Sunday, November 29, 2009

Umbria, Part 3

At The Molino:

This is rather like indoor camping. A dribble of hot water, a constant draft, a fire. Cooking on gas, tiny refrigerator, no cupboards. Bed very cot-like. The sound of the stream outside, the waterfall. This morning a fisherman stood hip-boot-high middle of the torrenti with a retractable pole, casting. Fishing season opened today (or yesterday) and apparently there is some life in this stream. The mailman drives by and honks; I don’t know why. It’s pretty quiet here, the end of the road about a mile and a half uphill, maybe a half dozen farms up the road. Peered in through the laundry room at the ancient millworks, the date “1767” carved into a stone.

At the antiques market, Arezzo: things, pieces of things,

pieces of pieces of things:

armoires, WWII army helmets, 19th century botanical prints,

a bar of hotel soap with the Porsche logo, dentist tools,

prosthetic glass eyes, iron candlesticks, rakes & brooms,

rope by the meter, tablecloths, doilies, embroidered napkins,

seventies-handbags, boots & shoes, hand-carved chairs,

dining tables, books, wooden pieces of old buildings

(window frames, mouldings, door panels, lintels),

ceramic jugs, tea cups, sets of silverware in ornate cases,

a stethoscope, mosaic tiles, oil portraits of anonymous

dowagers, mirrors, hand-knitted hats & gloves,

sets of china, rhinestone broaches – all existing

in a chilled fog, the threat of rain, street after cobbled street.

Endangered Blogging

There has been talk out there in the material world
as well as the blogosphere about the coming extinction
of blogging. Apparently, it's sooooo last year, last decade,
I don't know. Passe, I suppose. But the alternatives are
what -- facebook? Twitter? 140 characters? Not a chance.
I do enjoy facebook -- I see it kind of like flitting
in-and-out at a party, dropping a few lines (of conversation!)
here and there; and twitter, well, call me old but I just
cannot and will not go there. But a blog is a lot like having
your own daily newspaper column, with regular readers.
Room to spread out, really express yourself, get creative.
It's a way to create a global community, and I am completely
enamored of it. I'm here for the long run. Stay tuned.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Etymological Ouch

As a rule I tend not to mention ailing body parts
either in public or on my blog, because it's boring
and no one wants to hear about your herniated/
abscessed/sutured/festering-disc/earlobe/ follicle/
(Except for teeth: I make this one exception.)
But I intend to violate this commandment Right Now
only because I object to the idiom used to describe
this particular condition.

So: "I've thrown my back out," which implies
an act of intent on my part, as if I've plucked out
the converse side of my torso and tossed it into
the garbage bin. (Or would that be more correctly
tossed into the food waste bin? That's a difficult one.
Don't know if anyone would want to spread composted
human back on their lettuce beds. [Eww.])

We discussed this at the Thanksgiving table, and came
to a conclusion that the phrase most likely originates in
baseball lingo, ie., the pitcher threw his shoulder out.
Voluntarily? Not necessarily, but as there is a significant
paycheck involved in the Act of Throwing Out, one
could argue that because of the monetary incentive,
a pitcher is willing to risk the throwing-out, is aware
of its possibility, therefore some degree of intent
is involved.

I must vehemently assert that there was not an iota
of intent on my part, and absolutely zero financial
incentive. Therefore, I did not throw my back out.
It was the sole decision of my back to contort itself
into this twisted version of hell which it has deemed
to visit upon me. But I would like nothing more
at this moment to wrench it from its skin sheath
and toss it -- bones & all -- into a fire of my own making.

And here's the theme song!
(Substitute the word hurting for watching.)
Cheers! Vicodin!

Thursday, November 26, 2009


I heard the eagle's piercing cry this morning as I lay in bed,
contemplating plating & pickles (my homemade 911 dills
debut today). I listened to the insistent rain,
and the steady stream from overflowing gutters.
And a cat nicknamed "Marble" purring up her own
gentle storm directly into my face, which translates to

This is my favorite feast of the year, the only requirement
that we acknowledge the abundance of the moment.
Food is such an ephemeral pleasure; but, then again,
which pleasure is not ephemeral? It all passes.
I'm reminded of a dinner of, oh, perhaps ten years ago,
to celebrate the simultaneous birthdays
of my mother-in-law and another friend.
High in the Belltown condo of Seattle arts VIP
Peter Donnelly, with breath-taking views
of the December lights of Elliott Bay, we tippled, indulged
and made a heck of a lot of merry. I recall a humble
yet sumptuous chicken pot pie, which, as the years
have passed, has in my memory taken on the proportions
of Dickens' prized turkey --
"What, the one as big as me?" returned the boy.

Only eight of us remain from that grand evening.
But suspended in the joy of that moment, I had the sense
of the eternal and the ephemeral existing simultaneously,
the yin and yang of each second we experience.

This is what I wish to serve up
at the Thanksgiving table today.
Whatever your celebration, your feast, your observance --
acknowledge the ephemeral, honor the present,
and have yourself some damn good pie.
Because, as you well know, it's over all too soon.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Name! That! Child!

My friend Cz. works in a children's hospital, where she
has encountered numerous, er, shall I say, interesting
children's names. And because we share this fascination
of uncommon monikers she sent me this list:

9. (And no way is that Nine. It is 9. Be very clear on that,
and be mad mad mad parents if the naming program
does not provide a numeric option.)

She pointed out that Omahoney was not pronounced
Oh! muh Hoe Knee (or O'Mahoney, which was my edit)
but Oh! muh honey! With the last name of Doll.
Go ahead -- say it! Omahoney Doll! Yes!

Omygod! Or, rather, O'M'God! Or perhaps just OMG.


Sunday, November 22, 2009

Umbria, Continued

In a jet-lag haze……stopped in a hill town – Stimigliano -- and lunched on fresh pecorino (two weeks old) and ripe tomatoes, schiacciata ( a flattishbread) and proscuitto and apples. We were perched on some steps in a square, in front of a WWII memorial. An elderly woman came out her door carrying freshly ironed linens, saw that Robin was drinking some red wine, and started chattering to us in Italian. She retreated into her home, then came to the door with a label-less litre bottle of pale yellow substance. R. stood and attempted to converse in her limited Italian. The elderly woman again disappeared, then returned with a 750ml bottle filled with the same liquid substance. She walked down the steps to us, entreating us to partake. So we did. The bottle appeared tohave been well-used, and not often washed. There was a film of black mold justunder the lip, and a residue inside at the bottom. A middle-aged woman across the square, standing in front of the produce-vendor’s shop, burst into laughter upon viewing us. (Quite nearly derisory.) (Sean suggested that perhaps she was serving us her day’s supply of fresh urine….) Robin produced a trio of plastic cups,and the three of us – Sean, R. and myself – sampled the “vino.” It resembled home-brewed apple cider, but the woman kept insisting that it was made from grapes, not apples. (This with Robin translating.) Faintly effervescent, appley, unfiltered. Not exactly delicious. In her limited Italian, Robin asked the woman her age (82) and name – Guiseppa. We returned the undrunk portion to her, having no cork with which to stop the bottle, and, to tell the truth, not exactly thrilled with

the prospect of finishing our “gift.”

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Blue Heart

County Donegal, Ireland

Good Stuff

I just watched this over at Sandra's blog,
and absolutely had to post it. It's silly
and joyful and made me Laugh Out Loud:

Friday, November 20, 2009

In Umbria

In February of 2007, I spent two weeks with my friends
Robin & Sean and their two children in the hills of Umbria.
They were renting, for several months, a converted
mill-house. (Used for pressing olives.) I ran across
these journal entries and decided to post a few of them
until the muse (and the finger muscles) return.
Here's the first installment:

Pi and I hiked up the road this afternoon, daring the sun

to make an appearance. Few humans. Probably more dogs:

hunting dogs penned and barking, a chained Great Dane rattling

across his yard to us, teeth bared. A barnyard of ewes

and lambs, bumping into and stepping on top of each other.

Bleating, bleating. A coterie of doves. Rabbits in cages,

each with an inverted Fanta bottle tapped as water supply.

A friendly horse, a galloping donkey. A lonely apiary

on a hilltop, each painted a green the color of early lettuce,

each topped with an irregular lunk of concrete.

Waded through mud, watched some men on a far hillside

tend a burnpile of brush, the crackle & spit easily within

hearing distance. Wandered offroad and traced the edge

of the hillside above the Molino, looking for a switch-back

down, but relented when every trail seemed to veer

precipitously close to a certain death. Down, down the valley,

the stream tumbling below, past the menacing dogs,

past the donkey and the horse, past the two men in red

chainsawing young trees – a scarcity of firewood.

Down to the Molino, where a thin trail of smoke

promised a warm hearth, a cup of tea,

the comfort of Randy-the-cat on the lap.

The Molino.
Crazy busy week, lots of hours at my job
which results in very sore hands, so spending time
at my computer is not my activity of choice
at the end of the day! In spite of the digital distress,
blog entries swirl about my cranium all day long:
I'm storing them up for a, well, rainy stay-at-home day.

P.'s broken wing seems to be healing well -- no more pain,
although I did witness him scratching his cast/splint today.

I saw an original Theodore Geisel in a docs office today --
many many cats in hats! And I must say it's awfully nice
of me to enable him to purchase art.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Bones, Redux

When I was five, my sister Lorraine slammed
my right hand in the bathroom door, causing
most of my little finger to sever, save for
a thin slip of skin. I was wearing a green dress
which tied in back, and it was untied.
I remember a single shoe, but that might
be invented after many repeated recalls
of the incident. And then there was the
examining table at Renton Hospital, my mother
and father beside me. That's the extent
of the memory. The little finger on my right
hand sticks slightly out, and the joint tends
to get stuck when bending, but it's good
to still have an entire finger.

Karsten, a 23-year-old glass artist who
puts in a few days a week slogging glass
at the same place of employment as me,
said today that he suffered a fractured skull
at the tender age of eight days: he fell off
a clothes dryer. His mother was so completely
traumatized by this event that she lost all
her pregnancy-weight in a matter of days.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

In Praise of the Ordinary

I woke up this morning thinking about dishwashing.
The old-fashioned kind, by hand, in a sink.
So I'm going to confess that I've always rather liked
this chore (ahem, in moderation). The hot water
feels good, and if there is a window framing a garden,
I find it meditative. There's a reassuring routine to it
(and I can hear my mother's instructions here):
put the silverware in first, to soak, then begin
with the glassware, proceed to plates & small bowls,
then larger bowls, and then pots & pans. Sharp knives
are never set to soak -- too much risk of picking one up
unknowingly in soapy sudsy water. Finally, the
silverware, now easy after having soaked.

Believe it or not, back in my Two Tartes days, I had to
instruct new employees on the Art of Washing Dishes.
And I mean, from before step one:
-3) Clean out sink.
-2) Run hot water, add soap.
-1) Scrape chunks off dishes.
I was under the impression that, raised in the presence
of automatic dishwashing appliances, these kids had never
seen a pile of dirty dishes and a sinkful of suds. They would
approach the task with the speed of a sloth, and most
everything came out greasy or still chunk-studded.
So it was back to square, er, sink one.

When I became frustrated with their lack of progress
and the dirty dishes began to teeter and the clean
dishes were no more, I'd gently push the trainee
to the side and go into Power Wash. Generally,
everyone got out of my way when this happened.
Jaws dropped. I went into a reverie, the endorphins
began to flow in abundance, and in a matter of minutes
we were back in business.

It was a weird kind of high for me. (I've rarely had
any use for recreational drugs -- just set me in front
of a sink of dirty dishes, set the timer -- and wheeeee!)

(When my sons accuse me of weirdness, I thank them.)

In my childhood years of enforced house-chores, there
was always a pair of us sisters at the sink in the
post-dinner hour. And there was generally song, from us:
spirituals, anthems, all the songs from The Sound of Music
or Oliver or Camelot. When younger sister Kath and I
hit high school and were both in choir, and it was often
the precise notes of Handel that would rise along
with Joy or Ivory Liquid bubbles:

Or Vivaldi:

Alas, our voices were not quite as sweet
as those here, but I think that one of my mother's
greatest joys was sitting in the living room
with the evening Times, the lilt of her daughters'
voices filling our little red house.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Button Up

There's an intimacy in buttoning someone's
shirt buttons -- the proximity to the heart,
how you must ever-so-slightly lean in, nearly
brushing the face of the buttonee --

If it's a child you must stoop, allow yourself
to view the world from the perspective of a three-year-old.
A different place!

Today I buttoned Paul's shirt for him, and was struck
by how the act brought forth in me a tenderness
that is not necessarily accessed on a daily basis.
I think that the last time I buttoned buttons other
than my own was when Nelson was two-ish:
he learned to do his own early, as he did most
everything. He's 21 now, so it's been a few years.

And I thought how this is rarely an act done
in any state other than generosity. It's difficult
to imagine buttoning someone up while angry.
The recipient of this gesture is nearly always
a vulnerable entity, unable -- for whatever reason --
to perform the task oneself.

Of course, neither Paul nor myself anticipated
his broken bone, and we most certainly were not
prepared for the reality of surgery which occurs
tomorrow: adjust the schedule, because it's
going to happen.

But then, that's what life tosses us randomly:
injury, joy, boredom, even death.
This is it: take it. Find something in it.

For me, today, it was a visit back to the ordinary
gestures of mothers with young children.
Or not ordinary, for even in the simplicity
of pulling a button through a bound hole,
this gift of unexpected intimacy with my husband,
I found my own glad heart.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Theme Wednesday: ossa

Rain + darkness + curb = broken radius for P.

Radius: a straight line extending from the center
of a circle
or sphere to the circumference or surface.

Wait. That's not right.
He did not break his straight line
extending from the center of his circumference.

Nor did he break or in any way injure
the throw of an eccentric wheel or cam.

He did however, fracture a long, prismatic,
curved bone, the shorter and thicker
of the two
forearm bones, located laterally to the ulna.

And Friday, he succumbs to the the knife. Yikes.

And while we're on the subject of skeletal parts,
I made myself (in a rush, this morning) a chicken
sandwich from a bag of meat that I'd stripped from
a roasted chicken last week. The meat was frozen,
and I wasn't paying much attention to the task.
At lunchtime, when I bit into the sandwich,
my teeth were met with a particularly hard piece
of chicken. My first thought was:
why is this piece still frozen and the others are thawed?
But, alas, no. Upon further investigation,
I discovered this wedged in between the bread slices:

Oops! I felt like the carnivore that I am. Primal,
unwittingly gnawing on fowl cartilage.
I had made myself a Bone Sandwich.
Empathy for my husband, perhaps?
Or was it the dithery brain of a middle-aged woman
that's responsible for this absurdity?
I won't say. The bone, appropriately,
went into the food waste bin.

When I checked my e'mail upon returning home,
I discovered that M. had scavenged the bone
from the waste bin, photographed it, and sent it to me.
Lord, lord.

Enough with the meat.
(Although that's what we are, when you get
right down to it -- meat -- dripping and raw.)

I offered P. this chicken bone as a replacement
for his compromised radius, but he declined.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Pigment of Imagination

Painting at work today, mixing colors in the red tones:
pink, purple, garnet. Each just a short step from the other,
sister-colors, linked by a common heart. The reds always
make my heart glad, especially this time of year, this
bundling-in time, this season of hibernation & burrowing:
perylene maroon, iridescent garnet, quinacridone magenta.

And then I switched to blues/greens, and I could feel these
in another part of the body, up around the neck,
the back of the scalp. A tickle and a tease: Indianthrope blue,
duochrome lapis sunrise, duochrome blue-silver.

And iridescent antique copper over a mix of purples.
A depth of tones, one over another, a foreshadowing
of what we perhaps would rather not anticipate.

I have come to this love of colors-by-the-tube
late in life, compared to others who get out the brushes
early and get on with the business of painting. I have no
desire or illusions of becoming a painter. Heavens no!
One useless/idealistic art (poetry) is one too many, often.
And then again, there are uses for poetry, as there are
uses for painting. (If you know what they are, please
leave a comment.)

It's safe to say that the writing of poetry is as essential
to me as the act of breathing. It's my daily bread,
a communion between the soul and the word,
organic, intrinsic to the self, an idiomatic prayer.

And now, this sacrament with liquid color.
Lucky I am. Grateful.

Sunday, November 8, 2009


R. cooked The Most Fantastic Dinner for my BD
last night. Oh. My. God. Someone hire this guy!

Poached Chestnut Mousse & Fennel Canapes
Cold Celeriac & Walnut Soup
Red Cabbage, Pear & Pomegranate Slaw
with Pomegranate-Balsamic Vinaigrette
Cassoulet with Duck & Forest Mushrooms
Roasted Parsnips & Broccoli with Sherry Vinegar
& Lemon Pepper
White Cheese Poundcake with Mascarpone, Ganache
and Toasted Almonds
Candied Roasted Chestnuts

I received these words from Robin this morning:

That was the best dinner ever. Woodsy. Fungal. Nutty.
Rootsy. Delish. Lovingly prepared by a loveable boy.
There's no place I"d have rather been. Wonderful company.

Over the top.
I am one lucky mom.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Not Old Yet

Heading out into the the 8:30am darkness,
in this storm which seems to not want to end,
for breakfast with Nelson, at The Market.
The best kind of day for downtown Seattle!
We'll get a table somewhere with a view of
Salish Sound (aka Puget Sound) and revel
in the Seattleness of it all. God I love this weather!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Prince James

(The young prince, before the onslaught,
on my mother's lap.)

I didn't have a blog entry in mind today
until I received a phone call from my brother.
He's the oldest of us seven (and the only sibling
of the male persuasion), and twelve years
more senior than I am. (Or, I should just say that
he's a senior, because I most certainly am not.)

I went to war with him when I reached adolescence,
and it wasn't until I was in my twenties that I discovered
that he was really a nice guy. Imagine that!

The purpose of the call was to wish me a Happy BD,
a few days early. Get out the record books! Stop the
clocks! Retirement must be good for him. I don't
generally expect to hear from him this time of year,
but when his BD arrives a mere six days after mine,
I always sign my BD card to him:
from your sister who just had a birthday.....
This was indeed a momentous occasion.

I've often suspected that he views his six sisters
as a single organism; a cackling, shrill lump
of female cacophonous flesh. I took a good-natured
risk this morning and broached this subject,
and he vigorously agreed, without pause.
Ha! I must give him credit for being able to differentiate
enough between us to realize that we were indeed
born on different dates, in different years.

All in good fun, of course. I love getting him to laugh,
and this morning his all-out, deep-throated galumph-
of-a-laugh nearly caused my phone to vibrate.
Whoa there Nelly!

He's gleefully retired on an apple orchard
in Yakima, and this morning the conversation
centered on apple varieties: yellow banana, gala,
golden supreme. He told me about taking a walk
last December through the trees and discovering
one still laden with red delicious apples that had
somehow been missed in the harvest. They were
massive and ridiculously sweet after having endured
several frosts. I love that image -- the surprise
of all that color in the winter landscape, the gravid
fruit hanging low to the ground, sugars simmering
just beneath the surface of the peel.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Listened to Glen Gould playing Bach today
at work. November music. I rarely listen
to classical anything when it's sunny
and cheerful. Heat = Jazz, in my book.
On my measure. In my time signature.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Accidental Kale

Mistaken for rainbow chard

in a Sunday rush at the market --

sauteed in garlic and sweet onion,

it springs up crinolined

from my spoon as bacon, diced,

approaches a crisp autumnal brown.

Is this how it works?

We plunge along heartless,

our fists crammed

with lettuce, watery tomatoes.

End up gasping

at a table steamed full

of unintended desire.

Like love, we take one bite,

another, stunned by surprise

filling the hollow long within us:

such goodness in error, delight

in what might not have been.

T. Clear © 2005

(originally appeared in Seattle Woman)

Dinosaur Kale with Diamonds

I failed Catholicism.

(My new header is a photo of original artwork
designed by Mary Melinda Wellsandt, painted
and photo-edited by Yours Truly.)


All Saints' Day. This used to be, for me, a Holy Day
of Obligation, back when I was a Catholic.
I found this delicious tidbit whilst cruising
the online Catholic Encyclopedia:

Solemnity celebrated on the first of November.
It is instituted to honour all the saints, known and
unknown, and, according to Urban IV, to supply
any deficiencies in the faithful's celebration of
saints' feasts during the year.

Kind of a make-up saints' day. If you failed, say,
in your observance of a Holy Day of Obligation
sometime, in, say, June, here's your chance
to retake the -- what? -- mass? Heaven --
yes heaven -- forbid that one would be a failure
at Catholicism.

And one more thing: if Pope Urban I, II, III or IV
had an office assistant, or a vice-pope, or any other
underling, would that person be called SubUrban?