Thursday, March 25, 2010

an examined life

I'm not sure why, but inspiration seems to fly out the window when Julie walks in the door. I just don't have time to sit and write, but, moreover, I don't have time to sit and think (or, more correctly, shower and think or walk and think, as discussed earlier) when Julie is home. That makes sense, I guess. One must be alone to be introspective.

Now, I prefer for Julie to be home. Don't misunderstand and think that I am longing for my long stretches of all-by-myself, navel-gazing time. But, the fact is, Julie doesn't live here anymore. She is an adult with a domicile, and a life, of her own. It's hard for me and for Ben when she leaves us, but we know she doesn't belong here, and wouldn't keep her if we could. Each of us has developed ways to deal with the fact that our little birds have flown the nest, as we always intended for them to do. I examine life as I find it around me, and try to make sense of it as best I can.

Socrates said the unexamined life is not worth living. That seems extreme, but Ben and I have for many years known a woman whom we feel lives an unexamined life, and it seems to us a very shallow existence. As in most things, I believe there is a balance that must be struck between actually living life and ruminating about it. That's what I'm trying to do here, folks. I hope you find it at least intermittently interesting.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

with the new season, a new job

Yesterday I shifted yarn for five hours. That might sound arduous or maybe boring to some of you, but you would be wrong. I loved it. I loved the color, the feel, even the smell of all that yarn. It was the semi-annual yarn shift at My Sister's Yarn Shop in Uniontown, just off I-77, north of Canton. Yesterday was my first day of work there. I look forward to many more.

I was in the shop a few weeks ago telling Judi, the shop owner, how much I missed everything about working in a yarn shop, but most especially when all the new yarn and pattern books for the season arrive. "Well, would you like to come work for me?" Judi asked, to my surprise. "Yeah!" was the best reply I could come up with, so here I am. Judi is a hands-on shop owner, which means she actually knows how to knit and help her customers when they get stuck. Further, she works every day, and knows her customers' names and preferences. This is going to be different.

I will try to keep you posted, but, hey, I'm going to be working, so cut me some slack.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

a different kind of celebration

Although I don't have a bit of Irish in me, I have occasionally celebrated St. Patrick's Day in typical ways over the years. A couple of times, I spent the evening (and the wee hours of the morning) in a bar singing and laughing and drinking way too much. For several years, I accompanied my friend, Mary, to the annual parade in downtown Cleveland. I do love a parade, but it was just too cold to stand outside for several hours, even wearing so many layers I looked like the Michelin Man.

This year was different. The weather was beautiful, for one thing. The sky was a clear and cloudless blue all day long. The temperature hovered in the 50s, and for all I know, shot up to 60 in the afternoon. And I was at a celebration of a different kind yesterday. I was in a synagogue, celebrating a young life cut short. I went to Ali's funeral.

Janet and I drove down to Canton, and slipped into seats in the back of the sanctuary. We didn't talk to anyone there. We didn't know anyone there. We had only known Ali. We were there for Ali. I just wanted to occupy a seat there. I just wanted to be counted as someone whose life had been touched by her. We saw Ali's family seated in the front row, but only the backs of their heads as they listened to the rabbis and speakers talk about their beloved Ali. They hugged and wiped their eyes as they listened.

At the end of the service, they followed Ali's casket up the aisle. That was when I saw Ali's mother's face for the first time, and quickly looked away. To look into her face was to think the unthinkable. No, it was to know the unthinkable. My child could die before me. I had learned this lesson before - twelve years ago, almost to the day, when I attended Ava's funeral. Ava had been my kids' regular babysitter when I worked at the library. Her mother was my co-worker and good friend.

Ava was the light of her mother's life, as I'm sure Ali was. You wouldn't have known it to look at Ava, but she was sick most of her life. She was attending law school when she got sick again from too many nights spent studying instead of sleeping. She came home and was admitted to the hospital a few blocks up the street from the house where she grew up. She died there. So, yes, I thought of Ava yesterday. How could I not? Ava's life was too important to forget. So was Ali's. I believe I honor them both by remembering them and mentioning them here. I believe I celebrate their lives.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

when inspiration strikes

I never sing in the shower. Y'all know I have issues about singing. I do remember reciting the toast I wrote for Tom and Kristy's wedding over and over again in the shower, in hopes that I wouldn't have to read it from a sheet of paper. I sometimes cry in the shower, I have to admit. The water falls with my tears, but never washes away the pain, which is perhaps what I hope for. What I do really, really well in the shower is think. (What did you think I was going to say? My kids read this blog. Come on.) I'm serious, though, I do some of my best thinking in there. Sometimes I think so hard that I lose track of what I am doing. (Did I just put shampoo on my hair or was that conditioner? Crap!)

I find that I also do some good thinking when Rufus and I take walks together. The sun shines down on us, the wind blows, Rufus trots along like a champ (most of the time) and I ruminate. I start out thinking about how nice it is to see the sun shine again or when was the last time we saw that one dog who always runs down the hill, and pretty soon I've got half a blog post written in my head.

Do you see a common thread here? Yes, yes, it's when I'm alone, of course, but, also, it's when I can't get to my computer or even a pencil and paper. I'm writing and and re-writing and editing in my head without any possibility of saving my precious thoughts. I have to towel off quickly after stepping out of the shower, and hurry to my desk, with both dogs swirling around my feet, and Lucie pawing to be picked up as soon as I sit down. Or I come in from our walk, and have to make the dogs sit and lay down for their expected treats before I hurry down the hall to my room. If I'm lucky, I remember what I thought was profound or clever or urgent a few minutes earlier.

What I'm trying to say here is that I suffer for my art. This isn't as easy as it looks, folks. I hope you appreciate it.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

signs of spring, version 2010

Rufus and I went for our first walk of the new year today. It was not Rufus's first walk - he has been out with Ben several times already this year. Come to think of it, so have I. So Rufus and I had our first walk together, then. Anyway. It was such a beautiful morning, I just couldn't stay indoors. Rufus is always ready to go for a walk, and he seemed to know as I was tying my shoes that we were headed out. He really didn't pull too badly, and I could tell Ben had begun the process of re-training him.

We took the longer walk today - the one that takes about twenty minutes. I don't usually do that on our first outing, but I just wanted to keep going. Although the snow has finally melted, the lawns haven't started to green up yet, and small branches, sticks, and leaves from last fall are still everywhere on the ground. I was hoping to see crocuses, my favorite harbingers of spring, but was disappointed to see so few. I guess the squirrels must have eaten everyone else's bulbs, as they did ours.

This afternoon, I started in on another, more onerous, odiferous spring tradition - the annual poo pick-up. Since the snow was so deep for so long, weeks and probably months went by when we didn't clean up the back yard at all. The dogs were still pooping there, however. Two dogs, twice or three times a day. You do the math. I picked up poop until my knees locked, and knew I had only scratched the surface. Such is the life of a dog owner.

Ben and I went out for ice cream a couple of nights ago. We went to the Dairy Queen on Water Street that we used to walk to with big groups of our friends when we lived in the dorms. It was such a treat to go out for ice cream. It still is. And you know, I still ordered a Peanut Buster Parfait, and Ben still had a banana split.

Although the thermometer has not made it to 50 today, I still have the windows cranked open a bit. I hear distant cars drive by and a dog several streets over begins to bark, which makes Rufus cock his head and Lucie growl softly. I expect an explosion of barking any minute. The real reason I have the windows open, though, is for the smell. The ineffable smell of spring. It's out there. And now it's in here, too. I love that.

Monday, March 15, 2010

who could turn the world on with her smile?

Ali was already sick when I met her. In a way, I met her because she was sick. She came into the little yarn shop where I worked and asked to speak to the owner, who, of course, wasn't there. So Ali told us her story. She had brain cancer. She was on disability, so she wasn't allowed to work for pay. But the chemo seemed to be working and she was feeling a little better, and she just got so bored sitting at home all the time. Could she volunteer at the yarn shop? Could she just hang out there? We encouraged the owner to go along with the idea. We thought we were doing something nice for a sick girl. It never entered our minds that Ali would do so much for us.

Ali was so positive, so upbeat, so glad to be alive, I think. She had a beautiful smile and the most wonderful, unexpected laugh. And she laughed all the time. And she talked all the time. That girl could talk! We learned a lot about Ali in the short time that we knew her. We learned that she had been in college at McGill when she became ill. That she had come home to Cleveland to receive the best medical care available to her. We learned about the guy she was dating and the friends she had and the trips she and her mom took together. A trip to the west coast to see her brother and sister-in-law. A trip to Paris - the trip of a lifetime. We celebrated with Ali when she went back to Montreal to receive her degree. We worried over her when a dizzy spell at the shop one day turned into a trip to the hospital, and the discovery of another brain tumor. And when the shop closed unexpectedly last fall, we lost touch with her.

Today Ali died. As I read the announcement on Facebook, and my eyes filled with tears, I realized a song was playing in my head:

Who can turn the world on with her smile?
Who can take a nothing day, and suddenly make it all seem worthwhile?
Well it's you girl, and you should know it
With each glance and every little movement you show it.

I think Ali would have loved that. I think she would have laughed.

Friday, March 12, 2010

a day in the life

I drove out to see my dad yesterday, and, once again, when I called to let him know I was coming, he seemed very glad to hear it. Our visit went, really, okay. He did tell me, once again, that he doesn't think he will ever like it there. "Well, I'm sorry to hear that, " was my reply, "because you know you can't live in the house by yourself anymore." Yes, yes, he allowed that was true, and we went on to the next topic. So maybe he just needed me to respond in some way - any way - when he told me that, rather than just looking at him sadly. That's not to say I think he won't ever say that to me again, because I know he will. But now I feel like I know what to say in reply.

I think the weather has brightened Dad's spirits a bit - I know it has mine. He told me has been walking downtown and back every day - a walk of about seven blocks each way. The neighborhood has gone downhill a great deal since we lived there, not that it was ever that great. I'm sure the sidewalks are cracked and hooved up by tree roots, so I worry about that. But I know he needs to get out and walk more than anything else, and I try to remember that. I wonder if he misses the walk he took for so many years around Eastern Heights. I wonder if the people on his route miss him.

All in all, we had a nice visit, which will certainly make it easier to go back the next time. Because there's always a next time.

Monday, March 8, 2010

the dude abides

The Academy Awards were on last night, but I didn't watch them. It seemed kind of silly when I only saw one movie last year. Granted, I picked a pretty good one, as it was one of the best picture nominees. Along with most of the female population, Julie and I went to see Julie and Julia, and enjoyed it very much.

I was marginally interested in the awards this year because I was very interested to see if Jeff Bridges would win the best actor award. Jeff Bridges, you see, is the protagonist in my all-time favorite movie, The Big Lebowski. I think of that as our family movie, actually. The one that all four of us can sit and watch time after time, each time laughing out loud at the same parts. I don't know what kinds of movies other families share, but our family movie drops more f-bombs than any other movie I know. And we like it that way.

If you've never seen The Big Lebowski, well, you should. I won't try to explain the plot to you, but I will say that the Dude (Jeff Lebowski) is the victim of mistaken identity, and becomes a reluctant detective. John Goodman, as Walter, is the Dude's large, angry, profane sidekick. This is very much a detective movie, but a delightfully skewed one.

Jeff Bridges is the Dude, of course, and from the moment he shuffles down the grocery store aisle in his bathrobe and jellies, I am completely won over. I believe Jeff Bridges is the Dude, and indeed, have read articles to that effect. So I guess I was interested to know if the man could really act, or if he was just being himself. The man can really act. He won the Oscar.

Sunday, March 7, 2010


March is better already than the entire month of February was. Yesterday, Ben and I drove up to Mentor Headlands to see if the ice on Lake Erie was breaking up yet. It's not. It was a really cool trip, anyway, though. Even though we have both lived our lives so close to the lake, neither one of us had ever seen Lake Erie frozen over. The ice on the shoreline looked like frozen waves, and we clambered over them and walked out onto the lake. It was sunny and clear, but still bitter cold when the wind blew. And that was the only sound we heard, really. It is unbelievably quiet along the lake when no waves are crashing into the beach. We will wait a couple of weeks and try it again. I would love to see big ice chunks scattered along the beach.

We drove through Chardon on our way home, and stopped at a yarn shop, (naturally) a gallery with a bookstore in the basement, and a three-story antique shop before we had lunch in a newly-opened restaurant. I liked the yarn shop, and noticed some Neil Young music playing there as I browsed. The woman on her cell phone in the gallery never even looked up as we entered or left, and the guy in the basement bookstore was playing (I kid you not) a Celtic Woman CD. It was a long, narrow, damp basement, anyway, and that music pushed me right out the door, believe me.

I liked the antique shop a lot. Two storefronts next to each other had been joined together, and the basement was full of nooks and crannies with nifty things to look at. Ben and I found a room that was full of postcards (!) and y'all know how we feel about that. One small problem, though, the speaker above our heads was blasting "Doe, a deer" or whatever the hell that song is called from The Sound of Music soundtrack. Again, I felt poked right out of there. Play music I like or don't play music at all, for god's sake. The service was pretty bad in the restaurant where we had lunch, but Ben overheard one of the wait staff saying they had just opened. So, okay. The food was good, anyway.

Today we drove over to Fred Fuller Park, and hiked the Hike and Bike along the Cuyahoga River. Once we got past the water treatment plant, it was a pretty scenic walk. We saw so many birds! Ducks and Canada geese, cardinals and chickadees, red-bellied woodpeckers, with their bright-red heads, and for the first time ever, I saw a kingfisher. As much fun as seeing the birds was hearing them. I don't realize how much I have missed the birdcalls all winter long until I start hearing them again in the spring. That's right, I said it - spring. I just feel optimistic about that. And I never feel that way in February.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

are you what you eat?

I started dinner last night by sautéing diced onions and banana peppers in EVOO. (Extra Virgin Olive Oil) As I stirred and sniffed, it occurred to me that was the third night running I had started dinner the same way, with some pretty different outcomes. Last night I was making linguine with white clam sauce, the night before it was chicken fajitas, and the night before that, my own recipe for Stuffed Cabbage Soup - a sort of de-constructed cabbage roll dish.

Right off the top of my head, I can think of several other recipes that start that way; certainly spaghetti sauce and chili, for example. That got me to thinking. What are the absolutely essential ingredients for me to make a tasty meal? What are the things I can't cook without? I used to know a woman who hated onions and refused to cook with them, wouldn't even have them in her house. I was amazed. Really, I just wouldn't cook without onions.

So here is my list of ten essential ingredients. I'm not even going to get into herbs and spices, except to say that everything must be salted and peppered with freshly-cracked pepper.

1. onions - far and away my #1
2. garlic
3. celery
4. banana peppers
5. EVOO (I prefer Colavita's)
6. homemade chicken stock
7. tomatoes (fresh and canned)
8. mushrooms (fresh and canned)
9. Marsala (which I use in pretty much any recipe that calls for wine)
10. Eggland's Best eggs

I have to admit, I have never used all ten of those ingredients in one recipe, but the first eight sound like the start of something pretty tasty. I'm sure I have probably forgotten something - even though I got up and did a quick tour (a cook's tour) of the kitchen cupboards - and I have probably left out your favorites, as well. So, what are they?

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

if this isn't nice...

Ben has challenged me to get back to the original purpose of my blog, and to write more positive, upbeat posts. So that means no writing about my dad for a while, I guess, because there sure isn't anything upbeat to report there. Anyway.

Well, it's not February anymore. And if that isn't nice, I don't know what is. 'Nuff said.

I seem to have worked past my knitter's block. In fact, I am designing a pattern of my own for the first time, and I am really excited about it. I have made so many different pairs of fingerless mitts now that I absolutely understand how they are constructed, so it is just a matter of super-imposing a stitch pattern over that construction. (If you're a knitter, that makes sense to you. If not, you'll have to trust me.)

I am continuing to sell my work. I can pretty much sell it as fast as I can knit it up, in fact. And if I was willing to make seven pairs of identical mitts (which I am not) I could probably sell all of those, as well.

Ben and I have been doing some painting, and the living room and kitchen are both sporting fresh coats of paint. The living room looks fantastic, and only needs us to finally hang some artwork above the couch. (I'm looking at you, Ben.)

The Olympics are over, and so I don't have to worry about watching ice dancing anymore for four years. I will miss Apolo Ohno, though.

Um, did I mention it's not February anymore?