Sunday, April 29, 2007

out of the woodwork

It's the end of April and I haven't seen any of my friends in weeks. I guess that happens in the winter in Vermont. When you're busy. And nesting. And quite content to sit alone and write or read or bake muffins.

Still, when the birds begin tweeting and the branches start budding, I feel the quiet urge to shed my shell and reconnect.

After a day of spring cleaning and planting seeds, I got together last night with my friend Becky. We hadn't seen each other in a month. We decided to go to the Market and pick up some ingredients to make dinner.

I said to Becky, "Ugh, I feel so uninspired with food lately. I don't even read my Bon Appetit anymore."

"Don't worry. It will get better when it gets warmer and farmer's market starts back up. Let's just make a simple salad and get some wine. We can go back to your place and sit out on your porch."

That sounded perfect. We got shrimp (from the cute fishmonger), arugula, mango, and ingredients to make a lime cilantro vinaigrette. We found a nice bottle of Tempranillo. We picked up some lovely ripe strawberries for dessert. In the produce section, we ran into some other friends I haven't seen in ages: Tewks and her beau Chris. I don't remember the last time I saw Tewks. When she turned around to look at me her belly was round and neat like a watermelon.

"When are you due?" I asked. Tewks made a pretty, glowing pregnant woman. And both she and Chris seemed very pleased and prepared for the whole ordeal.

"Not till the end of July." I did the math in my head. That means I haven't seen her in at least 6 months. Probably more. I did more math in my head. "July is right around the corner!" How does the time escape us so?

Back at the apartment, Becky and I created a delicious salad. I still had some olive bread left over from Panadero's that morning. We ate and I felt once again inspired. Revived by the freshness of it all. And the company.

We ventured out onto the porch. Our porch is high up. It's a great look-out tower facing Lake Champlain and downtown Burlington. In the chilly, drizzly night, Burlington glowed its orange hue. The lake was misty. All was calm. We sat out there for hours. Chatting, catching up, drinking wine. I felt like an old rusty engine, greasing my gears, shining up for summer and friends and potluck dinners. It was one of the best nights I've had in a while.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

honey story

“Where do the honey bees go when they aren’t at the Winpenny’s?” I remember asking my mother long ago, in another lifetime.

The Winpennys were friends of ours who lived a hillside away from us where we grew up. We did everything together. The Winpennys had a sugarhouse they converted into a little cabin. And behind the sugarhouse, Ned Winpenny kept his beehives, abuzz with the sweet energy of life, the honey scent of a Vermont summer. When I think about it, the bees were a fitting extension of Ned’s own energy and life. He was a tall, vivacious fellow, with a moustache and hair the color of chestnut honey. He had a thick rusty moustache that would catch a layer of foam whenever he drank beer from a glass. It made me laugh. Ned and Patty Winpenny made a fantastic match. They both loved the outdoors and Vermont and were totally devoted to their family.

“Up to the pasture,” my mother replied with an airy grin, “Isn’t it heavenly?” We looked out to the large field that sloped up in wild blossom from the stoop of the sugarhouse. “It could just as easily be Austria,” she sighed. I was in as much awe as my mother, but as a four-year-old growing up in Pawlet, the beauty of Vermont’s landscape was really all I knew.

We lived in the Winpenny’s sugarhouse for the whole summer of 1984, while our house was being rebuilt after the fire. There wasn’t a door to the bathtub, and the toilet was a rotting outhouse beside the wood stack. But we didn’t care, my two sisters and I. It was a great adventure. We climbed on the old red tractor by the shed, and chased the geese. We watched as Tristan Winpenny, the oldest Winpenny boy nailed worms and slugs to a scrap of wood. The delight he showed as they squirmed in the sun was too much to resist for my sister Emma, and so she helped him.

One day my parents were away, so Patty took us swimming at Lake St. Catherine. We stayed there all day. The tepid water did little to cool us off. We were playing alligators and I started to feel a little queasy in my stomach. Patty was calling to us from the side of the road. It was time to go. As I was wading lazily to the edge, I felt something squishy in my swimsuit and realized what I had done. I was so scared that others would make fun of me; I wrapped my towel around my waist to hide it.

When we got into Patty’s rusted, silver VW van, I sat down and felt a cold oozing feeling between my thighs. I was terrified but had no choice except to sit there and wait until we got back.

With a great deal of embarrassment, I finally had to tell Patty what happened. I’ll never forget how kind she was and how much better she made me feel. She was so understanding, and together, we washed my clothes. I took a nice bath, and the whole ordeal was taken care of without any of the other kids knowing about it.

When we finally moved out of the sugarhouse a few months later, our adventurous summer quickly ended. It wasn’t long before we moved out of Pawlet completely and left that thrilling existence for good. It was sad to know that the Winpennys lived on without us there. Patty and Ned had a third boy. They even bought a new car. We saw them once a year in the summer for a visit--then even less frequently. But whenever we made it back, I would take a walk in the pasture, go inside the sugarhouse to stir up old memories, and visit the honeybees.

A few years later, we learned that Ned Winpenny had died. I was in high school then. He was still so young. Nobody expected it--least of all Patty.

Ned died in late August--one of the prettiest times of year in Vermont, when all's abloom and at its peak. We went to the funeral, which took place on their property right by the old sugarhouse. Friends and family blended together in a procession to the middle of the pasture. There in the midst of the heather and milkweeds lay a coffin that the boys had made by hand. I knew that Ned lay inside of the wooden box, but I didn’t believe it, so I didn’t cry.

I looked at the people around me. Raspberry eyelids. I didn’t know any of them, and my parents only recognized a few. I had grown away from this world that I loved so much.

Patty wasn’t at the procession. Nobody knew where she was. Finally she came down the pasture with long grasses and heather in her arms. She was laughing hysterically.

“Ned’s still here! He’s all around us!” She rejoiced. “Let’s dance, have a bonfire!”

I didn’t know what to believe or what to feel. I looked over at the sugarhouse. It was full of old junk. The honeybees were gone. The blooming pasture seemed to not even notice. We didn’t stay for the bonfire. We left soon after; knowing that this world we loved was gone from us.

I’ve seen Patty one time since the funeral. It was few years later when I was in college and we were down in Pawlet for Christmas. She had changed. She was not the same Patty who washed my swimsuit in secrecy. She was talking about eating bananas for breakfast. Still it was nice to catch up and be back in that big old house on the hill.

When we said goodbye that night, I grabbed her tightly and didn’t let go. I was a few inches taller than she was, and so I rested my cheek on her ear. She became still for a moment and pulled herself away. “Come back soon, ok?” We agreed and started for the door.

“Wait!” she yelled from the hall, and rushed towards us with a big jar of honey. “Here! It’s not the fancy kind, but it’s the last of what’s left over.”

“Thanks, Patty,” I whispered and squeezed the jar to my chest, “it’s the best honey in the world.”

Thursday, April 26, 2007

eventful week

  • I finished my Designing Media for the Web last night at Champlain College. My final project was to design a personal flash Web site. I decided to try a redo of Penelope Post. There are some kinks I'm trying to iron out and some loose ends to tie up. But for now, I'm letting the whole thing rest. Give me html any day. Still, I'm quite proud of how much I was able to accomplish after just one semester.

  • I signed up for my five year reunion at Middlebury College, which takes place in June. I'm not sure why I did. But I'm a sucker for nostalgia and I guess it'll be fun to see all those people I haven't seen in half a decade and probably won't see again until the next reunion.

  • I went snowboarding in my t-shirt on Sunday. Col and I went to Stowe. I swear it was 70 degrees up there and so sunny. What's more, it was pretty quiet, so we didn't have to wait in any lines. Colin tried to teach me how to butter, but I just fell on my face. I guess I'll miss riding now that the spring's here. But for now, on to surfing!

  • Speaking of snowboarding and Colin, he got offered a new job at Burton, so we'll be staying put! He's going to be a Product Manager for men's outerwear and Special Make-Up. I just know he's going to be great. And now we can all stop crying.

  • I potted some plants, which are all looking pretty wilty at this point, and set up my new self-watering window box that Col got me for my birthday! Hopefully this new contraption will help me become a successful gardener. For all of my efforts and devotion, I don't understand why all of the plants I own end up dying. Boo hoo.

  • Now I know it's officially spring. My feet are undergoing the blister phase that occurs every year when you whip out your summer sandals (it's worse when you walk to work every day!). I'm sporting 5 bandaids--all of which are on my heels. And my my new shoes have been christened with the few necessary drops of blood. Ouch.

  • That's all for now; it's ony Thursday.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

gentleman in stripes

I can't help but wonder why strange things always occur on my walks to and from the office. It's the magic of Maple Street at work here, I'm sure.

On this particular evening, as I was passing by the glass blowing studio on the corner of Church Street, a strange-looking man I've never seen before appeared out of nowhere. He was dressed in a full 3-piece pinstriped suit. He was wearing a Derby bowler hat and shiny wing-tipped shoes. As he walked towards me, the gentleman's classic strut reminded me of eras past. He seemed friendly enough, yet a strange and chalky pallor glossed his face. Was he a ghost?

We were close enough to touch, when suddenly, he tipped his hat and said to me, "Bonsoir," with every bit of gentlemanly zeal that he could muster.

I was taken very much aback and immediately repaid his greeting with a terse, "Bonsoir," then shuffled away as quickly as I could.

The bonhomme was decidedly not a Frenchman. I could tell by his flat American accent. So, why then, did he feel the need to say "Good Evening" to me in that language, if at all? Stranger still, why did I respond--in French?

As a woman, I've been told never to respond to strange men in the street (let alone play into their language games!). I've been warned of the possible dangers that might ensue. Still, as a human, the very idea of ignoring a friendly greeting runs counter to all my intuition and sense of neighborliness. And anyone who knows me knows that I'm a zealous Francophile--I can't resist the romance.

Now my curiosity is piqued. Who was that mysterious man and how does he know so much, unknowingly, about me?

Monday, April 23, 2007

fly catcher

Who needs mosquito nets or Charlotte's Web when you have Au Lait, insectivore extraordinaire? Meow.

stooge's intuition

As a girl, my sister Emma had an undying passion for the Three Stooges (she still does). As her little sister I was inclined to feel the same way. We would record the New Year's Eve Three Stooges marathons on T.V. and play them back in their entirety, finding hours of pleasure in their simple, black and white humor. It was silly really, but we loved them.

Our favorite stooge was Curly. He was the most sensitive of the three and bore the brunt of all the jokes and slapstick malice. When his character was replaced in later episodes by Shemp and other crackpots, the trio was never quite the same.

One thing about Curly, though completely dim, was his unusual sensory awareness. The scent of Wild Hyacinth, for instance, drove him absolutely wild. You could say it revitalized his energy, enough to help him win a failing boxing match. (He also goes flailing mad in a different episode every time Larry plays Pop Goes the Weasel on his violin. But that's another story).

The wild hyacinth bit always stuck with me. Ever since I can remember, and perhaps because of that very episode, whenever I see or smell the blossoming fragrant flower, I feel revitalized.

I was wound up today. So tightly wound, I could barely let any air in to breathe. I woke up on the wrong side of bed and never really made it to the bright side. No, it wasn't a good day. That is, until I was walking home from work. I smelled it even before I laid my eyes on it: a blooming patch of hyacinth, growing wildly in vibrant hues of pink, ivory, and purple amongst a junk pile of empty Pepsi bottles and broken tennis racquets.

It caused me to stop and breathe and smile. And all of a sudden I felt the urge to skip all the way home (I didn't because I had a blister) and yell out: "Moe, Larry! Wild Hyacinth! Moe, Larry! Wild Hyacinth!" I didn't do that either, because I'm sane. But I did think it in my head.

Now what's the thing that calms Curly down? Cheese.

Yeah, that sounds about right. This day might be looking up after all.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

the body fools you

You know when you're looking through old journals and clips of writing and you cringe at your own cheesiness? That happens a lot to me. It's just a part of growing up. Well, I was looking through some of my college documents just now and found an artist's statement that I wrote for a gallery exhibit. I was surprised to find that everything I wrote (five or so years ago) is still very relevant to how I feel today. My imaginary themes are still the same. The words are still the same. I thought I should put it here on my blog, so that I can keep looking back and reminding myself of what's important. I only wish I had pictures of the two pieces, which are long gone. But here's a piece I did around the same time period. And the statement:

My interests lie very much within the realm of the human body in every aspect: theatricality of the body, costume and texture, metamorphosis, eroticism and sexual identity, textual representation, body as palimpsest… More generally, I recognize the irony of self-identity and body image juxtaposed with imminent aging, growing wrinkly, and eventual dying.

Crag and Polka Dot Dress both represent the same interruption of poise and deterioration of control that one feels in the wake of unforeseen forces on the physical body (sleepiness, illness, bleeding, slipping on ice, etc.). Often in my work, a part of the whole body or form takes on its own identity or the identity of another form (e.g. a breast as an eyeball) in order to release both the romantic notion of the classical woman as a smooth, clean entity who smells nice, does not excrete bodily fluids, and is essentially detached from any sort of inner bodily identity other than having a womb—as well as the notion of the woman whose duties belong to a systematic orderliness: ironing, making beds, wearing nylons, and popping out babies every eighteen months.

The self-contradiction that emerges during this introspection evokes a necessary comic relief to the dire reality of mortality. I laugh at my own hypocrisy because, well, what else can I do? I love the idea of pretty, frilly lingerie and miracle bras, but in the end I have to admit that my boobs have a mind of their own.

moss fairy, kitty kitty

We woke up early this morning to the bright, April sun shining in our window--the lake still sleepy-eyed. My mummy was already awake (she and my dad stayed in town last night). She was feeling very poetic and inspired, so I helped her set up a blog to write down what she was thinking.

She called it Moss Fairy, and she's very silly. So is Au Lait, our kitty, and not very modest at all, is she?

Thursday, April 19, 2007

accentuate the positive

I’m in a pretty place.

I’ll tell you how I arrived here: my first thought was, “I’m in a dilemma.” I wrote it down. So negative. It’s a dead end; the bus and the blog stop there. So I changed the word dilemma to conundrum. The mood changed instantly, but not enough. Conundrum turned to sticky. I’m stuck. But let’s be honest: It’s just not true. I’m an idealist. Plus, I couldn’t resist a little alliteration—and irony.

Sticky turned to pretty. Now I’m in a pretty place and it feels just right. But that still doesn’t resolve my, er, dilemma. In fact, it accentuates the conundrum in mind.

Something a friend said today is ringing in my ears. I’ll quote her out of context to illustrate my interpretation of her thoughtful words: “There is nothing positive or inspiring about that place. I’m sorry; you want to talk about art? That’s ignoring the current situation. You can’t ignore it; we need to be activists. We need to do something.”

My first feeling was admiration: I admire her courage and leadership.

My second feeling, almost simultaneous with the first, was guilt. It was I who brought up the clay figurines in the first place. It never occurred to me that art might be offensive—or worse, passive.

My third feeling was fear: Is she, in fact, right? Are there some circumstances so dire that art and beauty have no place? If so, I'm going about life all wrong.

From a very personal standpoint, my choice to focus on beauty and peace is not politically motivated. It’s an emotional survival tactic; it’s how I stay positive and hopeful when very horrible things occur. Things that I cannot control.

My father always said: you can’t control how other people treat you. You can’t control how other people act. In a lot of instances you can’t even control your own circumstances. The one thing you can control, however, is your reaction to them. You can choose your actions and those actions will inspire others.

Even though I said it myself just a little while ago, maybe idealist isn’t the right word. Idealist suggests a certain naiveté. It suggests that I’m choosing to ignore the world around me. It suggests that I fail as a citizen to make change happen.

But it's just not true. I’ve had the afternoon to ponder. Focusing on beauty is one thing that we don’t do enough of. I don’t want to waste my time with violence and anger and negative hype. To dwell on those things results not in resolve, but in fear, judgment, and revenge. I don’t want to give those things the time of day. I feel sad that I just spent 30 seconds of my life typing about them. So I won’t do it anymore.

What I will do is continue writing about all of the things that make this world wonderful and beautiful. That is the action I will take. I will do it, because that is my strength. It’s not passive if there is good intention behind it. Indeed, this pretty place of mine was not easy to come by. If you’ll remember, the easiest place that popped into my head was a negative one. It took some thought and some time to turn it around. But I did it. This is how I choose to run my life.

Every citizen has her method of making change happen. Writing about beauty is a solid state of activism. I certainly hope my choice and my actions will inspire others to do the same.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

art nouveau/new art

It’s impossible to go to Paris these days without being barraged with Art Nouveau imagery—from Hector Guimard’s serpentine metro stops and brasserie décor to the infamous Chat Noir trinkets and Moulin Rouge dancers that saturate the touristy knick knack shops by Montmartre and the Eiffel Tower.

Art form reduced to pure commodity. Fittingly, I should say, for that was always the intention of the original artwork, at least in regards to the printed posters: to advertise products and businesses.

Grecian-style ladies float effortlessly—and toplessly—atop bicycles and champagne bottles. They smoke cigarettes rolled in rice paper. They turn green with Absinthe. They glow in the limelight. Full drama, full sexuality; they demonstrate that “sex selled” just as much a hundred years ago as it does today.

The artwork and line is stunning, but printed on coasters, mugs, thimbles, key chains, cigarette lighters, cheap trinkets and other mass merchandise, the glossy prints from eras past feel somewhat seedy and underwhelming.

Still, fascinated by anything French and burlesque, my sister Emma (a.k.a. Allestine, the Parisian cabaret dancer) and I were thrilled to learn that some of these very posters—these “affiches illustrées”—are on display at the Firehouse Gallery for five days only. Quick for an art show, but a lifetime compared to the 10 second web clips of today’s advertising media.

We went today during lunch and were thoroughly impressed. The saturation of color and lithe womanly figures on the life-sized prints were anything but cheap or commodity. They reflected a soulful shadow—a base brothel nature juxtaposed with feminine purity and angelic compositions. Great irony; great inspiration. Just in time for the vaudeville season.

And speaking of new art, my friend Elisa has an art show opening this Friday at the Pursuit Galllery in downtown Burlington. It's an art-filled week!

good year

Over the New Years' holiday, Col and I spent a week in Paris. We were exiting the metro one day, when we saw a very old Chinese man attempting to haul a very large suitcase up the stairs. He was struggling and appeared to be out of sorts.

We walked up to him and asked if he needed help. But he didn't speak French very well. He just nodded with a kind smile and pointed to the luggage. Col and I went on either side and lifted the luggage easily up and above to street level. When we mounted the lengthy stairwell, the man turned to us and said the only thing in French it seemed he knew to say: "Bonne Année," which means good year. The man said it over and over. Even as he was walking away down the rain-glistening sidewalk, he turned and waved and yelled, "Bonne Année!" And we said it back. Even though it wasn't January 1st.

That's what you say in France when you want to wish someone Happy New Year. But you don't just say it on the day. You say it for the weeks leading up to the day and for weeks afterwards. Bonne Année. Two simple words, which translate literally to good year, are packed with so much meaning, hope, and good will. The distinction is slight, but the implication huge when you consider that one wish (happy new year) speaks to a single event, while the latter (good year) applies to every single day of the year. Every day is a new day, after all.

Good year leaves the door of well-intention wide open to all sorts of emotions, promise, resolutions, and all kinds of years: there's the calendar year, of course. But there's also the fiscal year (good budget!), the year of vintage (good wine! good health!), the school year (good luck!), and the birthday (good for you!).

There are 365 different birthday years. Mine happens to be today. I have a feeling it's going to be a good year. And I feel inclined to thank the old Chinese man for starting me off on the right foot. Merci Monsieur. Bonne Année!

Monday, April 16, 2007

mirror mirror

My friend Vanessa is an an aesthetician. She and I have been developing a facial services menu for Mirror Mirror, a fabulous beauty boutique where she works. One great bonus from working on the brochure was that I got to go and "test" a facial. V is truly gifted--she made me look and feel like a princess! Finally after months of writing, editing, and design the brochure is done.

You'll notice (hopefully) that the menu looks a lot different than other facial and spa menus. We wanted to depict a bold, sexy feel that Mirror Mirror is all about. You're bold and sexy, right? Now, go get yourself a facial!

Mirror Mirror
Skin & Beauty Products for Women and Men
3 Main Street (new location)
Burlington, VT 05401
Mon-Sat 10-6, Sun 12-5

Sunday, April 15, 2007

day with the dinos

In New York. Col and I went to the Museum of Natural History yesterday. It was so cool. I think my favorite skeleton was the giant armadillo--the sign called it a "tank on feet." Too bad we didn't get a picture. But here's the dino that greets you when you walk in. I guess I never really believed dinosaurs existed. I'm not sure I do even now. Are those bones really real?

Col really liked the astronaut ice cream. We tried the neopolitan flavor. It's dehydrated and kind of sticks to your teeth.

We saw a giant blue whale hanging from the ceiling and an artist's rendition of a giant squid attacking a sperm whale. Holy cow. I say "artist's rendition" because here's one thing I learned: no one has ever seen a giant squid alive in its natural habitat--only washed ashore or in a net. The only evidence that this underwater battle occurs is from circular scars on the whale's skin from the squid's tentacles. Cool.

The planetarium (or planeH-arium, as Col likes to say) put on a space show called cosmic collisions. I got car sick from all of the spinning stars, but Robert Redford's voice-over soothed things back into place.

Friday, April 13, 2007

to reflect

Sometimes it's so easy to get caught up in the moment, to feel so full of life and friends and feeling. And then you wonder: how can you possibly put this all into words? So that you can forever instill the moment in your memory and so that others can also enjoy your experience through the story you tell.

William Wordsworth described this feeling so well when he wrote his poem, "I wandered lonely as a cloud." He came upon a gorgeous field of yellow daffodils. It was a very striking moment in his life, but it wasn't until he came home and spent some time reflecting on his couch that he was able to fully understand its significance:
I gazed--and gazed--but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:
For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

We're back in New York again. We went back to Lil Frankies. We drank wine and ate our fabulous meal. Now I'm back on Spencer & Courtney's couch reflecting on the night, and I just have to thank Wordsworth (what a fitting name) for putting into words just how I'm feeling right now. And for giving me the a-okay for not having the words to describe it. For letting me know that it's okay to be laconic sometimes. The importance is in taking the time to reflect. And right now, I'm just really reflecting.

memo addendum

I realize that I probably should have mentioned in my last entry--for Isaac's sake--that Col and I decided ultimately and officially not to move to L.A. For now, he's exploring some options at Burton right here in BTV. The success of that avenue would be ideal. We'll see how things go...

As for Hannah, we're hoping that Col's colleague Heather--who has decided to go out there for the job--will offer some much needed oompf to her social scenario.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

new york, new york (L.A. no)

At the end of March, Col and I took a trip to New York City. Actually, the purpose of the trip was two-fold: to visit our friends and to attend a baby shower in Connecticut. The girlfriends went together (the boys stayed in the city, watched ninja movies, and ate Burger King). We three--Courtney, Kathleen, and I--took the train to Norwalk. It was just like that episode from Sex and the City, with the single ladies from New York dressed in black next to the mommies in pastels talking about their diaper genies. We felt a little out of place despite the excitement of seeing our friend with a very large round belly.

Later that night, back in the city and back with the boys, we met up with Courtney's friend Fran at Little Frankies. The restaurant was closed, but we stayed there at the bar drinking wine and scotch and listening to this crazy English guy (who's in love with Fran) play us songs off his playlist until 5 in the morning. The best one--and the one that's still in my head--was Major Tom by Peter Schilling...

Earth below us...

Courtney and Fran were off their stools and dancing at that point. Colin, Spencer, and I had started our own little conversation about Col's job: he had just found out the day before that Burton was going to move his entire department out to L.A. He had to decide if he would go out there. If he didn't, he'd be out of a job.

Drifting falling
Floating weightless
Calling calling home...

Sitting there at Little Frankies I just couldn't imagine leaving the East Coast. Neither could Col. But good jobs in Burlington are scarce.

Fran said, "Why don't you just move to New York?"

"I'd move to New York," I said, quietly acknowledging the surge of unease resurface in my belly. "I'd much rather move to New York than L.A. If I had to choose."

When I think about what inspires me, one thing that comes to mind is place. Or places. That's why one of the reasons I've been in such a funk over the idea of L.A. In my gut, I'm just not drawn to that particular place. Not like I'm drawn to Provence or Vermont or New York. Still I could imagine myself living on the beach somewhere in Orange County, writing my book, hanging with Poopy, never missing a blog posting...but then there's the freeway and how would I ever get from here to there on foot?

Sunday morning and time to go home. I always leave New York feeling nostalgic. It's a sad kind of nostalgia. I'm reluctant to leave, yes, but I think the sad nostalgia is also due to an emptiness that falls in place after living and breathing concrete soul for two days. It's not a fantastic feeling, but there's a residual guilty pleasure tacked in there too.

Because the fact is, I love New York. I love watching the streets and storefronts whiz by as we make our way back to the good old Green Mountain State. Back to work. Back to kitty. Back to daily life. But what if this New York were my daily life? The sidewalks and Cafe Mogador. Spencer and Courtney living next door... I just don't know yet. Col's still in limbo with his job and I'm feeling an uneasy excitement at what's in store.

For now though, I'm just fine and dandy in Vermont.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

what's your calling?

The NYTimes Select ran an interesting entry today in their blog series entitled, The Graduates: Eight College Seniors Face the Future. Today’s posting is called Wanted: A Future Without Worry.

To be so uncertain of the future -- I know how that feels. Who doesn’t? But I’ve never been a career-minded sort of person. I’m of the school that believes everyone has a calling -- what you end up doing in life is a very personal and organic thing. That takes some of the pressure off having to define your future at such a young age. The trick is not dwelling on uncertainty; rather you should focus on your passions and your strengths, and the rest will come.

Growing up, I always wanted to be and do a million different things. I would be a chef, an artist, architect, dancer, writer, mathematician, chemist, fashion designer. I would speak foreign languages, program computers, build imaginative spaces, and travel all over the world.

My biggest challenge was the idea of having to choose just one future for myself. Luckily I never had to. I took full advantage of my excellent liberal arts education and double majored in English/Creative Writing & Studio Art. I minored in French and studied in Paris for a semester. I joined the cooking club, the modern dance troupe and learned improvisation and the subtleties of sound and movement. I learned the importance of intention and the blessing of organic process.

After college was a little scary: how on earth would I be able to apply all of my skills and passions into one solid career and still be able to make a living? I found my first job as a copy writer for fashion and linens designer, April Cornell, and unintentionally landed in the midst of a world that was almost impossibly perfect for me: the world of web content. It is there I can write, design, build, code, and travel to my heart’s pleasure. I still don’t consider myself a career person. I’m just doing what I love and what I’m good at.

But don’t for one second assume this profession of mine is a flighty one. Indeed, I inhabit a very controlled environment. That’s okay, because here’s another thing I’ve learned since college: sometimes regiment produces the most thoughtful art.

Monday, April 09, 2007

the new ppost

I've given my website, Penelope Post, a makeover. Check it out it you have a minute!

Now if I could just get around to updating my blog space...

Saturday, April 07, 2007

boing, boing, meow

Pink Pony and I have created a special Easter wish just for you. Check it out! (and make sure your volume's on too)

the handmade touch

There's always a hint of nostalgia in handmade things. Probably because it reminds us of the way things were. It also makes us feel like we're part of a community. These days supermarkets--the opposite of handmade and community--allow us to live our lives virtually disconnected from our neighbors. Think about how you feel when you buy a loaf of bread from the supermarket. Most of the time, that experience has nothing to do with the bread itself. Or the baker. You're probably buying a whole cart-full of other things while you're at it. Because the bread is in a plastic bag, you can't even smell it before you bring it home. And you certainly can't chat with the person who made it.

In Paris, there's a baker on practically every street corner. You can smell fresh bread as you walk down the street in the morning. They make fresh batches every day and when you go in to buy your daily bread, you buy the bread from the baker who made it. He or she recognizes you and remembers that you like 2 baguettes and one madeleine.

Handmade preserves community. The community in turn has a responsibility to preserve the handmade.

Col and I walked into the village baker this morning. The warm sweet, yeasty smell imbued our senses. How delicious. David makes the most wonderful croissants this side of the Atlantic at his small bakery Panadero. And I've had my fair share. We ordered two almond croissants for breakfast and then decided to get a crusty French batard for tomorrow's Easter lunch. It was so fresh. But we explained to David's partner that we wouldn't be eating it until tomorrow.

She shared her bready expertise. She told us how to nurture the $3 loaf so that it would be the best that it could be for our meal.

"If you like it crusty, then keep it in this paper bag," she explained. "But if you like the crust soft, you can keep it in this plastic bag and it will soften up over night. Here, I'll give you both so that you can choose." She stuffed a little plastic bag in with the bread loaf.

"Oh," she proclaimed in afterthought as we were walking out the door, "If you keep it in the plastic bag and then decide you want it crusty afterall, then you can just throw it in the oven. It will be delicious."

"We know it will be!" we chimed on our way out.

"Have a really great day," she said.

Imagine. Isn't that the kind of experience you want when you buy your bread?

There's always a hint of nostalgia in handmade things. That's because we tend to guard the handmade experiences in our memory. These are good experiences to remember.

Later on, I had another handmade experience as I walked into Speeder & Earl's coffee shop to grab Col and I some double lattes with maple syrup. My sister Hannah used to work in this coffee shop. The experience is never quite as good since she left town, but we still like the coffee once in a while. I went up to the counter and placed my order. As I waited for the milk to froth, I glanced down at the glass cookie jar. That's when I saw it: a handwritten sign that said "cappuccino biscotti." It was Hannah's handwriting--there was no mistaking the curly lettering. I just couldn't help but smile. Hannah's not there anymore, but her handmade touch remains and added sweetness to my day. It was a very private experience for me--nobody else knew how I was feeling at that moment, or why.

That's because handmade experiences are very personal. That's why we find nostalgia in them. That's why they build community. It's our duty--and indeed our enjoyment--to preserve and guard these handmade touches with our life.

Friday, April 06, 2007

the me brand

If you had to describe yourself in one word, what would it be? What about one color? And what if you had to separate all of the pieces of your life into three or four categories? What would those be?

These are some questions I’ve recently been forced to not only answer, but to represent in a very visual way: I’m building my own web site. The questions seem rather trite written down on paper. But in reality, to answer such personal inquiries has turned out to be quite a challenge.

First of all, my favorite color changes every other day. I have crazy mood swings and I’m interested in a lot of different things. How on earth could I describe myself in just one static way?

The answer, I’ve found, lies in branding. Branding is just another way of saying how you present yourself. In marketing, when you’re branding a product or idea, you don’t always spell things. In fact, spelling things out usually ends up destroying the subtle power of branding that allows the user—or consumer—to create their own personal connection to the product. The old saying, less is more, still applies. What’s important are the subtle nuances that evoke a feeling and cause the consumer to become emotionally attached.

But then you still have a problem, because every individual brings her own unique experience to the situation. She undeniably has a very different interpretation, say, to the color yellow, than someone else might have.

In branding, there is often a disparity between what the marketers want you to believe and what the consumer actually perceives. Look at Paris Hilton. She has to deal with this stuff all the time. And all those gossip rags. The way Paris brands herself has a lasting impact on her entire lifestyle and career. If you think about it though, we all fall prey to that risk: of presenting ourselves in a bad light and of suffering the consequences. (Have you ever run into a coworker at a bar?) This also means that we all have the opportunity to create a positive image for ourselves.

That’s why I’m taking this web site thing so gosh darn seriously. Think about it: if you want to learn more about someone what do you do? You Google them. Now, would you rather the first result to be your pimped out, high school MySpace page or would you rather it be a well-thought out, well-branded representation of the “real” you.

I know what I want. But I’m still stuck on the color.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

when the laughter counts

Perhaps it was because I had Sudan on the mind that this moment was especially poignant. Perhaps the tight feeling in my throat played a part. That feeling I have every Thursday afternoon on my walk down the hill from Champlain’s main campus to my beautiful sky-lit office on the waterfront. The feeling that causes me to sniff the fresh air twice as hard. The feeling that makes me want to turn around, run home, and just... I don’t know... just do something.

I passed a group of four or five Sudanese women and about 8 small children. The numbers aren’t essential—they blended together in a vibrant crazy-quilt of printed color. The women were walking leisurely and talking loudly and as I passed (oh, my quick professional gait) their words grew and grew. Walking, talking in a language I’ve never even heard before. And then there it was: laughter. Large laughter. Different kinds of laughter. Genuine laughter.

It made me want to cry. Or laugh. Which was it? I only wish I knew what they were laughing about!

For weeks now, every Thursday afternoon from 2:00-3:15 p.m. I get my good, albeit distant, dose of reality. That is when Champlain’s Community Book Committee meets to edit, research, plan, and discuss whatever book we’ve chosen for the school year. It is my favorite part of the week. This year, we’ve chosen Dave Eggers’ What is the What, a novel based largely on one boy’s true story of his journey as a lost boy of Sudan. The story tells of Valentino Achak Deng’s countless struggles as he tries to navigate his region’s civil war torn land on foot and oftentimes alone, in constant danger of disease, rebels, wild animals, hunger, and even his own government.

But what’s equally compelling in the novel is what Achak describes as an even larger, very different struggle once he finally arrives in America as a refugee. The culture is so different, and the feeling of loss so huge, at times the future seems like a strange, helpless void.

When you have something on the mind, it seems you find connections to it everywhere. I read a story in the New York Times earlier this week, After Darfur, Starting Anew in the Midwest. In it Fawzia Suliman, a refugee who has settled in Fort Wayne, Indiana (a refugee designated city not unlike our own Burlington, Vermont), describes a wonderful, welcoming community with a lot of opportunity. Indiana’s landscape also reminds her a little bit of home and offers therefore a quiet solace. Still she says, “I cry every day.”

I can hardly imagine what that feels like—to cry every single day.

And yet, the laughter. There is still laughter. I heard it myself on the way to work. It’s still ringing in my ears.

whitewash morning

There’s something altogether fresh and inspiring about snow in April. A whitewash on the muddy landscape. Perhaps the maple trees will get a little break from sugaring. And I can put that spring cleaning off for one more week.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

staying animated

Up until last night, I was hating my Designing Media for the Web class. Flash is a beast and I was slightly overwhelmed by all of the steps I had to take just to accomplish a simple animation. Our first project was to animate some text. I chose a passage from my favorite Jeannette Winterson novel, Written on the Body. I had lofty goals, but no know-how. In the end, I wasn't very happy with the results.

However, as with all technology and software, I have found that the more you use it, the better it becomes. I'm finally starting to get the hang of it. And, it seems, the possibilities our endless.

Our final project is to design a personal web site in Flash. I've been playing around with animating my ink drawings. Here's a sneak peak. I don't have a play button in there yet, so if you want to see it again, just rigth-click (ctrl + click on a Mac) on the image and choose play.

Monday, April 02, 2007


This is what I'm doing right now while I write in my blog: I'm sitting on the couch, watching Rachel Ray (guilty pleasure!), and drinking a lovely glass of red wine. Enjoying a glass of red wine after work is one of my favorite things. I love trying new, luxurious wines, but I also like resorting to my trusty $5 tempranillo when my budget is tight.

I wonder if I'm a wine-o.

Ever since Col and I moved into our apartment in August, we've been saving our corks. Just now, I decided to count them. There are 55. 55 bottles of wine in 8 months. That's less than 7 bottles of wine a month. It's equivalent to one and half bottles a week or about 1 glass a day.

And you know what they say: 1 glass a day keeps the doctor away.

springtime couscous salad

I made up the recipe for this delicious couscous salad and thought I'd share it with the world. The fresh mint flavor is a perfect accompaniment to Easter lunch! We had it as a side dish with sautéed shrimp that we rubbed with olive oil and then a mixture of lime zest, lemon zest, paprika, cayenne, salt & pepper. (of course these measurements are guesstimates since I made the thing up as I went along!)

3 cups dry couscous
3 cups water
2 medium cucumbers, finely diced with skins on
1 large red bell pepper, finely diced
1/3 cup minced spearmint leaves (use even more if you love the taste of mint like I do!)
1/3 cup pine nuts
1 can whole artichokes in water, drained and chopped
juice of one meyer lemon and one lime
1 teaspoon honey
1/2 cup good olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

To make:
Boil the water and remove from heat. Add couscous, stir, cover, and let stand for 5-10 minutes. Fluff with a fork and set aside to cool.

In a dry pan on medium-low heat, toast the pine nuts until lightly brown and fragrant (you don't need to grease the pan, because the nuts will begin to release their own oil with the heat). Stir frequently to avoid burning. Set aside to cool.

In a large, pretty serving bowl, mix cucumbers, red pepper, artichokes, couscous, pine nuts, and mint. In a smaller bowl, whisk lemon, lime, and honey. Keep whisking and slowly drizzle in the olive oil. Pour dressing over salad ingredients and toss lightly to coat. Served at room temperature or chilled.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

mini egg shortage?

Is it just me or are Cadbury Mini Eggs impossible to find? Am I going about this all wrong? Is there something everybody else knows that I don't?

In the last two or three years, I've noticed a palpable shortage of my favorite candy crusted chocolates that's impossible to ignore. Sure, they're the best Easter candy around. Everybody wants them. But wouldn't you think Hersheys would just make more to supply for the demand?

I'm talking real shortage here. At first I thought it was a joke. I tried all of the local grocery stores and pharmacies--Brooks, City Market, Shaw's, Hannaford's, Price Chopper. Nothing. Not even a sign to say, "Sorry, we're out of mini eggs, come back tomorrow." Nothing.

Maybe we were the victims of a conspiracy. Col hypothesized that it was all a part of Hershey's new marketing scheme to stop selling the the large 11 oz. bags so that people would be forced to buy a gazillion of the little 69 cent pouches with 10 mini eggs inside in order to fill one bowl. I wasn't so sure about that--even the small pouches were scarce.

This was a devastating blow. But I had another idea: I would buy them online. I found them at and was moments away from buying a 42 oz. bag that, including shipping, would have cost over $20. Thank God I had slight misgivings and clicked the cancel button at the last second.

Mini eggs are as basic to Easter as candy canes are to Christmas. Did I really have to go to these extreme measures for some mini eggs?

Today, Col and I decided to try Kmart as a last resort. They had a huge selection of pastel colored Easter candy, baskets, eggs--everything you'd ever need to build your own--and an even larger selection of pre-fab baskets. But no mini eggs.

But wait! As we were about to leave, Col spotted out of corner of his eye, a shiny purple package.

"Look!" There, hidden under the Kisses and jelly beans were six remnant bags of Mini Eggs. What's more, they were on sale--2 bags for $4. Col lunged through a crowd of eager candy buyers to snatch them up.

We bought all six bags. Now my Easter is complete. And who cares if we don't eat them all? We can sell what's left on the Black Market to the poor souls who showed up at Kmart after we did.

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