Thursday, May 31, 2007

letting my mind relax

My mind is in a muddle right now. I'm trying to write and think. I'm trying to pack my bag in my head (I'm going away for the weekend for my college reunion--what the heck am I supposed to bring to one of those?). I'm trying to watch Bullets Over Broadway at the same time and all I can hear is high-falutin' lipstick laughter and "hi, hi, hi, hi--charmed, charmed, charmed."

Remember when I said the other day that "I've finally arrived"? Well, now I can truly say that I have. I started my job at EatingWell yesterday. So far, I love it. I got to edit a couple of articles for the web--one about the health benefits of coffee (score!) and one about tips for being healthy at work. I got to create a nutrition image library and build some web pages. It's definitely fun, but really busy. My one fear is that my personal writing and reflections may lose out a little bit while my mind tries to adjust. I hope not, but right now, I think I just want to go to bed.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

day off porch pictures

I took the day off today before I start my new job tomorrow at EatingWell. I planned to get a lot done around the house, but it's just so nice out, I've been content to sit on the porch and enjoy the beautiful weather and kitty company. Here are some pictures (Au Lait likes to get in all the shots--what a prima donna!).

There's our neighbors' pool and downtown Burlington in the distance. And our new table and chairs that Heather gave us (now we can eat dinner outside!) and Au Lait's potted Cat Grass on the floor. She absolutely loves it. My rosemary and lettuce seem to be doing very well in the self-watering window box. Go figure. The other potted plants that rely on me, the ones that together make my make-shift garden, well, they need a little help. It's slow-going right now. Not enough sun maybe?

a tree grows in Brooklyn

I've always wanted to read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith. I've always wanted to read it, because so many friends have recommended it to me. Not because I knew at all what it was about. But you know me and books. I have such a long to-read list, I never end up reading anything at all. Finally, this weekend at the beach, my friend Courtney threw it in my lap. I had no choice but to sit down and start reading. I had no idea what I was in for...

Based on the title alone, I would never have guessed that the book is about an 11 year old girl, Francie, coming of age in the slums of New York. In today's context, the title has a much different meaning than it did a hundred years ago, when Williamsburg represented the rough tenement district of New York. Nowadays, Brooklyn is a great place to live (if you like the city). With that in mind, the image of a tree growing in Brooklyn holds a lot more meaning. It's inherently hopeful, against all odds. Only sixty pages in, I can say that the novel is one of the most significant I've ever read. And I've read a lot. It's full of imagery, history, and personal insight. And to boot, good story-telling too! I love this little girl Francie. She has much to teach me.

I'm also quite surprised I never had to read the book in my American Lit class. The one girl-coming-of-age-in-the-slums-of-New-York novel that I did have to read was Maggie: A Girl of the Streets, a 60-page realist novel by Stephen Crane. Realist maybe, but not real. How could a man in the late 1890s successfully write such a personal and intense story about a little girl and her sexual growth in a way that has any real womanly insight? Needless to say, I felt no connection to it and would have done well to skip it all together and read Tree instead. Maybe you would too.

That said, I still have to finish the book and might feel completely different by the end. But I'm willing to bed that the ending is not so dire, morbid, and utterly useless as the Crane version. Let's hope so.

Monday, May 28, 2007

a real tribute

What does it take to bring a community together? How do you unite two sides of a debate when the sides are so laden with emotion, purpose, and politics? It's striking how the simple act of creation has the power to calm the spirit and bring to the surface what's really important and pay tribute in a very real and sincere way.

Col and I were driving home from the Cape today, very much removed from the community and the world at large. We were thrilled to finally get back into Vermont so we could turn on VPR and hear All Things Considered. It was a reality check, in more ways than one. Radio news always is. But I was particularly moved by a short piece in the Vermont edition about hand-painted American flags, which volunteers in Newfane are creating for an exhibit at the Brattleboro Museum and Art Center. The art project was started as means to bring people together as a community. They're painting one flag for every U.S. service person who has died in the War in Iraq. So far, they've painted--by hand--2,801 flags. They need 3,404.

"And then you step back and take a break and whoa! It's so colorful and visible from a lot of different directions."

Some of the flags have four red stripes, some five. And the stars are definitely individualistic. Just like the people who made them and the lives they represent.

Saturday, May 26, 2007


If you blinked at all today, you may have missed it. The wind shifting ever so slightly. But why would you notice?

Today was my last day at Champlain (I start my new job at EatingWell next week). I finished work early, around 4:30, and walked down to the waterfront by myself. To breathe by myself. I got ice cream. I felt mellow. Mellow, melty ice cream--that's how I felt. It was so hot and humid.

I sat by the water, still as glass. The water, I mean, was still as the quiet eye before the storm. There was wind; it shifted. It paused. What's to come remains obscure. I feel anticipation. Apprehension. Exhilaration. Who knows what's in store?

I could wake up tomorrow and say out loud, "Yes, I have finally arrived. This is my calling." I hope so.

The wind is shifting for me today. I am the lucky one.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

what does real nourishment taste like?

Does it taste like an expensive meal? Does it taste of discovery or love or nutrients? Does it taste like a childhood story?

There was a crucial moment a few years back when I learned that nourishment has many manifestations. Nourishment for the body, for instance, tastes and satisfies in a very different way than nourishment for the soul. A meal that fills the tummy can in other ways leave you feeling very empty.

During that particular time in my life, I was eating very, very well. I was in good company. I was in a constant mode of discovery. But emotionally speaking, I did not feel nourished. And for that reason, my stomach was in constant turmoil.

Nourishment for the soul and nourishment for the body go hand in hand.

Nourishment does not necessarily mean an expensive full-course meal at a nice restaurant. On the contrary, the best and most memorable meals are the ones you scrape together with what you already have in your fridge and your garden (if you’re lucky). Perhaps because there’s an even greater summit to reach, the taste is that much sweeter.

Growing up, we never had much money, so we had to be very resourceful. If I wanted cookies or cake, I would make them from scratch. That’s how I learned to bake. It’s also how I learned to be experimental in the kitchen—mixing unusual flavors and ingredients to make something tasty.

I’ll never forget running out to the garden patch and plucking a cucumber from the vine. We would eat them skin and all—still warm from the sun—dipped in vinegar and salt. A poor man’s salad to be sure. But nourishing to the core.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

what brings you here today?

I went to a party last night—another going-away party—for my friend Heather. Yep, I’m losing yet another friend to that greedy state of California. In January, it was my sister Hannah. Last week it was Caroline. Next month it will be my friend Bibba. She’s going to San Francisco.

I moved around a lot—as a kid with my family, in my high school summers, and during college. When I returned home from France after college, I promised myself I’d lay my nomadic shoes to bed for a while, if not forever. I felt a strong urge to be still. To nest and to build my home someplace. I neglected to acknowledge the fact that others might feel differently—that others would move away, move in and out of my life like a pendulum just as I had moved in and out of the lives of so many others in my wanderings.

There’s an upside to this. For every person who swings out of my life, some other great person swings in. My boy Colin, for instance. And there are a small number of people who swing to and fro, exiting and re-entering your life in different and unexpected moments.

A writing professor of mine used the illustration of a straight line (that’s your life path) that’s intersected at various points by a curving line. The curving line represents the people in your life who are inevitably tugged back onto your own path by some invisible and unforeseen magnetic pull.

One day a couple of years ago, I was walking in the North End of Boston with my sister Em, her fiancé, and his family. We had just eaten lunch at Neptune Osyters and were looking for a good place to buy cannollis. I looked up and literally ran into my ex-boyfriend from college. The last time I had seen or spoken to him was about a year earlier when we had both happened to be in Paris as the same time. That meeting was premeditated, but the circumstances that brought us to the same city at the same time were certainly not.

I’m inclined to believe that my professor had something in his vector paradigm. We often use that phrase “it’s a small world!” to explain unexplainable circumstances such as the one I just described. But isn’t it more than mere circumstance? Is there some magnetic force within each of us that keeps us connected to certain others? I find comfort in that concept.

But what of the others? Those who we never see again? Or those we miss by bad timing? We’re not on the same path, clearly. But who decides that? Is it a greater force than us? Or is it governed by our own actions and choices? Oh, the eternal fate versus free-will theory. We may never know.

Still, I’m looking forward to the time when some of these gals swing back into my life. Until then, there are new friends to meet!

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

litter box blues

There are certain quotidian household items -- televisions, microwaves, and other appliances -- that seem to get the short end of the stick when it comes to modern design. Let’s face it: they’re square and really don’t look good anywhere. I’m thinking about this after spending at least two hours last night trying to find a nice litter box online for Au Lait.

I’m not asking for much, just a pretty little box or bowl that (1) does not look like a Rubbermaid garbage can in the middle of our small apartment and (2) makes Au Lait feel like the princess that she is. Ideally, it would be small, minimalist, made of bamboo, and under $100.

Apparently, this IS too much to ask. If you Google “designer litter box” or “stylish litter box,” what you get is anything but. You’ll find a large selection of the aforementioned Rubbermaid style -- covered with cheesy leopard spot decals, robotic self-cleaning machines (ghastly!), and massive wooden box furniture doubling as cabinets to hide those “unsightly, smelly litter boxes.” Here’s a better idea: keep the litter box clean and build a better-looking litter box in the first place that doesn’t need to be hidden.

We don’t have room for more furniture. What’s more, the smell is not an issue: we have to keep Au Lait’s box clean -- not only because it’s a small apartment and you can smell everything that goes on there -- but for the health and well-being of all of us, including kitty. We’ve tried putting her outside, but she prefers to go in the box, so we fill it with the wonderful and odorless Swheat Scoop and scoop it at least twice a day.

What’s bugging me is the ugly plastic bin we all have to look at every day.

It doesn’t have to be this way: ironically, designer (people) toilets seem to be getting a lot of attention these days. Why not cat litters too? To be fair, I did find a designer bench by Kattbank -- also designed to “hide” the kitty litter. But it costs $2000 and I have no idea where we would put it. I also found this cute Cottage litter box from Litter Lofts, but Colin nixed it right away. Besides, Au Lait’s not really a cottage girl. She needs her NYC style studio.

Okay, this is it. I’m putting out an S.O.S. Who will find my litter box?

Monday, May 21, 2007

mama sonia's flan

One thing I inherited from my grandfather was an ecstatic love for sweets. A while back, I wrote about my experience of making flan for my him and my grandmother. The recipe was hers. I didn't know it at the time, of course, but the flan was the last dessert we would make for Papa Roger before he died.

I haven't had flan since, but was reminded of the creamy custard last night, when Colin announced out of the blue, "I don't think I like flan." We were watching Iron Chef on the Food Network, but there was no flan on the menu.

I looked at him quizzically. "Of course you do," I said.

"I do?"

"Yeah, you like creme brulée, right? And creme caramel? It's all just custard really."

"Oh," he said. "It's a good thing creme brulée isn't called custard. I wouldn't like it as much." I knew he was teasing me. Sort of. But I can't have a boyfriend of mine disliking flan. No sirree. I'll just have to make it for him to prove that I'm right. And there's no thing like the real thing, homemade and all.

And for all of you out there who think you don't like flan and for all of you out there who absolutely crave it, here is the recipe, courtesy of my grandmother:

1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk (not evaporated milk)
1 cup milk
3 large eggs, plus 3 large egg yokes
1/2 teaspoon almond extract or 2 teaspoons light or dark rum
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

To Make:
Have ready a heatproof glass casserole/bowl or 8 individual molds. In a small saucepan melt sugar over moderate heat stirring frequently, until sugar is a dark, caramel-colored liquid. Remove from heat and pour into mold. Quickly grasp mold to coat bottom and sides as much as possible with the caramel. (A neat even coating is not necessary.) Let mold cool 5 to 10 minutes while caramel hardens.

Heat oven to 325 degrees F. Put the sweetened condensed milk, milk, eggs, egg yolks and flavorings into an electric blender. Cover and blend 8 to 10 seconds at medium speed to mix thoroughly. Pour mixture into caramel-lined mold. Put mold in a larger pan filled with hot water to a depth of about 1 inch. Bake for 1 hour until custard is set and a knife inserted 1 inch from the edge comes out clean. Remove from oven and remove mold from water. Cool and refrigerate. When ready to serve, cover mold with an inverted serving platter. Hold mold and platter together and turn them over. Lift away the mold. Caramel will fall as a liquid sauce over the custard. Makes 8 to 10 servings.

it's a bitesize party

Col and I went to another cook-off party on Saturday night. The theme this time was bite-size food and fifties style dress-code. Colin designed the invite for our friend Heather (one of the hostesses) and I helped with the logistics and the envelope, which we crafted to convert into a tent card to display entrant recipes.

We entered three categories: Colin made mini corn dogs for an entree and I made Coco Loco Caramel Custards (mini coconut creme brulee in a chocolate cup). We also entered the cocktail competition with our Lychee Teeny Weenie Martinis that we made up together. And we won (with the cocktail)! We'll definitely make that one again.

lychee teeny weeni martini

Here's the recipe for the cocktail we entered in the Bitesize competition this weekend:

In a shaker with ice, combine the syrup from one 15 ounce can of Lychee nuts with equal part Stoli Blueberry vodka. Squeeze in the juice of one lime. Add some mint leaves (squeeze them in your hand first to release the aroma). Shake!

To serve, tear a mint leaf into 3 or 4 pieces. Stuff one of the pieces into a Lychee and place in the bottom of a port glass (or shot glass). Fill the glass with your drink. It's so delicious, you can sip or shoot. The Lychee makes for a very happy ending. Now that's a winning recipe!

Sunday, May 20, 2007

spielpalast cabaret pictures

Photos and video clips from Friday night's performance at City Hall in Burlington, Vermont.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

spielpalast = play palace

There's nothing so timely as a Cabaret. Spielpalast, now a Burlington arts staple, never fails to wow the crowds and make you reflect upon how you fit into this wild and crazy world. Some people think Cabaret is just a bunch of singing and dancing and naked ladies. Not so. There is a real history to this entertainment form that stems from the pre-war days of Nazi Germany. From the eloquent words of the Spielpalast Web site:
At the end of the wild whirlwind between WWI and WWII, The Depression (known for its loose morals, prohibition, unemployment), The Roaring Twenties (re: hair bobs, jazz, bathtub gin) and the Weimar Rebublic (don't forget dadism, montage and rebellion), European and American ex-patriates flocked to the literary cabarets and burlesque entertainments. These feateured a wide range of scandalous and subversive performance, including political satire, nude dancing, gender bending and elaborate avant-garde nonsense spectacles. In the increasingly oppressive atmosphere of facisct nationalism, brutality, censorship, and restricted civil liberties, these cabarets and burlesque shows served the purpose of transgressive dis-ordering radical internationalism and a much needed release from the rigidity of "family values."

Performed in local clubs and cafes the cabaret celebrated the unstompable resilience of the individualistic and alternative human spirit in a time of mass propaganda, blind patriotism and military frenzy.
This year, as in the previous few years, the political undertones seem especially poignant. But for me, its the singing, dancing, and theatrics that rouse my emotions. I love this Stuck In Vermont VLOG by Eva Sollberger (also a Cabaret dancer). It encapsulates everything I love about the show and the people in it.

Oh, and there's still time to catch the show this weekend--go, go, go!

competition makes me smarter

I just discovered that a Middlebury education, which was once considered something like "competitive liberal arts" when I was a student there, is now considered to be on the same tier as the Ivies. Apparently students who were admitted just a few years ago would have a hard time of it today solely because of a more competitive applicant pool. I don't buy it. In fact, I feel retrospectively smarter because of this phenomenon.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

sudani lunch

I had my first Sudanese meal today as part of a faculty collaborative to discuss the book we’ve chosen this year for the Community Book Program at Champlain College (the book is What is the What by Dave Eggers). I’m not a faculty member, but as a program committee member, I was able to join in.

The menu included:

Tamia: Chickpea croquettes with cilantro, sesame, and garlic

Shorba: Lamb/vegetable soup with peanut butter and lemon

African Chicken in Spicy Red Sauce served with Sudani Rice, Okra with Red Onions, and little rolled up flatbreads, which were a cross between Indian Nan and thick wheat crepes. Flavors included lemon juice, garlic, ginger, nutmeg, cardamom, wine, broth, tomato paste, cilantro, cinnamon, cloves

Crème Caramela: Sudanese custard

Sweet Hot Tea

The meal was delicious and somewhat reminiscent of North African food, with which I’m a little more familiar, and the Sweet Hot Tea served in wine glasses reminded me of the Moroccan mint tea I enjoyed once at the Hammam in Arles, France. There’s something so delicate and refreshing about drinking hot tea out of glass.

At our table of eight, we were lucky enough to have two Sudanese men -- two of the original Lost Boys to arrive in Burlington. One of them, Abraham Awolich, graduated from UVM a couple of years ago and was at the luncheon to talk about his program in Winooski, the New Sudan Educational Initiative. We asked them lots of questions about their expectations of America and their experience as refugees in such an unfamiliar place.

Daily life that we take for granted here turned out to be very complicated for these new Americans. Learning how to ride the city transit, for example, presented a huge learning curve for Abraham. How would he know where he was going or when to get off? His first time on the bus, he ended up riding twenty minutes out of town to Shelburne and then back again, when he really just needed a 3-minute ride up the hill to the University of Vermont. Finally, he was able to get help from a bus driver who pointed him to the right bus. But every aspect of his first days here presented many challenges.

When the chef introduced the menu to us, I asked, “So how accurate is this Sudanese meal?”

Abraham nodded his head and said, “Yes. It’s very accurate. We love these little breads,” he said pointing to the rolled up pancake in his hand, “but we don’t know how to make them. We were too young to learn how to cook when we were still living with our families.”

Everything is “We” when Abraham speaks, which illustrates the camaraderie that developed among these boys and girls during their journey across the continent of Africa, in the refugee camps, and finally here in America as they learned to navigate new systems and cultures. They essentially became surrogate family to each other when their real family was no longer around.

Abraham seemed interested in the food topic, which pleased me. He went on, “we eat a lot of okra in Sudan. But over there, it gets this big,” he held up his hands to demonstrate something the size of a cantaloupe. “You can’t eat it that way, so what they do is grind it up and make soup. We eat a lot of soup there. And milk and ground nuts and grains. But we don’t eat a lot of rice there (it’s too dry to grow it there). We have soba and millet. And there is a lot of tea -- sweet tea. They like it that way and it preserves better in the heat.”

“Do they grow tea in Sudan?” someone in the group wondered.

“Yes,” Abraham replied. “That’s why we drink a lot of it. There’s no coffee, but a lot of tea.”

I thought for a minute and tried to imagine what American cuisine would be -- or Vermont cuisine would be, for that matter -- if all that we ate was what’s available in our local region. Most Americans don’t think or eat that way. Sure, we Vermonters feel pride in our regional products like cheese and maple syrup, for example, and take joy in buying produce from the local farmer’s market. But we also eat mangos and limes and shrimp, even though they’re shipped in from hundreds and thousands of miles away. That’s the Western way of living. Even in Europe, where regional cuisine is still an important aspect of culture and identity, supermarkets are becoming more and more abundant.

And then my mind wandered to my morning cup of coffee. My fabulous rich and creamy, evocative and NECESSARY morning cup of coffee. If I could only drink what was readily available in my region, what would I do?

To say we have it made in the shade is an understatement, but meeting Abraham and his friend (who's name escapes me) made it possible for me to understand this on a very tangible level. It was a very enjoyable and educational experience.

* * * * *

To learn about Ten Things You Can Do for Sudan, click here.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

west egg/east egg

I just got off the phone with my sister Hannah. She's in California. I'm in Vermont. I imagine myself looking out over Lake Champlain, beyond the Adirondacks and all the way to the other side of this small country. If I could just see the glimmer of light from her front porch, see its reflection on the water... like Daisy Buchanan's over Long Island Sound. That's all the closeness I need. Is it possible our realms are so completely different now?

In Gatsby's world, geography is everything and defines, really, one's role within in it. Old money versus new money. Upper crust versus upward mobility. Trendy versus classic, innate style. "Maybe she's born with it; maybe it's Maybeline." Is it in your blood or in your wallet? That's the question. And the egg shell separating the two is very hard to crack.

In short, the two worlds shan't mix.

The difference between LA and VT, Hannah says, is undeniable. Not only in aesthetic values but in moral focus too. In LA, value is perceived rather than qualified, which means that the price tag trumps quality. If it's expensive, then it must be important, or good, or delicious; Expensive belongings also have a direct effect on social status and public perception. Ignore the idea that pricing strategy has anything to do with it.

These are large generalizations to be sure, but they play well into my West Egg, East Egg metaphor, so I'll carry on.

In Vermont, I like to think that we're the opposite in terms of consumer judgment. For instance, we find value in obscure restaurants that nobody knows about. The price doesn't always matter, but if it's good AND cheap, all the better. We feel that we've discovered our own secret treasure. In the end though, we'll most likely tell our friends about it, and in that sense, we're building our own social status too (for what it's worth in Northern Vermont) but in a much quieter fashion.

In fact, I'm willing to argue that many Vermonters are just as concerned with their public image as our SoCal compatriots. It's what we relate to that's different. We have conflicting tastes and values. That's fine. But what interests me more than the What is the Why.

Remember the glaring eyes of Dr. T. J. Eckleberg--the enormous spectacles and decrepit billboard looking out over the valley of ashes? Those spectacles play a big symbolic role in Fitzgerald's story. For if you dig deep down and take a good look at all of the characters--they really aren't much different at all. Ultimately, they just want to know that they're important and to feel that they belong.

Hannah thinks that the reason that image, social status, and physical beauty are such an outwardly tangible concept in LA is because of Hollywood. It's the kind of place and culture that attracts people who want to be in the limelight (even if it's just on the street somewhere).

And Vermont? Well, it's New England. We've got the Pilgrim thing, which means we value discovery and self-expression. But we're also shrouded by our Puritanical roots, which means we're as demure and good as can be--on the outside anyways. Which goes to my point that image and public persona still count for a lot, as much as we hate to admit it.

We're all eggs cooking in the same pot.

Monday, May 14, 2007

popcorn the wonder food

Sometimes I like it with salt and butter.
Sometimes with a sprinkle of brown sugar.
Shake it and bake it with some taco spice.
Rosemary and olive oil always tastes nice.

Popped in the air popper or hot oiled skillet--it's all good.
Popcorn is my favorite snack food.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

making the most of being alone

What's the difference between alone and loneliness? It's all in your attitude. When you're used to always being around people and stimuli, it's hard to feel comfortable in your own skin. I think it happens a lot in this day and age. But, as much as I love being around people and having a social life, I've learned that my alone-time is really the best time to refuel and develop myself as an individual.

The trick to loving your loneliness is to make the experience as romantic, spontaneous, and sexy as possible. Sometimes it helps to pretend you're in a movie (think Audrey Hepburn in Funny Face), but don't you dare turn on the television as a distraction; T.V. is the number one killer of romance.

When I'm alone, I like to pretend I'm Audrey Hepburn. I'll pull my hair back in a tight pony-tail, put on skinny black pants and a tight, pretty top. I'll put on some French music--Charles Aznavour or Francoise Hardy--and let it saturate the apartment and float out the open windows. I'll dance around my bedroom or sit out on the porch with sunglasses, hot coffee, and a good book or magazine. I'll write in my journal or water my plants. These are things you can do when you're alone. When you're alone, you're on your own schedule. You can wake up on a Saturday morning and do whatever you want to do. Spontaneity is a key ingredient to romance.

* * * * *

I'm alone this weekend (Colin is out of town on a surfing trip) and I'm having a good time. The farmer's market opened today in downtown Burlington. I woke up this morning, did my Audrey Hepburn thing, and then walked down to see what goodies I could find during my favorite summer Saturday excursion.

The first farmer's market doesn't offer much in terms of produce, but I did find asparagus and farm fresh eggs for lunch (Mmm, maybe I'll make a quiche?). I walked by the multitude of multi-ethnic food stalls. There's a Bosnian vendor this year in addition to the Indian, Nepalese, Mexican... But I wouldn't be tempted; I already knew what I wanted for breakfast: a stuffed croissant from David the baker.

I always ask him, "Do you have veggie today?" Today he did: asparagus, artichoke, cream cheese, and wild leeks that his friend had given him. Holy cow. "I'll take it!" I said.

I picked up some unusual spiky flowers for my mother (can't remember the name!) and I was on my way.

En route to picking up some tickets for the Cabaret show tonight, I bumped into my good old friend Jewel and her husband Aaron. That's the ultimate in spontaneity and romance--bumping into old friends at the market. I showed them my purchases and Jewel invited me to her place next week to try some of her wild leek and asparagus quiche.

I just can't get enough of springtime! And my ultimate alone-time-morning.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

jiggly, jelly belly

It's now a month past Easter. I keep picking at the leftover jelly beans, but now the dregs that remain at the bottom of the jar are practically inedible. I feel bad about throwing them out though. So I keep eating them one by one. The ones that I hate--like butter popcorn, oatmeal cookie, and yellow. I can't believe I'm still eating them. Can't wait till they're gone. I guess that's why I'm still eating them.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

what's your secret?

I've been thinking about secrets lately. That's because I have one. Doesn't everyone?

What really interests me about secrets is the dichotomy of self one must undertake--especially when you are forced to lie. You convince your skin and voice to mask what you're feeling inside with what you want people to believe. Like a hot air balloon beautiful and neat on the outside, but swirling with hot heat and volatile gases within. It's theatricality at its best.

Sometimes secrets can be good if keeping them preserves the feelings of someone else. If they protect. Or if keeping them enables something really great to happen, eventually. Like a surprise party or the ending to a really great story. Secrets help make the finale that much stronger and more exciting. In that sense then, I have lots of secrets. But even good secrets can cause inner turmoil.

What about the really bad ones? It probably depends a lot on the secret and what the motives are for keeping those secrets.

I'm curious about people's motives. In the case on my particular secret, the motive is very clear: self-preservation. In fact, I'm willing to bet that's a common motive for most people. I'm also willing to bet that the opposite is true: that self-elimination is a cause for keeping secrets. In short: our motives for keeping secrets have to do with how we see ourselves existing in this world. We keep secrets in order to control that vision. But how hurtful is it to those who we keep in the dark? When does the balloon explode?

On the very thoughtful Web site PostSecret, individuals can mail in their secrets to be posted anonymously for the world to see. The secrets are still secrets, I guess, but revealing the facts must be a small relief. Don't you think? It's also very comforting to know that other people--real people--are struggling with the same inner turmoil. You don't need to know who's saying it; it just helps to know you're not alone.

Here's one great reason for revealing a secret: helping other people cope.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

bug musings and art

I grew up learning to love bugs. This was never too difficult to do out in wild nature where the bugs roam free and happy. I’ll never forget the first time I heard a cicada chirping. I was living in Connecticut at the time. I thought I was hearing rambunctious crickets.

The little boy I took care of said all-knowingly, “Don’t you know what those are? They’re cicadas. Come here.”

He led me to a tree trunk where we found, clinging to the side of the bark, the delicate empty shell of a cicada nymph. It was over an inch long and looked like a giant translucent brown bumble-beetle (without wings). An exotic-looking creature, cicada nymphs will eventually moult and shed their skin before emerging as adults resplendently winged and ready to sing (well, the males anyways).

“I never knew we had these way up here,” I said in awe.

“Yeah, I know,” the boy replied. “And they get really loud too.” The novelty of those sacred creatures had certainly worn off on him long ago, but I was fascinated.

When I traveled to Provence several years later, I was again awakened to the cicada’s summer anthem. In that region of the world, cicada fields fill the air with sound all day under the hot sun, and louder still into the night under the high starry sky.

I have yet to see one in real life -- the closest I’ve been is in sound and the shorn remnants of a bodily outline those few summers ago.

Recently, I went to an art opening at Pursuit Gallery in downtown Burlington. The artist displaying her work was none other than my good friend Elisa Freeman. A grand theme of her work -- beautiful insects -- is interpreted very differently from my own nostalgic references.

Whereas my reference pertains almost entirely to bugs in their natural setting (and therefore content and somewhat sporadic), Elisa’s fabulous creatures are very much confined to physical interiors and patterned aesthetics such as boxes, lace, and printed wallpaper. In that kind of juxtaposition and structured setting, the bugs take on a very creepy undertone. It’s the difference between hearing a cicada sing his beautiful song from a field afar and finding the same cicada tickling across your wallpaper. The immediate sensation is one of invasion and fear.

But if you linger a little longer, and peer into the shadow box cases, the artwork begins to feel like a still-life display at the insectarium. You can find beauty in seeing those iridescent wings so up close and find comfort that its strange little legs are kept behind glass or pinned like a specimen to the wall. But then in that same comfort, there is also an underlying sadness that accompanies capture. You have to wonder how the little bugs feel landing in this unnatural space. How is their own comfort threatened? How does their fear manifest itself?

Like I said, I’ve learned to love bugs in their natural habitat. But seeing them in spaces other than their own (in my bed for instance) invokes a huge feeling of discomfort for me. It’s not just that I’m uncomfortable with the bug in my bed, but I also imagine that the bug itself is very uncomfortable too. And probably very frightened.

Perhaps that’s why the artwork sparks such emotion within me -- both good and bad. These are after all just paintings, not the real thing. I still haven’t seen a cicada up close in real life in nature or in captive, but Elisa’s intricate representations on printed wallpaper patterns make me feel as though I have. They conjure up memories and feelings. They cause me to reflect on my relationship with the microcosm right outside (and oftentimes inside) my doorstep and the larger pattern of life in this world. They also manage to fill in a small piece of my own nostalgia story.

Oh, and it's worth mentioning that Elisa's work depicts not only cicadas, but lots of other cool bugs and people creatures too. But for Col and me, it was the cicada piece. So we bought it.

Artwork shown by Elisa Freeman,

Monday, May 07, 2007

north v. south

A couple of years ago, my friend Vanessa (a.k.a. Coach) started a Burlington basketball league. We called it North v. South. Pearl Street was the divider and the team picks were purely geographical (well, they were supposed to be -- I think at least one scheming teamster feigned southiness). In any case, the league turned out to be so popular, and everyone wanted to play. Soon there was a Colchester team too. Competition was stiff and neighborhood loyalty ran high.

My sister Em, her boy Kev, and I joined the north team (we were living North of Pearl at the time, though we're all southies now). I never was much of a competitive person, so I didn't think I'd really like basketball. But once you got me and my sister under the defensive net, the Twin Towers couldn't be beat. Down on the offensive side was where Kev, Coach, and the Doctor really strutted their stuff. Our team was friendliest, of course, but tension between the sides got so intense that at one point, people started getting hurt. That's when I left the team. I haven't been back. Until now.

Soon after I left, the teams disbanded and started playing pick-up style. I heard word that the scene is much more mellow now because of it, but I wanted to check it out myself before getting back into the short shorts.

So last Tuesday, Colin and I walked down to the Locust Street basketball courts to check out the first game of the season. It was tough to tell who was winning (were they even keeping track?) or who was on which team. But it was pretty clear that everyone was breathing hard and having a good time.

So yeah, I'll definitely be there on the courts this year. Maybe I'll see you too?

What: Pick-up Basketball
Where: Locust Street Basketball Courts
When: Tuesdays at 6pm
How: With a good attitude (and some style if you've got it)

bees for life

There’s been much ado about bees lately. They’re not doing so well. Colonies in their entirety have been disappearing. An article in the New York Times a couple weeks ago (Bees Vanish; Scientists Race for Reasons) describes a scenario called "colony collapse disorder" in which bees become disoriented and are unable to find their way back home. Historically, this is not the first time we’ve seen this type of behavior, but it’s the first time it’s reached such a massive scale, and on a global level too.

I’m sad for the bees. Can you imagine getting lost on your way home from the grocery store and never finding your way back -- your family waiting for their dinner, but never getting it?

But it’s not just the bees that are affected. We all love their Zen-like presence in the summer months. And I can’t imagine living without my Vermont honey. But these are mild, aesthetic pleasures. No, the big problem with bees disappearing is that human life as we know it could not exist without them. That’s because the majority of our crops rely on bees for pollination. No bees, no food for us. They’re miracle life workers, those bees!

So why are they disappearing?

Sophie, my beekeeper friend in Provence, once told me that pesticides are the cause, that it’s the chemicals that are causing the bees to lose their orientation. The Times articles states many theories -- viruses, mites, disease, pesticides, stress, poor diet -- but scientists don’t know for sure and are hesitant to single out just one cause at this point. It could be a combination of many factors.

The Department of Agriculture has concluded that we rely too heavily on bees as a primary pollinator. I can just imagine that in the near future, we’ll have found new methods of pollination (robots?). Bees won’t be in the picture any more. But that doesn’t mean we can forget about them or lose sight of their value in our world.

The term “beekeeper” should not be taken lightly. Yet, a good number of the possible reasons for the bees’ current demise are directly related to human interference. Is there a way that we as consumers can make a difference this late in the game? I’m not so sure. Awareness is a start. Maybe we could try only buying local, organic food and avoid supporting large-scale farms and crops that require mass transportation of bee hives for pollination. Maybe we could all use a little less honey.

What’s apparent to me is that bees rely on humans just as much as we rely on them. We need to give back a little of what we take -- food, serenity, life.

For now, I’m sending out some good vibes. I hope our bee friends find their way home.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

sunday, sunday

Oh, Lazy Sunday, how I love you!

We've been blessed with beautiful weather over the past few days. Everyone's dying to don their shorts and sandals, but this is Vermont and the chilly, spring breeze lingers on. The closest thing to poolside that we've found in early May is the skate ramp behind Burton--it's like a giant s-shaped swimming pool, without the water. And super chill.

Today, after a delicious brunch with Col and Chipster at the Blue Star Cafe (I had a crepe with plum, fig compote, and ricotta cheese), we headed over there and met up with Taylor and his friendly old dog Sadie. It was so nice to just lay there, soak up some rays, and be around good people.

On the way home, we stopped by the market and bought some more seeds for my window box and some peas for the trellis. Maybe I'll plant them later. Maybe not. I think now we'll watch a movie.

Thursday, May 03, 2007


I added a new painting to my Web site. Well, new to the Web site -- not new to me. I created it a few years ago during a prolific moment. It's one of my favorites that I've done. This painting, called Cyclorama, was actually at one point shaped like a true cyclorama, with the two short ends fastened together. The landscape was on the inside, and on the outside (the other side of the paper) was painted a purple dusk sky with inky black clouds. Approaching the wavering paper cylinder, you would first see the somber sky, and then you would notice -- because the paper was unevenly cut on the edge -- a lively, glowing scene rolling in and out of view. If you got close enough to look over the rolly polly hills of sky and down into the circular scene, you'd see acrobats diving though the air. Palm trees waving their tippy tops in the warm breeze. Flying elephants. Bright lights and bugs buzzing around in them. My professor at the time called the piece nostalgic. A self-defining moment, I should say. It was a happy place, with movement and dreams.

Sadly, the cyclorama kept getting smushed in my small apartment. There was no good place to display it properly. So, I had to take it a part and lay it flat in a frame in order to preserve its quality. At that point, I had to decide: which side faces up? Which side do I show and which side do I hide? Which side is more important? Dark, stormy sky or summer evening fantasy? I chose the people side. Make sense? I couldn't imagine stifling their dance behind a black matte.

I'm glad I chose that side, too. It still has plenty of movement, despite the shape-change, and is now hanging in my living room. All the little people dancing out at me every day.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

my mind wanders

What happens to the mind? Where does it go? I wonder this on a particularly absent-minded afternoon.

On my way home from work today, I made a detour to the bank so that I could deposit a check. When I got to the ATM, I reached inside my purse and realized I hadn't signed the check. Not to worry, I always have at least five pens in there. So I reached in again. Nothing. Not a single pen. The only writing utensil I had in there was a stubby pencil attached to my little red notebook (for emergency brain-dumping and what-not!). I'm pretty sure it's not legally sound to sign a check in pencil. The bank was closed. Great. Now what? I guess I could've walked in to any establishment downtown and borrow a pen, but I just felt so stupid, I turned around and walked home. 20 minutes out of my way for nothing. How does it get to this point?

This is not the first time this has happened in recent weeks. About a month ago, I went to the grocery store and filled my cart with fresh produce, milk, frozen vegetables. When I got to the register, I realized I did not have my wallet. In my mind, I could picture it right where I left it on the kitchen counter back at home. It was one of those classic fears--coming to life before my eyes. The guy at the register felt badly for me. But he had laryngitis, so all he could do was shrug, which made things even more awkward. And then there were people waiting behind me in line. So pathetic. I had to put all of my items back and then walk home empty-handed.

There have been other instances too: losing cards, misplacing keys and sunglasses, forgetting to pay bills (I never forget to pay bills).

This might not sound like such a big deal, except: I never used to be like this. I was always so pulled together. I lived by my photographic memory. I remembered phone numbers, faces, important dates, to-do lists--all by heart. Whenever I would leave the house, I'd check to make sure I had my keys and wallet. I'd ALWAYS have a pen in my purse. And lip balm. I was always prepared for everything.

Now my mind is, as my mother would say, like a sieve. Sure, I know these lapses in memory and poise are perfectly normal as you get older (I like to think I'm just making room for the more important, genius information). So I've learned to adapt. I write lists so that I can easily keep track of what my mind has trouble holding onto. But how do you write lists for things like "pull yourself together" and "don't forget to check your list"? (What good is that little red notebook doing in my purse gathering dust?)

Let's be honest though. I'm not even so sure that mild senility is that much of a threat to my well-being at this point. At the worst it makes for a more interesting day. But geez, I'm a little curious about what I'm going to forget next.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

the lake last night

Holy cow -- this is what we saw from our porch last night. Beautiful Lake Champlain, I love you.

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