Friday, December 26, 2014

Musical Chairs

The only Christmas cookies in my house this year were baked by a Jewish friend, delivered yesterday afternoon while I was up to my elbows in potato peels. I can't recall a year when I didn't bake in December — even my early years were spent in sugar-dusted glee, with sprinkles afoot most of the month. I work too many hours these days to spend much time in the kitchen, dog-tired at the end of each day. Not a complaint: I am blessed with a job that sustains me in many ways. There are trade-offs involved, and things are good. And if the only cookies in my kitchen were baked in someone else's house, then so be it.

Yesterday's dinner guests were all refugees from changing lives of their own, the shifts that occur when loved ones age, when marriages crumble and houses, metaphorically, fall. I wasn't even sure of the guest list until Christmas morning. It kind of felt like musical chairs: when the music stopped, we all sat down for dinner, and one person was missing. (And yet so many others, too, gone now forever.)

I doubt there was one of us that didn't ponder the make-up of this new, loosely-formed family. But no matter: we wasted no time getting to the important stuff: laughter. Rolling explosions of laughter, rising and falling gales of laughter, for hours on end. I think that from the outside we must've sounded like a party of twenty or more, but there were only seven of us.

A failed attempt to set the Baked Alaska aflame provided additional entertainment (a blow torch was involved) and fears from my nephew that the house would, at any minute, go up in its own fiery blaze. We did manage a trickle of blue flame down one side of the meringue-flocked Mt. McKinley, and the dearth of alcohol-fueled drama didn't in any way mar the fabulousness that is Baked Alaska (cake, ice cream, meringue).

A stupor of exhaustion set in once dinner was finished, in everyone, it seemed. No charades, no Cards Against Humanity. We sat in the candlelit, tree-twinkled living room, slumped onto couches, as our stories and laughter dwindled, most of the dishes done, the melting Alaska ferried back to the freezer.

The day after Christmas possesses its own happy wreckage — the kitchen overflowing with leftover abundance, emptied wine bottles, and that plate of cookies, still untouched. This morning I sat in misty sunlight with my coffee and read from Louise Gl├╝ck's new poetry collection:

"...ah, behold how we have aged, traveling
from day to night only, neither forward nor sideward, and this seemed
in a strange way miraculous. And those who believed we should have a purpose
believed this was the purpose, and those who felt we must remain free
in order to encounter truth felt it had been revealed."


These hours.
These days.
This life.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

After the Mall

The only antidote to yesterday's mall-ing (where I vowed I would not visit this holiday season, but, well,) was a walk in the woods, so I hurried down to the park this afternoon in the last hour of daylight on this winter solstice.

Upon first stepping onto the trail, a couple pointed out a pileated woodpecker bobbing its beak up and down high in a Douglas fir. The bark was riddled with large holes — evidently a great place for grubbing! The tap-tap-tap echoed from every side, and up in the canopy a breeze rustled the treetops. Waning light. Cedar scent, moss and damp humus scent.

Further along, some people were talking about the bald eagle's nest, and a man was spading in some native plants where invasive blackberry vines had been yanked out.

Deeper into the park, I came across a young couple outfitted for a wedding (knee-length dress!) and a photographer. They were very cautiously wading into the salal, while the man with the camera directed them. The young woman in barely-there shoes, her lace-and-chiffon dress just itching to snag on a twig. The young man in a black suit so crisp it seemed able to reflect light.

Because of the lateness of the hour, I'd anticipated a solitary walk, but it wasn't to be had. Joggers, dogs, more dogs, a group of teens trailing the scent of weed.

I cut off the main path into deeper woods and mud, carried snippets of fir branches to toss onto the trail when the mud was too soggy to traverse. Fewer humans here, and once, when I thought I heard someone rustling towards me, I discovered instead that I'd stumbled into a flock of small birds — juncos, chicadees — who were flitting through the underbrush, perhaps thirty of them, mostly unconcerned with me. And I saw almost none of them; rather, I saw the things they rustled through:  the feathery branches of hemlock, maple leaves caught up in twigs, the everpresent ferns. They moved through the forest at perhaps knee level, a constant quiet motion. I wondered about the life of a bird, wanted to have a conversation with a chickadee. I wanted to know what life looks like from the perspective of a junco.

And then I was back on the main path, back to the car, up the hill to my house.

Friday, December 19, 2014


I turned on the porch light so the UPS driver could bump the giant box up the front steps.

"It's all in the legs," she said, "otherwise you blow your back out. Biggest thing I ever delivered was a lap-pool, in 17 boxes. Luckily, there was someone home, otherwise I woulda stacked those boxes up on his front porch. And you wouldn't believe how many mattresses I've delivered. "

My son's new mattress, compressed into this cardboard box. Does it spring up when opened, taking in air? I can't imagine how this will happen.

This is our world: need a bed, order it on Amazon Prime: free shipping, delivery in one or two days.

I bought a white, hotel-quality fitted queen size sheet last night at Goodwill, for $4.99. A little bleach, some hot water, and it's good as new. I thought, I never need buy anything new again.

There is so little that I need, or want, besides two weeks on a beach in Maui. Can I deliver myself to  Kapalua in a giant box, overnight, free shipping?

If only.

The UPS pick-up today at work was in a rented truck, apparently a common occurrence the month of December, when they run out of their own delivery vehicles. So many things, so much stuff, circulating the planet, driving the dollars-and-cents of the economy. But isn't there enough of everything to last us all at least 50 years, possibly more?

When I brought this point up at work, I was reminded that we are makers of stuff. Oh, um, yes. It's stuff that's driving my own economy, paying my mortgage, fueling my own machine of bones and flesh. Seems there's no way to avoid it without a dramatic change in lifestyle.

So where does one start? I started at Goodwill, in the sheet department. Fitted. Queen sized. $4.99.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

What it's really like to do art for a living —

We like to joke about the comments that have accrued over the years, things like:

     You are so lucky! You get to stay home all day and do art!
      It must be so great that you don't really have to work!

(My boss used to say that she had a factory in her home, now she says that she lives in a factory.)

And then there are the comments in another vein altogether:

     When are you going to get a real job?
     Are you still doing that little art job?
     Did you go to New York to do shopping?

Shopping? SHOPPING?!

So, in case there's any question, yes, it's a real job. I run a small business, a small booming business with one helluva boss/artist-in-chief, and there's nothing "little" about it.

Today we discussed scheduling the shipping for this year's wholesale show, and we're up against a frighteningly close deadline. We lost a troublesome full-time employee yesterday, a mixed blessing; while our other fully-trained assistant is on sick leave with a seriously debilitating illness. Two new hires, a full line of prototypes to make and, wait, did someone mention Christmas?

We'll slip under the wire; we always do. I'm so used to pulling rabbits out of hats that the hat is frayed on the edges, the rabbit is getting on in years.

I have a fear that I'm going to succumb with a paintbrush in my right hand, an order in my left hand, the timer beeping on the "kitchen kiln", shipping labels being spit out of the printer while the UPS truck waits at the curb, engine idling.

But hey: abracadabra!

Friday, December 5, 2014

The Pod of Privilege

I drove my first loaner car today, a brand spanking new Volvo, because my son lost the only key to my, ahem, not so brand new Volvo. The loaner is sleek, white and new. NEW. I haven't been anywhere near a new car in a long time, and this one was, well, more than a bit intimidating.

When I stepped inside and closed the door this morning, immediately the outside world ceased to exist. I was transported into a hushed, plush universe, with a seat significantly more comfortable than my bed. I felt safe, yet disconnected. Barricaded, yet not part of anything. Is this what it's like to live in a gated community? This thought trailed me all day, the feeling of being closed-out, the how-many-inches of padding there were between me and anyone/thing outside. It felt like privilege, that subject in the news in the wake of the Ferguson riots and the ongoing protests in NYC and elsewhere. And to make my point more dramatic, I'll say it again: my Pod of Privilege was white. 

The car itself was a bit confounding. I couldn't figure out how to adjust the side-view mirror. I couldn't find the icon for turning off the heated seats. The windshield wipers kept alternating patterns — wait! Was that a figure eight? Never mind trying to figure out the computer screen on the dashboard. (Where's the scroll button? The mouse?! Can I send an email? Is there a facebook icon?)

There was a button marked "My Car" — dare I touch it, even if the car isn't mine?!  There was a button marked +/-, which I suppose is handy if you want to practice your arithmetic on long drives. Altogether too much gadgetry for me, but for the .8 miles to and from work, I experienced life in an alternate dimension. 

Let's not mention that it's taken the dealership five days to re-key my car. From the difficulties the guy on the phone kept explaining (in my daily call to Ravenna Volvo), you'd think it was an 1895 model with a ten mules strapped to the front hood, expecting hay and water twice a day. "Problems with the software," he said. "We can't figure it out." Apparently today's mechanics need a degree in computer engineering along with the toolbox.

And in the end, the key was found, on the sidewalk outside my son's job. But too late! The car had already been towed, and the new keys had been cut. Damn. son's car, which has sat idle for three months needing repairs for which he didn't have the cash, suddenly started running again.

All this, just so I could spend time inside the Pod of Privilege.

If anyone wants to do some math problems, come on over. I'm itching to test out those plus and minus signs. What could possibly be more entertaining on a Friday night in December?

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Inside the Red Tomato

My mother, she told me I could cut the pin cushion open, to see what was inside. I was five, and the scissors were bigger, and exclusively mom's, but she let me take them and so I did, gouging open the red cloth tomato, and the sand within spilled out onto the spread-open piece of newsprint. And with  it — so many needles! A family of lost needles,  mom-needles and dad-needles and big-sister-needles and even some baby-needles, as fine as a single strand of baby hair, or so it seemed. Needles let-loose, escaped needles. Found needles.

For the rest of my childhood I persisted with my one request: may I cut open the pin cushion?

My own red tomato pin cushion is going on forty years old, as yet unthreatened by scissor blades. Every now and then, I compress it just enough to reveal the tips of embedded sharps. I've come to believe that the cushion-gutting of '61 was a singular event in the timeline of my life.

Never before, and not once since.

But thank-you, Mom, wherever it is that the dust of your essence exists, thank you for that one extraordinary moment in my fifth year, when you showed me the secret within the red tomato, showed me that treasures are to be found in the most ordinary of places.