Friday, June 29, 2007

what is up?

I cannot believe two whole weeks have past since Colin left for Hong Kong. I cannot believe a whole week has past since I wrote in my beloved blog. The clean laundry's been in a heap on the living room floor since Sunday. Phone calls left unreturned. Plants left unwatered. Dirty dishes in the sink.

This is not the normal me.

But the fact is, I've been working hard. For the past month I've been so consumed with my new job at EatingWell, the rest of my life seems to be passing by right beneath my nose, unnoticed.

I love my job. I'm a Web Producer there, which means I get to do everything from designing and building web pages to creating recipe collections and editing articles. Oh, and I get to taste-test new recipes too!

Sunday, June 24, 2007

on clyde pond

I always love going home to my parents' house. Going home to the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont is like going on retreat. No one will ever find you there. And once you arrive, you can finally breathe. This is not to say that Burlington is the rat-race. Not by any means. But in comparison to sitting in a canoe on quiet Clyde Pond, it might as well be.

Going home also means going to church. That's okay by me, especially since it's my dad who does the preaching and he's the best in the world. And not just because he's my dad. You'll always walk away from service with some kind of little nugget you can use to tackle the week ahead with joy and grace. And so I did this morning. But instead of walking, I decided to run--all the way to the house about 50 yards towards the woods--so invigorated was I from the good words and the gorgeous sun shining down my back. As I galloped down the path about a hundred tiny red butterflies seemed to burst from my feet and fly up beside me like dolphins, diving in and out of my sight. They followed me all the way. Good omen!

My dad and I took the canoe behind the house and put in at Clyde Pond, an old reservoir hidden among the woods behind Newport. Only the locals know about it, I think. For human visitors are few and far between. We paddled upstream to the Clyde River and my dad pointed to a stretch of shore where just last week he had seen a baby deer and its mother. In a strange way, I still felt the ghost of their presence there and couldn't help but recall a poem I once read by Mary Oliver in her stunning book House of Light. The poem called The Deer, depicts timeless, ever-present nature--like two deer walking in long grass as though time doesn't exist. The poem speaks to the strength and reliability of the wild earth. But it also voices a fear for its fleetingness. We need the make the most of every minute with earnest devotion.
Each of us is given/only so many mornings to do it--/to look around and love/the oily fur of our lives,/the hoof and grass-stained muzzle./Days I don't do this/I feel the terror of idleness,/like a red thirst./Death isn't just an idea./When we die the body breaks open/like a river;

As I was thinking about this--I could think for ever on this quiet, isolated river--I gazed among a patch of lily pads, looking grand like a hundred emerald sun dials, and saw a white flower peeking up from the water.

"Look!" I said to my dad, "the flowers on the lily pads are blooming!"

"Yup, waterlilies," he relied. "That's what we used to call the sailors."

"Really?" I asked. "Why?"

"Because of those hats they used to wear. You know, those white ones."

"Can we get close to it?" I asked. We paddled towards the lone bloom. In my thoughts, I imagined a handful of earnest sailors bobbing up and down on the water like buoys. Not the same effect really. I thought of Monet's large old paintings of waterlilies that I was fortunate to see up-close over the winter at L'Orangerie in Paris. If you are ever lucky enough, like I was, to see these massive round panels in person, you'll probably notice that they're surprisingly drab, albeit breathtaking. The flowers themselves are barely noticeable in among the grass and ripples and brush strokes. I guess that's why the painting are so famous--you have to squint your eyes a bit. They're gorgeous, but they do no justice to the waterlily flower that, in real life, stands out against the deep dark waters like a bright star in the midnight sky.

We were now close enough to the flower to touch it. I wanted to take a picture. But the lily seemed to be playing a game with me, ducking in and out of the shadows, in and out of the water, and only peeking out long enough to say, "Here I am, and here I go." Fleeting and exuberant, as only a real-life waterlily can be. Finally I got a snapshot. A quick snapshot of the yellow pollen mustache, the pointy white petals, the game of peek-a-boo to remind me of this fleeting moment and make it timeless.

Leaving my parents' is as thrilling as it is to arrive. There is no room for sadness, because your arms and your car are filled to the brim with fresh flowers and produce from the garden, clean laundry--line-dried and smelling like sunshine, new plants to add to my porch pot garden (this time I have two mint varieties and borage, whose flowers garnish any summer cocktail with a colorful flourish), and my parents' home-roasted coffee tickling our noses (oh, how Au Lait loves the scent of coffee!).

Saturday, June 23, 2007

summer solstice, now it's the weekend

Colin surprised me with a phone call yesterday morning at work. He was calling from his hotel room in Hong Kong.

"What are you doing?" I asked in astonishment, knowing full well the cost of each and every word we spoke.

"I just really wanted to talk to you."

"Are you having a fabulous time?"

"I am," he said. After telling me about his productive day full of meetings and good work, he went on to describe his swanky hotel room--king size bed, two showers (one with a bath, one standing)--all for himself. He had just gotten back from the pool. It was 9 p.m. his time. I had just woken up a couple hours ago.

I told him about the solstice dinner I went to the night before at Becky's. Told him all the gossip he'd missed in just three days. And about the crazy lightning storm we'd had and the subsequent gorgeous Vermont weather we're now having in its wake. That's the thing about Vermont storms in the summer. They break the thick humidity and call on nostalgic, sunny, summer breezes that leave you reminiscing about summers of your youth on the shores of Lake Memphremagog and in the lush, grassy meadows of Shattuck Hill.

It was a lovely phone call--worth every penny. We were both bubbly and talkative. I hung up the phone feeling excited about the weekend to come.

Now it's Saturday morning and I'm heading out of the town to the above-mentioned childhood stomping grounds to stay with my parents for a night and a day. I'm bringing Au Lait with me. I might go canoeing with my dad. I might help my mother in the garden. I might cook up a fabulous summer dinner. I might go for a walk. I might read my book. I might, I might, I might...

Thursday, June 21, 2007

the tower of babel

I've been thinking a lot about community these days. And in that context, differences as they translate into beauty or into conflict. Long ago, or so it says in the bible, humankind spoke one language. They were a unified people who, through the strength of many, worked together to build a tower into the heavens. God, seeing what his people had built, set about to prevent it by confounding the people's language and scattering them all over the world.

Nowadays, ethnic and religious cultures stand out in stark contrast against one another. When you meet someone who speaks another language the human differences are quite tangible. How can you connect with someone when you can't understand what they're saying? How can you build a community with someone, when community relies so much on communication?

The fact is, good communication and positive community building are a challenge even for two people who speak the same language--if those two people choose to focus only on the differences.

Here's where I can really learn something from my cat. Au Lait and I speak different languages. But we've both gotten to the point, I think, where we're beginning to understand each other, even if we can't speak the words. She'll meow a certain way. Then meow again. Before I would say, "Au Lait, I don't know what you want." I would say that till I was blue in the face. Truth is though, I might not know what she's saying, but I do know what she needs or wants.

Likewise, sometimes she'll choose to push her luck, and pretend she doesn't know that what she's doing hurts my feelings. But when I look into her eyes, I see a certain hesitation there. I'll just say her name and she'll pull back. It's a little game we have of sorts: you give a little, I'll give a little. In the end, the we's have it, so long as everyone involved puts in a little effort (e.g. I give some food and playtime, she sits on my feet in bed).

That's right. I'm saying communication has absolutely nothing to do with language. It's about dialog and understanding. It's about sharing a moment despite our differences. And that's where the beauty lies.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

separation in love

Col left for Hong Kong yesterday. He'll be there for a week, then on to Taiwan for work. All in all, he'll be gone ten days. Not the longest he's ever been gone, but long enough for his absence to feel substantial.

In separation, I guess, the first day is always the most difficult. Yesterday morning after he left, I felt unsettled. The lump in my throat made it difficult to swallow breakfast. But then I showered. I fed Au Lait. I went to work and eventually became absorbed in the second life that is my profession.

Solitude inspires us to flex our muscles of independence. This is me, the independent woman. But then I got home and was again reminded: yep, it's just me tonight.

Over the next few days, I will fill my time with friends and reading and blogging. I'll find comfort in knowing that my Love's relatively safe, that he's experiencing a whole new place, meeting new people, and that he'll be back next week. I realize that latter comfort is a luxury these days. So I will revel in it. And I'll try not to miss him too much.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

on level water

There's something in the Clyde, the river.
I belong there--we all do--tenderly
Drifting towards the edge.

We all belong on that river
In one way or other, in
Some nook or cranny.
We're all on the same level there.
That's because water levels off.
It's always harmonically level.

How it happens is this:
When you're sitting on a boat on the Clyde,
You're at eye level with all of life in those parts--
The bugs buzz buzzing around your head,
The baby deer tip-toeing at water's edge,
Pausing, looking, ever-still.
Even fish are close enough to see.

Please note: it has to be a quiet boat, like a canoe.
No motors will do on this river.

Rider, driver, whatever. There's no us or them.
We're all the same here,
All together drifting down in chorus with the current pull,
The hull, sometimes swimming in whirlpools,
Fishing in and out of sunspots and shadows,
Sometimes still--Quiet as a hushed breeze in midair.

I know, this is where I belong on those days
When I hear the level dissent in syncopated rhythm,
When I can't see eye to eye,
When the deer sees me and runs away in fear.

I just need the river to be here.
To pull me in legato mood
To the nearest quiet pool of water,
So I can sit and ponder
My place here on this river.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Bill Clinton at Middlebury

I finally got the chance to listen to the commencement speech Bill Clinton gave at Middlebury College (my alma mater) a couple of weeks ago.

I'm impressed. The subject: building community. Clinton said that every successful community has three things: a broadly shared opportunity to participate, a sense of responsibility for the success of the enterprise, and a genuine sense of belonging. Regardless of our differences. (I immediate thought of my baker friend.) Why is community so important? In a nutshell, Clinton says community is the elemental building block that will enable us to solve all the world's issues. I think he's right. And I appreciate his honesty and prudence for serving up a challenge that's so easily within grasp for all of us.

[Watch the video]

get my smile on

Here's something that makes me smile: I rediscovered my sewing machine in the attic yesterday. I think I'm ready to dust it off and get stitching.

Monday, June 11, 2007

speaking of faith

Every once it a while I'll be pulled into a news story, movie, or radio without really wanting to. Against all my better prejudices. I love NPR, but there is one show that I avoid: Speaking of Faith. I avoid it, I think, because it hits so close to home. I've had religion up to my ears as the daughter of a Pentacostal preacher. More religion than I could handle. And to boot, these days, I feel like religion has become a dirty word. It has come to represent extremism. It divides communities. It wages wars. It scares me.

Still, as I said, today I was drawn into an episode on my drive home from work. It was a different kind of episode, because this time instead of telling a story of someone else's religious journey, the host Krista Tippett was telling her own story as the granddaughter of an evangelical minister. And it did hit very close to home. It reminded me of my relationship with my father. But it wasn't scary. Instead, I found it very hopeful. Perhaps because it reminded me of how important spirituality has become in my outlook on life and my own role in this world. This is a good thing.
I spent much of my childhood in church. ...Faith helped me live with the tension between the smallness of the world around me and my intense inner sense of a larger beyond. It helped keep that tension alive. In this way it grounded me in reality, not just mystery. But my grandfather's rules and beliefs did not add up as I grew older. I came to find the disjunction between the thoroughness of my mind and the limitations of church teachings intolerable...

But I hold to my memories of his complexity — his fear and fallenness along with the humanity and virtues of that faith of my childhood — against stereotyped images of evangelical Christianity that are at large in our culture now. The rock-solid, certain aspects of my grandfather's faith bequeathed me a spiritual inheritance. They are the foundation upon which my questions and ideas now are planted. I learned to trust in an overriding sense behind the universe. I learned to look for grace and for truths that revealed themselves at times baldly but just as often between the cracks in my ability to see and hear what is important. Above all, I understood belovedness to be woven into the very fabric of life.
Everyone, she says, has a certain level of spirituality. In that sense we're on the same level. Religion just serves as a container for that spirituality.

Saturday, June 09, 2007


There are endless sirens today, it seems. Even moreso up here at sky-level on my porch, where one siren sounds like fifty, echoing off the pavement, the rooftops, and up over the trees.

It's hard to tell where they're coming from. They just well up like a cloud of noisy dust, from the pavement to the sky to my ears. Now there are motorboats on the lake. Loud and engine-y. The next door neighbors are having a party. They're swimming in the pool. They're playing basketball. I hear shoes scuffing the concrete like abrupt sandpaper. I hear the boom, boom, boom of the ball hitting the ground. The creaky high school boy voices. The clinking of forks on plates. Splashing. Dog barking. African drums floating over from Memorial Auditorium. The ferry honking its horn.

More sirens. Someone beeps his car horn somewhere towards downtown. Engines running. Engines moving. People laughing. Kids yelling. And my phone rings. I don't answer.

I'm silent. I'm all alone. It's getting dark.

Five quacking ducks fly by my view. In silhouette to the setting sun.

I hear crickets chirping. Another party has started down the hill. Sounds like: lots of men sitting around a game on the television. A can opens. A car starts.

The church bells strikes: nine times.

The party next door has ended. The engines soften, it seems.

Another church chimes further in the distance. I can hear jazz music rise up from Church Street. Quietly at first, then louder. A saxophone player practicing scales.

I still haven't spoken. I'm alone. What I sound like: click, click, click on my keyboard. That's all.

I look over to the chair next to me. There's Au Lait, my kitty. She's sitting silently next to me. What's she think about all this noise, I wonder.

I speak. "Hi, Girl. You want to go inside? Let's go inside."

Thursday, June 07, 2007

In Arles one night with Michael

I just found this journal entry I wrote while I was living as an Au Pair in Arles, France. I still have Michael's book. I wonder where he is now.

* * * * *

23 January, 2003

Micheal the classical guitar player was touring France with his instrument and long finger nails. While in Arles, he stayed in the only finished room in the attached house next door that would soon become the B & B. When I had had enough of the children and of surrogate parenting, I triumphantly took my wine glass in hand and went to seek him out.

He had not eaten dinner, so he took me to his favorite little Italian bistro where we shared a bottle of red and he lusted after his spaghetti and crème fresh dessert. We were eventually joined by Francois, a photographer who spent half his time in Arles, the other half in New York City, and skipping Paris altogether.

Michael started boasting of Francois’ 20-room mansion in the Roquette, while Francois himself didn’t think twice of hinting at his closeness with certain rich Americans who he photographs. Honestly, a part from his Alexander McQueen watch and his sea blue cashmere sweater, I found Francois to be uninteresting and tacky. He also had a nasty habit of flicking his tongue like a snake whenever he talked, therefore pronouncing the beginning of every word with a lispy "L" sound.

To add to an already awkward situation, Michael, excessively supportive in general, kept smiling at Francois and saying, "She’s so cool" every time I spoke.

I was waiting for a moment to turn the conversation, when Michael told me something that made me freeze:

"Arles is built on top of millions of dead people," he said. "Check out Les Alyschamps on the other side of town when you have a chance. You’ll find some of the old Roman sepulchers there and a lot of history. I have a book about it I can lend you. But you have to give it back."

Holy cow. No wonder everything feels so heavy in this town and people walk around like ghosts. I’d been feeling a strange, metaphysical entrapment since I set foot in this town. What if I never got out of there?

I got home that night and checked my email. My parents had written to me saying that they wanted me to come home early—months early—considering the imminence of war in the Middle East. I found myself shaking. Then I cried. In the dark. With the glare of the computer screen casting a cold blue veil on my face. I cried.

Suddenly, Francois’ lisp seemed not all that bad.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

hanushka writes on wilde

My sister Hannah just wrote a fabulous essay on one of my favorite books of all time: The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde. And what a great read it was! Hannah's posting, I mean. Read it. And the book if you haven't yet and you're a sucker for English Dandyism and rococo rhetoric.

Hanushka says:
Then, there is a lovely exchange between two characters that is so quick and smart, and the word-play is so fun and subversive, I immediately wished that we spoke that way still, and took pleasure in each others' witticisms, without so many criticisms. Verbal fencing, I call it. (I'm sure I didn't come up with that). It reminded me of a movie that I saw years ago called Wit, about the parlour games of the french aristocracy, before the revolution, I think.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

being au lait

Au Lait has begun aggressively attacking me again. When I'm lying in bed asleep, she'll jump up from under the bed and claw me in the back. When I'm in the loo brushing my teeth she'll pounce and sink her teeth into my ankle. Just now, as I was sitting on the couch with my laptop open and my feet up on the coffee table, she exploded out of nowhere and took a big bite out of my leg. I sprayed her with the squirt gun--right between the eyes--but she didn't even run away. She just stared back at me with huge black pupils.

"What is going on, Girl? What do you want from me. What are you thinking?"

No reply. Just more staring.

If I could read my kitty's mind, what would I discover? If she could speak, what would she say?

"Meow. Play with me! Meow. Give me more food! Meow. Put me in a cardboard box! Meow. Stop blogging! Cat grass!"

Maybe. I do feed her. I do play with her. I give her boxes to jump in and chew on. I spoil her, much moreso than Col does. In fact, the irony of this whole situation is that Au Lait has only been attacking me. She won't go near her boyfriend.

Maybe that's it. Maybe she thinks I'm the other woman. I can see now this whole Three's Company scenario could get complicated. Is she trying to run me out of here altogether so she can have Cute Boy all to herself?

"If that's the case, Girl, I won't budge! You'll have to try harder than that. Or just give up." Is this the gratitude I get for all of my love and devotion?

Sick thing is, I still love that Girl. I'm still totally devoted.

Monday, June 04, 2007

my favorite chocolate experience

Sometimes I ask for suggestions on what to write about. Tonight I asked my boyfriend, Col.

"Why don't you write about your favorite chocolate experience?" he said as he unwrapped a Kinder egg. "Here." And he handed me a piece of milk chocolate shell with a buttery layer of white inside.

"Mmm, that's good," I said as I let it melt on my tongue. "I wonder what my favorite chocolate experience is. I have so many."

I started thinking of all the wonderful chocolate I've eaten over the years and all of the chocolately memories. Col seemed preoccupied.

Suddenly he looked up and said with a sparkle in his eye, "I have something for you."

"You do? What?"

"This is for you," he handed me a little purple badger with a colander on his head. It was the Kinder egg toy. "You can put it in your car."

"I love it!" I exclaimed as I pictured it alongside my other dashboard friends: Snake Woman, Goldfish, and Poodle with the sunglasses.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

my midd reunion

I got the ultimate validation this weekend at my Middlebury College reunion: as I walked by a group of old classmates who I only vaguely remember in passing, I heard one them say to the others, "Who is that?" with a hint of surprise in his voice.

"That's Penelope Wall."

That's Penelope Wall. As though I was a movie star. Or the ugly-duckling turned beauty queen. It did feel good, but the comment also made me pause and think: Am I really that much different than I was five years ago? Even worse: was I really that unnoticeable back then? If so, then what has changed?

Maybe I walk a little straighter. Maybe I'm a little more confident in my self. Still, being back there amidst the unbreakable cliques of forever friends and married pairs, I never felt more like the shriveling wall-flower that I was as a freshman in college, when I realized that I just didn't belong. Back then, I did made things work and I made good friends, a couple of whom are still quite near and dear to me. But as for the others, we've mostly lost touch and that's okay with everyone involved, I think.

Must I really remember my entire college experience by the way I performed at parties? Socially failing back then, I made the most of my excellent education and as as result my most wonderful memories take place in the library and during vivid discussions in my Lit seminar, as dorky as it sounds. A part from a handful of good friends, the people that I remember most-- those who made the deepest impression--were my professors. But I didn't see any of them this weekend.

I can't help but take note of the irony in the fact that reunion signifies a unification of sorts. My weekend felt like anything but. In fact, without my intellectual backbone, I felt totally dismembered and knocked out of rhythm. Reminded of my socially awkward days, I felt immediately ill in my skin and self-conscious of everything that I said. It dawned on me that this reunion business was all really just a dog show. We were all on parade.

Don't judge me. Forget the small talk. Don't most people prefer conversations that are more genuine? Conversations that have the power to continue and grow organically throughout the years? Conversations that build relationships and community? In that sense, I guess I did have high expectations for my Midd reunion: I guess I was hoping it could have been a little more intellectual and substantial. More academic, even, like in my best memories. And my proudest moments.

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