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Friday, April 30, 2010

A taste of someone else

Varenna
by Linda Gregerson

Smothered up in gauze, the sky's
            been healing for a week or

two, conserving its basin of gruel.
            The shops have closed

in sympathy. The ferry's ministrations
            barely mark the hour. And just

when we'd convinced ourselves that
            beauty unsubdued betrays

a coarsened mind, the fabric starts
            to loosen, lift, and daylight,

all unblighted, takes a gaudy good-
            night bow. What sodden

indistinction just an hour ago had all
            but persuaded us not to

regret resumes its first divisions;
            slate from cinder, ash

from smoke, warm dapple-gray from
            moleskin, dove- from

Quaker-gray from taupe, until
            the blackwater satins unroll their

gorgeous lengths above a sharpening
            partition of lake-and-loam.

Give up yet? says the cirro-strato-sable
            brush. Then watch

what I can do with orange. And,
            floodlit, ink-besotted, so

assails the upper atmosphere that
            all our better judgment

fails. The Alps? They've seen it all
            before. They've flattened

into waiting mode. The people?
            Flat bedazzled. But,

in fairness, had a shorter way to fall.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Vomiblog

sometimes i just need to vomit on the page, you know? no editing. No Cleverness. Just pure "brain dump," as a friend calls it. I felt so creatively constipated with this blog that I decided to to try for quantity rather than quality. I'm not saying everything i've written in the last two weeks has been utter crap, but I feel like my writing has helmet hair now. Every little post scheduled in a particular place. Very organized and timely - like too-perfect hair with too much hair spray.
Sometimes you just gotta muss up the hair a little. Walk out the door with bedhead and said "Yeah, I'm an imperfect bbithch, so? Speak with confidence and spinach in my teeth. Sometimes I just want to rip my heart from my chest and lay it on the table, severed aorta, pulsing ventricles oozing shiny blues and reds . . .  and just say "see? there are some good things in here! Yeah, there are a few inexplicable black spots, but for the most part it's good!"

I don't know if I come across this way        but        my blog                         fee                ls like this.                                     li   ke entire ch    unks           are                                            missing         from my                                                                                                story.

And so they are. I can't possibly write about those chunks without alienating the people I love, and besides I'm not really interested in hanging my entire load of dirty laundry for everyone to see. maybe a sock or two . . . but why write a blog that only promises to expose and embarrass, but fails to provide the catharsis I thought it might? The only release I can hope for will come from confronting the very issues in my life that I'd be writing about. This blog is my side project. Life is where the stories happen.

I read an essay by Richard Bausch called "How to Write in 700 Easy Lessons." He talks about how writing manuals aren't all they're cracked up to be, and can actually hinder your writing if you haven't read enough literature from which to draw language, context, rules and voice. Made me want to go pick up Moby Dick and Les Miserable and get to work. I'll add it to Storm of Swords, How to Potty Train Your Child in One Day (a masterfully deceptive title), and Now Write!: Nonfiction, all of which I'm currently reading. Yes, Now Write! is a writer's manual, and yes I'm aware of the irony. I've never bought a "writing book" for anything other than school. this one had lots of fun prompts I thought I would try for some inspiration. Little did I know how very raw and personal those essays would turn out to be, and I'm nervous to share them in a public forum, with people I know. MAN I need a nom de plume. Still, they're good exercise, and in the meantime I'll read Wuthering Heights, Crime and Punishment and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight in between sessions of sketching circles, photographing potato chips and morningly recording my dreams as quickly as I can before my bladder bursts.

huh?

Why do I feel the need to do all of this? Put myself through this 'self-taught college' to keep my brain working? Why the frantic scramble to become a better writer, better reader, better artist? What am I compensating for? And what kind of mother am I being while I'm so caught up in my brainiac pursuits? One who always has a book in her hand or a computer in her lap. One whose daughter has to scream and physically grab my face to get me to make eye contact with her and see that she's been sitting in a poopy diaper for the last 15 minutes. One who can't "just" be a mom. I can't "just" take her on a walk and pick dandelions on the side of the road and sing "Mr. Sun" on repeat. Have to listen to new music on the iPod so I'm cultured and caught up in the music world. Can't "just" pull out the kiddy pool and stick my feet in, she my little blue-lipped water lover with my undivided attention. Have to be reading. Can't "just" turn on the Wee Sing and Raffi and dance with her. Have to check email while she giggles and spins. Can't "just" take a nap with her so I'm rested enough to face an afternoon in the sunshine. Have to write write write, and drink as much coffee as it takes so I'm exhausted by the time she wakes up.

I feel like I'm not cut out for the life I'm seeking. Why can't I just put down the pen and live? When did I become such a self-proclaimed scholar and multi-tasker? When did motherhood take the back step in my life? When did I become so horribly self-centered?

Don't answer that.

balance. it's all about the balance, isn't it? aaaaaalways comes back to moderation and temperance. perseverance and patience. you'll get your time, Suzie. don't cut into Hannah's out of fear that you won't. her time is now. yours is when the sun goes down, and she is far off in dreamland with the choo choos and the bock bocks and the cows and the pigs... that's when you're allowed to feel as distracted and distant as your mind needs to be in order to heal. withdraw and lick your wounds when she's asleep. escape to your worlds in the dark of the night, and leave the sunshine for her. balance. because I'm not going to give up on this blog. I'm not going to give up writing. I like it too much, and my world needs more things that I like. don't listen to the people who tell you it's a waste of time. Don't listen to the people who say you're self-indulgent, over-dramatic, immature, entitled. . . or do, but don't let their narrowly constructed opinions stop you in your tracks. they don't have to read your writing. they don't have to try to understand you if they don't want to. and if they do, they'll see that you bleed. they'll see that your heart beats, and forgive the black spots. They'll feel you breathe and know that whatever else you may be - obnoxious, bratty, spoiled, pretentious . . . that you are real, and that you aren't necessarily trying to make your mark on the world, but to allow the world to make its mark on you. And if they can't see that, screw them.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

This makes me unbelievably happy


CAPYBARA sings to a capybara. from mark harrison on Vimeo.

Lentil and Rice Pilaf with Toasted Cumin Seeds

Lentil and Rice Pilaf with Toasted Cumin Seeds
4 to 6 servings

1/2 cup lentils, picked over and rinsed
2 tablespoons vegetable or olive oil
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 cup uncooked white basmati rice
2 cups vegetable stock
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup chopped walnuts

Stir lentils into a medium saucepan of boiling water. Boil, uncovered, for 10 minutes; drain.

Heat oil in a large saucepan or deep skillet over low heat. Add garlic and cumin seeds and cook just until sizzling. Add lentils along with rice, vegetable stock and salt.* Bring to a boil, stir once, cover and cook over medium-low heat until the stock is absorbed and the rice and lentils are tender, about 15 minutes. Uncover and let stand for 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, toast chopped walnuts in a small skillet over medium heat. Sprinkle over the pilaf and serve.

*This is what is written in "The Joy of Cooking: All About Vegetarian Cooking," but my experience with lentils is that they don't cook or soften as nicely when you add salt to the water. I suggest leaving the salt out until the rice and lentils are fully cooked.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Sketches: Shaping up

This week my sketches came from "Drawing and Painting Animals" by Bill Tilton. I still plan on doodling with "Draw 50 Animals," but Tilton includes more instructions for beginners, and I wanted to learn those basics from him before attempting any more cows.


The book starts with a simple copying exercise. You're supposed to draw this rabbit:


. . . and then set it aside for later use. I'm assuming he wants me to come back to my rabbit later and say "man, I didn't know anything back then. What a sorry excuse for a rabbit! I'm soooooo much better now." But for now, I think my bunny is pretty sweet. So take that, future badass-drawer Suzie.

I've heard it said that, during his "interview" for the Sistine Chapel commission, Michelangelo simply painted a perfect circle and the Pope hired him immediately. Tilton also emphasizes the importance of practicing the foundational shapes of drawing - circles, squares, rectangles, triangles, and "peanuts." So I spent the week drawing circles. I can't tell you how exciting this was.


"When you're drawing a ball or sphere, even though you're drawing on flat paper, imagine your lines going behind and around the form. You should get the feeling the line is lighter as it goes away from you, lighter on the top or area in the light, and heaviest on the bottom. Keep at it. Before long you will know when it 'feels right.'" That's straight from the book. Not only did the page above take me a couple HOURS to sketch, but I wasn't able to imagine my "lines going behind and around the form." What does that mean?? And it still doesn't "feel right." If it really is a matter of practice, I'll get it. Maybe not Michelangelo-get-it, but definitely non-wonky-animal-head get it.

As I drew myself  a little 4-quadrant cheat-graph to begin this sphere I thought, "why not just trace a paper cup?" I didn't, of course, but seriously, what's the point of a freehand circle, besides to show off? Drawing the circle itself was the hardest part. The shading was too much fun, creating chaotic darkness around my imperfect light. If I were to change anything I'd probably make the light a little rounder. I guess I got lazy. And tired of circles. Sheesh.

Wow, this felt like a book report. Sorry for the boring post . . .

Monday, April 26, 2010

More gifts from the Sandman

4/21/10
Setting: St. Louis, Missouri, early 19th century. The Daylight Pharmacy and Clinic is run by a man who doesn't believe in using lanterns or candles to light his clinic. He says they're unhealthy for the patients, and uses only natural light. Consequently the whole place is dark and dank, and no one wants to go there. But St. Louis is the last stop with a clinic on the road to California.

I visit this clinic. I'm young (20?) and engaged to a rich merchant. When I walk in there are two men, and it doesn't look like a clinic at all, but more like a gun emporium or pawn shop. One man is tall and dark, calls himself Curly. The other is bald and mouse-like, missing all of his teeth but the top and bottom two. He doesn't speak. Maybe he's missing a tongue, too. I don't know his name. Curly grabs me in a huge bear hug and says "Hey Darlin' I was wonderin' when you'd stop by!" Mouse guy just grins. It's all very confusing to my fiance, who apparently has come with me. He doesn't like the look of mouse man and says we should leave, but I've come for medicine for our trip west, and I ask Curly if we might pick that up. He blushes and confesses he isn't a doctor but would be happy to give me a "check up." Fiance gets angry and pulls a gun on Curly and asks him what's going on. Curly holds hands up and says "now don't get all worked up, I was only joking! Besides, wouldn't want to upset the pretty lady." Meanwhile Mouse has managed to sneak behind fiance, and now holds a knife to his throat. Fiance bashes Mouse's nose with the back of his head. This is followed by a cat and mouse chase around the entire building - glass shattering, furniture splintering . . . Curly and Mouse seem not to care at all for their establishment. This is the most excitement they've had all week. The three men run in circles, and every time Curly runs by me he winks and grins devilishly. "This ain't no clinic, sweetheart," he yells. "It's a god damned circus! Yoooohoooo!"

While the three men wreak havoc on the clinic, I decide to look in the unoccupied rooms. Some look like normal hospital rooms, just old and musty. Some are completely packed wall to wall with guns. Some are full of used syringes. There's one room at the end of the hall whose door is slightly ajar. There's a strange light coming from the crack in the door jam. I walk toward this door, wondering what that light might be. When I open it a gust of hot, dusty wind hits my face, and I'm staring at what looks like a doorway to some other world. I understand now why the owner made the clinic so dark and unappealing - so people would be discouraged from using it, and so those who knew what it really was could have some privacy when traveling to this world - Ancient Egypt. That's right. Daylight Clinic is a Stargate. Awesome.

4/22/10
In a lonely mansion with a little girl who is friends with Hannah. She's part of a royal family and her room is decked in frilly pink canopies, life-size rocking horses and hundreds and hundreds of colorful dresses. She wears one of these dresses with a pair of chiffon and lace socks we gave her as a birthday gift. We're helping her get ready for a day in town, and she takes off the socks and puts her shoes back on, saying it's not appropriate for royalty to wear socks in public.
. . .
I'm at a beach with a friend. We go to the shower room to change into our bathing suits. The shower stalls each have a cute set-up with tables, chairs and umbrellas. There's an array of colorful products on each table, and I decide to take advantage of the free stuff, choosing a particularly sweet smelling shampoo and applying it liberally to my hair. It's sticky and difficult the rinse out. Worse, I think my hair turns out dirtier than before. I ask my friend if hers is doing the same thing, and picking up the bottle she says, "I think you just put jelly in your hair." Confused, I ask her how she knows, and she says "because there's a box of crackers right next to it."
. . .
I'm driving with my mom through a landscape of rocky cliffs, waterfalls, and deep green grasslands. It's a rural area where houses are spread apart by miles and miles, and I wonder how people survive so isolated from society and each other. Mom and I are looking for a particular peak to climb - one that boasts a beautiful Buddhist temple on its summit. We can't seem to find it, though we do find one breathtaking mountain that is made entirely of waterfalls.
. . .
I'm in New York City in the 1920's. I only have a day to experience all the sights, which is a challenge given I have to push Hannah in her stroller everywhere. Mom suggests we try Zonkos candy shop, so we do. There's a little train that chugs around the room, delivering homemade hot chocolate to all the browsing customers. We go to the counter to order our hot chocolate, and there are 10 different flavors. Marshmallow and chocolate, caramel and chocolate, cinnamon and chocolate . . . I can't decide what I want. Mom has already tried half of them, and tells me which ones are tasty and which aren't. I go for the cinnamon.

I leave the candy store and realize it's turned cold outside, so I pull out Hannah's coat and put it on her, then put mine on as well. When I button up the coat it feels extremely tight, and makes me look busty and sultry. I'm worried about walking the streets of New York looking like this, but it's so cold I don't dare not wear it. I'm waiting in line to get on the subway, and a lady next to me eyes me up and down and asks for a sip of water from my Nalgene bottle. I'm afraid she's going to mug me, but all she wants is water. Just a drink.

4/26/10
In a Catholic Easter mass. Altar servers are serving everyone coffee during communion so we can stay awake for the remainder of the service. A woman next to me who looks like Charlize Theron says she would like a saucer with her cup. The altar servers are annoyed and offended that she would ask such a thing. She just blinks, prettily, and says "chop chop!"

After mass we discuss how long the service was. A nun overhears our conversation and says this was a short Easter mass - when she was a little girl it would last all day and all night. I try to add my two cents to the conversation and say that the Litany of the Saints alone can take 2 hours. She looks at me like I'm an idiot.
. . .
I'm climbing a mountain that's been so commercialized with cement trails and obnoxious gift shops that you can climb the entire mountain indoors and forget you're even on a mountain. The insides of the buildings are cement and cold. There's a skate park in one of them, and as I'm hiking I'm afraid of having my fingers run over by some careless skateboarder. When I leave the last building and finally get to see the mountain before the summit, there's a track team just finishing a race. A group of girls are crossing the finish line in a dead sprint, hardly looking winded. They've just run up the entire trail (apparently there's another, prettier, outdoor trail I wasn't aware of) - a distance more than a marathon. One girl says to her coach that she finished in 240 minutes, and he says that's a new record. I look at these athletes and consider how tired I am just from hiking - indoors, no less - and I decide I don't deserve to summit today after all. Resigned, I turn around and return to the cement building.
. . .
It's my 9th birthday. Instead of going through the hassle of buying everyone party favors, my mom takes us to a fancy chocolate shop (what's with all the chocolate dreams??) and says we can pick out a couple things for ourselves. There are dozens of booths and counters with different delicacies - chocolate covered fruits and nuts, chocolate covered popcorn, chocolate covered chili peppers, chocolate covered pretzels - not the little ones but the the big soft kind . . .  It seems like a pricey place, and being the thoughtful 9-year-old that I am, I ask my mom how much she spent for this little outing, and she tells me, "Oh, about $250." I do some rough calculating and decide this doesn't sound like such a hefty price, until she adds "per booth."

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Friday, April 23, 2010

Lessons in Girlhood


Growing and helping other things grow is dizzying work. When the world is spinning and you don't know which way is up, don't be afraid ask for help.


. . . and don't stop trying to get it right.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Greek Spinach and Cheese Pie (Spanakopita)

In light of that last post I figured a little recipe-sharing was in order. :) I made this for my family the other night with pilaf and veggie kabobs, which I'll also post recipes for. Mom found a vegetarian "Joy of Cooking" cookbook at a used book store, and I've been drooling over this recipe ever since. I LOVE Greek food with all of its spinach, feta and kalamata olives. Not a lot of Greek cooking is vegetarian though ("He don't eat no MEAT?!?! Ok, I cook lamb!"), so finding recipes can be tricky!

Keep in mind that "vegetarian" does not always mean "low fat," and even though you might want to stuff your face with this entire spinach pie, it does include an entire stick of butter, so tread lightly. :)

Greek Spinach and Cheese Pie (Spanakopita)
Makes about thirty 2-inch squares or diamonds. Ahem, or sixteen 3-inch ones. :)

2 pounds (or three 10-ounce bags) fresh spinach, washed, stemmed, and coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
4 scallions, finely chopped
1/4 cup snipped fresh dill or chopped fresh parsley
4 large eggs
8 ounces feta cheese, crumbled
2 tablespoons grated kefalotiri Greek cheese or Parmesan cheese
1/2 teaspoon salt
several grinds of black pepper
Pinch of freshly grated or ground nutmeg
8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter, melted
1 pound phyllo dough*, thawed if frozen

*I bought a 1-lb box of phyllo, and only ended up using half of it, so maybe this should call for 1/2 a pound, and the other half can be for baklava!

Working with Phyllo: "Phyllo, literally meaning leaf in Greek, is available frozen in most grocery stores or fresh from Greek and Middle Eastern bakeries. It is essential to keep the thin sheets from drying out. If using frozen phyllo, thaw it slowly, without unwrapping, in the refrigerator for several hours or overnight. Once it is thawed, unwrap the phyllo and remove only the number of sheets required for the recipe; re-wrap the remaining sheets in plastic wrap and return to the refrigerator or freezer." - Joy of Cooking: All About Vegetarian Cooking

Directions:
Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onion and scallions and cook until softened, 5 to 7 minutes. Add the chopped spinach a handful at a time. Cook until the spinach is wilted and the liquid is released, 5 minutes. Increase the heat to high and cook, stirring often, until the liquid is evaporated and the spinach is dry, 7 to 10 minutes. Stir in the dill or chopped parsley. Let stand until cool enough to handle, then squeeze to remove the excess liquid.

In a medium bowl, lightly beat 4 large eggs. Add the cooked spinach mixture with feta cheese, grated Greek or Parmesan cheese, salt, black pepper and nutmeg. Mix gently.

Lightly oil a 13x9-inch baking pan. Melt butter. Unroll phyllo dough on a dry work surface (be very careful, it's sooooo easy to tear!). Lay 1 sheet of phyllo in and up the sides of the prepared pan and brush lightly with melted butter. Top with 7 more phyllo sheets, brushing each one lightly with butter. Spread the spinach mixture over the layered phyllo. Top with 8 more sheets, brushing each one with butter, including the top sheet. Roll the overhanging phyllo from the sides to form a border all the way around. With a thin, sharp knife, cut the pie into squares or diamonds, but do not cut through the bottom or the filling will leak onto the pan. Refrigerated for 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Bake the spinach pie until crisp and golden, about 45 minutes (check after 30 minutes - if the edges are getting too brown you can cover them with foil). Remove from the oven and let stand for a few minutes. Cut the squares or diamonds right through to the bottom and serve.
. . . and serve, and serve and serve . . .

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The questions worth asking

I've said several times that I feel like I'm on the "brink" of something - like I'm at some crossroads where I have to decide what I'm going to do with the rest of my life, and I've felt stuck in this place for . . . I don't know, ever. I don't know how I got here, or if it's even a real place to begin with. Maybe this brink is just a big waiting room we have to learn to get out of - a place of apathy and denial where the next step seems impossible and "life" has yet to begin. But it has begun. This is it. This is life, the clock is ticking, and the magazine rack in the waiting room can only keep you happy and distracted for so long.

How very adept I've become at stomping on my dreams before they've taken shape. Whenever I imagine life as professional musician, owning my own music school, becoming a world class chef, or writing a book, insecurity and doubt choke my creativity, and my pie in the sky is shoved aside for what I believe to be "reality." Lack of money. Lack of education. Lack of talent. Lack of childcare. Lack of drive. That same insecurity saps my energy and ambition, leaving me feeling old, alone and washed up. Pathetic. How did I become so jaded at the tender age of 26? I should be flexing my romantic muscles more than ever and giving my heart some room to breathe without reigning it in with shouts of "get real!" and "in your dreams!" and "I can't do that!" What might I accomplish if I chose, instead, to ask these questions:

What if?

Why not?


After reading my blog for a while, my brother said to me "you know what? Screw getting another music degree. Why not become a chef? It's obviously something you enjoy." He said he knew someone-who-knew-someone involved in casting a show for amateur cooks, and that he could hook me up with his contact information if I was interested. A couple weeks later he tagged me in a photo. It was the casting call for Gordon Ramsey's show "Masterchef." Cue little horned doubtful voice:

Get real. Do you even know how to cook? I mean REALLY cook? You like new recipes, but are you really creative enough to improvise or compete? And who's going to watch Hannah?


I kind of joked with Mark, saying something dumb like "Haha, no way. I don't have the balls for this."

But . . . what if I did?

What if I contacted the producer and told him about myself? I'd say I'm just starting out, but that I really love vegetarian cooking, and I would ask if he needed someone like me on one of his shows. What if he said yes? What if he gave me a phone number for the casting director, who then told me to come prepared to make five dishes for my "audition?" I would do it. I wouldn't know what to make - black bean burgers, potatoes with curry and mustard seeds, vegetarian lasagna, spinach pie, lentil curry, Persian Basmati pilaf, vegetarian chili? I'd dig out my best recipes and practice them for as many people as possible, asking them to taste and critique my cooking while I feverishly took notes for next time. I'd cook every day, learn new recipes, acquire new techniques, all while feeding the hungry!

If you give a mouse a cookie, he's going to ask for a glass of milk . . . After cooking so much, I'll notice how dull my knives are, and I'll go out and buy new knives, and maybe a fancy garlic press or lemon juicer. A food processor, too. Pots and pans that cook things the way they're meant to be cooked - no teflon that flakes, saps flavor and turns out steamed rather than pan-seared vegetables. I'd experiment with every whole food I can find - get to know the character and taste of each one. Make my own sprouts from mung beans, broccoli seeds and wheat berries. Practice cooking with fine wines. Try every dry bean and lentil . . . exotic grains like quinoa and amaranth . . . tomatillos, every kind of pepper, tropical fruit, dried fruits . . . and spices. I would go to The Spice House and spend a small fortune on whole, organic spices from India, and a mortar and pestle to grind them. Cumin seeds. turmeric root. Whole nutmeg, chai, cloves, multicolored peppercorns, vanilla beans . . . I'd learn how to make my own chili powder from fresh chilis. Grow fresh dill, basil, oregano, rosemary, and thyme, and dry them when their abundance is too great for use.

After practicing my recipes, and probably finding a few hundred new ones along the way, I would go to my audition. I'd walk into the kitchen with confidence and cook for these directors, tell them my food story. I'd expound my views on whole foods and vegetarian cooking, how I think it's a lifestyle change that could reverse the path of destruction American food culture has left our youngest generations to face . . .

And what if they liked what they heard and tasted, and asked me to be on the show? What if they said filming would only take a few hours a day, and that they would provide on-set childcare for Hannah? Not only that, but what if they provided Hannah with a fun, stimulating and educational experience that I might not have been able to give her myself, all while I'm cooking my butt off for Gordon Ramsay? What if I won the competition? Got my own cooking show? Even if I lost, what if I opened a restaurant and the publicity from the show brought people from all over the the area?

I'm not saying I want to go out and become a chef, all I'm saying is: what if?

And why not?

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Getting Sketchy

I've always envied artists who carry sketch pads and charcoal with them wherever they go. Their world is completely foreign to me. In my mind they are the silent observers of life, peering through tortoise shell rimmed glasses in smokey coffee shop corners, watching . . . capturing. They buy unlined journals because their minds are not linear. They sketch multilayered stories of their communion with the world, and we the audience can only guess their meaning, so mystically personal is the world they see.

I often wish others could just see a child, a bird, a dusty old book, a worn out pair of shoes, a gesture . . . the way I see them. But I'm afraid that while my hands are comfortable on a piano keyboard, they are awkward adolescents with a pencil. Not only do they not know what motions to make, but I can't "see" the animal I'm trying to sketch before pencil touches paper. My most telling experience was in Japan, playing Pictionary with some students. I was drawing a cat, and in that moment forgot what a cat even looked like. My kids were puzzled.

"Eh? Nani? Rabbito deska?"

I've never had a knack for the visual arts. Music and words have usually served my expressive purposes. But I've always wanted to learn how to draw.

So that's what I'm doing.

I'd like to learn how to paint some day, too, and walk around town in my paint-drizzled bandanna and overalls smelling of lacquer and saw dust . . . but first things first. Learn how to draw, Suz. Hannah's learning animal names right now, so I thought animals would be a good place to start. Plus I want to improve my Pictionary game. I mean, this is where I'm starting:




Like how I labeled them, so you'd know what they were? No, these drawings are not from grade school. I'm ashamed to say I drew these animals three weeks ago. Yeah. It's that bad. Definitely not something that comes naturally to me. At. All.

So, after Hannah's story time at the library one Tuesday I decided to browse the art section to see if there was anything to help me get started. I was extremely self conscious, and more than once found myself looking around to make sure no one knew what I was up to. I got even MORE paranoid when my search led me to the children section of the library, where there was a whole series of "Draw 50 _____" books by Lee J. Ames. Cars, dinosaurs, people, flowers, foods, trees, dragons . . . I could learn to draw 50 anything! Crouched behind the bookshelf I thumbed through these little treasures with their torn pages and broken bindings. A lot of the pictures were traced over with crayon and colored pencil. I imagined some 7 year old kid turning each page, thinking, like I was, how great it would be to learn to draw all 50, and practicing every day until he returned the book to the library, a little more love written in its pages than before. I said a prayer for that little boy as I walked away with "Draw 50 animals" tucked under my arm. Maybe he was in college now, drawing comic strips for the university paper, or designing an urban layout for the future of this small town. I wondered if, for him, this book was the beginning of a beautiful relationship with art, and hoped that it might be for me, too. Still nervous, I checked over my shoulder at the check-out desk. I felt like I was buying a pregnancy test, afraid that anyone I might know might look at my wares and say "my my, what do we have here?" Nothing. Just a test. Just trying it out.

"Ok, this will be due on April 13th!"

Two weeks. That was how much time I'd give myself to learn how to draw not 50 but ONE recognizable animal. It was a test. Just a test.

I bought myself a sketch pad and a set of graphite pencils, took the bag home with my library books, and in my nervous excitement stuffed them in a corner of the living room where no one would see them. When I had a quiet moment to myself that didn't entail reading, writing or passing out from the exhausting work that is keeping a 2-year-old alive, I sat in that corner, admiring the textured drawing paper in my sketch pad, sharpening my new pencils while inhaling their woody scent, and pouring over "Draw 50 Animals" with all kinds of lofty ideas in my head. What if I learn how to draw the animals that live in my back yard . . . all those deer, squirrels and cardinals whose simple beauty take my breath away? What if I could finally capture my rolling Kansas hills, my delicate red buds, my dusty wooden barns, using nothing but these pencils? What if I could draw a portrait of my perfect daughter?

The book wasn't in any particular order - no beginning, intermediate or advanced drawings. So I chose a cow. I knew it was something Hannah would like (and I'm always looking for her praise - the extra encouragement is a real boost), and my cow was probably my worst drawing, looking like a mix between a capybara and a throw pillow. Now, I'm aware that my cat also looks like a bowling pin, my dog like a transvestite centaur and my bird like a flying peanut, but I also really liked the drawing in the book - the lines of this particular cow caught my eye and made me think, "Wow. This really is a beautiful creature." So here is my first attempt at a non-throw-pillow-looking cow:

Unless you know more about cows than I (and you most likely do), you might be thinking "wait, female cows can't have horns!" Yes they most certainly can. And do. So there.

Here's what I learned:
1. To avoid making nasty grooves in the paper and using up an entire eraser on one drawing, use a lighter touch with the pencil, especially in the first few strokes of your drawing.
2. That everything you draw, no matter how complex, can be broken into very simple shapes, and that it's good to figure out what shapes your subject contains before beginning your sketch. This cow started as a rectangle and a sort of cone - something I can wrap my art-handicapped mind around.
3. That hooves are unbelievably difficult to draw, especially when there are four of them that must look like they are all from the same animal. I still haven't figured them out, as you can probably see. What a beautiful complexity is the cow hoof! Needless to say, I did NOT choose a hoofed animal as my second subject.
4. That female cows can have horns.

I knew the ultimate test would be whether or not Hannah recognized my drawing. Children are wildly astute when it comes to facial recognition! In fact, that's how they are able tell animals apart - cows from horses and capybaras, cats from dogs and bowling pins . . . it's also how they make connections between cartoons and coloring pages and real, live animals. A few times Hannah has mixed up cows and horses in her coloring books, and I didn't really blame her because the drawings weren't very good. But she knows when a cow is clearly a cow, so I was actually a little nervous when I showed her my sketch. I held my breath while opening my sketch book to the cow . . .

"Cow! Moo!"

Success!

. . . and then I drew a snail, because hello? How cool are snails? Sketching this snail was surprisingly soothing - not at all the stress of hoof-drawing. Something about the pattern of lines and shading on the shell calmed my nerves that night. I was a little sad to say goodbye to this little guy when I finished him. He definitely won't be my last snail.


Stay tuned for more sketches. I'm going to try to post some every Tuesday. Oh, and I like comments. Just in case anyone was wondering . . . :D

Monday, April 19, 2010

Mr. Sandman

First, I want to bring your ^ attention to that little Easter egg up there. The one that says "365 Photos." See it? That's all I'm going to say. :)

And now, more from the sandman . . .

4/13/2010
I live in a Walmart with my family and several other people I haven't seen in years - theater acquaintances, mostly. Mom and I stay up late watching a movie that turns out to be too loud, and it wakes everyone in the toy section - my family in particular. We all get up and eat a meal in the middle of the night.

I'm getting ready for some event and can't find the right thing to wear. I choose a T-shirt and jeans, so it isn't a formal event. A school bus is our transportation. I leave Hannah with a woman named Tina, who I knew 13 years ago in the show "Jesus Christ Superstar." She's bathing Hannah in the Walmart bathroom when I leave, commenting on the nice lavender towels we picked out for her.

There are creatures outside that we do not speak of, but they are the reason we stay in at night. They lurk around the house (my parents' house?), waiting to kill whoever should wander too far from home. Wolves or bears, but smart ones that talk. It seems they are misunderstood - to them their purpose is pure. They are protecting us from something even worse - ourselves.

4/14/10
I wake up from a deep sleep and crawl to the computer. I can't open my eyes and I can't tell if I'm awake or asleep, but I feel so heavy, like a weight is pulling me to the ground, like gravity is stronger for a day. I have the urge to take a million microscopic plugs and close off my pores, so afraid am I that my soul will melt and seep out of my body from the heavy pull of gravity. The plugs are multicolored, so when I'm done plugging my pores I look like a Light Bright. Someone comments that clogging my pores is bad for me. I tell them they're wrong, to just look at the healthy glow of my skin. I do all of this kneeling in front of the computer, wondering what to write next.

4/19/10
I'm making plans with a girlfriend to travel to a nearby island for a girls' day out. We don't have a car to get to the ferry port, so I suggest we ride our bikes. She gives me a long speech about how she is against bikes. Something she says irks me so much that we part ways. She walks home, and I ride my bike to the ferry port, where I meet up with three other girls who are going to the island. They say they're going there for drugs and "to achieve an altered state of consciousness." Not what I really had in mind, but I go along with them.

We take the ferry across. The island is sandy with an ancient feeling - like India. We shop around the market place for a while before going to this "hippy convention." Before entering the small stadium we have to take off our shoes and are given pipes of some unknown substance to smoke. I sit down and find Hans sitting next to me. He's already high. The service begins with a monk giving a benediction or opening prayer. It's in a language I don't recognize. Then the monk begins his sermon. In the middle of it Hans raises his hands and asks if he might share something he learned with everyone. The monk looks a little taken aback at his effrontery, but nods his head. I duck low in my seat to hide my embarrassment as Hans begins to sing a kind of Buddhist chant that is supposed to praise god and bring enlightenment. The monk looks impressed, and begins to sing along. So does everyone in the stadium. It's a song everyone knows but me, and they sing louder and louder. Strange exotic instruments join the singing, and the music is chaotic but prayerful. I look over to my left and there's a glass recording studio, inside of which is a band performing this same chant, but a hipper, rocked-out version of it. Everyone is happy and high, and seems to understand the meaning of the song. I just feel lost.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Sisters

Well, my sister is moving. She's spent every day this week at the new house, sanding, priming, painting, directing traffic for new windows and hardwood floors. It's fun seeing Amy in her element again - interior decorating and ruling her own roost. I haven't seen her this happy since I've been here. The stress of house hunting is a roller coaster I've not ridden, but I can feel she's finally seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. I can see it too, glowing on her smiling face. It's a beautiful thing to behold.
Living in a house with this many people has its challenges. Heads butt, tempers flare, TV remotes get lost, internet slows, and nerves frazzle. There are a lot of big personalities in my family. I don't mean mean big as in flashy, flamboyant, or even wanting attention (with the exception of me, of course). I mean commanding, leading personalities. Too many chiefs and not enough Indians. I don't know how we came to be this family of introverts (with the exception of me, of course), who, when they do decide to speak do so with a voice of authority that resents being questioned. Maybe it's the military's influence. We're all experts in something, be it grammar, music, law or childcare. And woe unto the person who disagrees!

My sister and I are no different. I can't say I'm not a little jealous of her recent good fortune, and she'd probably say she's a little jealous of aspects of my life. Jealousy is a funny little thing. Contrary to what we might think, it is never one-sided. Opportunity, exceptionalism, and greener grasses have come between us more than once in our adulthood. So have differing opinions and an inability to courteously disagree. In the end we're sisters, and we love each other, but dammit if we don't want to just . . . grrrr sometimes, you know? :)

She is the conservative but bold, independent and headstrong first child who took control of her life at 18, and hasn't relinquished that control since. Botanist. Airborne Army officer. Mother of two healthy, rambunctious boys. She moved to the East coast and for 20 years never looked back. 12 years after Amy there was me - the "eccentric" baby sister. Awkward late bloomer, loud-mouthed, also headstrong, attention grabbing dramatic performer who spent a majority of her childhood with no other children in the house. I was six years old when Amy left home. For the most part our relationship has been long distance, and I see now why that might have been a blessing in disguise. Our lives have been so different, you'd swear we were born to different parents. Their life and philosophy were bound to change in the 12 years' difference between us. I might not recognize the people they were when Amy was born, and when she heard through phone calls and emails of the way I was being raised, she didn't recognize them either. In her exasperation she even told my mom that they got it right with her, it was me they were screwing up!
But I digress. "Two roads diverged in a yellow wood," and we each took a different path, admiring the other from afar. And what should happen now but the merging of those two roads . . . and here we are, dividing chores, raising our children in the same house, cooking meals together, laughing, bickering, trying not to to step on each others' toes when we're both so used to having our own space . . . I have to believe this experience is cultivating something good and important in us that might have laid dormant without the other sister . . . she the oldest learning how to let go of some control and responsibility, and me the youngest learning how to take some. Now that she's moving, it seems as though our roads have just crisscrossed for a time, giving us the rare opportunity to see each other close up and appreciate the day-to-day beauty and frustrations we don't usually witness, so accustomed are we to snap shots and status updates. Maybe our paths are destined to do this for the rest of our lives, meandering beside each other, to and fro, reconnecting and breaking apart. She might grow roots in Kansas now, but my own meandering has just begun. Whatever our destiny, whatever our paths, my life will always be richer for those crossings, that small but magnificent touch of sisterhood that distance and time cannot sever.

Love you, Sis.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

I Will Follow You

I've been blogging for two years now, seeing my my life as a series of "bloggable" and "not bloggable" events and trying my best to write well, write honestly, and write fast. My reasons for blogging have been part social, part chronicle, and part therapeutic. Sometimes this is the only adult communication I have in a given day. With 9 people living in this house those days are few and far between now, but they do still happen. 2 years of doing this, and it wasn't until recently that I really started looking around at other bloggers except for a few close friends. I do this a lot in life. I join groups and get so absorbed in the part I must play in them that I forget to look around - really look at people's faces - and see the humanity that surrounds me. I do this in theater, music, school, work, and even living in a house full of family I haven't lived with in 6 years or more. I don't know if I'm really self-absorbed, have a one-track mind, or if I'm just worried that I won't do a perfect bang-up job of whatever it is I'm doing. I just lose sight sometimes. My peripheral vision blacks out, and I forget that I am surrounded by other beating hearts. It's so refreshing and such a relief to finally look around and see others struggling, celebrating and cataloging this crazy life we lead. I'd like to shout out to all of you fellow bloggers - both the ones who know me and the ones who don't, but whose blogs nonetheless add savor to my morning cup of coffee. You inspire me to keep writing, though I know I'm not great at it. I know I don't comment half as often as I should or would like, but I hear you. All of you. And I really appreciate the time you spend communicating with the world. I'm trying harder to see you, to cheer you on, laugh with you, cry with you, love and hate the things you say . . . I'll follow you to through all the dark and light places you lead me, and I hope you'll do the same. After all, that's what we're here for, right?

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Heh heh, hee hee, hoooowoops!

I totally do this.
And I'll probably never stop.

You know you want some.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Monday, April 12, 2010

By Popular Demand (seriously?)

Keep in mind these are always written when I'm half asleep. :)

Dream:

I'm a part of some reality show - one where eliminations are made based on personality, lack of preparedness, and other factors that no one really understands. There is a black man who is usually the best swimmer of all of us. He has suddenly lost the ability to hold his breath underwater. A blonde woman is coaching him - trying to diagnose the problem. She is one of the people to beat - always thinking ahead to the next challenge, finding a way to make her case look good. She hides frozen pizzas in the freezer, along with most of her belongings. That's how she's able to travel so light, I think. In reality she is a shopoholic - which, if the judges found out, would get her booted off the show. But they won't find out. She's just that good at the game. She figures out what the black man's problem is. He's gay, and he's so in love with her he can hardly breathe. After this revelation, we expect this man will be eliminated soon.

I'm in a gift shop in a small Bavarian town. I only have 20 dollars to survive on, but that doesn't stop me from picking up a few sweets, intending to give them to a friend as a gift. A rich Asian girl walks into the shop and buys everything I was about to buy, plus a beautiful (expensive) bag to put them in. She has everything gift wrapped, then gives the gift to the person I had intended them for - a girl who I was fast becoming friends with. It was a huge blow to my confidence, and an obvious slap in the face. I didn't stand a chance against this girl.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Yum.

I want to eat this three times a day.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Two

The video's a bit long, but I figure 10 minutes is no time at all to anyone who wanted to watch it in the first place. Also, I'm forgoing the accompanying sappy love blog, because who needs words when you have a thousand pictures!




Happy belated birthday, little girl.

Love,

Mama

music credits:
The Temper Trap - "Sweet Disposition"
Animal Collective - "My Girls"

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

A Bolder Bang

At least bold for me. A little shorter. Chunkier. A little less "he he . . . bangs?" and a little more " Ha Ha! Yeah baby! BANGS!" But in the end, under these bangs is still one giant nerd.

. . . who should never be left alone with a camera.

A Day at the Farm with Dada

*Sniff Sniff." Our little boy is growing up!


. . . and I think he needs new overalls.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Learning to spit

It's not a skill I thought I'd have to teach her. I thought it came naturally to little mischief-makers. Perhaps she's just too polite for her own good.

When your kid turns two, you're supposed to switch her toothpaste to the fluoridated kind, which also means she shouldn't be swallowing her toothpaste any more. We practiced spitting in the shower, gaping our spitters under the shower head until sufficiently filled, then seeing how far we could spray mouthfuls of tepid water across the shower. 10 points for hitting the door (the shower's only 3x3 feet to begin with - baby steps, right?)

She got pretty good and after shower, in my over-confidence, I slathered that flouridated Disney princess toothpaste onto her Hello Kitty toothbrush, knowing that after her 50-point score in the shower my wee genius would catch on. She stood on her stool by the sink and allowed me to brush her teeth, humming all the while. Then we leaned over the sink to spit. "Ready? Peh!" I said, trying to find the right sound to demonstrate what I wanted her to do.

"Peh!" she yells, thinking this is a fun little game. Nothing comes out. Apparently Disney princess toothpaste became her favorite food overnight. We go back and forth this way for 5 minutes.

"Pah!"

"Ptoo!"

"Ptooey!"

"Bleh!"

"Pfffffftoopt!"

A foamy loogey drips down her chin. Success! I clapped and shouted "yaaaaay! You did it!" as she grinned at me like a rabid gremlin. It's important to celebrate new victories with a toddler, however small those might be. Hannah, always watching and waiting for approval and praise, clapped with me triumphantly. As the excitement ebbed, her face changed to a twinkly look of concentration. A little tongue pokes out, feels around, tastes the foam, aaaaand . . .

Sluuuuuurp!

"Ahhhh! Oishii!"

I half expected her to kiss her fingertips and yell "Magnifique! Deliciuex! Encore!" Maybe we'll try brushing our teeth in the shower next time. That or buy some nastier toothpaste.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

What moms do

Our neighbors have three large dogs, one of which behaves as though he likes to eat small children for breakfast. Bear Bear is his name. Coincidentally, we have three small children living under one roof, across the street from these dogs. A few weeks ago my nephews were playing outside in the driveway, and Bear Bear, unleashed and unattended, came over and growled with teeth bared and hackles raised at my nephew Ethan. Luckily Ethan was armed with a mighty fine stick, and was smart enough to be firm with Bear Bear and yell at him to "get back." This not being our first incident with Bear Bear coming into the yard unleashed, and having warned our neighbors several times that they need to keep him on a leash, we called the cops, and Bear Bear was taken away by the pound until our neighbor agreed to build a proper pen in which to keep their Kujo-lookalike dog. After building a pen and placing NO TRESPASSING and BEWARE OF DOG signs on every square foot of land they had, Bear Bear the dog returned to the neighborhood, and the only thing now separating his teeth from the small, tasty hands and faces of the neighborhood children is a chain-linked fence and a few warning signs the children can't read.

I had spent a lot of today in the sun (woo hoo! sun!), and consequently had a massive headache from dehydration. Before dinner we had an hour+ long seder ceremony for Passover (thanks, Mom. I know you put a lot of work into that) that didn't bode well for my throbbing head. Not only are you supposed to drink 4 glasses (in my case, sips) of wine during a seder meal, you also dip almost everything you eat in salt water. The kids had a hard time sitting still for all the Old Testament readings and eating of bitter herbs. Our Passover grew more and more chaotic as the kids lost patience and began to wander in and out of the room, hungry (bitter herbs can only fill you up so much), restless and wanting to play in the last few minutes of sunlight this beautiful day had to offer.

So after a long, LONG meal of horseshitradish and charosett, it's FINALLY quiet and I'm laying on the couch, and wait . . it's finally quiet? WTF? Who am I kidding? Where are the kids? Where's Hannah?

Truth be told, Hannah had recently discovered the invigorating feeling of opening the front door and walking out whenever she feels like it, and unbeknownst to any of the adults inside or the children outside, she felt like it. My little banana walked, barefoot and unnoticed, ACROSS the street to our neighbor's house. It took a couple minutes for me to even consider that she might be outside, because hello! She's just a baby! There's no way she'd go out there by herself. It's too scary, isn't it? . . . . ISN'T IT?!

My stomach lurched. I got up and opened the front door. "Han-nah!" I shouted. Her favorite word in the whole, wide world. The only word that could possibly bring her back to me. Silence. Then, a faint echo - much, much too far away for comfort.

"Han-nah!"

In two seconds I was across the street. Bare feet. Headache gone. Scared radish-less. And there she was, dancing on her toes between NO TRESPASSING and BEWARE OF DOG. Between parked cars and Bear Bear's pen. Between Alive and Eaten.

"Doog! Wan Wan!" she said, pointing and stomping with glee.

I had no words. Nothing I could say to impress upon her how very dangerous that "doog" was, or how she was never, ever to do that again. My tongue was suddenly too big for my mouth, and the only sound I could make was this awkward mix of a choke and a laugh. I imagine it sounded something like "Heehykugarp!" I snatched her into my arms and ran across the street, pressing her sweaty little head into my chest, trying to push her back inside my body where at least she'd be safe - no Bear Bears or open doors to tempt her to destruction.

When we reached the front door of my parents' house, I finally pulled away to look at her. She was still smiling. Still gleeful. Still innocent and unaware.

"Hannah, No, No NO."

Her smile froze. She stared at my face, her eyes shiny golden-brown nuts of question and confusion.

"No, No, NO. You can't go over there. That dog is mean. It can bite you. That's ouchy. No, Hannah."

Her face crumbled with betrayal and despair, golden nutty eyes floating in pools of tears. I wanted to hold her. To cry with her and tell her it was ok, it really wasn't that big of a deal. But that's not what a good mom does, and if ever there were a time to be a good mom, this was it.

"You're going to sit in time out now. Think about it for a little while. You need to tell Mama when you want to go outside, ok? No going to see the dogs, ok?"

I sat my sad little girl down on a stool in the living room, and as I did she held her arms out to me in supplication, earnest eyes asking, begging. I turned slowly and walked out of the room, and just outside the doorway I began to cry. It was one of those mouth-gaping, chest heaving, silent cries - the kind you hope no one ever has to witness. That moment of "why?" and "how could I let this happen?" and "what if . . . " is, I think, the most earthshaking feeling a mother can have. In that moment, the need to keep yourself together, to be strong for your child, has an intimate but fierce battle with alternating terror and relief that can't help but express itself in a human who has pushed another little human into existence.

"Hannah?"
"Hannah?"
"I love you. Come here."

2 minutes of grief - with a 2-year-old that's all you get before it's time to go back in the room and repair what might have been bruised along the way. Because that's what moms do. They try their best to protect their little ones, and when they fail they work through the grief, patching up the broken pieces as they do. In the end they hope they've handled the situation wisely, with a small measure of patience and grace. In the end they hope they've found balance between innocence-preservation and self-preservation. In the end they hope they've done more good than harm. It's a fine line, but in the end, I think we do.