A reun-ing we will go...

I'm off to the big two-oh. Don't plan to be blogging from New Haven, but anything could happen, including throwing my healthy wheat-free system to the sharks by indulging in some Pepe's, the best pizza on the planet. Reports on Sunday, possible Utterz or pictures before...


Blogging in the right hemisphere

I'm thinking a lot about the idea of the mind as its own place (thanks, John Milton) these days. As some of you know, I'm an inconsistent meditator, yogi and would be Buddhist. (Though lately I've been reading about Sufism, and that sounds pretty good to me.) In any case, some of what these things share (other than a healthy rep for being Eastern "woo-woo"--thanks Margaret) is that they all aspire to both tap into something beyond the self, a shared realm beyond consciousness that somehow links person to person to creature to plant to planet to universe, and also to place the self firmly in the moment, the now. (At least, that's my read on these practices. Scholars can feel free to augment and correct, as long as they're not nasty about my mistakes, intellectual or typographical.)

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.


For those who can't get enough...

I've started updating my cooking blog again...in fact, kind of broadening it to include my so-called gardening life, as well. So if you're interested in those facets of, well, me...check it out. Some good recipes of mine, as well as links to things that have worked for me. I make no promises about whether or not kids will eat any of it though.

Can't believe where I left off...

Nothing like a dose of self-pity mixed with a bit of embarrassing personal history to turn out the kind emails and comments--thanks to all who sent good thoughts in response to my little hissy fit. The sting of the comment is healed nicely, now, and I've moved on. To what, I'm not sure, as this evening finds me crashed out on my bed, waiting for the H to arrive home from a three-day trip to L.A. He's hard at work on an adaptation of this, to be directed by this guy, which is all pretty exciting. The books are good for kids 7 and up--Dido can't read them yet but listens to them on CD and is obsessed. He's taught all his friends to play at being owls on the school playground. It's pretty delightful to see them all swooping around.


Reveal yourselves

I woke up this morning and (as I too often do) obsessively checked my email. Along with the daily junk, I always hope to find a note from a friend or a comment on my blog. Today I got both, and both were nasty surprises: the (anonymous) comment was unkind, and the friend's email contained sad news about another mutual friend. I can't do anything (except think good thoughts) for my friend who's going through rough times, and I can't do much around the random nastiness, either, except to change things a bit, and a disallow anonymous comments. I know I have a few real-world friends who read and like to comment anonymously, and to you, I apologize--I don't mean to invade your privacy. Unfortunately, it appears that my skin isn't quite thick enough to deal with random hostility. I'll work on that. In the meantime, sorry to any of you who are inconvenienced or made uncomfortable by this change.

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.


More friendly brilliance

Check this out, and then go here to buy my friend Betsy's wonderful book. If you're an animal person, while you're at it, buy this one, too.


Green days; or, John, meet Chip, Muffy, Biff & Buffy

This weekend was a flurry of green: a visit to lovely Margaret's paradise of a garden, a Saturday family adventure to what the kids labeled the "garden fair" followed by an afternoon of occasionally frustrated or frustrating planting.

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.


More friend brilliance

My friend Colette is (yet another) brilliant writer. Check out her story "Lamb" here.

Farming, Hollywood and the Great Unknown

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.


What I've Learned, Part 2

Water isn't always standing, or the result of the rain. Sometimes, it's moving through the earth to find a place to rest. If that place is supposed to be your new asparagus bed...well, maybe it won't be.

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.


Where to begin

A community apple orchard originally planted for productive use during the 1920's, in Westcliff on Sea (Essex, England)Today is one of those days where I feel I have so much to type about, it's an overabundance of ideas, experiences and life to share. But it will all have to wait until later, because at the moment, I have to throw on some clothes, and run to the post office where twenty young trees--apples, pears, plums--await me, and planting. What begins, I hope, is an orchard. Stay tuned.


Spring Cleaning, or the Things I've Learned

Urtica dioica subsp. dioicaStinging nettles do not look like the word "nettle" sounds. "Nettle" suggests something tall and skinny, like a tall grass tipped with small vessels that produce the sting...No. They look like any other weed, and they do, in fact, sting.

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.

Make that 47

Another Araucana was killed sometime in the last couple of days, presumably by the beautiful red fox that took Spot, though her body was abandoned, rather than taken away and eaten. John saw the fox in the fields beyond the coop the night before; maybe he was scared off somehow? Or maybe we also have a weasel, known for bloody and showy killings.

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.


As promised

The Babe says she wants to "name the girl one 'Butterfly'." "They are all girls, "I say to her. "Can you think of other girl names?" "Yes," is her definitively reply. "BUTTERFLY."

Organize your fancy pants--prize day no. 2

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.)


Organize your bad selves--it's time for a prize!

Ok, this is silly, but what the hell. It's the blogosphere, I can do whatever I damn please.

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?)

My growing family

I counted, and as of today, I have 48 dependents. (Ok, granted, I'm not the financial provider, but heaven knows I am the caregiver, so it counts.) This dramatic uptick in my personal responsibility (not my ability to deliver it, but rather my need to) is due to yesterday's new arrivals, 31 baby chicks. They came in the mail, and we went on the wild chicken chase to find the Albany central post office (which, in fact, is not actually in Albany) where they were being held. Despite friends'dire predictions of chicks arriving DOA, all are here intact and lively, at least for now. We have Spangled Hamburgs, Blue Analusians, a mystery chick, and brown single comb leghorns. I could not make this up if I tried. I'll post pictures tomorrow.


Good day

You know those days that just work out, that work out so well that even the parts that aren't great (the broken glass, the discovery of the leak) don't make you crazy?

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.


I have brilliant friends

You all already knew that, didn't you? Of course, many of you ARE my brilliant friends.

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.