincts are decidedly non-maternal. I could probably hatch some chicks from my hens; I know that many of their eggs are fertile (with three roosters around, that's no surprise) but I'd need an incubator to do it.
Meanwhile, the new girls have begun laying, too, bringing Dido's dreams of a roadside egg stand closer to reality. Their efforts are in that beautiful yellow bowl--I should have put one of the big girls' eggs in for scale, because these new ones are tiny--maybe an inch and a half long. As I did with the first from the original hens, I'll save these. Why, I don't know. Maybe they're like old pictures: reminders of the way things started out, the difficult promise held in every beginning.
Sorry about that. I've been tweeting up a storm, but alas, blogging has been elusive. To recap, a few bullet points:
- We had the Gillibrand/Obama fundraiser, which went really well. We raised a fair bit of money, had 25% of our town's registered Dems there, plus a lot of folks from other places, and proved, I think, to the local party that there is a younger crowd (when I say younger, what I mean is: middle aged) waiting to be tapped. All good. Plus Marshall Crenshaw came and played a couple of tunes, and that's just cool.
- The day of the fundraiser and the following day, we had family visiting from L.A. We had a fabulous, fun visit, and I think we all ended the weekend feeling warm and fuzzy about each other, which was exactly what we all needed and wanted. It was great.
- The next day, the kidlets started school. Dido LOVES school this year, loves it more than he ever has, wakes up in the morning raring to go to the point that he gets dressed and often MAKES HIS BED, unprompted. Let's just say that this is unprecedented. The Babe, while slightly less enthusiastic, is subject to the contagion of her brother's good mood, and thus, mornings have been easier.
- That Friday, I had a big meeting on my double secret project, which went well, though it entailed (I kid you not) hair and makeup. See that pic up above? That's what I look like with hair and makeup. Don't get used to it.
- Sometime over the weekend, Fiammo, aka the mighty hunter--not, got outside and came back with a weepy eye, which got worse and worse. Monday morning I took him to the vet, only to learn that he had managed to get a puncture wound in his eye. Since that initial visit, we've been medicating daily and have visited the vet three times. Ah, parenthood.
- The following Monday, we had an impromptu overnight visit from the H's agent and his (the agent's, not the H's--not as far as I know) girlfriend. Apparently, Hollywood will hunt you down. I'm pretty sure when the four of us lunched at our favorite Hudson creperie we made the owner's week. (Ok, in my own defense about this blatant celeb-y news: it's for my best friend from elementary school, who loves this stuff. Blame lovely Mary. Mary, I hope you like this one!)
- The rest of the week, I was working on the double secret project, working on my (weekly--check 'em out) story for Rural Intelligence, and prepping for our local literary shindig, the "Festival of Books." We had two of the authors (Lily Tuck and Mary Gordon) as our houseguests over the weekend, and I attempted to moderate two author readings/discussions (Lily and Sheila Weller.) I did a better job at the second than the first, much to my chagrin, but the audiences were engaged and asked good questions, and I think the authors were pretty happy--and that's what matters most. In between the two panels, I coordinated desserts for the big dinner shindig for the Festival.
- This Monday....what the hell happened on Monday? I have no idea. I think I got some writing done. I think. I think I went back to the vet. Again. Or maybe that was Friday? Oh, I know why I don't remember: memory is kind, and allows us to block the things we can't bear. Monday was the day that Dido got the stomach flu, stayed home from school, and the Babe pitched a world-class, diva temper tantrum to try to avoid the cosmic injustice of attending school when her brother was busy running from bed to toilet. While she lost the battle, the outcome of the war remains to be determined. We were twenty minutes late, and both breathing heavily, when I finally, gratefully, deposited her at school.
- Yesterday, I was down in the barn doing some long overdue chicken primping and cleaning, and felt a twinge in my lower back. This is not a new problem for me: the first time my back "went out", I was standing in the ladies' room at J. Walter Thompson (the ad agency where I worked after I graduated from college). In my own personal Peggy Olson moment, I had to gingerly navigate back to my cubicle and try to make it through the rest of the day in excruciating pain. (As I write this, I am remembering that this was actually not the first episode--how odd. The first time was actually when I was working in a gourmet food shop on Martha's Vineyard. I had totally forgotten. Funny. I digress.) This time seemed mild to moderate, until today, when I had to drive Dido to Springfield, Massachusetts (about 75 miles away) for a follow-up go round with the super duper Orthopedists at Shriner's Hospital. When we arrived, I couldn't get out of the car. No fun for me, and scary for poor Dido. I finally managed to hoist myself out, get him to and through his appointment (he's fine, but the experience today freaked him out because there were some seriously ill and disabled kids at the hospital; seeing them he described as both "scary and sad" and I have to agree. As always, he conducted himself like a total champ: courteous, cooperative and kind. I adore this kid. He is such a love.) We hopped (or, in my case, hobbled) back into the car and headed for Lenox so he could get at least half his school day. When we arrived, I was able to get out to walk him in--hooray! My euphoria was short lived: I collapsed to my knees in the middle of the driveway, just as the landscaper's truck was trying to drive out. Jordan was mortified, and scared that I was going to be roadkill. I managed to, literally, crawl out of the way, and after a few horrible moments, I pulled myself to a stand with his help and walked him into his classroom. I've spent the rest of the day lying in John's special zero gravity fancy-pants back chair, heavily medicated.
It's been a busy few weeks out here at Runaround Farm. I promise to give the recap if not tonight, maybe tomorrow or worst, the next day. I miss blogging, and at least I know my sweet mom misses it, too.
We are hosting a political shindig here this weekend, donations to Obama and Gillibrand, our Congresswoman, encouraged. It started as an Obama fundraiser and morphed, without my instigation though without my opposition, into a joint event. Then, as I am wont to do, I checked out a bit--though I was happy to have the event here, I didn't want to run point on its many details. When I saw the invitation, I definitely blew a gasket--it was all about Gillibrand, no mention of Obama. I am a supporter of Gillibrand, but it wasn't what I'd signed up for, and I was frustrated. I complained to a friend or two, vented to John, told the other organizers my feelings--I was actually proud of myself for confronting the issue directly, rather than simply stewing. Long, boring story slightly less long---dinner party gossip began, and resulted in the real organizers being told that I wasn't even going to show up at my own party, so irate was I at the supposed omission of Obama. Worse, other people apparently started to say they wouldn't come either, as Obama was being left out of the event. Egads.
This is kind of like the time last year when lovely neighbors stopped by to let us know that we were the subject of gossip in town--rumor had it we were planning to tear down our barns, reasons unknown! Umm, no. No such plans. This is what it is to live in a small town--with not much new happening day to day, games of telephone begin and grievances are magnified; an off the cuff complaint turns into a showdown. I don't know the source of either set of rumors (though I'm sure I could speculate) and it ultimately doesn't matter. It's just a reminder of why, in this kind of an environment (as in an office, say) feelings are best kept close.
2. My first national magazine piece (and it is a teeny, tiny thing, but it exists) is scheduled to run in October. Cross your fingers.
3. My latest regional magazine piece is available now around the Berkshires. If you live here, buy DinnerWhere! Read ME!
4. Next week, I start doing weekly food coverage for a wonderful website.
5. I am working with an amazing genius editor/mediatrix on a double secret, extremely cool project (her secret, not mine, or I'd tell you!) Stay tuned.
6. A wonderful person wants to give us two beautiful (rideable, trainable) horses. Am I insane? The H thinks yes. The kids think, bring 'em on.
7. I have to finish weeding the coop and build two ladders for the chiquitas so they can get outside already.
It is never, ever dull around here.
Tonight, I was about to "put the Babe to bed"--quotations necessary because the only person who puts that child to bed is, indeed, that child--the rest of us might die trying. She goes when she's damn well good and ready. But she's good-natured, of late, about going through the motions, even though we all know it's a charade, and in mere minutes, she'll be up and about, asking for snuggles, cuddles, water and a trip to our room to recover from the first of many bad dweams. Anyway--I was about to begin the performance when motion on her bedroom floor caught my eye. As with so many unpleasant things: I knew instantly what I was seeing, even as I forced myself to look closer. Indeed, I had seen a grey ROUsualSize scoot across her floor, towards the pile of books, games, toys and assorted other VERY NECESSARY STUFF in front of her bookcase. Vous (hey, more French!) the au pair heard me shriek, and I told her what I'd seen. Sotto voce I also said, "Go get the cat."
Now our cat, as I've written before, is less a mighty hunter than a kind of Mutual of Omaha Wild Kingdom nature aficionado. In our sixteen months here, I've noticed two (2) kills notched on his belt. Err, collar. But I can hope. Vous tracked him down, and to his credit, he instantly stationed himself in front of the bookcase, ears and whiskers twitching, head moving to the beat of some small mousey movements imperceptible to human ears. And again, to his credit, he didn't loll about, lick his rear, and then leave the room. As far as I know, he's still there, the mouse is still there and the Babe is in my room, playing with Kiki and Finn (aka her feet, or the "foot-babies") and refusing the unnecessary time waster that she considers sleep.
I realized this morning, as I cried while pulling and hacking weeds higher than my head, getting chicken-poopy-dirt in my eyes, mouth and down my shirt, that some tasks are never done. I might get all 400 square feet of my chicken coop weed-free (not bloody likely, but I can dream) but as soon as I do, barring an unseasonable frost, they'll come back. The hopelessness of this led me to what I believe may be the first day of actual regret at having made this choice. One day of substantive regret in sixteen months is pretty good, I think, but that didn't make it feel any better.
Do you know what a woodchuck is? I didn't, not really, before this year; I had vague notions of how much wood one could chuck, and thought it might be similar to that other famous odd creature, the ground hog. (In fact, they are the same, and are also known, according to the great prevaricators at Wikipedia as, get this, whistlepigs.) But this year--they're everywhere. They've chewed the boards at the bottom of one of our barns; they dash across the road in front of the car nearly as often as the little chipmunks, who always seem anxious, as they stiffly hold their tails high and run so fast their feet are a blur. As some of them seem to be about three feet long, they are, indeed, ROUS's.
As I was laying in bed with the Boy, scratching his back to help him fall asleep and silently praying to the god I don't believe in for health, I heard an odd rustling sound downstairs that could only mean one sequence of things: puppy. bad. chewing. I kissed him quickly and ran downstairs. I'm not sure what the expletive of choice was, but insert your own as you read what I saw. Two destroyed golden foil bags and one with a few remaining pieces of chocolate still inside. She'd eaten three bags of the best chocolate chips I could find at our crappy local market (as distinguished from the expensive health food market) to make a friend's birthday cake for a dinner party tonight.
We've all read about dogs and chocolate, right? It's rumored to be a lethal combination. I love my dog, but truly, after the week I've had, no emergency trips to the vet were going to happen. Plus, she seemed fine (duh, she hadn't started to digest it yet.) She usually sleeps in our room, but with visions of late night digestive explosions a possibility, we left her in her crate for the night. The H heard the 2 a.m. wake up call, and instead of just handling it himself (what I would have done, and, in fact, did on the night's second tour of duty) he woke me up too. He took her outside, I hosed out the crate (pretty much full of melted chocolate) and we put her back to bed.
She barked. She's not much of a barker, and never barks if she's crated--she likes it there, unless we're at the dinner table tormenting her by our presence and our non-shared food--she usually just turns around three times and then falls instantly asleep. But tonight, she barked some more: sharp, sad little cries. The H went down two more times to let her outside. Finally, he sacked out, but at 4:28, I opened up my Grinchy heart and went down to her. She went outside , again, sniffed and rolled around a lot while I sat hunched and bitter on the front stoop, and then she came back in, heading straight for the water. She drank--a lot--and then promptly headed up the stairs to her bed as thought nothing had happened. I followed, but couldn't settle, because neither could she--I heard her rustling and rolling and turning on her bed, agitated. And then--a geyser of chocolate scented water erupted. I sprang out of bed, herded her down the stairs, but not before another geyser. As I was about to get her out the door, again, I heard an emphatic, wide awake small voice: "Momma? Daddy? I need a CUDDLE." Ah. But of course. My feet were covered in chocolate dog vomit, so this was, clearly, the very moment that my daughter would awaken and need blanket arrangement and snuggling. I managed to find some towels to contain the mess, and spent ten minutes getting her back to sleep. Then I tackled the stairs, the entry hall, and my bedroom floor--all without the H so much as stirring.
On the plus side--I'm up early, and the house smells...like chocolate.
P.S. For Betsy--Pasha seems fine, if a little enervated (kind of like the time she found the two pounds of espresso beans the UPS man delivered and left on the front porch. That was a fun night, too.)
"Just to live in the country is a full-time job. You don't have to do anything. The idle pursuit of making a living is pushed to one side, where it belongs, in favor of living itself, a task of such immediacy, variety, beauty, and excitement that one is powerless to resist its wild embrace."
No way I could have said it as well, let alone better, for heaven's sake.
Oh, and did I mention that the poor H leaves for nearly a week in L.A. on Monday, a trip he's actively dreading?
The Babe is utterly resistant to any idea of going to school/camp (what do you call it when daycamp is at school?) without her big bro. The bribes have been flowing like a creek after a strong storm. New baby doll? Check! Chocolate ice cream? You got it! Anything to keep her on a schedule--at least one member of the family, preferably the smallest, loudest one, has to keep to a routine or the whole precarious imperfect machine will collapse upon itself, gears and springs tangled and twitching.
And in my sphere: my "garden" suffers under too many weeds (I got some out last week, and it seems they're all back, with their friends), my big chickens need a good coop freshening, and my little girls and their surprise rooster companions need me to get cracking on building them two ladders to the outside world--they are almost old enough to venture out to pasture...or they would be, if their outdoor area were not choked with a terrifying tangle of waist-high weeds. I have, it seems, fallen woefully behind.
On the other hand: I have started work on not one, but TWO, books. (There, I said it.) I am working on the afore-mentioned semi-secret most exciting project, which I will finish tomorrow. I have a lead on some more writing for a wonderful outlet, not to mention the hope of bartering some writing work for wine--never a bad exchange. Raise a glass to the promise of summer, when all things seem nearly possible.
However...vacations are exhausting, and this was no exception. Saturday morning, their last day here, I ended up spending at the pediatrician, and then the hospital, where Dido received his first x rays in the quest to determine the source of a lingering pain in his left hip. The x rays revealed...precisely nothing at all. The H and I suspect that he pulled a muscle in his groin, but we're still not sure and if the pain doesn't get a lot better soon, we may be in for more tests. Think good thoughts for the little man, who has essentially been on bedrest since Saturday morning. As a result, he's had lots of TV time (joy, rapture) and we've been somewhat grateful for the excuse to lie low at home and skip out on some of the summer socializing. (Though I was really sorry to miss this. That's my cool friend Linda with the awesome short hair and groovy glasses.)
Meanwhile, I'm thinking a lot about some various things I've been reading and learning. Everywhere I turn, it seems, I am confronted with different expressions of the idea of universality. Whoof. As I read that, I think--too big and too pretentious a thought for so early in the morning. Or, maybe, any time. But here's the thing: I've been reading a bunch of stuff--novels, books on the creative process, the Mahabharata, for heaven's sake. And what they all have in common is this idea that is kind of metaphysical and kind of mythical, that there are spheres within spheres of energy, and that creativity and bliss arise when a window, or a door, opens in this most prosaic world to let all that beyond-our-perceptions energy in. Ok, I'm going off the woo woo deep end. Maybe. But the key to tapping into all that wonder is the most prosaic thing of all--call it focus, perseverance or discipline, the answer all comes down to putting your ass in the proper chair.
I realized last night that I am so tired of being disappointed by my answer to the "what are you working on?" question, and that my problem (duh, the H is thinking right about now, if he's reading) is about sitting down to work. The ideas, they come. I can see all the tantalizing beauty outside, but nothing will come through that window without my heaving up the sash.
This has been, overall, great. More reading time, more sleeping time, better mood. But...I've been a pretty irregular blogger during this time, too. And I am, in general, struggling with organizing my time now that the Babe has a regular school schedule, the Au Pair has a regular school schedule, and I...I still have five million things I'd like to do, a few that I must, and blocks of time that feel long on paper but somehow evaporate before me.
The H and I had a bit of a set-t0 this week: he was in a funk, and I finally sat him down and said some version of: "I can tell you're trying really hard not to lose your temper with me, but it's clear that you're angry and irritated with me, so--what's up?" (I thought this was a very mature and diplomatic way to confront my growing irritation with his irritation.) His response was that I was taking on too much--the chickens! the (sorry attempt at a) vegetable garden!--and other things (the decluttering of our home) were falling by the wayside. Now, whether or not or home is in fact messy is a matter of debate and opinion. Some say no, others would agree with him. My first reaction was an angry one--"you don't want me to have anything that's just for me--you want me taking care of you all the time"-- and there's probably some truth to the latter part of that statement, though not the former. But then it made me think about what I am taking on, and what my time goes towards. I don't think I have too much on my plate, but rather that I let the wrong things absorb too much of my time because I don't have a structure for getting them done. Freedom Filer and Nozbe, as wonderful as they are, can't plant my ass in my desk chair and write the checks for me when it's time to pay the bills. I have to impose structure upon my own cobwebby brain, and this is a challenge. Hence, the no 'net night rule, which I am hoping will keep me from spinning off into endless (and endlessly fascinating) hyperlink journeys which, though fun, are somewhat fruitless...stay tuned.
My mother may be the only person in the world who wants me to blog about my college reunion, and since I already talked to her about it, I don't really feel like I have to honor her request! But the first pictures are of one of the highlights of the weekend, a meal worth risking digestive drama for (happily, I had none. Apparently months of gluten free allow me a few indiscretions, which means that a) I don't have celiac disease and b) it's all worth it.) Those are from Pepe's, which makes the best pizza in the land. If you have the chance, go. The paler one in the second photograph is white clam pizza, second only to ambrosia as food of the gods.
And then, also for my mom, some new pics of the chicks, happily ensconced in a new, bigger enclosure in the coop they will call home. They're still not big enough to meet the other girls or go outside, but they seem very happy in their new digs. Today I added some perches and a nice screen cover, so they should be safe, and amused. The girl in the last pic is a mystery chick--note her feathered legs. Can't wait to see what she turns into, but if her plumage is as dramatic as I think it's going to be, I might have to name her Cher. Or Bob Mackie.
Make sure to watch the whole thing, to get the full benefit of Terry McAuliffe's delusional, party-destroying, solipsistic perspective. It's nice to know that gracious behavior and a firm grasp on reality flows all the way through the Clinton organization.
- It's a whole lot easier to blog than to talk these days. The cold I caught before leaving for the weekend (which I swore to myself Friday morning was just allergies) has wiped out my vocal chords.
- My summer CSA share started today, which means there's stuff happening over on the other blog.
- Does Hillary think she's the Decider? It would appear so from tonight's less-than-gracious speech.
- The weeds are back in my garden. On the bright side, the grass down by the barn is now cut so I can (finally, really late) put in my raised beds.
- I referred to my peers as being in the middle of their lives. The people I said this to, a good forty years older than me, took some exception. Good for them.
- And goodnight.
Ten Years Ago
I was in the home stretch of planning my wedding to the H. My favorite parts of my wedding were the cake (made for us by dear dear friends as their wedding gift,) arranging the flowers with my mother, my mother-in-law and her sisters the day before, the band, and the toasts from our best people, which were staggering in their breadth, humor and vocabulary. My only regret about not videotaping the wedding is that we don't have a record of those speeches.
Ten Months Ago
Last August I was stressed about the looming writers' strike, and depressed in general, as well as dealing with familial strife that still feels unresolved. Not a good time.
Ten Days Ago
I was trying to get kids to go to sleep--same as now.
Ten Hours Ago
I was working on a pitch for a small magazine piece. Nothing like an unanswered email query to set me obsessively checking my inbox.
Ten Minutes Ago
I was explaining--at length and occasionally at higher than preferable volume--to both children why insisting that they cannot fall asleep is counterproductive to all of our happiness. They were not persuaded. The H is now with the Babe, and Dido is lying in bed in silent protest (God bless him for this manner of self-expression.)
Ten Minutes from Now
I will read some more Laurie Colwin.
Ten Hours from Now
I'll be getting the kids out the door.
Ten Days from Now
I will be out on a date with the H.
Ten Months from Now
I hope I'll be reading a great script for my movie project, and be well into my own writing project. I feel like I'm jeopardizing both by even admitting that I want them.
What does it mean that I cannot project that far ahead? I hope I'm really working, and that my kids like me better than they do at this moment.
Last Sunday, I read the NYT's Sunday Styles piece on Jill Bolte Taylor, neuroanatomist, stroke victim, and advocate for the idea that the keys to the universalist kingdom, so to speak, lie within our own brains, specifically the right hemisphere. She asserts that the experience of bliss, nirvana, universality, peace (or whatever you want to call it) is accessible via the right hemisphere of our brain, that by accessing that part of ourselves, we can tame the left brain, which is all about chatter and worry and fretting about the past and projecting future and linear thought--in other words, everything but the experience of this particular moment.
I mentioned a few days ago that friends are enduring a particularly terrifying present. Their five year old son was diagnosed a week and a half ago with Wilm's Tumor, a cancer of the kidneys that occurs in little kids. Though it has around a 90% cure rate, it's not something you want to have to experience as a patient or a parent. If their blog is a fair representation of their reality (and I suspect it is, as much as any blog can be) they are dealing with this fearful adversity with great balance and love. Their ability to maintain calm and positivity speaks, I think, to all this right brain woo-woo stuff. I hope that as you all did for Mieke when she began her hard times this year, you will send all your powers of belief, hope and love towards Pablo and his family as they move through their cancer journey. Whatever your belief, it never hurts to send love in someone's direction.
And to Anonymous in Rochester, let me just share a couple of things. When I was in high school, some girlfriends and I (and I seem to remember that I was, I am ashamed to say, kind of the ringleader) took out anonymous snarky ads in the school paper (why we were allowed to do this, I can't fathom) making thinly veiled attacks on another girl. (We believed, I think, that she was chasing after another friend's boyfriend. It was high school, and I know, it was pathetic.) In any case, Anonymous from Rochester, I still regret having done such a cowardly, dopey thing--twenty five years later, I still think of it from time to time. So, really, why bother? And to address specifically your concerns about me. Yes, I went to Yale. But my classes were not pass/fail (perhaps you're thinking of Brown) and I did ok in English. Even so, my overpriced and overrated diploma fails to guarantee a typo-free existence. So for the grave sin of typing "an new New Yorker" instead of "a new New Yorker", I apologize, and hope you weren't too harmed by the experience of reading my words. I, too, loathe typos, try to avoid them, but I tend to blog quickly, and don't catch them all.
Friday took me to tour my new 'net friend's corner of the earth. As with my class the other weekend at Hancock Shaker Village, the whole thing was almost too much to take in--so much beauty and so much knowledge. I kept reminding her that I know nothing when it comes to plants and gardening, and she was patient with my inane questions and gaping, awed face. I went home with lots of babies to plant and a hope that in twenty years, my little plot of earth might look half as good as hers. I cleverly left behind a bucket so that I'll have to return, soon.
Saturday we roused ourselves for a field trip to northwestern Connecticut to experience "Trade Secrets", an annual fundraiser that gathers boutique nurseries and garden furnishing purveyors in one field of horticultural dreams. And, it was in Connecticut. I repeat the location because, you see, other than the Hartford airport and a long ago trip to my college reunion, the H had never really experienced Connecticut. As he put it, he'd never seen so many 58 year old women who looked exactly alike (think blonde highlights and headbands.) He was also surprised to see the Bentleys and Rolls Royces in the parking lots. I realized, seeing this high WASP, high roller culture through his eyes, that Connecticut is a lot like Beverly Hills, only preppier, and we agreed that though there's much beauty to be found in the Litchfield hills, we prefer our ragged little farm-y county across the state line.
We dragged our bounty (from the show and from the Agway on the way home) into the yard, and started to dig. Thanks to Margaret, I had geraniums, and cannas, and angelicas and others to re-home, and the show gave me some gaudy pink heucheras to throw into the mix. I managed to get a good number of them in, but at a certain point, fatigue and despair took over. My beds looked like crap! No matter how many weeds I pulled, more seemed to instantly appear! I would never get all the hated boxwoods dug out and transplanted to their new home on the south side of the house, where they will help hide the air conditioners....And forget about getting the kitchen garden in. I can't even figure out what is already growing there...The babe took the moment when I was most discouraged to pitch an hysterical tantrum because I wouldn't let her have a Reeses peanut butter cup that Dido dragged home from a birthday party (why, parents, why??? do you give candy in party bags? None of us want to deal with our kids when they eat sugar, so why do you sugar up other people's kids??) After she calmed down (and it took a while) I lay on the couch on the screened porch with a pillow over my face, while the H mulched the (mostly planted) front bed. The rain had started, and the air was soft. Nothing looked that bad, and there's time to do more this week.
I told my mom this story when we spoke tonight, and she laughed. Why, she wondered, do I think I am exempt from learning? Why should I know how to do something perfectly, right away? Gardening is all about learning--I'll learn.
I moved to Hollywood (from a kind of bi-city existence on the east coast, based in DC, but working in NYC two or three days per week) on Friday, September 13, 1991. I used the many frequent flyer miles accrued in my advertising job (my first career) to upgrade to first class, so though the day may not have been auspicious, the surroundings gave a transitory sense of calm. Once in L.A. (or, more precisely, Culver City; at the time, well-deserving of the nickname I gave it, "The land that time forgot", now, just another stop on the overdeveloped Westside) I stuck a toe into the waters of business school, hated it, and from that point on, felt like a raccoon trying to strap on water wings to pretend to be a shark. If that image is uncomfortably awkward--yep, that's it.
It didn't get any better when I started working in the entertainment business. My first job was easy, if time consuming; I was an assistant (code for secretary) to a producer (yes, with an MBA from a then top tier B school. Welcome to Hollywood, baby.) He was a good guy who needed a lot of attention but in return was thrilled to have an intelligent and rapt audience. He taught me a great deal about the kind of producer or executive I might want to be (one who cultivated relationships, did his own reading, said no in a way that was kind and constructive, one who had strong and well-founded opinions) and when I moved on, to my first "real" job, he sent me with his blessing and an enduring willingness to mentor and support me. I was lucky. But even when I worked for him, I had the nagging, itchy feeling that I was missing out on some key piece of information: everyone else understood the "business" in some innate and critical way that eluded me--if only I could see through their eyes, every decision would be obvious, every negotiation successful, I would always say the right thing.
Instead, when I moved to that new job, I found myself working for an amateur machiavellian, the kind of guy who would gaslight his own employees just for the power rush. I kept notes in my journal about all things he was teaching me, by example, about how NOT to do my job. He was mean, capricious, mercurial and syncophantic-- everything I didn't want to be (though he had excellent taste in furniture, literature and music. So you can't say I can't find something nice to say.) Still, working for this evil non-genius, I felt like it was all about what I didn't know. If had that Key Piece of Information--I would know how to deal with him, how to do my job in a way that didn't constantly result in eye rolling, screaming and scapegoating.
Even when I moved on to a later position of arguable power (I could actually say yes to projects and mean it, meaning I had the power to decide which scripts my department would develop into films) I still felt like I didn't get it. (Maybe this was all the fault of the script I developed at the old job about Werner Ehrhard and est. If you don't get it, well....*) Eventually, I decided I had to stop worrying about what I was missing and do the best I could with what I had, which was wise, if perhaps a little too late in the game. I finally came to believe that Hollywood rewarded the appearance of certainty and confidence as much as it did the reality of those qualities, and though I agree with the H that Hollywood is in many ways a meritocracy, it also confers awards of merit onto those who merely bullshit very, very well.
Now I find myself living at more than arm's length from Hollywood, even as I stay somewhat engaged with it both personally and professionally. But my day to day present is about the place that surrounds me. And every time I look around my barn, I am absolutely certain that I lack information. Not a single idea that would make it all make sense (perhaps this is why I always hated Economics classes? Because I never believed that those theories could make it all make sense?) No, this time I lack generations worth of nearly-ancient knowledge: how to build things, how to take them apart, how to move water, or straw, or wood, how to handle, feed and nurture animals and plants, how to plan ahead for weather, how to clean the floor, the ceilings, the walls. What I don't know is immense, and I am aware of it constantly.
Today, I visited my intended asparagus bed. Indeed, there is a small spring feeding water into it. In fact, I have made asparagus crown soup (heavily seasoned with expensive bags of organic compost) and a big wet trench. This will not be the year that I start my asparagus patch. But I did manage to dig up two of the hated boxwood bushes (two down! Only eighteen to go!) and plant perennials in the empty spaces. Whether they will survive--I can't know. The pansies and violas I bought several weeks ago are thriving, their blossoms hardy and intense. While weeding in the kitchen-garden-to-be, I found a white violet, which I spared, and some sweet Johnny-Jump-Ups which arrived from who knows where. I bought two bird feeders and some seed, and tomorrow the kids and I will hang them. I know how to finish fencing the apple trees in the new orchard so that next winter, the deer won't feast on their still-soft bark. I can look with satisfaction at the immense pile of thorny brush I cut (and still need to burn) on the lower part of the slope, where it was threatening an old lilac. I am learning, and I will never, ever be done.
Gardening is not rocket science. (Says the head gardener at Hancock Shaker Village. Me, I'm not so sure.)
Chickens may protest a lot when you clean their coop, but they sure a lot of eggs the next day.
I am thinking a lot about growing things, which means I may need to invigorate my other, long-neglected blog, Trip to Bountiful, in order to spare my less-garden-involved readers from such in-depth exposure to the greening part of my brain.
I like weeding. But it's not for the impulsive, the careless or the disorganized. You need to be willing, like an archeologist at a precious dig, to move slowly from one square patch of earth to the next, carefully removing every non-belonging plant, one at a time. I am tempted to do it with big grabs, heavy handfuls of green and root. It doesn't work so well that way.
Finding an earthworm in soil you've just turned is as thrilling as finding an egg in your hen's nest.
Chickens are upset when you shovel out their coop, even if you then layer the floor with lovely, soft, sweet pine smelling new bedding. It may be s***, but it's their s***, and they'd like it left alone, thank you very much. They are much like children in this way. At least, my children.
By the way, on a less gruesome but related subject, I learned recently that my lovely, blue-egg laying hens are not true Araucanas, but rather a sort of mutt-chicken that still carries the colored egg gene. No matter; I love them. They are the calmest and seemingly most intelligent of my birds, and I am so sad to have now lost two of them. It's time to get to work on repairing the mysteriously non-functioning electric fence; even though all the birds have been killed outside the fenced area, I cannot help but think the fence would be a help. Sigh.
Unlike yesterday's prize (one of which is still available--comment soon, you unknown readers) this prize is not worth $9.95. Or, to be more precise, it's not priced at that reasonable point; rather, at least according to the manufacturer, it is worth a whopping (really, sit down, because this is just ridiculous) $495.00. Yes, you read that correctly. To be fair, it's worth about two thirds of that now, because, you see, it's a 2008 organizer, and --well, it's May. To quote the maker, that price tag is deserved because this day book isn't just for any joe shmoe; it's "for the connoisseur’s life…this diary and directory consists of listings of the world’s best art fairs, antique shows and auctions—from Art Basel to The Grosvenor—all are summarized in monthly listings that provide the world class traveler with invaluable references to the finest hotels, restaurants, museums and galleries." Yep. There you have it.
I have two of these bad boys, and I'm not using either one (they were part of the woeful swag from Hollywood Ego Smackdown) and maybe one of you will get a kick out of owning a pretentious day book that was part of the Independent Spirit Awards gift bag. So comment away--anybody can take these off my hands! (And, by the way, I have one in each color, so if you have a preference, let me know.)
Remember my vow of better birthday remembrance? And how it's been helped along by entering loved ones' b-days into my special little red book?
Well, unpacking yet another box (yes, we moved a year ago. Let's not discuss that right now) I found some extras of the red book; it was something I gave as a little present at Christmas a couple of years ago, so I bought a bunch of them and ended up with leftovers.
The first two people to comment and ask for one of these little cuties can have one--I'll mail it off, maybe even promptly. Here's the catch--you can't already be my friend (you know who you are.) You have to either be someone I don't know at all, or someone I've been long, long out of touch with (let's set that line of demarcation at 15 years--how's that?)
(Am I trying to force some of you out of your lurky ways? Perhaps. But why not?)
Today was one of those. Hanging out with new friends, catching up with old friends, cooking, playing, running with the puppy, curling up at the end of it all...
A good day. And a good night.
So click on over here, and read what one of my brilliant friends has to say about that painful, scab-picking (without being as fun as that implies) process--writing.
And then buy her book, if you haven't yet.
So imagine my delight and surprise when Margaret Roach (lately of Martha Stewart land, now of her own beautifully written, gorgeously designed gardening blog) stopped in after I posted about the ways her blog (and her advice via its forums) have been helping my baby steps into a greening life. I'm sorry, but that's kind of cool. It's nice to know you're being read (that is part of the reason we do this, after all) and even neater to know that the people you're referencing care.
Now, if only Justin, Leo, and Jai-from-Queer-Eye would pay more attention to THEIR Google alerts.
When they manage to vidiot themselves in the morning, it's often difficult to motivate the kids to do anything else. (Surprise!) Today was no exception. The morning involved glue on the coffee table, Sharpie on the counter, and lots of shouts of "N.O." from Dido. Big fun.
After lunch, I finally managed to drag the two of them out of the house; I needed to pick up wine for the fundraiser I've been helping to organize, and I wanted to visit a local (plant) nursery to pick up some pansies and possibly some roses for our front flower beds.
For those who don't know me--I am not a gardener. I routinely tell people I have a black thumb, and it's true that historically I have been a plant-killer, just as it's true that prior to my becoming a mother, any time I attempted to hold an infant, it would start to scream. Perhaps these uh, qualities, are related.
In any case--while I am not a gardener, I have a longstanding affinity for the kind of domestic artistry promoted by the legendary ex con M. Stewart. I am not much for her recipes, but that crafty homekeeping, project stuff really turns me on. I read the magazine, even though every year I swear I am not going to renew my subscription because the content has become either repetitive or arcane. (Just how many uses for quilling paper can you come up with? I thought so.)
So let's just call my relationship with Martha love/loathe, and leave it at that. But I am intimately familiar with Martha, her mag, her writers and on and on. So when I learned that Margaret Roach, the former editor of MSL, apparently took an (early) retirement to return to her country house, which is, you guessed it, here in Columbia County, I was intrigued. Margaret, before taking over as the Martha mouthpiece, was a garden editor in New York, and she's gone back to her (forgive me, pun haters) roots up here, starting a (really wonderful) blog all about her (kind of obsessive) gardening interests, knowledge and practice. For an idiot like me, it's a godsend.
Yesterday, Margaret's recommedation sent me to an amazing local nursery. The kids LOVED it. If we'd had more room in the car and less caution (mine alone) we'd have come home with a trunk full of plants from succulents to ferns. Instead, I bought two flats of pansies and a fern Dido couldn't bear to leave behind.
When we got home (after a detour to the town playground) we got our hands really, really dirty, and planted a sweet pansy border along our forlorn (yes, UGLY) front flowerbed. We had a blast. Is it possible I'm going to begin to understand this digging in the earth thing, now that I have so much earth to dig in?
The day would have been perfect if only I hadn't gotten yet another speeding ticket. That's right, folks, watch out, Leadfoot Loretta is on the loose. Ack. 45 in a 30. In my defense, I thought it was zoned for 40, but--I was wrong. The cop was sweet (they all are here, which is a huge difference from L.A.--of course, in L.A., I had two experiences being stopped in sixteen years, neither for speeding...) but really. What the hell? In addition to everything else I have to work on, over in the crowded self-improvement section of my brain, apparently I also now must confront my crappy driving. Ok, universe, I get it! I'm paying attention! Thanks to the diet (and yes, Gina, I will blog about it--it's pretty great, overall) I am mentally more acute--so I have no excuse.
Today's agenda with the short people is still TBD--at the moment we're watching an old Charlie Brown baseball cartoon--but we got good news last night that Friday, we can scoot down to the city for the day and see some dear friends who are visiting from L.A...
I don't know where but the how lately has been divine--we've had three or four days now of surprisingly SoCal-like weather, sunny, 70s, dry and clear, with a lovely cool breeze. It's been an idyllic taste of a fantasy summer, with no humidity and very few insects. All we want to do is sit on the porch, look at the view, and sigh.
In spite of the paradise that surrounds me, though, I've been in a bit of a funk. It's not just the tease of the weather (yes, I know it will get cold again; the ground is likely to frost several more times, and neighbors knowingly warn us of past May snows.) That's not it. It's the holiday. We're used to celebrating Passover every year with our dear, dear friends. (Yes, we are godless and not Jewish. We like Passover. So sue.)
I miss brisket (which I wouldn't be eating these days anyway, thanks to my unbelievably strict, but making-me-feel-better diet) and tzimmes and matzoh ball soup and...ok, not gefilte fish; but we always had lovely sole instead, chez C & D.
One of my favorite pieces of (my own) writing celebrates Passover, our dear ones, and their awesome seders. It pretty much says it all. The only thing it doesn't say-- it sucks that we didn't get to do it this year.
Happy bookday to you, happy bookday to you, happy bookday dear Rebecca, happy bookday to you!
My dear friend Rebecca (you know, the one who's saved my sanity--as much as anyone can-- since I left all of my Angeleno peeps behind) wrote a novel. She wrote this novel in between caring for her baby girl (Dido's girlfriend, sources tell me) and helping her husband build his medical practice. She wrote this novel stealing time sitting in a local cafe, a cafe that was so wed to her success that they hosted a book party.
And the novel itself? It's lovely, moving, sharply observed, extremely funny, utterly relatable, and beautifully crafted to boot. And it's on bookstore shelves today. TODAY.
So do yourself, and me, and Rebecca a favor and go to your favorite local independent bookstore and ask them to sell you (or order for you, if, by some hideous error, they have not stocked it) Nice to Come Home To. You won't regret it. Or, if you're the instant gratification type, click
here, and Jeff Bezos and his elves will send it your way. If you're not in the area (you know, Berkshires/upstate NY) visit her website to find out how to get a custom made (really beautiful) bookplate signed by Rebecca to adorn your new read.
I have a bad habit of, well, bad habits. I am often late, as I was to the massage. I try to do one more thing before I race out the door to take the kids to school, or to pick them up from school, or to meet the person I'm having lunch with, or even, god forbid, someone I have to go interview for a story. I am easily overwhelmed. Sometimes I take it out on the people I love most, like my kids--snapping at them because I feel anxious that we're not going to be on time, keep a plan with someone and so on. This horrible behavior manifests in other ways, too. I am notoriously bad at returning phone calls, and even emails. Thank you notes? Only recently have I gotten a bit better at getting them written, but often, gifts have gone unacknowledged, too. Are you my good friend? Did you have a birthday? I may well have not sent you greetings, let alone a gift. This is terrible. I know better. The excuses I make to myself are all variations on the same theme: I am swamped. I am overwhelmed. I have trouble finding the time to [have a conversation] [type a response] [mail a gift.]
I compound the anxiety I feel about not responding promptly by...not responding belatedly, stressing out all the while. I know to whom I owe calls and emails and birthday wishes or thanks, but I feel so crappy about not having communicated on time that I delay and delay and delay until I make a small situation into a monster. And all the while, I have that little devil on my shoulder who stomps his feet, and gets angry at others' presumed expectations of me. (Of course, their expectations are no more demanding than my perceptions of what I should be doing--even as I am failing, miserably, to do it.)
This was an issue for me when I was working, too. A big part of my job was responding to ideas that people submitted to me. I received way more submissions than I could have ever hoped to say "yes" to, which meant that hours every week had to be spent saying "no." Sometimes, it was hard to work up the courage, so I'd delay...and you can guess the rest of the story.
So what does this have to do with the massage? In that moment, where Rebecca gently and humorously chided me for making us both late for our appointments, I realized: I do this to myself. I am the one who decides to squeeze in one more webpage view, one more errand, one more something instead of tackling the task that needs to come next. I don't know why. But this habit makes me feel pressured, overwhelmed, unable to cope, and results in my showing up late, or not at all (literally and figuratively.) This habit has caused me to lose friends, infuriated family members, and made me perform not as well as I could at work and at home.
An Aussie friend I was speaking to the other day described someone (else) as "All gob, no action." And though I'm not "no action", I am often "wrong action." Meaning, I prioritize poorly. I am trying to find ways to deal with this, and I welcome suggestions.
A couple of things that I'm finding helpful:
The Happiness Project I love this site, started by a college friend of mine. She's writing a book about her experiences trying out a bunch of different "prescriptions for happiness" and blog details things she'd found actually work. A lot of it boils down to knowing yourself, and doing what you know to be right in the moment. Check it out.
Nozbe I just started using this web-based project management tool, which is aligned with
the "Getting Things Done" philosophy. This is a way of approaching tasks to minimize wasted time and maximize productivity; it seems to be very much a Fast Company, Silicon Valley phenomenon (i.e., the province of 30 year old guys,) but it works. This particular tool is easy to use, has a fantastic iPhone interface, and it's free (at least the basic version, which is perfect for me.) You categorize the different projects (mine include my grocery list, a catch all to do list, my writing work, my film work) and then enter and prioritize the tasks in each. It's better than the million scraps of paper uh, "system" I sometimes use by default, and even better than the "carry a notebook with you everywhere system", which I like, and still try to do--sometimes you want to write, not type, especially when you have only a phone and no laptop with you-- but my kids tend to think I'm carrying that notebook so that they can have drawing paper at a restaurant, so it gets filled up fast.
A birthday book When we were leaving L.A., we asked just about every friend we could think of to tell us their family members' birthdays. (Fascinating, by the way, to see who gave us the year they were born--and who didn't.) In any case--one year later (ahem) I have (finally) transcribed them into a little red book, so that I can turn to April, say, and see who I want to send cards or gifts to. This doesn't mean it will always happen, or be on time (sorry, Willa! It's on the way, promise!) but I'm getting better. I actually already have purchased presents for three family members whose birthdays aren't until next month, so I'm feeling pretty cocky.
What do you do to keep track of your life?
Lately, I've been thinking, a lot, about the way I live my life. Not, like, where I buy my groceries, which jeans I am comfortable wearing, what magazines I buy subscriptions to versus those I only buy on the newsstand, why I love lipstick and white cotton shirts or why I feel ok about letting my daughter paint her finger and toe nails, but the way I move through my life and specifically about the way I relate to time, and to the people I consider my loved ones and friends.
A few weeks ago, the lovely Rebecca and I arranged a massage date at our local yoga retreat/spa/new age academy--a place where, as my mother in law said when I took her there last month during her visit (and I might be getting this wrong, because I think what she said was more incisive) you could immerse yourself in the "muck of metaphysics", and where, she observed, it became clear that all the people into the same stuff look kind of the same all over (she is way into that stuff, so she wasn't being snarky or judgmental, just observant.) Our kids were off school, so we had a sort of complicated transaction arranged whereby her kids and their sitter would come to my house, hang out with my kids and Vous, R and I would dash back to Lenox for our massages, and so on. She was a little late getting here and when she arrived, I was immersed in something (I don't remember what) in my office, didn't have on my shoes or sweater or coat (for you Angelenos, you need outerwear to go out here--really!) and I felt a big need to drag her up to the third floor to show her the new chairs in my office. All of this took time. She was kindly stressed, wanting to leave but trying not to make a big deal of it, and I was blase--"We can get there in 25 minutes, no problem."
When we finally left, I noticed that I was driving a lot faster than she was (we went separately, for reasons that aren't worth mentioning, but it was important at the time) and I also noticed that no matter what, we were, in fact, going to be ten minutes late. Parking at Kripalu is a nightmare, and you have to sign in, get upstairs to the massage area, and so on. My phone rang as I was nearing the parking lot. It was Rebecca: "Of course you can get there in 25 minutes! You drive like a bat out of hell! [she probably said something more original that that, because she's an original thinker, a think-on-your-toes, always-find-the-right-comment kind of girl.] Do you always make yourself late to massages, so you can be as stressed as possible when you go in?" She was laughing as she said it, and seemed less angry than bemusedly annoyed, but that last part stopped my brain dead in its willful little tracks, and started a chain reaction that is still unfolding.
Stay tuned for Part 2, "You go about in pity for yourself..."
When I check my site stats, one of the things I know is what link you clicked out of my page onto...so make me happy by clicking out to a place that promotes charitable giving.
Putting my soapbox away, and going to bed.
It is amazing to me how we notice the things we need to, but not always in time.
I don't always make it to the henhouse to check the chickens every day. Sometimes, I'm there twice in one day, but other times, I skip. I always give them enough food and water to get through more than one day, and truthfully, I like to encourage them to get outside, especially now that the ground is thawing, and look around for bugs to supplement their diet. It's good for them, saves on feed, and, at least in theory, should be good for the garden I'm hoping to start down near their coop. (I know the bugs are freed from whatever icy prison held them through the winter, because this morning, our lawn was flickering with gorging robins.)
I've been in a funk all day and when the Babe (about three seconds after practically shrieking, "I NOT TIRED" at me) passed out on my lap, I decided to take the opportunity to go down to the barn to feed, water and gather eggs. I took Pasha (the lab puppy) with me for a walk, though taking her to the chickens is always a dicey business, because she sometimes decides that they're big fluffy chase toys that might be tasty snacks. I saw something in the field past the outdoor chicken coop that I couldn't quite place; I had seen a chicken or two in the field earlier today, but now I saw large splashes of color that didn't belong on the straw-colored dead grass. I knew, before I knew, what I was seeing: a fox, in motion, and two chickens, still. As I drew closer, the fox flashed up the hill with an enormous clump of black and brown--one of the Araucana hens. His tail seemed two feet long, tipped in lush white fur. Everyone but me has seen this fox this spring, and it appears I saw him too late.
Also in the field, left behind, was a big white body--too big to be Penelope, the Leghorn hen. It was Spot, the aggressive white rooster I've periodically threatened with the stew pot for his habit of flying at my legs when I come into the coop. Because I had the dog with me, I couldn't, thankfully, just walk right over to his body. I didn't want Pasha to play with him, so instead, she and I went into the barn--but not before another Araucana, ranging outside, tempted her. Today, she couldn't resist, and I am horrified to admit that I chucked a (small) rock at her body to get her to lay off the poor bird. (It glanced off her--I didn't throw it hard--and stopped her attack.) The hen was able to fly up onto a fence post and get away, and so I went inside to do my chores. Everyone else was fine; the fox, in fact, has not been in the henhouse, which is good news.
After gathering the eggs, replenishing water and feed and dumping out the bag of table scraps saved for them, I took the bag and a pair of work gloves outside to gather up Spot's body. With apologies to the squeamish--he'd been beheaded, rather neatly, it seemed; this came as a relief as I've been told that foxes can be messily destructive when they kill. There was a huge pile of feathers where the other chicken must have been taken, but Spot shed almost none. Dido decided several months ago that Spot was the king of the chickens, that the other roosters were his body guards. Maybe today it was the hen who was trying to protect the top of her pecking order. I am hoping this isn't the beginning of a spring of loss.